By chance I was in Warsaw, Illinois a while back. Driving down the hill of a street leading to the base of the Mississippi River was a grain loading dock for barges.

And it was there I caught a glimpse of Jimmy Qualls, whom I had met a couple of years before. Qualls was in the Reds organization for a while in the early 1970s and played with the Indianapolis Indians in AAA and was at a couple of Red spring trainings.

But whenever I see or hear the name Jimmy Qualls, I always think about Tom Seaver. Those two are forever linked in baseball history.

It was Jimmy Qualls who broke up Seaver’s perfect game in July 1969. It came in a heated pennant race between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. Qualls got his base-hit in the 9th inning after Seaver retired the first 25 Cub hitters in front of a sold-out Shea Stadium.

A left-handed hitting outfielder, Qualls got the start that night after Cubs outfielder Don Young misplayed a couple of fly balls the night before that allowed the Mets to rally and defeat Cubs ace hurler Ferguson Jenkins in the first of a three-game series.

So when my cousin in Warsaw talked about a guy with the Cubs who was involved in a no-hitter, it perked my interest. The only Cub pitchers in my lifetime who had thrown one were Ken Holtzman, Milt Pappas, Burt Hooten, Carlos Zambrano and Jake Arrieta.

That’s when I threw out the name Jimmy Qualls and that’s who it was. So my cousin set up a time for Qualls to come to our camp and he did and we talked about Seaver, baseball and the Reds for most of the morning.

Qualls’ hit was clean – a line drive single that fell between outfielders Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee. Cubs Manager Leo Durocher downplayed Seaver’s effort after the game. “Just another one-hitter,” said Durocher. “That’s all it was.”

But back to Tom Seaver. Starting pitching has long been an Achilles heel for the Reds. Good starting pitching has been the exception rather than the norm for the last, oh say, fifty years. For sure, Reds starters were awesome in 2012 and they were incredibly solid last year and for a period time in the era of the Big Red Machine.

So when the Reds acquired Seaver in 1977, I was ecstatic. And every time Seaver took the mound for Cincinnati, I had an inner confidence that the Reds were going to win. That doesn’t happen very often, I’m not talking fancy statistics or lefty-right situations. Seaver was Seaver. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Have you ever felt that with a Reds pitcher? Who were you supremely confident in over the years?

I had it with Johnny Cueto for a while. The same for Mario Soto. But man, with Tom Seaver, I had it for every game. And I hope I get that with Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray in 2020. They’re close.

So seeing Jimmy Qualls again, even if for a second, brought back memories of Tom Seaver. His family publicly came out last year and said that Seaver had dementia and would be pulling away from any public appearances. So I wonder how he’s doing. I feel bad for him, as I do for anyone afflicted with that illness.

I remember the first time I watched Seaver pitch in person. It was in the Astrodome during the 1978 season. My buddies and I had seats by the Cincinnati bullpen. I couldn’t take my eyes off Seaver as he warmed up; the pure, compact pitching motion, the attention to detail, the conversations he had with the Reds pitching coach. The Reds beat the Asterisks that night 2-1.

So here are my Top 5 Red starting pitchers that I loved to see take the mound– and felt good about winning. (Sorry, Milt Pappas isn’t one of them)

  1. Tom Seaver
  2. Mario Soto
  3. Jim Maloney
  4. Johnny Cueto
  5. Jack Billingham

Tell me your picks. And hopefully, Gray and Castillo will be among them in the future.

20 Responses

  1. Eric the Red

    Jose Rijo in the WS! Wire to wire, baby.

    • RojoBenjy

      That’s the last “lock down Ace” I can think of besides Cueto in his 20 game win season.

    • Mike Adams

      I would go with Rijo over Billingham.
      When I looked at the stats, I was surprised that Rijo had a much better ERA than Soto. On the other hand Soto had 3 more wins lifetime.
      I wonder how the top 9 all time Reds hitters would do against the above pitchers?

      Thanks, John Ring, for the trips down memory lane.

    • Dewey Roberts

      Gary Nolan over Billingham. Nolan hurt his arm after his rookie season but if he hadn’t I think he would have been a HOF pitcher.

  2. jim walker

    I like the top 4 in John’s list but I’d juggle the order a bit. Maloney, Soto, Seaver then Cueto. Probably the only reason I have Maloney ahead of Soto is that Big Jim pitched on some better teams than Mario was able to pitch for, be that fair or not.

    For #5 how about Jose Rio prior to his elbow injury or Danny Jackson with that special season where Orel Hershiser’s scoreless inning streak with a mega market team cost Jackson the Cy Young award.

    • JB

      I agree with Jackson. He was great that year. I just dont know if I could put him ahead of Rijo.

  3. AirborneJayJay

    I feel the same about Tom Seaver as you do John. If you are as big a Tom Seaver fan as I, if you like wine, you should get on the mailing list of his winery, Seaver Vineyards. Its a small way to keep that connection going with Seaver. In 2015, I purchased 3 bottles of wine from the Seaver Vineyards web site at $125 each. A bit steep. Today already those same bottles are selling for $300 each online in California wine shops.

  4. Gonzo Reds

    Having not lived during the Maloney era I’d replace him with Rijo. And to be honest I liked Gullett better than Billingham growing up.

  5. Peter Onte

    I think it’s great that you have Billingham on your list.
    I would also add Gullett.

  6. Mike Glaser

    Great thread. I especially love Jack Billingham getting some well deserved mention. He wasn’t going to win every time he went out, but he gave you his best every time. Tom Browning was the same way.
    My top 5 would be:
    1. Jim Maloney
    2. Don Gullett
    3. Tom Seaver
    4. Mario Soto
    5. Johnny Cueto

  7. SultanofSwaff

    Fun list. I’d have Rijo in the top 5. No pitcher did more to deliver a world championship to Cincinnati than Jose.

  8. Shawnreds

    I agree about adding Rijo and Gullett. Billingham was clutch in the World Series, and I never got to see Maloney unfortunately. Seaver, was my favorite with Gullett a close second. Always felt like the Reds were going to win when they pitched. Soto I felt was going to win every time out with his awesome fastball/change style, but the offense was so bad he would give up 2-3 runs with 10 or more K’s and lose. Cueto was another who I felt confident with on the mound for a W.

    • jim walker

      Soto and Cueto were a lot of the same type pitcher separated by 30 years or whatever. However, I never quite felt Cueto consistently dominated game in and out like Soto did for several years during his prime.

  9. RedNat

    I believe Maloney and Mario Soto were the most dominant pitchers that i have ever seen in a reds uniform. unfortunately both played on some pretty bad reds teams (especially Soto) so they are underated as all time greats in baseball.

    But honsetly if i could chose a starter for the 7th game of the world series and i can choose any Reds pitcher i am going with Tom Browning. he would give you eveything you had and keep you in the game and was so consistent.

    • IrishMike

      The fact that Jack Billingham and Johnny Cueto are even on the list bears testament to how poor the Reds starting pitching has been through the years. Billingham was an innings eater… a #3 or 4 type pitcher when compared to others if his era. Cueto was exciting but uneven in his performance. And, to be honest, I never thought Tom Seaver delivered what we’d hoped he would… with his better years behind him. We had a lot of flashes in the pan… Gullett, Simpson, Danny Jackson… they always seemed to get hurt…

      • Doug Gray

        In Johnny Cueto’s final 121 starts for the Cincinnati Reds that ran from the start of 2011 until the day he was traded to San Francisco he posted a 2.51 ERA. At no point from 2011-2015 was his ERA ever above the 3.00 mark for the Reds when the season ended.

      • Gary Napier

        Concerning Jack Billingham, I must point out to you that he won 19 games each year in 1973 and 1974 and another 27 in the World Series years of ’75 and ’76. And I must also point out that in three World Series with the Reds, totaling 25 and 1/3 innings pitched, Billingham had a microscopic 0.36 ERA. Those facts certainly don’t stand out to anyone that Billingham was as you suggest…..”an innings eater”.

  10. MK

    Don Gullett
    Jose Rijo
    Jim Maloney
    John Cueto
    Bob Purkey

  11. Redleg Bob

    As Shawn mentioned, Billingham was a stud in the World Series. He had MadBum-like numbers.

    Partial to Arroyo. Smart pitcher who got the most out of his abilities. And Browning – bulldog on the mound. Those two didn’t mess around, either. They got the ball back from the catcher and they were pitching it back to the catcher in about five seconds.

    Soto is kind of forgotten, but he was lights out. Probably lost more 2-1 than anybody in history.

    Rijo = money.

    We don’t allow cursing in the comments. Clean it up moving forward.

  12. Gary Napier

    And to think shortly after the trade for Seaver in June of 1977, another one came along that would have brought Oakland A’s left-hander Vida Blue to the Reds. At that point in Blue’s career, the former American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner had won 124 games with a 2.95 ERA in 9 seasons with the A’s. I remember being so excited about having Seaver and Blue in the same rotation. But thanks to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, that never happened. Cincinnati was going to send minor league first baseman Dave Revering and $400,000 in cash to acquire Vida Blue. Oakland A’s owner, the late and eccentric Charley O’Finley, was preparing to get out of the game, which he did a short three years later. Bowie Kuhn felt like Mr. Finley was liquidating his team and this deal “was not in the best interests of baseball”. The following year, the SF Giants acquired Vida Blue by sending 7 players (all lower tier guys) and $300,000 cash to the A’s. For reasons we may never know, Commissioner Kuhn allowed this deal to go through. The notion of having of Tom Seaver and Vida Blue in the same rotation was nothing more than a dream.