Nearly fifty years ago on July 1, Hal King went to the plate as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cincinnati Reds were in dire straits. With a record of 40-37, they trailed first-place Los Angeles by 10 games in the National League West and were losing 3-1 as King, a third string catcher and reserve player, dug in at the plate against Dodger ace Don Sutton.
Sutton had bested Fred Norman so far that Sunday and 46,047 fans at Riverfront Stadium assumed the worst would happen with King, who was batting .182 at the time. But two runners were on the bases and two were out.
But Hal King delivered. He smacked a home run (his second of the year), the Reds stunned the Dodgers with a walk off 4-3 win, and when Tony Perez delivered a game winning hit hours later in the 10th inning to give the Reds a twin bill sweep, a fire was ignited in Cincinnati.
Hal King’s home run – fifty years ago – was the turning point in that 1973 season, one that began with so much optimism but bordered on disastrous that Sunday afternoon.
The Reds lost Opening Day to the Dodgers but Sparky Anderson’s defending NL champions recovered and started the year off with a 9-2 record before problems started to crop up.
Pitching Woes: Gary Nolan would miss the entire season with an elbow injury. Wayne Simpson—the Big Warrior—had been traded along with Hal McRae to the Royals for Roger ‘Spider’ Nelson in the off-season but Nelson was ineffective and injured. Jim McGlothlin never recovered from injuries suffered in 1972. The starting rotation was in shambles.
Controversies: Bobby Tolan got off to a bad start at the plate and never seemed to recover. His funk grew as his batting average slipped and Tolan, who missed the entire 1971 season due to a torn Achilles tendon, had been an important piece for the pennant winning teams in 1970 and 1972. He started to grow a beard which enraged Anderson and things got to the point where Tolan was jettisoned to San Diego. (Years later, Sparky took full responsibility for how his relationship with Bobby Tolan deteriorated and stated that he flat out mishandled it).
Slumps/Injuries: Denis Menke had a decent enough 1972 season but his production fell off in 1973. It was evident he wasn’t the answer to the third base problem that would plague Sparky until May of 1975. The Reds called up Dan Driessen, a hitting phenom from Indianapolis and planted him at third but his defense was shaky at best. Dave Concepcion had his “breakout” season in 1973 until he broke his ankle and missed the second half, so it was back to Daryl Chaney at that spot.
After Hal King’s home run, the Reds took off despite all of these problems. Pete Rose had an MVP-season and batted .338, Tony Perez was Tony Perez, Jack Billingham was a workhorse and won 19 games, Don Gullet stayed healthy and won 18 more. Joe Morgan was Joe Morgan. Ken Griffey was called up later in the season.
Top Movie on Hal King Day, 1973
Live and Let Die starring Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto and Jane Seymour
And Bob Howsam pulled off some more magic by trading for little known lefthander Fred Norman. Howsam traded Triple-A prospect Gene Locklear to San Diego for Norman on June 12 and this transaction was huge for the Reds. Norman was 12-6 for Cincinnati and had an earned run average of 3.30. Ross Grimsley, who was in and out of Sparky’s doghouse, won 13 games for the Reds. Norman and Grimsley became reliable starters and the Reds bullpen was anchored by Tom Hall, Clay Carroll and Pedro Borbon.
#1 Album on Hal King Day, 1973
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
The Reds finished the season with a 99-63 record—the best record in baseball that year– and held off LA by just 2 ½ games.
Cincinnati would lose to the New York Mets 3 games to 2 in the playoffs. The Reds won Game 1 behind home runs off Tom Seaver by Rose and Johnny Bench but Jon Matlock shut them down 5-0 in Game 2.
Game 3 featured the famous Rose-Bud Harrelson brawl when Joe Morgan hit into a double play and the Reds lost that one by a 9-2 score. Rose’s extra-inning home run forced a Game 5 but a gaffe by Dan Driessen on defense led to a four-run inning for the Mets with the game tied 2-2 and New York went to the World Series.
Top Song on the Billboard Chart on Hal King Day, 1973
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) by George Harrison
Still, the season goes back to Hal King. The Reds acquired Hal on December 1, 1972 from the Texas Rangers by trading Jim Merritt, a former 20-game winner in 1970 who had fallen on hard times after that. The trade made few headlines and only die-hard Reds fans picked it up.
Hal King passed away in 2019 in Florida. He retired after the 1974 season and he hit 24 career home runs for four teams—Houston, Atlanta, Texas and the Cincinnati Reds.
But there’s a lot of Reds fans who remember that home run on July 1, 1973.
And I’m sure Don Sutton, who passed away in 2021, remembered it too.
i always like looking at action pictures of riverfront. look how much more room there is in the gaps versus Gabp. look at all the holes there are without the stupid shifts. imagine how fast the surface is . the reds dominated at riverfront. not so much at gabp and i think the lay out of the stadiums have at least something to do with that
I remember the zamboni sucking up water off that turf after a rain delay lol.
I hadn’t thought of Hal King and that game for decades. We’d all like to believe that a similar turnaround could happen with the current Reds, but while the Reds are better than they’ve played thus far, there’s no Bench, Rose, Morgan, or Perez. And there’s no Sparky, who knew how to hold players accountable and kick some rear ends. Thanks John, that was the summer before I started college. Good times.
I was there that day to watch the Reds. I was sitting in the green section. I thought what in the world is Sparkys problem. No more than Hals average was I just knew it was over. Then he hit the pitch and when it went over the fence I thought it was a dream.
What a great summer! I remember (as a 12 year old) sitting on my front porch, listening to Marty and Joe when Hal King hit that home run. You could tell right away that the whole pennant race changed instantly.
Moments like that is why it’s so hard to quit this team.
I tell people I have followed the Reds for 53 years now. Fifty of those years have ended in disappointment. When they ask why I still follow this team, I tell them it is because of the other three.
Thank you for the great memories John!
I was at those games that day. Sat in the nosebleed section down the left field line. With two outs and Hal King vrs Don Sutton I was praying for a miracle but didn’t have a whole lot of hope. The moment he connected is permanently etched in my mind. Are you kidding me. Took my dad thinking it would be a good father, son thing. I hadn’t given much thought that we would be sitting in the hot sun for two ballgames. He was more of a sit on the front porch and listen to Joe Nuxhall kind of fan. But anyway that was a great day for baseball. I can still hear the sound of Tony Perez’ walkoff smash high off the left field wall in game two. Riverfront with 46,000 fans. Great baseball times.
I recall dancing around the living room screaming along with Joe (Nuxhall) when this went down.
Someone who might recall better than me, wasn’t this one of the times when Marty was so excited he forgot to immediately call out ATOBTR and had to add it several sentences later?
Great memories. Just imagine a crowd of 46,000 at the Reds’ ballpark on a Sunday afternoon these days!
“Cincinnati would lose to the New York Mets 3 games to 2 in the playoffs. The Reds won Game 1 behind home runs off Tom Seaver by Rose and Johnny Bench…”
I was at that game (8 years old) and remember it like yesterday. Seaver had them down 1-0 until the 8th when Rose hit a solo homer. Then the Reds walked it off in the 9th when Bench did the same. The place went nuts. From that moment, I was hooked….
I think “Dark Side of the Moon” was probably Number One during the entire Big Red Machine era 🙂
I remember that game on radio and Nuxie going off! Oh, how I hated the Dodgers – still do – but Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey and LaSorda? Yuck. I gave Steve Yeager a pass as he was a stud high school athlete at Dayton Meadowdale when I was in high school.
I ended up giving Steve Garvey a pass years later when he was one of only just a couple of people to show up at Alan Wiggins funeral.
Losing to the Mets in the playoffs was a huge shock to me. The Reds and Dodgers were the best teams in the NL. The Mets weren’t supposed to win. I was looking forward to a Reds, A’s rematch in the WS. You know Bench had surgery the off season in ‘72. They cut throughhis pectoral muscles to remove a spot from his lung. I think he would have been even been greater than he was.
Great story John, thanks.
https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CIN/1973.shtml read all about them here.
Three weak spots in lineup. OF Tolan and Geronimo, 3B Menke. Driessen replaced Menke mid year. Menke had a good OBP (almost double his BA).
Four strong SP rotation. 15 shutouts among them. Three strong relievers in BP.
1B Perez 2B Morgan SS Concepcion then Chaney. 3B Menke then Driessen. C Bench. LF Rose. CF Geronimo. RF Tolan. SP Billingham, Gullett, Norman, Grimsley. BP Borbon, Carroll, Hall.
Reds won 5 more games than expected.
I was a backup catcher, so I always had a soft spot for Hal King. I remember listening to the game with my Dad, and I remember him coming in to wake me up later in the year to tell me that Bobby Bonds had hit a grand slam to beat the Dodgers and put the Reds in first place for good. King rarely hit for the Reds, but when he did, it was like a lightning strike. (I just looked it up. He had eight hits. Four were home runs.) RIP Hal.