Don Gullett passed away at the age of 73 on Wednesday. He’s a member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

Many of you never saw Don Gullett pitch for the Cincinnati Reds from 1970-1976. A few of you did. If you had the opportunity to see him pitch on the mound for the Reds, odds are you wouldn’t forget it.

He was drafted by the Reds in the first round of the 1969 and burst on the major league scene in 1970, which was unusual, even back in those days. Reds Manager Sparky Anderson routinely called him ‘Young Don Gullett” because he was only 19-years-old and the hard-throwing southpaw from Lynn, Kentucky was on the Reds roster.

Anderson was warned by several advisors not to take Gullett or Wayne Simpson, a right-handed pitcher, north with the Reds when they broke camp from Florida. But that’s exactly what he did and it paid off. Simpson – the “Big Warrior” – was 14-1 before he got injured and was a big factor in Cincinnati’s 70-30 start out of the gate. Anderson brought Gullett along slowly in 1970, bringing him out of the bullpen and his stuff was pretty good. Hall of Fame slugger Willie Stargell said Gullett threw “wall to wall heat”. The southpaw appeared in 44 games and fashioned a 5-2 record and an earned run average of 2.43. He and reliever Clay Carroll were the two best pitchers for the Reds in their five-game loss to Baltimore in the World Series.

And in 1971, Gullett moved to the starting rotation and had a 16-6 record in a losing year for the Reds.

We all thought Gullett would be a Red forever. It didn’t work out that way. He was only with Cincinnati for six seasons posting a career record of 91-44. His best season (won-loss wise) was 1974 when was 18-8. He became one of the first big free agents and signed with the New  York Yankees and pitched for two more years before shoulder injuries finished his career. His career record was 109-50with an ERA of 3.11.

Gullett was unlucky and suffered many injuries and health issues in his career; hepatitis in 1972, a fractured thumb injury in 1975, a Game 1 injury (twisted ankle) in the 1976 World Series against the Yankees in the World Series and shoulder problems with the Yankees in 1978 which finished his career.

Gullett leaving the Reds after 1976 was a shock back then. This quiet, shy Kentucky kid leaving the Reds for New York? But, in the end, Reds General Manager Bob Howsam was right. Gullett’s injury history was a big deterrent in the Reds not signing him to a long term contract.

But when he broke in with the Reds, Don Gullett was something special. When healthy, he was one of the best Reds starters in any era. He wasn’t especially big (6’0”, 190) but he threw hard and had a good delivery.

My special memories of Gullett? (1) Watching him pitch at Riverfront Stadium against the Braves in August 1972. Hank Aaron hit home run #660 off of Gullett that day (Willie Mays hit his final career home run, #660, off of him, too – just not on that day). (2) His Game 5 start against Boston in the 1975 World Series when he retired 22 hitters in a row. (3) His Game 1 start against Pittsburgh in the 1975 NL Playoffs when he smacked a home run and pitched a complete game.

Young Don Gullett certainly deserves his place in the Reds Hall of Fame.

26 Responses

  1. RedFuture

    One of my most vivid memories of him was that he NEVER threw to first in a pickoff attempt. He was very quick to the plate though and stolen bases against him were nearly non-existent.

  2. Laredo Slider

    Great Reds pitcher. Seems I recall reading he once scored 11 TDs in a HS football game! Thoughts to his family.

    • Oldtimer

      I think 12 TDs actually. 72 points in one game.

    • JB

      Yes, he also kicked 6 extra points in that game for a total of 72 points scored, which is still a state record in Kentucky that will probably never be broken. He was a 3 sport star (Basketball, Football and baseball) in high school. Many think he could have gone pro in football as well as baseball. Loved watching him pitch. Was a pretty good hitter for a pitcher. I can remember him pinch hitting a few times in his Reds career.

  3. LDS

    I remember seeing Gullett pitch in probably 73 or 74, and of course on TV for the 75 series. Yes, his career was cut short by injury. But, had he stayed healthy, I think he had at least a shot at a HoF career. And Wayne Simpson? Imagine the Reds results in the 70s had both he and Gullett had stayed healthy. A cautionary tale for today’s Reds to be sure.

    • Old Big Ed

      Simpson was 21 years old in 1970. Through the Reds’ first 80 games (July 5), he had started 18 games and pitched 139 innings and given up 86 hits and 60 walks. That is 7.2 IP/start, plus his walk rate led him to throw a lot of pitches per inning.

      Of course he broke down. He never recovered, and he has permanent damage from trying to pitch through his injury. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/Wayne-Simpson/.

      Gullett pitched 217.2 innings as a 20-year old, and lasted longer, but he also blew his shoulder out as a young man. He never played past age 27. Gullett played on 4 straight World Series champs, from 1975 to 1978, although he threw his last pitch before the 1978 World Series. Other than the Yankees of the late 40s and early 50s, I don’t know if anybody else has done that.

      Baseball in general has long since stopped using young pitchers that many innings. The Reds, for example, limited Chase Petty to 64 innings last year, and shelved Rhett Lowder altogether after he pitched 120 innings for Wake Forest as a 21-year-old.

      They’ve come a long way with training pitchers in the last 60 years. They do a better job of not killing young arms, but competitive pressures drive pitchers into trying to throw harder and harder, and as a result pitchers in general still incur too many major arm injuries.

      Nothing really changes — you can’t ever have enough pitching.

      • LDS

        I agree. Still think a return to pitch selection and placement over power would benefit the players and the game. More Greg Maddux wannabes, fewer Nolan Ryan wannabes. But like many here, I’m older and more in favor of the game past than “modern baseball”.

      • old-school

        @ LDS.
        Why watching Andrew Abbott was a breath of fresh air last year and Wade Miley his 2021 season. They went after hitters and werent trying to throw the perfectly shaped pitch as hard as they could to miss a bat every pitch.
        Suter is a similar style pitcher and in his interviews when he signed with the Reds, he said that while he would like to miss more bats, his focus is on missing barrels and getting soft contact and weak outs.

      • Old Big Ed

        Yeah, it’s kinda like the difference between a professional long-drive champion and an actual PGA golfer who has to drive the ball where he can hole out more easily.

      • greenmtred

        A point of concurrence between us, LDS.

  4. doofus

    Our thoughts and prayers to his family.

    • David

      Really, so true. Hard to believe Don is gone.

      A big part of the Reds, off and on, for a long time. Was the Reds pitching coach for a while.

      As I recall, he had heart issues ( a heart attack) in his late 40’s or early 50’w.

      Well, now he is with the Old Lefthander, somewhere…. rounding third and heading for home.

  5. Mark Moore

    My specific memories are a bit fuzzy as I had just pivoted to being a Reds fan in that era (from being a Metros fan when I lived in Northern NJ and because of my friends in Southern NY State being Yankee fans). Not many games on TV in those days and I didn’t get my first transistor radio until after his time.

    It was a great era and so many contributed. We’ve lost some big names from that time in the recent past. Makes me more anxious to see if the new crop of young guns can rise to the occasion and bring us some post-season joy.

  6. Rick

    Sad to hear of his passing. Myself, a 12 yr. Ky. nativeat the time of his call up, I was proud of Don. His stuff was electric & so fun to watch him throw that heater.Had to follow most games by radio(McIntyre, Michael’s, Marty) Being young and impressionable I loved those hard throwers like, Bob Gibson, Nolan Rya, and our very own Don Gullett. RIP.

  7. Oldtimer

    My memory of Gullett is the HR he hit in Riverfront in playoff or maybe WS game in early 1970s.

    • Rick

      I can recall that now, thanks to you.

  8. Doc

    Bob Howsam’s comment seems to be salient even today.

  9. PatTheBat

    Another nickname when he first came up and impressed — “Kid Gullett” — with French pronunciation, “Gullay”. Don’t know the source but seemed to imply a special talent. That he was.

  10. RedsFanInFL

    I’ve posted this before: Don Gullet was one of the youngest players in the history of MLB to win 60 games. Potential HOF career derailed by injuries.

    Imagine if Gullet, Gary Nolan and Wayne Simpson could’ve all stayed healthy, BRM would’ve had 3 perennial 20 game winners to go along with the Great 8.

    • Optimist

      Often recall what Nolan, Simpson and Gullett would have done with modern medicine on their side. Certainly lengthier careers, but also all 3 moving on as free agents. Still, if all 3 had been healthy and in the rotation together, oh boy . . .

      • RedsFanInFL

        Let’s not forget Jim Maloney who anchored the Reds pitching pitching staff from 1963-1969. His arm was done after age 29 just as the BRM was gearing up. Always felt bad he didn’t get to be the veteran pitching leader for those early 1970s teams.

  11. Reds Believer

    I so saddened to learn of the passing Don Gullett. We got to know he & his family back in the day when he was starting out. My sister was a huge fan & we went to the parking lot after the game & met him. His parents & wife were with him & the next thing you know, my parents were talking to his parents & his wife. After that, we would look them up when we came to the games. Very kind & friendly people. When Don was injured with the Yankees & had come back home, we stopped by his farm in Ky. He was in the barn yard in waders shoveling manure. Never will forget that site. lol. He later came up to Miamisburg to christen the new little league park & signed autographs & gave a little speech. Didn’t charge a dime. The kids & parents were thrilled. They then came to my parent’s house & had a cookout & hung out for a while before heading back. We lost contact with him over the years but always followed what he was doing. I don’t think so much about the great pitcher that he was but more about what a great man he was. Always very polite, humble & gracious.

    • Scott in Texas

      A beautiful tribute, RB. I read it multiple times – thank you for posting.

    • TXredleg

      Very interesting – thanks for sharing

  12. Keith

    Had the honor of being Don’s teammate on the 1969 Sioux Falls Packers (class A, Northern League). That short season was Don’s total minor league experience. Great guy and best player I played with or against in my short 4 year minor league career with the Reds. So sad to hear of his passing. Heaven is getting a great one in Don.

  13. Dewey Roberts

    Keith, thanks for your post. I remember when Gullett came up in 70. Some players in the NL pretended like they were not impressed with the whiz kid at first. They became impressed very quickly. Gullett was the best lefthander the Reds ever had. The Reds let him go then traded for Woody Fryman who played only half season before quitting. Then they tried to get Vida Blue. A healthy Gullett was better than either of them.