Career Year: Joey Jay – 1961
Pitcher Joey Jay had a big year in 1961, the kind of year that was pivotal in helping to propel his team – the Cincinnati Reds – to its best year in two decades.
A Connecticut native, Jay was the first major league player to have “graduated” from Little League, where he played first base. He gradually made the move to the pitching mound, where he threw three no-hitters in high school and attracted attention from several big league scouts, signing with the Milwaukee Braves in 1953.
As a “bonus baby,” he was required to spend two years with the Braves rather than improving his pitching skills in the minors. He spent most of that time sitting and watching. Jay made his major league debut with the Braves in July and picked up his first victory by shutting out the Reds in September. But in 1953-1954, he appeared in only 21 games with three starts and a 2-0 record.
Jay’s minor league tutelage began in 1955. He won 17 games for AAA Wichita in 1957 and was 7-5 as a starter and reliever for the Braves in 1958. He was a combined 15-19 for the Braves over the next two seasons, and in December of 1960 was traded with Juan Pizarro to the Reds for shortstop Roy McMillan.
Jay was slotted to be part of the Reds’ starting rotation for 1961, but no one could have realistically anticipated the season he would have. He started the season by losing his first three starts, with the Reds being shut out in the first two starts. But Jay won all six of his May starts and was 10-4 at the end of June. At the All-Star break he was 13-4 with a 2.55 ERA and seven complete games.
Jay was 4-2 in August and 3-2 in September. He finished the 1961 season at 21-10 with a 3.53 ERA. He tied with Warren Spahn for the National League lead in victories and his earned run average was eighth lowest in the league. He finished among the league’s top ten pitchers in innings pitched (247.1), strikeouts (157) and complete games (14). His four shutouts tied Spahn for the league lead.
Jay was 4-0 against his former team, the Braves, with a 2.57 ERA. His twentieth victory in September was a 1-0 shutout of Milwaukee. He was the first Reds pitcher to post a 20-win season since 1947.
Jay placed fifth in the voting for Most Valuable Player. He garnered the only first-place vote that wasn’t claimed by teammate Frank Robinson, the 1961 National League MVP.
Jay had another outstanding season in 1962, going 21-14. But then his career collapsed. He was 7-18 in 1963 and 11-11 in 1964. He won 15 games over the next two seasons, and was out of major league baseball for good following the 1966 season.