Homer Happy: Vada Pinson
Vada Pinson was as complete a ballplayer as you could hope for. He could hit for average and hit for power. He played fast and smooth in center field, with a strong throwing arm. He turned singles into extra bases. He played with five tools and the heart of a lion.
When the Cincinnati Reds were winning the National League pennant in 1961, Vada Pinson led the team with a .343 batting average, and led the league with 208 hits.
Pinson had the talent and dedication to be a genuine superstar. The only thing he lacked while playing for the Cincinnati Reds was a spotlight.
In Cincinnati in the early 1960s, that spotlight belonged to Frank Robinson.
A native of Oakland, California, Pinson was signed by the Reds in 1956. In 1958, he batted .343 for Spokane in the Pacific Coast League, which earned him a month’s stay in Cincinnati (batting .271 in 27 games) and a shot at the center field job in 1959.
Pinson captured that center field job and refused to let it go. He batted .317 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs with a .509 slugging percentage. He led the National League with 648 at-bats, 131 runs scored and 47 doubles.
In 1960 he repeated as the league leader in at-bats and doubles. Batting .287 with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs, Pinson also stole 32 bases and scored 107 runs. He batted .343 in 1961, leading the league with 208 hits. His was a potent bat hitting third in the Reds’ pennant-winning lineup, with 16 home runs and 87 RBIs in addition to scoring 101 runs. He finished third in the race for Most Valuable Player behind Robinson and Orlando Cepeda.
After batting .292 in 1962 (with 23 home runs and 100 RBIs), Pinson gave what probably was his best all-around hitting performance in 1963. He batted .313 (seventh in the National league) and again led the majors in hits with 204. He appeared in all 162 games, tying him for first with Bill White and Ron Santo. His .514 slugging average was fifth in the league. He finished third in total bases (335), second in doubles (37), first in triples with 14, eighth in singles (131), third in stolen bases (27) and fourth with 106 runs batted in.
Over the next five seasons, Pinson remained a solid hitter for the Reds, with and (after the trade with the Baltimore Orioles) without Frank Robinson hitting behind him. From 1964-1968, Pinson batted a combined .284 while averaging 17 home runs and 74 RBIs. He led the National League with 13 triples in 1967.
Following the 1968 season, and after 11 years with the Reds, Pinson was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Wayne Granger and outfielder Bobby Tolan. Pinson’s only season in St. Louis was the worst of his career, as he batted .255 with ten home runs and 70 RBIs.
In 18 major league seasons, Vada Pinson batted .286 with 2,757 hits. He led the National League twice in hits and twice in triples.
An off-season trade to the Cleveland Indians revived Pinson’s bat in 1970. He batted .286 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. At age 31, it would also be Pinson’s last season as a major hitting threat. From 1971-1975, playing for the Indians, the California Angels and the Kansas City Royals, Pinson hit for a combined .261 average with seven home runs and 41 RBIs per season. He retired at age 36 after hitting .223 in 1975.
Pinson lasted 18 seasons in the major leagues, batting .286 with 2,757 hits (#53 all time in career hits), 485 doubles, 256 home runs and 1,169 RBIs. Pinson scored 1,365 runs during his career.
Pinson was an All-Star twice.
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