Jim Maloney: Fresno’s other fire-baller

Reds hurler Jim Maloney struck out a career-high 265 batters in 1963.

Reds hurler Jim Maloney struck out a career-high 265 batters in 1963./Topps

By Glen Sparks

Fresno, Calif., the raisin capital of the world, produced a couple of fire-balling pitchers in the 1940s. The more famous of the two, Tom Seaver (born in 1944), won 311 major league games. Baseball writers voted him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

The other guy, Jim Maloney, enjoyed a 12-year career in the big leagues, almost all of it spent with the Cincinnati Reds. He topped the 200-strikeout mark four times and won at least 20 games twice.

A hard thrower with a wild streak, Maloney was born in Fresno on June 2, 1940. His dad, Earl “Hands” Maloney played semi-pro ball on the west coast in the 1930s and later opened an auto dealership. Jim grew up as a star athlete. Most teams saw him as a future big-league shortstop. The Reds liked that strong arm and envisioned Maloney on the mound.

The right-hander signed with Cincinnati in 1959 for about $100,000. In July 1960, the Reds called him up to the big club. Over the next couple of years, Maloney did what he would do for much of his career. He struck out a lot of guys. He walked a lot of guys. And, he battled arm problems. Maloney threw as hard as anyone, 98 or 99 mph. But, could he stay healthy?

And, could he ever harness that heat? Over his first two years with the Reds, he pitched 158.1 innings. He struck out 105 batters and walked 96.

By 1962, more and more of Maloney’s pitches began to catch the strike zone. In 115 innings that season, he gave up 66 free passes, not great, but much better than in 1960-61. Maloney fanned 105.

The pitcher’s big run began in 1963. He established himself as one of the top hurlers in baseball. Maloney went 23-7 for a Reds team that finished just 86-76 and in fifth place in the National League. Outfielders Vada Pinson (22 home runs, 106 RBI, .347 on-base percentage) and Frank Robinson (21, 91, .379) led the offense.

Maloney posted a 2.77 ERA (120 ERA+) and struck out 265 batters in 250.1 innings. The new Cincinnati ace threw 13 complete games and six shutouts. He walked 88 and, just to keep batters from feeling too comfortable in the box, led the N.L. with 19 wild pitches.

From 1963-69, Maloney compiled a 117-60 (.661 pct.) won-loss mark and put up a 2.90 ERA (125 ERA+). He K’d 1,375 over 1,528.1 innings and gave up just 1,220 hits. Further proving that he was one of the era’s top power pitchers, Maloney hurled 29 shutouts. He still walked plenty of hitters (609), but, due to all those strikeouts, posted a combined K/BB ratio of 2.26. (By comparison, Seaver posted a career 2.62 K/BB ratio over 20 seasons.) Maloney fanned more than 200 hitters every year from 1963-66. (Seaver struck out at least 200 batters for nine straight seasons, 1968-76, and did it again in 1978 after missing that mark by four in ’77.)

Tom Terrific, pitching for the Reds after all those great years with the New York Mets, tossed his one and only no-hitter on June 16, 1978, against the St. Louis Cardinals. Maloney pitched two no-hitters in his career. He nearly threw three. On June 14, 1965, in front of fewer than 6,000 fans at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Maloney struck out 18 and held the Mets scoreless for 10 innings. In the 11th inning, he gave up a lead-off solo home run to Johnny Lewis. Later in the inning, he surrendered a one-out single to Roy McMillan.

The Reds didn’t score in the bottom half of the 11th and lost 1-0. Even so, under the rules of the day, Maloney was credited with a no-hitter; he did not allow a hit through nine innings. (Baseball changed its standard for a no-hitter in 1991. Now, Maloney only gets credit for pitching a great game and getting a tough loss.)

Maloney’s first still-official no-hitter came a few months later. On Aug. 19, 1965, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, he held the Cubs hitless over—can you believe it?–10 innings. He struck out 12, walked an amazing 10 and supposedly threw 187 pitches. The Reds won 1-0 on a Leo Cardenas home run.

The final no-no was a little easier. This one was back at Crosley Field, April 30, 1969, against the Houston Astros. The Reds scored once in the first, seven times in the fourth and twice in the eighth. Maloney walked five and struck out 13 as the Reds cruised to a 10-0 win in front of 3,898 fans.

Maloney looked like he might be headed to the Hall of Fame. But, the arm woes never stopped. He complained about shoulder issues and elbow pain at various times. Management and many teammates got tired of hearing about it, even if it did come from someone as talented as Maloney. On-going salary disputes also made headlines.

The flame-thrower crashed fast. He went from a 12-5 season in 1969 with a 2.77 ERA to a 0-1 year in 1970, with an 11.34 ERA over just 16.2 innings. In his second start that year, Maloney ruptured his Achilles tendon. He worked hard to make it back to the team by September, but his Cincinnati career was nearly over. Maloney was even left off the team’s postseason roster.

The Reds traded their former ace to the California Angels in the offseason. There wasn’t any Hollywood comeback story, though. Maloney pitched in 13 games and went 0-3. He finished his career with a 134-84 record and fired 30 shutouts.

Following his playing days, Maloney battled alcoholism and later directed the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council in his native Fresno. He still lives in Fresno today.

What more can you say about Jim Maloney? Well, there’s this: He faced the great Willie Mays a total of 66 times. The Say-Hey Kid batted .172 lifetime against Fresno’s other fireballer.

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