OBSERVATIONS: A Sad Day. . .Don Gullett Passes Away

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave and pardon me while I write this with a handkerchief in one hand and tears running down my cheeks.

—GULLY IS GONE: It is the time of my life, at my age (83), when I shudder when the house phone rings. Seldom is it good news. Mostly it is telemarketers. . .and I never answer.

Such was the case today when the phone rang and it was the worst news possible.

Former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Don Gullett suffered a stroke, never regained consciousness and passed away at age 73.

Needless to say, he was one of the best pitchers ever to occupy a pitcher’s mound while wearing a Reds uniform — 91-44 with a 3.11 earned run average during his seven-year run.

He and Gary Nolan were the pitching anchors on the 1975 and 1976 World Series champions.

Even more important, though, he was one of the nicest persons ever to wear a Reds uniform. And even though he was a real tough guy, backed down from nobody, he was so quiet as to be almost silent in the clubhouse with zero ego as a player.

I got to know him as a pitcher, but got even closer when he was a pitching coach for the Reds and manager Jack McKeon, and a doggone good one. We spent a lot of time on the road together and trying to get him to talk about himself was not like pulling a tooth, it was like trying to pull an entire mouth full of teeth.

I was always intrigueds by his legendary accomplishments at McKell (Ky.) High School, where he scored 70 points in one football game, 50 points in a basketball game and struck out every batter but one in a baseball game. The last batter bunted.

No matter how often I asked, he just smiled and shrugged. I had heard that his football coach at McKell was mad at the other team’s coach, so he turned Gullett loose on that team.

Was that true, Gully. Smile, shrug.

Injuries prevented him from ever winning the Cy Young Award or be considered for the Hall of Fame.

In 1975 he was 15-4 with a 2.42 ERA, but made only 22 starts due to injuries. He was on his way toward a Cy Young. In 1976, it was worse. He made only 20 starts and was 11-3 with a 3.00 earned run average, also on his way to Cy Young considerations.

After the ’76 season, he signed with the New York Yankees and was 14-4 with a 3.58 ERA, once again with 22 starts.

Then in 1978 he tore his rotator cuff. That was before rotator cuffs could be fixed with Tommy John surgery, so his career was over.

In nine years, he was 109-50 — 59 games over .500 — with a 3.11 earned run average. That definitely was a path to Cooperstown, but the shortened career threw a brick wall in front of him.

He was one of the Good Guys, a really, really Good Guy. Whomever he pitches for in Heaven, that team won’t lose many when he starts. And the football and basketball teams will be blessed, too.

Rest in peace, No. 35, rest in peace. Now pardon me while I take the house phone off the hook.

—FALLING STARS: How fragile is a major league career? Just ask Jesse Winker and Amir Garrett. Remember when both were major pieces on the Cincinnati Reds?

Now both, holding hats in hand, are pretty much on the start-over phases of their careers.

Outfielder Winker signed a minor league contract with an invite to the major league camp of the Washington Nationals. Pitcher Garrett signed a minor league contract with an invite to the major league camp of the San Francisco Giants.

Historically, that makes them long shots to make the Opening Day roster. And Joey Votto? Still jobless.

—READY ALREADY?: It appearss Shohei Ohtani is ready to provide returns on the $750 million investment the Los Angeles Dodgers put into him.

On Day One of spring training, on the first pitch he saw on his first batting practice swing, he dispatched a baseball over the fence. And of his first 21 swings, 10 left the ball park. . .and they aren’t training in Williamsport.

Once upon a time, back in Tampa’s old Al Lopez Field, spring home of the Reds, I saw George Foster hit seven straight over the left field wall, endangering numerous parked cars, including my rental car. Fortunately, it escaped unscathed.

—POINT OF PERSPECTIVE: Hall of Fame baseball player Ted Williams to Hall of Fame golfer Sam Snead:

TW: “Golf is the easiest sport in the world. You get to hit a ball that isn’t even moving.”

SS: “Oh, yeah. Do you have to hit your foul balls?”

—FLYERS STILL FLYIN’: Many of the Flyer Faithfull were stunned and shocked, in a good way, when the University of Dayton climbed from No. 18 to No. 16 in this week’s Associated Press college basketball poll.

They expected the Flyers to fall, maybe clear out of the Top 25 when they played like a Fifth Street YMCA pick-up team in a 47-45 loss to a not-that-good Virginia Commonwealth team.

It was no shock or even a surprise to me. Of last week’s Top 25 teams, 17 lost at least one game last week. Kentucky and Wisconsin lost twice.

Meanwhile, UD won a big game on the road at Saint Joseph’s before losing on the road to VCU by just two points.

And with their 16-point home win Tuesday over Duquesne, if the Flyers can strongly put away Fordham at UD Arena Saturday afternoon, they should climb even higher in the polls.

—BIRD’S WORD: Larry Bird was impressed, extremely impressed.

After Michael Jordan scored 63 points for the Chicago Bulls in a playoff game agains his Boston Celtics, Bird said, “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

—QUALITY QUOTES: More things said by baseball people that evoke at least a grin:

From pitcher Billy Loes, who once claimed he lost a ground ball in the sun: “I have no intention or desire to ever win 20 games because then they expect it of you.”

From pitcher Jim Lonborg when he struggled: “It has to be physical which is why I’m soaking my arm. If it was mental I’d be soaking my head.”

From umpire Al Clark on why he addressed the former manager formally as George Anderson: “I refused to call a 52-year-old man Sparky.”

From Esther Canseco, after her husband, Jose Canseco, was benched for Game 4 of the 1990 World Series against the Reds: “Let ‘em sweep us. I should have worn a red dress.”

From Reggie Jackson on facing Nolan Ryan: “You just hope to mix in a walk so you just go 0 for 3.”

From Yankee utility player Phil Linz: “You can’t get rich sitting on the bench, but I’m giving it aa try.”

From Mickey Mantle, after his first day as a broadcaster: “You don’t realize how easy this game is until you get up in the broadcast booth.”

From Yogi Berra when Tom Seaver asked him what time it was: “You mean now?”
—PLAYLIST NO. 18: I believe I am close to the end of my iPod’s playlist, but maybe not.

Every Rose Has Its Thorns (Poison), That’s All (Genesis), Jump (Van Halen), When I See You Smile (Bad English), Love Me Tonight (Don Williams), Sarah (Fleetwood Mac), In The Long Run (The Eagles), Seasons In The Sun (Terry Jackson), It’s All In The Game (Tommy Edwards).

Ob La Di, Ob La Da (The Beatles), The Great Pretender (The Platters), Behind Closed Doors (Charlie Rich), Say A Little Prayer (Aretha Franklin), So Much In Love (The Thymes), Light My Fire (The Doors), Whatcha Gonna Do? (Pablo Cruise), Somebody’s Baby (Jackson Browne), Drift Away (Dobie Gray).

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