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Vada Pinson and the Question of Character and the Hall of Fame

November 9, 2010 by · 64 Comments 

About a year ago, while looking for something else, I came across a couple newspaper articles on the death of Vada Pinson on October 21, 1995. I’d heard of Pinson, vaguely, as one of the best center fielders of the 1960s, for a long time the man with the most hits (2757) who wasn’t in the Hall of Fame, and that was about all. In the articles reporting his death I learned that Pinson was part of the first wave of great black major league players from Oakland, a man remembered by his teammates as much for his grace and quiet, neat, gentle personality as for his skills on the field, and that he was a longtime friend of Curt Flood’s.

Flood said, “I always remember Vada Pinson’s smile. It was always present. If not on his face, it was in his voice.”

I don’t have passionate feelings either way about whether Pinson should be in the HOF; it seems like not the greatest mistake in HOF history if he was put in, but there are clearly other, better players who aren’t in. Pinson strikes me as a fine example of someone who belongs in a tier of baseball figures just below the class of Hall of Famers. In any case, the question of how he lived his life, and is now remembered, is more important than the question of whether Pinson belongs in the Hall of Fame.

To that point, several people have left comments on the post I did about Pinson’s death, raving about his character and their memories of watching him play the game. Here are some examples:

“Nowadays they’d be showing his web gems on tv every nite. . . . As graceful a player as I ever saw, in CF, running the bases, and swinging a bat.”

“Vada was my hero as a young kid in the 60s. I wish that there was more video of him to show how great it was to watch him play. As a 58 year old man, now, I’ve never found another player that drew me to them like he did. As I read about comments about his character from people that knew him personally, I know that my instincts were right in following his career.”

“Vada Pinson was a gentleman. He is deserving of inclusion in Cooperstown for his many abilities as a player and for his character.”

These comments came 40 to 50 years after seeing Pinson star, primarily in Cincinnati, from people who had no obvious reason, other than their memories of the man, to come by my posting, let alone praise Pinson.

There’s the issue, which for quite a while pretty much only involved Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, but has now engulfed Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and others tainted by steroids (along with Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner, and I guess Steve Garvey too), of whether bad behavior should keep someone out of the Hall of Fame. But there isn’t nearly as much talk about the corresponding issue of whether people should consider character, charisma, and memorability when voting on HOF candidates. Should someone like Pinson (or, to name more recent examples, Edgar Martinez, Barry Larkin, and Dale Murphy) get extra marks because of the positive impact he had on the game and its image, and the impression he made on the fans who saw him play? Or does the character issue only operate as a negative?

Arne Christensen runs Misc. Baseball, a blog assembling eclectic items about baseball’s history, and 1995 Mariners.


64 Responses to “Vada Pinson and the Question of Character and the Hall of Fame”
  1. Richard Dawley says:

    Sitting here watching the Reds and they put up a list of players who had 45 homers and 170 rbi’s in their first two years – Scooter Gennett having made the list recently. Thought it was an interesting list and looked again – no Frank Robinson. Looked him up and found he was short on the rbi’s. His rookie year was my year of “awakening” at seven – sitting in the sun/moon deck for several games – always a double header.
    As I thought about imitating Robby’s distinctive manner holding the bat awaiting a pitch, Vada Pinson popped into my head. When it came to playing the outfield or running the bases, Vada was my man. I loved Gus Bell, but Vada stole my heart – talented, smooth, productive, and perhaps the fastest man to first in his day.
    HOF or not he was a very special player.

  2. Robert says:

    So much Vada love here. And well deserved.

    I do wish the Cincinnati Reds organization would do their part in raising awareness of this terrific player and beloved person. But for Big Klu and Frank Robinson (who reached his greatest heights after he was foolishly traded) it’s only just recently that 1960s pre-Machine Reds are getting the “pop culture” treatment they deserve. Nice to see Leo Cardenas score a bobblehead. But how many Johnny Benches and Joe Morgans do we need? We need some OFFICIAL Vada love!

  3. Kent Nickell says:

    Vada Pinson was my favorite player. I followed him and the Reds when I first started following baseball as a child in about 1963. Since he was not a Mays, Aaron, or Mantle, and playing in a small market city like Cincinnati, he was not highly publicized. I would gather every bit of information on him I could. When he was traded to St. Louis after the 1968 season, I was devastated. I was 12 yr old and hated the Reds from then on. I am 62 now and still don’t follow the Reds and they are the closest team to my home. He still made one of the most memorable catches in center field I have ever seen, a diving, sliding catch against the Pirates in a drizzling rain.

  4. Pinson is one member of a notable group of very fine ballplayers who are B+ for HOF inclusion. The number is not small but these players did not dominate or pile up large enough numbers for inclusion, nor did they have much WS exposure or famous moments. Pinson’s final six years way from Cincinnati dropped off quite a bit. I believe that a .286 BA with less than 300 HR is insufficient. His grandson, Vada Pinson III, threw me out of his Facebook page promoting HOF for his grandfather. He was intolerant of my opinions even though I have been a Redlegs fan since 1955 and had the country’s largest collection of Reds memorabilia. Sorry, III, but we need a HALL OF VERY GOOD.

  5. David Van Wagener says:

    One of my favorite memories as a kid is of my little brother Steve walking up to Vada Pinson at old Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg during Spring Training. Vada was getting a drink of water from the fountain beside the dugout and Steve asked him if he could sign an autograph on his Vada Pinson model glove. He not only signed one, he sat there and talked with Steve for about 15 minutes about baseball and quizzed him about what position he played and what he liked to do. Needless to say, our family thinks highly of Mr. Vada Pinson. Also, my mom thought he was gorgeous. ? Steve and I both are of the opinion that Pinson is slightly below the level of Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t diminish our admiration for him in the least.

    To answer your last question, I tend to think of character as a negative only. A very good ballplayer who is a great guy still doesn’t get in, but, and I waffle on this depending upon the weather, a great ballplayer who was a complete jerk would not get my vote for HoF if I had one.

  6. Dennis Flottman says:

    As an 11 year old boy in 1958, Vada Pinson became my favorite player. Ted Klu was my favorite up until then but was traded in 1958. I was a diehard Reds fan as a kid and after living in Philadelphia for several years I switched allegiance to the Phillies. At 72, I’m still a Phils fan but Vada still is and always will be my favorite player.

  7. David Beiler says:

    David Van Wagener: Speaking of Vada drinking out of a ballpark water fountain, see:

  8. Tim Deegan says:

    If Harold Baines is a Hall-of-Famer, then so is Vada Pinson.

  9. Elliott P says:

    Vada came up the year I started collecting baseball cards, at age 8. Watching Vada on TV weekend afternoons, I was amazed by his speed and fielding ability. His hitting speaks for itself. They talk about Charlie Hustle stretching singles into doubles – Vada made those extra bases with seemingly effortless grace. In retrospect, I wish the Reds had batted Vada 2nd in the lineup, instead of 3rd. It would have put less pressure on him to drive in runs, and allow him to focus on just getting on base and scoring. He would have drawn more walks, and could have attempted more steals, instead of being reined in by having Frank Robinson batting next. That said, his HOF election would have been clearcut had he not played in the shadows of Robinson, Aaron, Mays, Mantle, and Clemente. He is still my favorite baseball player ever.

  10. Larry Shope says:

    Vada Pinson was a player I hated to see against the Phillies. You couldn’t walk him or he’d steal second. He had the speed to stretch a single into a double, a double into a triple, a triple into an inside the park home run. On top of that he had the power to put it over the fence. Having watched Vada Pinson play ball, I modeled my game after him. The truth is that I was not Vada Pinson and having seen him play, Vada Pinson certainly belongs in the HoF and so does Minnie Minoso.

  11. Born in February 1951, in Cincinnati, Vada Pinson was by leaps and bounds, my favorite Redleg and I named my pet turtle Vada to remind me every day of my favorite player. In fact, I had a baseball card that would be worth a fortune today because it was of both Vada & Frank Robinson and was was titled, “Super Sophs” after they both had great rookie seasons. This was back when Ed Bailey was catching, Eddie Kasko was at 3rd, Roy McMillan at Shortstop, Johnny Temple at 2nd, Ted Kluzewski at 1st, soon replaced by Gordy Coleman, and and outfield of Wally Post, Robinson & Pinson. The pitching staff was stellar with the likes of Bob Purkey, Joe Nuxall, and Jimmy O’Toole. Rose and Bench were still high school phenoms and Crosly Field was my baseball cathedral. Without a doubt, Vada Pinson belongs in the MLB HOF! Of course Mays and Aaron overshadowed Vada and Frank, but only Roberto Clemente, in my young baseball heart, was as exciting Vada Pinson. I cried when the Reds traded Big Ted, but not nearly as much as when they traded Frank in 1966 and Vada in 1868. They’re my favorites of all time!

  12. Michael A Baumann says:

    Vada Pinson was a premier player. If you look at his career stats relative to his peers, it is clear that he is a Hall of Fame player. He had 4 200+ hit seasons, he is a gpld-glover and excelled in all categories.

    In addition, everyone speaks of his excellent character. When cheaters and PED users are considered for the HOF, why not a suberbly talented goof guy?

  13. There is no doubt that Vada should be in the Hall of fame.he was a great player and wonderful person.look at his WAr his slugging avg. his home runs, rbi, triples,doubles, stolen base etc.

  14. John Hoffland says:

    As a Milwaukee Braves fan back in the day I remember, perhaps selectively, that Pinson really tortured us. However, looking at the full body of work, he was a really good to great player for about five or six years and then pretty much mediocre the rest of his career. His OBP was not good as he rarely walked and his career OPS was not that much above average at 111. Loved him as a memorable player with some good Reds teams in late 50s and early 60s but simply not a HOFer. BTW, his 2700 hits were mainly the product of playing a long time.

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