Any player/Any era: Vada Pinson

What he did: If baseball awarded the equivalent of Oscars, Pinson would have been a perennial Best Supporting Actor nominee. One of the quintessential role players of the 1960s, Pinson did many things well, hitting for average and power, stealing 305 bases lifetime, and finishing just shy of 3,000 hits. He was never really a star, overshadowed by Cincinnati Reds teammates like Frank Robinson and Pete Rose, though Pinson placed as high as third in MVP voting in 1961 when he led Cincinnati to the World Series. In another era, a fellow blogger told me, Pinson might have been more.

Era he might have thrived in: Arne Christensen of Misc. Baseball suggested Pinson could make a good pick here, noting in a recent email:

His game of speed and some power would have really shined in the astroturf ’70s and ’80s.

Arne may be on to something. Astroturf is something of a bygone novelty in baseball, seen less and less these days, but in the era Arne suggests, speedy sluggers like Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds, and Eric Davis were regular threats in carpeted stadiums and beyond to hit 30 home runs and steal north of 30 bases. Pinson might have figured aptly into their ranks.

Why: First of all, count Pinson as another great hitter who may have missed out on the Hall of Fame because his prime years happened to fall in the 1960s. Like Jimmy Wynn, Frank Howard, Bob Watson, and maybe a few others from this decade, Pinson might have had a better shot at Cooperstown had he not peaked at a time that so clearly favored pitchers. As it stands, he went the full 15 years on the writers ballot for the Hall of Fame, and if he’s not a viable Veterans Committee candidate today, he at least rates an honorable mention.

Maybe the ’70s and ’80s weren’t the 1920s or ’30s or late 1990s, able to add 40 batting average points and 50 to 100 home runs to Pinson’s lifetime totals. But it’s likely his .286 batting average and 256 home runs would rise enough in any other time in baseball history since the Deadball Era to get him enshrined. He might not approach Dawson’s 438 home runs, but he’d surely increase his .327 to .323 advantage in on-percentage and have a chance at 3,000 hits (and near-automatic enshrinement.) And one can only wonder how many more bases Pinson would have stolen than Dawson’s 314.

Pinson played from 1958 through 1975, and I suspect if he’d debuted even 10 years later, he might have had 100 more steals lifetime, minimum. Almost simultaneous to Pinson’s best seasons in the early and mid ’60s, speedsters like Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills were helping make the stolen base popular again in baseball. Perhaps Pinson had the talent to steal 20 to 30 bases a year whatever his era, though I’d like to think that in the ’70s or ’80s, he’d have been around coaches who could have refined his craft. And the Astroturf would have surely sped his step.

Pinson died of a stroke at 57 in 1995 and is buried in Richmond, California, not far from where I currently sit writing this post in Berkeley. I suspect that as more time passes, Pinson will be increasingly forgotten. That’s a shame.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film), Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays

4 Replies to “Any player/Any era: Vada Pinson”

  1. It was often speculated that Pinson was a few years older than advertised, as many Black and Latino players would shave off a few years from their age in order to make themselves attractrive to scouts. ALthough baseball was largely integrated by 1957, non-Anglo players had to be better than their white counterparts to get a look

    Pinson was a heck of a player, one I really enjoyed watching play

  2. I always enjoyed watching Vada play – he was a great triples hitter. Two odd facts about Vada: 1) he once raced the Dodgers Willie Davis to see who was faster – home to first at Crosley Field and 2) he was one of the last to wear a batting helmut – for years he wore a head protective devise inside his baseball cap. He was a great Redleg!

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