Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles retelling the 1964 season. Stay for the end.
The 1964 Cincinnati Reds typically started an outfield of Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson and Tommy Harper — a Hall of Famer, near Hall of Famer and an All-Star, two-time stolen base champion and Seattle Pilot.
Good luck to a rookie like Mel Queen in his career aspirations. Getting playing time in that outfield was more unlikely than getting Sparky Anderson to accept facial hair on his Big Red Machine teams.
The 1964 Reds used 34 players in a 162-game season; in the pandemic-stricken version of baseball in 2020, teams began play with 30-man rosters.
The bench in baseball years ago seems much like special teams in football once were — unappreciated for the potential advantages they might create.
On this day Queen did exactly that for the Reds in a 7-2 victory over the Dodgers. Given a rare opportunity to start — he played just 48 games and batted just 99 times in a season spent entirely in the majors — he singled his first three times up and was in the middle of a four-run first inning.
Queen’s first hit scored Pete Rose, who had doubled. He then scored after Pinson singled and Robinson doubled as the first four Reds hit safely and Dodgers starter Joe Moeller exited without retiring a batter.
The Reds went on to score two more in the third, keyed by a Steve Boros double, and Bob Purkey allowed in nine innings what the Reds accomplished in their first four batters — four hits — for his sixth win of the season. The win moved the third-place Reds within five-and-a-half games of the idle first-place Phillies, and within two-and-a-half games of the second-place Giants, who lost to Bob Gibson and the Cardinals, 2-1.
It was the only three-hit day in Queen’s career, because as a right fielder, he was a pretty good pitcher.
Queen was among the first to know. According to his bio at sabr.org, Queen, then just 22, asked Reds coach Jim Turner for pitching pointers as early as the summer of his rookie season. But Queen had the arm to go along with his request. When he and Robinson were in the outfield together on this day, the Hall of Famer moved to left field and the rookie played right.
Perhaps Queen’s pitching urges were familial — his dad had an eight-year career as a mostly mediocre pitcher for the Yankees and Pirates. And perhaps had Queen known the Reds would foolishly trade Robinson in 18 months, he might have stuck with the outfield.
But Turner obliged, and maybe he was a better pitching coach than Jim Bouton described in Ball Four. By 1967 Queen was not only a major-league pitcher, but quite a good one, too. He won 14 games, had a 2.76 ERA and .617 OPS against, and fanned 154 batters and allowed only 155 hits in 195.2 innings.
He fanned nine Pirates in a six-hit win on May 16 in which Pittsburgh didn’t score until the ninth. He four-hit the Dodgers for his eighth win on June 16, with, according to sabr.org, his dad watching at Dodger Stadium. He fanned 10 at Atlanta on July 26 when he allowed only five hits over eight innings. And he had back-to-back 10 strikeout games in the first week of September during a stretch when he allowed just one earned run over 25.1 innings in three starts, concluding with a two-hit, 3-0 win over the Mets for win No. 13.
“I knew he was fast but he also has good breaking pitches and good control,” said Roberto Clemente, according to sabr.org, the Pirates’ rightfielder having some expertise on strong throwing arms that once resided in right field.
Queen was something of a one-hit wonder as a starter. He tore his rotator cuff in the process, and scrapped to recover. The Reds, in desperate need of pitching after their ninth-in-the-NL 4.11 ERA cost them the NL West pennant in 1969, sold him to the Angels.
Queen had one more good season in his arm and delivered out of the bullpen in 1971. He had a 1.78 ERA and four saves in 65.2 innings, fanning 53, but pitched just one more season and 31 more innings.
“I just went to the mound and threw as hard as I could,” Queen said was his approach to pitching, according to a 2010 baseballprospectus.com story, but there was clearly more to it.
Queen managed in the minors and eventually became the Blue Jays’ pitching coach in the late 1990s. When he became a “special projects,” adviser, according to sabr.org, the Jays sent him the most special of prospects to work on. Their former 1995 first-round draft pick had put up a 10.64 ERA with the 2000 Jays, allowed 107 hits in 67.2 innings and walked almost as many batters (42) as he fanned (44). Clearly he needed tutoring.
By the time Queen was done, Roy Halladay’s career had reversed course.