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Little League To Major League:

JOEY JAY

         

    Little Leaguers do grow up and, for a couple of seasons in the early 1960s, a former Connecticut Little Leaguer was a standout pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds.

    Joey Jay, a right-hander, owns the distinction of being the first graduate of Little League baseball ever to play in the majors. Joey was 12 years old when the local league was established near his home in Middletown, Connecticut. Less than five years later he was in the major leagues, a 17 -year-old bonus baby with the Milwaukee Braves.

Because he signed for a $40,000 bonus, Jay was forced to spend his first two professional seasons on the major league club. As a result, the raw but hard-throwing youngster saw little action. He appeared in only 18 games in the two years.

 

''That was a terrible rule, that bonus rule," Jay told Sports Illustrated writer Walter Bingham. "I got none of the experience I needed, and I took up a spot on the roster someone more deserving should have had. And what a drag I was on the ball club."

 

For a period of time during the 1950s, the major leagues invoked that bonus rule - a bonus player signed above a certain amount of money was required to stay in the majors for two years - as a way to try to keep down the payment of large bonuses to unproven kids.

 

 

 

Jay never made it big with the Milwaukee organization. After the 1960 season, when Jay had won only 24 games for the Braves in seven years, he was traded to the Reds along with Juan Pizarro for shortstop Roy McMillan.

 

The trade actually was a three-cornered deal. It also involved the Chicago White Sox. After the Reds had Pizarro, they then swapped him and pitcher Cal McLish to the White Sox for Gene Freese.

    The acquisition of Jay and Freese, a hard-hitting, sometimes erratic third baseman, transformed the sixth-place Reds of 1960 into pennant contenders and winners in 1961.

"I contacted a couple of friends in the Milwaukee organization," manager Fred Hutchinson recalled in a 1961 Sporting News interview. "I was told that Jay had showed signs of maturing last year ... that he was ready to realize the tremendous potential scouts had seen in him when the Braves signed him as a bonus player."

 

Jay was also highly touted by Bob Scheffing, the Detroit Tigers manager, who had been a coach at Milwaukee in 1960.

 

Said Scheffing, "I wanted to get Jay for the Tigers, but we had nothing to offer." Scheffing predicted in the spring of 1961 that Jay would "win more games than any other pitcher on the Reds pitching staff."

 

And that is what Joey Jay did. ]n fact, he won more games that year than any other pitcher in the National League - 21. He pitched four shutouts and became the first Cincinnati 20-game winner since Ewell Blackwell in 1947, the same year Jay was playing Little League ball back in Connecticut.

 

Jay was tough to deal with in contract negotiations after winning 21 in 1961. So he came up with a novel idea: He would buy up his contract and offer his services to any team in baseball because the Reds offer wasn't to his satisfaction.

 

He took his offer in the form of $250,000 to Cincinnati general manager Bill DeWitt. "You're out of your mind," DeWitt thundered. "I'm not in the business of selling contracts."

 

They then hammered out a new contract and a satisfied Jay went to work in 1962. Again he won 21 games and he was once more one of the top pitchers in the National League.

 

Always looking for the added edge on the mound, Jay came up with a couple of new pitches that made him effective. He called them the changeup screwball and the slip pitch. It was nothing new for Jay to experiment. When Milwaukee had optioned him to the minor leagues one year, he went to a sidearm and underhand delivery when all else failed.

         
       

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