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The Era Of The Dancing Knuckler: BOB PURKEY

         

    August 16, 1961, is one of those "red-letter" dates in Cincinnati Reds history. It's a date that can be reflected upon, remembered, savored and called back to discussion from time to time.

 

    To refresh some memories, here's what happened:

The Reds and the Los Angeles Dodgers were battling for the lead in the ever-tight National League pennant race. After Joey Jay had defeated Sandy Koufax the night before, the Dodgers held a one-game lead over Cincinnati.

 

The Reds and Dodgers were playing a double-header at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Dodgers home park, before their lavish stadium in Chavez Ravine was constructed a couple of years later. More than 72,000 were in attendance and most expected a sweep by the Dodgers, possibly even the coup de grace for Cincinnati. A double-header defeat for the Reds would have been a severe blow to their pennant chances.

 

But on the "night to remember" of August 16, it was Los Angeles that was knocked out of the pennant race.

 

The Reds swept both games. Bob Purkey, the knuckle-balling right-hander, fired a four-hit shutout in the opener, a 6-0 victory for Cincinnati. In the second game the Reds wasted little time getting four runs in the first inning and then romping 8-0 behind the sensational two-hit pitching by Jim OToole.

 

 

Cincinnati went in front by a game, the Dodgers were dead and the Reds went on to baffle the experts who had picked them as sixth-place finishers in a preseason poll. The Reds breezed to the pennant, winning by six games over the second-place Dodgers.

 

One of the big reasons for success that year was Purkey, who usually could be counted on to pitch a good game in a tight situation. When his knuckle ball danced, he was tough to hit. And unlike other pitchers who relied heavily on the knuckler, Purkey had other pitches he would use. His fastball was much better than adequate and he had a good slider as well.

 

"I don't have blazing speed," Purkey confirmed in a Sporting News interview in 1962, "but my fastball does move. And believe me, without it, I couldn't win."

 

In the strictest sense of the word, Purkey was a pitcher. Time and time he finessed a batter rather than overpowering him.

    Purkey came to Cincinnati in one of the most one-sided trades the club ever made. After pitching for his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates for four seasons, he came to the Reds for left-hander Don Gross. In his seven seasons in Cincinnati, Purkey won 103 games and lost only 76.

 

 

Gross won exactly six games for the Pirates and finally had to quit because of arm trouble.

Purkey won 16 games in the pennant-winning 1961 season, but his best year was in 1962. That year he was a strong Cy Young Award candidate when he won 23 games, lost only 5 and had a 2.81 earned run average. As good as that year was, it could have been much better with a few breaks.

 

He lost one game to the Chicago Cubs, 1-0. Another loss came 2-0 to Houston. In yet another outing against the Colt 45s, he pitched 10 scoreless innings in a game the Reds later won, 1-0, on Johnny Klippenstein's home run in the 13th inning.

 

Purkey pitched for the Reds until he was swapped to St. Louis in 1965. He went back to Pittsburgh the next year and, after working 10 games, he called it quits.

 

His major league record shows 129 victories. Most came with the Reds and the memories of his dancing knuckle ball remain fond in the minds of most Reds fans.

 

         
       

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