For the second night of Brendanukkah, I thought I'd take a look at the man who pitched the most games ever for the Cincinnati Reds, Pedro Borbon. He's an interesting and sometimes overlooked cog of the Big Red Machine, but it's his birthday today and what better day to remember him?
Borbon was born in the Valverde province of the Dominican Republic in 1946. When he was 17 years old, he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent, and went into their minor league system. After four years kicking around Minor League America, Borbon was claimed by the California Angels in the Rule 5 Draft. By the rules of that draft, he had to stay on the big league roster the whole season, but in truth he probably wasn't ready to be a major leaguer. In his rookie season at age 22, he appeared in 22 games, giving up 31 runs in 41 innings. His ERA was 6.15 with a WHIP of 1.610. At the end of the season, Borbon was involved in a five player trade that sent him, Vern Geishert, and Jim McGlothlin to Cincinnati in exchange for Alex Johnson and Chico Ruiz. Borbon was really just filler, as the principals were McGlothlin for Johnson. After the 1970 season, both teams had to have felt good about the trade. Johnson went to the All-Star Game and won a batting title playing left field for the Angels, and McGlothlin had the best season of his career, going 14-10 and starting Game 2 in the World Series for the Reds.
Borbon however spent most of 1970 and 1971 in the minors, making only fifteen appearances for the Reds over that span. It's tempting to see that both Borbon and Sparky Anderson came to the Reds in the 1970 season and read it as the perfect meeting of a man with a peculiar bullpen strategy and the pitcher that allowed him to implement that strategy arriving at the dawn of the decade of the Machine, but it's not quite that neat. Borbon wasn't on the postseason roster in 1970, but by 1972, he was ready.
The thing about Pedro Borbon was that he had an indestructable arm. The other thing about Pedro Borbon was that he was crazy. He once threw a baseball over the center field wall at Fenway Park -- standing on home plate. He once chewed up and spit out a Mets hat following the brawl between Pete Rose and Bud Harrelson in the 1973 NLCS. He was the team barber. And yes, he was a pitcher that (eventually) allowed a man to implement a peculiar bullpen strategy that became a trademark of the Big Red Machine. On a team of stars and big personalities, it was always useful to have a guy that was nuts.
Borbon had a strong arm, but was not a power pitcher. He only averaged 3.5 K/9 in his time in Cincinnati, but he didn't walk many either. His WHIP was a nice 1.289. He would let the opposing batters put the ball in play and then rely on his stellar defense (particularly Bench, Morgan, Concepcion, and Geronimo up the middle) handle the outs. For his peak years with the Reds, from 1972 to 1978, Borbon averaged over 69 appearances per season. He made 80 appearances in his best year, 1973. For comparison's sake, Nick Masset made 82 appearances in 2010, but that only amounted to 76.2 innings. Borbon pitched 121 innings in 1973, one of his lowest totals as a Red.
There were a lot of great arms in the bullpens of the Big Red Machine, but the spine was formed by Borbon and Clay Carroll. The Hawk was seven years older than Borbon and had been with the Reds since the middle of 1968. He would be called upon to finish games more often than Borbon, and thus wound up with more saves, but both pitched constantly. Sparky Anderson had no compunction about yanking his starters whenever he felt that they were through. He would call on any member of his bullpen in pretty much any situation, but none more so than Carroll and Borbon. In fact, Carroll had the record of most games pitched by a Reds pitcher, but he was traded away in 1975. Borbon stayed until 1979 and went on to eclipse Carroll's record by 45 games. Because he pitched in so many games for the Machine, a team that won a lot, Borbon won a lot too. A lot more than he lost, anyway. He has the third best winning percentage ever by a Reds pitcher, again ahead of Carroll.
After pitching in three World Series for the Reds, including perfect outings in the 1975 NLCS, 1976 NLCS, and 1976 World Series, Borbon was traded in the middle of the 1979 season to San Francisco for Hector Cruz. There was a popular urban legend that Borbon was so mad at being traded that he put a voodoo curse on the team that it would lose until the last member of the front office left - which happened in 1990. It's a good story, but one of the few crazy Borbon stories that isn't true. Today, he is living in Edinburg, TX.
Sparky Anderson famously said that the Big Red Machine consisted of four superstars and the rest were turds. Those turds were great players, but it does illustrate the point that some members of the Machine can be forgotten. The Reds have had a lot of great pitchers, and especially relief pitchers throughout their history, but no one ever went to the mound wearing a wishbone C more than Pedro Borbon. In 2010, he was given his due and inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, along with other noted nutjob Chris Sabo. Shine on, you crazy diamond, and thanks from all us Reds fans.
Happy birthday, Pedro!