Former Red likes coming to Marietta

Former Cincinnati Reds pitcher and pitching coach Don Gullett was in town once again this week to serve as a pitching instructor at the 20th annual Cincinnati Reds Legend camp.

Youngsters, who got the chance to work with the southpaw, gained knowledge from a pitcher who put together one of the most successful careers in Reds history.

Gullett grew up not far from Cincinnati in Lynn, Ky., and was a fan of the then emerging Big Red Machine from an early age.

“My dad was a Reds fan when I was growing up and we listened to a lot of ball games,” said Gullett. “We always kept track of the Reds and how they were doing.”

Gullett began to make a name for himself in high school as he starred in basketball, baseball, and football at McKell High School where he was named all-Kentucky his senior year in all three sports.

His perfect game on the diamond, one in which he struck out 20 of the 21batters he faced, and his 72-point performance on the football field in a game in which he scored 11 touchdowns and kicked six extra points caught the eyes of colleges and baseball scouts locally and nationally as well.

Gullett graduated in 1969 and was selected in the first round by Cincinnati as the Reds made him the 14th overall pick in the amateur draft.

“Every kid’s dream is to become a professional athlete whether it be basketball, football, or baseball,” said Gullett, who spent that summer pitching for the Sioux Falls Packers in the Reds organization. “The first time I was on the field playing with some of the players that I idolized it was kind of like a dream world. When that dream becomes a reality it is just hard to put into words.”

Gullett’s rise to the major league’s was a short one as after winning seven of nine decisions for Sioux City, he made the Reds opening day roster in 1970 as a 19-year old becoming teammates with such legendary Reds players as Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench.

That 1970 team made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Baltimore Orioles.

The young lefty pitched mostly in relief for the 1970 team and posted a 5-2 record with a very respectable 2.43 earned run average in 77 innings of work.

Gullett became a starting pitcher in 1971 and posted a 16-6 record with a 2.65 ERA and would remain a starter throughout the rest of his career.

The Big Red Machine returned to the World Series in 1972, again losing the series this time to the Oakland Athletics.

It would be 1975 before the Reds made a return trip to the Series, and this time they defeated the Boston Red Sox as Gullett started three of those games.

The following year saw the Reds sweep the New York Yankees for their second championship in a row as Gullett put together a combined 26-7 record in 1975 and 1976.

Gullett became the first member of the Big Red Machine to leave the organization as a free agent after the ’76 season as he signed a multi-year contract with the Yankees.

The left-hander came out of the gate strong for the Bronx Bombers as he posted a 14-4 record in 22 starts to help the Yankees win the ’77 title, but suffered what would prove to be a career ending shoulder injury in 1978, bringing his career to a close at the very young age of 27.

Gullett doesn’t blame his injuries on excessive pitch counts as we hear so much about in todays game, noting it was a completely different era back then.

“There really wasn’t a whole lot of talk about pitch counts back then. What we started we wanted to finish,” said Gullett, noting that Sparky Anderson, his manager in all seven years in Cincy was nicknamed Captain Hook for his tendency to go to his bullpen at the first sign a starting pitcher might be tiring. “Today with all the long term contracts they tend to error on the side of caution.”

Gullett wrapped up his nine-year career a member of four World Championship teams, winning 109 games against just 50 losses and owning a career earned run average of 3.11.

After staying away from the game for many years after his retirement as a player, Gullett returned to baseball in 1993 as he was named pitching coach for the Reds, a position he held until 2005.

Though he still keeps up with the Reds, the 62-year old Gullett has found some other things other than baseball to occupy his time.

“I’ve been kind of busy with my grand-kids and I like to hunt and fish,” said Gullett, who was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall Of Fame in 2002. “I’m just really enjoying retirement now but baseball is something that will always be in my blood.”

Camp director Mike Wagner believes that the kids that got to work with Gullett this week will no doubt benefit from his forty plus years of pitching knowledge.

“He’s the best pitching coach on the planet as far as I’m concerned,” said Wagner of the Greenup County Kentucky native. “To have him coming each year to our camp has meant a lot to me and a lot to our camp.”

Gullett has been a regular for many years at the Marietta camp and seems to enjoy teaching the youth as much as they enjoy learning from him.

“It’s very satisfying to me and to get the opportunity to work with the young individuals is something I look forward to every year,” said Gullett. “Its great to come back to Marietta, it’s just got that hometown feel. They’ve made me feel at home.”