1963 BASEBALL INDUCTEE
Jim Maloney’s early influences in the world of sports were his dad and his Little League coach, Hal Bicknell. “I was ten years old and I was dreaming already about playing in the big leagues.” He was a multi-sport athlete at Fresno High School, winning top honors as a power forward in basketball, quarterbacking the football team, as well as being the power hitter on the Warrior baseball team. “We had a lot of good coaches, especially in baseball under Ollie Bidwell.” says Jim. “Ollie was very strong on fundamentals and I think that is a major reason why so many of us got to play professionally. Pitchers like Ellsworth, Lynn Rube, Mike Urrizola and Pat Corrales were the catcher and our defense and hitting was good because we were so fundamentally sound. In fact, when I got to the pros, I was amazed how many players didn’t have much of a clue as to the fundamentals. We were lucky to have such good coaches.”While Ellsworth, Corrales, and others Signed pro contracts out of high school, Jim accepted a baseball scholarship to Cal Berkley. Ironically, he wound up playing on the Bears basketball team instead. Playing baseball that year just didn’t work out. With many big league scouts still on his trail, Jim came back to Fresno and enrolled at Fresno City College to play baseball under coach Len Bourdet. In early April 1959 while working with Bourdet, the Cincinnati Reds made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse and he left town with his fast ball, curve ball, and change-up.
Jim’s first stop was Topeka, Kansas. It was hot and humid in Topeka, but he won six games while losing Seven. “Again, I felt fortunate because my pitching coach in Topeka was the great Johnny Vander Meer and he helped me out a great deal,” says Jim. “He helped me develop my fast ball and how to throw an overhand curveball. My change-up wasn’t that great, but my curve ball was getting good.” In 1960, Jim round his way to Nashville, Tennessee to play for the Red’s AA Southern Association League team. “They were great to us there. we would play a lot of Saturday afternoon games and then go to the Ryman at night to hear and watch the Grand Ole Opry. We were doing well and I was winning a lot of games and they would have me walk out on stage and introduce me to the crowd. I met Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Eddie Arnold, and many others. I was nineteen years old and everyone was great to us,” Maloney recalls. Much to the disappointment of Nashville fans, Jim was called up to the Reds as he had won fourteen games in two months. The parent team was in trouble as they were in sixth place in the National League.
Jim had gone from Fresno City College to Topeka to Nashville and on to the Cincinnati Reds in a year and a half. His first game in the big time was quite a shock as he was slated to pitch against Don Drysdale and the L.A. Dodgers in the Los Angeles Coliseum. He pitched well, but lost 2-0 on a Maury Wills single and a Wally Moon home run. It was the start of a very successful, twelve-year career that saw Jim win 134 of 218 games with a career ERA of 3.19, striking out over 1,600 batters, throwing two no-hitters, and losing a game to the N. Y. Mets in which he allowed no hits through ten innings before giving up a homer to Johnny Lewis in the eleventh, losing the game 1-0.
Recognized as one of baseball’s best pitchers in the 1960s, Jim Maloney is a grateful man. “To play on the same team with guys like Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, who caught my last no-hitter versus the Astros and it was the only no-hitter he ever caught, John Edwards, who was another great catcher and the best man at Maloney’s wedding, Joe Nuxhal, and many others.” Jim also remembers the greats that he got to compete against like Sandy Koufax, Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, and Joe Morgan. “I used to idolize some of these guys as a kid growing up in Fresno and then I got to play against them,” says Jim.
One thrill in particular for Jim was pitching to the great Stan Musial on September 29, 1963 in the last game and at bat in Stan’s storied career. “I met with him after the game and had a picture taken that day of us together and he signed it. It’s a treasure.” Living in Fresno with his wife, Lyn, and family, Jim Maloney is a happy man. “I know I was lucky,” he says, “…my dad inspired me. He was a great athlete and back when he was known as “Hands” Maloney, he won seven varsity letters at Fresno State in football, basketball, track, and boxing and I had great coaches and teammates and friends around me.” He still loves to play golf and he and Lyn enjoy watching the grandkids play ball. Their grandson, Jordan Ribera played and homered for Fresno State as the Bulldogs won the NCAA National Championship in Omaha and his brother, Jonah Ribera, played football at Clovis West.