Gary Nolan is the most complete pitcher in the National League.
- Reds pitching coach Larry Shepard
At age 18, Gary Nolan, the Reds No. one draft choice, took the mound for his first Major League start after just one year at A-League Sioux Falls. He pitched seven innings in a 7-3 win over the Houston Astros at Crosley Field on April 15, 1967.
In his first Major League season, he was 14-8 with a 2.58 ERA, five shutouts and 206 strikeouts in 227 innings, all of those totals a modern day records for a pitcher who began a season at the age of 18 or younger. In a game against the San Francisco Giants, he struck out Willie Mays four times. In 1968, Nolan strained his shoulder in spring training and began the season with Tampa in the Florida State League. After rejoining the Reds on May 31, he enjoyed a seven-game winning streak and finished the season at 9-4, with a team leading 2.40 ERA. His sore arm problems would plague him throughout his career that ended before he reached 30 years old.
The Reds Opening Day pitcher in 1969, he struck out 12 Dodgers but lost 3-2. In his next start he pulled a muscle while winning the game but the injury cost him three months of action. He was sent to Indianapolis, returned to the Reds in early August and won six games in eight starts, helped by his new change-up pitch that Sparky Anderson would later call the best change-up in baseball. Under manager Dave Bristol, the Reds of the late 1960s were competitive with but couldn't make it to the top. In an interview at age 44, Nolan recalls, "With guys like Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Pete Rose we obviously had the talent. Injuries and bad breaks kept us from winning consistently. We all knew there would be a change of managers after 1969."
The new manager was an unknown skipper, Sparky Anderson and the team had immediate success in the 1970s with Nolan an important clog in what would become The Big Red Machine.
When healthy, the six-foot-3, 190 pound right-hander won consistently and possessed consummate control. While Nolan was with the team, the Reds won divisional titles in 1970, '72, '73, '75 and '76 and World Championships in 1975 and '76. Nolan appeared only twice for the Reds in 1973 and missed the entire 1974 season after the surgical removal of a bone spur from his shoulder. He blamed his arm problems on his herky-jerky delivery. In the later part of his career, his great off-speed pitch compensated for his loss of speed on his fast ball. He never lost his great control.
In 1970 Nolan went 18-7 with 181 strike-outs and a 3.27 ERA, helping the Reds to a NL pennant. Against Pittsburgh in Game One of the Championship series, he pitched a remarkable nine inning shutout. After a disappointing 12-15 record in 1971, he posted 13 victories before the 1972 All-Star Game.
Selected for the NL team, he withdrew from the team, suffering from neck and shoulder pains and went on the disabled list. When he returned to the team he finished the season with a 15-5 record and 1.99 ERA, leading the league in winning percentage (.750) and second place in ERA behind Steve Carlton.
Arm problems forced Nolan to miss most of 1973, and he missed the entire 1974 season. He returned in 1975 in good form, going 15-9 with a 3.16 ERA. In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, he pitched just 6 innings in two starts.
He duplicated his 15-9 record in 1976 and finally got his first World Series victory over the New York Yankees in the final game of a four-game Reds sweep.
The arm problems returned big time in 1977 and he was traded to the California Angels in June, where he made only five appearances, compiled an 0-3 record. was placed once more on the disabled list and released in January, 1978. He recalled, "I saw Dr. Frank Jobe while out there, but I pretty much knew I was done. All of a sudden my career was over."
Over his 10-year career, Nolan was 110-70 with a stellar 3.08 ERA. He struck out 1,039 batters and gave up only 413 walks in 1,675 innings pitched.