HomeTeamsPhilliesThe Late Don Gullett’s Philadelphia Phillies Connection

The Late Don Gullett’s Philadelphia Phillies Connection

News this week of the death of former Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees lefthander, Don Gullett, at age 70, brought back memories of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine of the 1970s. While the Big Red Machine was known primarily for the offensive dominance generated by greats like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, and George Foster, Gullett was a critical contributor as the ace of the starting rotation. As Bench said in tribute after learning of the death of his friend and teammate, “There wasn’t a better athlete or better person than Don Gullett. He was as good an athlete as I’ve seen and the biggest competitor I have known.”

Don Gullett has an important Philadelphia Phillies connection as well. Gullett pitched for the Reds from 1970-1976, which meant he pitched regularly against the Phillies. In those six years, as the Reds became The Big Red Machine and the Phillies grew from perennial cellar dwellers to serious contenders, Gullett compiled a 4-2 record with a 3.97 ERA in 19 games (12 starts) against the Phils. A few Phillies, notably Mike Schmidt (.471 with 3 homeruns) and Garry Maddox (.367 with 3 doubles), were very successful hitting against the left-hander. On the other hand, shortstop Larry Bowa hit just .140 against him and slugger Grag Luzinski just .227.

Don Gullett
Don Gullett

In October of 1976, the 102-win Cincinnati Reds met the 101-win Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series. The Big Red Machine were the reigning World Series Champions and already regarded as one of the great teams of all time. The upstart Phillies would be playing their first playoff game since the 1950 “Whiz Kids” won the pennant. The first game of the scheduled five-game series was October 9 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Both teams went with their left-handed aces, Don Gullett for the Reds and Steve Carlton for the Phillies.

Gullett dominated the Phillies, shutting them down with just one run on two hits over eight strong innings. The lone run the Phillies got off Gullett scored on a Mike Schmidt sacrifice fly in the first inning. After that sacrifice fly, Gullett walked three straight batters, but escaped by inducing Tim McCarver to hit an easy fly ball. After that first inning scare it was smooth sailing for Mr. Gullett.

Meanwhile, the Reds got to Carlton and reliever Tug McGraw for six runs. Gullett, a fine hitter as well as pitcher, was the hitting star with two hits, including a double, and three RBIs. The Phillies scored two meaningless runs in the ninth off reliever Rawly Eastwick but fell by the final score of 6-3. The game set the tone for the series, which the Reds won in three straight games. The three losses ran the Phillies streak of post season losses to 11 dating back to 1915.

This playoff game was the final game Gullett would ever pitch against the Phillies. During the winter, he signed a $2 million free agent contract with the New York Yankees. In those days, before interleague play, this meant the Phillies had seen their last of Don Gullett. After one excellent year with the Yankees, a shoulder injury in 1978 ended Gullett’s career at the age of 27.

Gullett retired with a record of 109-50, second to only to the Yankees’ Whitey Ford, for the highest winning percentage in baseball history for pitchers who have won at least 100 games. In the 1990s, Gullett spent several years as the Reds pitching coach and later worked in their player development program.


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