Monday, March 30, 2009

Catching Up With Joey Jay

Joseph Richard Jay, born in 1935 in Middletown, Connecticut, should be a familiar name to anyone who followed National League baseball in the 1950s and 1960s. Better known as Joey Jay, he broke into the big leagues as a 17-year-old and pitched as a member of the Milwaukee Braves from 1953-1960. A trade sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, where he enjoyed success from 1961-1966. A 21-game winner in 1961 and 1962, Jay made his lone All-Star appearance in 1961, and started and won Game 2 of the World Series against the New York Yankees.

Just one win shy of 100 for his career, Jay retired in 1966 due to arm injuries after a brief stint with the Atlanta Braves. In 2008, he earned an induction into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame. A resident of the Tampa Bay area, Jay recently took some time to talk about his memorable playing career. The following is the first of a two-part interview with Joey Jay.


Q. You were signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1953 for a $20,000 bonus (roughly $153,400 in today’s dollars). Was there a lot of pressure on you as a 17-year-old kid to come in and live up to that money?

A. It was an unfortunate situation and setup, really. The bonus rule made you stay with the team for two years. It probably took two productive years off my career, because the manager at that time (Charlie Grimm) didn’t think much of the rule or didn’t think much of having me on the team. I really didn’t get much of an opportunity. The first year I signed, I signed in June right after high school. I did get a chance to pitch after the pennant race had been decided. I can’t remember where we finished, but we didn’t win it. There was about a week left in the season, and the only game I started I won.

Those were a difficult two years. I wish the rule wasn’t in place, but I didn’t make it. I had to stay with the team for two years. They sent me to the minors in 1956 and most of 1957 for some seasoning. Really, I lost a couple of productive years because of that rule.

Q. You were playing with a group of All-Stars and some future Hall of Famers in Milwaukee, too.

A. That was another reason I didn’t get to play. I played with a group that included Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Bob Buhl. These were great pitchers and perennial 18-to-20-game winners. It was a great pitching staff and one of the reasons I didn’t get to pitch right away.

Q. Was there an opportunity to learn from these pitchers as you developed your own game, sort of an apprenticeship?

A. There were no apprenticeships in those days (laughs). The players kind of guarded their careers. The pitchers and most all players, really, played when they were hurt because they were afraid if someone took their place it might mean their job. So they weren’t too open as far as being teachers or anything. I learned from watching, and we had a great pitching coach in Bucky Walters. So an apprenticeship maybe in that sense, but I didn’t get a lot of teaching or help from the players.

Q. In 1957 and 1958, the Braves made two consecutive World Series appearances. What was your role on those teams?

A. Well, in 1957 I was only with the team briefly. We were world champions that year. I spent most of the time in the minor leagues, but they brought me up towards the end of the year and I saved a game in Chicago. I wasn’t on the World Series roster that year.
In 1958, I had been scheduled to start the third game of the World Series. The last series we played in St. Louis, I got hit with a line-drive. It broke my finger and knocked me out of the Series.

Q. By 1961, you were traded to Cincinnati where your career was really able to get off the ground.

A. Correct, in December 1960 the Braves traded me to the Reds. Milwaukee felt they could continue their winning ways by bolstering the shortstop position. Johnny Logan was a great player for the Braves but he was getting old. They felt that Roy McMillan, who played for the Reds, would fill the gap for them. So they made the deal with me and Juan Pizzaro for McMillan.


That’s when I really got an opportunity. With Milwaukee in the later years – 1958, 1959 and so on – I was a spot starter. Mainly I took the place of Warren Spahn against teams he had trouble with like the Dodgers, and I took Bob Buhl’s place against Cincinnati because he had trouble with them. So I was a spot starter and a long reliever.


The Reds installed me immediately in the starting rotation and went on to have the best years of my career. I won 21 games in 1961, and of course my biggest accomplishment that year was beating Milwaukee six times. They actually finished 10 games back in fourth, so that was the difference between them being right there in the race.

Q. You also started and won Game 2 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. What was it like being on that stage?

A. I grew up in Connecticut, about 100 miles from Yankee Stadium. So I got to see a number of games there as a kid, followed them on the radio, and we were big Yankee fans up in Connecticut. It was a big thrill to pitch against the Yankees in that arena. I had a good game (complete-game four-hitter with six strikeouts) and we won it, 6-2. It actually turned out to be the only game we’d win in that World Series.

Q. Any nerves having to face the likes of Mantle and Maris, particularly given their home run barrage that season?

A. They were highly publicized and great ballplayers. I had to pitch them carefully and had nothing but respect for them. I had faced Maris in the minors, and pitched against Mantle in Spring Training. Not quite the same thing, but I got a feel for them. It was exciting to pitch against them, though. Not just against Mantle and Maris and Berra, but you’re pitching against all the ghosts of the Yankees like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, they’re all there (laughs).

Q. To top it off, you made the cover of Sports Illustrated that month. That had to be a huge thrill.

A. It was kind of unexpected, really. I can’t remember if they told me it was coming or not. Yeah, it was definitely a thrill. I think I still have a copy of it around here somewhere.

5 comments:

  1. It was wonderful growing up in Milwaukee in the 50 & 60's in County Stadium's backyard. Joey has always been one of my heroes. 999K's ! Your the best.

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  2. I grew up about 100 miles from Cincinnati, and remember when Jay pitched for the Reds. My parents and I went to several games a year, and I saw him pitch a couple of times. He was a great pitcher, a good man, and very popular in Cincinnati.

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  3. I was born in 1961 in FT.Devens,Massachusetts but my dad followed baseball and the reason my name is Joey Jay Bridges. My son's name was also Joey Jay Bridges JR. Hey Joe give me a call.Lots of catching up to do.

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  4. my fatherinlaw caught for Joe in middletown. Back then they called my fatherinlaw BEEF JAson

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