The 1961 Reds’ Secret Weapon

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JerryLynch2Three dynamic duos provided the driving force behind the Cincinnati Reds winning the 1961 National League pennant. And for good measure, manager Fred Hutchinson had a secret weapon. His name was Jerry Lynch.

Most notable among the Reds' productive pairs were outfielders Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson, who combined to score 218 runs. Robinson, who hit 37 home runs and drove in 124, was the league's MVP. Pinson, who hit .343 and finished second behind Roberto Clemente (.351) in the batting race, placed third in the voting. Joey Jay and Jim O'Toole formed a nice righty-lefty pitching tandem, winning 40 games between them and throwing a total of 499 innings. Right-hander Jim Brosnan and southpaw Bill Henry earned 16 saves a piece in a day when there was no gimme for protecting a three-run lead.

Then there was Lynch, a fairly nondescript outfielder with a solid left-handed bat and a label as a part-timer. Originally property of the New York Yankees, he was picked twice in the Rule 5 draft, first by Pittsburgh in 1953 and then by Cincinnati in '56. He got over 400 plate appearances with the Reds in 1958 and '59, totaling 33 home runs, then saw his at-bats reduced drastically in 1960.

He began the 1961 season as a specialist. A nice way of saying he was to be used exclusively as a pinch-hitter and only against right-handed pitchers. The truth was that he was considered more of a secret than a weapon. That changed when Lynch slugged three pinch home runs in the season's first month.

All of his at-bats in Cincinnati's first 41 games came off the bench. However, as he continued to come through with big hits and RBIs, Hutchinson used him more and more. By the time the last two months of the season rolled around, Lynch was splitting time in left field with Wally Post, who had a 20-homer season.

The fact that both enjoyed productive 1961 seasons leads to the assumption that they should be latched together as a fourth productive pair. Which is true, except that wasn't really the case until Lynch started 18 of 23 games in a month-long stretch from the end of August through the end of September. Before that, Gus Bell was the left-handed batter in Hutchinson's third-outfielder platoon.

JerryLynch1During the crucial late-season month that Lynch was in the lineup almost every day, the Reds lengthened their National League lead over the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers from one and a half to four and a half games. Lynch batted .338 with three homers, three doubles and a triple, driving in 11 runs.

The Reds and Giants were 3-3 in their game of September 26 when Lynch belted a two-run homer in the eighth inning. That put Cincinnati in front for good on the way to a 6-3 win which clinched the National League pennant.

For the season, he batted .315 with 13 home runs and 50 RBIs in 210 plate appearances, those stats further enhanced by respective .407 and .624 on-base and slugging percentages. Lynch's numbers in the pinch were spectacular: 404/.525/.851 with five home runs, four doubles, a triple, and 25 RBIs, the latter a major league record he shares with Joe Cronin and Rusty Staub.

Lynch had just 57 hits for the season, but so many of them played such a large part in Reds victories that he was No. 22 in the MVP voting. Pretty good for a guy who had 181 at-bats.

The World Series did not go so well for either Lynch or the Reds. The Yankees beat them in five games, and Lynch had one walk to show for four pinch-hitting appearances. The following season, he put up numbers similar to '61 before Cincinnati sent him back to Pittsburgh where he closed out his career in mediocre fashion.

Lynch, who died in 2012 at the age of 81, is considered one of the all-time best pinch-hitters with 116 hits, 18 home runs and 64 RBIs.