Don Gullett, Ace for the Big Red Machine, Dies at 73

Don Gullett, a flame-throwing left-handed pitcher who starred for three World Series champion teams in the 1970s, first with the Cincinnati Reds and then with the New York Yankees, died on Wednesday. He was 73.

The Reds organization confirmed the death in a statement but did not cite a cause or say where he died.

The Reds during Gullett’s tenure were one of the great teams of all time. The Big Red Machine, as it was known, was famous for its lumber, with an era-defining lineup of hitters that included Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Pete Rose.

While the team’s pitching rarely received top billing, Gullett established himself as a feared ace during the team’s run as a dynasty. Nicknamed Smokin’ Don, he blew away batters with a fastball whose velocity tickled triple digits, at times drawing comparisons to his idol, Sandy Koufax, the storied Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander.

Willie Stargell, the Hall of Fame slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates, once said that Gullett “could throw a ball through a carwash without it ever getting wet.”

Adding a nasty forkball that left batters waving at air, he went 17-11 with a 3.04 earned run average in 1974. Sparky Anderson, the Reds’ manager, predicted that, “barring an injury,” Gullett “is almost sure of making the Hall of Fame.”

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