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Reynolds, Allie Pierce

Reynolds, Allie Pierce

(b. 10 February 1915 in Bethany, Oklahoma; d. 26 December 1994 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), baseball player who, as the first American League pitcher to throw two no-hitters in one season, is considered one of the best big-game pitchers in baseball history.

Reynolds was one of three sons of David C. Reynolds, a Fundamentalist minister and evangelist who was three-eighths Creek Indian, and Mary S. Brooks, a homemaker. Reynolds’s father became independently wealthy after oil was discovered on lands he had been allotted by the federal government. Having earned a divinity degree from a Nazarene college in Bethany, during the 1920s David Reynolds moved his family to Pasadena, California, then received a religious assignment in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and finally returned to Bethany to perform evangelistic missions.

Allie Reynolds played sandlot sports as a youngster but did not participate in organized baseball because of the restrictive Nazarene beliefs that proscribed Sunday athletic competition. When his father became pastor of a church in Oklahoma City in 1933, Reynolds transferred to Capitol Hill High School, where he starred in football and track and field. After graduation in January 1935, he began working for an oil field pressure equipment firm but soon left the job and, through the assistance of his high school football coach, obtained a track scholarship to attend Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University), in Still-water. On 7 July 1935 Reynolds married Earlene Jones; the couple had three children.

At Oklahoma A&M, Reynolds played halfback and fullback on the football team from 1936 to 1938, gaining All-Missouri Valley Conference recognition, and ran sprints on the track team. A gifted athlete, he also threw the discus and the javelin to help build his frame from 140 to 200 pounds. During the spring of his junior year, he was asked by baseball coach Hank Iba to throw batting practice against the varsity. He so impressed Iba that he gained a place on the team and starred both on the mound and at bat. A three-sport letterman, Reynolds was proclaimed by the school’s wrestling coach Ed Gallagher as the greatest natural athlete he had ever seen.

In 1939 Reynolds signed with the major league team the Cleveland Indians for $2,000 and a $200 a month no-cut contract. He advanced through the minor leagues from 1939 to 1942, playing for Springfield (Middle Atlantic League), Cedar Rapids (Three I League), and Wilkes-Barre (Eastern League), winning eighteen games and leading the league in strikeouts and earned-run averages for Cedar Rapids in 1942. Meanwhile, he made up his missing college credits via correspondence classes and received a B.S. degree in 1942. Late that season he appeared in two games for Cleveland. Classified 4-F as a result of a football-related neck injury, Reynolds pitched for the Indians through the 1946 season, compiling a 51–47 record. During this time, he developed a reputation as a temperamental pitcher of unrealized potential who, by his own admission, was a hard thrower unable to pace himself.

The New York Yankees star outfielder Joe DiMaggio recommended that the team trade for Reynolds. On 19 October 1946 he was traded to the Yankees for Joe Gordon and Eddie Bockman. With the Yankees, Reynolds mastered the art of pitching and reached his greatest success, winning 131 games and losing only 60 between 1947 and 1954. Reynolds became a key component of the Yankees pitching staff that featured Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat, and Whitey Ford. He helped the team win six world championships during that span, including five in a row between 1949 and 1953. He won nineteen games in 1947 and led American League pitchers with a .708 winning percentage. In 1951 he won seventeen games, led the league with seven shutouts, and threw two no-hitters, the second of which included a classic confrontation with Ted Williams, who was retired for the final out. Reynolds won twenty games in 1952, leading the league with 6 shutouts, 160 strikeouts, and a 2.07 earned-run average. His heroics of 1951 earned him the Hickok Belt Award, recognizing the professional athlete of the year in 1952, a day after he received the New York Baseball Writers Association’s Sid Mercer Award, given to the major league baseball player of the year.

Long before the era of specialization among pitchers, Reynolds was often called on to pitch in relief as well as his normal starting duties. His World Series statistics further reinforced his reputation for pitching best in crucial games. Reynolds had a 7–2 record with four saves while appearing in fifteen games. He ranks second in most series wins, third in strikeouts (62) and in saves and games pitched. He had a win and a save with an earned-run average of 0.87 in the 1950 World Series and won two games with a save and a 1.77 earned-run average in 1952. A proud, sensitive man whose courage and stamina had been questioned in his early years in the major leagues, Reynolds outpitched Don Newcombe to win 1–0 in the opening game of the World Series in 1949. Reynolds acquired the nickname “Chief” from New York sportswriters after being traded to the Yankees. After his second no-hitter in 1951, the Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen began to refer to him as “Superchief,” after the Santa Fe Railroad luxury train that traveled from Chicago to Los Angeles.

From 1952 to 1954, Reynolds served as the American League player representative. Together with his National League counterpart, Ralph Kiner, Reynolds worked to increase the major league minimum salary, secure accountability for the players’ pension fund, and set into motion the process whereby the first Major League Baseball Players Association was created in 1954. For several years he suffered from bone chips in his right elbow and in July 1953 suffered a painful back injury when the team bus struck an abutment. Reynolds rarely pitched pain-free thereafter, and he retired after records of 13–7 in 1953 and 13–4 in 1954. A six-time member of the American League all-star team, he concluded his thirteen-year major league career with 182 wins and 107 losses, 36 shutouts, 49 saves, and an earned-run average of 3.30.

Years before leaving baseball, Reynolds had planned to enter business. He spent several years managing his father’s oil holdings, making financial investments, and gaining contacts within the petroleum industry. After retiring from baseball in 1954, he joined the Atlas Mud Company, a firm that serviced oil field drilling equipment. Within a year, he became the president of the company. Reynolds also established Reynolds Petroleum, and from 1980 to 1985 was the chairman of the board of the New Park Mid-Continental Drilling Company.

After his playing career ended, Reynolds became involved in raising funds for his alma mater, in many civic and charitable organizations, and in Native American causes. He was elected president of the minor league American Association from 1969 to 1971 and, with a number of Oklahoma City businessmen, bought the minor league Oklahoma City 89ers franchise in order to keep the team in that city. He and his wife were major contributors to a new baseball facility at Oklahoma State University, which was officially dedicated and named in his honor on 24 April 1982. He headed a program that developed youth baseball in Oklahoma and chaired several boards to raise funds to combat various diseases. In 1964 Reynolds ran unsuccessfully for the state senate on the Democratic Party ticket.

Reynolds was named the president of the American Indian Hall of Fame in 1978, helping that organization through financial difficulties to solvency. In 1984 he became the president of the Center of the American Indian and in 1986 was instrumental in the inauguration of Red Earth, a leading Native American cultural and arts exposition. He became active in Creek tribal affairs, helping utilize gaming profits to build a hospital and provide hospitalization insurance for tribal members. In 1991 Reynolds was elected to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame by the Oklahoma Heritage Association.

Reynolds’s post-baseball career was marked by personal tragedy. In May 1978 he lost a son and a grandson in the crash of a private plane. His wife died of cancer in 1983. Reynolds died as a result of diabetes and lymphoma. A modest family man who shunned the spotlight, he was rightly regarded in his day as one of baseball’s finest pitchers and one of the most dependable in a must-win situation. Although his pitching statistics are comparable with many pitchers in Baseball’s Hall of Fame, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, he had not received serious consideration for induction.

Interviews with Reynolds are on file at the Oklahoma Historical Society archives. There is no full-length biography. Among the many books that cover the New York Yankees during his playing days are Peter Golenbock, Dynasty (1975); David Halberstam, Summer of ’49 (1989); and Tom Meany et al., The Magnificent Yankees (1953). In 1991 a group of Reynolds’s friends and admirers put together a pamphlet hoping to advance his cause for Baseball Hall of Fame consideration; The Pitch of the Superchief (1991) includes highlights and statistical achievements of his baseball career and his many achievements outside it. The most comprehensive account of his baseball career and post-baseball exploits is Max J. Nichols, “Super Chief, Humble Man: The Life of Allie P. Reynolds,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 73, no. 1 (spring 1995). Obituaries are in the New York Times (28 Dec. 1994) and Daily Oklahoman (31 Dec. 1994).

Edward J. Tassinari

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