We always talk baseball. After what he did today, maybe Joey'll tell me a few things about the Yankees.
- Bob Purkey following Jay's complete game, four-hit victory over the Yankees in Game 2 of the 1961 World Series. Purkey was scheduled to start for the Reds in Game 3
The first Little League graduate to become a Major League player, Joey Jay was acquired by the Reds from the Milwaukee Braves in exchange for Reds Hall of Fame shortstop Roy McMillan in December 1960. The 6'4'', 225 pound right-hander was a "bonus player" signing by the Braves in 1953 at age 17 and pitched sparingly for the Braves for the next seven seasons. Bonus rules of the period required that Jay stay on the Braves Major League roster throughout the 1953 season or risk being claimed by another team. He appeared in only three games for the club that season, one of which was a complete game shutout of the Reds that earned him his first Major League victory.
Arriving in Cincinnati with a lifetime record of 24-24, Jay lost his first three decisions of the 1961 season when the Reds were held scoreless in each contest. From there, Jay fashioned one of the finest seasons by any pitcher in Reds history. Jay won his next eight decisions en route to a 21-10 record. Jay's 21 wins tied for the league lead, and he was among the league's leaders in every other significant pitching category. No Red had won 20 games or led the league in victories since Reds Hall of Famer Ewell Blackwell paced the league with 22 victories in 1947.
Jay's stellar season contributed mightily to the Reds' surprising pennant run in 1961. After stumbling to a 67-87 record in 1960, there was little reason to believe that the Reds would vault to the league championship. Jay combined with Reds Hall of Famers Jim O'Toole and Bob Purkey to form the league's top starting rotation, and Jim Brosnan and Bill Henry anchored a strong bullpen. Offensively, the Reds were powered by league MVP and Reds Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, along with Reds Hall of Famers Vada Pinson and Gordy Coleman. The club posted 93 victories in claiming its first National League pennant since the World Championship season of 1940.
Awaiting the Reds in the World Series were the New York Yankees, winners of eight World Series in the previous 14 seasons. The Series started in New York with the Yankees eeking out a 2-0 victory over O'Toole. Jay started Game 2 and limited the Yankees to two runs on four hits in a complete-game victory. Coming out of New York with a split against the heavily favored Yankees left the Reds feeling confident about their chances with the next three games scheduled in Cincinnati. Hopes for a World Series victory were quickly dashed, however, as the Yankees bested the Reds by a run in Game 3 and clinched the Series with lopsided wins in Games 4 and 5. In the decisive fifth game, Jay was unable to repeat his dominant Game 2 performance, exiting the game after allowing four runs in the first inning.
Although the Reds were not able to repeat as pennant winners in 1962, Jay remained one of the league's best starting pitchers, as he once again won 21 games and was among the league's pitching leaders in multiple categories. He joined with 23-game winner Purkey to form the Reds' first pair of 20-win pitchers in a season since Reds Hall of Famers Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer accomplished the feat in 1940."
Beset by injuries that emerged in the 1963 season, Jay was not able to replicate his achievements of 1961 and 1962 over the balance of his Reds career. His performances were consistent enough to allow Jay to finish his career among the Reds all-time leaders in strikeouts. He is tied with Reds Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in career Reds victories with 75 and is the last of only five Reds pitchers since 1900 to win 20 or more games in consecutive seasons. Career accomplishments aside, Joey Jay will always be best remembered for the vital role he played in that magical and improbable pennant-winning season of 1961. "I was signed as a pitcher," Jay said following his Game 2 World Series victory, "but the truth is that I only just learned to pitch. I used to be a thrower. There is nothing like experience". And for fans of the 1960s Reds, there were few experiences quite like the 1961 season.