Reds Hall of Fame honors inductees

Reds Hall of Fame honors inductees

CINCINNATI -- When Lee May was just a boy, like many young boys, he wanted to play baseball.

But times were tough in Birmingham, Ala., in the early 1950s, so you had to be creative. You took a tennis ball and wrapped tape around it. You fashioned a glove out of a brown paper bag.

"We didn't have equipment, so we used to make our own," May said.

Those were the roots from which May started, which eventually led him to be drafted by Cincinnati in 1962 and make his Major League debut in 1966. On Sunday, 40 years later, May was introduced along with pitchers Tom Seaver and Tom Browning as the newest inductees into the 70-member Reds Hall of Fame.

In an on-field ceremony before the game, legendary Reds announcer and emcee Marty Brennaman showed video highlights of each player, and all three gave brief speeches.

A veterans committee selected May, while Browning and Seaver were chosen through fan balloting.

"It means a lot," May said of being inducted. "I feel very fortunate and honored. I'm just happy to be here and to be named with such an elite group."

After being drafted in 1962, May played five seasons with the Reds (1966-71). He was known as a slugger, and provided consistent offensive production. The three-time All-Star hit 20 or more home runs and compiled 80 or more RBIs in 11 consecutive seasons (1969-78).

The transformation of the right-handed-hitting May into a power slugger came after he was called up to the Majors. In the Minors, May sprayed the ball to all fields. But then-Reds manager Dave Bristol called May into his office after a few games and told him he needed to adjust his role: "I want you to hit that fishnet, that screen behind left field. If you can't hit that, I'm going to send for somebody who can."

"That's when I turned into a pull hitter, 'cause I was trying to hit that fishnet," May recalled, laughing. "And I did not want to go back to [Triple-A] Buffalo! So I learned to hit that fishnet."

May was one of the initial parts of the vaunted "Big Red Machine," but will be forever remembered for being traded to the Astros in 1971 in a deal that landed the Reds Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan.

"Well, it's like you're in a big family, then you're an outsider [and] you're kicked out," May said of being traded away. "[But], it didn't take me long to get over [it]. Once I got over the initial shock of being traded, everything fell into line."

Seaver, a quintessential power pitcher, played all or parts of six seasons in Cincinnati (1977-82). He threw the only no-hitter of his legendary career as a Reds hurler against the Cardinals on June 16, 1978. The 13-time All-Star won 75 games during his six years in the Queen City. He won three Cy Young Awards, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.

"Your memories really are of people," Seaver said of his time in Cincinnati. "Being able to come here and play was a great thrill for me."

Seaver came over from the Mets, where he had established himself as a vaunted player with a reputation as a workhouse. His first game as a Reds starter was a complete-game shutout in Montreal in which he singled in a run in a 5-0 win.

"That was fun," Seaver said. "It was nice to go to club with a reputation, and make an impact that said, 'Yes, I do belong here, and I'm going to help your ballclub.'"

As is typical of baseball, all three inductees crossed paths at some point in their careers. May faced Seaver in Triple-A in 1966, and Browning grew up idolizing Seaver and his durability.

"My first Major League game was [Seaver] against Steve Rogers in Montreal," said Browning of admiring starters like Seaver growing up. "One thing I learned about was their ability to have command of the strike zone. He was a horse [and] that's what I wanted to be. When I took the mound, I wanted to go nine [innings], 'cause that's what they did."

Browning himself would eventually earn a workman-like reputation of his own. Drafted by the Reds in 1982, Browning pitched 10 seasons in Cincinnati (1984-94). He helped lead them to a World championship in 1990 by going 15-9 with a 3.80 ERA. The crafty left-hander endeared himself to Reds fans with his bulldog mentality.

"It's an honor," Browning said of his induction. "I was a Reds fan from the time I can remember watching baseball. It was a blessing to play my career here, so to do well enough where I get elected to the Hall of Fame -- it's just another part of a dream."

One of his crowning moments came in 1988, when he threw the only perfect game in Reds franchise history on Sept. 16 against the Dodgers.

"I think after I got around to the top of the lineup in the seventh inning is when I really started to feel that I could do something," Browning said. "You're going crazy on the inside, but on the outside, you're trying to stay as calm and cool as you can. The last inning I went out, I couldn't feel anything ... I was scared to death. It was surreal."

Perhaps more than anything, Sunday was a chance to celebrate the game of baseball with their friends, family, and the 18 members of the Reds Hall of Fame that were in attendance.

"Baseball has given me a lot, you know?," May said. "It's given me thrills, security, relationships ... and I wouldn't trade it for anything."

William S. Hupp is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.