Wayne Simpson was born on December 2, 1948, in Los Angeles, California. His parents, James and Imogene Jackson Simpson, were both postal workers. Wayne was part of a blended family; along with a biological sister, he had a stepbrother and stepsister. In addition, his distant cousin is Scipio Spinks, another pitcher who was briefly dazzling in the majors in the early ’70s.
Los Angeles had a load of young black baseball talent back in the ’50s, 60’s and 70’s. Centennial produced several high-quality major-leaguers in the 1960s and ’70s. Before Simpson came, Roy White, Reggie Smith, and Don Wilson. His contemporaries included occasional batterymate Lenny Randle and Al Cowens. Later on, came Mitchell Page and Lonnie Smith.
In high school, Simpson was also a star Q.B., “We had a modern-type offense,” Simpson recalled in 2011. “I was a scrambling quarterback”.
Simpson played for other noteworthy teams during his high-school years. One of the men who helped develop many future big-leaguers in L.A. was Chet Brewer, who had a long and successful career as a pitcher in the Negro Leagues from 1925 to 1948. After retiring as a player in the 1950s, Brewer was a scout. He also started a youth baseball program in the Watts neighborhood. Dock Ellis described what it was like to be one of “Mr Brewer’s boys” in his 1976 book In the Country of Baseball. In 2011, Simpson reminisced too. “He was an excellent teacher. I wish I had known more about him at the time — I know more now. We knew he was connected with baseball, but we didn’t know his significance, how great and instrumental he was. Now I can appreciate it.”
Simpson also played for Compton’s Magellan C. Mars American Legion team. Other distinguished Mars Post alumni include (again) Roy White, Reggie Smith, and Don Wilson.
Simpson also began to attract the attention of big-league scouts in Legion ball. Some of his standout performances included a no-hitter and a seven-inning one-hitter in which he struck out 20. He also pitched a no-hitter for Centennial in March 1967. The Cincinnati Reds made him their first-round choice (the eighth pick overall) in the June 1967 amateur draft. The area scout was Larry Barton; the regional scouting supervisor was former major-league outfielder Al Zarilla.
Wayne turned down numerous college football scholarships in favor of baseball; baseball was not his first love. He had other reasons for choosing the diamond; let’s face it, in the 1960s, unless you were going to a black school, the chances of getting to play Q.B. were few and far between.
Simpson was assigned to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in the Class A Northern League.
Control was Simpson’s nemesis, as he averaged six walks per nine innings in his first three pro seasons. Simpson also threw 24 wild pitches in 1968, which led the Double-A Southern League. Yet he showed clear promise, throwing another no-hitter in the Florida Instructional League that fall and advancing to Triple-A in 1969. Ahead of the ’69 season,
Simpson struggled with Indianapolis in 1969, but he developed his mental toughness. Determined to improve, Simpson played in the Caribbean Series right before the 1970 season. Simpson was a superb 2-0, including a shutout.
In the spring of 1970, the Reds tinkered with Simpson’s delivery, which helped reign in some wildness. Simpson also had the luxury of working with Gold Glove-winning catcher Johnny Bench. Simpson not only made the team as a 21-year-old rookie in 1970, but he was also a revelation. After going 7-13 in 1969 for the Reds’ Triple-A farm team in Indianapolis, Simpson was almost unbeatable. He began the year by winning 13 of his first 14 decisions (the loss came when a dropped pop fly allowed two unearned runs), including tossing a one-hitter, a two-hitter, and a three-hitter, in helping the Reds to a 70-30 start. Simpson was the only rookie pitcher selected for the 1970 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, though he didn’t pitch due to elbow pain.
In the days before young pitchers were kept on strict “pitch counts,” Simpson would typically throw a high number of pitches per game (100-130). Though he was more consistently around the plate than a minor leaguer, Simpson still averaged about four walks and six strikeouts per nine innings. His ERA stayed below 3.00 for most of the season. Simpson had 14 wins by July 26. He began to suffer from arm soreness, which limited him to a pair of appearances after that before it was discovered he had ligament damage. The Cincinnati Reds made it to the World Series in 1970, but Simpson did not pitch. He finished the season with a 14-3 record and a 3.02 Earned Run Average.
Unfortunately, Simpson’s injury was predated by four years of the Tommy John surgery ligament replacement procedure to help major league pitchers effectively recover from such an injury. Simpson pitched another six seasons in the majors after his brilliant rookie season but could never regain the same velocity and effectiveness as the rookie season.
The Reds are at blame for what happened to Simpson; he pitched 400 innings from the beginning of the 1969 season to July of 1970. Simpson later in life had a tremendous amount of health issues that doctors told him were related to cortisone shots so he could pitch.
Can you imagine Simpson with no arm injury pitching for the big red machine? It may have been enough to turn the Reds two world series wins in the ’70s into 3 or 4.
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