Obituary: Jim Bailey (1934-2022)

RIP to pitcher Jim Bailey, who appeared in 3 games with the Cincinnati Reds in 1959. In that short time, he had the distinction of being part of a rare brother pitcher-catcher battery, along with brother Ed Bailey. Jim Bailey died in Ten Mile, Tenn., on October 12. He was 87 years old.

James Hopkins Bailey, or “Hop,” as he was also known, was born in Strawberry Plains, Tenn., on December 16, 1934. Older brother Ed was born on April 15, 1931. The boys were known around town for playing baseball all day long, wherever they could. While Ed turned to catching, brother Jim, a left-hander, became a pitcher. Jim Bailey went to Rush Strong High School like his brother and then went on to Lincoln Memorial University. There, as a freshman pitcher, he helped lead the team to the Eastern Division Championship of the Volunteer State Athletic Conference in 1954. Bailey beat East Tennessee State 13-6 to win the title. Along with pitching 6 innings, he also hit a triple and drove in 2 runs. During his summers, Bailey pitched for various amateur teams, as far away as Halifax, Canada.

Jim was the second “Hop Bailey” to star for LMU. His uncle, Hop Bailey, was a well-regarded ballplayer in his day, and his contemporaries said he could have reached the majors had he pursued it. Instead, he started a successful real estate business and was also a baseball coach at LMU for a time.

By the time Ed Bailey was starting to become a sensation as a Cincinnati Reds rookie in 1956, Jim was just starting his own journey in professional baseball. He was signed by the Reds as well and was sent to a Class-D team in Moultrie, Ga. His signing gave residents of Strawberry Plains two reasons to root for the Reds. “That boy’s just wonderful; he always has been,” resident J.M. Anderson told The Knoxville News-Sentinel about Ed before adding, “His brother Hop’s a goodun, too. I’ll betcha he’s up there pitching to Ed some of these days.”

Bailey turned in a 6-6 record for Moultree in 1956, with 75 strikeouts in 88 innings. He returned to LMU in the offseason and played basketball in the winter. He joined the Class-B Clovis Redlegs in 1957 and won 8 games there before the team folded. His only loss came two days after one of the team’s station wagons was in a car accident, and Bailey suffered a head injury that required six stitches. After Clovis shut down operations, the pitcher was assigned to Wentachee (Wash.) of the Northwest League and was a 10-game winner with a sub-2.00 ERA. On the year, he was 18-7 with a 2.05 ERA, and he struck out 239 batters in 215 innings. By this time, Reds executives were starting to imagine having a brother pitcher-catcher battery.

Bailey’s quest to join his brother in the majors was delayed in 1958. Just a few days into the reds’ spring training camp, Bailey and another pitching prospect, “Dizzy” Dean Higginbottom, were involved in a car accident. Bailey got the worst of the wreck and broke his right arm — thankfully not his pitching arm. “I told [Cincinnati manager Birdie] Tebbets he would see more of me,” Bailey said of his recovery. “I was getting along fine in training, had no trouble at all with my arm.” When he was able to pitch again, he moved up to Double-A Nashville. After missing spring training, Bailey struggled at first and ended the year with a 10-11 record and 4.52 ERA. However, he pitched better in the second half of the season. Bailey had a better showing in Nashville in 1959, dropping his ERA to 3.76 and showing much improved control. He credited Reds coaches Clyde King and Wally Moses for reworking his delivery and his grip. His old delivery was putting undue stress on his arm and back and was causing injury problems.

Jim Bailey with the broken arm that delayed the start of his 1958 season. Source: The Knoxville News-Sentinel, March 2, 1958.

“What I was doing, as King explained it, was putting undue strain on my arm by opening up on my delivery too soon. I was depriving myself of speed potential at the same time,” Bailey explained. “He also advised me to twist my body around more before unwinding — that is, show the batter more of my back.

“You might say the only resemblance between the Bailey of two weeks ago and the one today is that I’m still left-handed,” he added.

Bailey’s new delivery didn’t prevent any arm injuries, and he spent a little time on the disabled list while with the Vols. But he won 10 games when he was healthy and earned a promotion to the major leagues in September. The Baileys became the first brother battery in the National League since Mort and Walker Cooper in the 1940s.

Reds manager Fred Hutchinson started Bailey in the second game of a September 10 doubleheader against the Cubs. Ed Bailey was the catcher that day. The Cubs greeted the rookie southpaw rudely, as Lee Walls hit a 2-out solo home run in the bottom of the first inning. Bailey made it through the fourth inning without giving up any more runs, thanks to a couple of double plays behind him. Tony Taylor of the Cubs drove in a run in the fifth inning with a single, and Walt Moryn doubled in a run in the sixth to make the score 3-0. The Reds loaded the bases against Bailey in the bottom of the eighth, and George Altman slammed a double to bring all the runners home. Hutchinson then pulled Bailey from the game in favor of Tom Acker, who got out of the inning. Bailey worked 7-2/3 innings and gave up 6 runs on 11 hits and 5 walks. He struck out 4 and took the loss, 6-3.

Prior to the 3-run double, Bailey had fanned Altman 3 times and got him to hit into a double play. “Jim had been jamming him all day, making him fall away from the plate,” said Ed after the game. “This one time he got the ball outside.”

“I was behind hitters all through the game,” Jim added. “140 pitches! Why I never threw that many in nine innings in Nashville.”

Bailey made two more appearances with the Reds in 1959, both out of the bullpen. He threw a scoreless inning against the Giants on September 15 despite giving up a leadoff single to Willie McCovey and a walk to Willie Mays. He then worked 3 innings against the Pirates on September 20. He allowed 2 runs on 4 hits in his first inning of work but held the Pirates scoreless after that first frame.

In those 3 games, Bailey worked 11-2/3 innings and had an 0-1 record and 6.17 ERA. He gave up 8 runs on 17 hits and 6 walks for a 1.971 WHIP. He also struck out 7 and hit a batter. After the season was over, the Reds assigned him to Seattle of the Pacific Coast League; he did not return to the major leagues.

Brothers Ed and Jim Bailey. Source: The Cincinnati Post, September 7, 1959.

Bailey ended up back in Nashville in 1960 and had a 7-10 record. As late as the end of June, he was among the Southern Association league leaders with a 2.99 ERA. However arm problems plagued him over the rest of the season, and he finished with a 4.41 ERA. Bailey finished his career with the Macon Peaches of the Southern Association in 1961 when the Vols said they couldn’t afford Bailey’s salary. His old Nashville mates stung him for the ultimate hard-luck loss on May 7. He took a no-hitter into the ninth inning of a game against the Vols, with the game in a 0-0 tie. With two outs in the inning, he allowed a single and home run to end up with a 2-0 loss. He finished the season with a 9-8 record and a 4.19 ERA. Over his 6 seasons in the minor leagues, Bailey had a record of 60-48, and his ERA was 3.64. He struck out 668 batters in a little over 900 innings.

Bailey returned to Tennessee and pitched for a local Knoxville club for a time. He and brother Ed spent the winter months playing on a basketball team with other pro athletes like Doug Atkins of the Chicago Bears, Darris McCord of the Detroit Lions and Chris Zachary of the Houston Astros. Professionally, he worked for trucking companies in sales for more than 30 years and also owned and operated Bailey Stump Grinding from 1997 until 2006. Bailey is survived by his wife, Jane, and children Tammy, Michael, and Kevin. He was predeceased by daughter Kimberly.

For more information: Knox News

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