Where Luis Aparicio scurries like a rabbit and Al Kaline moves with a long, deceptive lope, Pinson just flows. His gait resembles the controlled smoothness of Mickey Mantle more than anything else, although he lacks Mantle's pistonlike power.
He goes down to first in a fraction over three seconds; if the ball bounces twice he's there. From first to third he really steams, taking off at the crack of the bat as if launched from a slingshot, flitting past second, his path marked by little puffs of dust which seem to hang, marveling, in the air. He turns singles into doubles and makes stand-up triples out of base hits that would send most ballplayers sliding frantically into second on the seat of their pants.
"Sometimes," says Wally Moses, the veteran Cincinnati coach, "he'll take that turn at first and keep right on going, and I'll think, 'Boy, you're out. They've got you dead this time.' But he always makes it. Nobody ever throws him out."
WHAT A SET OF WHEELS!
"He kids me about my leg hits," says Frank Robinson, who rooms with Pinson and big-brothers him and occasionally likes to just sit and watch the kid play. "Man, I'm hitting .315 and if they took all my leg hits away, I'd still be hitting .315. But if I had those wheels of his, I'd be hitting .350."
In the outfield Pinson is something of a cross between a peach basket and a jet intercepter. As Casey Stengel used to say about Mickey Mantle, "He outruns fly balls."
It was his dazzling speed that got Pinson into this nonrookie rookie status in the first place. He bewitched Birdie Tebbetts, then Cincinnati manager, at the Reds' spring training camp at Tampa in 1958.
Tebbetts, who delighted in entertaining the visiting press with stories of his ballplayers, found himself running out of stories. He had to find someone new to talk about or face a fate worse than finishing last, which in this case meant losing his audience to Casey Stengel, who always had a bushel of interesting rookies for wintering journalists to write about in the Yankee camp across the bay at St. Pete. So he turned to Pinson, a kid who had hit .367 and stolen 53 bases at Visalia the year before, leading the Class C California League in just about everything but peanut sales.
Birdie was honest from the start. "Pinson's not ready," he said, "and we're not going to keep him, but he gives us something to talk about."
Pinson did. He hit .364 in spring training, stole bases and covered center field like a circus tent. He almost broke Tebbetts' heart.