Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

June 20, 2014

Gullett weekend heats up tonight

ASHLAND — Don Gullett, one of the all-time great athletes in northeastern Kentucky, will be honored this weekend at the 40th annual Elks Sports Day.

Gullett, who starred at McKell High School before going on to a major league baseball career with the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees, becomes the first Greenup Countian to receive the Sports Day recognition.

None have been any more deserving than Gullett, a star in baseball, basketball and football at McKell.

Gullett, who is already in the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, doesn’t take the latest honor for granted.

“Anytime you’re being honored it means you haven’t been forgotten and that’s good,” he said. “You know people care for you.”

Gullett won 109 games in an injury-shortened major league career. He was a part of four consecutive World Series champions with the Reds (1975-76) and Yankees (1977-78). Gullett was a part of six teams that made it to the World Series and he also served as the Reds’ pitching coach from 1993 to 2005.

“I have a lot of great memories, a lot of fond memories when I was active as a player and coach,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

He knows many of the past Sports Day honorees personally and knows more of them because of what they did.

“I didnt meet a lot of those people on the wall but I know they did a lot of great things,” he said. “It’s an honor to be part of that. I’ve obviously met (former umpire) Charlie Reliford, Larry Conley and Mr. (Jim) Host.”

A reception for Gullett begins tonight at 7 and the banquet honoring him will be Saturday night at 7 with Dave Stultz, a close friend and former pitching rival at Greenup High School, doing the speaking. Stultz, a left-hander like Gullett, was two years ahead of him in school.

“We’ve had a lot of great athletes in this area,” Gullett said.

He played on some of the greatest teams in baseball history, including the Big Red Machine of the early 1970s. And he played against some of the all-time greats, including Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson.

“I remember facing Frank Robinson in Riverfront Stadium and that was quite a thrill of its own for myself,” he said.

That was in 1970 when the Reds and Orioles squared off in the World Series and 19-year-old Gullett was on the mound, one year from pitching games with McKell High School. He was taken with the No. 1 pick in the 1969 amateur draft and was on the Reds’ roster the following spring.

Aaron was the one player who owned him, Gullett said. ”You know you’re in trouble when you’re out there trying to make up pitches you don’t have,” he said. “I tried to throw my glove up there. He was so great a hitter you couldn’t throw the ball by him. He’s going to hit the ball. You just hope he hits it at your teammates. He drove the ball to all fields.”

Gullett was a three-sport superstar in high school with 17 major college offers to play basketball and 35 offers to play football, including one from Bear Bryant at Alabama. But Gullett chose baseball because of his electric fastball that turned heads immediately. He touched 97 mph on clocked time but most believe it was even faster, including Gullett.

“I’m sure there were times when I threw 100,” he said.

Gullett said when he was a pitching coach he asked in a meeting how the Reds missed a rookie pitcher from Ashland, Ky., with the Diamondbacks who used to pitch for the University of Kentucky.

“I asked (manager) Ray Knight, ‘Where were our scouts when Brandon Webb was pitching for the University of Kentucky? It’s what two hours from us? How did that guy escape not being in Cincinnati?’ They all kind of laughed. He had a tremendous career, as short as it was. He’s a top-notch individual, too.”

Gullett is outspoken about the steroid era, saying Aaron remains the home run king in his opinion. “I disregard (Sammy) Sosa, (Mark) McGwire and (Barry) Bonds. It has been proven they were on steriods. It made a difference. How much difference we don’t know. Are they better than Hank Aaron? I call tell you no they are not as far as being a great hitter. Roger Clemens is 40 years old and having the greatest seasons in his career? When you get older, aren’t you supposed to slow down a little bit? This ain’t adding up to me.”

As for those players ever being in the Hall of Fame, Gullett said it’s not up to him. “My advice to them is to take a look at the whole picture. There’s a rule on the wall of every clubhouse you go into about no betting and no gambling. Pete (Rose) knew that. Those other guys knew they shouldn’t do that (steriods). They got a slap on the hand.”

Gullett and his wife, Cathy, have three grown children — Don Jr., Tracey and Angela — and four grandchildren. Don Jr.’s son, Conner, who is 11, is a good up and coming player, according to Don’s brother Bill Gullett.

“He has his grandfather’s turn and temperment,” Bill said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Conner doesn’t do quite well.”

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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