#CardCorner: 1985 Topps Mario Soto
But Mario Soto’s two pitches – a crackling mid-90s fastball and devastating change-up – were among the best in the business in the 1980s. So Mario Soto started 224 of his 297 big league games over a 12-year career with the Cincinnati Reds. And those two pitches repeatedly kept batters swinging and missing.
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Born July 12, 1956, in Bani, Dominican Republic, Soto dreamed of the big leagues while playing youth baseball as a catcher and outfielder. He became a pitcher after learning a slider to go with his natural fastball, and the Dodgers appeared interested. But Soto remained a free agent until the Reds signed him on Dec. 3, 1973.
He didn’t pitch at all in 1974 and appeared in only five games in 1975 for the Class A Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League as he battled a sore arm with an undiagnosed cause. Finally, it was determined Soto had broken his elbow at some unknown point.
He eschewed surgery in favor of whirlpool treatments and regained his fastball. But throwing a curveball or slider caused the pain to return.
In 1976, Soto went 13-7 with a 1.87 ERA for the Class A Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League.
The next season, Soto was pitching well for Triple-A Indianapolis when the Reds called him to the big leagues at the age of 21. He made his big league debut on July 21, 1977, with two innings of relief work against the Pirates.
He was 2-6 with a 5.34 ERA over 12 games – including 10 starts – the rest of the season. The Reds told him he would need another pitch to succeed at the big leagues, and Soto spent most of the 1978 season with Indianapolis before a September call-up.
Then in winter ball following the 1978 season, Soto began experimenting with a new pitch.
“When I came to Spring Training in 1979,” Soto told the Dayton Daily News, “I had my change-up.”
But in 1986, shoulder injuries limited Soto to a 5-10 record in 19 starts – none coming after Aug. 15. After two more injury-shortened seasons where he appeared in just 20 total games, Soto’s career came to an end.
In 12 seasons – all with the Reds – Soto was 100-92 with a 3.47 ERA and 1,449 strikeouts in 1730.1 innings. He continued to work as a coach in the Reds’ organization following his playing days, teaching his lights-out change-up to a new generation of pitchers.
He pitched in the postseason only once – a two-inning stint in Game 3 of the NLCS vs. the Pirates. But for a generation of fans who followed the Reds between the 1975-76 and 1990 World Series teams, Mario Soto was the definition of a big game pitcher.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum