Pinson received a $4,000 bonus to sign with the Reds out of McClymonds High School in Oakland. Cincinnati had signed Frank Robinson and Curt Flood out of the same school a couple years earlier. Pinson quickly convinced the Reds he was ready for the majors by assaulting California League and PCL pitching for a .357 average in 1957-58. He could do it all – hit for power and average, steal bases, get to a ball in the deepest reaches of the outfield, and fire a bullet back in.
Called up briefly in 1958, he hit a grand slam in his second game. The next year he led the NL in runs (131) and doubles (47), ranked fourth in batting (.316), belted 20 home runs and collected 205 hits. Because he had totaled 96 at-bats the season before (just six more than the minimum needed to gain rookie status), however, he was ineligible for Rookie of the Year consideration.
Pinson proved his sensational start was no fluke. Over his first five full seasons with the Reds he averaged 197 hits, 108 runs scored, 37 doubles, 20 home runs, 88 RBI, 26 stolen bases, and a .310 batting average. In three of those campaigns he also led NL outfielders in putouts. NL president Warren Giles said, “There’s no telling how good he can become, maybe the best we’ve ever seen.” For ten years Pinson owned center in Crosley Field. Never on the disabled list, the durable Pinson averaged 154 games and 624 at-bats for a decade. Despite his fantastic production and consistency, he was often overshadowed in Cincinnati by the mighty power production of Frank Robinson and later by Pete Rose and Tony Perez.
Pinson was acquired by the Cardinals after the 1968 season to join fellow speedsters Lou Brock and Curt Flood in the spacious reaches of Busch Stadium, replacing the retiring Roger Maris. A broken leg hampered Pinson, who was dealt to Cleveland at the end of the season. He finished with two seasons each for the Angels and Royals.
After service as hitting instructor in the Mariner farm system, Pinson was the hitting coach for the Tigers in the late 1980s.