Pinson was originally from Memphis, Tennessee, and signed with the then-Redlegs in 1956. He made it to the big leagues in his third professional season, after having an MVP year in 1957 at Visalia in the California League (.367, 40 2B, 20 3B, 20 HR, 97 RBI) and hitting .343 the next year at Seattle of the Pacific Coast League. 1959 would be his first full season with Cincinnati, and he was an instant All-Star, hitting .316 with a rookie record of 205 hits and a league-leading 131 runs and 47 doubles. He hit 20 home runs, the first of nine straight years with 16 or more, and placed in the top five in stolen bases for the first of seven seasons. Right from the beginning, he was a versatile offensive threat. Vada was an All-Star again in 1960, though it was the last time he would receive that honor. He grabbed another doubles crown (37), and had 69 extra-base knocks in all.
1961 was Vada's best all-around season, as he hit .343, topped the N.L. with 208 hits, won a Gold Glove in center field, and placed third in MVP balloting behind teammate Frank Robinson and Giants slugger Orlando Cepeda. The Reds were National League Champions, but Pinson struggled in what would be his only postseason series, managing just two hits in 22 at-bats as Cincy fell in a five-game World Series vs. the Yankees. Unbowed, the outfielder responded with back-to-back 100-RBI seasons, including another hit title (204) and his first triples crown (14) in 1963. He continued as one of the league's top hitters for his final five seasons in Cincinnati, hitting between .266 and .305 and leading the league once more in triples (13 in 1967). Adhering to their philosophy of trading players too early rather than too late, the Reds dealt Vada to St. Louis at the end of the 1968 season.
After one substandard season with the Cardinals, Pinson went to Cleveland and rebounded, hitting .286 with 24 home runs and 82 RBI. He played five more seasons in the American League, starting at least part-time right up until his retirement in 1975. His career statistics are impressive: a .286 average, 2,757 hits, 485 doubles, 256 home runs, 1,170 RBI, 305 stolen bases.
After his playing career, Vada became a coach for several teams, including the Mariners, White Sox, Tigers, and Marlins. He passed away in 1995 after suffering a stroke, having fallen short of selection to the Hall of Fame. He missed out on the big, round numbers (3,000 hits, 1,500 runs, etc.), which seems to have hurt his cause. Nonetheless, he remains on the Veterans' Committee ballot.
Fun fact: Vada is the all-time hits leader among Memphis natives, ranking ahead of Bill Madlock (2,008) and Tim McCarver (1,501).