December 20, 2014

Taking a Look at Rick Reuschel

February 20, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A few days ago I saw an article on High Heat Stats making one sabermetric case for Rick Reuschel as a viable Hall of Famer. So, I revisited a post I’d done on Reuschel a few years ago, and here is a reworking of the post.

In July 1985, Sports Illustrated wrote:

When the Yankees released him on June 9, 1983, Reuschel wasn’t ready to give up. He took to the woods, not to engage in transcendental meditation or unscramble Zen paradoxes but to play catch. “My hand was always sore,” said [agent Jim] Bronner, who split catching chores with his partner, Bob Gilhooley. Whichever agent wasn’t catching the client would call around the league, and on June 27 Reuschel signed a contract with Quad Cities of the Class A Midwest League.

A winner of 133 major league games, Reuschel was back where he started with pimply-faced kids on crowded buses traveling to towns like Beloit, Wausau and Peoria. “Degrading?” says Reuschel. “No, not at all. Down there, all they had to do was play baseball. They’re not worrying about how much teammates are making or how to keep Uncle Sam from getting his share. It was simple, and very innocent.”

Then, in 1984, the Cubs left him off the postseason roster, and that winter “Reuschel was resigned to a future in dairy farming, but eventually Reuschel joined the Pirates in Bradenton for spring training. He wore uniform No. 70, a number usually bestowed upon bat boys and bullpen catchers.”

Four years later, “Big Daddy” was probably the most reliable pitcher on the 1989 Giants. On the verge of his 200th victory, Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle described him like this: “He is a fairly idiosyncratic pitcher, using speed changes rather than brute force to bend batters to his will, yet he can throw a 90-plus fastball when he must. He is capable of a good seven-strikeout game, yet much prefers a one-pitch grounder to short. He works well with catchers, without ever feeling the need to talk to them. When he pitches, the mound, like his pitching style, is his, and he prefers to be left alone to perform his craft.”

His Giants catcher, Terry Kennedy, said: “Rick tells this story about the first time Junior Ortiz caught him in Pittsburgh. (Ortiz) went out to the mound to talk to Rick, and Junior’s got this hesitation in his voice, so Rick says, ‘Everything OK, Junior?’ Junior says yeah, so Rick says, ‘Then get the — off the mound,’ and Junior says, ‘Oh Big Daddy, I love when you talk nasty to me.’ “

Reuschel’s characteristically low-key quote after getting his 200th victory on May 12, 1989: “It was good to get it out of the way. I didn’t want it to be hanging over my head for a few starts.”

But Reuschel’s next start, on May 17, provided some more drama. Ray Ratto again:

One day after his 40th birthday, Reuschel sailed through the Philadelphia Phillies for a 6-0 victory, allowing only one hit in his eight innings – a seventh-inning, two-out single by Tommy Herr that lasted only long enough for Herr to be thrown out at second on the play trying to stretch his luck.

Until that point, Reuschel had not even allowed his fielders to make a tough play, retiring the first 20 men he faced and permitting only only three balls to leave the infield. Though he missed his first no-hitter in the majors – Jeff Brantley pitched a 1-2-3 ninth – Reuschel did receive the fullest possible credit for his shutout.

“We just had a feeling in the dugout he was going to do it,” Manager Roger Craig said. “I don’t know how you can pitch much better than he did tonight, unless you do throw a perfect game. I saw Don Larsen’s (perfect game in the 1956 World Series), but that wasn’t much better than this.”

If not for a walk Reuschel allowed to Von Hayes in the eighth inning of that game, he and Jeff Brantley would have combined for in effect a perfect game: 27 batters up, 27 batters down. Reuschel didn’t deliver the excitement of Dave Dravecky’s August comeback, but he and Scott Garrelts were easily the Giants’ two best pitchers in 1989. Reuschel’s success was enough to land him on a Sports Illustrated cover during the summer and an All-Star game start, but I think people remember him more for the homer Bo Jackson hit off him in the All-Star game than for anything else Reuschel did in ’89.

He got cartilage damage in his left knee in 1990, and that was practically the end of his underrated career. In ’90, Reuschel said: “The inference I get is that if it doesn’t get better (with this rehabilitation), I might as well go home. Rehabbing is all I can do – that’s my only option at this point if I want to pitch again this year. Surgery is the last thing I do before I get to the ‘What do I do next in my life’ stage, like downhill skiing or football.'”

The career ended with a relief appearance in a 7-5 loss to the Padres at Candlestick in April 1991, a few weeks after Big Daddy allowed a spring-training triple to Jim Abbott. Giants GM Al Rosen said: “We just came to a conclusion that it was in everyone’s best interest. He certainly can’t pitch anymore. It was serving no purpose having Rick here. It’s a matter of dignity, too. He’s given baseball 20-plus years. Let him ride off into the sunset.”

Reuschel stayed true to his taciturn self, not giving the press a farewell address to close out his career, and he’s remained out of the limelight for the past couple decades. He’s apparently a regular at Cubs’ spring training fantasy camps in Mesa, Arizona, and lives in Pittsburgh. He’s close to 64, and still has a spot among the 100 winningest pitchers ever, with 214. He threw 26 shutouts.

Here are a few details on Big Daddy’s career and his 12 years as a Chicago Cub (1972 to 1984, interrupted by a half-season with the Yankees in 1981 and not playing in the majors in ’82). He won 20 games in 1977, pitching 252 innings and posting a 2.79 ERA, for a league-leading 9.4 WAR. Despite being in the top 10 for ERA three times, the top 5 for wins six times, the top 10 for pitcher’s WAR nine times, and the top 10 for innings pitched six times, Reuschel was in the top 10 Cy Young voting only three times, and the top 25 MVP voting only once (1977).

He was usually an above .500 pitcher for his first nine years for the Cubs, 1972 to 1980: years when the team’s win total peaked at 85 in ’72, and the Cubs won, on average, about 75 games a year. Big Daddy led the Cubs in WAR in seven of the nine years. Having said all that, the point of this article is to remember the Big Daddy, not to advance the “Rick Reuschel should be in the Hall of Fame” agenda.

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(photo from Bleed Cubbie Blue)

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