Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#136 - Rick Reuschel

Another action shot, this one at Wrigley, of a young Rick Reuschel. It's funny, but I don't ever picture this guy as young but he'd be only about 24 in this photo. Rick would have more career resurgences than anyone outside of Tommy John. He was definitely a tribute to determination.That quality was already being tested in '73, only his second season. After a fine rookie year, Rick came out of the box strong in '73 and was 9-4 with a 1.92 ERA through the end of June when the Cubs were on top of the division by seven games. But then came the annual Chicago collapse and Rick went 5-11 the rest of the way. Overall, it was still a decent season and Rick would be a mound mainstay in Chicago - and then elsewhere - for a while.

Like a couple subjects of recent posts, Rick Reuschel was a local kid who grew up in Illinois and attended Western Illinois University out of which he was drafted and signed by the Cubs in '70. He pitched excellently in the minors the next three seasons, starting all the way, and dropping about an earned run as he moved from Single to Triple A. In '72 he got called up to Chicago and had an outstanding rookie season. He was named to Baseball Digest's rookie team (Topps had Dick Tidrow in that position). Beginning in '73 and then moreso thereafter with the departure of Fergie Jenkins, Rick would be Chicago's most consistent winner the next seven seasons. He was a sinker ball and speed change specialist and he would regularly be among the league leaders in fewest homers allowed per nine innings. In '74 the ERA spiked a bit but he still won 13 and in '75, an otherwise tough year (he led the NL with 17 losses), he threw a shutout with his brother Paul, the only brother act to pull that off. '76 would be a big improvement and then in '77 as the Cubbies made a pennant run, Rick had his best season, going 20-10 with a 2.79 ERA. He won 14 in '78, 18 in '79 and 11 in '80, all for not-great teams and all while posting ERA's that had a significant premium to league average. Then in '81 almost right after expressing his desire to be a life-long Cub he was traded to the Yankees for Doug Bird and Mike Griffin. For NY Rick performed well down the stretch, going 4-4 but with a 2.67 ERA. That year he would see his first post-season action.

In '82 Reuschel was diagnosed with "the shoulder of a 70 year old" and while his rotator cuff wasn't torn, it did require an operation. That wrecked his '82 season and in '83 after a not great start for rehab in Triple A for NY he was released. He called some contacts in Chicago and was shortly pitching for the Cubs' Single A team in Quad Cities. While it must have been a bummer being 34 with over 100 major league wins in his pocket, Rick kept a positive attitude and went 3-4 with a 2.42 ERA in 13 starts. That September he was called up and went 1-1 for the Cubs in four starts. In '84 he spent a bunch of time on the DL - shoulder again - and went 5-5 as a starter and sometime reliever. But his ERA bloated to above 5.00 and he was left off the post-season roster. The Cubs then did not sign him for the next season.

In '85 there were no takers for Reuschel's services. His agents went into full offensive and cadged him a tryout with the Pirates. Chuck Tanner and GM Pete Peterson though he was worth a shot and sent him to Hawaii, their Triple A team. There he went 6-2 with a 2.50 ERA and was free of pain. He was called up to a terrible Pirates team and proceeded to go 14-8 with a 2.27 ERA and won Comeback Player of the Year. In '86 the Pirates were equally bad and Rick's record suffered. In '87 as the Pirates improved substantially due to a couple newcomers named Bonds and Bonilla, Rick was 8-6 with a 2.75 ERA when he was traded to the Giants for their stretch drive. He went 5-3 for SF but then had a pretty poor playoff, going 0-1 in two starts. In '88 he won 19 and led the league in starts at age 39. In '89 the Giants were playoff-bound again and Rick won 17 before again having a poor post-season. He stuck around SF for another year-plus and then hung them up. Overall he went 214-191 with a 3.37 ERA, 102 complete games, 26 shutouts, five saves, and over 2,000 strikeouts. He was named to three All-Star teams, starting the '89 game. He was a very good all-around player, posting 79 RBI's, winning two Gold Gloves, and even getting some pinch running shots despite his size. In the post-season he was 1-4 with a 5.85 ERA in eight games. A farm boy, Rick turned to managing the family farm with his brother after playing.

I have never seen Ricky as a given name before.  His sophomore year at school in '69 he went 10-0 with a 1.29 ERA but I assume his junior year was a bit of a discount to that or I imagine he'd have gone higher than the third round. Between the cartoon and the star bullets, Rick's big league beginnings get a lot of coverage. He started his career going 3-0 and besides his sinker toted a pretty good fastball. He could also throw his slider and slurve at multiple speeds, keeping hitters off-balance. His nickname was "Big Daddy" and despite the 215 pounds listed here, is thought to have been closer to 240 for much of his career.

These guys missed being teammates by a couple seasons:

1. Reuschel and Reggie Jackson '81 Yankees;
2. Jackson and Roy White '77 to '79 Yankees.

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