Here is one of the biggest smiles in a long time as Rich Hand’s expression matches the brightness of the day in Yankee Stadium. Rich had come to California in May in a trade hallmarked by a move of fist baseman, one of whom will be coming up in a little bit. Rich then settled in as a swing guy, getting six starts and six finished games among the 16 in which he pitched. His hits allowed was a bit high but that ERA is pretty good as he posted a winning record for a losing team, and all with a hurt arm. Rich is partly obscuring an ad for Marlboro cigarettes and its iconic Marlboro Country. They never said where Marlboro Country was but the ads always featured a guy in a cowboy hat so it’s not far-fetched to imagine it was Texas. That fits since Rich was headed back that way after his career – this is his final card – to much bigger and brighter things down the road.
Rich Hand was born in Bellevue, Washington, and grew up in Seattle where in high school he was primarily a basketball player, averaging over 18 points per game as a senior. His record as a pitcher that spring of ‘66 wasn’t anything special at 4-5, but it included three one-hitters and a couple sweet outings against county ace Bob Reynolds, who had an earlier post with the Orioles. He was impressive enough to be drafted in a late round by Pittsburgh but he wanted to keep playing hoops as well as baseball so he opted to go to the nearby University of Puget Sound, where he got a scholarship for both sports. He played hoops his first two years and then concentrated on baseball, when it was apparent it was becoming his dominant sport. In his three seasons at UPS he went 21-6 with better than a strikeout an inning and he was particularly good his junior year with a record of 8-0 with a 0.89 ERA and 94 K’s in his 70 innings. He also played ball for the Goldpanners in summers following his freshman and sophomore years, going a combined 9-0 with a 2.43 ERA in Alaska (where his teammates included Bob Boone, Brent Strom, Jim Barr, and Bill Lee). The Mets tried to grab him in the ’68 draft but again Rich declined. When Cleveland made him a first rounder following his junior year and offered him a bonus of $15,000 he left school to begin his career.
Once Hand got rolling he accelerated things pretty quickly. His first summer of ’69 he spent in Triple A, going 7-4 with a 3.60 ERA as a starter. Then after a good training camp in ’70 he made the cut, becoming both a starter and Sam McDowell’s personal reliever. His record wasn’t too great but his other numbers weren’t bad as he had to deal with an irregular role. Unfortunately that role led to an injury in his shoulder that would affect the balance of his career. In ’71 more immediate pain came his way in the form of a forearm injury that both limited his training camp appearances and delayed the start of his season until May. He then pitched infrequently though early July before returning to Triple A to go 8-2 with a 1.88 ERA in eleven starts, including a no-hitter. But that magic didn’t come back with him to Cleveland in September and in December he, along with Roy Foster, Mike Paul, and Ken Suarez went to Washington/Texas for Del Unser, Denny Riddleberger, and a couple minor leaguers. Rich started the ’72 season in the minors – 1-1 with a 3.46 ERA in a couple starts – and was called up to Texas after Don Stanhouse was injured. Rich took Don’s spot in the rotation and had the best year of anyone in it, leading the team in wins and posting the second-best ERA behind Paul. He even made a fan out of manager Ted Williams when, after Ted let him know how much he disliked pitchers (Ted said that to everybody), Rich told Ted he wasn’t a big fan of managers. In ’73 the shoulder got hurt again early and those bad numbers contributed to him being included in the trade to California in which he, Rick Stelmaszek, and Mike Epstein went west for Lloyd Allen and Jim Spencer. After the season Rich was diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury. He tried to pitch through it in Triple A in a ’74 in which he pitched badly -3-8 with a 5.62 ERA for the Angels – and quite well, going 2-3 with a 2.91 ERA while on loan to Boston. The Sox wanted him and St. Louis actually traded Orlando Pena for him after the season but Rich knew his arm was done and he retired. He added three saves to his MLB numbers on the back of his card and went 21-18 with a 3.55 ERA in the minors.
By ’75 Hand had relocated to Texas in the off-season and once there full-time he got active, initially with his own real estate shop that specialized in building and managing health clubs. In ’83 he founded a company that would grow into Fortune Asset Management and for many years continued investing in and selling real estate. The company has grown into a pretty huge asset manager and Rich’s division evaluated real estate investments for the firm.
All these star bullets were discussed above and Rich did return to UPS to get that degree. I do not believe he ever ran for office, however. A daughter of his, Whitney, would go on to be a basketball star at Oklahoma State, though she unfortunately had her dad’s penchant for injury, twice rupturing her ACL. The second time ended her career last December which she finished with over 1,200 points and 550 rebounds. While on the team she was teammates with Akeem Olajuwon’s daughter, two of Bubba Paris’ daughters, and Ben Rothelsberger’s sister. Pretty impressive gene pool on that team.
An outfielder who habitually returned to Chicago helps here:
1. Hand and Buddy Bradford ’70 to ’71 Indians;
2. Bradford and Ralph Garr ’76 White Sox.