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 as a Giant 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 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 in June 1991, a couple months after Big Daddy allowed a spring-training triple to Jim Abbott. After a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Candlestick, 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, still has a spot among the 100 winningest pitchers ever, with 214, and won 36 games for the Giants in ’88 and ’89 combined.