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The Next Mickey Mantle, 1964 : Long Before Kirk Gibson, Rick Reichardt Was Tagged With That Same Ominous Label

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Rick Reichardt, a few years older and a few pounds heavier, took a seat in the corner of the Angel dugout Sunday morning and, in the spirit of Oldtimers’ Day, began to reminisce.

Some of the memories of his 11-year major league career are pleasant ones. Reichardt, who played for the Angels from 1964 to 1970 and later for the Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals, had seasons in which he hit as many as 21 home runs and batted as high as .300.

But some of the memories are not so pleasant. He will forever be haunted by the fact that he did not become a superstar, and he will always recall the unrelenting pressure that the media and fans put on him to live up to their lofty expectations.

Reichardt, a two-time Big 10 batting champion at the University of Wisconsin, signed with the Angels in June of 1964 at the age of 21 for what was the largest bonus in the history of the game, $200,000.

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That’s a lot of money, even today, and it made some people believe that the 6-foot 3-inch, 215-pound outfielder with the sweet swing was nothing less than the second coming of Mickey Mantle.

“It was very tough to live up to, trying to be the next Mickey Mantle,” he said. “It was very tough for a young player like me.”

Reichardt, 42, isn’t bitter when he talks about those sometimes trying times.

He’ll look you straight in the eyes and tell you he made the most of the talent he possessed. A congenital defect forced doctors to remove Reichardt’s right kidney in 1967, and that’s as close to an excuse as you’ll get from him for not making it to the Hall of Fame.

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“After the surgery, I lost some of my resiliency,” he said. “I still played seven or eight years after that, but it wasn’t quite the same.

“I thought I had good physical skills--maybe not as good as others thought--and that I was a good player. My only real regret is that I didn’t play enough in the minor leagues. If I would have stayed down there longer, I would have learned the game before coming to the Angels, and that would have made me a better player.”

Bill Rigney, Reichardt’s manager for the first six years of his career, said that if writers and fans had been a little more patient, Reichardt might have accomplished more.

“Everybody wants an instant fix, and everybody thought Rick Reichardt was going to instantly lead the Angels to the promised land,” Rigney said. “There was too much pressure put on Rick, too soon.

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“I always liked Rick, because he never backed off from all that pressure. I think, considering all of the high expectations and the operation, he did as well as he could have as a player. I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to say that Rick never panned out, because he played just as hard as he could.”

Reichardt may not have been a baseball superstar, but he has become a very successful businessman in Gainesville, Fla. There, as a chartered life insurance underwriter, he operates a prosperous life insurance business. He and his three brothers also own four restaurants adjacent to the University of Florida.

“I’m not rich, but I’ve done well for myself,” he said. “Life insurance is a tough business, tougher than I thought it would be when I first started.

“When you’re a ballplayer, people are always catering to you with business offers. But when you’re out of the game, you’re on your own and have to cater to them, especially in insurance.”

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After retiring from baseball in 1974, Reichardt wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He tried to get into broadcasting, and even worked a few Angel games with Dick Enberg, but it wasn’t for him. He tried selling real estate, but didn’t enjoy it.

Reichardt was still undecided about his career until he visited one of his brothers in Gainesville eight years ago for a vacation.

That’s when it all came together for him. He met his wife, Mary, bought a nice home surrounded by rolling hills and big trees, and started his business and family (he has three sons).

He has become one of Gainesville’s more visible citizens. Besides his widespread business interests, he also acts as the Southern coordinator of the Major League Players Alumni Assn., which raises money for charities and organizes other functions to improve the image of baseball.

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On Sunday, for one day anyway, it was back to baseball for Reichardt. He says it takes him about two hours to get loose now, so he was out in the outfield early, shagging fly balls and stretching.

What he was really waiting for though, was his chance to hit. And when Reichardt came to the plate in the Oldtimers’ Game, he whacked a pitch into left field for a single and drew a round of applause from the Anaheim Stadium crowd.

Nobody expected him to be the next Mickey Mantle. The pressure was off and Rick Reichardt came through.

‘I thought I had good physical skills--maybe not as good as others thought--and that I was a good player. My only real regret is that I didn’t play enough in the minor leagues. If I would have stayed down there longer, I would have learned the game before coming to the Angels, and that would have made me a better player.’

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--Rick Reichardt


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