The comeback appears complete for Rick Reuschel, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ right-hander who once went nearly two years without throwing a pitch in the major leagues.
“He’s got a 28-year-old arm again,” says Pirates Manager Chuck Tanner. “In fact, I think he’s throwing harder now than when he was 28. He’s been just great.”
With a 13-7 record and the fourth-best earned-run average in the National League at 2.25, the 36-year-old Reuschel has been the bright spot on a Pirates’ pitching staff that has fallen on hard times this season.
In 27 games, which includes 24 starts, he has worked 175 innings and thrown eight complete games, including seven in a row at one point, placing him among the league leaders in that category, too. He has issued 51 walks and struck out 123, including 12 Chicago Cubs’ batters Sept. 12.
“I’m throwing as hard as ever,” says Reuschel, “and things are going my way for a change.”
At age 28 in 1977, Reuschel was at the height of a promising major league career with the Cubs. He went 20-10 with a team that won 81 games. In 1980, he won 11 games and posted double-figure victories for the ninth straight year for the Cubs.
In June 1981, he was traded to the New York Yankees. On Oct. 24, 1981, he pitched in a World Series game for the Yankees against the Dodgers. It would be his final major league start until Sept. 11, 1983.
During the interim, he underwent shoulder surgery in the area of his rotator cuff, he filed a grievance against the Yankees because they wouldn’t let him pitch, he was sent to the minor leagues and released, and he was reacquired by the Cubs, for whom he made four starts at the end of the 1983 season.
“I wondered many times,” Reuschel said of his future. “But I never gave up. I thought about it, but I never did.”
In 1984, Reuschel went 5-5 with a 5.17 ERA in 14 starts for the Cubs, whom he left as a free agent at the end of the season. The Pirates signed him to a minor league contract, and he began the 1985 season with Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League.
Tanner said Reuschel showed promise during spring training. He was throwing his normal selection of sinkers and sliders, but he also now was able to challenge hitters with a hard-riding fastball.
“He lost a game against Kansas City, but he threw two fastballs better than I’d ever seen him throw before,” Tanner recalled. “He felt bad because he had lost, and then he lost again. But he threw the ball hard again. We kept pitching him. Why? Because of his attitude and his determination.
“You have to stay with a guy like that. He made his own opportunities, and he did it,” Tanner said.
After talking over the situation with his wife, Jill, Reuschel began the season in Hawaii, but only with the understanding that he would be a starter and that he would have a chance to win his way back to the major leagues. On May 21, the Pirates purchased his contract from Hawaii, and he won eight of his first 10 starts. And, on Sept. 3, he signed a three-year contract with the Pirates.
“The big thing Chuck did was he gave me the ball,” Reuschel said, “and he kept giving it to me every fourth day.”