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ALL-STAR GAME : He’s a Giant Among Giants and a Hero for Everyman

Outfielders can be outrageous. Consider Kevin Mitchell, who catches flyballs bare-handed, or Bo Jackson, who breaks bats over his head, or Paul O’Neill, who kicks the relay to the cutoff man. There are outfielders who steal, such as Vince Coleman, and outfielders who get robbed, like Kirk Gibson. Outfielders such as Jose Canseco, who seems as tall as a foul pole, or outfielders such as Kirby Puckett, who could dust off home plate with a whisk broom without bending over.

Yet, pitchers are more fun. Pitchers are wild things; I think they move me. From a Dizzy to a Daffy, from a Catfish to a Rainbow Trout, from a Blue Moon to an Oil Can, we have seen both aces and jokers. Windups like Don Larsen’s and like Luis Tiant’s. Deliveries like Juan Marichal’s and like Dan Quisenberry’s. Pitchers taught by Roger Craig to split their fingers and pitchers self-taught to pitch with no fingers at all on one of their hands, or with fingers nearly severed in better homes and gardens.

In the major leagues today, there are pitchers who give hotfoots to teammates (Bert Blyleven), who lasso teammates (Fernando Valenzuela), who throw bats to the backstop (Rob Dibble), who throw gloves to first base with the baseball inside them (Terry Mulholland), who make threatening telephone calls to opponents (Norm Charlton), who think a woman’s place is not behind home plate but behind plates at home (Bob Knepper). There’s a pitcher who is Swift, a pitcher intentionally called Walk, a Power pitcher and a person who, at the bottom of box scores, might somedays be denoted as: “Hit by Pitch (Plunk).”

And then there is Rick Reuschel.

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My kind of pitcher. More than half-full. A pitcher with a waistline like mine, a hairline like mine, and one of the few men in Tuesday night’s All-Star game with a birth certificate older than mine. “Rapid, riflin’ right-hander Ricky Reuschel,” as he was called in Joe Mantegna’s theatrical ode to Wrigley Field, “The Bleacher Bums.” The man they call Big Daddy, like someone out of a Tennessee Williams play.

Ricky is his real name, Ricky Eugene Reuschel, and, for the benefit of fellow weight-watcher Tom Lasorda, who announced the San Francisco aptly named Giant as the National League’s starting pitcher for tonight’s All-Star game at Anaheim Stadium, the surname is pronounced RUSH-ill, not ROOSH-ill. We hereby also offer this helpful hint to another R.R., novice NBC sportscaster Ronald Reagan, who has spent decades being alternately referred to as RAY-gun and REE-gun.

Rick Reuschel is living proof--ample proof--that anybody who sets his mind to it can accomplish anything, whether it be pitching in an All-Star game or living in the White House. Reuschel is 40 years old and a victim of avoirdupois and a guy who did not pitch one inning of major league ball in 1982, pitched 20 2/3 innings in 1983, pitched 92 1/3 innings in 1984 and made his first eight starts of the 1985 season in that hotbed of bush-league baseball, Hawaii.

There he was on the islands, washed up. Nobody needed him anymore, not the Yankees, not the Cubs, not the Pirates. They threw him aside like a rosin bag. The time had come for farmboy Rick Reuschel to return to his spread in downstate Illinois and tend to the crops and the critters. No longer was he on the hill; he was over it.

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Only, look at him now. Just like Dave Stewart, the American League starter, who also knew the empty feeling of having to empty out his locker, Reuschel believed in himself more than others did. He came back. It was more than a comeback of the year. It was a comeback of a decade. By 1987, 10 years after his first appointment as an All-Star, Reuschel was back in baseball’s good graces, and in 1989 he is threatening to become a very old Cy Young.

“Making the All-Star team in ’87 helped me get rid of any animosity toward anybody who didn’t give me a chance,” Reuschel said Monday, after being named the NL starter. “It was like: ‘The point’s made, and now I can get on with it.’ I was out of the game for a year and a half, and all I wanted to do was come back. To have success on top of it, well, all I can say is, I’m going to keep going out there until they physically drag me off.”

Might take three or four guys to do the dragging. Then again, the task always could be given to Kevin Mitchell, Big Daddy’s teammate, who has been carrying the Giants with his bare hands.

Reuschel, who has a refreshingly plain way of putting things, summed up perfectly what it is like being a teammate of Mitchell’s these days.

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“You just want to make sure you’re not in the john when he hits,” Reuschel said.

Nobody wants to miss anything. And, same goes for watching Ricky Eugene pitch. This is no Nolan Ryan, pumping gas, nor a Charlie Hough, wiffling knucklers. This is simply a pitcher who has refined his craft, who cuts corners, who keeps the ball as far as possible from bats, and who knows that his head is not just there to hold up his cap. Reuschel is limber of mind and body. Back in his Chicago days, tummy trouble and all, he often was used as a pinch-runner. He was one chubby Cubbie, but light on his feet.

We who resemble him salute him. This is Big Daddy’s night at the Big A, but you won’t be seeing him at the sausage stand or the baked-potato booth. He’ll be the round mound on the round mound, the one who’s worth the weight.

“How much do you weigh?” someone with more guts than gut asked him Tuesday.

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“What?” asked Reuschel, plump but not pleasingly.

“What’s your weight?” the person persisted.

“My weight?” Reuschel said, walking away. “I wait for taxi cabs. I wait for ballgames to start.”

And so, another guy facing Rick Reuschel took one, right down the middle.

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