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Dodgers Dugout: Jerry Reuss answers your questions

Jerry Reuss
(Long Photography)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell. Hope everyone is staying healthy out there.

You asked, and Jerry Reuss delivered.

If I may take off my journalist hat for a moment, let me say that one of the cool things about doing this newsletter is that I occasionally get to contact former Dodgers, many of whom I grew up a fan of. And every one of them could not have been more gracious in sharing some of their time with me. But Jerry Reuss went above and beyond the call by not only providing great answers, but also providing nice photos and videos to enhance the experience. My cap is off to him. And (there is no influence here, he didn’t ask me to do this), if you enjoy his answers here, you will love his book, “Bring in the Right-Hander!” It is filled with great stories about his life and career.

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You sent in hundreds of questions, some a variation of the same question. I chose 10 to send to Jerry. Here are his answers. In all cases, the name I chose is the person who asked the question first.

Ask Jerry Reuss

Dave Anton asks: What was the best prank you pulled on another Dodger? Who was it and what was his reaction? Did he get you back?

Reuss: Wow! Great question. That’s a huge inventory to unpack. I don’t know if I have a favorite, but here’s one I thought about the other day.

I was doing a live TV interview when Steve Sax hit me with a shaving cream pie. I wiped my eyes and finished the spot much to the delight of the local sportscaster. Off air, I mentioned calmly to Steve there will be payback. He laughed it off and claimed he was ready for me.

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I didn’t do anything for a few days as Sax watched me like a hawk. Finally, he came to me and said, “I know you’re doing something so let’s finish this.” I smiled and told him, “Finish what?” Still, I did nothing. In fact, I forgot about it.

Finally, after nearly two weeks, he begged me to do something. “Will you do whatever it is you’re going to do. I’m waking up in the middle of the night thinking about this and it’s driving me crazy!” I told him, “You did the payback on yourself better than I ever could. We’re good.”

Mark Geiger: How do you think that your pitching arsenal would fare in today’s game, with today’s batters, and strike zones?

Reuss: Not too well. At 70 years old, my fastball has too much arc in it!

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However, if your question refers to the pitcher I was in my prime some 35-40 years ago, I would hold my own in today’s game. Work fast, change speeds and throw strikes — that’s the mantra of former Pirates pitching coach Ray Miller. I followed those fundamental truths in some form or fashion for my Major League tenure.

Scott Law: What is your greatest memory as a Dodger and where does that rank among your top memories throughout your big league career?

Reuss: I’ll go you four better, Scott. In reverse order, here are my top five baseball memories.

5. October 3, 1990. My final Major League game. When relieved in the top of the sixth inning at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, I walked off the mound for the final time before a standing ovation from a midweek crowd of 27,641.

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4. September 27, 1969. My first Major League game. It was a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon at Montreal’s Jarry Park. I gave up three hits in seven shutout innings to win my big league debut just 27 months after I graduated from high school.

3. June 27, 1980. No-hitter against the Giants. I watched the game for the first time in years last summer just to chart the pitches. Here’s the game by the numbers: 105 pitches, 72 for strikes; 17 ground outs, nine fly outs and two strikeouts. Was I disappointed because it wasn’t a perfect game? Not at all. According to the late Leonard Koppett, it was better than a perfect game. I recorded the equivalent of 28 outs — one more than a perfecto requires!

2. October 25, 1981. Game 5 of the 1981 World Series at Dodger Stadium. With the series tied at two games apiece, Ron Guidry and I faced each other in a rematch of pitchers from Game 1. I wasn’t at my best but I held the Yankees to one run on four hits and three walks in the first seven innings.

Guidry, on the other hand, was cruising through the first six innings. After Yeager’s one-out double in the second, the Yankee lefty retired fourteen of the next fifteen Dodger hitters — striking out eight of them.

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In the course of five pitches, the game and the series switched momentum. With one out in the home half of the seventh inning, Guidry hung a slider to Guerrero who homered to tie the game and four pitches later, grooved a fastball to Yeager who homered to give us the lead. I held the Yanks in check the final two innings allowing just a single to Lou Piniella to register the 2-1 win. It was the most exciting game I ever pitched.

1. October 28, 1981. The Dodgers win the World Series. I watched most of the game from the bullpen as we scored eight runs in the middle three innings to clinch the series. The Dodgers were one game from elimination in the series against Houston and Montreal before falling behind New York as the Yankees won the first two games. After a sweep at home, we capped the series winning 9-2 at Yankee Stadium. For me, it was fulfilling a dream that every kid has about winning a World Series. The ring I wear reminds me of that dream every single day.

Beth Cooper: Who would you consider your best teammate during your career? And what about best manager to play for?

Reuss: Naming the best teammate is an impossible task. With hundreds of teammates to consider, I just can’t choose one. If I listed as many as I could remember, I know I would miss a number of worthy names. There were just too many great ones — both on and off the field.

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Best manager? I played for fifteen different skippers. All were knowledgeable about the game and with addition of a player or two here and there, many of them would be considered great by baseball standards. When Sparky Anderson was asked what makes a great manager, he simply replied, “Great players.”

Here are some random thoughts on the managers I played for.

Red Schoendienst - Cardinals. Red was very patient with young players and adept at mixing them into the lineup or pitching rotation. Growing up in St. Louis, he was one of my childhood heroes and one of the finest people I ever met. He also spoke on my behalf at my 2016 induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

Harry Walker - Astros. “The Hat” was the only manager to work with me on my hitting. Under Harry’s tutelage, Matty Alou won the National League batting title in 1966 with a .342 average. But Harry wasn’t a miracle worker. I batted .167 lifetime.

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Leo Durocher - Astros. Leo and I butted heads on a number of topics in 1973. In his autobiography, he referred to me as the “orifice of all time.” In between spats, I managed to start 40 games — most ever by an Astros pitcher — and throw 279 innings. In the summer of 1991, Leo and I sat down to clear the air during a meeting at Dodger Stadium. He passed in October of that year.

Danny Murtaugh - Pirates. The Irishman encouraged his players to have fun. The scene in the clubhouse before a game resembled a frat party an hour after a keg had been tapped. Then the players put on their game faces and pounded the opposition. This approach worked as the Bucs were World Champs in 1960 and 1971 under Danny’s reign.

I won 48 games for Danny in the three years we shared and was named to National League All Star team for the first time in 1975. I also pitched in the postseason in 1974 and 1975.

Chuck Tanner - Pirates. Chuck always had a positive outlook. I told a reporter that if Chuck came home and found a load of manure in his living room, he would smile and say, “Somebody just gave me a horse.”

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Somehow, my career was sidetracked in 1977 as I lost my first five decisions. In 1978, I lost my spot in the starting rotation and didn’t win a game until August. Still, Chuck stayed upbeat…as the Pirates quietly tried to move my no-trade contract to the Cubs.

Tom Lasorda - Dodgers. The boisterous, outgoing manager was the most “hands on” of any manager I played for. He made a point of knowing the names of a player’s parents, wife and children while espousing vocal tributes about the club. “I l-o-o-o-o-v-e the Dodgers,” he would tell anyone within listening range.

His effect produced results for me. A no-hitter, an All-Star win and Comeback Player of the Year in 1980 as well as a part in the 1981 World Series Championship were among the highlights of my career. I had four of the best years of my career for the club from 1980 through 1983 with Tom as manager.

Pete Rose - Reds. Even though I was horrible for the Reds in my short stay in 1987, Pete was in my corner. After I was released, I signed with the Angels and pitched a shutout in my first American League start. Pete called the next morning to extend congratulations and wish me the best. Many other managers would have just said good riddance when I exited the clubhouse.

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Gene Mauch - Angels. A player once asked Gene if he had change for $20 bill. “Son, a $20 bill is change,” he replied. Even though I won four of my first five decisions, I slumped horribly after that and wasn’t re-signed. In the offseason, the Angels purged a number of veteran players as they began a new era with pitchers like Chuck Finley and Jim Abbott.

Jim Fregosi - White Sox. When I made the club out spring training as a non-roster invitee, Jim pulled me aside and told me I would have a dual role. “I have a number of young pitchers that need a veteran influence. They’ll listen to you.” The Sox finished 71-90 in fifth place, 32½ games behind division-winning Oakland. I don’t know how much I helped but Bobby Thigpen was coming into his own as a closer with 34 saves and Jack McDowell was developing into a future Cy Young Award winner.

Jeff Torborg - White Sox. We bonded instantly with our respective Dodger pedigree. Jeff was the perfect manager for this young team as his patience and positive attitude set the stage for the club’s emergence in the early 1990’s. Club owner Jerry Reinsdorf told me in the spring of 1988 that he hoped I did well because he would trade me to a contender for a prospect. He kept his word. I was traded to Milwaukee on July 31,1989.

Tom Trebelhorn - Brewers. I pulled a hamstring in my second start in Detroit and spent 12 days recuperating. I came back too soon, started a game, reinjured the hamstring and didn’t pitch again for 18 days. During that time, he referred to me as [outhouse, only not as nice as that] because in his mind, that’s where I belonged.

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Jim Leyland - Pirates. Jim was a no-nonsense guy who famously stood up to Barry Bonds in a spring training confrontation. But he was more than that. He made a daily effort to visit with each of his players even if they just talked about lunch. He showed his players that he cared as much for them as winning a pennant.

I was a September call-up for the Pirates in 1990. On the final weekend of the season, I told Jim that I planned to retire. In typical Leyland fashion, he thanked me for letting him know. The Pirates won the division that Sunday and headed back to Pittsburgh for the final three games of the regular season.

On Monday, Jim asked if I wanted to start the final game of the season on Wednesday. I said yes and thanked him for the opportunity to end my career in style and with dignity. In that game, with one man out in the top of the sixth, Jim came to the mound to take me out of the game. I walked off the field that final time to a standing ovation and made the only curtain call in my career. He didn’t owe me that moment but did it out of respect for the game and my 22-year career in it. Here’s video of the moment.

Gary Schultze: I remember watching your no-hitter against the Giants as a teenager. What do you remember most about that game?

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Reuss: The drama building each inning. I was aware of a no-hitter from the first inning but didn’t perceive it as a reality until the sixth inning. I remember mentality counting down the outs needed with each hitter. Here’s video of the final inning.

Steve Abrams: Which hitter did you dread most and why?

Reuss: To be honest, I didn’t dread facing any hitter. If a batter hit well against me, I considered his next at-bat as a bigger challenge. As expected, there were some great hitters who did well against me. According to retrosheet.org, Billy Williams .477, Bob Watson .462, Robin Yount .458.

There were other great hitters who didn’t pan out so well. Pete Rose .244, Paul Molitor .208, Dave Parker .171

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But the toughest challenge of all… Mike Schmidt, who batted .393 with 10 home runs — the most a batter hit against me. When I was asked why Mike hit me so well, all I could say is, “Schmidt happens.”

Sam Teller: What did team members think of starting Dave Goltz instead of Fernando (or some else) in the 1980 playoff game against the Astros?

Reuss: I don’t recall what teammates thought about Goltz starting the game. As far as I was concerned, he was the logical choice. Fernando had just ten Major League games under his belt in 17 2/3 innings at that time in his career. It would have been a bold move to hand the season over to him at that point in his career.

Doris Badger: Hi Jerry. Is there anything about the way the game has evolved since your playing days that you feel has been detrimental to baseball?

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Reuss: As Yogi Berra may have said, “The one constant in this game is change.”

There are many fans, writers and those who are baseball professionals who deride today’s use of analytics. With their addition, the decision-making process has given the game more depth. There’s so much to process pitch by pitch whether you’re the manager, a coach, a batter or a pitcher. I don’t believe it’s detrimental, it’s just different. Had the analytic part of the game existed when I played, I would have used the info to the extent I thought was necessary.

Ben Holt: One game that I attended, you suddenly emerged from the dugout in the middle of an inning and joined the field crew in smoothing the infield. It was pretty fun as the crowd started to notice too. What about that particular game prompted you to ‘help’ out?

Reuss: It would be difficult to pinpoint the exact date of each game because I dragged the infield a number of times! The first time was with Ken Brett in 1979. Lasorda was furious and fined us each $100.

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Jerry Reuss drags the infield during a Dodgers game.
(Photo courtesy of Jerry Reuss)

My next appearance as an associate member of the Dodger Stadium grounds crew was with Jay Johnstone on September 2, 1981. I remember the date because it was a historic night…well, sort of.

Following protocol, we wore grounds crew uniforms and entered the field at the top of the inning. As we made our way to the infield dirt, I heard Lasorda yelling at us. In one breath, he used every colorful word in his extensive vocabulary to express his displeasure — he would have made a drill sergeant blush!

Diamond Vision – the trademark of the big-screen TV above the left-field bleachers in those days— followed us on our tour from third to first. When we finished, many of the 32 thousand fans in attendance cheered our efforts. That wasn’t the case when we changed back into our baseball uniforms and returned to the dugout.

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Lasorda met us and let us have it with both barrels. “That’s a $250 fine for both of you,” he shouted. Note how the price of our labor rose considerably in two years. “Jay, grab a bat. You’re hitting for the pitcher.”

As fate would have it, Jay slammed a pinch-hit homer, becoming the first player in baseball history to drag the infield in the fifth inning and homer in the sixth. Look for that moment of baseball history on your next trip to Cooperstown.

When Jay returned to the dugout, he got the traditional hug from his manager who told him his fine was cut in half. Lasorda looked at me and bellowed, “Yours is still $250. Sit down where I can see you.”

Mary Stapleton: You are one of my all-time favorite Dodgers. I am nearing retirement age and was wondering, when did you know it was time to retire?

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Reuss: Thank you for your support, Mary.

Looking down the road to retirement was a gradual process. There were numerous sign posts along the way. Sometime around 1982-83, I noticed a slight drop in fastball velocity to 92-93. I didn’t recover as quickly from strenuous workouts. Then, my body began to betray me.

In 1984, I had my first elbow surgery and another surgery to remove bone spurs in each heel. There was a second elbow surgery in 1986. I didn’t regain velocity and consistent movement on my pitches until 1988. By then, there were pulled muscles and strains that put me on the Injured List. I managed to stay healthy in 1990 and decided, at age 41, I’ve pushed my body as far as it could go. It was time to retire.

Jerry Reuss prepares to walk off the mound for the final time.
(Photo courtesy of Jerry Reuss.)

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And finally

Jerry Reuss, Jay Johnstone, Rick Monday and Steve Yeager sing “We Are the Champions” on “Solid Gold.” Watch it here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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