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Rick Reuschel in . . . The All-Time Franchise All-Stars

March 11, 2010

I, like the Chicago Cubs, have much that remains undone. First and foremost, in addition to and inclusive of the completion of this smaller undone project of starting a conversation about the all-time franchise all-stars of every team that was around when I was a kid, I need to write about every single baseball card that ever came to me, something that I’ve done with only a fraction of the cards in my shoebox even though I’ve been chugging away at things pretty constantly for three and a half years. For almost the entire time this project has been in motion, I’ve intended to write about this Rick Reuschel card. It’s one of my all-time favorites, which has made the task of writing about it daunting. I have stopped and started many times, failing to get it right, and already this current attempt, in true Cubs fashion, is beginning to feel like another failure in the making. It’s a card that seems at a glance to be just another static pregame still-life, but I don’t know, there’s something about it. First of all, it’s Rick Reuschel, which is one of those names of the gods from my childhood that somehow burrowed farther down into my subconscious than most, the alliteration of the R’s balancing the complicated unpronounceable muck in the middle of the last name to make the moniker both mysterious and familiar. It didn’t hurt that he had a brother who for a little while played on the same team as he did, enacting perhaps the greatest fantasy this worshipful younger brother ever had as a baseball- and brother-loving boy. (And it also didn’t hurt that the two of them, when featured together in a Topps “Big League Brothers” card, were the second-funniest brother-related sight gag of the 1970s after the Guinness Book of Records-featured minibike-riding twins.) Rick Reuschel’s prominent place in the pantheon in my mind was also probably bolstered over the course of time as he managed to remain a major leaguer far beyond the end of my childhood and my singular attachment to baseball, and did so in a way that was prominent enough to remain in my increasingly substance-hazed consciousness yet not so prominent as to break the lingering, childhood-holding spell his name had on me. All through the 1980s, as the alliterative likes of Bake McBride and Dick Drago and Jay Johnstone disappeared, Rick Reuschel endured, even at times excelled, many of his upswings accompanied by stories about the improbable nature of his success that, with a mixture of mockery and fondness, always seemed to go down a checklist of his apparent drawbacks: he was old; he was lumpy; he didn’t throw very hard.

But he got the job done, year after year. Unfortunately for him, his apparent superficial drawbacks seem to have cost him a higher place in history in terms of generally held perceptions. He was, when he played, a kind of polar opposite to his contemporary, Nolan Ryan, and while Ryan sailed into the Hall as easily as anyone ever has on the strength of his charismatic on-field persona and his charismatic assault on the record books (the all-time single-season and career strikeout record, the record for most no-hitters, 300+ wins), Reuschel, unassuming in his persona and his deeds, quickly vanished from Hall of Fame consideration without so much as a whimper—he got just two votes in his single year of eligibility before dropping off the ballot. (For an interesting take on Rick Reuschel’s credentials that contradicts the lack of support from Hall voters, see the 2009 article on Cy Morong’s blog Cybermetrics; as with many of these studies, my tiny brain shuts off when the math gets even slightly complicated, but I like scanning for the gist of the argument, which in this case places Rick Reuschel surprisingly high on the list of standout pitchers.)

You may be thinking, based on the title of today’s blog post, that I’m going to insert Rick Reuschel as the starting pitcher on my personally selected roster of all-time Cubs. I’m afraid I can’t take my connection to Rick Reuschel that far, much as I’d like to. He was good, but he wasn’t Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown good. But I would like to argue for his inclusion on the all-time Cubs squad nonetheless. It’s been a while since an installment on this site of The All-Time Franchise All-Stars, but you may recall that there is a “wild card” spot on every franchise’s team. I have a feeling that the Cubs may have had more lovable wild cards than any other team in history, since their history, more or less, has been of yearly collections of lovable wild cards flailing away at the never-ending fog of disappointment that hangs metaphorically and constantly over Wrigley. And though I now live in Chicago I can’t at all say I am an expert on which wild card is most worthy of inclusion on the all-time team. But for me, it’s Rick Reuschel, and more than anything I’m saying that because of this card, which has fascinated and entertained me since it came into my hands 34 years ago. I love the way Rick Reuschel is leaning forward a little, as if he’s just realized he’s stepped in something, and I love how the bulge in his cheek makes it seem as if earlier in the day he clipped off the left side of his mustache while shaving, and I love his small, suspicious eyes, and I love that he is wearing a batting helmet, despite being identified by his pose and by the icon in the lower left as a pitcher, seemingly suggesting that he’d either rather be doing something else than what he’s been called on in his life to do or that he’s preparing himself for the screaming line drives he suspects might be coming back through the box as soon as he makes one of his unimposing pitches. Good old Rick Reuschel. I’d want him on my team.

Here’s the rest of the all-time Cubs, as I see it. Who’s on your all-time Cubs squad? (See baseball-reference.com for the franchise’s all-time batting and pitching leaders.)

C-Gabby Hartnett
1B-Cap Anson
2B-Ryne Sandberg
SS-Ernie Banks
3B-Ron Santo
LF-Billy Williams
CF-Hack Wilson
RF-Sammy Sosa

SP-Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown
RP-Bruce Sutter

Wild Card: Rick Reuschel

15 comments

  1. I loved that Big League Brothers card. I recall Rueschel as a good hitter and a good fielder despite his walrus-like dimensions.


  2. Two names that come to mind for possible inclusion are Andre Dawson and Fergie Jenkins, neither of whom played their whole career on The Cubs.


  3. I would think Billy Herman and Stan Hack would be your backup infielders.


  4. Holy crap, must be National Reuschel Day. He smoked the ’77 Dodgers in the Ravine this morning before I even saw this.


  5. blankemon: Billy Herman and Stan Hack might be most deserving on an individual basis, but I wonder if the all-time Cubs might have to somehow make room on the bench if not the starting lineup for Tinker, Evers, and Chance. On top of their immortalization in verse, they would be representing (in addition to Three-Finger) the Cubs’ only golden age.

    polfro: It really is his day; on top of the good work in your 1977 league, he also got the win today for my team in the Rob Neyer Baseball media league.


  6. I’m no Reuschel expert but it looks like the guy in the brothers card labeled Paul Reuschel is the same guy in the Rick Reuschel card. Did they get the names transposed in the big league brothers card?


  7. mleadman: Right, this misidentification is part of the beauty of the Reuschel brothers card.

    (By the way, and at the risk of seeming to want to turn every conversation into carnival barkeresque promotion, my own copy of the Reuschel brothers card shows up in my forthcoming book to anchor the book’s overriding theme of brotherly connection.)


  8. Rob Neyer had a great book about the “All Time Baseball Lineups”. His Cub team is basically the same as your Cub team the only difference is he had Grace instead of Anson. I think he was leaving 19th century players off of his list.

    This Reuschel card is odd in that he’s wearing a batting helmet and he’s wearing a fielder’s glove.

    Rick Reuschel to me is the most underrated pitcher in baseball history. He ranks 30th!! all time among pitchers in Career WAR:
    http://www.baseballprojection.com/war/top500p.htm

    The only eligible pitcher with more career WAR who’s not in the HOF is Bert Blyleven.

    He’s the poster child for why traditional pitcher’s stats: Wins, ERA, suck.
    He played in a hitter’s park on lousy Cub teams with lousy defenses. If he had played on a bunch of other teams in the 70’s he’d probably be in the HOF.


  9. Gosh, I love the ’76 cards.

    I remember Reuschel being on the cover of SI in 1989 when he was with the Giants. He was, by my memory, 59 years old, 330 pounds an oozing sweat from every pore.

    I can imagine why he might be wearing a helmet (he was taking BP) and why he might have an outfielder’s glove (he just picked up the first one around when they unexpectedly called him to take his picture), but I wonder if he was just clowning around with the mix-and-match ensemble?

    That’s a pretty representative spread of years for the Cubs all-time team, too. Since they’ve been in a little bit of a drought, you’d expect to see such a lineup bunched up from players of 100 years ago and some from the Sosa era, but nope. How about naming a manager, too?


  10. “How about naming a manager, too?”

    Gotta be the Peerless Leader (Frank Chance), no?


  11. “Gotta be the Peerless Leader (Frank Chance), no?”

    Of course! It ain’t gonna be Don Zimmer, that’s for sure. Stupid Gerbil….


  12. Charlie Grimm also deserves mention–he led them to a few pennants in the Hack Wilson/Gabby Hartnett/Billy Herman days.

    As for Zimmer: Although it might surprise Bosox fans, I think Cubs fans think of him fondly. All his old school plate-in-head hunches worked out in the summer of ’89, making it one of the Cubs’ more magical seasons.

    Leo Durocher also did a pretty good job–especially when compared to what preceded and followed his reign–in Chicago in the Santo days. And Cap Anson led them for a long time in the pre-1900 years that I know very little about.


  13. I agree that RR was probably taking BP–the Cubs had their number inside the C, and that looks like a 48 to me, so it was HIS helmet, meaning it was what he was wearing at the time. Why he didn’t go and grab his hat and his own glove I don’t know.


  14. bbref has him listed at 215 pounds. hmmmm. maybe when he was pitching in San Antonio….


  15. He looks positively svelte in this shot — but coming back (as I always do) to the ’73 set, which I still dream of completing… on that card he looks like late-period Terry Forster. I’m surprised the cartoon on the back wasn’t captioned “One man to a pair of pants out there.”



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