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.
SP-Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown
Wild Card: Rick Reuschel