Rick Reuschel should be in the Hall of Fame

Feb 6, 2023 - 3:00 PM
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Let me start another Hall of Fame controversy.

I think it’s a serious oversight by the Hall of Fame to not have inducted former Cubs righthander Rick Reuschel, more than 30 years after his retirement.

Reuschel didn’t get any real consideration in his one year on the BBWAA ballot in 1997. He got just two votes from writers and fell off the ballot.

His W/L record was a mediocre 214-191, a .528 winning percentage. That was mostly because he pitched for a lot of bad Cubs teams, then a lot of bad Pirates teams. He wasn’t really a strikeout pitcher, piling up 2,015 strikeouts in 3,548⅓ innings, just 5.1 per nine innings. Those of us who watched him play, though, remember the sinker that he was famous for. He’d get ground-ball out after ground-ball out.

And he kept the ball in the ballpark. In those 3,548⅓ innings, he allowed 221 home runs. That’s the fewest for any pitcher who threw at least that many innings in the expansion era (since 1961).

Reuschel’s counting stats were affected by two things: 1) The 1981 strike and 2) rotator cuff surgery. The latter cost him the entire 1982 season and most of 1983. It wasn’t until 1985 with the Pirates that Reuschel returned to a rotation full-time.

He started 24 games in 1981, missing probably at least 12 starts due to the strike (based on averaging 37 starts a year from 1973-80). A rough estimate of the number of wins he lost from the strike and losing two-plus seasons to shoulder surgery is about 35. That would have put him close to 250 wins and likely would have gotten more people to look at his candidacy before now. He’d probably have also come close to 2,500 career strikeouts.

Even with all that, Reuschel posted 68.4 bWAR. That ranks 31st in MLB history for all pitchers (since 1900). Of the 30 ahead of Reuschel, there are just three who are eligible and not in the Hall. One is Kevin Brown, who also rates consideration. The other two are Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, and that’s a discussion for another time and place. Three active pitchers are also on that list: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, who are all likely Hall inductees when they become eligible.

Reuschel had several good seasons after the Cubs foolishly let him go after the 1984 season, perhaps Dallas Green’s biggest mistake as GM. He won a Gold Glove with the Pirates in 1985, when he posted a 6.2 bWAR season for a 104-loss team. Two years later, he won another Gold Glove in a season split between Pittsburgh and San Francisco, and finished third in Cy Young voting. He was a very good fielder and probably should have won more Gold Gloves while with the Cubs.

And at age 40 in 1989, Reuschel had a 2.7 bWAR, 17-win, 2.94 ERA season for the Giants. That would have looked pretty good in the Cubs’ 1989 rotation, and it’s one of the top 40 seasons in the divisional play era by bWAR from any pitcher age 40 or older.

Reuschel, as noted, was overlooked for many years because he pitched for bad teams. Other than his half-season with the Yankees, he pitched for just one team with a winning record until 1987 (the 1972 Cubs). He’s one of the best pitchers of his time, without a doubt.

There’s not a lot of video of Reuschel pitching as a Cub. But on July 28, 1977, after getting the final two outs in the top of the 13th, he hit a two-out single in the bottom of the inning:

And then he scored the winning run:

Since Reuschel’s best years were before 1980, he’ll have to wait until December 2024 to be considered by the Hall of Fame’s Classic Baseball Era Committee. I’m hoping the Hall places him on that Committee’s ballot and a couple of his former teammates (Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins) are on that Committee.

Hopefully, Rick Reuschel will be giving a speech in Cooperstown a couple of summers from now.

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