(This post is part of our series on Hall of Fame snubs. Check out the entire run here.)

On June 19, 1972, young Rick Reuschel stepped into a heady situation in the Windy City — contention.

See …

That afternoon, the Chicago Cubs defeated the San Francisco Giants (7-6) on a Glenn Beckert double off Jerry Johnson that drove in Don Kessinger for the winning run.

The victory left the Cubs in third place in the old National League East, but only 2.5 games behind the division-leading Pittsburgh Pirates.

Along the way, the Giants chased Cubs’ starter Billl Hand with two outs in the fourth, and that’s where Reuschel came into play. Taking the bump for the first time in the Major Leagues, the big lad from Quincy, Illinois, struck out the fearsome Bobby Bonds to end the inning.

Art Shamsky pinch hit for Reuschel in the bottom of the frame, and the youngster’s debut was done.

1973 topps rick reuschel

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As it happened, that initial performance was out of character for Reuschel and also a predictor of things to come.

On the one hand, Reuschel had never been much of a strikeout pitcher, having never recorded as many as 100 Ks in any of this three minor league seasons.

But on the other, he was good enough on the mound that the Cubs made him their third-round choice out of Western Illinois University in the 1970 MLB draft. And … well, he fairly well dominated in the Chicago farm system, watching his ERA fall from 3.53 to 2.31 to 1.32 as he climbed from low A ball to the Triple A Wichita Aeros.

And then, from that first appearance in June through the end of the 1972 season, Reuschel went 10-8, 2.93 for the Cubs as they climbed into second place on August 23 and stayed there the rest of the season.

Unfortunately for the Wrigley faithful, the Pirates pulled away, so far so that the Cubs finished 11 games out of the money that October.

Still, they had one heck of a consolation prize in the 23-year-old Reuschel who had pretty much established himself as the staff ace.

The next spring, Topps granted Reuschel his first baseball card, #482 in the 1973 set.

Thanks to his strong half-season showing, Reuchel avoided the usual indignity of sharing his rookie card with other players and is instead shown in his Cubs road jersey with Shea Stadium looming in the background.

The cute Cubbie logo even peers over Reuschel’s right shoulder. Coupled with the soft(ish) oversize physique that would eventually earn him his “Big Daddy” moniker, the cuddly mascot — and Reuschel’s grin — makes the pitcher seem like a big teddy bear.

Pity the poor batter who might have been fooled!

For, no matter how friendly he looked, and no matter how few strikeouts he tossed, Reuschel was poised to step into the upper echelons of MLB pitchers for the next couple of decades.

1973 topps rick reuschel (back)

Consider …

  • From 1973-80, Reuschel went 115-106, 3.46 for a Cubs team that combined to go 533-600.
  • He helped the New York Yankees get to the 1981 World Series after they traded Doug Bird for him in June of that year.
  • After a rotator cuff injury that forced him to miss 1982 and convinced the Yanks to leave him for dead in 1983, Reuschel came back to the later that season.
  • The Cubs gave up on him, too, after 1984, but the Pittsburgh Pirates gave him another chance — and he repaid them by going 14-8, 2.27 ERA at age 36 to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
  • Traded by the Bucs to San Francisco for Scott Medvin and Jeff Robinson in August 1987, Reuchel helped the Giants to a postseason berth.
  • Then, in 1988 and 1989, Rick the geezer put it all together — yet again — to post a combined 36-19 record with nine complete games.

And did I mention that Rick also combined with older brother Paul Reuschel to shutout the Los Angels Dodgers on August 21, 1975? No?

Well, he did, and it remains the only sibling-authored combined shutout in Major League history.

Now, after that 1989 season — when he was 40 — things came apart pretty quickly for Rick Reuschel, but his legend had been written by then.

When he hung up the spikes for good in 1991, Reuschel’s career record stood at 214-191, complemented by a 3.37 ERA and 114 ERA+. All of that was good for 69.5 career WAR (Baseball Reference version).

And, if you flip over to JAWS — Jay Jaffe’s nifty all-in-ones stat, Reuschel checks in as the 48th best starting pitcher of all time.

For reference, there are 65 starters in the Hall of Fame.

Does that mean Reuschel definitely should be in Cooperstown? Well … I don’t know. I think he probably belongs, even if his name doesn’t send shivers down your spine and you’re more likely to find him in the commons bin than a PSA holder.

But the man almost certainly deserved more than the two measly votes he received in his lone year on the ballot, in 1997.

What’s a Teddy Bear gotta do to get a little respect, anyway?

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