On Nov. 11, 2014, I visited the Dodgers Adult Baseball Camp at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., to seek out Jerry Reuss for an interview about his time as a pitcher with the Cardinals.
Dressed in a home white Dodgers uniform, Reuss, 65, was patient, thoughtful, articulate and polite.
He debuted with the Cardinals in September 1969 and pitched for them in 1970 and 1971, posting an overall 22-22 record before he was traded to the Astros in April 1972.
In a 22-year major-league career, primarily with the Dodgers (nine years) and Pirates (six years), Reuss was 220-191 with a 3.64 ERA. In 2014, he published a book “Bring in the Right-hander,” a delightful retrospective on his career. You can order an autographed copy at his Web site www.jerryreuss.com.
Q.: Two months after the Cardinals traded Steve Carlton, they traded you. It was first reported that you were traded because you were in a contract dispute with owner Gussie Busch. Later it comes out it was about your mustache. True?
Reuss: “It was about growing a mustache. Bob Broeg (a writer) had said something to that effect and I thought, ‘No, they wouldn’t be that concerned about that.’ I lived with that for 20 or 25 years.
“It wasn’t until the mid-90s when I was in St. Louis and I went to a ballgame and I saw Bing Devine, who was working as a scout. He had been the general manager of the Cardinals when I was traded. I said, ‘Bing, you got a minute?’ He said, ‘Yeah. Why don’t you sit down and we’ll talk.’ So I asked him about the deal. I figured enough time had passed that I could do that.
“He was more than happy to tell me. He said Mr. Busch at times would act on an impulse. This was one of those times. He insisted on me being traded because I had the mustache. Bing thought if given a little time he (Busch) would come to his senses and make a wise baseball decision rather than a personal decision.
“But he kept hammering about the mustache and would say, ‘Did you get rid of him yet? Why not?’ And the ultimatum was put like this: ‘If you don’t get rid of him, I’ll get rid of you and get somebody who will get rid of him.’ So when you’re faced with a situation like that, you do what has to be done.”
Q.: You still have a mustache and it has become something of a signature look for you…
Reuss: “Yeah. But when you look back about how that was the thinking in baseball in the early 70s and then just two or three years later baseball began to change with the times. Guys were coming in with long hair and beards. And you just wonder: What was the stink all about?
“So on the matter of just a little bit of facial hair _ you could barely see it _ people would ask, “Why didn’t you shave it?’ And I’d say, ‘There wasn’t a rule that the Cardinals had to be clean-shaven and be like a military situation. If it doesn’t bother anybody, if it’s not a rule, then what are we talking about here?’ “
Q.: Your last year with the Cardinals, 1971, was the year your teammate, Joe Torre, led the National League in hitting and RBI and won the MVP Award. Could you see then the leadership qualities that later would make him a Hall of Fame manager with the Yankees?
Reuss: “Oh, sure. Lights out. At that early age, I just wondered whether there were guys like that on every team.
“He was managing the club on the field. Red (manager Schoendienst) just stepped back and said, ‘Joe, you have a grasp of it. You take care of it. When you’re on the field, you see things that I don’t.’ And Joe, being wise enough and knowing his boundaries, would go to Red and say, ‘Would you consider this or would you consider that?’
“Sometimes there was a lineup that was put out and Joe would go to Red and say, ‘This player won’t say it to you but he’ll say it to me. You might want to give him a day off.’ And Red would say, ‘All right. Let’s do that.’ He’d make the lineup change. Joe was able to get those things from players and he did it only because it helped the club. It wasn’t anything personal with the player.
“You could see the leadership. I’ve never come across another player who was like him. There were a couple that had some of those qualities _ I understand Cincinnati had a few. (Johnny) Bench was one of those guys _ that when he spoke, everybody just said, ‘Let’s reconsider this.’ Joe was that way all the time. Joe was more far-reaching. You knew he would to be a manager.”
Q,: After leaving the Cardinals, you played for seven big-league teams. As a St. Louis native who began his career with the hometown team, did you ever hope to return to the Cardinals?
Reuss: “I never gave it a whole lot of thought. Once I got to Los Angeles (in 1979), I said, ‘This is home. This is where I want to be.’ It’s where I always wanted to play.
“Back in those days, it was one of the few grass fields. Lots of artificial turf then. My knees were feeling it. And then I became a ground ball pitcher and the infield I had behind me was particularly adept at playing at Dodger Stadium on the lawn.
“As a result, I had a good defensive ball club become a great defensive ball club. They got a lot of ground balls. That’s where my success was and that’s where I wanted to stay. When I was ready to change teams, I was past my prime. Rather than a lot of teams coming to me, I was going to them and just hoping for a chance.”
Q.: The player who had the most at-bats against you was
Reuss: “Pete Rose. Did you see what he hit against me?”
Q.: .244 in the regular season. (29-for-119).
Reuss: “I couldn’t believe that.”
Q.: What was your secret?
Reuss: “There was no secret. Pete hit me the same way he hit everybody else. It’s just that, when he hit the ball against me, more often it was right at somebody. Did you see the number of times he struck out against me? (9) He was making contact. He came up there swinging.”