Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Books: Jerry Reuss' Baseball Life As Told In "Bring In the Right Hander!"


Bring In the Right-Hander! My Twenty-Two Years in the Major Leagues

By Jerry Reuss

University of Nebraska Press; newly-released paperback, $21.95; hardcover, $32.95, eBook, $21.95

Jerry Reuss was a left-handed pitcher who stood the test of time, as he pitched for eight teams over the course of a 22-year career. He is one of only twenty-two Major Leaguers to play in four different decades. 

In 1969, he debuted with his hometown St. Louis Cardinals in 1969, where he pitched for three years before being traded due to mustache-related reasons, something that should be familiar to local Yankee fans. His career saw him have long stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1974-78) and Los Angeles Dodgers, from 1979-86, including being a key part of their World Series championship team in 1981.

Reuss' journey began on the schoolyards and ball fields of Overland, Missouri, and he had the mantra of "work hard and play harder." Along the way, he lets the reader join him on the mound when he threw a complete game to win a pivotal Game 5 of the 1981 World Series against the Yankees. He also threw a no-hitter with the Dodgers, on June 27, 1980, won 18 games three times - in 1975 with Pittsburgh, and in 1980 and 1982 with the Dodgers - and was an All-Star in 1975 and '80.

It also is a journey of perseverance, as he faced injuries, releases, and trips to the minor leagues, and his way back to the majors as he concluded his career with the Pirates in 1990.

There are so many anecdotes that capture what a genuine man Reuss is, such as when he saw Fred Claire, who was the General Manager of the Dodgers during his time there, on a flight back from Atlanta after a Dodgers-Braves game that Reuss called for ESPN. Reuss went up to Clare, and said he owed him a huge thank you, and he writes, "He put his pen down, turned to me with a smile on his face, and a perplexed look in his eyes. 'How so?' he asked. I told him, 'For yars after I joined the club, I would introduce myself as Jerry Reuss, pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After my release, I introduced myself as Jerry Reuss, pitcher for the Los Angles Dodgers. After my release, I introduced myself as Jerry Reuss...with no qualifier! It dawned on me that I was Jerry Reuss before I ever played a game of baseball, and I'm still Jerry Reuss now that my playing days are over.' Fred was still with me as I continued, 'In effect, when you gave me my release, you also gave me something that I was missing for years. Fred, you gave me...ME!'"

There also are plenty of stories about legendary Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda, especially involving the fun clubhouse atmosphere of a team featuring stars like Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, and Rick Monday.

In this excerpt, Reuss writes of that 1981 World Series Game 5 win over the Yankees: "Who would've guessed the momentum of the 1981 World Series would shift in the space of five pitches? Ron Guidry, the Yankees starter in Game Five, had beaten the Dodgers in his last three World Series starts against them since 1977 and was cruising through the first six innings. 

I wasn't at my best, allowing four hits, three walks, and the Yankees' only run in the second inning. I also dodged a huge bullet working out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the fourth. Then I found my groove as I retired eight of the next nine Yankees from the fifth through the seventh.

When Guidry fanned Dusty Baker to lead off the home half of the seventh, it marked fifteen of the last sixteen Dodger batters retired as Pete Guerrero stepped to the plate. I sat on the bench and thought, 'Just get me a run, and I'll hold them right there.' Somebody listened. Pete hammered a hanging slider into the left-field bleachers that tied the game. The crowd of nmore than fifty-six thousand came alive. The electricity that filled the air at Dodger Stadium the past two days was back in full force. Steve Yeager, the next Dodger batter, fell behind in the count 1-2 on a couple of nasty sliders. Then Guidry tried to sneak a fastball past the veteran catcher. The pitch caught too much of the plate, as Yeager homered to give us a 2-1 lead. Maybe I should have asked for some runs earlier.

The Yankees were retired in order in the eighth. We had Davey Lopes on first base with two outs and Ron Cey batting against reliever Rich Gossage. On a 1-1 pitch Cey was hit square on his batting helmet. Suddenly, the importance of the game paled in comparison to the status of a man's life. The crowd was quiet as we all waited to see if Cey could get up. After a few minutes, Ron was helped to the clubhouse and then taken to a local hospital for X-rays. Talk about a peak and valley of emotions.

We still led 2-1 in the top of the ninth. Everybody in the house was on their feet. Like my teammates, I was riding that wave of momentum and the excitement that was just three outs away. Bob Watson grounded to short for the first out. Lou Piniella, with an RBI (run batted in) single in the second, bounced a single up the middle. I shook my head as the ball came back to the infield. 'I should have known it wouldn't be easy,' I thought. The next batter, Rick Cerone, lined my first offering to center for the second out. Aurelio Rodriguez, standing at the plate, was all that stood between me and taking a series lead of three games to two. Rodriguez lined the first pitch just foul down the third base line for strike one. He tapped the next pitch foul at the plate for strike two. Before I delivered my next pitch, I did something for the first time during a game. While rubbing the ball I walked around the mound and scanned Dodger Stadium from left field to right, drinking in all the excitement. This was the moment I dreamed of ever since I was a kid back in Overland, Missouri. Like anybody who has ever played the game, I lived this scene in my mind many times in different schoolyards and ball fields. My next pitch would make my dream a reality."


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