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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 18, 2021 9:31 am PDT
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Rick Wise’s place in baseball history is certainly secure, not only for what he accomplished during an 18-year career but also because of the players and games with which he was most associated.

Wise, 75, who was a bonus baby in the 1960s, joined the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964 and experienced their epic collapse that September. He also played a part when Jim Bunning threw his Father’s Day perfect game at Shea Stadium that same year. He was traded for pair of Hall-of-Famers, pitched in what is considered to be the greatest World Series game ever played and accomplished something in 1971 that will likely never be equaled.

So while Wise may not get the recognition that some of his contemporaries did, he still won 188 games [posting double digits in victories 10 times] in a career that spanned three decades. He was also one of the more accomplished pitchers ever to step into a batter’s box, particularly during his seven seasons with the Phils.

“You just kept learning and learning and when you have the highest knowledge mentally of the game and you’re on top of your game, physically you’re on your way out,” Wise said. “That’s when you get pushed out because it’s a young man’s game. Your brain can work forever but it’s an odd thing that happens [physically] to every professional athlete.

“The mental part was always as important if not more important than the physical aspect of the game [for me]. A lot of guys had that a tremendous amount of success weren’t physical specimens, but they knew how to pitch and they could get hitters out. The race didn’t always go to the swiftest runner.”

He was a student of the game from the moment he arrived in pro ball until the time he stepped off the field for the final time in 1982. He also experienced a baseball version of seven degrees of separation, seeming to be connected to so many people and so many big events in the game’s history.

“I wasn’t going to take myself out of the rotation because I didn’t feel 100 percent. There are a lot of times players don’t feel 100 percent over the course of six months. So no way, it was my turn to pitch. In my eyes, my teammates were counting on me.”

YOU GET A BONUS, BABY

Wise was born in Michigan but grew up in Oregon and was one of a handful of people to play in both the Little League World Series and the World Series. He was part of the Rose City team that played in the 1958 Little League World Series and would later bookend that with an appearance in the 1975 World Series while pitching for Boston.

He pitched Madison High School to Oregon’s Class A-1 championship in 1963 and then was signed for $12,000 by the Phillies as a bonus baby, which meant he had to be protected by the parent club or be made available to the waiver wire. The Phils protected him and sent him to Bakersfield of the Class-A California League. Though he lost his first start against San Jose, Wise would go on to finish the season at 6-3 with a 2.63 ERA in 12 games [nine starts].

“I had quite a few teams interested in me,” said Wise, who added that if he had gone to college he probably would have played at The University of Oregon. “I had a very successful amateur career that included the Little League World Series and the Babe Ruth World Series. I pitched the second no-hitter in the history of the Babe Ruth World Series. I really loved my other sports. I played basketball and football and had some scholarship offers in those sports but I was consumed by baseball. If I wanted to be a pro, it was going to be baseball all the way, no doubt.

“The club [the Phillies] thought enough of me and Johnny Briggs that they wanted us on the roster. I wasn’t aware of all the rules at the time. I had just come out of high school and went with whatever happened. I had no say whatsoever.”

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Rick Wise #38 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches during an Major League Baseball game circa 1970. Wise played for the Phillies in 1964 and 1966-71. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Wise had no say the following year as well but he would spend all of 1964 with the parent club, making his Major League debut on April 18 in a relief appearance at Wrigley Field. He struck out five and allowed a run over three innings. He was used sporadically, making two-inning appearances on April 23 and May 6 against Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, respectively.

He got his first true taste of what Major League pitching was all about, though, at San Francisco on May 21 in his first Major League start. Wise lasted only three innings, giving up four runs on five hits, one of which was a two-run, first-inning homer to Willie Mays.

“I remember Mays hit a home run and I didn’t go five innings,” Wise said. “They knocked me out in the fourth or something like that. I didn’t lose the game, though, I got a no-decision. It was exciting but all I had was a fastball at the time. I hadn’t developed any off-speed pitches yet because I didn’t need them in high school and in my amateur years. I threw so hard I didn’t need them. Obviously, you can’t do that at the Major League level.”

Wise wouldn’t make his second start until a month later [June 21], in the second game of a doubleheader against the Mets at Shea Stadium. It was an historic day because Jim Bunning, who would go on to serve in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, tossed a perfect game. The gem, which took place on Father’s Day, was, at the time, the seventh perfect game in history.

While Bunning was mowing down the hapless Mets, Wise sat in the clubhouse getting periodic updates as he prepared for his start.

“I was aware of what was going on but as great as a game as it was for Jim, it wasn’t any greater than my game was for me,” said Wise, who picked up his first career victory in the nightcap. “My game was important for me. Everyone came streaming into the clubhouse after the first game and I’m asking one of the coaches for a ball. I told him I needed time to warm up, that I have a game and I have to go get ready for it.

“And, I made a little history of my own in connection to that perfect game. Johnny [Klippstein] and I combined on a three-hitter. Three hits is still a record for a doubleheader.”

Rick Wise of the Philadelphia Phillies poses for a portrait during Spring Training. Wise played with the Phillies in 1964 and from 1966-1971. (Photo by Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images)

Joe Christopher picked up New York’s first hit of the day when he singled to center with two outs in the third after third baseman Dick Allen made an error to prolong the inning. Wise would give up two more sixth-inning singles. He also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to left in the fifth inning for his first big-league RBI.

As for the record, Wise is partially correct. His and Klippstein’s effort, combined with Bunning’s masterpiece, is tied for the National League record for fewest hits allowed in a doubleheader. The Cardinals allowed only three hits to the Brooklyn Dodgers on Sept. 21 with Paul Dean tossing a no-hitter in the nightcap at Ebbetts Field.

The Red Sox hold the all-time mark, having limited the Indians to just two hits in a doubleheader sweep on April 12, 1992. Matt Young no-hit the Indians in the opener at Municipal Stadium and lost, 2-1, after walking seven. Roger Clemens allowed two hits in the nightcap victory.

Wise moved into the rotation for much of August and went 4-1, picking up his fifth and final victory of the season on Aug. 15. He was 5-3 overall with a 4.04 ERA in 25 games [eight starts]. While he showed the Phils something, he still spent all of 1965 with Arkansas of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, where he went 8-16 with a 4.45 ERA.

He would appear in 12 more Triple-A games the following season, this time for San Diego. But after pitching to a 2.29 ERA in 55 innings, he was called up to Philly and never saw the minors again.

“I got sent back down in 1965 to Little Rock to develop my other pitches,” Wise said. “Then I went into the army and missed most of spring training in 1966. So I went to San Diego to get into shape and did real well there. I was called up by the end of June and was there the rest of my career.

“I felt like I was a Major League pitcher but not to the fullest extent. I still hadn’t achieved the highest level I could achieve at the Major League level. I was still learning. It wasn’t until the late 60s and early 70s that I felt like I was at that level. By then I was 25 and had already pitched in the Major Leagues for seven years. That was longer than the average career back then.”

Wise had a solid 1967, going 11-11 with a 3.28 ERA in 36 games [25 starts]. While 1968 has been dubbed the Year of the Pitcher, someone forgot to tell Wise. He went 9-15 in 30 starts with a 4.54 ERA. He would, however, establish himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League over the ensuing three seasons.

Rick Wise #40 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during an Major League Baseball game circa 1975 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Wise played for the Red Sox from 1974-77. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

MAKING HISTORY AND THEN HEADING TO ST. LOUIS

While the Mets were busy taking over the baseball world in 1969, Wise was busy making a name for himself as a top-end starter. He went 15-13 with a 3.23 ERA in 33 games [31 starts] for the fifth-place Phillies, who only avoided the basement in the newly formed National League East because of the expansion Montreal Expos. Wise was the only pitcher on the staff to finish with a winning record.

He won 13 more games in 1970 before picking up what would be a then career-high 17 victories in 1971. He pitched to a 2.88 ERA in 38 games [37 starts] and made his first All-Star team. It was June 23, however, that he would make history and cement his place in baseball lore.

Wise tossed a no-hitter in Cincinnati that day, shutting down the defending the National League champs on what was a sultry Riverfront Stadium. He added to his performance by cracking a pair of home runs to become just the fifth pitcher to homer while pitching a no-hitter. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he joined Boston’s Earl Wilson [1962], Boston Brave Jim Tobin [1944], Cleveland’s Wes Ferrell [1931] and Frank Mountain, who turned the trick in 1884 while pitching for the Columbus Buckeyes, as the only pitchers to accomplish the feat. Wise was the only one of the group to hit two homers in a no-hitter and remains the last pitcher to ever homer during a no-no.

Adding to the aura of his accomplishment is the fact that Wise was coming off a pretty nasty bout with the flu heading into that start. Baseball was different then and there was no way he was going to beg off a start because he wasn’t feeling well.

“It was my turn to pitch,” he said. “I wasn’t going to take myself out of the rotation because I didn’t feel 100 percent. There are a lot of times players don’t feel 100 percent over the course of six months. So no way, it was my turn to pitch. In my eyes, my teammates were counting on me.

“I felt weak warming up, terribly weak. It was extremely hot down on that field on the astro turf. We were 25 feet below street level, there was no air down there and it was 150 degrees out there even at 7 o’clock at night. But, between the heat and the humidity, over the first three innings I sweated all that stuff out and I got stronger as the game progressed.”

Wise was also pretty strong at the plate. He blasted a two-run homer off Ross Grimsley in the fifth inning and added a solo shot off Clay Carroll in the eight. Those were two of the six homers Wise would hit that season.

“I liked hitting; obviously I liked it,” he said. “I worked at it. I’m pretty sure the DH will be in both leagues before long and being able to do that will be gone forever. Back in the 60s and early 70s there were a lot of good-hitting pitchers. That also helped them stay in games and get completed games because that’s what you negotiated your contract on.

“I was just thinking about hitting the ball. You don’t really think about hitting a home run. On the second one, I got [the count] to 2-0 on one of the best relievers in the game. I looked down at the third-base coach and he turned his back on me so I knew I had the green light. But I wasn’t thinking about hitting a homer. Hitting one homer in a game is generally enough for a pitcher.”

Meanwhile, the only blemish on his outing was a sixth-inning walk to Dave Concepcion. He had held Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, the heart of the Big Red Machine’s batting order, hitless in 10 at-bats.

“I only threw 93 pitches,” Wise said. “The Cincinnati hitters were swinging at pitches early in the count so I had some very easy innings. The whole game was over in an hour and 53 minutes. You don’t see that at all anymore.”

Wise wouldn’t be seeing the Philly clubhouse at Veteran’s Stadium much longer, either. He had a strong finish to the season but would find himself in a different season come 1972.

THE TRADE AND ITS AFTERMATH

Wise was looking for more money following his 1971 effort having felt that he was underpaid for his efforts on what was generally a bad team. The Cardinals were not a bad team. In fact, they won the World Series in 1967, went back there in 1968 and were laden with stars and future Hall-of-Famers. Steve Carlton, however, wanted more from the Cardinals, just as Wise wanted more from the Phillies so the two clubs agreed to swap the disgruntled hurlers in a trade that has been generally regarded as one of the worst in history.

Carlton [77-62] had an appreciably better record during his seven years in St. Louis, largely because the Cards were such a strong franchise. Wise was 75-76 in his seven years with Philly, a team had flopped its way through much of the 60s and early 70s, including a last-place finish in ’71. While Carlton won 20 games in 1971, his ERA [3.56] was three quarters of a run higher than Wise’s [2.88], leaving most pundits and baseball people at the time to view the trade a wash.

Bob Broeg, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor at the time, offered this when the trade was made.

“Maybe the feeling will be different some muggy night next summer when Willie Stargell or Giant Willie McCovey stands up there, powerful left-handed sluggers against whom it would be [nice] to throw another left-handed starting pitcher,” Broeg wrote. “But for the moment, anyway, it’s nice to have Rick Wise aboard with the Cardinals. Attitude is such an important thing in athletics as in life. And a press box geezer couldn’t help but react favorably when the wavy-haired, spectacled Wise, toying with a cigar, spoke glowingly of the trade which brought him to the Redbirds from Philadelphia in exchange for Steve Carlton.”

One must wonder what Broeg and the Cardinals thought of the deal as time went on. Wise won 32 games for St. Louis over the next two seasons – two solid 16-win campaigns — before getting traded to Boston in October of 1973. Carlton would have a season for the ages in 1972, going 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for a team that won only 59 games. He won the first of his four Cy Young Awards as well and would go on to win 241 games for the Phillies [329 overall], rightfully earning a spot in Cooperstown. He also went 38-14 against St. Louis.

“You’re going over old territory,” Wise said. “That’s just the way it was, you had to deal with it. It’s a tough game played by tough men. That’s how you went about your business knowing what type of business it was.”

A torn triceps muscle cost Wise much of the 1974 season in Boston. He went 3-4 in nine starts but would be part of another historic run in 1975, helping lead Boston to the World Series against the Reds. Wise rebounded and won a career-high and team-high 19 games while pitching to a 3.95 ERA to finish in the top-10 among Cy Young voters. He teamed with Luis Tiant [18-14] and Bill Lee [17-19] to form a formidable top of the rotation.

“That’s my boy, the owl man,” Tiant said. “We had so many good people and he was another one. He was a good guy who wanted to play baseball. He gave you 120 percent every day.”

Wise certainly gave everything that October, going 2-0 in three ALCS and World Series. He was the winning pitcher in the historic sixth game, which concluded with Carlton Fisk willing the ball to stay fair in the 12th.  Boston, however, would go on to lose the series to Cincinnati in seven games.

“That season was an accumulation of everyone having a great year to get us to that position,” Wise said. “We beat the A’s to get to the World Series and that was exceptional. They had a helluva team. We weren’t given much of a chance to beat the Reds. We put it all together, though, and certainly deserved to be there. The AL East, team for team, was probably the toughest in the Major Leagues that year.”

THE END IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK

The World Series would prove to be Wise’s last gasp, at least on the team level. He pitched two more seasons for Boston, winning 25 games in total, before getting dealt to Cleveland in the spring of 1978. It was that deal that connected him to another future Hall-of-Famer. Boston sent Wise, Ted Cox, Bo Diaz and Mike Paxton to the Indians for Dennis Eckersley and Fred Kendall.

Eckersley remained a starter for nearly a decade, winning 20 games in his first season with Boston. But by the time he reached Oakland in 1987, he had transformed himself into the game’s best reliever, winning a Cy Young and MVP in 1991.

Wise, meanwhile, went the other way in Cleveland, leading the league with 19 losses during his first season in Ohio. He returned, though, in 1979 for what would be his personal last gasp. He won 15 games that year and then opted for free agency. He signed with the Padres and spent two years and one game in San Diego, going 10-16 before calling it a career.

His final game was April 10, 1982 in Dodger Stadium. He allowed two runs on three hits in two innings and didn’t factor in the decision. He also couldn’t regain his earlier form at the plate upon his arrival in San Diego. All those years in the American League had eroded his skills. He went 9-for-83 with five RBIs to drop his career batting average from .210 to .195.

Wise finished with 15 career homers and 66 RBIs. He is one of 32 pitchers to have 15 or more career homers. The aforementioned Wes Ferrell tops the list, having hit 37 of his 38 home runs as a pitcher. The aforementioned Earl Wilson is fifth, connecting for 33 of his 35 homers as a pitcher.

“When I came back into the NL I had lost all my hand-eye coordination,” Wise said. “The pitchers who I was facing [after returning] knew enough of my hitting history so I didn’t see one fastball. I hadn’t hit in six years and they were throwing me splitters and breaking balls. It wasn’t a great experience under the circumstances.”

The end May not have been what Wise wanted but the ride he took to get there certainly put him in a great many places and had him connected to a great many people and events in baseball history.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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