UPDATE: April 1, 2014
‘Bring in the Right-Hander’ is now available at book stores and online at Amazon.com in hardcover and Kindle editions.
When most people hear the name Jerry Reuss, the first thing they usually think of is the former Dodgers World Series Champion left-hander known for his outlandish pranks – and they’d be right. But much deeper than his sometimes raucous practical (and occasionally impractical) jokes is a guy who was not only an outstanding teammate, but is one of only 29 players in major league history to have played in four decades.
Two years in the making, the 64-year-old St. Louis native has just complete his autobiography entitled ‘Bring In the Right-Hander! – My Twenty-two Years in the Major Leagues’ and if you’ve ever wondered about what goes on behind the scenes in major league baseball, particularly in the clubhouse, this is a must-read book.
As you would expect, Reuss’s book details his childhood growing up only a short drive from Busch Stadium (the original one) and he shares countless stories about his road to the big leagues – including the time he was invited to Busch Stadium by the visiting Atlanta Braves for a pitching tryout while still a 17-year-old high schooler.
“What brings you here, young man,” the voice to my left asked. I introduced myself and told Hank Aaron about the workout as I got dressed. After a few minutes he said with a smile, “I wish you all the best and good luck.” I answered, “Mr. Aaron, thank you. I wish you the best as well.” We didn’t know then how our paths would cross in the future.
Reuss, who was eventually drafted by his hometown Cardinals, made his MLB debut with them on September 27, 1969. He was traded to the Houston Astros on April 15, 1972, to the Pittsburgh Pirates on October 31, 1973 and to the Dodgers on April 7, 1979. After nine seasons with the Dodgers, Reuss had brief stays with the Reds, Angels, White Sox and Brewers before future Hall of Fame manager Jim Leyland allowed him to finish out his 22-year career back with the playoff-bound Pirates in 1990 – hence the four decades of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
As you would also expect, Reuss shares many of his pranks (and a few failed ones) with his readers, most of which inevitably led him to having to cough up money in fines – some deserved and some not. Many of Jerry’s best pranks occurred when he was with the Dodgers and usually included fellow pranksters Ken Brett, Jay Johnstone, Steve Yeager and Rick Monday, and almost all of them involved Dodgers Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda.
One day while talking in the clubhouse before a game, Reuss asked former Dodger Ken Brett if there was anything that he would like to do that he hadn’t done in his career.
“I wanna dress up with the grounds crew and drag the infield in the fifth inning!” … “I’d like to do it tonight. You wanna do it with me?” … What the hell! At least this way I knew I was gonna get hit [with a fine]. The only question was the amount.
We grabbed our drag from the compartment just below the auxiliary scoreboard a few feet from the dugout and made our way to the third base line as the players were laughing their asses off. Tom was in full four-letter voice as the last thing I heard him say was “Tell those sonsabitches, I’ll get their ass for this.”
Tom was still fuming as he met us at the top of the runway between the dugout and the locker room after we changed back into our uniforms. “Dammit, I can’t have players pulling off stunts like this. If Peter [O’Malley] saw this, it could cost me my job. That’ll cost you both a hundred dollars.” Ken and I thought it would be more than that. Maybe he gave us a break because of the great job we did.
Not all of Reuss’s pranks went well and occasionally they even backfired on him, like the time that he and Pittsburgh Pirates great Dave Parker ran into the legendary Mohammad Ali in an elevator.
Dave and I were on the elevator when we stopped at a floor and Mohammad Ali joined us for the ride to the lobby. Ali looked at both of us, nodded, and turned to face the door. I looked at Dave, who stood there with his mouth wide open in shock and, for the only time in my memory, had nothing to say. So I thought I’d break the ice. “Well, Dave,” I said matter-of-factly, “go ahead and tell him how you could whoop his ass like you told us in the locker room!’ That got Ali’s wide-eyed attention as he turned to face Parker.
“Jeez, Jerry, what the hell…” Dave stuttered. He recovered quickly, however, and put out his hand to greet the champ. “Hi, I’m Dave Parker.” Ali replied, “Yes, I know who you are.” Ali looked at me as I put out my hand. I had the biggest smile when I said, “Hi, champ, I’m… I was interrupted. “You’re an instigator, that’s who you are,” Ali said as his eyes narrowed. Dave and Ali exchanged pleasantries for the remaining ten or twelve floors. For me, it was the longest elevator ride in my life.
Jerry’s book also details his no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants on June 27, 1980 at Candlestick Park. Reuss was astonished at the support and cheering that he received from Giants fans during the final innings of his tremendous feat and even more so the following day when he walked from the clubhouse to the dugout.
As I started my stroll to the dugout, I noticed applause. By the time I reached first base, the entire crowd of twenty-five thousand was applauding. I thought one of the “Willies,” Mays or McCovey, was on the field. I looked around and saw just the starting pitchers, and then it hit me … this is for me! Imagine! A Dodger player getting an ovation in San Francisco … two straight days!
So I took off my cap and acknowledged them, and, to my surprise, they stood up. This lasted until I got to the dugout. It was the first time in my career that something like this happened, so naturally I milked it for all it was worth.
Lasorda came up to me and said, “That’s fifty dollars!” “What for? I didn’t miss the anthem,” I protested. “That’s fifty dollars for acknowledging San Francisco fans,” he answered. I told him, “Do you see those fans wearing Dodger blue in the stands?” “Yeah, so what?” he asks. “I was tipping my cap to them and no one else,” I said with total conviction. He looked at me, then at the fans in Dodger jackets, looked at me again, shook his head, and walked away muttering, “I’m the dummy for arguing with you.”
Reuss’s book is laid out chronologically and in a manner that makes it very easy to read (and very difficult to put down) and it is broken down by specific incidents (and pranks) in his life and during his career. As with any great biography or autobiography he includes both the highs and the lows of his career – many of which are quite emotional. Jerry’s recollection of pitching in Game-5 of the 1981 World Series and his final major league appearance with the Pirates in 1990 are presented exceptionally well and in a manner sure to put a lump in readers’ throats.
On a personal note, when I attended Dodgers fantasy camp (LADABC) at Dodgertown in Vero Beach in 2011 (the last one to be held there), Reuss was my manager and we became friends. Getting to know Jerry and the other Dodger legends in camp personally is still one of the most enjoyable times of my life. And while many of the stories that Jerry shared with us at camp are in his book, there were others that were not (some of which that cannot be repeated in mixed company) and he had us in a constant state of laughter the entire week. That said, we also got to witness first-hand that even in retirement and even in games that had no meaning whatsoever (other than our own personal enjoyment), Reuss is still an extremely fierce competitor.
It is refreshing to read and enjoy a book that gives readers a look at a lesser-known side of the great game of baseball – one that is incredibly funny and during a time when ‘political correctness’ hadn’t yet put a damper on good clean fun.
‘Bring In the Right-Hander! hits book stores on April 1st and I encourage every true baseball fan and enthusiast (especially Dodger fans) to give it a read; but I have to warn you – be prepared to laugh until you cry, because this is what will happen with every turn of the page.