Let’s throw the names out there. Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Lefty Grove. Those are the strikeout pitchers of our day.
But let’s take a look at the guy who paved the way for the strikeout masters. Was it Grove? Walter Johnson? No, it was actually Mooresville, Ind., native Amos Rusie. I have confidence you’ve never heard of the man.
Well, that makes my job fun. Amos Wilson Rusie was born on May 30, 1871. Not many know that he started his career as a center fielder for a semi-pro team.
One game, his team’s pitcher was walking guys and realizing the arm Rusie had, the coach (whose name is unknown) decided to put the center fielder in. Seconds later, his days as a center fielder were over for then...and forever, for that matter.
At 16, Rusie quit school and worked in a factory. Rusie joined the Indianapolis team in 1889, at the age of 18. In 1890, the National League was in desperate need of a star. The Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players organized a Players League protest.
Many National League and American Association stars jumped to the BPBA. The Giants were struck by the jumps.
In 1888 and 1889, they were National League Champions and featured the greats, such as Buck Ewing, Roger Connor, John Montgomery Ward, Jim O’Rourke, Tim Keefe, and Mickey Welch.
In 1890, another star was brought to New York: pitcher Amos Rusie. In his first season as a pitcher, his numbers were very unflattering. He finished just 12-10, gave up 246 hits, and walked 116 batters. But everyone knew of his potential.
In 1890, all the stars for New York were gone...except Rusie. Baseball was hit with contract disputes.
Rusie stayed in New York, though. He didn’t have the best season, finishing 29-34 with a 2.56 ERA, 341 strikeouts and 289 walks. But in 1891, the Giants were a better team and it was for Rusie’s benefit. They rebounded to finish 71-61.
Rusie had a stellar year, with 33 wins, 20 losses, a 2.55 ERA and 337 strikeouts. An 1892 season brought mediocrity for Rusie. He won 31 and lost the same amount. He posted a 2.88 ERA, very decent for the time, and struck out just 19 more then he walked.
After the season, the Giants actually released him – only to pick him back up later in the off season. But just because they got him back, it didn’t mean that the Giants had a stable relationship with Rusie.
It was just the start of problems between Rusie and management. After solid 1893 and 1894 seasons where Amos won 33 and 36, lost 21 and 13 and struck out a combined 403, politician Andrew Freedman bought the Giants.
After just a year of involvement, he became the most hated owner in baseball. In just the first season under Freedman, the Giants went through three managers and went from second place in 1894 to ninth in 1895.
Rusie, as you could imagine, was quite disappointed. He wanted to be rewarded with a big contract for being one of the only bright spots (23 wins, 201 K’s for a team with a ninth place finish). Rusie demanded $5,000.
Freedman played cheapskate, only offering $2,500. Rusie sat out the whole year and even sued Freedman for $5000, what he wanted in the first place. The “Hoosier Thunderbolt,” as Rusie was called for being from Indiana, returned in 1897.
And he was better then ever. He won 28, lost just ten, posted a 2.54 earned run average and struck out 135, walking just 87. In 1898, he was good as well. He posted another 20 win season, going 20-11 and had a 3.03 earned run average.
But late in the year, he popped something in his arm on a pick off move. He was done. He sat out the rest of 1898 and came back in 1899 – and was miserable. He pitched just 22 innings, pitching three games and starting two. He finished 0-1 with an 8.59 ERA.
Rusie, who was clearly washed up a bit, sat out the rest of 1899, as well. In 1900, the Giants didn’t prove loyal to the player who had provided for them even in the worst of times.
They traded him for a young man on the Cincinnati Reds named Christy Mathewson (who, by the way, won 373 games for the Giants). Rusie never pitched again. But Rusie’s performance cannot be ignored.
He won 245 ballgames, lost 174, struck out 1,934, walked 1,704 and had a 3.07 earned run average. He made 427 starts and completed 392.
After retiring, Rusie returned to hometown Indiana and worked. He made a living in paper and pulp mill and even did some freshwater pearling. For 10 years, he was a steamfitter in Seattle.
Giants manager John McGraw even offered him a job as a superintendent of the Giants Stadium, Polo Grounds. Rusie accepted and worked for him until 1929 until his return to Seattle and death there in 1942. Thirty-five years later, in 1977, he was elected into the Hall of Fame.
John McGraw put it best. "You can't hit what you can't see." And not many could see what Rusie threw. While Rusie was plagued with bad relationships with management and wildness, he is known as a true pioneer in baseball history.
He paved the way for guys like Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Sandy Koufax: power pitchers. While many are quick to mention those guys, they inconveniently ignore the fact that Rusie was the first power pitcher to step foot on a major league diamond.
Former A’s manager Connie Mack and former Giants manager John McGraw, whose opinions are very much valued, thought Rusie was faster then everyone. You name it, he was faster.