“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
1974-1977
RICK WISE

 

Rick Wise won 188 major-league ballgames, was a two-time All-Star, threw a no-hitter and barely missed three others. He and was the winning pitcher in what many still say was the greatest baseball game ever played, Game Six of the 1975 World Series.

He had a lot of support from his family growing up. Wise’s father, Cliff, was a high-school history teacher, who took a teaching job in Oregon after World War II and moved the family from Michigan to Portland in 1948 or 1949. Rick was born on September 13, 1945, in Jackson, Michigan, but was raised in Portland. Rick’s father had been a pitcher at the University of Michigan. He had quite a sports background, and both he and Rick’s mother, Barbara, worked with their son as he developed as a ballplayer. Cliff Wise also became a coach and athletic director at Benson High School.

Rick had two brothers and two sisters. His youngest brother, Tom, played in the Astros organization from 1970 to 1974. Rick and his wife, Susan, raised two children and had four grandchildren. None of them pursued sports professionally.

Rick Wise began to rack up accomplishments early on. In 1958, when he was 12 years old, his Rose City team went to the Little League World Series. Three years later, with more or less the same team, Wise went to the Babe Ruth World Series and pitched the second no-hitter in the history of that tournament.

Rick attended James Madison High School in Portland and helped lead the school to its first baseball state championship in 1963. He excelled in other sports as well, and was all-city in football and basketball and all-city and all-state in baseball. He was just 17 when he graduated and was promptly signed to a major-league contract by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Phillies scout Glenn Elliott signed the 17-year-old Wise, with a bonus of $12,000. This was enough at the time to define him as a “bonus baby”. Rick started his professional career at Class A Bakersfield in 1963, going 6-2 in 12 games with a 2.63 ERA and striking out 98 in 65 innings. At the age of 18, he spent the 1964 season with the Phillies, and they got him into 25 games. He was hit hard in his first career start but got a no-decision. Wise’s second start was quite an experience. It came on June 21, 1964, in the second game of a doubleheader against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. It was Father’s Day and the day’s first game saw Philadelphia’s Jim Bunning throw a perfect game. Eighteen-year-old rookie Rick Wise had to follow that! 

Wise knew he was pitching the second game and readily admitted to jitters. He got the first four batters he faced, but when he walked Jesse Gonder, the 32,000-strong Shea Stadium crowd stood and gave the Mets a rousing ovation. Wise threw the first six innings, allowing just three hits, and recorded his first major-league win, 8-2. The Mets’ total of only three hits in a doubleheader tied a league record.

The following year, 1965, the Phillies asked Wise to polish his game in Triple-A ball, at the club’s Little Rock affiliate. That September, on his 20th birthday, Wise signed his Army papers and went into the Reserve; his basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, took him most of the way through baseball’s spring training in 1966. The Phillies had moved their Triple-A club from Little Rock to San Diego, so Wise joined them there, got into playing shape and pitched in 12 games for the Padres before being recalled to the big-league club in time for his first big-league start of the season, on June 2nd. Wise’s best year was 1971, his seventh season pitching for the Phillies. On June 23rd he threw a no-hitter against the Reds at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. The final score was 4-0, and Wise, an excellent hitter, drove in three of the four runs with his two-run homer in the fifth and solo home run in the eighth. He’s the only player in major-league history to throw a no-hitter and hit two home runs in the same game.

Wise holds a couple of other distinctions from 1971. On August 28th he again hit two home runs in a game. Another high mark came on September 18th, when the Phillies hosted the Cubs at Veterans Stadium. Wise won the game in the bottom of the 12th inning when he singled in the winning run.

In 1971 Wise won 17 games and after the season, Wise was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Steve Carlton. Leave he did, however, and Wise posted back-to-back 16-win seasons for the Cardinals in ’72 and ’73. Wise led St. Louis in victories, and also was the starting and winning pitcher in the 1973 All-Star Game. But in late October he was traded again, this time going to the Red Sox along with outfielder Bernie Carbo in exchange for Reggie Smith and Ken Tatum.

Injury struck for the first time in 1974. It was a drizzly, dreary 37-38 degree day and he pitched a complete game, not having pitched in 12 days. He tore a triceps muscle and that basically ruined his whole season. The injury pretty much made 1974 a lost season.

Wise hammered 15 career home runs, despite playing six seasons in the AL, where pitchers rarely pick up a bat.

The year after the injury, 1975, was an exceptional one. Wise led the Red Sox with 19 wins, one more than Luis Tiant’s 18 and two more than Bill Lee’s 17. At one point, he won nine games in a row as the Red Sox rolled toward the AL East division title. On July 2nd he almost had himself another no-hitter, pitching 8 2/3 innings of no-hit ball against Milwaukee. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Wise walked Bill Sharp and then gave up the first hit of the game, a home run by George Scott. Wise not only won 19 during the regular season in 1975, but also won the clinching game of the American League Championship Series, beating the A’s 5-3 in Oakland, holding them to six hits and two earned runs over 7 1/3 innings. In the World Series, Darrell Johnson had Wise start Game #3, and the Big Red Machine got to him the second time through the order. Wise was tagged for five earned runs in 4 innings. The Red Sox eventually tied the game but the Reds won it in the bottom of the tenth inning.

Wise’s only other appearance in World Series play got him a win. He was the fourth Sox pitcher of the night in Game #6, and held the Reds scoreless (despite a couple of singles) in the top of the 12th. He never had to come out to throw the 13th, thanks to Carlton Fisk’s home run leading off the bottom of the 12th.

Wise pitched well in ’76 and ’77, but it wasn’t always the happiest Red Sox clubhouse. There was a rift between manager Don Zimmer and a number of players like Bill Lee, Bernie Carbo, and Ferguson Jenkins.

Wise said he held good memories. “I had my highest winning percentage of any of the teams that I was with when I was with the Red Sox and of course had an opportunity to get in the World Series. Those are the big things I remember most, my great teammates and the fun I had … how fun it is to play in Boston.”

At the very end of spring training 1978, Wise was packaged in a six-player trade, sent to Cleveland for pitcher Dennis Eckersley and catcher Fred Kendall. It was the second time Wise had been traded for a future Hall of Famer … first Carlton, then Eckersley. He’d requested a trade at the end of the 1977 season, after Don Zimmer had consigned him to bullpen work, but had enjoyed a very good spring training so was surprised at the timing. And he didn’t learn of the trade from the Red Sox.

In 1987 Wise was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.

His life after his playing days was not as comfortable as he had planned. A lengthy article in the Hartford Courant reported that his agent had cost him over $3 million and Wise had been forced to declare bankruptcy. The Wises had to live with Rick’s sister Pam, and he had to accept support from the Baseball Assistance Team. His wife, Susan, returned to nursing school and became licensed in Oregon.

But Wise had never really left the game. After some time off, he said, he felt himself becoming stagnant, so he sent out résumés. The Oakland A’s offered him a position working for them in A-ball, and he accepted. At the time of his 2005 interview he had coached for 21 years. In 2003 and 2004 he was the pitching coach working with Butch Hobson on the Nashua Pride, and in 2005 he became the pitching coach for the brand-new Lancaster Barnstormers, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In August 2005 Rick greatly enjoyed getting together for an autograph show that reunited most of the members of the 1975 Red Sox team. He worked as pitching coach for Lancaster through the 2008, even working for a while in 2007 as interim manager. Wise retired after the 2008 season.