For a few years it looked like Paul Reuschel was not interested in becoming a professional baseball player.
He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school, but opted to attend Western Illinois University where he played baseball and basketball.
Over the next thirty months he was drafted by the Washington Senators and California Angels, but refused to sign a contract with either.
There are always thousands and thousands of small variables that lead us to make the decisions we do. I often try to trace back the chain of choices that led to various major life developments.
I married my wife after dating her. I dated her because we had become friends. We became friends because we were at the same college. We were at the same college because I transferred from a different college. I transferred to be closer to family. I wanted to be closer to family because my grandfather was sick. I wanted to care for my grandfather because he and I were close. We were close because we spent a lot of time together. We spent a lot of time together because I worked at the family restaurant. I worked at the family restaurant so much because, unlike my sister, I didn’t have the desire to spend my summers doing anything else. I didn’t desire doing anything else because I didn’t like people.
I could keep going, but you get the idea. I married my wife because I don’t like people.
Every decision that we make emerges from a similar web of past experiences and choices. It is impossible to comprehend the steps that lead to our own choices, much less those of others.
Being ignorant of the vast, vast majority of Paul Reuschel’s life, I am in no place to pass judgement on his decision to turn down three opportunities to become a professional baseball player.
But still. How on earth do you do that?
Regardless, Paul Reuschel took a pass on professional baseball until the summer of 1968 when he was drafted by the team he had followed his entire life, the Chicago Cubs.
Reuschel, as far as I can tell, didn’t make much of an impact in the Cubs organization. I can’t find any mentions of him until the spring of 1972.
It was the first Cubs’ first spring training since 1953 that didn’t include Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. Despite losing the face of their franchise, three future hall of famers (Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, and Billy Williams) were still playing regularly, and team seemed to have a bit more optimism surrounding it entering 1972. Leo Durocher had managed them to top three finishes the past five seasons (two season they finished 3rd in the National League, in three seasons they finished the top three of the newly minted National League Eastern Division).
Paul was joined in spring training that year by his younger brother, Rick (also a pitcher). By all accounts it was a fairly normal spring. My quick scan of a couple newspapers’ coverage of team produced only two stories of note.
First, Leo Durocher let the team take a day off. Teams have scheduled off days throughout their season, but Durocher gave his boys a previously unscheduled day of rest. It may seem like a small gesture, but coming from the man credited with originating the phrase “nice guys finish last,” and known to start a fight or two with individuals he determined to be giving less than 100%, this was a big deal. Perhaps it showed a softening of Durocher. He would be removed as manager ninety games into the season.
The second involves our friend Paul Reuschel. On March 5th the Cubs held an intrasquad game. Paul threw two innings for one team in which he allowed a couple runs. Later, he switched sides and threw one scoreless inning. He ended up being the pitcher of record for both teams. He got the win, and the loss.
I spent at the majority of several lunch breaks attempting to find another recorded instance of this happening. The only other example that I could dig up happened in the Mexican league. It involved a game suspended due to weather, and a trade. So, to the best of my knowledge, Paul Reuschel is the only player to record a win and a loss on the same day in the same game (even if it was just an intrasquad scrimmage).
When the Cubs left Arizona that spring, Rick Reuschel made his way to Chicago with the major league team. Paul made the much shorter trip to Midland, TX, home to the Cubs’ AA affiliate.
Paul didn’t break into the major leagues until 1975. By that point he was 28 years old, and the Cubs were in the midst of a string of eleven consecutive losing seasons. Mediocrity reigned at Wrigley.
For the next three and a half years, Paul was an average to below-average relief pitcher. The lone highlight came on August 21, 1975 when Paul threw two and two-thirds scoreless innings in relief of his brother, Rick. That night they became the first, and only, set of major league brothers to combine for a shutout.
Quick aside. Rick (pictured below) actually put together a very nice major league career. He pitched for four teams over nineteen seasons, made three all star teams, won one gold glove, and finished in the top-ten in National League Cy Young Award voting three times (two of which he finished third). He also is tenth on the Cubs all-time leaderboard for career WAR.
Paul was traded to Cleveland in the middle of the 1978 season, and was released following the next season. He never played professionally again.
Everything about Paul Reuschel leaves you saying “meh.”
Not only did he appear in less than 200 games for two mediocre teams, but he looks like your uncle.
The more I think about him, to more I feel had an enviable career.
He was drafted by the team he’d loved since he was a toddler (I’m sure he got to meet Ernie Banks a few times)
He played the majority of his major league career on the same pitching staff as his brother, and they got to do something (the aforementioned shutout) that no one else has ever done in baseball history. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to do something that no one else has ever done in baseball history?
He got paid to live his dream.
One of the most beautiful things about baseball is its ability to mirror the world around us. We live lives filled with plodding through mundanity, anticipating the next jolt of excitement. We understand the grind of the long season. The ups. The downs.
Even when we feel that visceral connection to the rythem of the game, we experience it through big, memorable moments.
When we grapple with the reality of aging and death, we remember Lou Gehrig’s speech, or the striking image of a weary Babe Ruth bracing himself with his bat.
When we relate to baseball, we choose to see ourselves in its heroes.
In reality, Paul Reuschel is a better mirror for our lives. He lived, did something he was passionate about, and was forgotten. No one, save the biggest of Cubs fans, remember his career. Even then he’s often remembered as Rick’s older brother who looked like an accountant.
Perhaps when we think of struggle giving way to joy, we should think of Paul, and when, after nearly a decade in the minor leagues, he stood on the mound at Wrigley Field for the first time.
Maybe getting older is more like the pitcher released without fanfare in October than a dramatic speech delivered in front of thousands.
I’m sure Reuschel dreamed of being a great baseball player, but knew he wasn’t. He didn’t try to be Tom Seaver or Bob Gibson. He was just Paul. He did his job as best he could for as long as he could.
When all is said and done, I think Paul is okay with being forgotten, or probably more likely never being noticed, by the masses.
I’d like to be more like Paul.