May 29, 2016

One of the First New York Giants Star Players: Amos Rusie (1890-1898)

Amos Wilson Rusie was Born on May 30, 1871 in Mooresville, Indiana. The tall six foot one right handed fastball pitcher, was known as "The Hoosier Thunderbolt" & became one of the most dominant pitchers of the 1890’s. After one season at Indianapolis he came to the New York Giants in 1890.

In those days the distance between home plate & the pitcher’s mound was only 50 feet, & Rusie's fastball was frightening to batters. They were scared of the speed but even more so of his control issues. He would lead the league in walks five straight seasons & set the all time single season base on balls mark 1890 (290).

That season he also, led the league with 36 wild pitches. Rusie is seventh on the all time list with 1707 walks & 33rd with 153 wild pitches. In his first season with the Giants he won 29 games, but also led the league in losses with 34. He would win 30 games or more over the next four seasons, posting winning records every year.

To go along with his league leading walks, he also led the league in strikeouts five times, shut outs four times, starts twice, innings, games, games & finished all one time each. Rusie also won two ERA titles & was among the league's top five times.

It was said that catchers used to have to put a thin sheet of lead under a sponge in their mitts to take the sting away from his fastball. In 1893 he was 33-21 with a 3.23 ERA. He led the league in starts (52) games (56) complete games (50) innings (483) hits ( 451) walks (218) & strike outs (208). That same year tragedy struck as one of Rusie’s fast balls hit Louisville's future Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings in the head.

The blow put him in a coma, taking him four days to recover from the fastball. This led to baseball changing the distance from home to the pitcher's mound from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches. This change didn’t hurt Rusies’s effectiveness, in fact he came back to win the Pitchers Triple Crown in 1894. He was 36-13 with 195 strike outs & a 2.78 ERA. He also led the league in starts (50) shut outs (3) walks (200) & strike outs (195).

He became a popular figure in New York & was one of the first baseball stars in the city. He was known as "Mr. Giant" & "Colossus of Coogans Bluff". The famed vaudeville act of Weber and Fields used his name in their show, & famed Broadway actor DeWolf Hopper proudly called him a personal friend.

He even received a message of congratulations from the popular 1890’s sex symbol/ performer Lillian Russell. Russell was a Broadway star as well as one of the foremost singers of operettas in America. It was her voice that was first heard when Alexander Grahm Bell first introduced long distance telephone service as she sang to audiences in Boston & Washington D.C. from New York.  Russell also starred in burlesque, vaudville & early motion pictures. In her later years she wrote a column for womens suffrage & was a popular lecturer. A movie of her life was made in 1940 starring Alice Faye, Henry Fonda & Don Ameche.

Back to Rusie, a 25 cent paperback book was also written about him; "The Secrets of Amos Rusie, The World's Greatest Pitcher". In Manhattan Bars & Restaurants named drinks after him, as did bars  around the Polo Grounds ballpark. Rusie was one of the first celebrity athletes in New York City by far.

After a bitter contract dispute with Giants' owner Andrew Freedman, Rusie publicly gave the thumbing of his nose to Freedman, which was equal to today's version of giving someone the middle finger. He was fined $200 (he made only $2,500 a year) & held out for the entire 1896 season. It was terrible for baseball, the fans boycotted the game and the press railed against the owners.

A settlement was reached just before the 1897 season, out of respect for Rusie & fear of legal action against the reserve clause. In 1898 he was hit in the head with a line drive & suffered hearing damage from the after effects. He soon suffered arm trouble, as well as personal problems getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds for the great pitcher to be; Christy Mathewson. After just three games with the Reds his career ended.

Lifetime in ten seasons he won 246 games (49th best all time) lost 174 with a 3.07 ERA (185th all time) 1950 strikeouts (77th all time) 1707 walks (7th all time) & 30 shutouts (110th all time) 393 complete games (18th all time) 427 starts (94th all time) & 153 wild pitches (33rd all time).

Retirement: Afetr his playing days he & his wife moved to Seattle. It was tough for him to earn aliving there & when New York Giants manager John McGraw learned of his troubles offered him a job as a special officer at the Polo Grounds. Rusie accepted & was once again a celebrity in New York, he said "It was like climbing out of your grave & going to a dance". He stayed in that job for eight years before buying a chicken ranch back in Seattle.

Rusie was injured in a car accident & never fully recovered. He passed away in 1942 at the age of 71 in Seattle, Washington. Amos Rusie was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.

No comments: