- P, DH
- May 16, 1953
- 6' 3"
- 195 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 7-05-1974 with LAN
- Allstar Selections:
- 1984 SS, 1985 SS, 1986 SS
Obtained officially on April 4, 1979, from the Dodgers for Jerry Reuss, it was thought Rick Rhoden would solidify the Pirates’ pitching staff as the Pirates contended, however, the 6’4” righthander was not as healthy as the Pirates believed and after making only one start on May 8, he was placed on the disabled list and on June 28 had shoulder surgery ending his season. The club had known Rhoden had had some arm problems prior to the trade but had not thought them to be as serious as they were.
But overcoming obstacles was nothing new to Rhoden, who as a boy had suffered from osteomyelitis, an infection which afflicts bone and marrow. He wore a leg brace until he was 12 and had surgery to remove part of his left knee. He also had fought another serious problem when his leg became infected after being accidentally cut by a pair of rusty scissors. Rhoden went to spring training with the Pirates in 1980, but still needed to get back his arm strength and started the season with AAA Portland. He quickly showed signs of his old skills as he pitched a seven inning no-hitter on April 23 and was recalled in June. He lost his first three starts for the Bucs, but went 7-2 the rest of the way. In the strike shortened season of 1981, Rhoden, who had gained a reputation as a fast starter when he was with LA, won his first six decisions and led the pitching staff in wins, complete games, starts, innings and strike outs.
Rhoden had an inconsistent season in 1982. The pitcher who had never lost a game in April went 0-3 after having gone 13-0 in the baseball season’s initial month prior to 1982. One of his no-decisions that month came in a gutty performance after learning of this brother’s death in an automobile accident earlier in the day. While he pitched well near the end of the season, his record finished at 11-14 despite leading the team again in starts, complete games and innings. Only at .500 with a 13-13 record in 1983, Rhoden lopped over a full run off his ERA and again led the team in innings pitched while tying Larry McWilliams for most starts.
The Pirates fell into last place the next three years, but Rhoden remained and effective starter. He won 14, 10 and 15 games for the tailenders while flashing ERA’s under 3.00 in 1984 and 1986. His 253 2/3 innings pitched in 1986 was the most twirled by a Pirate in the decade and his 15 wins that season was surpassed only by Jim Bibby’s 19 in 1980 during the ‘80’s.
Rhoden was traded to the New York Yankees for three young pitchers, Doug Drabek, Brian Fisher and Logan Easley following the season. His 79 wins during the 1980’s are 25 more than any other Pirate (John Candelaria finished with 54 during the decade). Rhoden had great command o f his pitches and was frequently accused of scuffing the ball. HOF’er Don Sutton, a Dodger teammate, was once asked if Rhoden threw the illegal pitch. Sutton replied of course he did, afterall, it was he who had taught Rhoden the pitch. This writer, while watching Rhoden warm up with Junior Ortiz prior to a game in 1985, yelled to him to “Doctor one up.” Rhoden motioned and smiled to Ortiz, and the next pitch seemed to drop by two feet.
Rhoden was an all-around athlete who helped himself in the field and at the plate. He was such a good hitter that he won three silver slugger awards and was occasionally used as a pinch hitter. He hit three homeruns in 1982, a feat he had performed as well with the Dodgers in 1977 and included batting averages of .375, .265, .333 and .278 during his time in Pittsburgh as well as a .308 season with LA in 1976. It was thought if not for his childhood affliction which hampered his running even as an adult, he could have made the majors as a position player.
After leaving the Pirates, Rhoden equaled his career high with 16 wins, a mark he had set in 1977, for the Yankees in 1987. He pitched two more years, going 12-12 for New York and 2-6 for Houston before retiring to the golf course, but unlike most retirees, Rhoden’s games are for more than a dollar-a-hole. While he is still far short of the 151 wins he posted as a major league pitcher, Rhoden has been extremely successful in celebrity tournaments and is generally the favorite to win.