#CardCorner: 1969 Topps Rick Wise

Written by: Craig Muder

When Rick Wise walked off the Fenway Park mound after striking out the Reds’ César Gerónimo on Oct. 21, 1975, he was in position to be one of the Red Sox’s heroes that night.

And while he would eventually be credited with the victory in that game, the legendary moment that followed in the very next at-bat relegated all other storylines to footnotes in history.

Wise, Boston’s then 30-year-old right-hander, had entered Game 6 of the World Series in the top of the 12th inning with the game tied at six. After getting Johnny Bench to foul out to begin the frame, he allowed a ground ball single to Tony Pérez and another single to George Foster to put runners on first and second. But Wise got Dave Concepción to fly out to right and then caught Gerónimo looking at a fastball up in the strike zone to end the inning.

A few moments later, Carlton Fisk ended the game with a home run – and Wise had his World Series victory.

Amazingly, it may not have been the most unique win of a career that lasted 18 seasons and produced 188 victories.

Born Sept. 13, 1945, in Jackson, Mich., Wise was raised in Portland, Ore. His father, a former collegiate pitcher, encouraged Wise athletically – and Wise’s Little League team in Rose City, Ore., won the West regional title in 1958 and advanced to the World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Later, Wise’s Babe Ruth League team and his American Legion team played in their respective World Series.

“Every baseball team I’ve been on was a championship team,” Wise told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1964.

Rick Wise began his big league career with the Phillies in 1964 and pitched in the majors for 18 seasons. (Topps baseball card photographed by Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Wise was overpowering as an amateur and signed with the Phillies on June 16, 1963, receiving a bonus reported to be worth $12,000. He spent the 1963 season with Class A Bakersfield of the California League, going 6-3 with a 2.63 ERA in 12 appearances.

As a bonus baby, Wise had to be put on the Phillies’ roster or be subject to the first-year player draft. He reported to Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla., in 1964 and immediately impressed manager Gene Mauch.

“He can really pump that ball,” Mauch told the News Journal of Wilmington, Del., before giving Wise an assignment in the Phillies’ first Spring Training game of the year.

The reverse of Rick Wise's 1969 Topps card. (Topps baseball card photographed by Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Mauch worked Wise, who would turn 19 during the season, judiciously as the Phillies chased the pennant that summer. He made his first appearance on April 21, was given his first start on May 21 and picked up his first victory on June 21 – starting the second game of a Father’s Day doubleheader at Shea Stadium.

In the opener, Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game – the first regular season perfecto in the big leagues in 42 years. Wise was nearly as effective, allowing only three hits and two unearned runs over six innings.

The Phillies led the National League for much of the summer but faded in the final weeks, ceding the pennant to St. Louis and denying Wise a chance to pitch in the World Series. He finished the year with a 5-3 record and 4.04 ERA over 25 games, including eight starts.

Now free to send Wise to the minors for more seasoning, the Phillies shipped their young right-hander to the Triple-A Arkansas Travelers of the Pacific Coast League in 1965. There, Wise went 8-16 with a 4.45 ERA over 194 innings.

Following the season, Wise joined the Army Reserves and his 1966 season was filled with stops and starts due to his military commitments. He began the year with Triple-A San Diego, where he was 3-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 12 appearances before getting called up to Philadelphia. The Phillies immediately inserted him into the rotation, and over the season’s final four months Wise went 5-6 with a 3.71 ERA over 99.1 innings.

In 1967, Wise began the season in the Phillies’ bullpen before shutting out the Dodgers on a five-hitter in a May 31 spot start. From there, Wise remained in the rotation for most the rest of the year – notching consecutive shutouts against the Mets and Pirates in August and finishing with an 11-11 record and 3.28 ERA over 181.1 innings.

Wise honed his craft in the Puerto Rican Winter League after the season, then held out for a couple weeks in Spring Training of 1968 before signing his new contract.

“With Jim Bunning gone (having been traded to the Pirates), I have a real opportunity to start 35 to 40 games,” Wise told the Associated Press. “(Phillies 1967 pitching coach Larry Shepard) showed me how to get the curveball down. The big difference is (hitters) can’t say: ‘Forget the curveball and wait for the fastball.’”

But with Reserve commitments still affecting his schedule, Wise was much less effective in 1968. He went 9-15 with a 4.54 ERA, allowing a big league-worst 92 earned runs in the Year of the Pitcher.

In 1969, however, Wise – still only 23 – added a slider to his repertoire and regained his form, going 15-13 with a 3.23 ERA over 220 innings. A touch less effective in 1970 – posting a 13-14 record with a 4.17 ERA over 220.1 innings for a Phillies team that was last in the NL in runs scored – Wise nevertheless was regarded as a dependable starter with at least a decade of effective years ahead of him. Wise was also had a reputation as one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball and had been charged with just two career errors over his six big league seasons.

Despite those numbers, the Phillies asked Wise to take a pay cut prior to the 1971 season. It would set the stage for a year that Wise would not soon forget.

On June 23, Wise authored one of the great performances in MLB history – tossing a no-hitter against the Reds at Riverfront Stadium while hitting two home runs at the plate. No other pitcher in history has hit two home runs during a no-hitter.

“I was coming off a bout with the flu, and I thought it was going to be a long night,” Wise told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1991. “Cincinnati had such an incredible lineup. But I just kept the ball down and tried to make good pitches.”

A sixth-inning walk to Dave Concepción was all that stood between Wise and a perfect game. But eight weeks later, Wise was better than perfect: On Sept. 18, Wise allowed two runs in the top of the first inning against the Cubs and then surrendered a home run to Frank Fernandez leading off the second.

From that point, Wise retired 32 straight batters – the equivalent of 10.2 perfect innings – before Ron Santo’s single in the 12th inning. At that point, the score was tied at 3 – and after Wise retired the Cubs without further damage, he ended the game in the bottom of the 12th with an RBI single that scored Willie Montañez.

Only Harvey Haddix, who pitched 12 perfect innings for the Pirates in 1959 before losing his no-hitter in the 13th inning, has ever recorded a longer string of outs in one big league game.

Wise finished the season with a record of 17-14 and 2.88 ERA over 272.1 innings. He also hit six home runs and drove in 15 runs while earning his first All-Star Game selection.

“What is the difference between the Rick Wise of 1967 and the Rick Wise of today?” asked Larry Shepard, then the Reds pitching coach, following Wise’s 1971 no-hitter. “Consistency and his off-speed curveball.”

Capitalizing on his success, Wise held out at the start of Spring Training of 1972. And with Steve Carlton in the same position with the Cardinals, a trade was quickly arranged: Wise for Carlton, straight up, on Feb. 25.

History will show that Carlton won 27 games and the first of four Cy Young Awards in 1972 en route to Cooperstown. But at the time, observers throughout the game were split on which team got the better end of the deal.

“I believe, from here on, Wise will be more consistent than Carlton,” Mets manager Gil Hodges told the New York Daily News.

For Wise, the trade became an indelible part of his career story.

“It was a blow to be traded,” Wise told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “After all, I led that club in every pitching category that year and I was a seven-year veteran. But in some ways, it’s an honor to have been traded for a Hall of Famer like Carlton.”

Wise quickly agreed to a new contract with the Cardinals and was 16-16 with a 3.11 ERA in 269 innings that season. Good numbers, but ones that paled in comparison to Carlton’s.

“I won 16 games – but all I ever heard was how terrible it was that the Cardinals had given up Steve to get me,” Wise told Gannett News Service.

Then in 1973, Wise was even better. He carried an 11-6 record and 3.10 ERA into the All-Star break, earning the start for the National League in the Midsummer Classic. Wise picked up the win in the All-Star Game and finished the season with a mark of 16-12 and a 3.37 ERA.

On Oct. 26, 1973, the Cardinals pulled off a blockbuster trade, acquiring outfielder Reggie Smith and pitcher Ken Tatum from the Red Sox in exchange for Wise and outfielder Bernie Carbo.

The Red Sox didn’t know it, but they just brought two players to Boston who would play crucial roles in what many consider to be the greatest World Series game ever played.

In 1974, however, Wise made just nine starts while batting tendinitis in his arm – after making a start on a cold, rainy April day – and Red Sox management, who wanted him to pitch through the discomfort. His arm came around after rest, though, and he worked nine innings in each of his first three starts in 1975.

By the end of the season, Wise had a team-best 19 wins for a Boston club that won the AL East on the strength of fabulous rookie seasons by Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. He would eventually finish eighth in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

“This is a terrific team,” Wise told the Associated Press prior to the 1975 World Series. “It has some of the finest young talent I’ve ever seen.”

After winning Game 3 of the ALCS against the A’s by allowing just two earned runs over 7.1 innings, Wise drew the start in Game 3 of the World Series against the Reds. He allowed five runs over 4.1 innings in a no decision and was in line to be considered for the Game 6 start when three days of rain in Boston allowed Luis Tiant to return to the mound after starting Games 1 and 4.

After Tiant allowed six runs over seven-plus innings, Roger Moret shut the Reds down in the eighth – leaving Boston trailing 6-3. With two on and two out, Carbo came to the plate as a pinch hitter and launched a three-run home run to set the stage for more heroics.

Dick Drago blanked the Reds for three innings – with the help of a brilliant catch by Dwight Evans at the right field wall – before Wise worked a scoreless 12th.

“As I was toweling off, I look up and see (Carlton Fisk) get good wood on the ball,” Wise told Gannett News Service. “Everyone remembers Fisk waving the ball fair, but I was doing it too.”

Fisk’s homer off the Fenway Park foul pole made Wise the winner. The next night, a huge television audience tuned in to the see Cincinnati rally from a three-run deficit to clinch the World Series title.

Wise was 14-11 with a 3.53 ERA in 1976 but clashed with new manager Don Zimmer and was sent to the bullpen early in the 1977 season. He eventually regained his starting role but worked in just 128.1 innings on the year, finishing 11-5 with a 4.77 ERA.

Then on March 30, 1978, the Red Sox packaged Wise and three prospects – Ted Cox, Bo Díaz and Mike Paxton – in a deal for young Indians ace Dennis Eckersley and catcher Fred Kendall. Eckersley, one of the top pitchers in the AL at just 23 years of age, won 20 games in 1978 and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting.

Wise went 9-19 and found himself the target of boo birds in Cleveland, who viewed the Eckersley trade as a bad deal. But Wise bounced back in 1979 to go 15-10 with a 3.73 ERA over 34 starts. Now a free agent, Wise signed a five-year deal with the Padres worth a reported $2 million.

“We’re looking forward to the next five years with Rick,” Padres general manager Bob Fontaine Sr. told the Associated Press, “and 75 more victories so he has 250 in his career.”

But Wise, who had a career record of 178-165 at that point and was just 34 years old, was unable to duplicate his success in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Boston. He went 6-8 with a 3.67 ERA in 1980, and his 154.1 innings were his fewest – save for his injury-filled 1974 campaign and his bullpen season with the Red Sox in 1977 – since 1966.

The Padres finished 73-89 despite a roster that featured future Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield along with former All-Stars like Dave Cash, Gene Tenace and Randy Jones.

Wise made 18 starts in the strike-shortened 1981 season, going 4-8 with a 3.77 ERA. His fastball mostly gone, Wise struck out 27 batters in 98 innings. Since then, only one pitcher – the Giants’ Kirk Rueter in 2005 – has worked at least 98 innings in one season and fanned 27 or fewer hitters.

In 1982, the Padres brought in Dick Williams as their manager and continued to reshape their roster – a process that was begun when Jack McKeon was hired as general manager midway through the 1980 campaign. Wise was penciled in as the team’s No. 3 starter but allowed 32 hits over 18 innings during exhibition games.

After allowing two earned runs in two innings in a start against the Dodgers on April 10, Williams and McKeon had seen enough. With almost three full years left on his contract, Wise was released on April 16.

He returned to the game as a minor league coach in the mid-1980s and even pitched in the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1989. But a number of bad business deals left him heavily in debt – and in 1990, Wise declared bankruptcy and listed assets of only $11,600.

“For a while, it was hand-to-mouth living for us,” Wise told the Hartford Courant in 1991 when he was a pitching coach with the New Britain Red Sox. “You just wonder: ‘Why you?’”

But Wise continued to work in the minor leagues and in independent ball. And with the help of the Baseball Assistance Team and his pension, Wise rebuilt his finances.

He finished his big league career with a record of 188-181, a 3.69 ERA and 1,647 strikeouts – and more than a few moments that will live on in baseball history forever.

“Baseball was my sanctuary,” Wise said. “My refuge.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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