Rick Reichardt is a good friend and also happens to be one of baseball’s most interesting characters. Rick was a so-called bonus baby for Gene Autry’s Los Angeles Angels in 1964, the same year as my ex-husband, the late Lee Meyers. Rick was the subject of one of the largest bidding wars at the time between Charlie Finley’s Kansas City Athletics (who would later move to Oakland) and Autry’s Angels. Though Finley was the high bidder, Rick accepted Autry’s lower bid and signed with the fledgling Angels team. During his career, Rick also played for the Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox, and Kansas City Royals.
Rick was the first player to hit a home run in Angel Stadium, and was regarded as a five-tool player—hitting for average, hitting for power, throwing ability, fielding ability, and speed. He is often compared to today’s L.A. Angel phenom, Mike Trout.
Rick is also unofficially credited with the creation of major league baseball’s player draft. After the bidding war between the Athletics and the Angels for Rick, the team owners created the draft so there would never be another “Rick Reichardt” bidding war. As a player representative Rick teamed with legendary attorney Marvin Miller to fight baseball’s oppressive reserve clause in player contracts, which kept players in virtual servitude to teams, even after their contracts had expired. The reserve clause was ended in 1975. Rick’s career was shortened by the loss of a kidney and he retired in 1974.
I have long been associated with baseball. In my autobiography, Playing the Field, I wrote about my affair with Bo Belinsky; my friendship with Cy Young Award pitcher, Dean Chance; as well as my marriage and breakup with Lee Meyers. And I will be writing more about baseball in my upcoming book, Secrets of the Goddess.
It is a source of pride to me that my baseball buddies treat me like one of the boys. Rick was kind enough to candidly answer some questions for me about his years in baseball and his thoughts about the state of today’s Great American Pass Time.
MVD: Rick, what are your feelings about baseball salaries today?
RICK: Salaries have exponentially exploded—supply and demand—but nobody in our society is worth that kind of money. The median salary at the end of my career was $35k. With the end of the reserve clause, it jumped to $250k within a few years. Today our country is out of whack and, like all societies thru time, on an ebb. Baseball reflects that decline.
MVD: How do you feel about being compared to Mike Trout of the L.A. Angeles?
RICK: Trout is an animal—the best all around player in the game—followed, in my opinion, by Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera. Athletically I did many things well in several sports, and there was legitimate interest in me. I was on my way until I lost my kidney in 1966, my first full year in the big leagues. Immediately after the nephrectomy I lost resiliency. My numbers through half that season were provocative. Though I recovered and settled in as a solid ballplayer with value, I eventually ran out of gas.
It was a different era, dominated by pitching. The strike zone was higher and the baseballs were not jacked as they are now. These two issues are seldom mentioned, but those are the facts. I was player rep and team captain for two teams during the strike years [1972 strike & 1973 lockout] and there is no doubt my career was short circuited by design. Marvin Miller, our counsel for the players association, wanted to sue on my behalf.
MVD: What are your thoughts about Steroids and Human Growth Hormones? How would you react to A-Rod if that happened when you were an active player?
RICK: A-Rod is a smug punk. For some people it is not enough to be great. He did not need to get that little extra. He was already the best. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s handling of A-Rod’s case and especially of Ryan Braun’s is weak. A-Rod gets to continue playing while he appeals his suspension, and Braun misses basically one third of the season and loses only 3 million bucks. Something else is going on here—maybe protecting brethren? I say if they get caught using PEDs, it’s one and done—and good riddance.
Steroids are dangerous. There’s no question that there are body changes, and it seems there are too many injuries to those who take them. And what are the long term effects? There has not been enough research in the relatively abbreviated time players have been juicing to know. Now there are high school kids using them who are not tested due to cost. In my day there were amphetamines—greenies, red juice, and the rest—not good but as bad. One potential hall of famer was notorious in their use.
MVD: Do you think Mike Trout is taking steroids?
RICK: I don’t see him often enough to make that observation. He is a thug and very compact. These guys all have trainers but I do seem to remember he put on 40 pounds over the winter. That bothered me. I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I gave Braun that nod. I was wrong!
MVD: If you had a choice: A home run, a virgin, or an orgasm with someone you care about?
RICK: A home run is an orgasm. A virgin is nothing but work and trouble (except maybe a first love), so an orgasm in concert with genuine affection and caring is the winner. Me? I’m more of a cuddler—Swede right?—and when it comes to sexuality Swedes rank numero uno, then Canadians. That’s my take. Love the Svenska flickas.
MVD: Did sexual relationships disturb your playing on the field, and did too much sex affect your batting average?
RICK: I think sex is a great adjunct to playing well or whatever you do in life—homeostasis right? There were girls that ballplayers referred to as hitting pussy, and there were girls who were there during slumps. To me they were the ins and outs—forgive me—of the season. Obviously if one is happy with your day to day relationships, your work should benefit. From my perspective, the behavior of my teammates on the road—almost to a man—had to have some kind of deleterious effect, but I never said anything.
I was single for almost all of my major league career and enjoyed, like most, relationships on many levels. I dated two or three girls during those times on a fairly serious level. There was one engagement that was called off, thank god, at the 11th hour when I became aware of something I could not live with. My friend John Flynn, then NBC assignment editor, helped me weather the storm. There was only one pregnancy to deal with. To this day I regret the decision we both made. There were ramifications that she made me aware of over 20 years later. I now have the perfect wife and mother. I wish I shared her love of dancing and cards. We have four children and six grand kids to be proud of.
MVD: Would you do anything differently if you could climb into a time capsule?
RICK: I enjoyed my L.A. Angel years, save for Autry’s error in hiring Dick Walsh and Lefty Phillips, who were laughable. I enjoyed spending a year  with Ted Williams [The legendary slugger was the manager of the Washington Senators at the time]. My teammates were mostly college educated, but it was a poorly run organization. I loved Chicago and Chuck Tanner and Roland Hemond, by far the best team I played for and the best big city on the planet, but even there an inept general manager and an owner in financial difficulty. As the player rep I took all the heat, even from company man Harry Caray [Chicago’s long-time play-by-play announcer]. He was a problem for all of us. We had six quality players with unsigned contracts testing the reserve clause at my and Marvin Miller’s direction.
When I signed with the Kansas City Royals I was released the 1st day of the 1974 season, in spite of having a two year no cut contract—unheard of in the day—a sacrificial lamb to the owners because of my involvement with fighting the reserve clause. I got a base hit in that game and hit two home runs the last day of spring training. My mistake was not signing a similar contract with Charley Finley and Oakland. Charlie could have given a shit about the other owners—no way would he piss away a player’s contract. That year Joe Rudi was hurt and I would have been Oakland’s left fielder in the world series. I try not to look back but…
MVD: Looking forward, what do you think baseball will look like 40 years from now?
RICK: Forty years from now baseball will be international. The next invasion will be from the Chinese and they will dominate. They are bigger and stronger than the other Asians and have a similarly strong work ethic. There will probably be major league cities in places like Tokyo, Mexico City, Beijing. Television broadcasts and advertising will be geared to different markets for every game. Salaries and revenues will continue to expand and there will probably be rule changes because of time zones and the extra travel times.
MVD: How much longer will umpires last before being replaced by robotic sensors?
RICK: I don’t see that happening. In a way the existing robotics are useful in keeping umpires honest. There is a strike zone, or at least there used to be. I mentioned the strike zone was lowered by design, but umpires now will be reminded after the fact if they are not compliant. So many umpires have their own idea of what the zone should be. Ed Runge extended the outside zone by several inches because he felt it would make hitters more aggressive—ridiculous. I remember him punching Roberto Clemente out 4 times in an All Star game, and, of course, Runge was an American League umpire. But, no, I can’t imagine a game with the winning run at 3rd, two outs, and a 3-2 count and a called third strike by a computerized system.