Rick Wise won 188 major league ballgames, threw a no-hitter (and barely missed three or four others), and was the winning pitcher in what many still say was the greatest baseball game ever played, Game Six of the 1975 World Series.
He had a lot of support from his family growing up. Wise's father was a high school history teacher, who took a teaching job in Oregon after World War II was over and moved the family from Michigan to the east side of Portland in 1948 or 1949. Rick was born on September 13, 1945, in Jackson, Michigan, but was raised in Portland. Rick's father had been a baseball pitcher under legendary coach Ray Fisher at the University of Michigan (going up against Michigan State's Robin Roberts). He'd also played football behind Tom Harmon. He had quite a sports background, and both he and Rick's mother worked with their son as he developed as a ballplayer.
Rick had two brothers and two sisters. His youngest brother, Tom, played in the Astros organization. Tommy Wise was about 10 years younger, and reached the Double-A or Triple-A level but had knee surgery on both knees. He pitched some but was primarily a power-hitting third baseman/outfielder. Rick and his wife have two children and four grandchildren. None of them have pursued sports professionally.
Rick Wise began to rack up accomplishments early on. In 1958, while he was still 12 years old, his team went to the Little League World Series. Three years later, with more or less the same team, Wise went to the Babe Ruth World Series and pitched the second no-hitter in the history of that tournament. When he worked for the Red Sox in the 1975 World Series, it was his third Series.
Rick attended James Madison High School in Portland and helped lead the school to its first state championship in 1963. He excelled in other sports as well, and was all-city in football and basketball and all-city and all-state in baseball. He was just 17 when he graduated and was promptly signed to a major league contract by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Scouts began to show interest from very early on; Rick believes that area scouts began to take note from the time he'd played in the Little League World Series. As he got deeper into his high school years, he became more aware of scouts visiting the household and talking with his parents. As a minor, he never had much contact with the scouts themselves. There was no doubt what Rick wanted, though. "I knew I wanted to play pro ball. I knew at a very early age. I knew when I was in Little League that I wanted to play pro ball. Of course, my dad, being an educator, wanted to make sure I got an education. I had scholarship offers in all three sports, but I knew what I wanted to do from a very early age and it worked out just fine."
Glenn Elliott was the scout who signed the 17-year-old Wise to the Phillies, with a bonus of $12,000. Any bonus in excess of $8,000 made the recipient a "bonus baby" and the player had to be protected by the parent club the next year or become subject to a draft in which he could be lost. Rick spent the 1964 season with the Phillies, and they got him into 25 ballgames. He started eight games and finished with a 5-3 record, with an ERA of 4.04. Wise's second career start was quite an experience. It came June 21, 1964, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Mets at Shea Stadium. It was Father's Day and the day's first game saw Philadelphia's Jim Bunning throw a perfect game. Eighteen-year-old rookie Rick Wise had to follow that! He got the first four batters he faced, but when he walked Jesse Gonder, the 32,000-strong Shea Stadium crowd stood and gave the Mets a rousing ovation. "I couldn't figure out what all the commotion was about until I finally figured out it was their first baserunner in like 13 or 14 innings," Rick says. Wise threw the first six innings, allowing just three hits, and recorded his first major league win. The total of only three hits in a doubleheader remains a league record.
The following year, 1965, the Phillies asked Wise to pitch in Triple-A ball, at the club's Little Rock affiliate, to polish his game. On his 20th birthday, Wise signed his Army papers and went into the Reserve, and his basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, took him most of the way through baseball's spring training. The Phillies had moved their Triple A club from Little Rock to San Diego, so Wise joined them there, got in playing shape and pitched four or five games in 1966 before being recalled to the big league club in time for his first start of the season on June 2. Wise got in 22 games before the year was out, and appeared in over 30 games each of the next seven seasons.
Wise's best year was 1971, his seventh season pitching for the Phillies. On June 23, Wise threw a no-hitter against the Reds at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. The final score was 4-0, and Wise drove in three of the four runs with his two-run homer in the fifth and solo home run in the eighth. He's the only player in major league history to throw a no-hitter and hit two home runs in the same ballgame.
Wise holds a couple of other distinctions from 1971. On August 28, he again hit two home runs in a game - for the second time that year. On September 18, the Phillies hosted the Cubs at Veterans Stadium and Wise got off to a rocky start, surrendering a solo homer and a couple of base hits in the first inning, and a leadoff home run in the second. The Cubs had scored three times. The pitching coach paid a visit to the mound, and Wise says he told himself, "I better start getting things right here and locating my pitches better or I'm not going to be around long." Wise set down the next 32 Cubs he faced, all the way until Ron Santo singled in the top of the 12th. Wise won the game in 12.
In 1971, Wise won 17 games (the Phillies were a last-place team that lost 95 games). After the season, Wise was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Steve Carlton. Both players were in difficult contract talks with their respective teams. Wise was making $25,000 and was looking to John Quinn for more than a $10,000 raise after the season he'd had, and the many years of service to the Phillies. Carlton was having difficulties with Augie Busch in St. Louis. "We each got what we wanted from our new teams," Wise recalls, "But I loved Philadelphia. My family's from Philadelphia. My kids were born in Philadelphia. I didn't want to leave."
Leave he did, however, and he posted back-to-back 16-win seasons for the Cardinals in '72 and '73. Wise led St. Louis in wins, and had also been the starting and winning pitcher in the 1973 All-Star Game. But he was traded again, this time to the Boston Red Sox. In late October, Wise and Bernie Carbo were traded to Boston for Reggie Smith and Ken Tatum. "I was stunned when I got traded again," Wise confessed. "The Cardinals felt they needed hitting, and Boston apparently felt they needed pitching, so the trade was consummated."
Injury first struck in 1974. Wise is direct and unambivalent about how it happened. "Darrell Johnson was the cause of that. 1974, I came over and I was supposed to start the third game of the year behind the incumbents Tiant and Lee, in Milwaukee. We got the first two games in but it was very cold. So, Sunday I open up the blinds to go to the park and it was snowing. It snowed out the game, so we go home to Boston and the snow followed us. Snowed us out there. To make a long story short, when good weather finally gave us the opportunity to play, Darrell Johnson bypassed me and went back to Tiant and Lee. When I finally pitched ... they traded for an All-Star pitcher, and it's the third game of the year... I never figured that out ... that's why they traded for me, to pitch. So finally it had been 12 days since I left spring training. I was pitching in Fenway, I think it was the backup Game of the Week, and it was a drizzly, dreary 37-, 38-degree day and I pitched a complete game, not having pitched in 12 days. I tore a triceps muscle and that basically ruined my whole season. I never could recover from it.
"It was my attitude to complete what I started. I had 138 complete games in my career so I knew what that was about. In retrospect, it wasn't too smart to pitch a complete game after not pitching for so long. I just kept pitching. That was my mentality." The injury pretty much made 1974 a lost season. There was a bit of disappointment in coming to the American League, too. "I missed the hitting. I always figured I had an advantage over my opponent because I could swing the bat pretty well." He did have 15 career homers, despite playing six seasons in the A.L. where pitchers rarely pick up a bat.
The year after the injury, 1975, was an exceptional one. Wise led the Red Sox with 19 wins, one more than Tiant's 18 and two more than Lee's 17. At one point, he won nine games in a row as the Red Sox rolled toward the pennant. On July 2, he almost had himself another no-hitter, pitching 8 2/3 innings of no-hit ball against Milwaukee. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Wise walked Bill Sharp and then gave up the first hit of the game - a home run to George Scott. Back in 1973, he'd also lost a shot at another no-hitter, in a game against the Reds when Joe Morgan singled with one out in the ninth. His first near no-hitter had come way back on August 8, 1968. The only play of the game scored a hit was a third-inning single by Bart Shirley, a three- or four-bouncer to Roberto Pena at shortstop. Pena booted the ball, but the official scorer (a substitute "guest scorer" from San Diego) ruled it a hit, and wouldn't even change the ruling after Pena called upstairs to say, "You gotta change that. I should have had that easy. It should be an error."
Wise not only won 19 during the regular season in '75, but also won the clinching game of the League Championship Series, beating the A's 5-3 in Oakland, holding them to six hits and two earned runs over 7 1/3 innings. In the World Series, Darrell Johnson had Wise start Game Three, but the Big Red Machine got to him the second time through the order. Johnny Bench hit a two-run homer in the fourth, and both Dave Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo homered to lead off the fifth. After Jim Burton took over from Wise, the Red Sox eventually tied the game but the Reds won it in the bottom of the 10th after the controversial Ed Armbrister bunt. Wise had been tagged for five earned runs.
His only other appearance in World Series play got him a win. Wise was the fourth pitcher of the night in Game Six, and held the Reds scoreless (despite a couple of singles) in the top of the 12th. He never had to come out to throw the 13th, thanks to Carlton Fisk's home run leading off the bottom of the 12th.
Wise pitched well in '76 and '77, but it wasn't always the happiest Red Sox clubhouse. There was a rift between manager Don Zimmer and a number of players like Bill Lee, Bernie Carbo, and Ferguson Jenkins. "We had our differences," Wise acknowledges diplomatically. "A lot of times it was Zimmer's way or no way." Nonetheless, Wise holds good memories. "I had my highest winning percentage of any of the teams that I was with when I was with the Red Sox and of course had an opportunity to get in the World Series. Those are the big things I remember most, my great teammates and the fun I had ... how fun it is to play in Boston."
At the very end of spring training 1978, Wise was packaged in a six-player trade, sent to Cleveland with Ted Cox, Bo Diaz, and Mike Paxton for Dennis Eckersley and Fred Kendall. It was the second time Wise had been traded for a future Hall of Famer - first Carlton, then Eckersley. 1978 was a down year, but Wise was 15-10 in 1979. And then he was granted free agency by the Indians on November 1.
Less than three weeks later, he hooked on with the San Diego Padres and finished his career with two seasons for San Diego, 1980 and 1981. In 1982, Wise appeared in just one game, coming in to throw the last two innings of the April 10 game against the Dodgers, but was released just six days later. There was a lot of turnover with the Padres, and manager Dick Williams wanted his own players. He shed most of the veterans. "My arm was still good," he says. Released when he was, after the rosters were set, he couldn't find another team to hook on with. "That was a pretty rude release. I'd never talked to any sportswriters. No one called me about my feelings. I just walked out of the stadium and that was it" He had a guaranteed contract with the Padres that paid him all the way through the 1984 season, so he took advantage of the unexpected time and spent the first summers with his family in 20 years.
After some time off, Wise says, he felt himself becoming stagnant, so he sent out resumes. The Oakland A's offered him a position working for them in A ball. Since that time, he's coached for 21 years. "I'll just say that I've coached at every level in the minor leagues, in affiliate ball and this is my sixth year in independent ball." In 2003 and 2004, Wise was pitching coach working with Butch Hobson and the Nashua Pride, and in 2005 he was pitching coach for the brand-new Lancaster Barnstormers, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In August 2005, Rick greatly enjoyed getting together for an autograph show that reunited most of the members of the 1975 Red Sox team.
A version of this biography was originally published in '75: The Red Sox Team That Saved Baseball, edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan, and published by Rounder Books in 2005.