“Coming into a game in the eighth or ninth inning is like parachuting behind enemy lines. And sometimes the chutes don’t open. You have to live with that. It’s an unexplained hazard.” – Dan Quisenberry1
The role of a relief pitcher, and more specifically, a closer, is one of the hardest tasks in baseball. The position has become more specialized than any other. In their prime, Goose Gossage, Sparky Lyle, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers would often go multiple innings to get a save. But today’s closers are on the hill for an inning, and the win is dependent on their ability to record the final three outs.
Jeff Reardon was a relief pitcher for his entire big-league career. In 16 seasons, Reardon did not start a single game. He left his mark as one of the top relievers of his era. Along with Mike Marshall and Fingers, Reardon is the only pitcher to be recognized as Fireman of the Year in each league by The Sporting News.2 He saved a total of 367 games, and for a brief time was the all-time leader in that category.
Reardon faced devastation and trauma after his playing days. His son Shane died of a drug overdose in February 2004. Reardon attempted suicide one year later. He was taking as many as a dozen prescribed medications when he attempted to rob a jewelry store in Florida on December 26, 2005. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Jeffrey James Reardon was born on October 1, 1955, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He was one of six children born to John H. and Marion (Stevens) Reardon. John Reardon worked as a security guard at Crane and Company Government Mill.3 Marion was employed at General Electric plastics and also worked as a waitress at local restaurants.4
Jeff Reardon was raised in Dalton, Massachusetts, and played baseball for Wahconah Regional High School. The Dalton-Pittsfield area of western Massachusetts, located in the Berkshire Mountains, was rich with baseball tradition: Mark Belanger, Dan Duquette, Tom Grieve, and Turk Wendell all hailed from the area.5
On April 30, 1972, Reardon was a junior when he fired a no-hitter. In the 11-0 win, he struck out 21 against St. Joseph of North Adams. A seventh-inning walk was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect game.6
Reardon was 5-0 his senior year at Wahconah, earning All-Berkshire honors. He was drafted in the 23rd round by Montreal, but opted to attend the University of Massachusetts. In four years (1974-1977) with the Minutemen, Reardon posted a 15-17 record with a 3.73 ERA.7
During his summers in 1974-1976, Reardon pitched for the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod League. Used mostly as a starter, he went 4-3 with a 2.01 ERA in 1976.8 His future wife, Phebe Jones, from West Newton, Massachusetts, spent her summers in Cotuit, meeting Jeff in 1974. They were married three years later, and eventually had three children: sons Jay and Shane and daughter Kristina.
Reardon wasn’t drafted after his junior year, but he was signed by the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent after his senior year. He reported to Class A Lynchburg (Virginia) of the Carolina League, going 8-3 in 1977 with a 3.30 ERA. He followed that up with a record of 17-4 and a 2.54 ERA at Class AA Jackson (Mississippi) of the Texas League in 1978. At Jackson, Reardon started off in the bullpen, but was put into the rotation. After defeating Arkansas, 2-1, on June 23, Reardon wanted to remain in the rotation. “I hope I’ve got the message across to the organization,” he said. “That was my seventh start since I became a starter, and I’m 6-1, so I hope this shows them I belong in the rotation.”9
Whether the Mets were listening or not, Reardon returned to bullpen duty the following season. He was promoted to Class AAA Tidewater (Virginia) of the International League in 1979. Reardon appeared in 30 games for the Tides; all but one in relief, He was promoted to the Mets and appeared in his first game on August 25, against Cincinnati. The Reds were trailing 4-3 when they tallied five runs in the top of the ninth inning. Reardon was charged with two earned runs in the ninth, one of them a solo home run by George Foster. The Reds won 8-4, and Reardon was charged with the loss.
Despite the rough beginning, he appeared in 18 games for the Mets in 1979 with a 1-2 record and a 1.74 ERA. Thus began Reardon’s career as a reliever. Mets manager Joe Torre christened Neil Allen, a right-handed pitcher like Reardon, as his closer.
Reardon appeared in the most games on the Mets’ staff in 1980, when he was 8-7 with a 2.61 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 61 games. Only starting pitcher Pete Falcone had more strikeouts for the Mets with 109.
Despite his fine season, New York dealt Reardon and outfielder Dan Norman to Montreal for outfielder Ellis Valentine on May 29, 1981. It may have seemed like a culture shock for Reardon, going from a team that had been finishing at the bottom of the division to a contender like the Expos. He made his debut the next day, pitching a scoreless ninth inning in a 3-2 loss to the Pirates. “I was a little nervous,” said Reardon. “I’m not used to playing in front of that many people (31,649). In New York, they draw 5,000 if they’re lucky.
“I heard someone yell ‘Go back to New York, Reardon.’ That sort of settled me down. I didn’t want the fans here getting any bad first impressions.”10
Two weeks after Reardon joined the Expos, MLB players went out on strike. As the strike carried on through much of the summer, Reardon dealt with personal loss when his father John, a World War II veteran, died on June 19, 1981, at age 57after a long illness.11
The work stoppage ended on July 31 and the season resumed on August 10, now divided into two halves, with the division winners facing off in a first-round playoff series to decide who would compete in the LCS. Philadelphia captured first place in the first half of the season. On September 29, St. Louis held a half game lead over Montreal with five games to play. The Expos won four of five to claim the second-half title, with Reardon saving two of those wins. In the ninth inning o October 3 at Shea Stadium, Reardon pitched a 1-2-3 frame, getting Dave Kingman to pop out to end the game. The 5-4 victory clinched a postseason berth for Montreal. “Right now, I wish I was in his (Reardon’s) shoes,” said Allen, Reardon’s ex-teammate. “That scene after the game is what you dream about. Now he has a feeling I ain’t felt yet.”12
The winning feeling that Allen spoke of continued through the division series for both Reardon and the Expos. They faced off against Philadelphia, with the first two games at Olympic Stadium. Reardon saved both games, identical 3-1 victories for the Expos. In Game Two, Reardon entered in the top of the eighth inning facing imminent danger. Philadelphia had runners on second and third base with two down. At bat was Mike Schmidt. Montreal manager Jim Fanning ordered a free pass to the slugger. With the bases loaded, Reardon got Gary Matthews to pop out to first base to end the threat.
Montreal defeated the Phillies in five games, setting up a matchup in the NLCS with Los Angeles, where Reardon was not as effective. His only appearance came in Game One at Dodger Stadium, with the Dodgers clinging to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth. That soon became a 5-0 lead after Reardon gave up a two-run homer to Pedro Guerrero and a solo home run to Mike Scioscia. “That was the turning point of the game – when they broke it open against Reardon. We did not expect that,” said Fanning.13
The Expos bounced back to win the next two games, but the Dodgers won the final two games at Olympic Stadium to spoil what would be the Expos’ only postseason appearance in the 36-year history of the franchise in Montreal. The hard-throwing Reardon, though, had found a home as the Expos’ closer. In 1982, he saved 26 games, posting a 7-4 record and a 2.06 ERA, and saved 44 more games over the next two seasons.
In 1985, Reardon led MLB with 41 saves, becoming only the second pitcher in National League history to save 40 games in a season (Bruce Sutter had 45 in 1984). Reardon was named the NL Rolaids Relief winner and was selected to The Sporting News 1985 NL All-Star Team.
Reardon had 35 more saves in 1986, but it was a dismal season for the Expos, whose 78-83 record placed them fourth in the NL East, 29½ games behind first-place New York. On February 3, 1987, Reardon was part of a six-player deal with Minnesota. Reardon and catcher Tom Nieto went to the Twin Cities, while the key man going to Montreal was starting pitcher Neal Heaton. Montreal general manager Murray Cook reasoned that it was a luxury to have a closer of Reardon’s caliber if he was not getting many opportunities to pitch with the lead.
Minnesota was only too happy to welcome Reardon, also known as “The Terminator” since his 1985 season. “I know that our record hasn’t been good in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning,” said Minnesota starter Frank Viola, “and I know as long as his ability is still there, a lot of the games we lost in the past are going to be wins now. Neal could have really helped, but to give up Neal Heaton for Jeff Reardon, that’s a very good trade as far as I am concerned.”14
In its capsule preview, Sports Illustrated applauded the Reardon acquisition. “By swiping Jeff Reardon from Montreal for Neal Heaton and some prospects, the Twins have transformed themselves into contenders.”15 However, SI did not predict the Twins to finish atop the AL West. Instead, the preview slated the Twins to finish in fifth place with an 80-82 record.16
The Twins surprisingly found themselves in a fight for first place with Oakland, California, and Kansas City. Heading into September, the Twins were in first, holding a 1½ game lead over the A’s, three games over Angels, and 3½ over KC.
Reardon bore down, demonstrating why the Twins brought him to Minnesota. In September, he went 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA and racked up six saves. Five of those saves came between September 20 – 28, helping the Twins lock up the division title.
Despite a career-high ERA of 4.48, Reardon had 31 saves in 1987, tying New York’s Dave Righetti for second in the league behind Tom Henke of Toronto, who saved 34 games.17 Still, Reardon was named AL Fireman of the Year by The Sporting News.
The Twins were back in the postseason for the first time since 1970. Their opponent in the ALCS was the Detroit Tigers. Reardon was credited with a win in Game One, when he relieved Viola in the top of the eighth inning. The Tigers scored two runs off two sacrifice flies to take a 5-4 lead. But a two-run double by Tom Brunansky capped a four-run Twins rally in the bottom of the inning and Reardon pitched a scoreless ninth to preserve the 8-5 win.
In Game Three at Tiger Stadium, Reardon entered the game in the bottom of the eighth to protect a 6-5 lead. But he surrendered a two-run home run to Pat Sheridan as the Tigers won their only game in the series, 7-6.
Reardon bounced back to secure the series for Minnesota, earning saves in both Games Five and Six. After the 5-3 victory in Game Five, Kirby Puckett said of Reardon, “This is the mark of a great pitcher when he can bounce back the way he did, after giving up the game-winning home run the night before. (Manager) Tom Kelly put him right back in there, and he did the job.”18
The Twins’ opponent in the World Series was the St. Louis Cardinals, who had ousted San Francisco in a riveting seven-game NLCS. The series was truly a home-field advantage series, as the Twins won the first two games at the Metrodome, St. Louis won the middle three games at Busch Stadium, and the Twins captured the series, winning the last two games at the Dome. After pitching in three games without getting a decision, Reardon relieved Viola in the ninth inning of Game Seven with Minnesota nursing a 4-2 lead. Reardon hurled a 1-2-3 inning, sending the 55,376 Twins fans into a “Party like it was 1999.”19 “Every time I got an out, I screamed to myself – give me the ball, give me the ball,” said Reardon. “This was happiest moment of my life. I was just glad to be out there and be a part of this world champion team.”20
Minnesota (93-71) finished second to the A’s (104-58) in 1988. Reardon (2-4, 2.47 ERA) enjoyed a career-high in saves with 42, second in the AL to Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley, who had 45. The Twins (80-82) fell to fifth place in the AL West in 1989. Although Reardon had 31 saves in 65 appearances, he did not place in the top five in the league. He posted a 5-4 record with a 4.07 ERA and whiffed just 46 batters, his lowest total since his rookie season.
After the 1989 season, Minnesota granted Reardon free agency, and he signed a three-year $6.8 million contract with Boston on December 6. Reardon was excited that he and his family were returning home to Massachusetts. It had been a boyhood dream to play for his favorite team and to work at Fenway Park. 21
Also in the Red Sox bullpen was Lee Smith, who had saved 54 games for the Red Sox over the previous two seasons., “This gives us some tremendous options,” said Boston general manager Lou Gorman. “We have some needs to fill like first base and the outfield. We feel we might be able to fill those now.”22
Gorman wasted little time in filling those needs. On May 4, Smith was dealt to St. Louis for Reardon’s former Twins teammate, Brunansky.
The 1990 season was a rough one for Reardon, who had surgery to repair a ruptured disc in his back on August 4, landing him on the disabled list for the first time in his career. He was out of action from July 22 through September 14.
Boston and Toronto battled to the last week of the season for the AL East title. On September 27, both clubs sat atop the division with identical 84-72 records. Toronto came to Fenway to open a three-game series on September 28. The Red Sox took two of three games, with Reardon earning a save on September 29. Boston was ahead 7-0 when the Blue Jays tallied five runs in the top of the ninth inning. Reardon was called on to relieve Dennis Lamp, who had given up a grand slam to Kelly Gruber. Reardon got Fred McGriff to pop out to third baseman Wade Boggs to end the game. Boston held on to edge Toronto by two games. Reardon ended the season with 21 saves.
The Red Sox faced Oakland in the ALCS. The A’s wasted little time in disposing of the Red Sox in a four-game sweep, with Reardon giving up two runs in his only appearance.
Reardon nearly doubled his save total in 1991 with 40, good for fourth in the league. At 35, he was still a prominent contributor. Boston (85-78) finished in second place, tied with Detroit and seven games behind Toronto.
On June 15, 1992, Reardon surpassed Rollie Fingers as the career saves leader, notching his 342nd save when he pitched a scoreless ninth inning to secure a 1-0 victory over the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. After the game, Clemens, Viola (who’d joined the Red Sox in free agency) and Brunansky carried Reardon off the field on their shoulders. Despite the record-breaker’s pleas to put him down on solid ground, the trio did not acquiesce. “I was the most nervous I’ve ever been other than a World Series,” said Reardon. “My heart was pumping. I was happy about the fans’ reaction. They usually don’t get too excited like that. They were nice to give me a nice ovation.”23
Reardon’s evening celebration was one of the few highlights for the Red Sox in 1992. Boston sank to the bottom of the AL East, trailing the division-leading Blue Jays by 13½ games on August 30. Over in the National League, however, the Atlanta Braves were very much in the playoff race and had realistic goals of returning to the Fall Classic. On August 30, Reardon was sent to Atlanta for pitcher Nate Minchey. Braves closer Alejandro Pena had recently been put on the disabled list with tendonitis in his right elbow. “He (Reardon) has been there so many times,” said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox. “And that’s what we want. The change of teams should help him.”24
With a little more than a month to go in the season, Atlanta was five games up on Cincinnati in the NL West. Reardon pitched well in his return to the senior circuit, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.15 ERA and three saves in 14 games, helping the Braves win the division.
The Braves squared off against Pittsburgh in the 1992 NLCS for the second consecutive year. In 1991, the Braves captured the pennant in seven games. The 1992 LCS reflected the previous season with the Braves again winning in seven games. Reardon appeared in three games, earning a save in Game Four, a 6-4 victory at Three Rivers Stadium on October 10.
Atlanta’s opposition in the 1992 World Series was Toronto. It started out well for the Braves, who won Game One at home, 3-1. In Game Two, Reardon entered in the top of the eighth inning with the Braves clinging to a 4-3 lead which disappeared in the ninth inning when Ed Sprague delivered a pinch-hit, two-run home run off Reardon to give the Jays a 5-4 victory. Toronto won three of the next four games to take the world championship, winning four one-run games.
Reardon was granted free agency at the end of the season. He signed with Cincinnati in 1993, notching eight saves behind primary closer Rob Dibble. He then joined the New York Yankees in 1994.
Reardon’s final appearance came on May 4, 1994 against California, when he relieved starter Jim Abbott in the seventh inning. New York was leading 5-2, but Reardon retired just one of the five Angels batters he faced, surrendering four hits and three earned runs. The Angels went on to win the game, 7-6, in 13 innings. Two days later, the Yankees released the 38-year-old Reardon. He announced his retirement the same day.
Over 16 seasons, Reardon’s record was 73-77 with a 3.16 ERA. He saved 367 games, striking out 877 and walking 358 in 1,132 1/3 innings. He was selected to four All-Star Teams (1985, 1986, 1988, 1991).
As it turned out, Reardon was just “baby-sitting” the career saves mark. Former Boston teammate Lee Smith passed him on the All-Time saves list in 1993. By 2022, Reardon had fallen to 11th on the list.
Reardon retired to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, helping Phebe raise their family. In 2001, he appeared on the ballot for election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but received votes on only 4.8%, falling just short of the 5% required to remain eligible. “I had a pretty good career, put up some pretty good numbers,” said Reardon. “And now it’s like, ‘Did I ever play?’ Honestly, it was one of the most disappointing days of my life.
“I don’t want to sound like a crybaby. I’m not saying I belong in the Hall. Not at all. All I wanted was a chance to be on the ballot awhile.”25
Tragedy hit the Reardon family in the worst way on February 21, 2004, when their son Shane died of an overdose of methadone at a therapeutic boarding school for troubled youth in Massachusetts. Methadone is a synthetic narcotic used to treat heroin addicts. His roommates tried unsuccessfully to revive him, but they did not call 9-1-1. 26
The Reardons tried to turn their tragedy into a positive. They established the Shane Reardon Memorial Foundation to assist families affected by chemical abuse of loved ones. The Minnesota Twins, through the sale of bobbleheads, donated $100,000 to the foundation. Jeff serves as director of the foundation.
The death of their middle child in 2004 devastated Jeff and Phebe, as it would any parents. Jeff sank into a deep depression. He considered purchasing a gun to use in ending his life. On December 9, 2005, Reardon ran out onto a busy road and was almost hit by a passing truck, but the driver swerved and missed him.
On December 21, 2005, Reardon underwent an angioplasty. Just five days later, on December 26, he walked into Hamilton Jewelers in the Mall at Palm Beach Gardens, handed the salesperson a note asking for $100 bills and jewelry, promising that no one would get hurt. He left with $170 and turned himself in to the security department at the mall.27
Reardon does not recall the incident, mostly because he was heavily medicated at the time. He was taking 12 antidepressants, mood stabilizers, heart medications, and antibiotics.28 He was arrested, but a judge found him not guilty by reason of insanity. Courtroom psychiatrists testified that Reardon was in a psychotic state because of all the medications he was taking. “He was in a terrible, terrible depression,” said Phebe. “The only good thing to come out of the robbery is that it got Jeff some help.”29
Although Reardon feels better these days, he and Phebe will never be able to overcome Shane’s death. He attended the Twins’ 20-year reunion of their World Championship team in 2007, where he was greeted warmly by the fans.
As of 2022, Reardon was leading a quiet life from his Florida home, continuing to follow the Red Sox and the Twins.
Last revised: August 23, 2022
This biography was reviewed by Donna L. Halper, David Bilmes, and Rory Costello and fact-checked by Ray Danner.
1 Jerome Holtzman, “Twins’ Jeff Reardon Makes His Mark as Top Reliever,” Baseball Digest, September 1987: 70.
2 Baseball Almanac, Fireman of the Year Award, https://www.baseball-almanac.com/awards/aw_snfi.shtml Accessed October 16, 2021.
3 “Obituaries and Funerals,” The Berkshire Eagle, June 20, 1981: 15.
4 “Obituaries,” The Berkshire Eagle, February 11, 2016: 17.
5 Peter Gammons, “Small Town, big results,” The Boston Globe, April 2, 1993: 38.
6 “Jeff Reardon Pitches No-Hitter, Fans 21,” The Berkshire Eagle, May 1, 1972: 27,
7 University of Massachusetts Athletics, https://static.umassathletics.com/custompages/sports/m-basebl/stats/CAREER/histcarr.htm?_gl=1*uc2drr*_ga*ODIxOTc1NzI5LjE2MzQ0MjQ1ODQ.*_ga_21RLS0L7EB*MTYzNDQyNDU4NC4xLjEuMTYzNDQ Accessed October 16, 2021.
8 Bill Higgins, “Reardon matured in Cape League stint,” Cape Cod Times, December 7, 1990: 25.
9 Steve Doyle, “Reardon Gets His Message Across to Mets,” The Clarion-Ledger, June 24, 1978: 1B.
10 Glenn Cole, “Reardon Pitches in Expos Setback,” The Gazette, May 30, 1981: 13.
11 “Obituaries and Funerals,” The Berkshire Eagle, June 20, 1981: 15.
12 “Obituaries and Funerals,” The Berkshire Eagle, June 20, 1981: 15.
13 Ian MacDonald, “Expos lose as LA. Jinx continues,” The Gazette, October 14, 1981: 101.
14 Howard Sinker, “Twins get reliever Reardon from Expos,” Minneapolis Star and Tribune, February 4, 1987: 1D.
15 Craig Neff, “Minnesota Twins,” Sports Illustrated, April 6, 1987: 89.
16 Projected 1987 Standings,” Sports Illustrated, April 6, 1987: 85.
17 Reardon posted an 8.38 ERA in 1994 with the New York Yankees. But he pitched in only 11 games, playing for the final time on May 4, 1994.
18 Sid Hartman, “Gagne attributes improved hitting to Baylor’s help,” Minneapolis Star and Tribune, October 12, 1987: 2D.
19 A hit song by Minneapolis native Prince Rogers Nelson.
20 Sid Hartman, “Ueberroth: Best Baseball Fans I have ever seen,” Minneapolis Star and Tribune, October 26, 1987: 20.
21 Carol Silva, “Reardon realizes a boyhood dream,” The Berkshire Eagle, April 10, 1990: D1.
22 Nick Cafardo, “Reardon signs on with Red Sox,” The Boston Globe, December 7, 1989: 112.
23 Nick Cafardo, “The Save King,” The Boston Globe, June 16, 1992: 73.
24 Joe Strauss and I.J. Rosenberg, “Braves Close Reardon Deal,” Atlanta Constitution, August 31, 1992: D1.
25 Ben Walker, “Hall Voting Hits Reardon like no slugger ever did,” The Boston Globe, January 16, 2000: D17.
26 Carlos Frias. ”Son’s Fatal Overdose Consumes Ex-Pitcher. Palm Beach Post. January 22, 2006. https://web.archive.org/web/20060203194343/https://www.palmbeachpost.com/sports/content/sports/epaper/2006/01/22/m1a_NEWREARDON_0122.html Last accessed August 12, 2022.
27 Stan Grossfeld, “Toughest Save,” The Boston Globe, November 26, 2006: D13.
28 Grossfeld, “Toughest Save,” The Boston Globe, November 26, 2006: D13.
29 Grossfeld, “Toughest Save,” The Boston Globe, November 26, 2006: D13.