This article was written by Malcolm Allen
Six-foot-seven right-handed pitcher Rich Gale joined Tim Stoddard of Baltimore as the tallest players in the American League when he debuted with an excellent rookie season for the Kansas City Royals in 1978. For a team that would win a third straight division title, he earned 13 of his 14 victories by the first week of August after beginning the year in the minors. Two years later, he was the starting pitcher in a pair of World Series games. After his seven-year career for four teams ended with a 55-56 record, he turned to coaching. Two of his sons were drafted by major league teams.
Richard Blackwell Gale was born on January 19, 1954, in Littleton, New Hampshire, a town of about 5,000 residents in the northwestern part of the Granite State. He was the fourth and final child of Dr. Robert G. and Caroline (Blackwell) Gale, a doctor and nurse, respectively. David, Margaret and Cynthia came first.1 The family was of English, Irish and Scottish ancestry.2 When Rich arrived, Dr. Gale was serving a two-year stint in Korea with the U.S. Army Medical Corps. A former ski team captain from Vermont, he was an internist and cardiologist who became the Chief of Medicine at Littleton Hospital. Today, the institution’s medical library is named in his honor.3
Rich learned to ski when he was three, and enjoyed hunting and fishing. “From the time I was 10, I was trapping muskrat, mink and coon to make extra money,” he said. “The adventurous mountain man; that’s what I always fancied I could be.”4
He also wanted to play professional baseball. “I was always a Red Sox fan,” Gale recalled. “I’d listen to and watch every game I could as a kid. I idolized Carl Yastrzemski. Later, I looked up to Pudge [Carlton Fisk] because he was the guy who proved a kid from New Hampshire could make it.”5
Fenway Park was about 150 miles south of Littleton, so Gale rarely got to attend games as a kid. He’d been cast as a pitcher since his Little League days and, by the time he suited up for Littleton High School’s Crusaders, he was good enough to hurl consecutive no-hitters.6 “The Red Sox scouted me all through high school,” he said.7 His 11-0 record for Littleton also drew interest from the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos.8
Gale lettered in other sports, too. In football, he was an end, but it was his 40-yard punting average that convinced people that he could play at the college level.9 It was on the basketball court, however, where Gale showed the most promise. As a six-foot-seven center known as “Big Red,” he averaged 21 points-per-game to lead Littleton to consecutive state Class-I championships.10 Years later, after a writer noted his resemblance to Boston Celtics star Dave Cowens, Gale said, “Dave and Bill Walton are my idols.”11
During summers, Gale played American Legion baseball for Berlin or North Conway. When he couldn’t find a team after his junior year, however, he concentrated on basketball even more.12 Littleton’s chance for a third straight state title vanished when the school’s 33-game winning streak was snapped in his senior year.13
Gale received hoops scholarship offers from Tennessee, Florida State and Vermont, but opted to attend the University of New Hampshire because they allowed him to play baseball as well.14 Before starting his freshman year on the Durham campus, Gale went to Canada in August 1972 for a Montreal Expos tryout at Jarry Park.15
The New Hampshire Wildcats basketball squad had a poor season but, in baseball, Gale set a school record by striking out 17 batters in one game that spring.16 In his sophomore year, the hoopsters went 16-9 to set a school record for wins that lasted 40 years. Gale named playing against the Penn Quakers in front of 10,000 fans at the Philadelphia Palestra in the season opener as one of his early athletic thrills.17 Coach Gerry Friel was much more excited about Gale’s 20-point, 13-rebound performance on December 18 to lead the Wildcats to their first victory over Rhode Island in 15 years. “To say that I am pleased with the play of Big Red is a gross understatement,” Friel remarked. “I’m ecstatic.”18
A sprained left ankle cost Gale some time, however, followed by a broken right ankle in February that forced him to miss the rest of the schedule.19 Though the injury put his baseball season in doubt, too, the pitcher came back to earn first-team, All-Yankee Conference honors with a 4-2 record and 3.23 ERA 20 He was even better that summer against tougher competition in the Cape Cod League. After Gale’s performance for the Falmouth Commodores earned him an invitation to that circuit’s All-Star Game, he struck out all three batters that he faced.21
When he returned to college for his junior year, Gale quit the basketball team. He lost his scholarship and took heat from the local paper, but some of his father’s medical colleagues had warned him that continuing to play on his still bothersome ankles might cause him to need surgery. “Most of it boiled down to the fact that I’d decided my future was in baseball.”22
The campus was about a one-hour drive north of Fenway. “I’d come down a lot from UNH, sit in the bleachers, drink beer, get rowdy,” he recalled.23 Unfortunately, his chances of pitching for his favorite team diminished following a sore-armed junior season. He still made second-team all-conference, but his stock had fallen.24 Boston scout Billy Enos, who once projected Gale as a second- or third-round pick, cautioned the Red Sox to wait until later in the June 1975 amateur draft. The Kansas City Royals, working off an older scouting report from Al Diez, snagged the pitcher in the fifth round and signed him for $9,000.25
Gale reported to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in Sarasota, Florida, and went 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA in four starts and five relief appearances. Though those numbers were solid, he didn’t impress. “I had a sore arm and I babied it,” he explained. “I was short-arming the ball and had even stopped throwing the slider…I heard they were going to release me.”26
He asked the Royals for permission to play basketball again that fall at UNH. “They said sure,” Gale said. “They couldn’t have cared less.”27 He fractured a foot in pre-season, however, and didn’t return to the court until January.28
On March 6, 1976, Gale married Susan Knorr, an avid skier, field hockey and tennis player from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. They were both environmental conservation majors at UNH.29 “My wife and I have 120 acres. I’d like to have a barn and some animals and be self-sufficient,” he told a reporter in mid-1978.30
In 1976, Gale went 11-6 with a 3.47 ERA in 22 starts for the Single-A Waterloo (IA) Royals, including a one-hitter on May 12 versus Appleton.31 He was the ace of a team that finished with the best record in the Midwest League and the winner of the opener of the championship series sweep over Quad Cities.32 That fall, Gale reported to the Florida Instructional League, where he twirled another one-hit gem against the Yankees.33
“All of a sudden, it just came together,” was Gale’s description of his 1977 season.34 He began the year in the Double-A Southern League, where he completed half of his dozen starts for the Jacksonville Suns. “The ball came in on us quicker than anybody we’ve seen,” remarked one opposing hitter.35 Following a promotion to the Triple-A Omaha Royals, he continued to pitch effectively against American Association hitters. Overall, at two levels, Gale went 12-7 with a 3.64 ERA.
In an August 4 victory over Evansville, however, Gale stepped in a hole behind the mound in pursuit of an infield hit, twisted his ankle and jammed his pitching wrist and thumb.36 He made three more starts –hitting 95 mph and tossing a shutout—before team doctors discovered a cracked bone in his wrist.37 Gale wasn’t available for Omaha’s loss in the championship series, and the Royals scrapped their plan to bring him up for a look in September. When his doctors discovered that the injury wasn’t healing correctly, he missed the Florida Instructional League as well.38
In spring training 1978, Royals manager Whitey Herzog remarked, “I’ve never seen Gale pitch, but everybody tells me he can be a starter.”39 “Last year, scouts told us that he could pitch in the big leagues,” added GM Joe Burke. “Then the injury stopped him.”40 When Kansas City opted to open the year with Steve Busby, a former All-Star rehabbing from rotator cuff surgery, Gale was the final cut and was sent back to Omaha.41 Three weeks into the season, however, when it was clear that Busby’s shoulder still wasn’t right, Gale was summoned to the majors on April 29. He started the following night at Royals Stadium against the Milwaukee Brewers.
“My knees were shaky,” he recalled, but Gale earned the win in Kansas City’s 3-0 victory.42 He hurled the first seven innings before exiting after a blister popped on one of his pitching fingers. After watching his hitters struggle against Gale’s fastball and hard sliders, Milwaukee manager George Bamberger –previously a successful pitching coach—disparaged the rookie as a “two-pitch pitcher.”43 Herzog, on the other hand, said, “When you have an arm like he has, you’ve got a chance every time you go out there.”44
Gale became the first Royals rookie to win his first four decisions.45 His 5-0 record by Memorial Day included a complete-game, two-hit victory over the Red Sox in which he popped up Yastrzemski three times and whiffed Jim Rice twice. After earning a standing ovation and throwing 152 pitches, he said, “I said the heck with that idol stuff. I had to beat them one by one.”46
As Gale blossomed, veterans Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorff –who’d combine for 40 wins in 1978—were scuffling through a combined 1-10 stretch, so the New Hampshire native’s emergence helped keep the defending AL West champions close in the division race. “Thank God for Rich Gale,” Leonard remarked. “I’d hate to think where we’d be without him.”47
Despite carrying no-hitters into the seventh inning of consecutive starts and tossing his first shutout with a one-hitter against the Rangers, Gale walked too many batters in June and struggled. Prior to a nationally televised start in Anaheim on June 26, Herzog told him, “Don’t think about batters’ weaknesses. Concentrate on your strength. Stop nibbling and throw the damn ball down the middle.”48
Gale pitched a 10-strikeout shutout. “I learned something in that game,” he recalled. “I found out that my fastballs move enough so that I can throw them all at the middle of the plate and they’ll naturally move around and hit the corners.”49 By August 6, his record was 13-3 with a 2.59 ERA and he was leading the first-place Royals in victories. “He’s a heck of a lot better than I thought,” confessed Bamberger.50
Unfortunately, Gale lost five of his six decisions over the season’s last eight weeks as he battled shoulder tendinitis. When the Royals lost to New York in the ALCS for the third straight year, he didn’t throw a single pitch. “[Herzog] likes to use lefties against the Yankees and I just didn’t pitch well late in the season,” said the understanding hurler.51
Nevertheless, while teammate Clint Hurdle had been the pre-season phenom with a Sports Illustrated cover to prove it, Gale shared the front of Baseball Digest’s October issue with his fellow freshman. The pitcher finished fourth behind Detroit’s Lou Whitaker in Rookie-of-the-Year balloting and earned all-rookie honors from Topps and The Sporting News for his 14-8, 3.09 debut. “Kinda funny the way things worked out,” he remarked. “Against the best hitters I ever faced in my life, I had my top ERA and gave up fewer homers than ever before.”52
After visiting an orthopedic specialist in Boston, Gale arrived at spring training in 1979 confident that he’d diagnosed his physical problems. “I had a muscle imbalance in my shoulder, my mechanisms were all fouled up and I was not used to going from a five-man to four-man rotation,” he explained. “I know my shoulder is stronger now. I can tell by throwing a log on the fire; shoveling snow.”53
He didn’t win any of his five April starts, however. When he outdueled fellow New Hampshire high school basketball standout Mike Flanagan, 2-1, on May 30, he seemed to be turning things around with his fifth win in six starts. While Flanagan went on to a Cy Young award season for the Orioles, however, Gale’s response to the question “What’s up?” was, “Oh, my fastball, my slider and my ERA,” by mid-summer.54
He finished the 1979 season with a 9-10 record and 5.65 ERA, and the Royals fired Herzog after missing the playoffs for the first time in four years. Gale went to Venezuela to work with his former minor league pitching coach, Bill Fischer, in winter ball. “Fischer knew what was wrong as soon as he saw me,” he said. “I worked on getting my pitching hand out of the glove earlier, and also break my hands over my left knee and in front of my left chest. I have to keep the glove out in front of me.”55
In 1980, however, he got off to a 1-6 start with a 6.29 ERA by the end of May and new Royals manager Jim Frey briefly put him in the bullpen. When Gale returned to the rotation on June 17, George Brett was on the disabled list with a .337 batting average and Kansas City led the AL West by seven games. The six-foot-seven righty outdueled Gaylord Perry and the Rangers, 3-2, that night to begin an 11-game winning streak, the best of his career. By the time he lost again on September 1, a healthy Brett was batting .401 and the Royals advantage was up to 19 ½ games. No Kansas City pitcher won more games during Gale’s 11-0 run. “I was upset about it at the time,” recalling his relief stint. “Now, [Frey] looks like a genius.”56
Gale finished the season 13-9 with a 3.92 ERA. He didn’t win a game in the final six weeks or appear in the ALCS against the Yankees. After Kansas City prevailed to win the first pennant in franchise history, however, Frey gave him the ball in Game Three of the World Series against the Phillies at Royals Stadium. Gale departed with the score 2-2 in the fifth inning, shortly after allowing a home run to NL MVP Mike Schmidt, but K.C. prevailed in the 10th to gain their first win of the series.
At Veterans Stadium in Game Six, he started an elimination game for the Royals against Steve Carlton. Gale was charged with the decisive loss after allowing two runs (one earned) in two innings of Kansas City’s 4-1 defeat.
In 1981, bothered by bursitis and tendinitis, Gale was just 4-4 with a 5.30 ERA when major-league players went on strike in June. He found work as a mixologist at special events at parties at Kansas City’s Hyatt Regency, figuring it could come in handy if he ever invested in a bar or restaurant.59
On July 17, at a Friday-night dance, two skywalks suspended above the hotel lobby broke loose and crashed down onto the dance floor, killing 114.60 “I thought the building was coming down,” Gale said. “I don’t mind saying that I was scared to death. I was bartending right on the court, about 15 feet away. I was so frustrated. Here I am a big, strong, professional athlete, a big moose, and I can see people trapped and I can’t lift anything off them.”61
Traumatized, when he got home, he cut a finger on his throwing hand in a kitchen accident and needed five stitches.62 “My nerves were raw,” he described. “I almost had accidents in my car three times and I’m irritable.”63 He decided to retreat to New Hampshire. “My folks had a little place up there, and I really didn’t throw or run. By that time, I thought the strike would go the rest of the season.”64
When the season resumed in August, the Royals rallied to win the AL West’s second half title, but Gale was in the bullpen and didn’t pitch in the playoffs. In December, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants along with pitcher Bill Laskey for outfielder Jerry Martin. “Mildly surprised, but not shocked,” was his reaction.65
Shortly before Gale went to spring training, his wife gave birth to their first child, Chris. Two more sons, Andy and Alex, followed later in the 1980s.
He shaved off his mustache and beat the Reds with a complete-game, three-hitter in his Candlestick Park debut. In June, he hit his first professional homer at Wrigley Field, but his first National League season was a disappointment. For a surprising Giants team that stayed in contention until the final weekend, Gale went 7-14 with a 4.23 ERA and finished the year in relief. He was traded again in January 1983, to the Reds for journeyman outfielder Mike Vail.
Reunited with pitching coach Fischer in Cincinnati, Gale completed April with a 3-0 record after winning his first two starts. By season’s end, however, he was a long reliever with a 4-6 record and a 5.82 ERA. The Reds released him in November.
Lou Gorman from the Mets’ front office was one of the few people interested. Gorman had known the tall righty since his junior year at UNH when, as the Royals’ farm director, he’d seen Gale pitch against UConn in a snowstorm.66 After the Red Sox hired Gorman as GM in early 1984, Gale signed a Triple-A contract with Boston.
Back in the minors for the first time in six years, Gale pitched well for International League Pawtucket and earned a promotion to Boston in June. He won his season debut with four innings of scoreless relief, but his ERA was up to 5.64 by the time he returned to Triple-A in August. Gale made three starts for Boston in September, earning two no-decisions and what proved to be his final big league victory in Toronto on the 18th.
The Red Sox made Gale a free agent, but Gorman helped him find work again when the general manager of a Japanese Central League team showed up at the winter meetings looking for a pitcher. “The GM saw me pitch in Puerto Rico and a day and a half later we signed a contract,” Gale recalled.67
Sporting a mustache and a beard, he led the Hanshin Tigers with 13 victories in 33 starts. Oklahoman Randy Bass bashed 54 homers to lead the offense. In the championship series against the Seibu Lions, Gale won two more games, including the decisive contest to deliver the Tigers their first-ever title. Year two in Japan was not as gratifying; his record slipped to 5-10. “I would’ve been an alcoholic basket case if my family hadn’t been there,” he recalled.68
Seeking a return to the majors, Gale wrote to all 26 teams before the 1987 season. Only the Orioles gave him a look, but he realized that he had no chance to make the team and abandoned his comeback.69
He returned to UNH in 1988 and finished his degree while helping coach the baseball team. Gale spent the next two years as a Double-A pitching coach for manager Butch Hobson’s New Britain Red Sox with a fall trip to the Soviet Union for the Diamond Diplomacy Tour in between. In late 1990, he pitched for the Fort Myers Sun Sox of the Senior Professional Baseball Association, posting a 4-5 record and 3.39 in 16 appearances.
When Hobson moved up to manage Triple-A Pawtucket in 1991, Gale went with him. In the same roles, the pair advanced to Boston for 1992 and 1993. Though Sox pitchers finished with the AL’s second-best ERA in both losing seasons, Gale was let go. He resurfaced in the Expos’ organization as the pitching coach for Triple-A Ottawa in 1994, and then the Marlins’ Double-A Portland Sea Dogs affiliate in 1995.
Next, Gale spent a decade away from professional baseball to focus on family. “I needed to go back home and be a dad and a husband,” he explained. “Obviously, I made the right decision.”70 When he did coach, it was for teams like his son’s Oyster River High School team in Durham or the Dover American Legion Post 8 club.71 Son Chris became a 30th-round draft pick of the Pirates in 2000; his brother, Andy, a 43rd-round choice of the Expos four years later.
In 2006, Gale returned to the pros as the pitching coach for the Carolina Mudcats, the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate, followed by two years with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. “I’m one of the lucky people who’s able to have my avocation be my vocation as well,” he said. “The rewarding part is to be able to help somebody with their development –physically and mentally—so it gives them a better chance of success.”72
Gale spent 2009 with the Nationals’ Single-A Hagerstown Suns. After a two-year stint with the Brewers’ Triple-A Nashville Sounds ended in 2011, he retired from baseball. With their children grown up, Rich and Sue moved to the warmer climate of Daniel Island, South Carolina, in late 2005, where they still resided in 2020.
Last revised: November 19, 2020
This biography was reviewed by Gregory H. Wolf and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Evan Katz.
1 “Caroline B. Gale,” https://www.caledonianrecord.com/community/deaths/caroline-b-gale—obituary/article_ef6c2e4a-1c7d-5745-8f7d-ba60a80c4295.html (last accessed October 17, 2020).
2 Rich Gale, U.S. Baseball Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, July 4,1975.
3 “Dr. Robert G. Gale,” https://www.littletonhealthcare.org/HistoryPages/R_Gale.html (last accessed October 17, 2020).
4 Peter Gammons, “Mountain Man on the Mound,” Boston Globe, July 28, 1978: A4.
5 Gammons, “Mountain Man on the Mound.”
6 Gale’s Baseball Questionnaire.
7 Larry Whiteside, “Royals’ Gale — Another Local Ace Who Got Away,” Boston Globe, May 17, 1978: 25.
8 Wally Johnson, “Good Quality Pleases Expos at Burlington Tryout Session,” Burlington Free Press, August 2, 1972: 34.
9 Gammons, “Mountain Man on the Mound.”
10 Kaplan, “Gale is Pitching Up a Storm.”
12 Gammons, “Mountain Man on the Mound.”
13 Don Fillion, “Fillin’ In,” Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, April 4, 1972: 21.
14 Kaplan, “Gale is Pitching Up a Storm.”
15 “Jim Merola Has 3 Hits at Montreal,” Burlington Free Press, August 26, 1972: 26.
16 Gale’s 1989 STAR Co. Baseball Card.
17 Gale’s Baseball Questionnaire.
18 Allen Chamberlin, “Cats Shade Rhode Island First Time in 15 Seasons,” Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Herald, December 19, 1973: 18.
19 “Wildcats Host Terriers,” Portsmouth Herald, February 26, 1974: 14.
20 “Three Cats Named to First Team,” Portsmouth Herald, June 11, 1974: 9.
21 Gale’s Baseball Questionnaire.
22 Gammons, “Mountain Man on the Mound.”
24 “UConn Trio Make Yan-Con All -Stars,” Hartford Courant, March 22, 1975: 98.
25 Gammons, “Mountain Man on the Mound.”
28 Mike McGee, “Knight to Host Wildcats Tonight,” Burlington Free Press, January 7, 1976: 20.
29 Gammons, “Mountain Man on the Mound.”
30 Kaplan, “Gale is Pitching Up a Storm.”
31 Gale’s 1981 Topps Baseball Card.
32 “Waterloo Again Midwest Kingpin,” The Sporting News. September 18, 1976: 35.
33 John Brockman, “Little-Guy Sample Swings Big Stick,” The Sporting News, November 20, 1976: 47.
34 Gammons, “Mountain Man on the Mound.”
35 “Southern League,” The Sporting News, May 7, 1977: 30.
36 “A.A. Atoms,” The Sporting News, August 27, 1977: 34.
37 Gammons, “Mountain Man on the Mound.”
38 Sid Bordman, “Royals Sign Jerry Terrell as Their New Cookie,” The Sporting News, November 26, 1977: 52.
39 Sid Bordman, “Hill Surplus to Keep Herzog Awake Nights,” The Sporting News, March 4, 1978: 19.
40 Sid Bordman, “Multi-Year Contracts Protect Royal Investment,” The Sporting News, February 4, 1978: 51
41 Del Black, “Rookie Gale Plugs Royals’ Hill Gap,” The Sporting News, May 20, 1978: 9.
42 Black, “Rookie Gale Plugs Royals’ Hill Gap.”
43 “KC Plays Dirty, Bamberger Says,” Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1978: E3
44 Black, “Rookie Gale Plugs Royals’ Hill Gap.”
45 Sid Bordman, “Royals’ Roundup,” The Sporting News, June 10, 1978: 18.
46 Del Black, “Gale Blows Up a Storm on Hill,” The Sporting News, June 3, 1978: 10.
47 Del Black, “Royals Raise Gale Warning, No-Hitter in Rich’s Future,” The Sporting News. July 1, 1978: 12.
48 Gammons, “Mountain Man on the Mound.”
49 Kaplan, “Gale is Pitching Up a Storm.”
50 “KC Plays Dirty, Bamberger Says.”
51 Sid Bordman, “Gale Blows Over Rookie Pitching Candidates,” The Sporting News, November 11, 1978: 37.
53 Sid Bordman, “Good Guy Brett Pays with Thumb,” The Sporting News, February 17, 1979: 34.
54 “Insiders Say,” The Sporting News, August 11, 1979: 4.
55 Del Black, “Royals Expect Big Gains by Gale,” The Sporting News, January 26, 1980: 58.
56 Mike DeArmond, “Gale Continues to Blow ‘Em Down,” The Sporting News, September 6, 1980: 57.
57 Ken Picking, “Royals’ Gale: ‘Game Not Life or Death’,” Atlanta Constitution, October 21, 1980: 3D.
58 DeArmond, “Gale Continues to Blow ‘Em Down.”
59 Mike McKenzie, “Royals: Aussies Speak Up,” The Sporting News, July 25, 1981: 28.
60 “Tragedy Still Painful for Survivors,” Lawrence Journal-World, July 14, 1991: 7A.
61 Mike McKenzie, “God Listened When Gale Prayed,” The Sporting News, August 8, 1981: 29.
63 Mike McKenzie, “A Big Day for Quiz,” The Sporting News, August 15, 1981: 34.
64 Whiteside, “Gale Disavows Reclamation Label.”
65 Mike McKenzie, “Royals See Martin as Tough in Clutch,” The Sporting News, January 9, 1982: 46.
66 Whiteside, “Gale Disavows Reclamation Label.”
67 Nancy L. Marrapese, “Gale Has Major Goal: He Seeks More Than a Degree,” Boston Globe, September 29, 1987: 78.
68 Marrapese, “Gale Has Major Goal: He Seeks More Than a Degree.”
70 Al Pike, “Gale Back Coaching the Game He Loves,” https://www.fosters.com/article/20070714/GJSPORTS_01/107140358 (last accessed October 20, 2020).
71 Jeremy Corcoran, “Gale Faces Charges,” https://www.seacoastonline.com/article/20000908/NEWS/309089977 (last accessed October 20, 2020).
72 Pike, “Gale Back Coaching the Game He Loves.”