This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Rick Wise won 188 major-league ballgames, was a two-time All-Star, threw a no-hitter (and barely missed three 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, Cliff, was a high-school history teacher, who took a teaching job in Oregon after World War II and moved the family from Michigan to 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 pitcher under legendary baseball coach Ray Fisher at the University of Michigan (where he dueled Michigan State’s Robin Roberts). He also played football behind Heisman Trophy-winning halfback Tom Harmon. He had quite a sports background, and both he and Rick’s mother, Barbara, worked with their son as he developed as a ballplayer. Cliff Wise also became a coach and athletic director at Benson High School.
Rick had two brothers and two sisters. His youngest brother, Tom, played in the Astros organization from 1970 to 1974. Tommy Wise was nearly seven years younger, and reached the Double-A level before his career was derailed by surgery on both knees. Tommy pitched some as an amateur player, but was primarily a first baseman/third baseman in the minors. Rick and his wife, Susan, raised two children and had four grandchildren. None of them pursued sports professionally.
Rick Wise began to rack up accomplishments early on. In 1958, when he was 12 years old, his Rose City 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 baseball 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. In a 2009 retrospective article, Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune wrote, “There is little dispute that Wise is one of the greatest athletes in Portland history.”1 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; Wise said he believed 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.”2 One big-league scout tried to intimidate his parents, urging them to sign on his behalf on the spot: “If Rich has a bad game, his value will drop. Why not sign with us now?”3
Phillies scout Glenn Elliott signed the 17-year-old Wise, with a bonus of $12,000. This was enough at the time to define him as a “bonus baby” – a player who had to be protected by the parent club the next year or become subject to a draft in which he could be lost. Rick started his professional career at Class A Bakersfield in 1963, going 6-2 in 12 games with a 2.63 ERA and striking out 98 in 65 innings. At the age of 18, he spent the 1964 season with the Phillies, and they got him into 25 games. He was hit hard in his first career start but got a no-decision. Wise’s second start was quite an experience. It came on June 21, 1964, in the second game of a doubleheader against the New York 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!
Wise knew he was pitching the second game and readily admitted to jitters. “I was nervous, but, sitting in the clubhouse watching on television, I was really engrossed in Bunning’s game. Finally, when the game was over, I realized I had to go out and warm up, and I couldn’t find a ball because of the mob of reporters that came in, and the players jumping all over the place. I was trying to find the bullpen catcher.”4
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,” he recalled. Wise threw the first six innings, allowing just three hits, and recorded his first major-league win, 8-2. The Mets’ total of only three hits in a doubleheader tied a league record.
A UPI story out of Philadelphia evaluated Wise’s contribution to the 1964 Phillies. He had, the article said, “stepped in with the poise of a veteran to add depth to a strong Philadelphia pitching staff. He has won five games, with four of them coming in August.”5 He finished the season 5-3 with a 4.04 ERA.
The following year, 1965, the Phillies asked Wise to polish his game in Triple-A ball, at the club’s Little Rock affiliate. That September, on his 20th birthday, Wise signed his Army papers and went into the Reserve; his basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, took him most of the way through baseball’s spring training in 1966. The Phillies had moved their Triple-A club from Little Rock to San Diego, so Wise joined them there, got into playing shape and pitched in 12 games for the Padres before being recalled to the big-league club in time for his first big-league start of the season, on June 2. Wise got in 22 games before the year was out, and appeared in at least 30 games, almost all as a starter, each of the next seven seasons.
Wise played under Gene Mauch into the 1968 season, when Mauch was replaced as Phillies manager. Rick said of his first big-league skipper, “I got along with him as well as I could. I was just a young kid. He was very cold and very hard. But you learned the game from him. He was one of the great strategy managers.”6
Wise’s best year was 1971, his seventh season pitching for the Phillies. On June 23 he threw a no-hitter against the Reds at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. The final score was 4-0, and Wise, an excellent hitter, 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 game.
Wise holds a couple of other distinctions from 1971. On August 28 he again hit two home runs in a game. Another high mark came on September 18, when the Phillies hosted the Cubs at Veterans Stadium. 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 said he told himself, “I better start getting things right here and locating my pitches better or I’m not going to be around long.” He 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 the bottom of the 12th inning when he singled in the winning run.
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 general manager John Quinn for a raise of more than $10,000 after the season he’d had, and his many years of service to the Phillies. Carlton was having difficulties with team owner August Busch in St. Louis. “We each got what we wanted from our new teams,” Wise recalled in 2005. “But I loved Philadelphia. My family’s from Philadelphia. My kids were born in Philadelphia. I didn’t want to leave.” He wasn’t quite as sanguine about it at the time. He represented himself in negotiating with Quinn and couldn’t get the GM to budge. He did express some frustration to a reporter: “Why, the Phillies paid Dionne Warwick $15,000 to entertain before a game last season, and she was guaranteed the money even if it rained and she didn’t have to appear.”7
Leave he did, however, and Wise posted back-to-back 16-win seasons for the Cardinals in ’72 and ’73. Wise led St. Louis in victories, and also was the starting and winning pitcher in the 1973 All-Star Game. But in late October he was traded again, this time going to the Boston Red Sox along with outfielder Bernie Carbo in exchange for outfielder Reggie Smith and pitcher 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 struck for the first time in 1974. Wise was direct and unequivocal about how it happened. “[Manager] Darrell Johnson was the cause of that. [In] ’74, I came over and I was supposed to start the third game of the year behind the incumbents [Luis] Tiant and [Bill] 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. 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.” Wise hammered 15 career home runs, despite playing six seasons in the AL, 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 AL East division title. On July 2 he almost had himself another no-hitter, pitching 8⅔ 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 by George Scott. These kinds of near-misses were not uncommon for Wise. Back on June 13, 1973, he’d lost a shot at another no-hitter, in a game against the Reds when Joe Morgan singled with one out in the ninth. Wise’s first near no-hitter had come back on August 8, 1968, against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. 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 change the ruling even after Pena called upstairs to say, “The ball bounced to me and I booted it. It was an error.”8
Wise not only won 19 during the regular season in 1975, but also won the clinching game of the American League Championship Series, beating the A’s 5-3 in Oakland, holding them to six hits and two earned runs over 7⅓ innings. In the World Series, Darrell Johnson had Wise start Game Three, and 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. Wise was tagged for five earned runs in 4⅓ innings. The Red Sox eventually tied the game but the Reds won it in the bottom of the tenth after the controversial Ed Armbrister bunt.
Wise’s only other appearance in World Series play got him a win. He was the fourth Boston 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 acknowledged diplomatically. “A lot of times it was Zimmer’s way or no way.” Nonetheless, Wise said he held 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 utilityman Ted Cox, catcher Bo Diaz, and pitcher Mike Paxton for pitcher Dennis Eckersley and catcher Fred Kendall. It was the second time Wise had been traded for a future Hall of Famer – first Carlton, then Eckersley. He’d requested a trade at the end of the 1977 season, after Zimmer had consigned him to bullpen work, but had enjoyed a very good spring training so was surprised at the timing. And he didn’t learn of the trade from the Red Sox. “It kind of bothers me that no one from the Red Sox called me. I still haven’t heard from them. I don’t think that’s right because I gave them four good years.”9
A 9-19 record, leading the AL in losses, made 1978 a down year, but Wise rebounded to pose a 15-10 record in 1979. He opted for free agency on November 1, and less than three weeks later he hooked on with the San Diego Padres, where he finished his career with three injury-plagued seasons. In 1982 Wise appeared in just one game, coming in to throw the last two innings on April 10 against the Dodgers, and 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,” Wise said. 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.” Wise 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 off and spent the first summer with his family in 20 years.
In 1987 Wise was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.
His life after his playing days was not as comfortable as he had planned. A lengthy article in the Hartford Courant reported that his agent had cost him over $3 million and Wise had been forced to declare bankruptcy.10 The Wises had to live with Rick’s sister Pam, and he had to accept support from the Baseball Assistance Team. His wife, Susan, returned to nursing school and became licensed in Oregon.11
But Wise had never really left the game. After some time off, he said, he felt himself becoming stagnant, so he sent out résumés. The Oakland A’s offered him a position working for them in A-ball, and he accepted. At the time of his 2005 interview he had 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,” Wise said. In 2003 and 2004 he was the pitching coach working with Butch Hobson on the Nashua Pride, and in 2005 he became the 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. He worked as pitching coach for Lancaster through the 2008, even working for a while in 2007 as interim manager. Wise retired after the 2008 season.
Last revised: August 27, 2014
An updated version of this biography is included in the book “The Year of the Blue Snow: The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies” (SABR, 2013), edited by Mel Marmer and Bill Nowlin. It originally appeared in ” ’75: The Red Sox Team that Saved Baseball” (Rounder Books, 2005), edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan.
1 Kerry Eggers, “Words of the Wise,” Portland Tribune, August 16, 2006, updated October 30, 2009.
2 All quotations from Rick Wise, unless otherwise attributed, are drawn from an interview conducted by the author on September 1, 2005.
3 Eggers, “Word of the Wise. Wise said that he then “pitched a nine-inning game and struck out 22. We didn’t see that fellow around again.”
4 Reading (Pennsylvania) Eagle, August 29, 1983.
5 The article was published in, among other papers, the Eugene Register-Guard on August 27, 1964.
6 Reading Eagle, op. cit.
7 Meriden (Connecticut) Morning Record, February 17, 1972.
8 See the UPI story published in various newspapers on August 9, 1969 and in the Boston Herald on August 10, 1968.
9 Lakeland (Florida) Ledger, March 31, 1978.
10 Don Amore, “Former Pitcher Battered By Agent’s Misdealings,” Hartford Courant, August 4, 1991.
11 Eggers, “Words of the Wise.”