Southsider Voice correspondent
Perhaps Don Mattingly of Evansville was the last really well-known Hoosier in baseball. As a New York Yankee, he was among the top wage earners of baseball with $3.86 million salary in 1990. But he was far from the only Hoosier in the big leagues.
At the same time Mattingly was pitching, Andy Benes was in the midst of a creditable career with the San Diego Padres.
But many of the noted players from Indiana came earlier.
Edd Roush of Oakland City was one. Of his career with Chicago, New York and Cincinnati, Roush noted that baseball enabled him to “get away from those damn cows.”
His playing days included games against the Chicago White Sox in the infamous 1919 World Series fix. He played with Cincinnati at the time and was forever disappointed that the fix sullied the Series outcome. “Sure, the 1919 White Sox were good,” he said. “But the 1919 Cincinnati Reds were better. I’ll believe that to my dying day.”
Gil Hodges came from Princeton, had a successful career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Hodges, a first baseman, hired second baseman Jackie Robinson to snag pop-ups near first at $5 a catch. In the 1952 World Series against the Yankees, Robinson unexpectedly upped his price to $10 a catch. After a debate, Hodges agreed to pay a $7.50 price during the Series.
Mickey Morandini, an Olympian and one of several major leaguers from Bloomington, had an unassisted triple play Sept. 23, 1992, while playing second for the Phillies in a game against the Pirates. Catching a line drive, stepping on the bag and tagging a nearby runner had been done 10 times in the major, but less often in a World Series.
William Adolph “Wamby” Wambsganss attended a game in 1912 while studying for the ministry at Fort Wayne’s Concordia College, was hooked and soon played shortstop for Cleveland.
In the 1920 Series against Brooklyn, Wamby recorded three outs on a single play, tagging Otto Miller to complete the trio.
“Where did you get that ball?” Miller asked. Wamby later said he told Miller, “Well, I’ve got it, and you’re out number three.”
Bedford had four players in the majors, beginning with Robert Kitridge Wicker, a right-hand pitcher who played for St. Louis from 1901-03. He appeared in 138 games and pitched a no-hitter against Chicago.
William Angel Rariden, nicknamed “Bedford Bill,” played with Boston, Indianapolis and Newark in the renegade Federal League and the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Reds in the regular league as a backup catcher.
William Wendell “Bill” Cramer was less successful as he played only one game with Cincinnati in 1912.
Few Hoosiers blazed a trail to equal fireballer Amos Rusie of Mooresville. Richard Buckley, who caught Rusie with the New York Giants, said he padded his glove with a piece of lead wrapped in a handkerchief and a sponge.
Rusie, who started his majors career in 1889, was one reason the pitcher’s box was moved back 10 feet in 1893 to 60.5 feet, where it remains today. “You can’t hit what you can’t see,” batters said after facing Rusie, who was not inducted into the Hall of Fame until 1977, perhaps for a reason. “Amos wasn’t a friendly man, gruff in fact, and he made too many people mad during his career,” said William G. Bray, long-time congressman from Mooresville.
In 10 years in the majors, Rusie’s record was 245-174. He had 345 strikeouts in his first season with the New York Giants, but also walked 276 batters. He walked more than 200 for five seasons in a row and totaled 289 in 1890.
With red hair, Rusie stood 6 feet and weighed 225 pounds. He was the toast of New York in the mid-1890s. In his era a pitcher could take two strides before hurling the ball, and foul balls were not counted as strikes. After joining the Giants, Rusie won 29 games and lost 34. The next year he went 33- 20. It was a huge load for a pitcher in those days.
Rusie’s catcher in later years was Jouette Meeking of New Albany, and they were dubbed the “Iron Twins.” An injury in Chicago in 1897 led to pain and eventually retirement in 1901 for Rusie.
He and his wife, Mary Smith, moved to her hometown, Muncie, where he worked in a mill. They moved to Vincennes and in about 1911 to Seattle, where he worked as a steamfitter.
Mary died in October 1942; he died two months later. There is no memorial to Rusie at Mooresville.
“To my mind, said Lou Criger, also a Hoosier baseballer, “He was the greatest pitcher that ever stepped in the box, and I never expect to see a better one.”
Criger, of Elkhart, caught for pitcher Cy Young, who started baseball about the same time Rusie did. Young won 511 games in an outstanding career, memorialized by the Cy Young Award, presented annually to the top pitcher in the majors.
Young once was asked to name the leading fastball pitchers of all times. Said Young: “Amos Rusie, Bob Feller and me.”