Rick Wise (Madison, 1963)

Rick WiseRick Wise

Rick Wise (Madison, 1963)

July 2022 ~

Portland had a lot of outstanding youth and high school baseball in the 1950s and ’60s, to name a decade or two.

And the boys of Rose City and Madison were a big part of that.

Exhibit A would have to be PIL Hall-of-Famer Rick Wise (Madison, 1963).

You can tell someone, correctly, that Wise was a famous World Series series pitcher, but you might be asked, “Which World Series are you talking about?”

A 12-year-old Wise took the mound in the 1958 Little League World Series as Rose City became the first Oregon team to make it to the games in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

In 1961, he threw a no-hitter in the Babe Ruth League World Series.

And in 1975, he was the winning pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in a World Series Game 6 that is considered possibly the greatest baseball games ever played.

Wise remembers each one fondly.

“For crying out loud, that’s an accomplishment, to pitch in three World Series. Whatever age you are, you’re playing the best,” he says. “You’ve worked hard and sacrificed and dedicated yourself to being the best you can be.”

In another year of glory, Wise led the Madison Senators to the 1963 state baseball championship – they won their three playoff games by a combined score of 31-1 – and then he was literally on his way to the major leagues.

On June 16, 1963, at age 17, he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Wise made his MLB debut at 18, on April 18, 1964 at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. He got his first major league win in his second appearance.

When he retired in 1982, the 6-1, 180-pound right-hander had amassed 3,127 1/3 big-league innings over 18 seasons, winning 188 regular-season games.

He posted 138 complete games and 30 shutouts.

He was a two-time National League All-Star.

And is the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter and hit two home runs in the same game. He did that in a 4-0 victory at Cincinnati on June 23, 1971, his seventh season with the Phils.

“I’m proud of that,” he says of that game. “Quite frankly, I felt terrible that day. I was coming off the flu. And it was 100 degrees plus on that (artificial turf) carpet at Riverfront Stadium.

“But it was my turn to pitch, and I wasn’t going to say, ‘I can’t pitch.’

“It turned out to be my greatest game ever. But I thought the ball was stopping about halfway to the catcher, I felt so weak.

“I guess I sweated it out. And they (the Reds) were hacking at my pitches, my first or second pitch a lot. They only hit a few balls out of the infield, and I was not a ground-ball pitcher.”

Wise walked one and struck out three that day against a Cincy team that included Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster and other solid offensive players.

With the win, the Phillies raised their record to 28-40 (Wise improved to 8-4).

“The game got over in one hour, 53 minutes, with me throwing 93, 94 pitches. It just went bam, bam, bam,” he says.

Wise’s first home run that day was a fifth-inning shot to left field off Ross Grimsley.

When he led off the eighth against Clay Carroll, “if there was a ball thrown up there, I was going after it,” Wise said. “Carroll went to 2-0 and I stepped out of the box and looked at our third-base coach, and he turned his back on me, which meant green light. Clay groomed one, and I put another good swing on it. The ball went over 400 feet (in deep left field).”

Wise had another two-homer game later that season. He finished his career with 15 home runs, despite spending six years in the American League, which used the designated hitter.

In the ’75 World Series against Cincinnati, Wise started Game 3 but lasted only 4 1/3 innings in a 6-5 Reds win.

“I didn’t pitch too well. I was hoping to get another shot,” he says.

He got his wish seven days later at Fenway Park – and after three days of rain delays in Boston.

The teams were tied at 6-6 when Wise took the mound for the 12th, as the fourth Red Sox pitcher. After retiring Bench, he allowed one-out singles to Perez and Foster, then got Dave Concepcion to fly out and Cesar Geronimo to strike out swinging.

Boston came to bat in the bottom of the 12th, and Carlton Fisk lined an immortal home run that stayed just fair down the left-field line, ending the game in 4:01.

“We had to win that game. And everyone was on board,” Wise says. “It was all hands on deck. Still, I was kind of surprised when (manager) Darrell Johnson said, ‘Get Wise up,’ in the bullpen, because we had two relievers there. I hadn’t relieved in a game in I don’t know how long. But I had enough rest, I could have pitched nine or 10 innings in relief that day.”

Rick Wise was born in Jackson, Michigan. He was the second-oldest of five kids,. He had an older and younger sister and two younger brothers, Robert (“Babe”) and Tom.

Their father, Cliff Wise, had been a pitcher at the University of Michigan and played Wolverines football behind Heisman Trophy winner/halfback Tom Harmon.

Cliff had a chance to sign with either the Detroit Lions or Tigers, but with pro sports salaries low and a young family to consider, he wanted stability. Due to World War II, Oregon had a shortage of teachers and coaches. With opportunity knocking in the Pacific Northwest, Cliff chose to leave Michigan in the late 1940s and report for work at Portland’s Benson Polytechnic. He taught economics and social studies and was Benson’s varsity baseball coach. He also served as a counselor and the athletic director during a 34-year stint at the school.

Cliff Wise continued to work with son Rick, too, as the prodigy learned the game of baseball in the 1950s and into the 1960s.

“Dad taught me a great deal about how to prepare and execute,” Rick says. “But he would never take credit for what I accomplished.”

Rick’s mom, Barbara, was very involved in the kids’ sports as well and had the knack of remembering games, dates and most everything.

“Mom used to catch me,” Rick says. “She was my No. 1 fan. She never missed a game of mine or my brother Tom’s or my sister Kimmy’s golf tournaments.”

Tom Wise, seven years younger than Rick, starred at Madison in his day and then played as high as Double-A ball, mostly at first and third base, before knee surgeries halted his pro baseball career.

Rick attended Jason Lee Elementary and chose Madison over Benson, even though his dad was the coach at Benson Tech. The family home was only 15 blocks from Madison, and basically all of the Wise kids’ friends were going to Madison, which opened in 1957 and had both its newness and a big enrollment as attractions as well.

Cliff Wise would leave the house at 6 a.m. for Benson. Rick and his siblings could sleep in till 8 and still get to Madison in time for class.

In those days, Rose City Little League and Babe Ruth ball were like a farm system for Madison baseball.

“All the Rose City Little League teams had a bunch of good players, and some were exceptional,” Rick says. “There were good coaches, and we all loved playing the game. We had fun. When you’re that young, you aren’t feeling so pressured to win every game.”

As a young boy in Portland, Rick says he didn’t have a favorite major league team.

“The Dodgers and Giants weren’t even on the west coast yet,” he says, “so all we had was Triple-A with the Beavers, Seattle, Hollywood Stars, etc. We had a Saturday game of the week on TV, but that was it. I pulled for Detroit because I was born in Michigan and they were the team I knew the most about in the 1950s, and I liked Al Kaline and Hank Aguirre and some other Tiger players.”

Rick also played football and basketball while in school and on the playgrounds and in the park, of course.

“You played the sport the season was in, and you didn’t sit in front of the television all day. There were only three channels, anyway,” he says. “We were out the door at the crack of dawn and playing sports all day.”

He was all-league on offense (quarterback) and defense in PIL football. In basketball, he was second-team all-league and the sixth-leading scorer in the city, as he recalls.

“I loved all the sports, baseball just came a little easier for me,” he says.

Rick played three years of varsity baseball at Madison, all under Bill Wiitala.

“Bill had such an easy way about him,” Rick recalls. “He never raised his voice, he was always encouraging, always complimentary.”

Those elementary and high school days were the best of times.

“Absolutely,” Wise says. “It was a wonderful time to grow up and be a young kid, a much slower-paced time, much easier, and not so violent. We never worried about going out and kicking the can at 8 or 9 at night.”

The scouts were taking notice of the all-state Madison hurler, notably Glenn Elliott for the Phillies.

“Dad wanted me to go to college, though. He wanted me to have that stability. Oregon, Oregon State, Washington … I had plenty of full rides I could have taken,” Wise says. “But I wanted to turn pro.”

First, though, Wise was of course chosen to pitch in the annual Metro-State All-Star Game.

“The Yankees scout told my parents I shouldn’t pitch, that I should go ahead and sign. He told them, ‘Rick could have a bad game and decrease his value and his signing bonus.’”

But Rick wanted to pitch – and “I didn’t have bad games in those days, to be quite honest. I threw hard, and I threw strikes. My control was impeccable. I’d throw nine out of 10 fastballs over the plate, easy. I challenged hitters. I really didn’t have a curve ball till later; I didn’t need it yet. I just overpowered the hitters.”

And that’s what he did. He not only pitched the opener of the three-game All-Star series, but he also set a series record with 22 strikeouts in the nine-inning game.

After notching the win in style, he signed with Elliott and Philadelphia for a whopping $12,000 that made him a “bonus baby” – and he headed to Single-A ball in Bakersfield, California.

“Honest, fine man,” Wise says of Elliott. “I trusted him. My mom and dad trusted him.

“Anything over $8,000 at the time and you were considered a bonus baby. But it wasn’t all money – the Yankees and Pirates and another team all offered me the same money. All things considered, I thought I had the best chance of making the club earlier with the Phillies, and history proved that out.”

Wise won five games as a rookie in 1964 and made a positive impression.

But the games he might have been able to win for the team down the stretch are memorable, too, and in not a happy way.

The Phillies led the National League almost all the way, only to blow a lead of 6 ½ games with 12 to go, suffering 10 consecutive losses in a historic, late September swoon.

St. Louis wound up taking the NL by one game over 92-win Philadelphia and Cincinnati teams, and the Cardinals went on to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Wise pitched only three times and five innings total during that 0-10 skid.

“I was 18 and suddenly in a pennant race. You can imagine how exciting that was,” he says. “Then everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

“I could have pitched more, and even started a game (in the last two weeks of the season). Art Mahaffey and I and others could have been used. It would have given Jim Bunning and Chris Short more rest.”

Wise’s last year as a Phillie was 1971, when he had 17 of the team’s 67 wins. He then was traded to St. Louis for Steve Carlton, and he won 16 games for the Cardinals both in 1972 and 1973.

But he was traded again, this time to Boston with outfielder Bernie Carbo for outfielder Reggie Smith and pitcher Ken Tatum.

His 1975 season was a big one. He led the Red Sox with 19 victories (Luis Tiant had 18, Bill Lee 17). He had a nine-game win streak and came within one out of a no-hitter against Milwaukee. Wise also got the clinching win in the AL Championship Series, holding Oakland to two earned runs over 7 1/3 innings of a 5-3 road triumph.

Wise is still fondly remembered in Philadelphia especially. The Phillies had him back for the 50-year anniversary of his two-home run no-hitter.

“It was wonderful, really great. I took my whole family back there. It was really nice of them to remember me for that,” he says.

He will always have a special place in his heart for Philadelphia.

“The Phillies were my first team and my longest tenure (he ended his career with Cleveland and San Diego). Plus, I met my wife, a Pennsylvania girl, there, and our children were born in Philadelphia. And a lot of my good friends are back there,” he says. “I was not happy to be traded from Philadelphia, but it was strictly about contracts.

“I loved St. Louis, too, and I was the starting and winning pitcher in the 1973 All-Star Game – and the next year I’m traded to Boston.

“Both times in my career that I bought a house and made the All-Star Game, I got traded. Go figure.

“I really enjoyed Boston, though – the culture, the history, the food. I still have good friends there.”

Throughout his career, Wise enjoyed going up to bat when he had the chance. NL pitchers still had to do that, although it wasn’t like they were expected to be Babe Ruth or Shohei Ohtani about it.

Wise had a decent career batting average of .195, with 66 RBIs, 21 doubles and five triples.

“Pitchers in those days only had 20 minutes to hit before a game,” Wise says. “There weren’t batting cages under the stands like now. I didn’t get hitting instruction. But I had a natural proclivity for hitting.

“And I always thought maybe I had an advantage on the opposing pitcher because I could outhit him. I think I stayed in games longer because I could bunt and hit.”

He didn’t mind throwing so many innings and pitches, either. Your salary depended on yours ability to finish games or go close to the distance.

“I always felt that starting pitchers aren’t out there necessarily to win the game, but they’re not supposed to lose the game early,” Wise says. “You wanted to take your team deep into the last two or three innings and give your team a chance to win.”

After his playing days, Wise coached for about 25 years at various levels of pro ball before retiring after the 2008 season.

“I enjoyed that, too, because it was baseball,” he says. “It was the next-best thing to playing. I went to a lot of cities I hadn’t seen before. Rode a lot of buses.”

Wise lives in Aloha. He gets out and about when he can. He’ll be 77 on Sept. 13, 2022, and while his health hasn’t been perfect, “I feel pretty good, not bad. I try to watch the food I eat, and I ride an exercise bike.”

His wife died suddenly and unexpectedly late last year after back surgery. That hasn’t been easy. They used to walk for an hour three times a week.

He still gets a bunch of mail – “six or eight pieces a week” – from fans asking for him to autograph a baseball card, a poster, whatever.

“As long as they send a self-addressed stamped envelope, I do it,” he says.

Today, though, he has a hard time relating to baseball – at either the Little League World Series or major league level.

“The Little League World Series with 10,000 fans, former major leaguers commentating on television, I don’t recognize that,” he says, then making sure to add, though, that “I would have done whatever was called for” in order to play.

And pro ball today, with its stream of relief pitchers and with starters rarely going big innings, and with so many strikeouts by batters who are swinging for the fences, is not that appealing to him.

“It’s hard to recognize the game today,” he says. “Back then, you negotiated your contracts on complete games and innings pitched.

“And I was never a strikeout pitcher. I only had a few double-digit strikeout games. But I could pitch to the area I wanted to and make them hit the ball where the strength of our defense was.

“I don’t watch a lot of baseball now. I will watch when the playoffs come. But all the analytics, they don’t sit too well with me.”

– – –

~ Profile written by Steve Brandon (Cleveland, 1972)

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