Amos Rusie Cover

Amos Rusie: The Pitcher Who Changed the Game

Amos Rusie

“Words fail to describe the speed with which [Amos] Rusie sent the ball. …It was like a white streak tearing past you.” – Jimmy Ryan, Chicago outfielder, 1894.

Amos Rusie threw so hard, many fans swore they couldn’t see the ball when it left his hand. Experts believe he could “bring it” at 100mph–and that he routinely threw in the high 90s. His catcher, Dick Buckley, under his glove, placed a thin strip of lead covered in a handkerchief, and added a sponge in order to avoid breaking bones in his hand. Rusie threw so hard–and was so wild–that batters were afraid to “stand in” the batter’s box against him. He was the largest reason that Major League baseball, prior to the 1893 season, moved the pitching distance back from 50′ to 60′ 6″. This rule change was the beginning of the “modern game” of baseball.

Rusie was born on May 30th, 1871, in Mooresville, Indiana, a small town in Morgan County, just a few miles southwest of Indianapolis (Mooresville would later become famous for also being the home of notorious gangster John Dillinger). Rusie’s father was a brick mason and soon moved the family to Indianapolis for better work opportunities. It was here that the boy began playing sandlot baseball. He quickly graduated to semi-pro ball because of the uncommon velocity with which he pitched a baseball.

Rusie, at 18 years of age, was 6′ 1″ tall and weighed around 200 pounds. He was unusually strong, too. He played with a team called the Sturm Avenue Never Sweats, and while on the mound beat the National League’s Boston Beaneaters and Washington Senators during match games in Indianapolis. He then signed with the NL’s Indianapolis franchise in 1889 and started striking out hitters. As a Rookie, he wowed the fans with his velocity and resultant strikeouts. Due to the advent in 1890 of the Players League, the Indianapolis franchise was forced to shut down, and the National League transferred some of those players to the New York Giants. Star pitcher Tim Keefe (a future Hall of Famer) had left the Giants to sign for more money with the Players League, so the NL honchos sent Rusie there as a replacement–to team with Mickey Welch (also a future Hall of Famer). The goal was to make certain that the League’s most profitable franchise would stay competitive.

The Toast of New York

1892 New York Giants

The 1892 New York Giants. Top Row, L-R: Silver King (P), Jack Boyle (C), Charlie Bassett (2B/3B), Amos Rusie (P), Powers, Buck Ewing (1B/C), Ed Crane (P), Mike Tiernan (RF), George Gore (CF), Jim O’Rourke (LF/1B/C). Bottom Row, L-R: Danny Murphy (C), Jocko Fields (RF/C), Denny Lyons (3B), mascot, Shorty Fuller (SS), Mickey Welch (P), Jack Sharrott (OF/P).

Rusie and his strikeouts became an immediate sensation in New York. Fans flocked to the ball park to watch Rusie “mow ’em down”. New Yorkers called him “The Hoosier Thunderbolt”. A drink was named after his nickname. The well-known vaudeville team, Weber and Fields, used his name in some of their skits. The famous performer, Lillian Russell, sent him messages. A book, “Secrets Of Amos Rusie, the World’s Greatest Pitcher, How He Obtained His Incredible Speed On Balls” was a best-seller. Rusie was now the toast of New York.

From 1890 to 1898, Rusie dominated the competition. For nine years, “The Hoosier Thunderbolt” set records that would take the great Walter Johnson to later match. On May 12th, 1890, one of the greatest 19th century pitching duels took place–fellow future Hall of Famer Kid Nichols and the Boston Beaneaters against Rusie and the New York Giants. Both pitchers threw up a string of zeroes, until the Giants star outfielder, Mike Tiernan, hit what the sports reporters called “a tape-measure home run” in the 13th inning to win the amazing game.

“The Giants without Amos Rusie would be like Hamlet without the Melancholy Dane.” – Oliver Perry Caylor

In 1891, with the demise of the short-lived Players League, Keefe came back to the Giants. The Giants also acquired star players Roger Connor, Jim O’Rourke, Buck Ewing and George Gore. The team’s fortunes were now much improved. On July 31st, Rusie no-hit Brooklyn. He had become one of the best fielders in the League, and was one of the best hitting pitchers, too.

Rusie wins the Triple Crown of Pitching and The Temple Cup

1894 Giants

Back Row: C Parke Wilson, C Duke Farrell, CF George Van Haltren, 1B Roger Connor, P Jouett Meekin, P Huyler Westervelt, P Amos Rusie. Middle Row: P Dad Clark, P Les German, IF Jack Doyle, 2B-MGR John Montgomery Ward, OF Mike Tiernan, 3B George Stacey Davis, SS Shorty Fuller, LF Eddie Burke. Front: IF-OF General Stafford, IF Yale Murphy.

In 1894, Rusie won the pitching Triple Crown (Wins, ERA, and Ks), enjoying a 36-13 season, with an ERA of 2.78, and a K total of 195 (he also walked 200 batters). In the previous year, Rusie had led the League in complete games with 50. At the end of the season, the league-leading Baltimore Orioles played the second place Giants for the championship. The trophy, The Temple Cup, had been donated by wealthy Pittsburgh sportsman William C. Temple. The underdog Giants swept the favored Orioles of John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson and Willie Keeler, 4 games to none. Rusie pitched 2 complete game victories, had an ERA of 0.50, and batted .429!

In 1896, Rusie ended up sitting out the entire season, due to a contract dispute with the Giants owner, Andrew Freedman, a notoriously unscrupulous, stubborn, mean-spirited and tight-fisted businessman. Freedman was so cheap that he actually hired an acquaintance–an actor–to manage the Giants for a year in order to avoid paying for a competent skipper. The team finished, to the league’s embarrassment, in 9th place. Pressure from every segment of New York’s citizens was brought to bear on Freedman… but, to no avail. Oliver Perry Caylor, sportswriter for the New York Herald, penned, “The Giants without Amos Rusie would be like Hamlet without the Melancholy Dane.” Finally, the other owners in the National League, over Freedman’s objections, got together and paid Rusie’s lost wages, and persuaded a reluctant Freedman to sign his pitching star to a new contract.

Baseball Owners February 1897

NL club owners gather in February of 1897 to discuss the Rusie situation (held at the Hotel Rennert, Baltimore). Top, L-R: E.E. Becker, Chris Von Der Ahe, Edward (Ned) Hanlon, Frank DeHass Robison, H.R. Von Der Horst, Jason A. Hart, J.W. Spalding, Harry M. Pulliam, Dr. T. Hunt Stucky, Col. J.L. Rogers. Bottom, L-R: John T. Brush, Alfred James Reach, F.A. Abell, Nick E. Young, I. E. Wagner, Stanley Robison, C.H. Byrne.

Some have called Rusie’s disagreement with Freedman the first salvo in what became a long-running struggle between the players and owners–finally resolved when the Reserve Clause was done away with in the 1970s.

Rusie’s hard throwing from the mound did take its toll. In 1898, after a pitch, he felt a sharp pain–and knew he had hurt the arm. Just a short while later, he was hit on the head by a line drive, causing a serious concussion. He essentially rested for 2 years, trying to regain his arm strength and clear the “cobwebs” in his head. His arm didn’t return, and his heavy drinking didn’t help his head either. Finally, in 1901, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for a young, unproven pitcher by the name of Christy Mathewson. Rusie never did regain his pitching prowess. And, the young kid the Giants got in return became one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball! One of the most lop-sided trades in history? Well, you be the judge.

Rusie then retired for good, and worked at various jobs, including that of a steamfitter in Seattle, Washington (where he and wife, Ida, had moved). But, in 1934, he was involved in a car wreck–and, suffered yet another serious concussion. Much of his retired life was plagued by cranial discomfort and headaches. He passed away on December 6th, 1942. He was 71 years of age.

Legacy of “The Hoosier Thunderbolt”

Rusie Pitching

“You can’t hit ’em if you can’t see ’em.” – John McGraw on hitting Amos Rusie’s pitching.

During his over 9 year career, Rusie achieved a Won-Loss record of 246-174, chalked up 1,934 Ks, and averaged a 3.07 ERA. He had eight 20-win seasons, four 30-Win years, five 200-K campaigns and two 300-K seasons. He also had Wins Above Replacement (WAR) totals of 11.3 in 1893, and 13.8 in 1894. Amazing! He led the National League in ERA for 2 years, shutouts for 4 seasons, and for 5 seasons he led in Ks, Ks per 9 innings, and walks. He also led in fielding assists for pitchers for 3 years.

As a star in New York, his adoration by the fans can probably best be matched by the lofty position that “The Ryan Express”, Nolan Ryan, enjoys from his fans. They were both strikeout sensations–and both generated excitement from the fans of the Great American Pastime. Rusie was elected to Cooperstown in 1977.

Jimmy “Pony” Ryan, one of the 19th century’s star center fielders, paid Rusie a real tribute by describing his blazing fastball as being thrown “with the force of a cannon. It was like a white streak tearing past you!”

Amos “The Hoosier Thunderbolt” Rusie–the pitcher who changed the game!

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  • Robert Rusie

    Highly informative nice job