Bob Reynolds, president and one of the principal owners of the Los Angeles Angels, was at dinner in Brentwood, Calif. last Tuesday evening when he received a telephone call from a Mr. Frederic C. Reichardt in Stevens Point, Wis. "Mr. Reynolds," said Mr. Reichardt, "I'm ready to sign with the Angels." Thus ended the most relentless and expensive pursuit of talent in American sporting history as 21-year-old Rick Reichardt became the highest-priced bonus baby in baseball.
When Reichardt finally signed his contract with the Angels before press and TV cameras in the penthouse suite of Gene Autry's Hotel Continental on the Sunset Strip 24 hours later, that signature cost the Angels about $200,000. It also bewildered Reichardt. "I don't think any athlete is really worth all that money," he said. "But if they're going to pay it, then I'll take all I can get. I'd be foolish not to."
For most of his life, Rick Reichardt has been treated like a young Caesar. He has been adored, flattered, fawned upon and pursued since the first time he hit a baseball over the fence in a Little League game. But the attention and the pressures were never as great as in the past few weeks when Reichardt was wooed by 18 of the 20 major league teams. What Reichardt actually got from the Angels only the Internal Revenue Service has any hope of finding out for sure. But the deal almost certainly included a considerable cash bonus and a promise of future rewards even more dazzling than the $175,000 package that the Pittsburgh Pirates are supposed to have paid Bob Bailey, a third baseman and former holder of the baseball bonus record. For anything less, Rick Reichardt probably would have decided to forget baseball for a while and return to the University of Wisconsin, where he has just finished his junior year and where he was to be pushed as an All-America football candidate this fall.
Ironically, it was as a football player that Reichardt enrolled at Wisconsin. And it was football that made Reichardt the wealthy young man he is today. "I just can't believe how lucky I am," he said. "The only reason I even went out for baseball was to get out of spring football practice. Now look at me."
Look at him is exactly what the baseball scouts, club owners and general managers did in increasing hordes the past two springs as Reichardt led the Big Ten in hitting, the first player ever to do so two years in a row. In his freshman season Reichardt, who had played baseball only briefly in high school and only sporadically in the Little League and Babe Ruth League, passed up baseball for spring football. There are very few players who truly enjoy spring football practice, and Reichardt is not the sort who keeps his dislikes a secret. In the spring of his sophomore year, Reichardt decided to play baseball instead of block and tackle. He hit .429 and intrigued baseball scouts to the point that he was offered more than $100,000 to sign a professional contract last summer. He refused.
Last fall Reichardt was a regular on the Wisconsin football team for just the last five games, but he led the Big Ten in pass receiving with 26 catches for 383 yards. This spring Reichardt returned to baseball and hit .472 in the Big Ten, .443 in the full 28-game season. He also hit eight home runs and stole 20 bases, breaking a school record. The student W Club voted him University of Wisconsin athlete of the year and the baseball scouts, almost by acclamation, voted him the young man most likely to succeed. During one doubleheader in May, with so many scouts in the stands that they could have chosen up a couple of baseball teams and played each other, Reichardt's status and his price soared. In seven times at bat against Illinois, Rick hit three home runs to left, right and left center, hit two singles, barely missed a fourth homer and stole home. That, the scouts agreed, is class.
One of the moderate reservations about Reichardt's baseball ability is in the strength of his throwing arm. "It's not a good enough arm for a major league center fielder." said Stan Musial after watching Reichardt in behalf of the St. Louis Cardinals. "But it would be more than adequate for a left fielder."
Reichardt does not agree with Musial. "Potentially I have a major league center field arm," Reichardt said. "Most of the scouts don't realize that I worked out for baseball only once a week. The rest of the time I had labs in the afternoons [Rick is a premedical student at Wisconsin and a psychology major, which is a handy thing for dealing with baseball owners]. When you throw as little as I have thrown, your arm doesn't get a chance to develop. I've really played very little baseball. What they're signing me for is my potential."
The potential is hardly in doubt. Rick is 6 feet 3, weighs 220 and has been timed in 3.5 seconds going to first base. That speed, according to his college baseball coach, Dynie Mansfield, makes him a natural for center field. With his level, powerful swing, Reichardt frequently does not have to hurry to first base at all. Power, in fact, is perhaps the most attractive quality Reichardt had for Gene Autry, Bob Reynolds and Fred Haney of the Angels, Ralph Houk and Mayo Smith of the Yankees, John Quinn of the Phillies, John McHale of the Braves and the dozens of other baseball executives who traveled to Madison, Wis. to watch him play.
But the attention was not all a pleasure for Reichardt. He was harried, bothered and pressed during the spring to the extent that his grades suffered and so, he fears, did his chances of being accepted in medical school. "If I sign a baseball contract," he said recently when lie was still trying to make up his mind, "one reason will be so I can concentrate on school. I'll go to school one semester a year, and I won't have anything to worry about except my studies. There won't be all these distractions."
"I wouldn't have wanted to be Rick this spring," said Mark Rosenblum, Wisconsin third baseman and a friend of Reichardt. "His life was not his own. He was always surrounded by people, always had to be someplace doing something. At the Minnesota game a photographer made Rick stand on top of the Minnesota dugout while about 50 scouts lined up and posed with their tongues hanging out. The Minnesota fans booed and threw things. Rick was awful embarrassed. But if he didn't do it they would have said he was a lousy guy and a stuck-up kid."
"I've been subjected to that kind of attention for years," Reichardt said. "I've learned to take it with a grain of salt."
Such attention, publicity and adulation has twisted the values of many young men and made them arrogant and unbearable. With Rick Reichardt the attention seemed to turn him in on himself and on his family. He has five younger sisters and three younger brothers, and he is very close to them. At the University of Wisconsin he left the dormitory after his freshman year and moved into his grandfather's house, where Rick had the entire second floor as his hermitage. Rick did not join a fraternity. "There was too much noise in the dorm," he said. "I'm not a very social person, and I don't think I would have been much good to a fraternity. The house I live in in Madison, it's just me and my gramps."
"When he first came to school he was a loner," said Wisconsin Football Coach Milt Bruhn. "Rick would never have a date. He missed his big family. He has a friend in Madison who has several kids, and Rick would go over and play with them. I think he has been coming out a little more lately, but Rick was a very confused boy this spring. So many people were after him, and he didn't know what to do. He came to me and had a confidential talk for an hour. He wanted to know how we would feel if he signed a baseball contract. I told him he would have our blessings as long as he did whatever he thought was right. Naturally, we wanted him back for his senior year of football. He could very easily be an All-America. He has great hands, has moves the pros like, and he'll go into heavy traffic and fight for the ball. But I wanted him to do whatever was right for him."
The decision was a difficult one for Reichardt. He felt that he had an obligation toward the University of Wisconsin and toward his football teammates. The bonus money was attractive, but Rick's father, Dr. Fritz Reichardt, is an orthopedic surgeon and the family has no financial problem. On a warm, bright afternoon last month, while debating with himself over what he would do, Rick hitched the family boat and trailer to one of the two family cars and drove through Stevens Point, a quiet little town of 20,000, to the Wisconsin River. A mild breeze stirred the dark water as Rick slid the 20-foot runabout off the trailer and started the 50-hp motor. Rick took the wheel and cruised up-river, keeping carefully to the channel as barns, farmhouses, green meadows and black tree stumps swept past.
"If I go back to school," he said, thinking aloud, "they want to put me up for All-America, and I'd be so busy that I couldn't study. That's one thing. I've already played in the Rose Bowl [as a sophomore defensive halfback] and on a Big Ten championship team, so what more is there? The only thing about being an All-America would be my own pride, to see if I could make it. Frankly, I wasn't very happy about last football season. I played right half, but I was a flanker most of the time. I only carried the ball about 20 times. I'm 6 feet 3 and 220 and was the fastest man on the team, and I love contact and love to run with the ball, and I have a great knack for punt and kickoff returns. That's not just speed, you know. Some guys have a knack for it. So I would want to run with the ball more.
"I spent a lot of time on the bench. When I was in the game, I did remarkably well. I'm not being immodest when I say that. It's just a fact. In the Illinois game, I caught seven passes in the first half. In the second half they didn't throw the ball to me once, even though I was open constantly. I'd come back to the huddle and say, 'Well, we missed it again, huh?' The quarterback [Hal Brandt] and I arrived at Wisconsin at the same time and we were both big guns in high school, and we were sort of jealous of each other, sort of rivals. But we played baseball together this spring [Brandt was the Wisconsin first baseman] and now we're pals, and our relationship would be different if I played football this year.
"Several pro football clubs have told me I'll be their number one draft choice ["Reichardt," said Kansas City Chief Scout Don Klosterman, "has the moves you expect to see in a guy 5 feet 9 and 170. He could make it as a running back, flanker or closed end."], and there are parts of football I wouldn't trade for anything, especially the hitting. But I love to hit the baseball, too.
"I guess what I ought to do is sign a baseball contract if I can get what I want," Rick said as the speedboat plowed past a beach where several girls lolled in the sun. "I don't mean just a big bonus The baseball rule is you have to take the bonus in one lump, and if I got $200,000 I wouldn't really get but $55,000. What I want is a longtime assured future, like a job. The Phillies have talked about helping me get into medical school at Temple. That would be important to me. It worries me what to do about the responsibility I feel toward helping the Wisconsin football team to win, but if I do play football again I'm risking an injury that could knock me out of baseball altogether."
After an hour on the river, Rick drove over to a Little League ball park in Stevens Point and gave away 20 bats the Chicago White Sox had given him. Then he returned to the Reichardt home, a two-story, beige frame house with a sundeck on Soo Marie Street. Dr. Reichardt's new white Cadillac was parked in a driveway. In the backyard a couple of the younger Reichardt children were playing baseball. The Reichardts own nearly an acre on Soo Marie Street. Behind the house the family has built a baseball diamond, and it is not uncommon for the neighbors to see the Reichardt family of nine children plus father and mother having its own private game of scrub. Inside the house the phone was ringing, and the call, of course, was for Rick. Friends had heard he was back in town, and he arranged a gathering for that night. Rick put down the phone and looked at the family dog, a black Hungarian sheep dog named Bibber. One of the sisters said she wanted to put Bibber in a dog show. "No you won't," said Rick. "That's too snootyish."
What Rick tells the younger Reichardts is law. He told one sister she was too fat, and she lost 20 pounds in five weeks. He told another she could not be seen in a beer bar on the Wisconsin campus, and she was no longer seen there. When Mrs. Reichardt announced that dinner—half a dozen chickens, a tub of salad, and what looked to be a couple of baskets of fruit and several gallons of milk—was ready, Rick grabbed one of the younger brothers who was rushing toward the table. "Just a minute," Rick said. "Are your hands clean? Here, let me smell them. Get back in there and wash your hands. And from now on, pay more attention to brushing your teeth." A Broadway musical was playing on the stereo. There were Japanese-style paintings on one wall and an abstract color explosion on another, and the house was astonishingly orderly to be the abode of nine children. Mrs. Reichardt walked over to turn down the stereo. "Mother," Rick said, "not like that."
The Reichardts are as accustomed as Rick to the notice he attracts. It has been constant since Rick broke Elroy Hirsch's Wisconsin high school scoring record in football. During one game—according to Gene Calhoun, a Big Ten official and Madison attorney who acted as Rick's adviser as he did for Pat Richter, Ron VanderKelen, Ron Miller, Paul Warfield and many other Big Ten athletes—Rick had scored 27 points before leaving with an injury in the fourth quarter. The other team made a touchdown and went ahead. Rick returned to the game, and the quarterback asked what the play was to be. "The play," Rick said, "is to give me the ball and get out of the way." He ran 40 yards for a touchdown that won the game.
Rick's personal dilemma over whether to collect a baseball bonus or try to become a football All-America caught Dr. Reichardt with mingled emotions. Dr. Reichardt, 45, is an anxious Wisconsin football fan. But Dr. Reichardt is also an inveterate baseball fan (the youngest Reichardt son, Eddie, is named for Milwaukee Third Baseman Eddie Mathews) and a parent who wants to see his son prosper and do well.
"In hard fact it makes sense to play baseball rather than football," said Dr. Reichardt, who acted as team physician for the Green Bay Packers for the several years they trained in Stevens Point. "In baseball you have more longevity and wind up making more money. Rick is a boy with a lot of nervous energy. Football is better for him because it has more action and violence and there's not all that standing around that you do in baseball. But I know Rick can bear up under the long, full season of work in baseball. I remember at the state high school track meet, Rick was the only entry from his school. He was up all night before the meet. He must have run five miles warming up. Then he was in the trials of the 100 and 220, and in the finals of both those events. He ran the 100 in 10 flat. And he broad jumped. When he got home that night, he was tired. That's the kind of work he needs. He's restless.
"It's funny," said Dr. Reichardt. "You grow up like I did, thinking about baseball, about the heroes of the game, how the game is a reflection of American ideals. Then you get into it and you see all the angles. Baseball is a business just like other businesses, and you have to play the angles. You take advantage of the angles, or the angles will take advantage of you."
An angle that the Angels took advantage of was selling Rick on the clean life. Gene Autry, visiting in Madison, made a point of letting Rick know that he does not drink or smoke and that he also enjoys family gatherings, enjoys having players bring their wives and children to his house for dinner. For a family-oriented person like Rick, that was impressive. Autry and Bob Reynolds told Rick about their various corporations and what a future Rick could have if he finished with a business administration degree from the University of Southern California. That was also impressive, and Rick was inclined toward the Angels from the beginning.
The Cardinals sent a delegation to Madison for dinner with Rick, Dr. Reichardt and Gene Calhoun at a restaurant called the Hoffman House. The delegation included Vice-President Stan Musial, General Manager Bing Devine, Business Manager Art Routzong, Director of Scouts George Silvey and Scout Joe Monahan. The angles were 1) the attractiveness of having Musial as a hitting coach (Musial lectured during dinner on how to hit junk pitchers like Stu Miller), 2) the opportunity of breaking into the weak Cardinal outfield at once and 3) the monetary rewards of being a Cardinal. "Good gosh," Rick said, somewhat stunned after an hour and a half of secret financial discussion. "I'm glad a lawyer was there."
Early in June before the decision was made, Rick and Dr. Reichardt left on a scouting trip of their own to examine the angles. They met the Cardinals in Madison, and they went to Chicago for talks with the White Sox. The White Sox put the Reichardts into a front-row box next to Singer Jaye P. Morgan, and they made sure that Rick was introduced to Outfielder Dave Nicholson, a $100,000 bonus baby himself six years ago. Nicholson shook hands abruptly and then smashed a home run into the upper deck at White Sox Park, a clever piece of oneupmanship. As the exploding scoreboard fired its rockets and sounded its sirens and pieces of burnt paper floated down into the boxes, along with the smell of cordite, Rick said, "He got his pitch." The rest of the doubleheader against Detroit, Nicholson did not get his pitch and struck out three times.
From Chicago the Reichardts, who paid their own expenses during their trip, flew to Boston. Red Sox Executive Milt Boiling and Scout Chuck Koney met the Reichardts at the airport. Rick stood there—tall, smiling shyly and boyishly, ducking his head—while Bolling grinned at the thick neck and sloping shoulders. "Another Ted Williams," said Boiling. "Just like Ted," Koney agreed. "We need people like you, Rick," he added. "Colorful kids, drawing cards. We need you in the American League." They drove Rick along the Charles River on a gray, muggy afternoon and told him about all the universities in Boston and about New Boston and the advantages of being in on it. But the biggest advantage they showed him was the short left-field wall in Fenway Park. "Made for a right-handed power hitter like you," said Boiling. "It's supposed to be 315 feet officially, but a couple of our pitchers got out a tape measure and measured the distance to that fence, and they swore it's only 298 feet. Think of that, Rick." He had hours to think about it that afternoon and evening at a doubleheader between the Red Sox and the Yankees.
Flying down to New York on the shuttle, Dr. Reichardt was weighing and balancing the angles. "I sort of lean toward the National League," the doctor said. "It's better balanced and has newer ball parks and better cities for traveling." The National League for New York was out, however. The Mets had backed away from Rick when the price rose toward the quarter-million range. Rick, meanwhile, was still thinking about what Musial had said about his arm. "I have a strong arm," Rick said. "I used to be a pitcher. Last game I pitched, when I was 14, I pitched a one-hitter. Won the game, 6-5. I walked 21." He laughed. The cabby into the city complained about the traffic and explained to Rick how to play the numbers, and Rick sat forward on the seat and looked more interested than he had in either Chicago or Boston. "This is the city, kid," the cabby said. That night the Reichardts had dinner at Toots Shor's, a place they had wanted to see, and then went down to Greenwich Village and wandered through a street carnival celebrating the Feast of St. Anthony. There were electric lights up on the church and lights along the walls of the buildings, and there was a twist band and a greased-pole climbing contest, and the street was very crowded. Rick stopped at a vendor's and bought a bag of corn fritters. "Got any money, son?" asked Dr. Reichardt. "I have about $40," Rick said. "Where did you get it? I haven't sent you any money since September." said Dr. Reichardt. Rick shrugged. "I don't spend much. I get a lot of free meals. I let guys borrow my car for $5. Stuff like that."
By noon of the following day the Yankees had him. They picked up Rick and Dr. Reichardt at the New York Hilton—where the Yankees had found rooms for them while thousands of other visitors searched desperately for a bed—and whisked them off to lunch and then hid them in the caverns inside Yankee Stadium. After four hours Rick came into the Yankee locker room with General Manager Ralph Houk at his elbow. Houk nervously guided Rick around, making introductions. "Where have you been?" said Yankee Pitcher Jim Bouton. "We could use that bat of yours, Rick." Whenever reporters approached, Houk would run interference more energetically than anybody ever did for Rick while he was carrying the ball at Wisconsin. "I can't pose for pictures, fellows. This kid is an amateur," said Houk, who was finally persuaded to pose with Rick and with Yankee Manager Yogi Berra. Gazing up at Rick, the stumpy Berra looked like a tourist posing beside a monument. "The kid don't make me feel so tall," Berra said. Then the curtain of Yankee security fell across Rick again and he was dragged away for more discussions. Berra watched Rick ducking into the dugout. "There he goes," said Berra. "That kid may get more bonus money than anybody ever, and who knows if he's gonna make it?"
After New York, Rick and his father stopped off in Stevens Point, picked up Mrs. Reichardt and flew to Los Angeles where they stayed at Autry's Continental Hotel. They had dinner at Autry's house and brunch with Reynolds, and they went to an NBC party where the television crew crowded around Rick and left Tony Curtis muttering, "Who is that guy?" When the Reichardts got back to Stevens Point, the Braves had decided the price was too high and pulled out of the bidding. But Kansas City Athletic Owner Charles Finley was waiting. Finley talked to Rick for two days and brought Mrs. Finley to town to give his approach the homey touch. After dinner on Finley's second night in Stevens Point, Rick made up his mind. "Mr. Finley," he said, "I'm going to sign with the Angels." Other than Rick himself, Finley was the first to know. What Finley did not know is that Rick had seriously considered only three teams—the Angels, the Yankees and the Cardinals, in that order.
Immediately, after calling Bob Reynolds in Los Angeles, Rick drove to Madison and told Dynie Mansfield of his decision. Then Rick flew to Los Angeles for his professional debut, and there was talk that the Angels might shove him into their lineup immediately. "He's the most exciting and explosive player I've seen in 18 years of scouting," said the Angels' Nick Kamzic. "The boy exudes power," said Reynolds.
"Now," said Rick Reichardt, in a realistic appraisal of the situation, "the shoe is on the other foot. Now it's me who has to be nice to them."