Famed Yankee pitcher Dutch Ruether played on the greatest team of all time

Spiritus Magis told the story of Charlie Silvera ’42, a catcher for the Yankees who was with the team for six World Series wins. The book also noted others in the big leagues, including Jimmy Mangan ’46, who played with the Pirates in 1952 and 1954 and with the New York Giants in 1956. Don Bosch ’65 played with the Pirates in 1966, the Mets in 1967 and 1968 and the Expos in 1969. And Allan Gallagher, who played third base for the Giants from 1970 to 1973, and who finished his career with the Angels, attended SI for part of his high school years before he went on to Mission High School, where he became AAA Player of the Year. He returned to the Jesuit fold when he enrolled at SCU.

However, one of SI’s best baseball players never made it into SI’s history books. Walter “Dutch” Ruether attended SI College and pitched on the baseball teams where he earned the attention of the pros during a March 10, 1913, exhibition game against the White Sox. With SI up 2–1 in the ninth, Ruether pitched against future Hall of Famer Ray Schalk and Hal Chase. Buck Herzog then hit a 3–run homer to give Chicago the 4–2 win.

That year, at 19, Ruether was made an offer by the Pacific Coast League but signed a $500 contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He didn’t like being assigned to a farm team ­— the Pirates had earlier promised to let him play pro ball — so he quit and played for the Northwestern League. His pro career was recounted in 2012 on the sportspressnw.com website and is excerpted here with permission of the authors.

by David Eskenazi & Steve Rudman

A southpaw, Walter “The Dutchman” Ruether pitched in the majors from 1917 to 1927 and performed for four World Series clubs, including the 1919 Cincinnati Reds who won that year’s tainted Fall Classic against the Chicago White (Black) Sox.

Ruether fashioned five 15-win seasons, one 20-win campaign (1922), won 13 games for the 1927 Yankees, and had an extensive career in the Pacific Coast League before and after his days in the majors.

Born Sept. 13, 1893, a Friday the 13th in Alameda, Walter Henry “Dutch” Ruether grew up in San Francisco and first turned out for baseball at St. Ignatius High School, whose coach, George Hildebrand, umpired in the American League from 1913 to 1934.

After Hildebrand saw an erratic Ruether throw for the first time and refuse all instruction, he said, “Get out of here, you young hard-head. You’ll never be a ballplayer as long as you live. You’re solid bone from your ears up.”

“Hilde, it seems, was wrong,” Ruether told an interviewer years later. “But then, he was an umpire, and they’re never right.”

Ruether came to the attention of professional clubs March 10, 1913. Pitching for SI in an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox, Ruether took a 2–1 lead into the ninth inning and was on the verge of beating a team that included future Hall of Famer Ray Schalk and the infamous Hal Chase when shortstop Buck Herzog smashed a three-run homer, giving Chicago a 4–2 victory.

Although he lost the game, Ruether’s performance impressed the PCL’s Los Angeles Angels enough to offer him a contract. But when Pittsburgh also offered a contract (worth $500), the 19-year-old signed with the Pirates, with one condition — that he could opt out if the Pirates assigned him to a minor league club.

Sure enough, a month after reporting to Pittsburgh’s spring training camp in Hot Springs, Ariz., the Pirates farmed him. Ruether quit and returned to the West Coast to pitch in the Northwestern League.

Thus began one of the great vagabond odysseys in baseball history and one for which, initially, young Dutch Ruether was hardly prepared. Wild on the mound, he alternated great games with wretched ones, always showing potential, never consistency, one reason he bounced around with Portland, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Vancouver and Salt Lake City before landing in Spokane 1916 at 22.

Ruether reportedly liked to carouse, and newspapers frequently called him a “playboy.” He also enjoyed taking a nip or two or three or four. He had a mind to do things his own way and he harbored lots of opinions, which he never kept to himself.

“I am a left-hander in everything but my thoughts,” Ruether said late in his career, “and early in my career I thought left-handed, too.”

That changed under Spokane manager Nick Williams who later managed some great San Francisco Seals teams (1926–31). Williams tamed Ruether, in part by using him in the outfield and at first base when he wasn’t pitching. In addition to winning 13 games for Williams, Ruether also hit .297 in 384 at-bats.

At the recommendation of Christy Mathewson (who had seen Ruether play), the Chicago Cubs signed Ruether in 1917. He went 2–0, 2.48 before the Cubs inexplicably waived him July 17, at which point the Reds snatched him, only to lose him to the U.S. Army (assigned to Camp, later Fort, Lewis south of Tacoma) for most of 1918.

Ruether rejoined the Reds in 1919 and had his first big year in the majors, going 19–6, 1.82 ERA and a .760 winning percentage that led the National League. More important, Ruether’s 19 wins helped the Reds reach the World Series.

Cincinnati manager Pat Moran selected Ruether to pitch Game 1 because Ruether was a better hitter than Slim Sallee, a 21-game winner. Moran chose wisely.

Ruether threw a complete game in defeating Eddie Cicotte, one of the “Eight Men Out” ringleaders, 9–1, while adding two triples, a single, a walk and three RBIs.

Even today this is true: Only Cy Young, Babe Ruth and Ruether have pitched and tripled in a World Series game, and Ruether is the only one with two triples.

After Ruether won 16 games for the Reds in 1920, Cincinnati traded him (Dec. 15, 1920, for Rube Marquard) to Brooklyn, where he pitched some of his most memorable games.

To cite two: April 16, 1922, Ruether threw a complete-game, 10–2 win over the Phillies and contributed four hits. Ruether tossed another complete game with four base hits against the Boston Braves Sept. 4, 1924.

Ruether spent four years in Brooklyn, posting a best mark of 21–12 in 1922, and then went to the Washington Senators in a sale Sept. 17, 1924, after falling out of favor with Robins’ owner Charles Ebbets.

(Ruether featured a notable fastball early in his career, but between 1922 and 27 he won more games using smarts than stuff. Stomach trouble, which played havoc with his digestion, often rendered him pale and wan. Washington traded Ruether to the Yankees in 1926 because it was feared ill health would end his career, but an operation remedied Ruether’s stomach trouble.)

Ruether went 2–6 in 1926 and pitched Game 3 of that year’s World Series, losing 4–0. A year later, when he roomed with Babe Ruth, the Yankees agreed to pay Ruether a $2,500 bonus if he won 15 games.

By Sept. 1, Ruether had 13 victories. The New York brass ordered manager Miller Huggins not to use Ruether in any more games to save on the bonus, the only reason Ruether did not appear in the 1927 World Series.

Stiffed by the Yankees, Ruether quit major league baseball and returned to the Pacific Coast League.

Ruether departed the majors with 137 wins and 95 losses, a .591 winning percentage, holding the National League record for most innings pitched in a season-opening game (14 in 1923), and with a well-deserved reputation of being tough on great hitters: Lou Gehrig (2 for 14, .143 BA), Eddie Collins (2 for 11, .182), Tris Speaker (2 for 9, .222) and Babe Ruth (3 for 13, .231).

When Ruether arrived on the West Coast, he joined the PCL’s equivalent of the 1927 Yankees, the 1928 San Francisco Seals, managed by the same Nick Williams who had turned around Ruether’s career in Spokane in 1916.

Ruether played a major role in San Francisco’s 120 victories in 1928. The 35-year-old lefty led the PCL in wins (29–7) and complete games (28) and batted .316 in 72 games.

Always on the move, Ruether pitched for the Mission Reds in 1929 (14–9) before Klepper purchased him. Ruether won 17 games for the 1930 Indians, who released him in mid-1931, at which point Ruether signed with Portland. Over the next two years, Ruether also pitched for Nashville, Mission (again) and Oakland, retiring as a full-time player in 1933.

[In 1934, Ruether became team manager for the Seattle Indians and was the All-Star Team manager in his first year. Ruether left the league in 1936. Ruether would later serve as a scout for the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants and discovered players such as Joey Amalfitano, Eddie Bressoud, Peanuts Lowrey and Mike McCormick. He died May 16, 1970, in Phoenix at 76.]

For more on Ruether’s extensive career as a manager and scout, go to sportspressnw.com.

The best baseball team that ever was?

In 2012, Harvey Frommer wrote in The Epoch Times about the team he and many others considered the best ever: the 1927 Yankees, which featured Dutch Ruether in its pitching lineup. The team, according to Frommer “was so consistent in every way that its roster was not ever changed that glorious season. The team began with 10 pitchers [including Ruether], three catchers, seven infielders, five outfielders, and ended that way. There was no shuttling of players up and down from the minors. The 25 guys who began the season remained on the big league roster all season long, tying a record for fewest players used by a major league team.”

Ruether roomed with Babe Ruth for half the season, and another teammate was Lou Gehrig. This “royalty of baseball,” as Frommer called the team, led the Yankees to a four-game sweep of the Pirates for the world championship. “It was a group of men who totally dominated baseball.… And if you loved the Yankees, it was the best of times.”