Prior to the 1980 season, the Houston Astros franchise spent the majority of its seasons to that point in the basement of the National League standings. With the arrival of Nolan Ryan to compliment Joe Niekro, J.R. Richard and Ken Forsch, the Astros were poised to make a push for the postseason.
In July of that year, J.R. Richard suffered a stroke prior to a start and missed the rest of the season; for Richard, it wasn’t just the season on the line as his promising career also came to an abrupt end. As a result, the Astros leaned heavily on Vern Ruhle in the stretch run of the 1980 season and the occasional starter became a central part of the rotation that eventually led the team to their first postseason berth.
Baseball Digest magazine’s John Kuenster wrote about the promising career of J.R. Richard in a June 1980 article, a month before the fateful July day that changed things forever. Click hear to read the article!
Drafted in the 17th round of the 1972 amateur draft by the Detroit Tigers, Vern Ruhle blazed his trail through three minor league seasons by winning 35 games. He was inserted into the rotation of the Tigers in 1975 and won 11 games for the team that lost 102 games. He nearly duplicated his numbers in 1976, despite a 9-12 record. Ruhle stumbled a bit the next season and just before the 1978 season was released by the Tigers. He was out of a job for less than a day when the Houston Astros swooped in and signed the right handed pitcher from Coleman, Michigan.
Ruhle rebounded in 1978 in his new role out of the bullpen with occasional starts with a 3-3 record and a 2.12 ERA. His numbers dropped a bit in 1979 and heading into 1980 when he was thrust into the rotation during August. He more than handled his own, as he had a career year with 12 wins and a 2.37 ERA in 159+ innings, his highest total since 1976 with the Detroit Tigers. In the final seven starts of the season, Ruhle threw 5 complete games, including two shut outs. In Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, Ruhle earned a no decision while giving up three runs in seven innings.
In 1981, Ruhle returned to his role as a spot starter and occasionally working out of the bullpen. However, by the end of the season he was taking regular turns in the rotation. Helping the Astros to their second straight playoff appearance, Ruhle dominated in his only 1981 playoff start. He was the tough luck loser against Fernando Valenzuela, losing 2-1 in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
Ruhle transitioned between 1982 and 1984, working more out of the bullpen than taking turns in the rotation. 1984 marked the end of his time in Houston, and he played with the Cleveland Indians and California Angels during the final two seasons of his career. Vern Ruhle’s final pitching appearance came during the 1986 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox. Though he surrendered a few runs in Game 4, the Angels rebounded and won the game in extra innings.
After retirement, Vern Ruhle held coaching jobs with several organizations, most recently with the Cincinnati Reds in 2006. In 2006, Ruhle was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and died on January 22, 2007 after a year long battle.
Born On This Day:
Les Nunamaker, born on January 25th in 1889, was a 12 year veteran with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians. He was a member of the 1912 World Champion Red Sox team, and played in the 1920 World Series with the Cleveland Indians. He died on November 14, 1938.
Celebrating A Birthday Today:
Derrick Turnbow, born in 1978, was a seven year veteran with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Milwaukee Brewers. He was an All-Star in 2006 and notched 63 saves for the Brew Crew between 2005 and 2006. He retired from baseball in 2010 after several failed attempts to come back from injuries.