Meet former Dodger Jerry Reuss, the preeminent baseball prankster of the modern era
Suffice to say, there have not been many like Jerry Reuss in Major League Baseball. Blonde and mustachioed, the left-hander won 220 games with a 3.64 ERA, collected a World Series title with the Dodgers in 1981 and tossed a no-hitter -- throwing nothing but fastballs over the final frames:
He even made a number of television appearances as part of the Big Blue Wrecking Crew following that World Series win:
It's a record any player could be proud of, but Reuss is better known for something else.
Reuss was one of the most creative in the game when it came to baseball capers. He once got Dave Parker during an elevator ride with Muhammad Ali, saying to Parker, "Well, Dave, go ahead and tell him how you would whoop his [butt] like you told us in the locker room."
There are so many, he doesn't even remember all of them. In a phone call with MLB.com, he claimed he couldn't confirm a story about him tying Tommy Lasorda's shoes together, leading him to fall during an interview. The legend of his running Steve Howe's underwear up the flag pole while at Spring Training in Vero Beach also remained elusive. "That sounds like something I would have done," Reuss said. "I don't [remember]."
Reuss, a longtime resident of Las Vegas and a broadcaster for the Triple-A 51s, spoke to us as he prepped for a game against the Salt Lake City Bees. While he's cagey about some of his famous stories, he doesn't run from his reputation.
"Most guys, when their career flashes in front of them, they think of all the home runs they hit or the great games they pitched, the accolades they got," Ruess noted. "Me? I think of the pranks I pulled. What kind of world is this?"
It's a world that led Leo Durocher to call him the "[expletive] of all-time" in his book, "Nice Guys Finish Last." But while Reuss and Durocher had battles (they would later make amends), Reuss' greatest pranks came while playing for Lasorda in Los Angeles. Unlike Durocher, however, Lasorda was relatively accepting of the practice.
As detailed in his book "Bring in the Right-Hander," Reuss and teammate/frequent prank collaborator Ken Brett once pretended to be on the grounds crew and dragged the infield mid-game.
After convincing a grounds crew member to leave some clothes for the two of them, the two changed and hid in the storage room before following the two real groundskeepers onto the field after the final out was recorded in the top of the fifth inning. They were fined $100.
There was the time the left-hander helped the team loosen up following a postseason defeat to the Expos. With the team blowing off steam at a nearby bar, Reuss went to the bathroom and noticed that his topcoat was a little short in both the front and the back.
"So I removed the coat and, for good measure, my pants," he wrote. "I then put the topcoat back on and buttoned it. After neatly folding my pants over my arm, I was ready to make my entrance."
After walking down the stairs, posing like a model along the way, Reuss reached the Dodgers' table.
"'Since all of you have opinions to express, I beg for one more.' I paused and did a 360. 'Is this topcoat really too short for a man of my height?'"
It was well known among insiders that Jerry Reuss had the most immaculately groomed mustache in the National League. pic.twitter.com/BPNxypHI7N— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) March 3, 2017
There's a reason that his best pranking came with Los Angeles, he says.
"I felt comfortable with the Dodgers," recalled Reuss. "Now, for other managers, I wouldn't even dream to do these things. But Tommy liked to play with the players and he liked to be a part of everything that went on. In fact, in Spring Training, on April Fool's Day, he would call someone in and tell them he'd be traded. It was all a put on. And in one case, he even had tears rolling down his eyes. He was a great actor."
Perhaps Reuss' best-ever prank came with Lasorda's blessing on May 6, 1986.
With trade rumors swirling around the southpaw throughout the season (during Spring Training, Reuss would walk into the press room and joke with the reporters if they heard any updates) -- and with the Dodgers' series against the Cubs timing up with the Yankees visiting the White Sox -- Reuss got an idea.
"I wanted to do something so totally off the charts, out of the box, that it will put an end to [the rumors.]" Reuss recalled. He pulled that off when he tricked then-Yankees manager Lou Piniella into thinking the pitcher had been traded to New York.
After hearing the plan, Lasorda told Reuss, "Go for it. If I tell you not to do it, you're going to do it anyway." The pitcher and teammate Rick Honeycutt then grabbed a cab to Comiskey Field.
With towels stuffed into his duffel bag, Reuss told the security guard he had just been traded from the Dodgers and asked for directions to the Yankee clubhouse. After finding Piniella's office -- with Sweet Lou still in his underwear as he had been suspended for two games -- Reuss put on a show.
"'Hi Lou. I'm Jerry Reuss. I can start or pitch relief for you. I'm proud to join the Yankee organization.' I said with such complete earnestness that even I believed it. He shook my hand and said with a puzzled look on his face, 'I know who you are. What the hell is this about?' I threw my bag on his desk as papers started flying in every direction. 'Well, the Dodgers were in town playing the Cubs and they told me after the game that the deal was made,' I told him absolutely loving the exchange."
"Lou was getting annoyed. 'What the bleep are you talking about? Nobody told me about a deal with the Dodgers!' 'Lou, I'm just going by what I was told. I'm shocked that you, the manager of the Yankees, knew nothing about this,' I responded sincerely. 'Oh, I'll find out what this is about, you can bet on that!' he muttered as he continued to dress."
With Piniella's temper rising about not being consulted by the deal, Reuss came clean.
"I opened my bag to expose the towels. He looked at me rather confused. So I told him the story, beginning with the trade rumors. When I finished he looked at me, smiled and shook his head just like Lasorda did.
'You went through all this as a joke?' he asked. He laughed and said 'You know, you would fit in in here.'"
"When I saw him at an old-timers game, [Piniella] said 'I still remember that.'" Reuss recalled. "I couldn't have pulled that off if I hadn't been a member of the Dodgers and a veteran of pulling these kind of things out of my backside and making them happen."
Unfortunately, because of social media, there is probably not a prankster like Reuss in today's game.
"The things I was involved in with Jay [Johnstone] and Brett and a handful of other guys, you could never do those today. Never. Couldn't do it," Reuss lamented. "With cell phones, you couldn't even talk to somebody without a picture being taken. And I'm sure that every ballplayer that ever steps on the field has been told, you have to assume that you're being recorded."
But Reuss also knows that even if the pranks he pulled couldn't be done today, he'd still manage to carve out a special place in the game -- and not just because modern training techniques would have improved his performance on the mound.
"Knowing me, there'd be some other stories we could eventually share because, if anything, there was some innovation and creativity on my part-- as misdirected as it probably was." He then added, "As far as having fun I would have had just as much fun playing today as I did back then. It would have just manifested in a different manner."