A one-time starter

It seems like it would be impossible to let the Joe Paterno situation at Penn State go without some commentary. It’s shocking what happened, and even more shocking how quickly it consumed Paterno’s career. Nobody–and I mean nobody–will come close to matching Paterno’s records for longevity and wins. And in another time he may have been able to hide behind that in order to keep his job. But not anymore, and that’s as it should be.

Joe Paterno started coaching as an assistant at Penn State in 1950, so I wanted to see which major leaguers were born in 1950. I figured that any of the ones who were playing in 1950–with just a couple of exceptions–wouldn’t be so relevant to me, as a child of the late 1960s.

This is the last card of Rawly Eastwick’s career. It would probably come as news to all but the hard-core baseball fan to learn that Eastwick played for five teams other than the Cincinnati Reds. Without a doubt, the Reds were the team that he enjoyed the greatest success with. He was the go-to reliever (since there weren’t any closers yet in the mid 1970s) for the Big Red Machine. Anybody who was alive and remembers the 1975 and 1976 Reds can tell you they were the most fearsome team ever, bar none.

Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez are all Hall of Famers, along with manager Sparky Anderson. And Pete Rose, well, we all know his story. George Foster…where to begin? I actually met him once (more on that some other time) and he scared the bejeezus out of me. Built like a boulder. I wrote something about would-be batting champ Ken Griffey here. Cesar Geronimo and Dave Conception were great players in their own right, but were overshadowed by the other stars on the team.

With a lineup like that, who needs pitching? But the Reds had a decent enough staff, and they also had Eastwick at the ready to finish out games as needed. In the much-ballyhooed 1975 World Series, Eastwick had two wins (Games 3 and 4) and a save (Game 5) to put the Reds on the brink of the title. But as any Red Sox fan can tell you, he served up a three-run homer to Bernie Carbo in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game six, setting the stage for Carton Fisk’s later heroics. The blown save apparently hurt his standing, as he did not pitch in Game seven of that year’s Series, and was not used at all in the 1976 World Series, either. By then, Will McEnaney had taken over as the reliever of choice.

Eastwick did lead the National League in saves in 1976, so it wasn’t as if the Carbo home run doomed him. After an off-season contract dispute, Eastwick began the 1977 season with the Reds, but was traded to the Cardinals in June. And shortly thereafter, he made the one and only start of his big league career. Eastwick appeared in 326 big league games, but his only start is the one that’s most intriguing to me.

By July of 1977, the Reds found themselves far behind the eventual NL West champion Dodgers. Garvey, Cey, Reggie Smith and the others had finally knocked the Reds from their perch as the terrors of baseball. But there were still some games left to play, and at the end of the month they hosted Eastwick’s new team, the Cardinals, for a doubleheader to start a weekend series.

Eastwick had made his name as a reliever, but the Cardinals decided to experiment with him as a starter in the first game of the doubleheader. This meant that six weeks after pitching for the Reds at Riverfront Stadium, his first return as a member of another team was as a starting pitcher. I can only imagine how weird it was, both for the Reds to be facing Eastwick, and for Eastwick to be starting a game against anyone, much less his old team in the ballpark that he was most familiar with.

Eastwick made it through the Reds’ lineup once without incident, but then he was pounded around in the third inning and took the loss. The Reds and their fans must have delighted in beating Eastwick even more than they otherwise might have, if it had been a different Cardinals’ pitcher. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Eastwick to hear the cheers and jeers of the hometown fans, who weren’t used to seeing him as the enemy. The Cardinals’ manager apparently made the determination that Eastwick was better in relief, since the remainder of Eastwick’s big league appearances came from out of the bullpen.

Eastwick had a more-than respectable 2.30 ERA coming out of the bullpen for the Cubs in 1981, but he was also in the final year of a five-year contract. Rather than bring him back for the 1982 season, which probably would have entailed giving him another long-term contract, the Cubs cut him in Spring training and gave his reliever’s job to an unknown rookie named Herman Segelke. After Segelke flamed out in three appearances in April, the Cubs sent him back to the minors and kept looking for another reliever. Eastwick, however, wasn’t able to latch on anywhere else and, at the age of 31, found himself out of baseball.

In the Fall of 1982, just as Eastwick was coming to terms with life after baseball, the college football season got under way. At the end of the season, Penn State claimed its first national Championship by winning the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. After 33 seasons at Penn State–and literally a lifetime for Rawly Eastwick–the coach everyone called JoePa was finally on top of the sport, where he would remain for a very long time.

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6 thoughts on “A one-time starter

  1. Rawley Eastwick’s somebody I was never really familiar with since I got into baseball at the end of his career, but I always loved his name. I knew from the back of this card that he was on the Big Red Machine, but it just seems weird to me to envision him as anything but a northsider.

    • Apparently his five-year contract was the problem, since he played for five different teams over that term. And then nobody wanted him afterwards. The game has changed a lot since then.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. He ‘ll always be the Haddonfield Slingshot. During the 1975-76 seasons he was the man; it’s sad his shorty career took a downward slide after that!

    • Thanks for reading! I was shocked at how abruptly his career fell apart. But it was interesting to find out.

  3. Somebody with a 2.30 ERA in 43 innings of relief can’t catch on with another team the next year? That wouldn’t happen now! Unless the pitcher had suffered a bad injury during the season that was long lasting.

    • True. I thing the long-term nature of his previous deal was off-putting to a lot of teams, at least in the early 1980s. Thanks for reading.

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