Sunday, January 26, 2014

IN MEMORIAM- PART X: CHICO RUIZ

As we've seen through this thread, the 1970's was a particularly tough decade when it came to players tragically dying while they were still active players.
The decade particularly had an incredibly tragic amount of ballplayers that died in automobile accidents, and today we profile another such player, Chico Ruiz.
The only player ever to pinch-hit for Johnny Bench, Ruiz was a player who could pretty much play anywhere on the field during his eight-year career playing for the Cincinnati Reds and California Angels.
Though he was mainly a part-time player, his career managed to produce a few memorable moments that live on to this day.
First off, Ruiz will always be remembered as the central figure in the "Curse of Chico Ruiz", which alludes to his mad dash to the plate from third base on an Art Mahaffey pitch during a scoreless tie of what many consider the game that started the Phillies EPIC collapse in 1964, eventually losing their substantial lead to the Cardinals for the National League pennant.
None other than Dick Allen called it the play that "broke our humps".
A few years later while still in Cincinnati and relegated to part time duty, he came up with a memorable line when he finally got a chance to play full-time for a couple of weeks in 1967.
After filling in for both Leo Cardenas and Tommy Helms, Ruiz joked that playing everyday was killing him, and stated to his manager Dave Bristol, "Bench me or trade me", a play on the usual line "Play me or trade me".
But Ruiz would stay with the Reds for a couple of more seasons before he was traded to the Angels along with Alex Johnson, future 1970 batting champ and he of a not-so-rosy reputation.
While in California, there were stories of the soured relationship between Ruiz and Johnson, escalating to the point where it was alleged that Johnson once pulled a gun out on Ruiz in the clubhouse during an argument, one of many the two former good friends had at the time.
All the turmoil lead the Angels to cleaning house, shipping Johnson off to the Cleveland Indians, while Ruiz was demoted to the Salt Lake City Angels before being released at the end of the season.
During the 1971/72 off-season, Ruiz signed on with the Kansas City Royals, but tragically, he would never suit up for them.
On February 9th of 1972, while driving outside of San Diego, Ruiz crashed into a light pole during the early morning hours, killing him instantly.
He was only 33 years old at the time.
I've created a card for him in the 1972 set, showing him in a Kansas City uniform, along with a slight modification to the 1972 Topps card design in memoriam.
 
December 5, 1938- February 9, 1972
 

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