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Amos Rusie

A photo of Amos Rusie.

Amos Wilson Rusie (May 30, 1871 – December 6, 1942), nicknamed "The Hoosier Thunderbolt", was a hard-throwing right-handed Major League Baseball pitcher during the late 19th century. The 6-foot-1, 200 pounder strongman terrorized batters, catchers and umpires with the hottest – and wildest – heat ever seen in the game at that time. This is quantified by Rusie leading the league in strikeouts five times and walks five times. He nearly killed Hall of Fame shortstop Hughie Jennings with a beanball; Jennings remained comatose for four days before pulling through. This incident was a catalyst for officials to change the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate from 50 feet to 60 feet-6 inches. This ruling was made at the start of the 1893 season, right at the peak of Amos Rusie’s pitching prowess. His velocity was unknown, but he may well have thrown in the mid to upper 90s.

Born in Mooresville, Indiana, Rusie was 17 when he made his major league debut with the National League Indianapolis Hoosiers in 1889 and posted a 12-10 record. Indianapolis disbanded at the conclusion of the season and Rusie was transferred to the New York Giants.

Rusie would remain with New York until 1900. In 1890, Rusie was the National League leader in strikeouts with a career-best 341. Although he punched out a lot of batters, he also gave up a lot of walks. His 266 walks also led the league and Rusie finished that year with a losing record, 29-34.

From 1891–1894, Rusie was the best pitcher in baseball, winning at least 30 games in each of those seasons. In 1891, Rusie went 33-20, leading the league in strikeouts (337) and shutouts (6). In 1892, his performance dipped a bit, breaking out even with a 31-31 record.

With the pitching area being moved back in 1893, Rusie’s strikeout total dropped from 288 to 208. Still he was league leader. The 1893 campaign was a truly extraordinary one for Amos Rusie. He had 50 complete games out of 52 starts and went 33-21.

In 1894, Rusie won pitching’s triple crown. He led the league in wins, going 36-13, strikeouts with 195, and a league best ERA of 2.78 (especially spectacular considering the league average that year was 5.32). After the conclusion of the 1894 regular season, a Pittsburgh sportsman named William C. Temple sponsored a trophy for the winner between the regular season 1st and 2nd place teams in the National League. The runner-up Giants swept the Baltimore Orioles, who featured Hall of Famers John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, 4-0. Amos Rusie was virtually untouchable in the Temple Cup, giving up only one earned run while winning two complete games and compiling a 0.50 ERA; if that was not enough, he even batted .429. Amos Rusie’s win total that year was fourth best since the modern pitching distance of 60’-6” was established.

Amos Rusie won his last strikeout crown in the 1895 campaign with 201. However, he finished with a mediocre (by Rusie's standards) 23 wins and 23 losses. After a bitter contract dispute with Giants' owner Andrew Freeman, Rusie responded by publicly thumbing his nose at Freeman, which was the 19th century variant of the middle finger. He was fined $200 (he made only $2,500 a year). Rusie refused to play until Freeman returned his money and ended up holding out for the entire 1896 season. It was a fiasco for baseball; fans boycotted and the press railed against the owners. Owners implored Rusie and Freedman to compromise; neither would budge. The holdout was finally settled just prior to the 1897 season, as the owners collaborated for recoupment of the garnished wages, as well as a $5,000 settlement. This was partially out of respect for Rusie. However, the primary motivator was the threat of legal action against the reserve clause had his case gone to court.

Following the 1898 season, a combination of hearing damage from a line drive to the head, arm trouble, and personal problems kept him out of baseball for two years. In 1900, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Christy Mathewson. In 1901, Rusie pitched poorly in three games before retiring. He finished his career with 245 wins, 174 losses, 1934 strikeouts and a 3.07 ERA.

Rusie was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, along with Joe Sewell and Al Lopez. This followed a poll of the Society for American Baseball Research where he was voted the top 19th century player not yet elected.

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