Bob Reynolds, president and one of the principal owners of the Los Angeles Angels, was at dinner in Brentwood, Calif. last Tuesday evening when he received a telephone call from a Mr. Frederic C. Reichardt in Stevens Point, Wis. " Mr. Reynolds," said Mr. Reichardt, "I'm ready to sign with the Angels." Thus ended the most relentless and expensive pursuit of talent in American sporting history as 21-year-old Rick Reichardt became the highest-priced bonus baby in baseball.
When Reichardt finally signed his contract with the Angels before press and TV cameras in the penthouse suite of Gene Autry's Hotel Continental on the Sunset Strip 24 hours later, that signature cost the Angels about $200,000. It also bewildered Reichardt. "I don't think any athlete is really worth all that money," he said. "But if they're going to pay it, then I'll take all I can get. I'd be foolish not to."
For most of his life, Rick Reichardt has been treated like a young Caesar. He has been adored, flattered, fawned upon and pursued since the first time he hit a baseball over the fence in a Little League game. But the attention and the pressures were never as great as in the past few weeks when Reichardt was wooed by 18 of the 20 major league teams. What Reichardt actually got from the Angels only the Internal Revenue Service has any hope of finding out for sure. But the deal almost certainly included a considerable cash bonus and a promise of future rewards even more dazzling than the $175,000 package that the Pittsburgh Pirates are supposed to have paid Bob Bailey, a third baseman and former holder of the baseball bonus record. For anything less, Rick Reichardt probably would have decided to forget baseball for a while and return to the University of Wisconsin, where he has just finished his junior year and where he was to be pushed as an All-America football candidate this fall.
Ironically, it was as a football player that Reichardt enrolled at Wisconsin. And it was football that made Reichardt the wealthy young man he is today. "I just can't believe how lucky I am," he said. "The only reason I even went out for baseball was to get out of spring football practice. Now look at me."
Look at him is exactly what the baseball scouts, club owners and general managers did in increasing hordes the past two springs as Reichardt led the Big Ten in hitting, the first player ever to do so two years in a row. In his freshman season Reichardt, who had played baseball only briefly in high school and only sporadically in the Little League and Babe Ruth League, passed up baseball for spring football. There are very few players who truly enjoy spring football practice, and Reichardt is not the sort who keeps his dislikes a secret. In the spring of his sophomore year, Reichardt decided to play baseball instead of block and tackle. He hit .429 and intrigued baseball scouts to the point that he was offered more than $100,000 to sign a professional contract last summer. He refused.
Last fall Reichardt was a regular on the Wisconsin football team for just the last five games, but he led the Big Ten in pass receiving with 26 catches for 383 yards. This spring Reichardt returned to baseball and hit .472 in the Big Ten, .443 in the full 28-game season. He also hit eight home runs and stole 20 bases, breaking a school record. The student W Club voted him University of Wisconsin athlete of the year and the baseball scouts, almost by acclamation, voted him the young man most likely to succeed. During one doubleheader in May, with so many scouts in the stands that they could have chosen up a couple of baseball teams and played each other, Reichardt's status and his price soared. In seven times at bat against Illinois, Rick hit three home runs to left, right and left center, hit two singles, barely missed a fourth homer and stole home. That, the scouts agreed, is class.
One of the moderate reservations about Reichardt's baseball ability is in the strength of his throwing arm. "It's not a good enough arm for a major league center fielder." said Stan Musial after watching Reichardt in behalf of the St. Louis Cardinals. "But it would be more than adequate for a left fielder."
Reichardt does not agree with Musial. "Potentially I have a major league center field arm," Reichardt said. "Most of the scouts don't realize that I worked out for baseball only once a week. The rest of the time I had labs in the afternoons [Rick is a premedical student at Wisconsin and a psychology major, which is a handy thing for dealing with baseball owners]. When you throw as little as I have thrown, your arm doesn't get a chance to develop. I've really played very little baseball. What they're signing me for is my potential."
The potential is hardly in doubt. Rick is 6 feet 3, weighs 220 and has been timed in 3.5 seconds going to first base. That speed, according to his college baseball coach, Dynie Mansfield, makes him a natural for center field. With his level, powerful swing, Reichardt frequently does not have to hurry to first base at all. Power, in fact, is perhaps the most attractive quality Reichardt had for Gene Autry, Bob Reynolds and Fred Haney of the Angels, Ralph Houk and Mayo Smith of the Yankees, John Quinn of the Phillies, John McHale of the Braves and the dozens of other baseball executives who traveled to Madison, Wis. to watch him play.
But the attention was not all a pleasure for Reichardt. He was harried, bothered and pressed during the spring to the extent that his grades suffered and so, he fears, did his chances of being accepted in medical school. "If I sign a baseball contract," he said recently when lie was still trying to make up his mind, "one reason will be so I can concentrate on school. I'll go to school one semester a year, and I won't have anything to worry about except my studies. There won't be all these distractions."