The Official Site of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Where are they now? Rick Reichardt
Where are they now? Rick Reichardt
By Rhett Bollinger
In today's game of multimillion dollar contracts and a First-Year Player Draft that is 50 rounds, it's hard to imagine the game of baseball back when bidding wars determined where young amateur free agents landed and there was no organized Draft.
But Rick Reichardt remembers it well, mostly because he's the player who is largely responsible for Major League Baseball instituting the Draft.
The slugging outfielder from Wisconsin commanded a $205,000 signing bonus in 1964 from the Los Angeles Angels, which was, at that point, the largest bonus in the history of baseball and enough to put baseball owners in a frenzy.
"I was the last of the true free agents," Reichardt said. "I went to the Angels, even though they didn't offer me the most money. The Kansas City Athletics and Charles Finley offered me twice as much, but I felt kind of nervous about him."
It was quite a move for Reichardt, who didn't even play high school baseball and instead went to the University of Wisconsin to play for coach Milt Bruhn on a football scholarship. But Reichardt got hurt during spring practice his freshman year and asked Bruhn if he could try his hand at baseball.
Reichardt batted above .400 in 1963 and '64 and still stayed with football, being a part of the Badgers' 1963 team that lost to USC in the Rose Bowl. But as much as he loved football, he realized how demanding the sport was physically, because his father was a team doctor for the Green Bay Packers.
He decided to take the large bonus from the Angels in 1964 and played in 11 games in 1964 and 20 games in 1965, before he became a regular in the 1966 season, when the Angels first opened Anaheim Stadium.
Reichardt got off to a hot start in 1966 and became the first player to hit a home run at Anaheim Stadium when he hit a solo homer in the second inning off Tommy John on April 19.
"Back in those days, we didn't think about keeping balls or our uniforms for things like that," Reichardt said. "But I do remember that Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney were at the game. I even took a picture with Walt after the game."
Reichardt was off to what seemed to be a promising young career, batting .288 with 16 home runs and 44 RBIs in just 89 games by late July, but he was diagnosed with a congenital kidney blockage and had to have his kidney removed during the season.
Reichardt was never the same after the injury, but still managed to play seven full seasons after the injury, including the next three seasons with the Angels, averaging 17 home runs and 70 RBIs.
"I never had the resiliency after that," Reichardt said. "Who's to say how I would have done. I was one of the most sought-after free agents in history. I was on my way when that happened. But I played 10 seasons and I'm very thankful."
Reichardt, now 65, settled down after baseball and began a successful financial consulting business in Gainsville, Fla., while raising four children with his wife, Mary. He never drifted too far from baseball, serving as hitting coach with the University of Wisconsin and the University of Florida.
And now he works with Roland Hemmond, who is the special assistant to the president of the Arizona Diamondbacks, to help raise awareness to players that they can use their baseball contracts to get an education.
"This Spring Training I talked to players about the education clause in their contract," Reichardt said. "It's considered soft money by the owners because so few players actually use it."
Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.