Reichardt headed to College Hall of Fame

Former Badger hit over .400 in two seasons before signing with Angels

Reichardt headed to College Hall of Fame

On June 29, former University of Wisconsin All-American outfielder Rick Reichardt will be enshrined in the College Baseball Hall of Fame in Lubbock, Texas. Joining Reichardt in the 2015 class of inductees will be Rice University outfielder-first baseman Lance Berkman and St. John's University southpaw Frank Viola.  

Reichardt may not be as familiar a name as Berkman, who hit 366 Major League home runs mainly with the Astros, or Viola, the 1988 American League Cy Young Award winner with the Twins and twice a 20-game winner. Yet when Reichardt signed with the California Angels after his junior season in 1964, the future seemed limitless. The handsome, strapping native of Stevens Point, Wis., hit over .400 in his two seasons for the Badgers, leading the Big Ten each season.  

"He put on quite a show in one Big Ten doubleheader at Madison, hitting three home runs and stealing home," remembers Roland Hemond, the veteran baseball executive who was the Angels' first farm and scouting director. 

Almost every Major League team, including the Cardinals' Stan Musial and the Twins' Billy Martin, had a representative drooling at Reichardt's raw five-tool power. 

Reichardt also starred on the gridiron as a power running back, playing in the memorable 1963 Rose Bowl that USC narrowly won, 42-37, withstanding the Badgers' 22-point fourth quarter. In the fall of 1963, he led the Big Ten in pass receptions, but an ankle injury led Reichardt in the direction of baseball.

The Yankees and Charlie Finley's Kansas City Athletics seemed the front-runners for Reichardt's services, but Hemond urged owners Bob Reynolds and Gene Autry to get involved. The Angels were the new kid on the block in Los Angeles, only in existence since 1961, and they wanted to make a splash in the local market to take attention away from the Dodgers. Reichardt received the full Hollywood treatment, going to celebrity parties, where movie star Lee Marvin whispered to him to get all he could from owner Autry, the singing cowboy. What resulted was Reichardt receiving a record $205,000 bonus from the Angels. Not coincidentally, Major League Baseball instituted the Draft the next spring to cut down on bonuses offered to unproven amateur talent. 

The Angels rushed Reichardt through their Minor League system, and on Opening Day in 1966, when the Angels unveiled "The Big A," their sparkling new stadium in Anaheim, Reichardt hit the first home run in the new ballpark, a blast to dead center field. A popular local hero had been born. Announcer Joe Garagiola gushed, "The first time I saw him, I thought he fell off a Wheaties box."  

However, before his rookie year was over, Reichardt began experiencing headaches. A thorough physical examination revealed a disorder that led to the removal of one of his kidneys. Reichardt recovered to hit 17 homers in 1967, and he established career highs with 21 home runs and 73 RBIs in 1968, but these were not the numbers expected of the "next Mickey Mantle." In 1970, Reichardt was traded to Washington, where he says he learned valuable hitting tips from manager Ted Williams, but he couldn't translate them into production at the plate.

In 1971, Hemond, now working for the White Sox, traded for Reichardt, but nagging injuries and lack of baseball seasoning produced mediocre results in his two seasons in Chicago. He spent a year in Kansas City and played just one game in 1974 -- he was a team player representative and was released as baseball's labor wars were intensifying. He retired with numbers that a less-ballyhooed player could point to with pride, a career .261 batting average, 116 home runs and 445 RBIs.

"I would have been better served with more time in the Minor Leagues," Reichardt admitted in a recent phone interview.

Reichardt was truly a novice in baseball, having only started playing the game as a high-school senior. Yet he treasured his time with the Angels. Legendary coach Jimmie Reese, who played with Babe Ruth and became the peerless master of the art of fungo hitting, was a particular favorite. An eternally optimistic and considerate man, Reese used to make wooden frames so players could put pictures in them. Reichardt has never forgotten one of Reese's sayings: "You never know when your destiny is five minutes ahead."

For Reichardt, destiny took him after his baseball retirement from Madison to Gainesville, Fla. He fell in love with the region in the early 1980s while visiting his brothers, three of whom now own restaurants in the Gainesville area. Family has always been important to Reichardt, the oldest of nine children whose father was an orthopedic surgeon and team physician of the Green Bay Packers in the glory years of Bart Starr. All five Reichardt sisters are nurses -- one of them, the recently divorced Ann Schilcht, has written a book, "The Dance Card," about online dating.

An active member of the Major League Baseball Alumni organization, Reichardt has made a career in insurance and financial planning. He makes it a point to encourage today's pro players to plan for the future once their athletic glory days are over.  

"There is no excuse nowadays not to use your education," Reichardt said, referring to the clause in baseball contracts that provides for college tuition.  

Reichardt has done some coaching for the Florida Gators' baseball team, and he expected the powerful 2015 squad to make the final round of the College World Series in Omaha. Although Florida fell one run short against Virginia, which earned a rematch with last year's champion Vanderbilt, the Gators fought hard. Reichardt remains an avid follower of the college game. 

As for his upcoming enshrinement in Lubbock, he said, "I feel very excited and honored."

Lee Lowenfish, author of the award-winning biography "Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman," is a member of the national board of the College Baseball Hall of Fame. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.