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50 years later, Rick Wise’s historic night with the Phillies might never be matched

Rick Wise threw a no-hitter and hit two home runs in 1971 and a looming rule change will likely make him the only pitcher in history to do it.

Roger Freed greets Rick Wise after his first homer in the fifth inning of his 1971 no-hitter.
Roger Freed greets Rick Wise after his first homer in the fifth inning of his 1971 no-hitter.Read moreLabcopy / inq labcopy

Rick Wise was still feeling the lingering effects of the flu when he woke up 50 years ago Wednesday in a Cincinnati hotel room. The illness had sapped Wise -- then a 25-year-old Phillies pitcher -- in his last start and he did not know as he walked around downtown if he would be able to pitch that night against the Reds.

“But it was my turn to take the ball so I knew I was going to pitch,” Wise said Tuesday by phone. “It was just a matter of how long I was going to last.”

Wise not only lasted the entire game, but he threw a no-hitter and hit two home runs. He did not feel 100%, but it was hard to tell as Wise used fewer than 100 pitches to stymie a lineup led by Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster, Lee May, and Dave Concepcion.

“It’s not that easy against any team because all it takes is a chopper or a bunt or a blooper or whatever and there goes the no-hitter,” Wise said. “But against that team, under the conditions that I felt, it was tremendous. That lineup was tremendous.”

No pitcher has ever done what Wise did -- a no-hitter while hitting two homers -- and his place in baseball history could be safe as the National League is expected to adopt the designated hitter in 2022.

National League pitchers entered Tuesday batting just .110, which is the lowest in baseball history. Major League Baseball, seeking to add offense to a game that is desperate for action, is expected to take the bats out of pitchers’ hands next season.

“I don’t like it,” said Wise, who hit .218 over seven seasons with the Phillies after reaching the majors in 1964. “We had great hitters in the National League in ’60s and early ’70s. Fergie Jenkins. Bob Gibson. These guys could all help themselves with a bat. It’s hard to recognize the game today from an overall standpoint from the one I started in my career in the ’60s.”

“If they do the DH, no one is ever going to break the record. Maybe it might work out with {Angels two-way star Shohei] Ohtani.”

Major League Baseball has floated the idea of banning defensive shifts and started this week to inspect pitchers for foreign substances in hopes of spiking offense. The universal DH -- which the National League used in 2020 -- would help as teams entered Tuesday batting just .239 and striking out at a record rate of 8.92 times per game.

In the 1970s, National League pitchers hit .152, 20 points higher than they hit from 2010-19. Fifty years ago, the pitcher was not such an easy out. And Wise -- who hit .237 with six homers in 1971 while going 17-14 with a 2.88 ERA -- was nearly as tough on pitchers as he was on opposing batters.

“I was a good hitter when I was 8 or 9 years old starting in Little League,” said Wise, 75. “That’s what we did. We played sports. We weren’t in front of a TV. We were outside playing whatever that season was. Baseball, football, basketball. That’s what we were doing as kids growing up. In Little League, Babe Ruth, Legion ball, and high school, I always hit third, fourth, or fifth. Pick a number.”

Wise and his fellow Phillies pitchers had the third-highest batting average (.172) in the National League in 1971. And their approach was rather simple: They would take batting practice for 20 minutes before home games and only the starting pitcher would hit on the road.

First, they would bunt before breaking into a game of starters vs. relievers.

“It was 50 cents a man,” Wise said. “The BP pitcher would call the hits. It had to clear the dirt. Hit or out. He called it and you had to live with it. Whoever lost, each pitcher put 50 cents in a kitty. At the end of the year, the pitchers went out for a party.”

The approach worked. Wise had already homered and was carrying a no-hitter through seven innings when he came to plate 50 years ago in the eighth inning. No pressure.

“I was facing Clay Carroll, who was one of the top relievers in the game at that time,” Wise said. “He went 2-0 on me and I stepped out of the box and looked down at George Myatt and he turned his back on me. So that meant the green light was on for me. I got a cripple fastball. I mean it was right down the middle to a pitcher. And I was ready for it. I took my hacks when I was up there. If I saw something I liked, I was swinging.”

Wise circled the bases, received a standing ovation from the crowd at Riverfront Stadium, returned to the visiting dugout and finished off the final six outs of the no-hitter.

He ended it by retiring Rose, who Wise called “the last guy you want to see to get the 27th out.” Wise, who was just 18 when he debuted for the star-crossed ’64 Phils, became the seventh pitcher in franchise history to throw a no-hitter. Third baseman John Vukovich grabbed Rose’s liner and the Phils mobbed Wise at the mound before they celebrated in the clubhouse.

Eight months later, Wise was traded to St. Louis for a left-handed pitcher named Steve Carlton. Wise played 11 more seasons in the majors, including one in the American League with a designated hitter taking his spot in the batting order.

Fifty years later, he’s still the lone pitcher to do what he did that night in Cincinnati when he ignored his head cold and took the ball. And a looming rule change will likely make him the last to do it.

“It was a disappointment and somewhat of a shock,” Wise said of being traded. “I had finally made my way to be No. 1 on the club, the ace of the staff. I bought a home here. I made the All-Star team. You would think you had some security then. The same thing happened in St. Louis. Both times I bought a house and made the All-Star team, I got traded. That’s the way it was back then.”