The gist of recent irreverent inside books on sport is that ballplayers seem to score more off-field than on, especially on road trips when their wives are back home. It is not necessarily the athlete’s fault, though. When pitcher Jerry Reuss took his wife, Ann, on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ final swing to the West Coast last season, the management nicked him with a $500 fine. Jerry, to be sure, had paid for her commercial flight (spouses are non grata on the team charter jet) and the extra hotel tab, but still had violated a Pirate regulation. As a result, in a sport built on arcane records, Reuss came up with a new one for the book: he was the first player to file a grievance action to establish the right to sleep with his own wife.
Though Pittsburgh quietly retreated and reimbursed Reuss before the case reached arbitration, Jerry’s manager when he was with the Houston Astros, Leo Durocher, reopens the rhubarb in his forthcoming memoirs, Nice Guys Finish Last. Leo the Lip foams on for two pages on how “flaky” Reuss was for desiring to travel with his lady. “We just wanted to be together. We’re not troublemakers,” muses Jerry, and he and Ann are hardly the Jack and Micki Scott of baseball. They have, however, suffered through some radicalizing insults from a still feudal sport that treats grown-up athletes like Little Leaguers and has barely aged beyond the liberation level of Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
After Jerry’s trade to Pittsburgh, for example, Ann retained her Houston gynecologist and wanted to revisit him while her husband was playing there (she has suffered six miscarriages). But the Pirates insisted she postpone her appointment until after the team had left for fear of distracting Jerry. Reuss, who as an asthmatic, has a medical problem of his own, recently asked his Pittsburgh manager to set aside a nonsmoking section on the team bus—and Danny Murtaugh paused only long enough to pull the stogie from his mouth before deciding no.
Just this spring Jerry was in a jam again. At 26 he is one of the Pirates’ ace pitchers—16 wins each in the past two seasons and a salary in the $65,000 bracket. Aware that age or an injury could snuff the smoke of his fastball at any time, Reuss has been going back to school at the University of California (Santa Barbara) preparing for a second career as a veterinarian. But when he discovered the Pirates were fining him $100 per day for not showing at spring training while preparing for his exams, he rushed to camp. The cost was $300 and a full semester of college credits.
“Baseball is a fantasyland,” sums up Ann, 25, a registered nurse and an accomplished painter. She met Jerry at a party in Tulsa, Okla. five years ago when, she recalls wistfully, “I had never seen a baseball game.” Ann had migrated from her home in Norfolk, Va. to work as a nurse. Jerry, who grew up in a St. Louis suburb “where all I ever wanted to do was throw a ball around,” signed as a bonus baby with the hometown Cardinals and wound up with the Tulsa farm team. “He was the ugliest thing I ever saw,” Ann remembers. “He had short hair, short pants and braces. I tried to be so rude that he’d stop bothering me, but he hounded me for two weeks for a date.” Jerry adds, “I tried to impress her at a steakhouse, but Annie told me that she didn’t eat meat.” It finally all worked out, though the courtship was temporarily delayed when Jerry was called up to the big leagues.
“After we married I tried to be the perfect baseball wife,” Ann recalls. “The other wives told me how to dress up for the games. I cut out articles with pinking shears for Jerry’s scrapbook. I pitched in the wives’ softball game. I packed his bags, made his appointments, rented his cars and waited for him at the airport at 3 a.m.” She gives Jerry a mock scowl: “Would you have done that for me?” That is her new elevated consciousness talking, and Ann Reuss no longer decks herself in the overdressed Barbie Doll mold expected of a baseball wife. In bell-bottoms now, she is her own woman, if totally loyal to her husband. “There was one fan sitting behind me in St. Louis who razzed Jerry constantly,” she recalls. “He was so nasty that I finally turned around and poured a bucket of beer on his head.” And when her husband “lost a no-hitter in the ninth inning once,” she remembers, “I just sat there with tears rolling down my face.”
She flinches at every hit because “all it takes is one line drive to his head.” She obtains tickets in blocks of three or four so the seats nearest her will be empty. “The other wives can be very competitive,” she observes. “They’ll make remarks to me if Jerry loses a game.” Not that she doesn’t throw some critical beanballs herself. “Sometimes I come home,” Jerry laments, “and Ann just says, ‘You really stunk out there tonight.’ ”
The Reusses find it hard to maintain friends in baseball. Trades forced them to sell three houses and give away seven dogs. So Jerry and Ann finally decided to choose a home on their own terms, regardless of team owners’ caprice. They spent a winter scouting the West in a Winnebago camper and settled in Santa Barbara, which Ann gratefully notes is “far, far away from baseball.”
This season the Reusses are making a complicated break between baseball and their family life. Six months ago they adopted a new-born daughter, Sarah, and Ann is back with her in Santa Barbara, where she also works with handicapped children and paints landscapes (selling for as much as $500). Jerry is living out of luggage in a Pittsburgh hotel suite and taking night classes to make up for the chemistry course he did not complete. During their long season apart, they have deliberately not laid down rules about keeping friends of both sexes. “I don’t care who Jerry sees for dinner,” Ann jokes. “All I ask is that he be discreet.” She adds, “I’m a person, too, but sometimes all I do is wait for Jerry.”