Baseball Way Back: Jerry Reuss was a pitcher taking pictures

During a 22-year major league career, Jerry Reuss won 220 games with a 3.64 ERA.

His major league road was well traveled, with stops in St. Louis, Houston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, California, Milwaukee and the South Side of Chicago.

In the twilight of his career, he discovered a new talent - photography.

Today, he shares his pictures of old ballparks on Facebook, including shots of old Comiskey Park in its final seasons, taken while Reuss pitched for the White Sox.

His eye for the strike zone is matched by his eye for composition, as he revives memories in the minds of older fans.

"I'm overwhelmed sometimes by the response," he said during a recent phone interview. "People will tell me some personal stories, such as, 'My grandfather took me there when I was five or six years old.'"

When he took the photos, he couldn't have foreseen their ultimate use.

"There was no internet when I took these pictures," he said. "These were just for my own enjoyment. And I decided to post them because I knew that I had something that nobody else was putting online."

Reuss said that during his playing days he would ask the baseball card and game photographers technical questions about their use of lenses and film.

"These were professionals and they worked in the field and they were among the best, so that just whetted my appetite to take pictures," he said.

One day, before spring training in 1988, he decided that if it were going to be his last year, he would get a camera and photograph every ballpark - but he wanted to do it "when nobody's there and I want to do it the afternoon."

In 1988, the end of his career was clearly in sight - Reuss was coming off a woeful 1987 season, with a 4-10 record for three teams.

"I wasn't sure whether I was going to play that year because I was so bad in '87 that I couldn't get an invitation to spring training. But my agent knew Jerry Reinsdorf and talked to him," he said.

Reinsdorf signed Reuss, recalling the role Tom Seaver had played with the team as a pitcher who also helped the other hurlers on the staff.

"I got to see the emergence of Jack McDowell and a handful of kids that came from other organizations that eventually blossomed into a pretty good Sox team in the early '90s.

"If I thought that I could lend something that was missing to a player, I'd make a comment. But mainly it was by example."

When he spoke, he told the players that if they were going to win, they had to push themselves. They couldn't just come to the ballpark and give a half-baked effort.

"This is a team that could go somewhere, but you're not there yet. And if you want to be a part of it, you're going have to push it and push it every damn day."

The 39-year-old Reuss bounced back with a 13-9 season and a 3.44 ERA for a 1988 team that went 71-90.

But he also roamed AL ballparks with his camera.

He remembered the experience.

"Well, I got to hear natural sounds as I was walking around. The street traffic, planes overhead if they would fly, the birds that would fly through there. Sometimes it would just be a breeze. But it was a kind of quiet, contemplative sense at times when I was sitting there watching what was going on. It was a day and time that I captured at the ballpark in whatever city I was in, just to enjoy it later."

His pictures of old Comiskey are taken from a variety of vantage points, including the pitcher's mound. The shots of an empty ballpark in the waning days of its existence capture a latent energy, giving the image the feel of a park about to come alive with players and fans.

Asked what stood out visually about old Comiskey, Reuss said, "I guess the open windows in the back. Because every time I see those open windows, I can immediately identify it."

As Reuss became more immersed in photography and the years passed, he invested in more sophisticated equipment. Eventually, he learned Photoshop and dove into social media.

Asked whether he has a fondness for the old ballparks, he said, "Well, I do now because I preserved the images. I do remember them. And when I look at the pictures, I can remember some of the old-time ballplayers that played there or some of the great games that were played there. Yeah, I still remember that. And I appreciate it."

A collection of Roe Skidmore's baseball memorabilia, including the ball from his only major hit and an autographed picture of Jerry Reuss, the pitcher who yielded it. Courtesy of Roe Skidmore
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