Rick Reuschel was the Cubs’ best pitcher during his first tenure with the team, from 1972-81. That tenure ended with him being traded to the Yankees — on the day that year’s strike interrupted the season, June 12 — for Doug Bird, Mike Griffin, $400,000 and a player to be named later, who turned out to be Pat Tabler.
The following spring, Reuschel and the Yankees got into a contract kerfuffle that had the righthander staying home in suburban Arlington Heights until it was resolved. Here’s what that dispute involved:
Reuschel's dispute deals with the deferred payments in his contract, which extend to the year 2030, and the term of the partnership that owns the Yankees.
2030? That’s like a science-fiction year. And it still hasn’t happened — we’re still a little over 13 years from New Year’s Day 2030. Apparently, the Yankees partnership, at the time of this dispute in 1982, was only certified through December 31, 2002. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Reuschel had signed a five-year contract with the Cubs for $1.4 million, or $280,000 a year, before the 1979 season. That was pretty big money in those days, and the Cubs were cash-poor. So they worked out a deal with Reuschel to defer some of the money... for a very, very long time. It’s unclear exactly how much of that was deferred; a Tribune article on May 27, 1981 stated:
Reuschel has three years left on a contract that paid him $420,000 because the Cubs chose not to defer some of his salary for an annuity. If they do so in 1981, he’ll get $100,000, with another $160,000 going into a tax-deferred investment program.
On June 13, 1981, the day after Reuschel was dealt to the Yankees, Tribune reporter Dave Nightingale wrote:
Reuschel, whose contract extends through 1983, also will relieve the Cub treasury of a $280,000 annual burden, although he was taking 64 percent of the money in deferred payments.
So... that implies that $179,200 of the money was deferred (at least in 1981), though it’s unclear what was going to happen with the rest of the money. That is, until Reuschel stayed home from Yankees spring training in 1982. A couple of weeks later, the dispute was supposedly resolved:
Rick Reuschel, the $280,000-a-year pitcher the Yankees acquired from the Chicago Cubs on the eve of the strike last June 12, agreed to a two-year contract extension today, then worked out for the first time this spring.
Reuschel is believed to have gained about $1.2 million through the extension, which takes his contract through 1985.
This article, though, says that contract was never signed:
He and the Yankees finally agreed on the extension, but they never signed it and now it is the subject of a grievance. An arbitration hearing is pending.
Reuschel never pitched again for the Yankees due to a rotator-cuff injury that eventually needed surgery and I can’t find any information on the resolution of that grievance. Eventually the Yankees cut him, paying him the $280,000 from the last year of that five-year Cubs deal he signed in 1979 (not clear from that link if some of that was deferred), and he re-signed with the Cubs, pitching for them in parts of 1983 and 1984. Leaving the Cubs as a free agent after 1984, he signed a minor-league deal with the Pirates before the 1985 season, made their rotation out of spring training and had a really fine year (14-8, 2.27 ERA, 6.2 bWAR) for a team that lost 104 games.
That would have looked good in a Cubs rotation decimated by injuries in 1985. Reuschel also had a good year for the Giants in 1989 and started twice against the Cubs in the NLCS that year.
But if that Yankee contract was never signed, and the grievance never resolved through arbitration, for all I know Reuschel might still be getting those deferred payments. His baseball-reference page says he made $200,000 in 1985, well above the minimum that year ($60,000). If he is still getting those deferred payments, they’ll pay him until he is 81 years old.
Rick Reuschel had a very good career, posting 214 wins, 2,015 strikeouts and 68.2 career pitching bWAR (70.0 bWAR including his hitting, and that ranks 99th all-time). If not for missing most of 1982-83 and not pitching much in 1984, he might have merited Hall of Fame consideration. And if not for Cubs management at the time, he could have built an entire career on the North Side of Chicago.