Most reserve players don’t get a lot of press. However, former Reds utility infielder Chico Ruiz got a chance to utter a rather famous phrase when he was awarded with extended playing time after all-star shortstop Leo Cardenas went down due to injury in 1967. His quote?
“Bench me or trade me.” — Chico Ruiz
Ruiz played 2b while Cardenas was on the DL, while everyday second baseman Tommy Helms moved to shortstop. Ruiz eventually got his wish…Ruiz went back to the bench and Pete Rose was moved from LF to 2B. Rose split time with Ruiz at the keystone position, giving youngster Lee May a chance to break into the lineup in LF until Cardenas returned.
Ruiz, in the most extended playing time of his career, batted .220 in 268 plate appearances with a 558 OPS. Ruiz, however, has somehow become a legend in some circles. A sampling of stories, with embedded links to dazzle you….
2) “The Legend of Chico Ruiz” has it that Ruiz (literally) stole a World Series opportunity from the Philadelphia Phillies. On September 21st, with the second place Reds 6.5 games behind the first place Phillies, the Reds found rookie Ruiz standing on third base with slugger Frank Robinson at the plate in the sixth inning of a scoreless game. Ruiz suddenly broke for home, shocking Phillies pitcher Art Mahaffey into throwing the ball wildly. Ruiz scored what proved to be the only run of the game and the Phillies began their famous swoon which cost them the pennant.
The Phillies were so angry they hit Ruiz with a pitch the next night…the same game Ruiz responded with one of his only two home runs of his major league career. Ruiz only stole two bases over the next two years, stealing a total of 34 for his career.
3) Ruiz was involved in an argument with teammate Alex Johnson while both were with the California Angels (both had been traded from the Reds to the Angels for pitchers Jim McGlothlin, Pedro Borbon, and Vern Geishert). Ruiz allegedly pulled a gun on Johnson and is alleged to have said to Johnson that while “white guys” on the Angels disliked him, “I’m as black as you are, and I hate you! I hate you so much I could kill you!”
4) Ruiz’s life was cut short, having died in a car crash during the offseason in February of 1972.
5) A bit of name trivia…Ruiz’s name was actually Hiraldo (Sablon) Ruiz. Leo Cardenas was also known as “Chico.”