Forty-four years ago today (June 10, 1966), Dick Rusteck made his major league debut as a starting pitcher at Shea Stadium, throwing a complete game, four-hit shutout over the Cincinnati Reds. Though not quite Strasburgian, the performance is probably the best by a pitcher making his major league debut in Mets history*. Less than 25 miles away on the very same day, I was making my own debut.
The future looked pretty bright for both of us that day. Rusteck, a 24-year-old lefty out of Chicago and Notre Dame, was signed as a free agent in 1963. He’d impressed Met brass in Instructional League and Spring Training play and after a 6-1 start at AAA Jacksonville in 1966, earned a call to the big leagues. Manager Wes Westrum, who caught the likes of Sal Maglie andJohn Antonelli, and coached Juan Marichal, observed “he could throw the ball just as good as anybody I’d ever seen.”
Against Cincinnati in his debut, Rusteck scattered four singles, walked one and struck out four. No Reds runners reached as far as second base safely. “The magnificent thing about it is that he threw strikes,” Westrum gushed afterward. “He was the master all the way. He was calm, cool and collected out there.” Two home runs by shortstop Ed Bressoud – hitting 8th that day, it was his best day as a Met too – accounted for four runs and the Mets had an easy 5-0 victory in a game that lasted just over two hours.
But for Rusteck, the good times evaporated just as suddenly. Four days later in St. Louis, he’d be yanked before recording an out in the second inning, surrendering five runs on five hits and a walk. Complaining of a sore arm, perhaps as a delayed result of taking a line drive off his arm in Jacksonville, Rusteck didn’t appear again until a 1-inning relief appearance two weeks later, then made a third start July 3 vs. the Pirates, in which he was hit hard in the fifth inning, took another loss, and got a ticket back to Jacksonville for his trouble.
Rusteck returned to make a few relief appearances that September but his arm troubles would continue. His uniform number 43 was reassigned to teammate Darrell Sutherland, and he’d wear No. 40 then. A writer identifying herself as Rusteck’s wife Tracy, writing on the Ultimate Mets Database, said her husband had elbow surgery in 1967 and continued pitching in the minor leagues through 1971 though “never fully recovering the dynamic speed of his famed left-arm pitch.” He’d retire with a 1-2 major league record and an ERA of 3.
After a post-baseball career in state government in Wasilla, Alaska (youbetcha!), Rusteck is “happy and healthy” in Arizona, Tracy wrote in a message posted two years ago.
Me, I’m about to surrender No. 43 too. Hello, Bob Myrick!
* A quick and not exhaustive review of memory and some data at the Ultimate Mets Database leads me to believe Rusteck’s game was the best by a Mets pitcher making a major-league debut, although he has company when the discussion comes to “best first career starts” as Mets fromGrover Powell (also a 4-hit shutout, 1963). Other impressive debuts were authored by Gary Gentry (April 10, 1969) and Jason Isringhausen (July 17, 1995).