Former Astros pitcher, pitching coach Vern Ruhle dies

by Jose de Jesus Ortiz
Houston Chronicle
Monday, January 21, 2007

(c) Houston Astros

Vern Ruhle, who stepped in for J.R. Richard and delivered the best season of his career to help the Astros reach the playoffs for the first time in 1980, died late Saturday night from complications of a donor stem cell transplant at MD Anderson.

Ruhle, 55, spent most of the 2006 season away from baseball after learning that he had multiple myeloma. He was informed he had that cancer of the bone marrow after a routine physical last February at spring training with the Cincinnati Reds.

He had been with the Cincinnati organization since 2004, when he served as the pitching coach at Class A Rookie League Billings. He became the Reds’ major-league pitching coach on June 21, 2005, but he handled other duties in 2006 while he sought treatment.

To be closer to his home in Sarasota, Fla., the Reds named him recently as the club’s pitching rehabilitation coordinator at the Reds’ minor-league facility in Sarasota.

“I would like to thank members of the Reds’ front office, players and coaches for their concerns and support during this difficult time in our family,” Ruhle’s widow, Sue, said in a statement released by the Reds.

“I cannot say enough good things about the doctors and nursing staff at MD Anderson Cancer Center for their medical expertise, comfort and care during the last year. They were a tremendous support system for Vern and our family.”

Ruhle is survived by his wife, Sue, daughter Rebecca, son Kenny, parents Robert and Vivian, brothers Ron and Roy and sisters Suzanne, Judy, Mary and Jane.

Ruhle, who played his first four seasons with the Detroit Tigers, spent seven of his 13 major league seasons with the Astros. After he was released by Detroit, he signed a minor-league contract on March 29, 1978, with Houston and was a key member of the 1980 team that got within a game of reaching the World Series.

“Vern was just a real fine pitcher and, more importantly, a real fine guy,” said Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith, the general manager of the 1980 club. “He coached for us in the minor leagues and also in the majors. We were just very fond of him. It’s just sad news. He was a class person and a real asset to the game.”

Ruhle, 55, is the second key member of the Astros’ 1980 pitching staff to die in the last three months. Knuckleballer Joe Niekro, the franchise’s all-time leader in victories, died on Oct. 27 after suffering a brain aneurysm the previous day. Ruhle was manager Larry Dierker’s pitching coach with the Astros from 1997 until the 2000 All-Star break.

Dierker estimates that Ruhle may have been a better teacher because as a player he had to work harder than most to compete.

“He made it because he worked hard at it,” Dierker said. “He wasn’t the most talented guy, but he worked hard. Usually the guys that fit that description make better teachers because they learned to make the most of their abilities.”

When needed most after Richard suffered a stroke, Ruhle delivered for the 1980 Astros that lost 3-2 in the best-of-five National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

He was 12-4 with a 2.37 ERA over 28 games (22 starts) in 1980, including a 6-2 finish as the Astros sealed their first NL West pennant.

“There’s no way, no way (the Astros reach the 1980 playoffs without Ruhle),” Dierker said. “There wasn’t anybody else that the organization had that was available or remotely ready like Vern to step up after J.R. Richard was lost. Of course Vern did the best pitching of his life under those tough circumstances.

“He was the right man for the job. He was at the right place at the right time and he did the best pitching of his life during the most difficult circumstances.”

Former Astros pitcher and coach Vern Ruhle dies at age 55
Associated Press
January 21, 2007

Vern Ruhle, a former major league pitcher andcoach for several teams, died after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 55.

Ruhle died Saturday at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston of complications from treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, the Cincinnati Reds said Sunday.

Ruhle pitched for Detroit, Houston, Cleveland and the California Angels from 1974-86, going 67-88 with a 3.73 ERA. He was a pitching coach with Houston, Philadelphia and the New York Mets before joining the Reds organization in 2004.

Ruhle began 2006 as the Reds' pitching coach, but he was diagnosed during a routine physical in February and missed the whole season. He had been assigned to work as the Reds' minor league pitching rehabilitation coordinator for the upcoming season.

"The baseball and Cincinnati Reds families mourn the loss of an excellent coach, wonderful husband and loving father," the team said in a statement.

He is survived by his wife, Sue; a daughter, Rebecca; and son, Kenny.

Ruhle passes away from cancer
Mark Sheldon,
January 21, 2007

CINCINNATI -- Former Reds pitching coach Vern Ruhle, who missed the 2006 season while being treated for cancer, lost his battle and died on Saturday night.

Ruhle was five days shy of his 56th birthday. The former Major League pitcher passed away at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston of complications from a donor stem cell transplant for the treatment of multiple myeloma.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete. Ruhle is survived by his wife Sue, daughter Rebecca and son Kenny.

"It's something you never want to hear," Reds manager Jerry Narron said from his home in North Carolina. "I know Sue has been with him the entire time. My thoughts and prayers are with his entire family."

Ruhle pitched for the Tigers, Astros, Indians and Angels from 1974-86 and was 67-88 with a 3.73 ERA. From 1997-2003, he was a pitching coach for the Astros, Phillies and Mets, and he joined the Reds organization in 2004 as a pitching coach with rookie level Billings. Ruhle was promoted to Minor League pitching coordinator before the 2005 season.

On June 21, 2005, after manager Dave Miley and pitching coach Don Gullett were dismissed, Ruhle became the Reds' pitching coach on Narron's staff.

For the 2007 season, Ruhle had been reassigned to work as the organization's pitching rehabilitation coordinator at its Minor League complex in Sarasota, Fla.

"Last year at this time, he was [at the camp] with guys coming in early," Narron said. "I thought it was great how hard he wanted to work. He gave his heart and attention to each of the pitchers. He'll definitely be missed."

Last February, doctors discovered Ruhle had cancer after he underwent his annual physical at the start of Spring Training. After he took a leave of absence from the team, he spent the summer splitting time between his home in Sarasota and the hospital in Houston while bullpen coach Tom Hume assumed pitching coach duties on an interim basis.

In August, Ruhle was able to rejoin the club for some home games after he was informed by doctors during a checkup that he was showing improvement.

Reds reliever Todd Coffey worked with Ruhle at both the Minor and Major League levels.

"We definitely always got along," Coffey said from his home, also in North Carolina. "I was so happy to see him near the end of the season. I thought he was over the hump. I hate that he passed away, but maybe now he won't be in pain. He was a great pitching coach and a great man. The organization, we lost a good person."

While he underwent cancer treatments last spring and summer, the risk of infection kept Ruhle confined to his hospital bed for three months. But during that difficult time, it was baseball that helped keep him upbeat. Ruhle monitored games over the Internet and on television, and he regularly received phone calls and e-mails from the coaching staff, especially Hume.

"[Baseball] was something that really helped me throughout the summer in the healing process," Ruhle said on Aug. 18. "I always had something to talk about that was very neutral in the eyes of the doctors, the nurses and the visitors. We could always talk about something other than my medical aspect of what's going on and what was and wasn't working."

General manager Wayne Krivsky had been with the Reds less than a month when Ruhle was diagnosed. But Krivsky was impressed with the coach's dedication to the organization.

"Everybody is really saddened by the loss of Vern," Krivsky said. "He was very committed to the Reds. I didn't know him very well, but I got to know him over the past year. He gave it his all to make the Reds better. My heart goes out to his family and to Sue."