They called the big farmer from Indiana “The Hoosier Thunderbolt,” and he personified sheer power pitching in the 1890s. Amos Rusie was the principal reason the pitcher’s mound was moved back from 50′ to the present 60’6″ in 1893.
Rusie had a crackling curveball and a change of pace, hit well, and played outfield on an occasional day off from the mound. He came to the New York Giants, after a season with his hometown Indianapolis team, to fill a gap created by the defection of several Giants to the Players’ League. When the rebellion of the star players ended after a single season, Rusie was well established. In their absence he had led the league with 36 wins and in winning percentage and strikeouts.
In 1895 one of the most oppressive men to own a big league team, Andrew Freedman, bought the Giants and began to feud with Rusie. Fined that year for missing curfews when he insisted he wasn’t out of his room, Rusie demanded his money be restored as part of his 1896 contract. Freedman refused and Rusie stayed home, missing the entire season. He sued the Giants for $5,000 in lost salary and damages and challenged the reserve clause. Freedman refused to knuckle under, but the other owners feared the legal challenge and raised the sum Rusie demanded. He was happy to have had an idle summer and make several thousand dollars more than he would have had he pitched.
When Rusie reported in 1897, Freedman refused to let him suit up and forbade manager Bill Joyce to use him. But when the team lost a string of games and the fans rebelled, Freedman allowed Rusie back in the lineup, and he went 28-10. The next season, with the league’s basestealing champion, Bill Lange, on first, Rusie picked him off with a sudden throw. He tore muscles in his shoulder and had to rest for five weeks. He returned, apparently restored. However, when he tried to pitch in 1898, he found he couldn’t and retired. To clear Christy Mathewson, then a prospect, from a claim by the Cincinnati Reds, the Giants swapped the still-contracted Rusie for Matty. Rusie tried a comeback but failed; Mathewson went on to win 373 games.
John McGraw brought Rusie back to the Polo Grounds in the 1920s to work eight years as superintendent of the ballpark.