The Terminator: Jeff Reardon's legendary career as a closer earns him No. 3 spot in our Berkshire County Top 50 Athletes of the 20th Century list
But in Dalton, and in fact much of Berkshire County, there is another "Terminator." And his name is Jeff Reardon.
Reardon, No. 3 in the Eagle's list of the Top 50 Athletes of the 20th Century, was a cool, calm and collected reliever for several teams in his 16-year career. Those teams were the Mets, Expos, Twins, Red Sox, Braves, Reds and Yankees.
During that career, Reardon racked up 367 saves, leading the league in 1985 with the Expos. At one point, he was the career saves leader. His won-lost record was 73-77. His "Terminator" nickname evolved during those years.
Reardon pitched in two World Series. In 1987, he won the Fall Classic while toiling for the Twins. He was on the losing side in 1992 with the Braves.
As legendary as Reardon was in the big leagues, he was pretty legendary when he toiled as a hurler for the Wahconah Warriors of Dalton.
He was part of a legendary staff at Wahconah in the early 1970s that many old-timers say was the best ever group of pitchers to throw for one high school.
In addition to Reardon, there was Jerry Erb, a three-sport athlete who also was a great football and basketball star; Chris Kirby and Brian O'Keefe. All four went on to pitch in college; Reardon, Erb and Kirby at the University of Massachusetts and O'Keefe at Holy Cross. The UMass trio all went on to pitch professionally, although Reardon was the only one to make it to the major leagues.
"That staff," recalled former Drury baseball coach Tom McGrath in an interview several years ago, "was tremendous. That was the best pitching staff I've ever seen at the high school level."
Reardon, said McGrath, may not have been the best pitcher on the staff that year. Erb, also a tough competitor, was considered at least as good a prospect..
That year, the Warriors were county champs. Reardon one-hit St. Joseph's of North Adams, striking out 21 in a nine-inning game. A few weeks later, Erb struck out 24 batters in a game against Lenox, also a one-hitter.
"But Jeff had something more," said McGrath, an MIAA Hall Of Fame baseball coach. "He had desire."
Reardon, Erb and Kirby all pitched for UMass in the late 1970s. Reardon finished with a team record-tying 234 strikeouts over his four-year career. Ironically, Reardon tied a record set by a former Pittsfield High athlete, Carl Boteze Jr., 10 years earlier.
After graduation, Reardon was drafted by the New York Mets. He signed fairly soon after the draft.
In the minors, Reardon was primarily a starter. But Joe Torre, the Mets' manager in 1979, needed relief help. Reardon was one of the key cogs in his plan.
"I felt he had all the necessary ingredients for bullpen work," Torre told the New York Daily News in the spring of 1979. "He seemed exceptionally strong to me. When he's going good, I consider him as formidable as anyone in the league."
The Mets called Reardon up in August of 1979, and he responded with a 1-2 record with two saves and a 1.74 ERA in 18 games. He was primarily a setup man for the Mets' Neil Allen.
After two seasons for the Mets, Reardon's career took an upward turn in 1981, when he was traded mid-season to the Montreal Expos. The Mets had been struggling for several years. The Expos, with such stars as Tim Raines, Andre Dawson and Gary Carter, were a serious contender for the National League title.
"I'm looking forward to it," he told The Eagle in a story announcing the trade. "I'm looking forward to playing for a contender. It should be exciting."
It was. The Expos made the playoffs in the strike-shortened season and Reardon was one of the reasons why. In the post-season, Reardon picked up a pair of saves in the Expos' 3-2 series win over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Divisional playoffs. In a tough 3-2 series loss to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, Reardon was warming up in the bullpen when Rick Monday took the Expos' Steve Rogers deep for a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning of the series-clinching win.
"The way [L.A. starter Fernando] Valenzuela was going, we thought it would go to extra innings," Reardon told The Eagle a few months after the game.
But Reardon was on his way. He became the Expos' No. 1 closer, and one of the best relievers in the National League. It was during this span that he picked up his "Terminator" label. In his next five seasons with Montreal, he averaged 30 saves a year, with a league-high 41 in 1985. His 157 saves is still an Expo team record, and Reardon was inducted into the Expos Hall of Fame after his retirement.
In 1987, Reardon moved on and signed for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins were a team on the rise at that point, with stars such as Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola and Gary Gaetti. Reardon was one of the last pieces of he puzzle. He had 31 of the team's 39 saves that year.
The Twins won the AL West with an 85-77 record. They would face the heavily-favored Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series.
Beating the Tigers in that series, Reardon told Eagle columnist Brian Sullivan in 2013, may have almost been sweeter that finally winning it all a few weeks later against the Cardinals.
"Some of the Detroit players had been popping off a bit," Reardon told Sullivan. "They had won [98 games] that year, while we won 87. They were talking about a sweep. But [Twins manager] Tom Kelly told us to just stay quiet and play our game. He said if we did that, we could win."
Minnesota did win that series, in five games, with Reardon picking up a win and two saves in the series. In the World Series, The Twins edged St. Louis in seven games and Reardon was on the mound in the ninth inning of Game 7, shutting the Cardinals down to earn a save and preserve the victory.
And get on the cover of a Wheaties box. Well, some of him, anyway.
"All you could see of me was my beard at the bottom of the pile," he told Sullivan. "I remember I could hardly breathe. Kent Hrbek went about 260, and we had some big guys on that team. [Gary] Gaetti and Tom Brunansky were big boys."
"That moment was a moment that every kid in America dreams of," said Orioles vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, a fellow Daltonian and Reardon's friend, in an interview several years ago. "He stood on the mound in Game 7 of the World Series, and got the last out. You couldn't write a better ending."
Reardon stayed two more years with the Twins. His 102 saves are still fifth overall on the team. In 1990, he signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox, who were his favorite team growing up in Dalton. On June 5, 1992, Reardon became the all-time leader in career saves with 342, breaking Rollie Fingers' mark. His mark has since been broken several times.
In 1992, he appeared in another World Series as a reliever for the Atlanta Braves. Stints with the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds followed before back issues eventually forced his retirement.
His post-baseball years have not always been great. He lost one of his sons, Shane, to a drug overdose in 2004, although in the wake of that, he and wife Phebe founded the Shane Reardon Memorial Foundation. The foundation supports those who struggle with addiction and in 2007 donated funds to the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse. The Reardons still live in Florida.
But his legacy remains a positive one.
"He was one of the premiere relievers of the 80s," said Duquette in that same interview. "I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame."
"Jeff was one of the last closers to pitch more than one inning," said Eagle columnist Howard Herman. "He was the bridge to the one-inning guys. He broke Rollie Fingers' save record, and Rollie is in the Hall Of Fame. But the one-inning closers don't get a lot of love these days."
In 1990, Reardon got some love from Dalton, as the town named the local American Legion baseball field after him. His bearded visage now greets fans and players alike as they come to the field to see a game.
Reach staff reporter Derek Gentile at at 413-770-6977.