Chico's debut was on April 13, 1964 against the Houston Astros. He went one for four and stole a base - his first of 11 steals during his rookie season. Despite not being known as a big time base stealer, (he was only 34 for 50 in his career) Chico managed to steal one of the most improbable bases in the history of the sport. This occurred during a game on September 24, 1964 against the Philadelphia Phillies, After a one out single, Ruiz found himself on third base with two outs. There were also two strikes on the batter - none other than five time All Star and MVP, Frank Robinson. Somehow in the mind of Chico Ruiz it was rationalized how it would make sense to try to steal home at this very moment. Remember, there were TWO strikes on Robinson, one of the feared hitters in the game, so not only was the opposition concerned that big Frank can change the game with one swing, Chico had to have been concerned for his well being. If Chico got a good jump and Frank swung at a pitch not knowing he was coming, Chico would have been in great danger. If Robinson swung and struck Ruiz with a line drive, not only would Chico have likely been injured, but he may also have been called out depending on whether he was or was not within the base line. Finally, if Ruiz was thrown out trying to steal home with Robinson at the plate, the play may have gone down as one the biggest boneheaded plays the game has ever seen. An infield single would have scored Ruiz, so would a wild pitch.
It was the fact that Ruiz was successful that made this play so memorable. Phillies pitcher Art Mahaffey saw the runner breaking for home and hurried his delivery. That resulted in a pitch that could not be handled by his catcher and an easy run for the Reds. The run happened to be the only one of the game as the Reds defeated the Phillies 1-0, the first of ten straight losses by the (then) first place Phillies. Of course, the Phillies had a six and a half game lead with twelve games to play after the loss. The St. Louis Cardinals won the National League Pennant that season with a victory over the New York Mets in the final game of the season, 11-5. Bob Gibson came on in relief to pitch four innings to get his 19th win of the season while Mets pitcher Galen Cisco suffered his 19th loss in the game as well.
Ruiz himself would never get to play in the postseason. He was traded after the 1969 season to the California Angels in a five player deal. He was traded with his friend, Alex Johnson. Unfortunately, their relationship turned sour during their time in California though Johnson was known to have problems with many players and management during his baseball career. Johnson, who himself passed away less than a year ago, played for eight teams in his thirteen big league seasons The Reds would make win the National League West division in 1970, something the team would do for five of the next seven years. Meanwhile, it seemed as if the Angels had turned the corner after winning a franchise high 86 games in 1970. However, things fell apart during the 1971 season and the Ruiz/ Johnson relationship symbolized the clubhouse atmosphere in California. After the season, General Manager Dick Walsh and Manager Lefty Phillips were relieved of their duties and Johnson was traded. Ruiz was released and would eventually sign with Kansas City to be a utility player for the 1972 season.
Chico Ruiz holds the distinction of being the only player to ever pinch hit for Reds catcher Johnny Bench, albeit Bench's first major league game in August of 1967. He also pinch hit for Pete Rose in 1964. Apparently Dick Sisler (Cincinnati's manager in the latter part of 1964) and Dave Bristol (the Reds manager in 1967) saw enough in Ruiz to think that he could be an everyday player. It never worked out during his time in Cincinnati, as Chico spent time behind the likes of Rose, Deron Johnson, Tommy Helms, Leo Cardenas and others. A very good defensive player, just at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is interesting to see how he could have responded if he got a chance to be a regular player.
Looking at his career statistics, Chico Ruiz should be viewed as a utility player at best. His career OPS was .574 and his batting average was just .240 over the course of his eight big league seasons. However, during his three plus seasons in AAA (he was held back more than one season because of depth at the major league level), he had an OPS well over .700 and had hit 22 home runs during that time. While we may never know how Ruiz could have performed as a full time big league player (he hit .283 filling in for Cardenas in Cincinnati during the 1967 season), his lack of offensive production over the course of his eight seasons was not impressive. He was looking at an opportunity to earn playing time in Kansas City in 1972.
44 years have now gone by since Chico Ruiz perished. Though his career batting line shows numbers such as a batting average .240, 2 home runs, 133 runs scored, 37 doubles and 10 triples in 1150 at bats, it is impossible to state his career would have been over if his life had not been cut short. Because of that, his claim to fame will always be his steal of home in the late season of 1964 against the Phillies. It will forever be remembered as one of the turning points in the late season collapse of the 1964 Phillies season.