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Who Is Wisconsin's Best March-Born Player?

Friend of the site and baseball historian Chris Jensen has the third installment of a 12-part series on players born in Wisconsin.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Frequent BCB readers may recall that a few months ago I reviewed one of my favorite new baseball books, Chris Jensen's Baseball State by State. After reading the book I've asked Chris to join us for a 12-part series in 2013 on the best players born in Wisconsin. What follows is part three of that series. - KL

It was an easy decision to select Wisconsin's best March-born major leaguer. Rick Reichardt, who I ranked as the state's 10th best outfielder, is the only player with a March birthday to make the grade on Wisconsin's All-Time Team in my book.

Reichardt, who was born in Madison on March 16, 1943, starred in baseball and football at the University of Wisconsin. He played fullback for the second-ranked Badgers in the 1963 Rose Bowl as they nearly came from behind to knock off top-ranked USC. Baseball was his best sport, however, and Reichardt was in such high demand by major league teams that a bidding war commenced. He ended up signing with the Los Angeles Angels for a then-record $205,000 bonus in 1964, turning down twice as much from Charlie Finley and the Kansas City A's. Owners were so concerned that bonuses were going to get out of hand that Major League Baseball decided to adopt an annual draft before the 1965 season. Reichardt would be the last great amateur free agent.

He debuted for the Angels at the age of 21 in 1964, but he didn't stick in the majors until 1966. That year he finished 21st in the MVP voting despite playing only 89 games because he had to have his kidney removed. Reichardt batted .288 with 16 homers that season and despite his shortened season he still managed to lead the American League by being hit 13 times with a pitch. He also made history by becoming the first player to hit a home run in Anaheim Stadium, which came on April 19 off Tommy John.

The righty-swinging Reichardt, who mainly played left field, was a key contributor for the Angels for three more seasons before being traded to the Washington Senators in 1970. However, he was never the same player once his kidney problem emerged. He ended up playing 11 seasons for four teams, finishing with 116 home runs and an adjusted OPS of 115.

Another notable March-born player was Milwaukee native Red Wilson (March 7 birthday), who also played football at Wisconsin. An All-American at center, Wilson turned down a shot at the NFL to sign with the White Sox as a catcher. In another career parallel with Reichardt, Wilson became the first player to hit a home run in Kansas City's Municipal Stadium in 1955. He caught Jim Bunning's no-hitter with the Tigers in 1958. Wilson hung around as a platoon player for 10 seasons, batting .258 and throwing out 45 percent of base stealers.

Other March birthdays include Eric Rasmussen (March 22) and Dave Koslo (March 31). Rasmussen, a native of Racine, posted a 50-75 record with a 3.85 ERA over eight seasons. He pitched a shutout in his debut for the Cardinals in 1975. Menasha-born Koslo won 92 games over 12 years mainly with the New York Giants. In 1949 he led the National League in ERA (2.50), adjusted ERA (160) and WHIP (1.113). Koslo beat the Yankees in Game 1 of the 1951 World Series but later surrendered the winning hit in Game 6. He also ended his career in an ignominious manner, serving up a walk-off home run to the only batter he faced in the 1955 season.

Chris Jensen is the author of Baseball State by State: Major League and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites, which was published in July 2012 by McFarland. It features a chapter on each state covering state baseball history, an all-time team, stats leaders, historic baseball places to see, future stars, player nicknames and the state's all-time best player.