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Reed back home again

October 8, 2018

When Ron Reed comes back home to La Porte these days, it usually has something to do with Notre Dame football.

“I love this time of year,” Reed said Saturday from his Lilburn, Georgia home. “The leaves are starting to turn. It’s still warm enough to get out on the golf course. I used to come up more when we still had Reed’s Restaurant in town. Now we just come up to a game a year.”

The Slicers sports icon and former professional baseball/basketball player and wife Julie made the 12-hour drive to his old stomping grounds Sunday for a week that will be punctuated by Saturday’s ND-Pittsburgh game. In between, he will be the guest of honor at Tuesday’s Play for Jake Foundation dinner. Reed had friends who played in the foundaton’s golf outing and was asked about coming up for a dinner. He jumped at the idea and representative Todd McWhirter arranged the specifics with Julie Schroeder, the mother of Jake West and head of the foundation.

“I’ll be thrilled if I can help out a little bit,” Reed said. “I haven’t met Julie, but I talked to her over the phone and she’s a phenomenal lady. This (cause) is her strength. Very few people saw me pitch, but it’s nice for an old guy to be remembered. It’s one of those things where the longer you’re out of the game, the better you become. The first 10 years out, it’s, oh, I was OK. The next 10, it’s, I should have been an all-star. The next 10, it’s, I should have been in the hall of fame.”

Now 75, Reed was the one of baseball’s first dual-role pitchers, a la John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley, who excelled as both a starter and reliever. He won 146 games, 88 of them in his time with Braves and Cardinals from 1966 to 1975, and saved 103, all but one of those coming between 1976 and 1984 with the Phillies and White Sox, where he finished his career.

″(Phillies Manager) Danny Ozark said, you’ll get in a lot of games in the late innings as a short man,” Reed said. “It took me a while to really learn how to warm up as a reliever. Once I got it, I loved it.”

Reed played in an era when starters didn’t have pitch counts and relievers didn’t need days off in between outings.

“One time, I pitched five consecutive days,” he said. “In the old days, a starter was in for nine innings unless he got knocked out. I shutter to think what would’ve happened if a manager had gone up to Bob Gibson to tell him, you’ve thrown 75 pitches, give me the ball. He would’ve gotten the ball, but not where he wanted it. We didn’t think about pitch count. Are you kidding me? Guys threw 300 innings then. They throw 200 now, they’re tired.”

In this era, Reed’s versatility would have made him a multi-millionaire. As it was, he was part of the group that helped pave the way for player free agency.

“A lot of us had jobs in the winter time to make a few bucks to make ends meet,” he said. “The salaries now are mind-boggling. For us, it wasn’t about money, we just didn’t want to be tied down to one team. That’s how the business world is.”

Ironically, Reed isn’t that big of a baseball fan anymore. He attends a fair number of Braves games as a member of its alumni association, but actually prefers college football, notably his Fighting Irish, and the Southeastern Conference, the area he calls home.

″(Former Braves manager) Bobby Cox and I are good friends,” he said. ”(Greg) Maddux, Smoltzie, Tom Glavine, I really enjoyed watching them. When they all got out of the game or moved on, I got away from it a little bit.”

Involved for years in an organization that arranged charity golf events as well as other business endeavors, Reed now spends most of his time golfing and doing yard work.

“I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said, taking a break from a workout to talk before the ND game. “It’s hard when you get older. I’m just a typical old man, early to bed, early to rise.”

Reed grew up playing on the 10th Street diamond, a far cry from today’s Schreiber Field. Other than that, not all that much seems to have changed.

“You drive around the city, the buildings that were there when I was growing up are still there, they just don’t have the A & W Root Beer stand where I spent half my life growing up,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of really close friends still there, my sister, aunt, cousins. It’s always good to come back.”

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