SAN FRANCISCO -- Maybe it was his in-stadium scoreboard show at AT&T Park -- "Woody's World" -- that made folks in San Francisco love him. Or maybe it was the 2.60 ERA he posted in two appearances in the 2002 World Series. Or it's even possible that Bay Area residents liked him because he was the charitable guy with big ears who helped "strike out cancer," all the while maintaining a toy character's grin and a childhood love for baseball. Well, whatever it was, one thing is for certain. Kirk Rueter, the product of a Midwestern upbringing, will forever be loved and cheered by his admirers on the West Coast.
Minutes before Saturday night's game at AT&T Park against the rival Dodgers, the Giants held a pregame, on-field retirement ceremony for the 13-year veteran, who ended his career prior to this season. "Boy, this is really special," Rueter said Saturday evening as he approached the podium bearing the words "Kirk Rueter Day." After giving thanks to God, he thanked his now deceased parents for their support throughout his life, adding that they "have the best seat in the house, up there looking down today and watching." On hand for the occasion were various faces from different periods in Rueter's past -- some were not of the baseball world, although most were. Sitting next to Rueter, just feet from the mound that he once called home, were his wife, Karla, and his two daughters, along with a slew of current and former Giants celebrities that included the likes of former closer Robb Nen, Giants broadcaster Lon Simmons and current Giants coaches, manager Felipe Alou and pitching coach Dave Righetti. Alou managed Rueter when the left-handed pitcher played for the Montreal Expos in the mid-1990s and during part of his nine-year tenure as a San Francisco starter. "I managed a lot of pitchers and a lot of players, but Rueter is one of those guys you never forget for the rest of your life," Alou said. "From his first day in the big leagues, everybody liked him. And even now that he's no longer playing, people still do." One of the things Alou most remembered about Rueter was the way he pitched. The southpaw never had the overpowering velocity that most Major League pitchers have, but the stuff he did have was enough to shut batters down. "He never threw that hard, but he had great command of his pitches," Alou said. "He would put it right on the corners. And the amazing thing was how fast he worked. Whatever the catcher put down, he threw." One of Rueter's more memorable baseball moments came in 1993 when he started 14 games for Alou's Expos, going 8-0 to complete his first Major League season. He went on to win his first two games of 1994, pushing his mark to 10-0. When asked about that start to his career and the similar start the Angels' Jered Weaver is having at 9-0, Rueter told reporters Saturday, "He can go ahead and get [10-0]." The presentation came just minutes before the second game of a pivotal late-season series against division-rival Los Angeles. The rivalry that fuels great hatred among Californians extends beyond the West Coast and into the pre-1960s era when both teams played in New York. But before the game, players from both teams congratulated Rueter on his successful career. "It's rare that you see Giants and Dodgers players standing out here together," former Giant and ceremony emcee Duane Kuiper said. Some of those Dodgers were teammates of Rueter at one point, including Jeff Kent, Brett Tomko and Kenny Lofton. In the spirit of the evening and the rivalry, Rueter ended his speech saying that even though he'll be returning home to the St. Louis area, he will always remain a Giants fan. "I know I've got a lot of friends right now wearing Dodger Blue, but I've still got to say, 'Beat L.A.!'" he said, sending a wave of applause from the pregame crowd that filled to 42,833. During the ceremony, Righetti presented Rueter with a near-life-size replica bobblehead statue of the southpaw. When the bobblehead craze caught full steam nationally a few years ago, Rueter complained publicly that there was not a bobblehead resembling him. The Giants later sold the figurines bearing Rueter's resemblance. "Now we want to give you this gift we know you don't need, but we wanted you to have it anyway," Righetti said before the statue was unveiled. The statue is a caricature of the smiling Rueter and even greatly accentuates his highly noticeable ears. Underneath the statue is part of a globe, representing "Woody's World." Rueter received the nickname of "Woody" in 1996 when he joined the Giants, former Giant and co-emcee Mike Krukow explained. The moniker came because some of the Giants thought the pitcher looked and talked a lot like "Woody," the main character in the movie "Toy Story." The Rueter family concluded the ceremony by riding around the ballpark's warning track in a 1946 Ford Woodie. The ballplayer said he first saw the station wagon a number of years ago, when former San Francisco manager Dusty Baker would send him shirts from vacations in Hawaii bearing the vehicle. The former pitcher could use those shirts on his next vacation because the Giants are sending him and his family to the islands as appreciation for his service to the ballclub. When executive vice president Larry Baer announced that, Giants mascot Lou Seal gave Rueter a lei and a hug.
Coley Harvey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.