Obituary: Rich Rundles (1981-2019)

RIP to Rich Rundles, who pitched briefly for the Cleveland Indians before becoming a pitching coach for independent and college teams. The 38-year-old died on December 16, apparently of natural causes. Rundles played for the Indians in 2008-2009.

Rundles was the pitching coach for the University of West Alabama Tigers, where his father, Gary, is the head coach. He had worked with the team since 2016, serving as a volunteer assistant before working as operations manager and pitching coach. Prior to that, he was a pitching coach for the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League from 2014-2016. The left-handed pitcher finished his playing career there in 2013.

Source: University of West Alabama

“Rich was an incredibly important part of our organization,” said Barnstormers partner Rob Liss in a statement. “He was smart and cared so deeply about the people he played and worked with. He had a sense of humility that made him a truly special person. This is an extremely painful loss for our organization. Rich will be truly missed.”

Richard Rundles was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., on June 3, 1981. He attended Jefferson County High School and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 3rd Round of the 1999 June Amateur Draft. He was the 88th overall pick in the draft. He spent 1999 and 2000 with the Sox’ Gulf Coast Rookie League team. In a total of 14 appearances, including 7 starts, he had a 4-1 record and a 2.38 ERA.

Rundles started the 2001 season with the Augusta GreenJackets, Boston’s A-ball team in the South Atlantic League. He went 7-6 in 19 starts with a fine 2.43 ERA before being included in a deal moments before the July 31 trade deadline. Boston sent Rundles and pitcher Tomo Ohka to the Montreal Expos for closer Ugueth Urbina. He was named the Expos’ #7 prospect in 2002, according to Baseball America. He stayed with that organization through 2005, after the Expos had moved to Washington D.C. to become the Nationals. Injuries slowed his development, sometimes sidelining him for months at a time. Rundles advanced as high as the AA Harrisburg Senators, where he had a 6-13 record and 4.18 ERA in 2005. He battled a dead arm and a severe drop in his velocity, leading to a season-ending losing streak. Still, it was the first year that he threw more than 150 innings in a season.

The Nationals released Rundles at the end of the season, and he signed a minor-league deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards gave him an unexpected invitation to Spring Training in 2006.

“It’s always nice when somebody thinks of you in that way,” he told The Springfield News-Leader. He started the season with the Springfield Cardinals, a AA affiliate, before being sent to the Mets. He became a free agent at the end of the season and signed with the Cleveland Indians. The Indians converted him from a starter into a reliever, and his progress accelerated dramatically in 2007. After posting a 1.83 ERA in 23 games with the AA Akron Aeros, with 29 strikeouts in 34-1/3 innings, Rundles was promoted to AAA. He pitched solidly with the Buffalo Bisons for the remainder of 2007 and was named to the International League All-Star team in 2008.

Rundles was brought to the major leagues in September 2008, in his 10th season of professional baseball. His debut on September 3 was a quick one: summoned out of the bullpen to face Jim Thome of the White Sox, he threw 4 straight balls and was taken out of the game.

Source: The Springfield News-Journal, April 18, 2006.

“No, it definitely wasn’t what I wanted, but it was fun to be out there,” he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer afterwards. “I definitely won’t forget it. I just wanted to go right at him. Unfortunately, a walk happened.”

Indians’ manager Eric Wedge used Rundles as a LOOGY (lefty one-out guy), and he allowed just 1 earned run over 8 appearances out of the pen. He walked 3 and struck out 6 in 5 innings of work. He spent most of 2009 in AAA again, though he was brought briefly to the majors when Indians DH Travis Hafner went on the 15-day DL. Rundles made his last MLB appearance on May 25, 2009 against the Rays. He threw a scoreless inning in relief but allowed 2 inherited runners to score, including one on a bases-loaded hit by pitch. He was sent back to AAA when outfielder David Delucci was activated from the DL. He did not make it back to the major leagues.

In 9 MLB games, Rundles worked 6 innings and allowed 6 hits and 4 walks while fanning 7 batters. He had a lifetime 1.50 ERA and a 1.667 WHIP.

Source: Lancaster Barnstormers

Rundles departed the Indians organization as a free agent after the 2009 season. He pitched in the Cardinals minor leagues for a couple years and was an effective reliever. He also pitched well for the Tigres de Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2010-11 and 2011-12. He signed with the Barnstormers in 2012 and had a 2-1 record with a 3.02 ERA in 8 starts. The Orioles signed him, and he had a 2.03 in 13-1/3 innings before a season-ending knee injury. Rundles returned to Lancaster in 2013 and got off to a brilliant start (3-0 record, 0.98 ERA) before the knee injury limited his effectiveness.

Rundles joined the Barnstormers coaching staff in 2014 under manager Butch Hobson. Lancaster won the Atlantic League championship that season and won the second half of the league’s season in 2015, thanks in part to a 3.47 team ERA. He also served as an interim manager while Hobson was ill.

While he was in the Cardinals organization, he inadvertently contributed to the later success of Rich Hill. Hill was in Memphis and saw how Rundles was able to pitch effectively as a sidearmer. Hill had limited arm movement after surgery, so he studied Rundles’ delivery and lowered his arm slot. The correction helped contribute to Hill’s late-career renaissance with the Red Sox and Dodgers.

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