The Dodgers swallowed hard Friday and released veteran pitcher Jerry Reuss, who still will be paid $1.35 million by the club over the next two seasons.
The decision to "eat" the remainder of Reuss' contract was difficult, according to Dodger Vice President Fred Claire, who said the club needed to reduce the pitching staff to 10 and open a roster spot for a utility player.
That spot was filled immediately when the Dodgers signed free agent Mickey Hatcher, 32, released by the Minnesota Twins last week. Hatcher, who plays third base, first base and the outfield, spent parts of two seasons with the Dodgers in 1979-80 before being traded to the Twins in the Ken Landreaux deal.
With Bill Madlock out for at least two weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder and rookie Tracy Woodson still untested, Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said the club needed an experienced player such as Hatcher.
"He'll be a good swing man for us," Lasorda said of Hatcher, who arrived at Dodger Stadium early in Friday night's game. "A position like that, it takes an experienced guy to do that. We're going to find out if Woodson can fill in. Right now, Woodson is our third baseman."
To make room for Hatcher, the Dodgers decided to drop Reuss, a 16-year veteran who has a $950,000 contract this season with a $400,000 buyout provision for next.
"It's a hefty (contract)," Claire said. "But we have got to look at our club and say which moves will put the best players on the field. Attempts were made (to trade Reuss), but it didn't work out. There were a lot of considerations to be made, but I'd rather not get into that."
Even if another club signs Reuss to the minimum $62,500 contract, the Dodgers still must assume the remainder of Reuss' contract.
Reuss could not be reached for comment Friday.
Reuss pitched eight seasons for the Dodgers, coming to the club in 1979 from Pittsburgh for Rick Rhoden. Reuss twice won 18 games for the Dodgers (1980 and '82), and he is six wins away from from 200 career victories.
But Reuss was 2-6 with a 5.84 earned-run average last season and had surgery in July to remove a bone spur from his left elbow.
"Without any question, this is sad when a guy like Reuss has to go," Lasorda said. "He was an outstanding pitcher who helped us in the playoffs and World Series. It's sad to tell a guy like that he can no longer help us."
Reuss has a reputation as a prankster, as does Hatcher. During spring training once in Florida, Hatcher stole Lasorda's pants and ran them up the flagpole.
"Yeah, (Hatcher) likes to have fun, but he has tremendous drive and determination when he puts on a uniform," Lasorda said. "Reuss was unpredictable, too. One time, I came in my office and all my pictures (on the walls) were gone, except one of Reuss and one of Jay Johnstone."
Dodger players did not seem surprised at Reuss' departure.
"I don't think it's a slap in the face of Jerry," catcher Mike Scioscia said. "I don't think his career is over. I think Jerry can pitch and help some teams. But I thought something had to be done. I mean, can you keep an extra long (relief) man when you can have a utility infielder who is able to fill in 100 games?"