Name: Baron Von Raschke
Year Inducted: 2013

 

 

Baron Von Raschke

With deference to an experienced wrestler, the German who terrorized rings from the late 1960s to the 1980s might have been Baron von Pumpkin. Jim Raschke was struggling to survive in the Midwest with a look as meek and mild-mannered as that of any stereotypical schoolteacher, which, in fact, he was. During a 1967 swing through the Montreal territory, veteran Mad Dog Vachon stepped in and growled, “You oughta be a German.” Responded Raschke: “Well, I am a German.” In the end, the Dog let Raschke keep his real last name, instead of calling him Pumpkin.

The change in Raschke’s billings – and payoffs – was immediate and friends were amazed at how easily he managed his double identity. “Jim can just change in an instant. He can be the German and he can be Jim Raschke,” manager Bobby Heenan said. “He’s the most remarkable human being I’ve ever seen, for a character, in this business, how he can just turn it off and on.”

Fans didn’t make the connection when Raschke goose-stepped to the ring and locked opponents’ temples in the claw but he was a world class amateur wrestler. He lettered for three years at the University of Nebraska and won the Big Eight Conference heavyweight title as a senior in 1962. He took a bronze in the World Games in 1963. A year later, he captured the Amateur Athletic Union freestyle and Greco-Roman titles. He also landed a service championship in the U.S. Army and was on track for the 1964 Olympics before an elbow injury sidelined him.

Referred to Verne Gagne for pro wrestling training by Joe Dusek, Raschke started out refereeing and setting up the ring. His break came when he became Vachon’s partner in crime.

As a good guy, Raschke came across as timid and unimposing but another side of him emerged when he turned into a bald, leering German. “I knew how to get heat and how to control it, I was lucky I got to stay in a lot of territories quite a while. I must have been doing something right, I guess,” he said. “Everything I did was mostly by ear. I had a good ear for what the crowd wanted.”

Raschke’s claw hold finisher also earned him a special niche among wrestling’s most notorious heels. The Baron added his share of pro titles to his amateur awards: International champion in Montreal in 1967, World champion in Bruiser’s promotion three times from 1970 to 1972, World tag team champion in the Carolinas in 1978 and 1979, and Georgia heavyweight champion in 1980.

Raschke slowed down in the late 1980s, managing the Powers of Pain in the WWF before retiring. Minneapolis-based writer Cory McLeod collaborated with Raschke and son Karl on The Baron, a play that captured his career and unique walk through life. And, as Raschke concluded his TV interviews: “Dat is all da people need to know.”

 

- Steven Johnson and Greg Oliver



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