Drafted by the Phillies in the first round of the 1973 draft, Ruthven came out of Fresno State College and walked directly into the Phillies starting rotation. Ruthven quickly became known for his curve ball. In his first two seasons with the Phillies, Ruthven went 15-22 and was 2-2 with a 4.17 ERA in 1975 when they decided they had seen enough and that Ruthven needed a step back to the minor leagues. After the '75 season, the Phillies traded Ruthven to the Chicago White Sox. Ruthven wasn't in the Sox organization for long before they shipped him to Atlanta where he returned to the majors in 1976 and even won a spot on the '76 All-Star Team.
Ruthven's career had again started to gain momentum as a member of the Atlanta Braves, when suddenly, things took a turn for the worse in his relationship with team owner Ted Turner. Ruthven accused the Braves owner of making passes at his wife and it wasn't long until Ruthven was being shipped out of Atlanta. The Phillies gave up reliever Gene Garber to reacquire the strong right-hander.
1978 brought the Phillies their third straight NL East title and Ruthven was an impressive 13-5 for the Phils with a 2.98 ERA. Again, the Phillies failed in the playoffs, but an improving Ruthven was part of the optimism that followed the Phillies into the 1979 season.
Finally, the Phillies were happy with Ruthven's progress as a pitcher – a lot of which he attributes to Braves pitcher Andy Messersmith – and Ruthven truly felt he had found a home in Philadelphia. 1979 started as what seemed to have the potential to be a Cy Young kind of season for Ruthven as he went 6-0 and threw a one-hitter along the way. Ruthven then suffered a severe elbow injury and his season was basically lost. He came back only to go 1-5 the rest of the way.
As the Phillies retooled for the 1980 season, they weren't completely sure what lingering effect Ruthven's elbow injury might have on his chances for success. The answer soon came as Ruthven again got out of the gate strong and finished the season with 17 wins and six complete games. His success in the NLCS took him into the World Series on a high note and he got the call to start game three. Game three turned out to be a classic battle with Ruthven going nine innings, but recording a no decision as he left with the game tied 3-3.
As the Phillies collected their World Series rings in 1981, Ruthven was now an even bigger part of the Phillies rotation. 1981 fell well short of expectations for the Phillies and for Ruthven as he finished with a 12-7 record, but a 5.14 ERA, although he started the season strong enough to make the All-Star team. In 1982, Ruthven's sarcastic and sometimes abrasive personality may have started his trip out of town. Manager Pat Corrales lifted Ruthven from a game and Ruthven responded by throwing his glove into the stands. That happened in August and Corrales didn't soon forget the incident as Ruthven made just one more start the rest of the season even though the Phillies were in a pennant race.
Corrales took the offseason to forgive Ruthven, but the front office wasn't sold on forgiveness. Ironically, Corrales became a lone voice against trading Ruthven in 1983, but GM Paul Owens felt Ruthven was replaceable and sent him to the Cubs for Willie Hernandez.
Ruthven finished his career as a member of the Chicago Cubs, but was never the same pitcher that he was in the late ‘70s and early '80 in Philadelphia. Overall, Ruthven wound up his career with a losing record (123-127) and a 4.14 ERA, throwing 61 complete games, 17 of which were shutouts. For many, Ruthven never reached the true potential of what they thought he would be, but overall, Ruthven's years in Philadelphia were productive and he was a major part of some of the Phillies true glory years.