We’re dropping into the 1980’s now in this ‘Phillies 50’ series on the most random players from each season over the half-century that I’ve followed the club since 1971.
The 1989 pitching entry appeared with the club from early-mid May of that incredible transitional season. This was the year in which the Phillies said goodbye to their greatest-ever player, Mike Schmidt, and one of the most exciting players to wear red pinstripes during the 80’s, Juan Samuel.
Both of those men are Phillies Wall of Famers. Southpaw pitcher Gordon Dillard is, well, not. You probably don’t remember him, or the final five games of his two-season, seven-game career in Major League Baseball. But those mound appearances for Dillard came during those final weeks with Schmidt and Samuel still in a Phillies uniform, and Dillard got to share the field with both legends.
Dillard is a rarity in that he was actually drafted four different times. The Salinas, California native was first chosen in 1984 by the Texas Rangers in the second round of what was then the MLB January Draft-Secondary Phase. Not signing, he was then taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in June of that year, once again in the draft’s secondary phase.
Each of those selections came while he was in junior college, and Dillard chose instead to attend Oklahoma State and pass up the chance to turn professional. The following year he was selected by the New York Mets in the June draft, and yet again he did not sign, returning to Stillwater for another year at Oklahoma State.
Finally, after being chosen by the Baltimore Orioles in the 14th round of the June 1986 MLB Amateur Draft, Dillard signed and turned pro. He had a strong 1987 with the O’s Double-A farm team at Charlotte, and when the club needed a fresh arm in August 1988 he was promoted to make what would be his first two big-league appearances.
The second of those would be his lone starting appearance in Major League Baseball and it didn’t go well. He walked four Oakland Athletics batters over 2.2 innings in that contest at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, allowing three hits, including a home run to Jose Canseco.
“I wasn’t throwing strikes, not getting ahead, wasn’t making good pitches,” Dillard said per an AP report at the time. “I’m usually able to throw a curve with reasonable success, but I wasn’t able to get it over the plate.”
In December 1988 the Orioles included him as sweetener in a trade package in which they sent starting pitcher Ken Howell, obtained just days earlier himself from the Los Angeles Dodgers, to the Phillies in exchange for veteran outfielder Phil Bradley.
The Phillies were using Dillard as a starting pitcher with Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre when he got the call to the big club in early May. He would remain with the team for two weeks during a period in which the Phillies were struggling in the early going to remain in the NL East race.
Dillard’s first two appearances came during Phillies victories, a 7-0 combined shutout with Howell on May 5, 1989 of the host Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium and another combined shutout with starter Alex Madrid and closer Steve Bedrosian during the same series just two days later.
The left-hander would make three more appearances, and his performance in the last probably got him sent back to the minors. On May 16, 1989 at Veterans Stadium, Dillard was brought into what was already a blowout.
With three runs already having crossed the plate in the 6th inning and the Phillies trailing the visiting San Francisco Giants by 9-1, Dillard allowed hits to the first three batters he faced in a frame that ended with the club trailing 12-1. Back on the mound for the 7th, Dillard surrendered three hits and uncorked a wild pitch as the Giants pushed their lead out to 13-1.
Manager Nick Levya would pinch-hit for Dillard with Mark Ryal in the bottom of the 7th, and the 25-year-old would never again set foot on a big-league mound for a regular season contest.
Less than two weeks later, Schmidt would suddenly retire, and a month later Samuel would be traded for Lenny Dykstra. The Phillies were turning the page from the 80’s to what would be their most remembered team of the 1990’s, which would include another Wall of Famer, catcher Darren Daulton, to whom Dillard had the pleasure to throw in three of his appearances.
Dillard’s final line for that 1989 season with the Phillies showed no decisions over five games in which he allowed three earned runs on seven hits across four innings. He struck out two, walked none, and produced a 6.75 ERA and 1.750 WHIP.
Exposed during the subsequent off-season to the Rule 5 Draft, Dillard was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of the final cuts as the Bucs made their roster decisions at the end of spring training, Dillard would end up spending the entire 1990 campaign with their Triple-A Buffalo club mostly as a reliever.
Unable to land a big-league deal for 1991, Dillard returned to his hometown of Salinas and pitched for that city’s independent California League club for a final 19 games before calling it a career at age 27.