If you haven’t been following this ‘Phillies 50’ series regularly, or perhaps haven’t checked back in awhile, a reminder of what it’s all about. I’ve been following the ball club since Veteran’s Stadium opened back in 1971 when I was 9 years of age.
This series is in honor of 2020 being the 50th season that I’ll be following the club. It highlights one pitcher and one position player from each team between 1971-2019 who had both a minimal impact on that year’s ball club and in Major League Baseball overall.
With that requirement in mind you can see that few players better fit the bill more perfectly than pitcher Tom Newell. The right-hander appeared in just two games with the 1987 Phillies, the only two appearances of his big-league career, such as it was.
Newell had been the Phillies 24th round pick in the 1983 MLB Amateur Draft out of Lassen College in northeastern California.
He didn’t pitch poorly while moving through the farm system over the next couple of years, allowing 388 hits with 334 strikeouts over 432 innings across 85 games, 71 of those starts. However, he also walked an unacceptable 231 opposing batters.
Despite his control problems the Phillies promoted him when rosters expanded in September. New manager Lee Elia, who had taken over for the fired John Felske in mid-June, opted to bring him in for those two appearances.
The first came on September 9, 1987 at Shea Stadium with the Phillies trailing the host New York Mets by a 9-5 score. After retiring the first batter his faced, Tim Teufel, on a ground out, Newell walked Dave Magadan.
That brought Darryl Strawberry to the plate, and the Mets 25-year-old superstar right fielder blasted his second homer of the ball game, his 34th of the season, to push the hosts lead out to the 11-5 final score. Newell then surrendered back-to-back singles to Kevin McReynolds and Gary Carter and was pulled from the game.
He wouldn’t get another chance for nine more days, and it wasn’t much more successful. What would be his final Phillies and MLB appearance came on Friday night, September 18, 1987 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal during another loss, this to the host Expos by 6-3.
The Expos ruffed up starting pitcher Bruce Ruffin, and Elia brought Newell in with one out in the bottom of the 3rd inning with a runner on first base, one out, and the Phillies already trailing 4-0. He got out of that frame allowing just an intentional walk, closing it out by registering his first-ever strikeout when he whiffed opposing pitcher Bryn Smith looking.
In the bottom of the 4th, the Expos exposed him for the inexperienced pitcher that he was. Future Hall of Famer Tim Raines led off with a walk and promptly stole second base. Mitch Webster then scored Raines with a triple, and that was all for Newell. Phillies reliever Freddie Toliver followed by allowing a sacrifice fly by Hubie Brooks to score Webster with a run that was charged to Newell.
Over his two appearances, Newell allowed four earned runs on four hits over one official inning pitched, with a strikeout and three walks.
Newell was a favorite of blogger Chad Finn, who he followed when Newell was pitching at the Triple-A level with Maine in the Phillies farm system. Finn wrote the following back in 2002 and retold the story in his November 2004 blog piece titled “Where have you gone, Tom Newell?“:
“Tom Newell is without exception my favorite baseball player of all time. My cousins and I got his autograph so many times that he knew us by sight if not by name. “It’s you guys again?” he’d say, then shake his head, smile and sign whatever we were waving at him that day.
Tom Newell looked like a ballplayer, tall, trim and tan. He acted like every fan’s friend.
I rooted desperately for Tom Newell to make the major leagues, and he did, with the Phillies at the tail end of the ’87 season. I’ll forever recall seeing him at The Ballpark the day in September he learned he’d be going to the majors.
“So you got the call,” I said. He looked up from signing his name. “Yep. Flying to Philly after the game. It’s my dream come true,” he said, his grin the truest confirmation.
His dream came true only for a moment. The next spring, he blew out his rotator cuff, the kiss of death for a pitcher. He bounced around the minors for a number of years, never quite regaining his health or his fastball. Tom Newell never again wore a big-league uniform.”
In December 2018, Kyle Young at thisisreno.com caught up with Newell, who was operating Tommy’s Grandstand in Sparks, Nevada, a combination batting cage and burger joint. Newell recounted the story of how he had been converted from an outfielder to a pitcher by the Phillies:
“I remember one year in Spring training we were sitting there, and right after lunch, they said we’re going to get you on the side mound. The president of the Philadelphia Phillies, Bill Giles, is there and all the coaches from AAA on down are sitting there looking at me throwing. I hadn’t pitched for three years almost since college. It was more out of necessity even though I was the number one or two starter in college. When you haven’t been on the mound for a while, it’s just like coming in here and hitting softballs. It’s like, okay, there’s something different here….I’m feeling like, “Oh my God, you know, my job’s on the line here,” … Well, it went very well. It was like I never skipped a beat. I got called into the office and they said I was going to be an opening starter in single-A.”
Newell, now 57 years of age, continues to operate Tommy’s Grandstand, serving up what Young called “some of the best burgers and onion rings northern Nevada has to offer.“