The Philadelphia Phillies finished in fifth place in the National League East Division, next-to-last, with a 75-87 record in the 1985 season.
It was the first losing campaign for the club in more than a decade, and though few saw it as possible at the time, this would be the beginning of a long down period for the franchise in which the team would finish with a losing record in 15 of 18 years.
Only one pitcher for this team fits the bill for the ‘Phillies 50’ series highlighting players who had both a minimal impact on that year’s ball club and over their MLB career. That would be right-hander Rich Surhoff.
Surhoff was born in the Bronx and had been the Phillies’ selection in the 22nd round of the 1982 MLB January Draft-Regular Phase out of St. John’s River Community College in Palatka, Florida. His younger brother, B.J. Surhoff, would enjoy a much more substantive 19-year career in Major League Baseball and eventually become an All-Star. Their father, Dick Surhoff, had played in the NBA from 1952-54.
Rich showed maturity and polish right out of the gate while pitching at A-level Spartanburg in 1982 and was given a shot at Double-A Reading at just age 20 in 1983. He held his own there and pitched well on a return season at Reading in 1984 and then at Triple-A Portland in 1985. That set the stage for his early taste of big-league life.
When rosters expanded in September 1985 the Phillies rewarded his maturity and rapid development with a promotion to Major League Baseball. On September 8, 1985 manager John Felske gave the 22-year-old Surhoff his first shot.
It was a Sunday afternoon and the Phillies were wrapping up a long but successful 10-game west coast road trip in which they had already gone 7-2. But ace starter Steve Carlton was knocked around by the host San Diego Padres that day at Jack Murphy Stadium.
After retiring the lead batter in the bottom of the 5th inning, Carlton allowed three singles around a walk to score a pair of runs and tie the game at 5-5. It was then that Felske thought the future Hall of Famer had enough, bringing in Surhoff for his big-league debut.
With two men on base, Surhoff got the first batter he faced, Carmelo Martinez, to pop out to second baseman Juan Samuel. But the next Padres’ batter, Kurt Bevacqua, laced a base hit, driving in Steve Garvey with the go-ahead run. Surhoff then got out of the frame by recording his first MLB strikeout, whiffing future big-league manager Bruce Bochy.
In the top of the 6th inning, John Russell led off with a single and Luis Aguayo followed with a two-run homer to put the Phillies back on top. Felske pinch-hit Jeff Stone for Surhoff, and the Phillies would hold the lead in a 9-7 victory, earning Surhoff his first career win.
Four days later on September 12, 1985, Surhoff would get his only chance to pitch in front of the Phillies home fans at Veterans Stadium. He entered with two out in the top of the 6th inning for starter Shane Rawley, who had been roped around by the visiting Montreal Expos. The lone batter that Surhoff would face, Vance Law, rolled a slow infield single to score a run. However, Mitch Webster was thrown out at the plate when he also tried to score. First baseman Mike Schmidt took the throw from third baseman Rick Schu and fired home to catcher Darren Daulton for that final out.
The very next day, Phillies general manager Bill Giles made one of his most astute trades ever. Unfortunately the team would never fully realize the talents of the player they were acquiring. In that deal, Giles sent Surhoff to the Texas Rangers in a straight-up exchange for a 28-year-old right-handed reliever named Dave Stewart.
Stewart would go on to become one of the top starting pitchers in the baseball for an eight-year stretch. Unfortunately that stretch would start a year later, after the Phillies had released him in May 1986 and he caught on with the Oakland Athletics.
Surhoff would appear in seven more games during September 1985 following his trade to Texas. Those would prove to be the final seven of his career in Major League Baseball. Over the next four years he would bounce across four different organizations, including a return engagement with the Phillies, pitching well at Double-A Reading for 35 games in 1988. But he was never given another opportunity in the big-leagues.
In retirement, Surhoff worked for a time in a family plumbing business and also went to bartender school. He would eventually become a long-time bartender and banquet manager at the Berkshire Country Club in Reading. Surhoff has worked for the last five years as a retail wine specialist in the Lancaster, PA area.