The Philadelphia Phillies were still in the midst of a lengthy contending period during the 1982 Major League Baseball season. The ball club had won the franchise first-ever World Series title just two seasons earlier, made the postseason during the strike-shortened prior season, and were NL East champions in four of the last five full MLB campaigns.
However, that window of contention was fast closing. With the right moves the Phillies could have continued contending for years to come. Unfortunately the powers-that-be would succumb to the temptation of trying to squeeze a little more winning out of this window rather than fully committing to the longer term.
For the Phillies, the result would be a couple more seasons battling at the top of the baseball world. Then a long period of decline would begin. But again, for now, in 1982, the team was still a contender built around a veteran core.
Only one pitcher from those 1982 Phillies even remotely fits the bill for this ‘Phillies 50’ series, which highlights one pitcher and one position player from each 1971-2019 version of the club who had a minimal impact on that year’s team and during his MLB career in general. In this case, the pitcher in question would enjoy parts of six big-league seasons, and would appear in two seasons with the Phillies – 11 years apart.
Jay Baller was chosen by the Phillies in the fourth round of the 1979 MLB Amateur Draft out of an Oregon high school. By age 21, Baller had enjoyed a strong season with Double-A Reading. In mid-September the Phillies were in second place, trying to run down the Saint Louis Cardinals from four games back. Baller was promoted to help out with pitching depth.
On September 19, 1982 manager Pat Corrales brought the right-hander who was still a month shy of his 22nd birthday into his first MLB game, eating up the 8th inning during an 8-1 blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Veterans Stadium. It was a successful debut as Baller retired Bill Madlock, Jason Thompson, and Lee Lacy in order.
Corrales would use Baller twice more in relief over the next week. Then, with the Cardinals having clinched the division, he gave Baller a starting opportunity with just a few days left in the season.
On September 30, 1982, Baller made what would be his only career start with the Phillies. It wasn’t a memorable performance. He allowed three earned runs on four hits and a walk over just four innings in a game the Phillies would ultimately win by a 5-4 score over the visiting Montreal Expos at The Vet. In that one he was tagged for a two-run homer in the first inning by Tim Wallach.
That would be Baller’s final appearance of the 1982 season. It would also be his last appearance on the mound in a Phillies uniform until a decade later in 1992.
On December 9, 1982 the now 22-year-old was included as part of the Phillies famous “five-for-one” trade with the Cleveland Indians along with Manny Trillo, Julio Franco, George Vukovich, and Jerry Willard in which the Phillies received Von Hayes in return.
Never reaching the big-leagues while with Cleveland, Baller was again involved in a trade, obtained by Chicago Cubs general manager Dallas Green in April 1985 as one more of the former Phillies’ manager and farm director’s ex-Phillies acquisitions.
Baller would make 79 appearances with the Cubs over the 1985-87 campaigns. After making four starts in 1985 he would be used exclusively out of the bullpen. “I feel comfortable in that role as a reliever,” Baller said per Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune afterward. “Whatever way they want to use me is fine with me.”
At the end of this period of his life and career there was an incident that may have been prelude to troubles he would experience years later in retirement. After being released by the Cubs in December 1987, Baller was at home in Reading. While Christmas shopping he suddenly collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. There he would fight for his life.
Per Tyler Francke of Canby Now, Baller “was hospitalized with a 107-degree fever and spent three days in a coma. To say he “almost died” would be a bit of an understatement. His heart literally stopped — twice. The episode was quietly, but rather widely, believed to have been a drug overdose. And Baller’s reputation as a “free spirit” and an “enigma” didn’t help.”
‘‘I know in the beginning everybody thought it was some kind of drug overdose,” Baller said per Alan Solomon of the Chicago Tribune in February 1988 after Baller had recovered and re-signed with the Cubs. ”I understand that part of it. It happens.”
Per Solomon, Baller said doctors called it ”some kind of toxic poisoning I picked up from something I ate or drank or absorbed through my skin or something. They tested me for everything under the sun, and they found toxic poison damage to my liver and kidney. There`s a lot of things that were unanswered. Some questions don`t get answered.”
Baller was released again by the Cubs during spring training in 1988. He then began to bounce around, moving through four more organizations over the next handful of seasons. Only the Kansas City Royals in 1990 gave him a shot in the majors, and that for just three unremarkable outings.
Finally on May 15, 1991 the Phillies signed Baller as a 30-year-old free agent. He spent all of 1991 and most of 1992 pitching out of the bullpen at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. But in need of an arm in late July of ’92 the Phillies brought him back into red pinstripes for the first time in a decade.
On July 30, 1992, Baller pitched a clean inning of relief at Olympic Stadium, striking out a pair of Montreal Expos batters. He would go on to make seven more appearances on the mound with that club, but surrendered two or more runs in each of his final four outings. On August 31, 1992 at the Astrodome in Houston he surrendered solo homers to Eric Anthony and Ken Caminiti of the Astros. It would be his last appearance on a big-league mound.
Granted free agency following the season, he was unable to catch on with an MLB organization. He played in Mexico in 1993, Japan in 1994, and then back in Mexico during the 1995 season.
Per the book “Baseball on the Border” by Alan M. Klein, developments in Baller’s personal life: “Meeting his present wife, Terry, was, without question, the most positive step in this most recent phase of his life. Terry, along with new daughter, Sierra, prevented Baller from sinking into an emotional abyss as he went from city to city trying unsuccessfully to get back to the majors.”
Unfortunately, Baller’s time in Mexico did not end well, and the next time that he would surface in the public eye it would not be for good reasons. In August 2007, police in Reading, PA responded to a call of men using drugs and playing with a gun. They found Baller and another man sitting in an SUV with a gun and drugs, along with $15,000 in cash. Both were arrested
As part of a plea deal, Baller would ultimately plead guilty to possessing and conspiring to possess cocaine per Holly Herman of the Reading Eagle in April 2008. A disorderly conduct charge was dismissed and he was sentenced to one year probation.
Canby reported that as of December 2019, Baller was living still in Pennsylvania with his wife and four children. Inducted to the Reading Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005, he is now 59-years-old.