A catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies minor league system from the time he was drafted in the fourth round out of high school in his native Omak, Washington back in 1974, Don McCormack gets the call as the 1981 club’s position player rep in this ‘Phillies 50’ series.
McCormack had first received a call to the big-leagues late in the 1980 home stretch, serving as deep emergency catcher along with fellow promotee Ozzie Virgil Jr. behind starter Bob Boone, backup Keith Moreland, and four-decade veteran Tim McCarver.
That month he got into a pair of games. In his big-league debut on September 30, 1980 he caught Dickie Noles in the 9th inning of a 14-2 Phillies blowout of the visiting Chicago Cubs at Veterans Stadium, giving Moreland a blow.
Then on October 4, 1980 during the 11-inning marathon at Montreal in which the Phillies would defeat the host Expos at Olympic Stadium by a 6-4 score to clinch the NL East Division crown, McCormack entered to catch the bottom of the 9th inning. In the top of the frame, Boone had delivered a clutch two-out RBI single to score Bake McBride and tie the game at 4-4. Boone was then lifted for pinch-runner Bob Dernier.
McCormack would catch Tug McGraw for three innings during which the Phillies lefty retired nine of the 10 Montreal batters he faced.
Few Phillies fans will forget that in the top of the 11th, Mike Schmidt blasted a two-run homer off Stan Bahnsen to give the Phillies the 6-4 lead, a blow that would prove the game and division-clincher. What few will remember is that McCormack followed Schmidt’s homer with a single, his first-ever hit in Major League Baseball.
That would end McCormack’s season. He was not carried by the club on the postseason roster as the Phillies would down the Houston Astros in an unforgettable five-game NLCS, then move on to defeat the Kansas City Royals in six games to capture the first World Series title in franchise history.
In 1981, McCormack served as the starting catcher with the Phillies Triple-A affiliates at Oklahoma City. He would again receive a late-season promotion as the club prepared for the playoffs after being crowned first-half champions during the strike-shortened split-season. He got into three games, the final of his big-league career.
On October 4, 1981 at Veterans Stadium, McCormack made his last appearance in what was the regular season finale. Manager Dallas Green gave him the start and McCormack went the distance behind the plate, going 0-3 in his at-bats and handling six different pitchers including the starter, 20-year-old Mark Davis, as well as veterans Dick Ruthven, Mike Proly, Sparky Lyle, Ron Reed, and McGraw during a 2-1 Phillies victory.
The Phillies would hand McCormack his release at the end of 1982 spring training. He would catch on with the Detroit Tigers and play in 76 games with Double-A Evansville in their farm system during the 1982 season before hanging up his spikes as a player at age 26.
After his playing career ended, McCormack was given a shot at coaching. He would enjoy a lengthy career managing in the minors and independent ball. In September of 2005, McCormack enjoyed a milestone when his Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League handed him his overall 500th managerial victory.
“There’s something about professional baseball that gets under your skin and gets in your blood,” McCormack told Mark Herrmann of Newsday back in 2001. “Gosh, you really can’t put an actual figure or fact to the question, ‘Well, why do you?’ It’s because there’s just something about it. It just grabs a hold of you and it’s hard to get away, it’s hard to stay away. A lot of guys say, ‘OK, I’ve had enough of that stuff’ and go try another life. Boy, it’s hard to do.”
McCormack is now 64-years-old and enjoying retirement in Palm Harbor, Florida.