Tag Archives: Gene Garber

For Phillies fans like me, there will always be only one Black Friday

The 101-win, star-crossed 1977 NL East Division champion Philadelphia Phillies

 

Across the United States today is known as “Black Friday”, perhaps the single busiest shop-in-person day of the entire year. You may not be aware that the term as popularly used actually originated here in Philadelphia.

In the early 1950’s, the Philadelphia Police Department began referring to the two days after Thanksgiving as ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Black Saturday’ in reference to crowds and congestion which had begun the Christmas shopping season.

On November 28, 1981, the Philadelphia Inquirer was the first to assign a financial aspect to the phrase. Typical accounting practices showed negative amounts in red ink and positive in black ink.

Many businesses would run at a loss for most of the year, and the holiday shopping season would put them “into the black”, thus the significance of the opening of that season was significant for retailers and others.

However, for myself and many other fans of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club there is only one, true “Black Friday”, especially for those of us who experienced it first-hand.

The date was Friday, October 7, 1977. The place was Veteran’s Stadium in South Philadelphia. The occasion was Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between the host Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In those days, the League Championship Series in Major League Baseball was only a best-of-five affair. And there was no Division Series. If you came in first place in either the East or West Division, you went to the LCS and played for a shot at the World Series.

The Phillies had reached the postseason for the first time in 26 years the prior season. But that 1976 club was swept out of the NLCS by Cincinnati’s ‘Big Red Machine’, who would go on to capture their second straight World Series title.

In 1977, the Phillies used that sweep as motivation. A more mature and determined team set a then-franchise record by winning 101 games, the most by any team in the National League.

Capturing their second consecutive NL East Division crown, the Phillies faced a 98-win Dodgers squad. The two teams appeared evenly matched, having split their regular season meetings, each winning six times.

The NLCS began in the same manner. The Phillies rallied for a pair of runs in the 9th inning to take the opener at Dodger Stadium by a 7-5 score. The host Dodgers battled back, getting a grand slam from Dusty Baker in the bottom of the 4th inning to break a 1-1 tie, leading to a 7-1 series-tying victory in the second game.

So, Game 3 at Veteran’s Stadium was going to be pivotal. For the Phillies this appeared especially so, as they had lefty ace Steve Carlton scheduled to take the mound in Game 4 the following day.

Carlton would win his second of four career Cy Young Awards that year, and a Phillies win on Friday would mean that the Dodgers would have their season on the line against the best pitcher in the league.

Los Angeles struck first, scoring twice in the top of the 2nd inning off Phillies’ starting pitcher Larry Christenson. It could have been worse, but Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

In their half of the inning, it would be the 63,719 fans in the stands at The Vet who would literally scream the Phillies into the lead.

Two singles and a walk against Dodgers starter Burt Hooton had the bases loaded with two outs, but it was Christenson at the plate. As the count worked full, the crowd began a deafening roar, and Hooton delivered ball four to cut the Phillies deficit to 2-1.

Sensing they had affected that outcome, the crowd continued to roar, getting louder with each pitch. Hooton appeared unnerved. He would walk each of the next two batters as well, forcing home two more runs to put the Phillies on top by 3-2.

It is fairly amazing then how that inning ended, with the Phillies all-star third baseman Mike Schmidt fouling out to the catcher on the very first pitch. Why under the circumstances the future Hall of Famer didn’t at least take one is hard to imagine.

The Dodgers got even in the top of the 4th inning when Baker singled home Ron Cey, who had led off the inning with a double against Christenson.

The game remained knotted at 3-3 into the bottom of the 8th inning. There, it appeared that the home team would put the game away thanks to uncharacteristically sloppy defense from the visitors.

Richie Hebner doubled to lead it off. He came around to score the go-ahead run when Garry Maddox followed with an RBI single, and Maddox chugged to third base on a throwing error by right fielder Reggie Smith. Then Bob Boone reached on an error by Cey, which allowed Maddox to score what appeared to be an insurance run.

The Phillies thus took a 5-3 lead into the top of the 9th inning. Manager Danny Ozark sent out Gene Garber to seal the deal. Protect the two-run lead, and the Phillies would go up two games to one with Carlton ready to send them on to the Fall Classic the next day.

Garber was one of a trio of relievers who Ozark called upon in such situations that season. He led the club with 19 saves, had a 2.35 ERA, and pitched in a team-high 64 games. Ron Reed delivered 15 saves over 60 games with a 2.75 ERA. Tug McGraw registered nine saves over 45 games with a 2.62 ERA.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Garber appeared well on his way to cruising through the frame by retiring the first two batters with no trouble. The Phillies were now just one out away from victory with nobody on base.

Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda, in his first full season at the helm, decided to send up Vic Davalillo to pinch-hit for Yeager. Garber got ahead of the 37-year-old with a quick strike.

Davalillo then surprised nearly everyone in the ballpark. The crafty veteran laid down a perfect drag  bunt on which Phillies second baseman Ted Sizemore had no play, and the Dodgers would bring the tying run to the plate.

In almost all such situations during the season – protecting a late, close lead – Ozark would have made a defensive substitution in left field, removing the big bat of Greg Luzinski in favor of the far more athletic Jerry Martin. For some reason, Ozark opted to leave Luzinski in this time. It was about to cost him dearly.

Lasorda must have figured that it worked once, let’s try it again. This time he sent up 39-year-old veteran Manny Mota to pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot.

Mota lofted a fly ball to deep left. Luzinski drifted back to the wall and for a second it appeared that he would snare the final out in his glove. However, the ball popped out of his glove and off the wall. It is a play that Martin almost certainly would have made.

Then to add insult to injury, Luzinski’s throw back to the infield kicked away from Sizemore. This allowed Davalillo to score and sent Mota to third base as the tying run.

Crazy stuff already. But the insanity was about to ratchet up another notch. The next batter, Davey Lopes, laced a rocket that smashed off the glove of Schmidt at third base. The ball popped perfectly to shortstop Larry Bowa, who gunned a throw that appeared to get Lopes for the final out.

If replay existed at the time, the Phillies would likely have won the game, gone up 2-1 in the series, and history may have played out in completely different fashion. But there was no replay review in those days. The call by first base umpire Bruce Froemming stood.

The game was now tied at 5-5, the Dodgers had the go-ahead run on base, and the insanity was not finished. Garber tried to pick-off Lopes, threw the ball away, and Lopes moved into scoring position at second base. Bill Russell followed with a clean RBI single and somehow the Dodgers had miraculously turned sure defeat into a 6-5 lead.

With two out in the bottom of the 9th, Luzinski stepped to the plate as the potential tying run. Perhaps the failure of Ozark to make the defensive substitution in the top of the frame would now pay off with a game-tying “Bull Blast” home run?

No such luck. Luzinski was hit by a pitch instead. Now, finally, Ozark sent in Martin – as a pinch-runner. Dodgers reliever Mike Garman then retired Hebner on an easy grounder to first baseman Steve Garvey to end the ball game.

The Phillies had inconceivably blown what appeared to be a certain victory and in stunning fashion watched a series lead evaporate. On the misty Saturday that followed, it would not be Carlton, but instead another veteran lefty named Tommy John who would close out the series in the Dodgers favor.

That 6-5 loss to the Dodgers in Game 3 of the 1977 National League Championship Series became known almost immediately as “Black Friday”, and has remained so in Phillies lore down through the years.

If you are among the many who will venture out to some mall or shopping center on this Black Friday and come home frustrated after battling traffic and the crowds, just know one thing. You will never be more bitter or frustrated than we Phillies fans who experienced our Black Friday in October of 1977.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

 

Phillies to Immortalize Pete Rose on the Wall of Fame

The Philadelphia Phillies announced today that a baseball legend will become the 39th honoree on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
1980 World Series hero Pete Rose will be enshrined in a ceremony that will take place on Saturday, August 12, 2017. The ceremony will take place prior to a game against the division rival New York Mets.
On that night, numerous Phillies greats of the past who have been honored previously will return to take part in the ceremony. There they will welcome “Charlie Hustle” to the ranks of Phillies immortals.
Rose was one of 10 former Phillies greats who were originally nominated for the 2017 Wall of Fame slot. Fans of the team voted online at the start of the year from among 10 nominees to determine three finalists.

THE OTHER 2017 WALL OF FAME NOMINEES

Joining Rose among those original 10 nominees were three of his 1980 champion teammates. One of those was second baseman Manny Trillo, the 1980 NLCS MVP. The others were starting pitcher Larry Christenson and reliever Ron Reed.
Phillies
Two more relief pitchers, Gene Garber and 1987 Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian, were also nominated.
Another nominee was the late Jim Fregosi. He was the manager of the popular 1993 NL Pennant-winning Phillies team that electrified the city that summer and fall.
Rick Wise was a pitcher during the 1960’s and early-70’s who was traded straight-up for Wall of Famer Steve Carlton. He played longest ago for the Phils among the nominees, having first appeared on the infamous 1964 team. That Phillies team collapsed down the stretch, blowing the NL Pennant.
Among the most recent to play for the club and receive nominations were infielders Placido Polanco and Scott Rolen. The latter was the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year. Both players won Gold Glove Awards at third base while playing with the Phillies, Rolen on four occasions.

WALL OF FAMER, SHOULD BE A HALL OF FAMER

Rose was rumored to be one of the finalists. Most of all, he was rumored to be the top vote-getter with the fans by a wide margin. Today, the club made his selection official.

It’s official. Pete Rose is the 2017 Toyota Phillies Wall of Fame Inductee.

Rose is a no-doubt-about-it Baseball Hall of Famer based on the record. He is the game’s all-time Hit King, having amassed 4,256 total hits over a 24-year career in Major League Baseball.
Rose helped lead the ‘Big Red Machine’ Cincinnati Reds to back-to-back World Series crowns in 1975 and 1976. He was MVP of the 1975 classic seven-game victory over the Boston Red Sox.
He was the 1963 NL Rookie of the Year, the 1973 National League Most Valuable Player, and a three-time NL batting champion. In addition, Rose won a pair of Gold Glove Awards, and was a 17x National League All-Star.

ROSE LEADS THE PHILLIES TO A WORLD SERIES CROWN

Following the 1978 season, Rose became a free agent. The Phillies had won three consecutive NL East crowns at that point. But that team, led by future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, had fallen short in the playoffs each year. Believing that leadership and winning experience were lacking, the club made Rose it’s first-ever big-ticket free agent signing that winter.
After an injury-marred 1979 season in which the Phils dropped from first place in May to a fourth place finish, the club rallied in 1980.
The Phillies held off the Montreal Expos on the final weekend of the regular season to clinch a fourth NL East crown in five years. Then the club fought past the Houston Astros in a grueling five game series that many believe is the greatest NLCS in history.
Finally, the Phillies held off a veteran Kansas City Royals squad in six games to win the first-ever World Series crown in franchise history. Rose hit .326 with a .431 during that 1980 postseason, and provided a signature moment with a hustling defensive play in the 9th inning of the clinching game of the Fall Classic.
As all baseball fans know, there is only one reason that Rose is not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. That would be the controversy surrounding his gambling on the sport. Due to this issue, Rose agreed to a suspension from the game. Therefore he was mostly out of the game in any official capacity for over two decades.

ROSE PUBLIC RETURN TO MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

But last year, Major League Baseball allowed the Reds to honor Rose formally with a place in their team Hall of Fame. As a result, he was feted in a ceremony held in late June of 2016.
Rose was also a member of the Fox Sports crew analyzing the MLB postseason last Fall, joining Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas on what became a popular panel among fans of the game.
The Phillies received permission to consider him for their club Wall of Fame this off-season. As a result, they jumped at the chance to place Rose among this year’s nominees.
When the Reds announced that Rose would be honored, I wrote in a piece for FanSided’s “That Ball’s Outta Here” that the Phillies should do the same.

At that time I wrote: “for this fan who was around to see the obvious influence that Rose had in finally bringing a championship to Phillies fans, he is absolutely deserving of a plaque on that wall.”
I have no doubt that Citizens Bank Park will be see a full house for this summer’s upcoming Rose enshrinement. Finally, fans will be able to enjoy viewing and reading a Rose plaque on the Wall of Fame out on Ashburn Alley in center field.

Philography: Dick Ruthven

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Ruthven was a starter, but in a relief appearance he closed out the 1980 NLCS victory in Houston (pictured)

The Philadelphia Phillies grew from frustrating losers to frustrated winners, and finally to World Series champions during the period from the early 1970’s to the early 1980’s.

The career of Dick Ruthven, both in and out of Philly, can be described in much the same way.
After being named to the college baseball All-America team at Fresno, Ruthven was the Phillies pick at the first overall slot in the secondary phase of the 1973 January MLB Draft. He went straight to the Major Leagues, inserted immediately into a Phillies starting rotation that was desperate for talent.
The previous season of 1972, the Phillies had finished in last place in the National League East Division. Of the club’s 59 victories, 27 of them had come from lefty Steve Carlton all by himself. No other starting pitcher had won more than 4 games.
Ruthven’s first start didn’t go well, as the Montreal Expos knocked him out in the 2nd inning after tagging the 21-year old for 4 earned runs and 5 hits. He also walked 2 and struck out nobody. It would get better, and fairly quickly.
Over his next four starts, he went at least 7 innings each time. In his 3rd start on April 28th at Cincinnati, Ruthven earned his first victory in a 1-0 masterpiece at Riverfront Stadium. In 7 innings he dominated the Reds, allowing just 1 hit while striking out 8 and walking 2.
There were two more personal highlights for Ruthven during the 1973 season. He recorded his first Complete Game on July 1st in a 1-0, 2-hitter at Saint Louis which was also his first career Shutout. And on July 20th in Atlanta, Ruthven came on to register the final out of a 6-4 Phillies victory, recording his first career Save in the process.
The Phillies again finished in last place during that 1973 season, but they improved from 59 up to 71 wins, and went from finishing 37 1/2 games off the first place pace in ’72 to just 11 1/2 back to finish the 1973 campaign.
From 1973 through 1975, Ruthven appeared in 71 games and made 65 starts. He fashioned a 17-24 record, and allowed just 344 hits in 377.1 innings pitched. In ’74 alone he had what would be a career-high 153 strikeouts.
The team again improved, to 80-82 and just 8 games back in ’74, and then to a winning record at 86-76 and just 6 1/2 games behind in ’75.
Ruthven lost much of that 1975 season to injury. He pitched most of the year during his first-ever stint in the minor leagues on a rehab assignment, and didn’t get back to the Phils until August. Overall he was limited to 11 appearances and 7 starts for the team down the stretch that year.
Finally, the Phils kicked down the door and won the NL East in both 1976 and 1977. In both seasons the club set a franchise record by winning 101 games. But Dick Ruthven wasn’t around to enjoy either of those tremendous seasons.
In a dizzying span over 3 days in December of 1975, Ruthven had been traded – twice. First, the Phils sent him to the Chicago White Sox along with the 1973 January Draft’s 1st overall pick, shortstop Alan Bannister, in a deal that yielded veteran lefty starting pitcher Jim Kaat.
Ruthven would never spend a day in the Windy City, only lasting even one full day on the White Sox roster. Two days after being acquired from the Phillies, the Chisox sent him on to the Atlanta Braves in a deal that included outfielder Ralph Garr coming back to Chicago.
In his first season away from Philly, Ruthven became an All-Star for the first time. He went 10-8 with a 3.26 ERA in 129.2 pre-break innings for the Braves. But the season began to crumble thereafter. Ruthven went just 4-9 after the All-Star break, with his ERA ballooning to 5.29 over that span.
A big part of Ruthven’s problem was emotional. He had learned that during Spring Training that year with the Braves, the team owner, wealthy cable TV and publishing magnate Ted Turner, had made a pass at Ruthven’s wife, Sue. When confronted, Turner claimed it was only “playful” in nature.
As told to Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Frank Dolson at the time, Ruthven was offered an apology by Turner. Ruthven told the owner to apologize to his wife instead. Turner did so, but according to Ruthven, the owner chose to make the incident public by “apologizing in front of about 20 people at the Stadium Club.”
Dick Ruthven Braves
Ruthven’s relationship with Turner, and thus the Braves organization, was irreparably damaged by the incident, and he demanded a trade. “I told the manager. I told the general manager. I told opposing teams” said Ruthven in regards to his trade wishes.
A trade would not come for a year and a half. Through 1977 and into early 1978, Ruthven remained miserable, continued to publicly and privately ask for a trade, and performed poorly on the field.
In 1977 he went 7-13 with a career-high 4.23 ERA in just 23 starts. He had a terrible 84-62 K/BB ratio. The fact that the Phillies had become a power in the National League in his absence didn’t help. Ruthven began 1978 still unhappy, and was pitching poorly again, going just 2-6 through his first 13 outings.
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox spoke after a Braves game in Philly: “What he’d really like is to come here, with the Phillies. And if we could get something that would really help us, we would do it. But he’s a pretty good pitcher, and we aren’t going to give him away. We would have to get something for him.
The right deal finally came along. On June 14th, the Phillies acquired former Reds closer Rawly Eastwick from Cincy in a trade. A day later, with their bullpen now shored up in preparation for just this move, the Phils sent closer Gene Garber to Atlanta in exchange for Ruthven.
The trade immediately turned around Dick Ruthven’s entire outlook, and breathed renewed life into his career. The now 27-year old went 13-5 with a 2.99 ERA over 150.2 innings for the Phils, and helped the club win its 3rd straight NL East crown, the first in which he was able take part in celebrating.
In the NLCS, the Phillies would face the Los Angeles Dodgers in a rematch of the 1977 NLCS which many felt the more talented Phils had simply blown. But the outcome would prove the same in 1978. Ruthven started Game 2, and was beaten by the Dodgers, lasting just 5 innings in a 4-0 defeat. LA would again win the series in 4 games.
When 1979 opened, Ruthven and the Phillies were hot, and seemed on their way to yet another big season. Ruthven began the year 6-0 with a 1.65 ERA through early May. The team was in first place as late as May 27th. But then injuries struck Ruthven and a number of other players.
Ruthven tried to pitch through his injury troubles, but was limited to just 9 more starts after May. His season officially ended in early August. The Phils also lost starter Larry Christenson at the start, got him back in May, but then lost him for most of the season after June. Aging veterans Kaat and Jim Lonborg had become ineffective and were released in May.
The starting pitching troubles combined with injury-plagued seasons to catcher Bob Boone and 2nd baseman Manny Trillo, and down years from veterans Greg Luzinski and Larry Bowa, to undermine the once-promising 1979. The team fell behind, managed to stay in the race until early August, but then totally collapsed.
The 1979 Phillies finished with a winning record at 84-78, but they also finished in 4th place in the division, a full 14 games behind the eventual division champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Adding insult to injury, the in-state rival Bucs would go on to win the World Series, something that had eluded the Phils during their run atop the division.
The collapse cost longtime manager Danny Ozark his job. The amiable ‘Wizard of Oze” was replaced in the manager’s office by organizational man and firebrand Dallas Green, who immediately set about the task of trying to light a fire under what he saw as a complacent, comfortable team.
In 1980 it would finally all come together for the Phillies. The team reclaimed the NL East crown, thanks largely to an inspired final week of play, including a final showdown weekend in Montreal. Ruthven contributed a strong bounce-back campaign. He proved to be the perfect #2 rotation compliment to ace Steve Carlton by going 17-10 with a 3.55 ERA, and proving his health by tossing 231.2 innings.
In the postseason, both Ruthven and the Phils set about the task of shaking the ‘choker’ label. The righty again started Game 2, just as he had in ’78, and again lost. But this time he had pitched 7 strong innings, leaving with the score tied at 2-2. The Astros would score 4 runs in the top of the 10th to win 7-4 and even the best-of-5 series at a game apiece.
Ruthven would not make another start in what would prove in many eyes to be the greatest NLCS in history. The two teams battled into extra innings in each of the final four games. The Phillies appeared dead a couple of times in both Game 4 and 5, but rallied each time.
In that 5th and decisive game, the Phils rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the 8th inning to take a 7-5 lead, but the Astros answered with a pair to tie it at 7-7 and again send it to extras. The Phillies scored a run to take an 8-7 lead, and having already burned through his top relief options, manager Green turned to Ruthven to try to close out the game.
Ruthven got pinch-hitter Danny Heep to lead off with a pop-out to Bowa at shortstop on a 2-2 pitch for the first out. Then he caught the dangerous Terry Puhl guessing on a first-pitch, getting him to line out to centerfielder Garry Maddox for the 2nd out.

Veteran 3rd baseman Enos Cabell was the only player standing between the Phillies and the franchise’ first World Series berth in 30 years. Ruthven battled him to a full count. Then on the 6th pitch, Cabell caught a pitch off the end of his bat, flaring a punch-shot to center field. Maddox charged, cradled the ball for the 3rd out, and the celebration began.

Dick Ruthven, a Phillies homegrown draftee over 7 years earlier, had left town, but had always wanted a return. He fought for and finally got that return to his first team. And now here he was, earning the Win as he closed out the most dramatic playoff series to that point in Phils history.

In the World Series against Kansas City, Ruthven was again frustrated. He got the start for Game 3 in Kansas City with the Phils up 2-0 and looking to take a strangle-hold on the Series.

Ruthven pitched a gem, striking out 7 and walking none over 9 full innings. But the game was tied 3-3, and he was pulled. The Royals would win in the bottom of the 10th.

That excellent outing was Dick Ruthven’s only appearance in the 1980 World Series. Four nights later, the Phillies would win in Game 6 at Veteran’s Stadium.

Ruthven would join in the on-field celebration, the post-game locker room champagne showers, and the celebratory parade down Broad Street.Dick Ruthven would pitch two more full seasons in Philadelphia. 

Ruthven would join in the on-field celebration, the post-game locker room champagne showers, and the celebratory parade down Broad Street.Dick Ruthven would pitch two more full seasons in Philadelphia.

He went 12-7 in the 1981 work stoppage season, making his 2nd and final NL All-Star team. He then took the loss in Game 2 of the 1981 NLDS vs Montreal, his final career postseason appearance.

In 1982 he went 11-11 for a Phillies team that was in first place for much of July and the first-half of August, and again as late as mid-September. But losses in 11 of 16 games left them in second place at the end, a tantalizing three games out of another division crown.

In 1983, the Phillies would return to the World Series, but Ruthven wouldn’t get to be a part of that October run. On May 22nd he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for reliever Willie Hernandez. It would prove a good deal for both teams, as Hernandez would pitch in 63 games, saving the Phils bullpen. Ruthven would go 12-9 in Chicago.

The 1984 season would prove to be the beginning of the end of Ruthven’s career. It started out well as he gained the victory as the Cubs starter on Opening Day. It would end in near-glory, with the Cubbies winning the NL East. However, Ruthven had become ineffective during the course of the season, so much that he would not appear in the NLCS loss to San Diego.
After struggling through a full 1985 season, Ruthven was finally released by the Cubs in May of 1986 at age 35. He finished his career with an overall 123-127 record and a 4.14 ERA compiled over 2,109 innings pitched.
In retirement, Dick Ruthven settled in to live Alpharetta, Georgia, where he and Sue raised their 3 sons. He founded Ruthven Construction, and received numerous awards for quality and customer satisfaction in home building, including the OBIE, the premier home-building industry honor in the Atlanta area.
Dick Ruthven retirement
Today, Ruthven is the owner and CEO of Access Management Group, focusing these days on the company’s IT operations, and using his industry experience to position them in a leadership position in the Atlanta land market. (Twitter: @accessmgtgroup)
Despite what seem like mediocre career numbers, Dick Ruthven’s contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies were pivotal to their late-70’s and early-80’s success. In Philadelphia, Ruthven’s record was 78-65 with a 4.00 ERA in over 1,200 innings, including vital contributions to a world championship team.
On the all-time leaderboard, Ruthven is tied for 17th in Wins (78), 10th in Starts (198), tied for 15th in Strikeouts (717), 20th in Innings (1,262.2) and 48th in Games (208) among all pitchers who ever towed the mound for the Fightin’ Phils.
A talented righty who loved his time here in Philly, Dick Ruthven’s contributions are often overlooked, but nonetheless vital, to the first World Series championship in franchise history. He is remembered fondly by all Phillies fans of that time, and deserves to have his career known and remembered by all fans of the team of any generation.

Philography: Greg Luzinski

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Now a Phillies Wall of Famer, Luzinski starred with the team from 1970-80

 

With next year’s 2015 season being the 45th that I hope to enjoy as a fan of the Fightin’ Phils, I’ve decided to take on a Phillies history project moving forward.

Once a week, I’ll be presenting a short biography of an interesting figure from the Philadelphia Phillies long and storied past. This might be a player, a coach or manager, a team executive, a broadcaster, maybe even the occasional fan.
To kick things off, we’ll start with someone who not only has nostalgic interest to me personally, but also someone who the majority of today’s Phillies fans are familiar with: Greg “the Bull” Luzinski.
If you were born in the early-1970’s or beyond, your memories of ‘the Bull’ as an active ballplayer are likely few or none at all. But many of today’s younger generation of fans know him from “Bull’s BBQ”, the popular food joint out in right field adjoining Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park.
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Luzinski is a Windy City native, born in Chicago on November 22nd, 1950. He became a slugging high school star at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Illinois, and the Phillies made him their 1st round selection, 11th overall, in the 1968 MLB Draft.
At age 17, Luzinski headed for Huron in the Northern League, where he belted 13 homers in his first 212 professional at-bats. The following season he was moved up to the High-A Carolina League, where at Raleigh-Durham he crushed 31 homers and had 92 rbi.
With the big league club struggling in the final years of Connie Mack Stadium, speculation was quickly rising as to how fast the kid masher would reach Philly. The talk grew louder when he moved to AA Reading in 1970 and, at age 19, he hit .325 while powering 33 homers and driving in 120 runs.
It was then, at the tail end of the 1970 season, in the final month of the club’s stay at old Connie Mack, that Luzinski got the call.
It would prove to be an inauspicious debut. Wearing uniform #42, Luzinski recorded just a pair of hits in a dozen at-bats spread across 8 games, appearing mostly as a pinch-hitter or at 1st base.
1971 found the Phillies opening Veteran’s Stadium in South Philly. It also found Luzinski back in the minors. He would spend most of the year at AAA Eugene, again tuning up minor league pitching. At age 20, the young slugger crushed 36 homers, drove in 114 runs, and hit .312.
As the 1971 season wound down, Luzinski again got the call to the parent club. This time it would be for good. Donning what would become his familiar #19, he again played solely at 1st base. Thickly built and possessing no speed, the Phillies were not sure that he could handle the outfield. In just 100 at-bats, Luzinski hit .300, and he registered his first three career home runs.
With his powerful build, he was given the nickname “The Bull”, and his homeruns became more frequent and impressive in 1972. These powerful blasts were becoming known as “Bull Blasts” to writers, broadcasters, and fans. He hit .281 with 18 homers and 68 rbi in that first full MLB season as he made a permanent move to left field.
1973 would be the true coming-out party for The Bull. He hit .285 with 29 homers and 97 rbi. He was joined that year by a new regular at 3rd base for the Phillies, as 23-year old Mike Schmidt hit 18 homers in his own first full season. The two young sluggers would now become a powerful combination in the Phillies lineups for the rest of the decade.
In both the ’72 and ’73 seasons, Luzinski had put on impressive performances down in Clearwater, Florida for spring training. But both seasons, late spring injuries had actually hindered him and held his regular season numbers down. In 1974, that bad luck run got worse.
Off to a slow start already, Luzinski tore the ligaments in his right knee on June 1st of that 1974 season. He would miss three full months, and the injury sapped him of much of his power. He hit just seven homers and knocked in only 48 runs, both of which would prove to be career-low figures.
Perhaps worse yet, the Phillies were beginning to contend as a team. They finished just eight games out of first place in that ’74 season, with Schmidt breaking out as an NL All-Star, hitting 36 homers and driving in 116 runs. Dave Cash had come over from the Pirates, becoming an All-Star himself and inspiring the Phillies to believe in themselves with the motto “Yes We Can!” Could the Phils, with a healthy Luzinski, have made a run at the NL East crown in 1974?
Hopes were high as the 1975 season rolled around. The Phillies were clearly an emerging threat to the perennial NL East pace setters, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Saint Louis Cardinals. Luzinski came back with a vengeance. He not only stayed healthy, he dominated, hitting .300 with 34 homers and 120 rbi.
The performance earned him his first NL All-Star nod, and he finished 2nd in the National League Most Valuable Player Award balloting to the more charismatic LA Dodgers young 1st baseman Steve Garvey. Schmidt had 38 homers and 95 rbi himself. Cash hit .305 and scored 111 runs. Still, despite the obvious improvements, the Phils finished in 2nd place in the NL East, 6 1/2 games behind the Pirates.
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It would be the following season where the team would finally kick in the door, win the division, and establish itself as longterm favorites. The 1976 and 1977 Phillies teams each won 101 games in the regular season, establishing a franchise record that would last for 3 1/2 decades, and the 1978 club won a 3rd straight NL East crown. Bull did his part: 1976 – .304/21HR/95RBI, 1977 – .309/39HR/130RBI, 1978 – 35HR/101RBI. He was an NL All-Star each season, and again was NL MVP runner-up in 1977.
Luzinski had established himself as not only one of the game’s great sluggers, but one of it’s best hitters, period. He was a perennial All-Star. And his team was a perennial contender. But still, something was missing. Each year, the Phillies fell short, losing in the postseason. In ’76 it was acceptable. The Phils were first-time playoff participants, and they lost to the defending World Series champion Cincinnati Reds during the ‘Big Red Machine’ heyday.
The losses in both the 1977 and 78 playoffs were a bit harder to swallow, however. Particularly in 1977, when the Phils had the best record in the National League, were tied with the Dodgers at 1-1 in the NLCS, and had a 5-3 lead with 2 outs and nobody on for LA in the 9th inning of Game 3.
The Phillies were just a step away from a 2-1 lead in the series, which would put them a win away from reaching the World Series, with ace Steve Carlton scheduled for Game 4. One more out. Luzinski was in left field. This was unusual, because in such situations, manager Danny Ozark frequently used Jerry Martin as a defensive replacement for The Bull. But for some reason, not this time.
Phils’ closer Gene Garber got those first two outs, and got ahead of Dodgers pinch-hitter Vic Davalillo 0-2. Just one strike away from victory, the unspeakable began to happen. Davalillo surprised the Phils defense with a 2-strike drag bunt single. Another pinch-hitter, Manny Mota, stepped to the plate. Again, Garber got ahead of the hitter 0-2. This time, Mota sent a fly ball to deep left field. It is a ball that Martin likely would have tracked down fairly easily for the 3rd and final out.
But Martin wasn’t out there, Luzinski was. He tracked back towards the left field wall at The Vet, reached up, and momentarily appeared to have it. But he didn’t have it. The ball clanked off his glove, hit the wall, and bounced back to him. Luzinski fired wildly towards the infield, trying to nail Mota at 2nd base, but his throw skipped past 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore allowing Davalillo to score and sending Mota to 3rd as the tying run.
Davey Lopes then followed with another crazy play. His hot-shot careened off Schmidt’s leg at 3rd base and redirected to shortstop Larry Bowa, who gunned a throw that appeared to reach 1st baseman Richie Hebner’s glove for the final out just before Lopes hit the 1st base bag. But umpire Bruce Froemming called Lopes safe, and Mota scored the tying run. And still, it didn’t end.
Garber tried to pick the speedy Lopes off, and threw the ball past Hebner. Lopes moved up to 2nd base on the error. When shortstop Bill Russell followed with a single, Lopes scored, and incredibly the Dodgers, one strike away from defeat twice with weak-hitting pinch-hitters at the plate, were ahead 6-5. The Phillies went down without as much as a whimper in the their half of the 9th. The defeat, snatched from the jaws of victory, has forever become known as “Black Friday” in Phillies lore.
The following day, Carlton was bested in the rain by Tommy John. Yes, that Tommy John, of surgery fame. The Dodgers 4-1 victory put them into the World Series, and left the Phillies shell-shocked in defeat. Los Angeles would do it again in 1978, dumping the Phils in the NLCS.
In 1979, the Phils signed star free agent 1st baseman Pete Rose away from the Big Red Machine to help get them over the playoff hump. The addition of “Charlie Hustle” to the team didn’t help, as the club let an early fast start deteriorate into a horrid 4th place finish, 14 games behind the Pirates.
In that disappointing 1979 season, Luzinski had slumped to a .252 average with 18 homers and 81 rbi. In 1980, things didn’t go much better. He slumped further to a .228 average, with 19 homers and just 56 RBIs.
That decreased offensive production combined with his defensive shortcomings and the emergence of speedy, exciting rookie Lonnie Smith to reduce The Bull’s overall playing time. But also in that 1980 season, the team under new manager Dallas Green was able to fight its way to the NL East crown and a return to the playoffs.
There, the Phillies engaged in perhaps the greatest NLCS in history, coming from behind to edge the Houston Astros 3-2 in games. A titanic “Bull Blast” homer from Luzinski helped put the Phillies in front in the opener. And his clutch 10th inning double knocked in the go-ahead run in the series-tying fourth game.
The group of players who Luzinski had grown with was finally advancing to the Fall Classic for the first time. He would appear in just three of the six games against the Kansas City Royals, going 0-9 with a walk and five strikeouts.
But most importantly, the Phillies and The Bull ultimately won that World Series, bringing home the first championship in the 128-season history of the franchise.
The World Series victory would prove to be the final official appearance for The Bull in a Phillies uniform under competitive circumstances. At the end of spring training prior to the 1981 season, Luzinski was sold to the Chicago White Sox.
Now in the American League, free from having to play defense regularly, Luzinski returned to being an offensive force. With Chicago he became one of the top Designated Hitter’s in the game, blasting 84 homers and driving in 317 runs over four final seasons.
Following the 1984 season, Luzinski officially retired. He would take a job as the combined baseball/football coach at a New Jersey high school for a few years, and showed up at Phillies old-timer’s and reunion events.
When the Phillies moved out of The Vet and into their new home at Citizens Bank Park for 2004, one of the food attractions was named for him, with Luzinski as part owner. “Bull’s BBQ” remains a fan favorite to this day, and most home games The Bull himself can be found there, meeting and greeting fans, signing autographs, and posing for pictures.
Greg Luzinski finished up his MLB career with 307 homeruns and 1,128 rbi across parts of 15 seasons. 223 of those long balls were hit in a Phillies uniform, leaving him currently 7th all-time on the club Home runs ranking. He is 12th in RBI, tied for 14th in Doubles, 21st in Games played,  and 21st in Hits.
In 1989, Luzinski received the honor of being inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. Then in 1998, Luzinski was honored with a place on the Phillies Wall of Fame, where he is now forever remembered with an honored place among the franchise immortals.

Black Friday

For the first time in 15 years our Philadelphia Phillies are preparing to play in the National League Championship Series (NLCS).

The Fightin’ Phils have been here six times previously, all of them in my own lifetime as a fan. In their glory run from 1976 through 1980, the period covering most of my teenage years, the Phils played in the NLCS four times out of five seasons.

In the 1977 season the club won 101 games, their 2nd straight NL East crown, and there were many in baseball who felt the Phillies had the best team in baseball. Standing in the way of a trip to the World Series were the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

The two teams each had tremendous players. The Phillies were led by sluggers Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt, pesky shortstop Larry Bowa, and lefty starter Steve Carlton.

The Dodgers had a longtime infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey as well as slugging outfielders Reggie Smith and Dusty Baker. Their rotation was led by future Hall of Famer Don Sutton.

The two clubs split the first two games out in Los Angeles, and so the Phillies returned home needing to win two out of three at Veteran’s Stadium to advance to their first World Series in 28 years. And then baseball catastrophe struck.

It was October 7th, 1977. It was Game Three of the 1977 National League Championship Series. What is perhaps recognized as the single most devastating loss in Phillies history played out that day in what has become known as ‘Black Friday’ in local Philly pro sports legend.

The Dodgers scored first, with Baker and catcher Steve Yeager each driving in runs in the top of the 2nd for an early 2-0 lead off Phillies starter Larry Christenson. Then came the bottom of the 2nd, and a Philly fan sports legend was born.

With two outs and two runners on-base, Dodgers starting pitcher Burt Hooten began disputing ball and strike calls with the umpire, something that can often get a player ejected from a game. His antics became so annoying that the fans began to boo him vociferously.

Over the course of that one inning, the Phillies fans literally booed Hooten off the mound, unnerving the LA hurler into issuing four consecutive walks that helped put the Phillies up by 3-2.

The Dodgers tied the game in the top of the 4th on another RBI hit by Baker. The two teams then stayed knotted into the bottom of the 8th, when the Phils seemingly took control.

Thanks to the hitting and base running hustle of Garry Maddox, who knocked in one run and scored another, the Phillies took a 5-3 lead into the 9th.

Manager Danny Ozark then turned the game over to reliable closer Gene Garber, and Garber quickly recorded the first two outs. As Garber got to an 0-2 count on weak-hitting Vic Davalillo, the Veteran’s Stadium crowd stood and roared in anticipation of their heroes going up by 2 games to 1 in the series.

The Phillies were just one strike away from needing just one more win to reach the World Series. And they had their ace, future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton, slated to take the mound the next day. It was a dream scenario. Instead, it turned into a nightmare.

On that 0-2 pitch, Davallio shocked the entire stadium, including the Phillies, by laying down a perfect bunt for a base hit. Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda then went to a pinch-hitter, 39-year old veteran Manny Mota.

Mota sent a fly ball back towards the left field wall. The ball was obviously not going to be a home run, and in fact outfielder Jerry Martin would usually have tracked the ball down easily.

Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, Martin was not in the game. It had become standard strategy for Ozark to put Martin in as a late-game defensive replacement for Luzinski. But again, for some unknown reason, Ozark didn’t make that move.

And so as Mota’s ball sailed towards the left field wall, it was the defensively deficient Luzinski who tried to make the play. He appeared to track the ball down right at the wall, but it somehow popped out of his glove. The Bull trapped it against the wall for a missed catch.

Luzinski turned and fired the ball to 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore, trying to nail Mota, who was hustling all the way. But more adventures then ensued as Sizemore mishandled the throw, allowing the ball to bounce away. Davallilo scored and Mota moved on to 3rd base.

Miraculously, the Dodgers had come back from the dead. The tying run was now just 90 feet away from home. Lopes stepped to the plate next and ripped a smash grounder right at Schmidt.

The Phillies third baseman had no time to react as the ball caromed hard off his knee and into the air, going straight into the bare hand of shortstop Bowa. In that one motion, Bowa fielded the ball and fired a strike to first baseman Richie Hebner for the final out.

Only it still didn’t happen. Lopes was ruled safe by the umpire on the bang-bang play, even though he clearly appeared to have narrowly been thrown out, a result which TV replays supported. Mota scored the tying run on the play, and the enraged Phils protested, but it was to no avail.

Garber tried to pick-off the speedy Lopes, but the Phils nightmare continued when the closer threw the ball away wildly. This allowed Lopes to move into scoring position, and Russell then singled him home, putting the Dodgers up by 6-5.

It was an incredible turnaround, and when the Phillies went down in order in the bottom of the 9th, the stunned Vet crowd didn’t even have the energy to wonder what had just happened.

The Dodgers celebrated their victory, and one night later they won the series by beating Carlton in a game sullied by rain.

The Dodgers moved on to the World Series against the Yankees, and the Phillies and their fans were left with the memory of the most emotionally draining loss in what has been a franchise history full of them.

It is known simply as ‘Black Friday’ now, and we still look back on it in astonishment, with the passing of three decades of time only numbing but never erasing the painful memory.

The Phillies and Dodgers will meet now in the 2008 NLCS. It will be the fourth time that this match-up has decided the National League champion. The Dodgers won previously in both that 1977 season and again in 1978, while the Phillies won in 1983.

And somewhere along the way you can expect the TV networks to dig up the old footage of Luzinski, Davalillo, Mota, Garber, Schmidt, and Bowa and the worst loss in Phillies history.