Tag Archives: Tony Taylor

Philography: Tony Taylor

My Philography series of mini-bios highlighting the careers of the most interesting and important individuals throughout Philadelphia Phillies history continues with this 23rd entry.

Links to the previous 22 entries, which include such notables as Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Richie AshburnDick AllenJim BunningLarry BowaDarren Daulton and many more can be found below.

In 2002, Tony Taylor became the 24th person overall and the first-ever Hispanic player to be honored with a place on the Phillies Wall of Fame. He has since been joined by Juan Samuel (2008) and Bobby Abreu (2019) as Hispanic players honored among the franchise immortals.

Sports columnist Milton Richman, who became the sports editor at UPI and was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame with the Taylor Spink Award in 1981, said of Taylor back in 1975: “Tony Taylor has a special way with people. It doesn’t matter who they are, other ballplayers, fans, or the press. He’s to the Phillies what Ernie Banks was to the Cubs.

That “special way” – his friendliness, positive personality, and willingness to share a knowledge of and passion for the game that he loves – is what has always endeared Taylor to Phillies fans, especially those who got to enjoy his years as a player with the team during two stints and a long-time association with the club as a coach and goodwill ambassador.

Taylor played for 19 seasons in Major League Baseball, 15 of those in a Phillies uniform from 1960-71 and then from 1974-76. Though his career ended more than four decades ago, Taylor is still 12th on the Phillies all-time hits, 16th in steals, and 17th in runs scored on the franchise leader boards. Only four men – Schmidt, Ashburn, Bowa, and Jimmy Rollins – have played more games in a Phillies uniform.

Born Antonio Nemesio Taylor Sánchez on December 19, 1935 in Central Alava in the Matanzas province on the island of Cuba, Taylor was raised there and began playing baseball as a young boy. He would eventually get to enjoy the game alongside his younger brother, Jorge.

Central Alava was “a quiet place,” Taylor said in 1970 per a more detailed bio piece on him by Rory Costello and Jose Ramirez for SABR. “Nothing to do but play ball or swim in the river. As a boy I went to school and worked in my cousin’s butcher shop. I liked chemistry. If I didn’t go into baseball, I would have become a chemist for a sugar company.

During the mid-late 1950’s, Taylor turned professional. He was officially a member of the San Francisco Giants beginning in 1954, and played the next few years in both the Cuban professional league and in the U.S. minor leagues, building a reputation as a slick-fielding shortstop.

After playing with Dallas in the Texas League during the 1957 season, the Chicago Cubs selected Taylor from the Giants in the December Rule 5 minor league draft. He was then immediately installed as the Cub’s starting second baseman and leadoff hitter at just age 22.

Taylor’s glove proved far more advanced than his bat during his rookie 1958 season in the Windy City. But that glove was good enough to keep him in the starting lineup. The following year, Taylor’s offensive production took a step forward. His average jumped 55 points to the .280 mark and his slugging percentage rose nearly 80 points, with Taylor nearly doubling his number of extra-base hits.

He opened the 1960 season still as the starter at second base with the Cubs, but that wouldn’t last long. On May 13, 1960, Taylor was dealt to the Phillies along with catcher Cal Neeman, with the Phils sending their starting first baseman, Ed Bouchee and young starting pitcher Don Cardwell to Chicago.

Taylor quickly became a fan favorite at Connie Mack Stadium. He hit .310 over his first 56 games as new manager Gene Mauch‘s starting second baseman with 16 extra-base hits , 17 RBIs, 31 runs scored, and a dozen stolen bases. That performance earned Taylor his lone career National League All-Star nod.

The young Phillies won just 59 games in that 1960 season, finishing in last place in the National League. But over the next few seasons they slowly built a contender under Mauch.

A core group of players that included outfielders Johnny Callison, Tony Gonzalez, and Wes Covington, catcher Clay Dalrymple, shortstop Bobby Wine, and pitchers Chris Short and Art Mahaffey all grew up together during the early 1960’s with the Phillies.

In 1962 the club finished 81-80, their first winning season in nearly a decade. The following year they upped it to 87 wins and a fourth-place finish. Then two big moves set the Phillies up to become legitimate contenders.

A big trade with Detroit in December 1963 brought in the veteran ace starting pitcher that the team needed in right-hander Jim Bunning. And a 22-year-old Dick Allen was handed the starting third base job as a rookie.

The addition of that big arm and bat to the maturing, talented, tight-knit core proved to be an exciting and winning mix and they led the National League for much of that summer. On Father’s Day, Bunning tossed the first Perfect Game in Phillies history as the Phillies downed the Mets by 6-0. An incredible play at second base by Taylor with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning helped make that historic gem at Shea Stadium possible.

Holding a 6 1/2 game lead with just a dozen left on the schedule, the Phillies organization printed up tickets for their first World Series appearance since 1950.

As even Phillies fans who weren’t around to experience the disaster are well aware, that Fall Classic appearance wasn’t meant to be. The team suffered through an infamous collapse, losing 10 straight games and 13 of 15. Though they won their final two games, the 1964 Phillies would finish a tantalizing one game out, in second place.

That group would never win a pennant, but they were a winning ball club. The Phillies enjoyed a winning record for six consecutive seasons from 1962 through 1967. Taylor was a starter during that entire period. As the 1960’s came to a close, that winning core began to age and was traded away, the club’s performance deteriorated on the field, and Taylor slid over to third base. In 1969 the Phillies would win just 69 games.

During spring training in 1970, the SABR bio describes what Taylor called “the biggest moment in my whole life.” His mother and sister, and his sister’s husband and children, arrived in Miami from Cuba. Taylor had been trying to get them out since 1962. “They led a difficult life. They did not believe in the Communists and were not given food and clothing. They had to buy things in the black market.

In that 1970 season the Phillies played their final year at old Connie Mack Stadium. The former Shibe Park had been the club’s home since 1938, and had been the home of the American League’s Philadelphia Athletics from 1909-54. But the brand new Veteran’s Stadium was being built in South Philadelphia and would become the Phillies new home for the 1971 season.

Taylor spent that final year at Connie Mack serving as a utility player at age 34 on a rebuilding Phillies ball club, with youngsters Denny Doyle and Bowa taking over the starting roles in the middle infield.

On a Sunday afternoon in that final summer at the old ballpark, Taylor enjoyed a moment that would live on in Phillies history. It was August 2 and there were just over 10,000 fans at the start. Most were no longer there as the Phillies came to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning, trailing the San Francisco Giants by 6-3.

Larry Hisle led off with a double off Giants starter Ron Bryant and Doc Edwards followed with a base hit, moving Hisle to third base. When pinch-hitter Terry Harmon worked Bryant for a walk, the bases were suddenly loaded.

Giants skipper Charlie Fox went to his bullpen, calling in southpaw Mike Davison as Taylor stepped to the plate. In his 13th big-league season, Taylor had just 60 career home runs at that point. This moment would produce number 61 as Taylor blasted the first-ever walkoff grand slam in Philadelphia Phillies franchise history.

Taylor would open the first 1971 season at The Vet still with the Phillies, but would not finish the year with the team. On June 12 he was dealt to the contending Detroit Tigers for a pair of minor league prospects, neither of whom would ever reach the big-leagues. He would serve as the backup to Dick McAuliffe at second base with Detroit over the next three years.

It was with those Tigers where he would make his lone playoff appearances, starting and playing the full Games 2-5 in Detroit’s heartbreaking loss to the eventual World Series champion Oakland A’s. Taylor was just 2-15 in that 1972 ALCS, and went 0-4, striking out twice, in the decisive 2-1 victory for Oakland. In fact, he flew out to center field against Vida Blue for the final out with the tying run on base in the bottom of the 9th inning for the final game at Tiger Stadium.

In December 1973, Taylor returned to the Phillies, signing as a free agent at age 38. He would close out his playing career as a utility player and pinch-hitter over three final seasons in Philadelphia as the club finally returned to contending status in the mid-1970’s. This was when I saw Taylor play in person, in that twilight of his career.

Per the SABR bio, a July 1974 AP account included the following: “All Tony Taylor has to do is stick his head out of the Phillies’ dugout and the fans go wild.” This feeling too was mutual. “I love those people,” said Taylor of the Veterans Stadium fans. “If a guy gives one hundred per cent they cheer for you. They know baseball, and they know whether a player is playing hard or not.”

During an early 1976 slugfest at Wrigley Field, Schmidt drilled home runs in four consecutive at-bats during an 18-16 victory for the Phillies over the host Cubs. Per Larry Shenk, the Phillies Hall of Famer and all-time greatest player used one of Taylor’s bats to blast what proved to the the final game-winner in the top of the 10th inning.

As the 1976 Phillies captured the club’s first National League East Division crown, Taylor missed much of the season’s first three months injured, returning for the stretch run. Between games of a doubleheader in Montreal after the Phillies had clinched the division, Allen gave manager Danny Ozark an ultimatum – include Taylor on the postseason roster or Allen wouldn’t play. The skipper forged a compromise, naming Taylor as a coach for the NLCS in which the Phillies were swept out by Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine.

Following that season, Taylor formally retired as a player and became the Phillies first base coach from 1977 through 1979. Over the winter in 1978-79, Taylor managed the Águilas del Zulia club to a spot in the Venezuelan Winter League finals.

During the 1980 and 1981 seasons, Taylor served as a roving infield instructor. He won the first of three career World Series rings as a member of the organization when the Phillies captured the first championship in franchise history in that 1980 season.

Through most of the 1980’s he bounced around the organization, serving as a minor league manager and a roving instructor. Per the SABR bio, his personal life suffered a setback during this period when Taylor went through a divorce from wife Nilda during this period. He then returned to the big club in the role of first base coach with the 1988 and 1989 Phillies.

Taylor moved on to become a coach with the San Francisco Giants and the expansion Florida Marlins during the 1990’s. In 1999, the Marlins brought him back to the big-leagues where he served in the role of first base and infield coach. During this period he earned a second World Series ring when the Marlins captured the 1997 title. He would get a third when the Fish again won the championship in 2003.

In April 2004, Taylor was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame. Following one final season as the Marlins bullpen coach in 2004, Taylor officially and finally retired from baseball. Since that time he has enjoyed his retirement living in Miami, a home for many in the Cuban-American community.

This past August, Taylor attended the Phillies Wall of Fame ceremony at Citizens Bank Park when his friend Abreu was inducted. While in Philly for those Alumni Weekend celebrations, Taylor suffered a series of strokes.

Per a report by Matt Breen in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the 83-year-old Taylor wanted to return to Miami, and was transported from Jefferson Hospital to the airport. The Phillies paid for a team of nurses to accompany him and his second wife, Clara, on a private flight home.

The Phillies have done great,” Clara said per Breen. “They were wonderful. He’s doing therapy and progressing really slow but hopefully well.” Numerous former Phillies teammates and club officials, including owner John Middleton, stayed in close touch on his return home. “It was overwhelming…He’s aware of everyone who has been calling,” said Clara per Breen.

That caring and concern from the Phillies organization and fan base is a reflection on the decades of good will built up between themselves and Tony Taylor. Here is to hoping that he is able to recover and continue to enjoy life, again returning one day to walk out onto the field in Philadelphia and continue this long-time genuine love affair.

 

PHILOGRAPHY SERIES

Click on the “date” in order to read the Philography piece. Click on the individual name to view their stats page at Baseball Reference

10.17.2014 – Greg Luzinski

10.24.2014 – Mitch Williams

10.31.2014 – Chris Short

11.07.2014 – Von Hayes

11.14.2014 – Placido Polanco

11.21.2014 – Jim Konstanty

11.28.2014 – Dick Allen

12.06.2014 – Dick Ruthven

12.12.2014 – Grover Cleveland  Alexander

12.20.2014 – Darren Daulton

12.13.2015 – Larry Bowa

1.09.2016 – Sherry Magee

1.26.2016 – Kevin Stocker

2.10.2016 – Granny Hamner

2.15.2016 – Edith Houghton

12.27.2016 – Bob Boone

1.19.2017 – Mike Lieberthal

2.02.2017 – Red Dooin

11.29.2018 – Richie Ashburn

2.03.2019 – Jim Bunning

2.10.2019 – Mike Schmidt

12.09.19Steve Carlton

Join Phillies Nation in fan polling for Wall of Fame ‘March Madness’

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Manuel, Thome, Carlton (L-R) are part of March Madness

The calendar showing that it is the third week in March can mean only one thing. Okay, two. Alright, alright, at least three things. The first thing is that Spring has arrived! It was a long, cold winter. But now it’s finally over. Soon flowers will begin to bloom and grass will start to grow again.

The other two big things about this time of year involve the sports world. For baseball fans, spring training is winding to a close. The Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues have just days remaining in their schedules.
For fans of college basketball and many sports fans who barely follow the game at any other time of year this is “March Madness” time. The excitement and drama of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament is unfolding.
Here at Phillies Nation we decided to run our own “March Madness” involving our favorite ball club. As subject matter we chose the Wall of Famers, those 40 individuals who have been honored to this point with a plaque at Citizens Bank Park.

Our tournament is being run at our Twitter feed: @PhilliesNation. If you aren’t following, fix that right away. If you are, head on over and be sure to follow regularly over the next week as we poll followers for their selections.
Phillies Nation “March Madness” began with a Play-in showdown between 1960’s-70’s infielder and later a coach with the team, Tony Taylor, facing off against 1950’s ‘Whiz Kids’ shortstop Granny Hamner. The popular Taylor took an early lead in voting and coasted to victory by 61%-39% of the 157 followers who cast a vote.

PHILLIES NATION * WALL OF FAME * MARCH MADNESS
Okay, with time running out Tony Taylor holds a comfortable Play-In Poll lead on Granny Hamner and will advance to our Opening Round. Two four-player polls. Winners later today battle to enter the Round of 32. Vote now!

See Phillies Nation’s other Tweets

That moved Taylor into one of two four-man Opening Round match-ups. Taylor was placed in a tough grouping: Sam Thompson, a Baseball Hall of Famer and 19th century star; 1920’s star outfielder Cy Williams; 1950’s ‘Whiz Kids’ third baseman Willie Jones.
The other four-man Opening Round grouping included 1960’s all-star Johnny Callison; star outfielder Gavvy Cravath of the 1915 NL pennant-winners and runner-up for the 1913 NL MVP; 1950’s star pitcher Curt Simmons who won 193 big-league games including 17 with the ‘Whiz Kids’ in 1950; Pat Gillick, the general manager of the 2008 World Series champions.

Taylor emerged victorious once again, winning his group with 42% of the 130 votes cast. Williams (28%), Thompson (18%) and Jones (12%) rounded out the group. Gillick was a somewhat surprising easy winner of his group, drawing 59% of 199 votes cast. Callison (24%), Simmons (15%) and Cravath (2%) rounded out that group.
Those results have moved Gillick and Taylor into a mano-a-mano Opening Round Finals vote which will conclude at 10am on Thursday morning. The winner of that vote will move into a Round-of-32 in which each of the others has already been ranked 1-31.
Head over to our Twitter feed and vote in the Gillick-Taylor Opening Round Finals poll now. While there you can enjoy numerous informative articles on the ball club. Look for the polling results on Thursday morning, which will be followed in the afternoon by the announcement of those Round-of-32 matches. Keep coming back to vote each round.

Congratulations to Bobby Abreu, who was named today as the 2019 Phillies Wall of Fame honoree. That announcement came after our tournament had been seeded and gotten underway, so Bobby is not part of the voting. Stop by the Phillies Nation feed at Twitter and join in our Wall of Fame March Madness today.

Philography: Jim Bunning

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After retiring from baseball, Bunning entered politics, becoming a U.S. Senator from his home state of Kentucky

 

Earlier this off-season my “Philography” series highlighting the playing career of various important figures in Philadelphia Phillies history came here to Phillies Nation.

The series began a few years back and has now grown to 19 individuals for whom I have presented a mini-biography. This year I’ve chosen to go right to the cream of the crop, the five individuals for whom the Phillies organization has actually retired an official uniform number.
Back in late November it was Richie Ashburn, whose uniform #1 was retired by the Phillies when he became the second man honored with a spot on the franchise Wall of Fame in summer 1979.
Now the series resumes with the sixth person honored with a spot on that Wall of Fame in 1984, pitcher Jim Bunning. The right-hander who pitched with the Phillies from 1964-67 and again to close out his big-league career in 1970-71 had his uniform #14 retired on April 6, 2001.
Bunning actually played more seasons with the Detroit Tigers of the American League (9) than his half-dozen years in Philadelphia. And his second career as a politician in which he became a state senator, then a U.S. Congressman, and finally a United States Senator from his home state of Kentucky was perhaps even more notable than his baseball accomplishments.

But those baseball accomplishments were certainly more than just notable. They were strong enough that Bunning was elected for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veteran’s committee in 1996.

 

Per a tremendous piece by Ralph Berger for SABR, which I urge you to read at that link, Bunning was born into a tightly-knit middle-class Catholic family who lived on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, just across from Cincinnati.
Per the Berger bio, Bunning became a pitcher as a boy since he owned the only ball among his friends’ group. He grew up as a Cincinnati Reds fan. His favorite player was pitcher Bucky Walters, who became the National League MVP in 1939 when Bunning was just seven years old.
Bunning played not only baseball, but also football and basketball as a teenager at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati. Then as a freshman at Xavier University, Bunning was offered a contract by a scout with the Detroit Tigers. He would ultimately sign for a $4,000 bonus and $150 monthly salary.

One of the stipulations of his signing was that he be allowed to complete his college education at Xavier. Thus, he would start the first few seasons of his pro career a few months later than his teammates.

 

That pro career began with Richmond of the Ohio-Indiana League in 1950 at 18-years of age. Bunning advanced incrementally through the Tigers minor league system over the next few years, and by the 1953-54 seasons he had reached Double-A Little Rock. There he compiled an 18-23 mark and allowed 333 hits over 351 innings across 69 games, 48 of those as a starter.
He began the 1955 season at Triple-A Buffalo of the International League, just a step away from Major League Baseball. A solid performance in which Bunning went 8-5 with a 3.77 ERA over the first 20 games, 16 of those starts, put the 23-year-old pitcher squarely into the plans of a middle-of-the-road Tigers ball club.
The organization felt that he was developing “an excellent curve ball, a confusing delivery and a sneaky fast ball“, and in July of 1955 that combination would finally get him on to a big-league mound in Detroit.
On the night of July 20, 1955 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Bunning made his first Tigers start. He would go 7.2 innings and was beaten up a bit by the Baltimore Orioles to the tune of six earned runs on eight hits. He struck out five and walked two and was hung with the loss against one of the worse teams in the American League.
It was a bit of an ignominious beginning, and the rest of his rookie season wouldn’t go much better. Bunning finished that 1955 season with the Tigers having compiled a 3-5 record and 6.35 ERA, allowing 59 hits and walking 32 over 51 innings across 15 games, eight of those as a starter.
In 1956 he was back at Triple-A to start the year and again pitched solidly enough to remain in the Tigers plans. He got the call back to Detroit in late July and would remain with the big-league club for the remainder of the season.
Pitching mostly out of the bullpen, Bunning had a solid 2.58 ERA after his first 14 big-league outings that year. But his final appearance of the season on September 24 resulted in disaster when he was bashed for seven earned runs in just one inning against the Chicago White Sox.
Bunning earned a role in the starting rotation during spring training of 1957. In his first start on April 17 against the Kansas City Athletics, Bunning was driven from the mound without even finishing the first inning.

That poor outing caused manager Jack Tighe to lose confidence, and the skipper relegated Bunning to the bullpen for the next month. It would prove to be a career-changing experience for the right-hander. Berger wrote that “working in the pen helped Bunning become a much improved pitcher with a slider that he could consistently get over the plate. He became a pitcher, not just a thrower.”

 

Given another shot at the rotation, Bunning would not look back. On May 16 he beat the Boston Red Sox with a complete game five-hitter at Fenway Park. Remaining in the rotation for most of the remainder of that 1957 season, Bunning made the National League all-star team and won 20 games, finishing ninth in the AL MVP balloting.
This would prove to be the only 20-win season of what would become a 17-year career in the Majors for Bunning. But over the next half-dozen he would remain one of the American League’s most effective starting pitchers.
From the seven seasons from 1957-63 with Detroit, Bunning would go 110-81 with a 1.181 WHIP. He was consistently at or above the 250-innings pitched and 35-start marks, proving one of the league’s most durable as well. He was a 7x AL All-Star, and received MVP votes three times.
Perhaps the highlight for Bunning during this excellent stretch came on the afternoon of July 20, 1958 at Fenway Park in Boston. In the first game of a doubleheader that day, Bunning tossed a 12-strikeout no-hitter against Ted Williams and the host Red Sox.
During his nine total seasons with Detroit, the Tigers only took a run at an American League pennant once. That came during a tremendous 1961 campaign in which the club won 101 games, a total that would have won the pennant in all but two of the prior 15 seasons. Unfortunately for those 1961 Tigers, the New York Yankees led by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle had a season for the ages, winning 109 games.

Entering September, the Tigers trailed the Bronx Bombers by just 1.5 games in the standings. But New York opened that final month by sweeping a three-game set between the two clubs, Detroit dropped 12 of their first 17 that month, and the pennant race was over.

 

Things began to sour for Bunning in Detroit during the 1963 season. A managerial change saw new skipper Chuck Dressen bang heads a few times with his star pitcher. The club was also apparently not enamored with Bunning’s second career as a stock broker, or with his outspoken role as the Tigers’ player representative – an early hint at his interest in politics.
It all came to a head on December 5, 1963 when Detroit general manager Jim Campbell and Phillies GM John Quinn swung a four-player deal. In that trade, Bunning and 32-year-old catcher Gus Triandos went to Philadelphia, with outfielder Don Demeter and young pitcher Jack Hamilton heading to the Tigers.

Bunning would take to the National League like a fish to water. Over his first three seasons with the Phillies, Bunning won 19 games each year and then won 17 in 1967.  He was an NL All-Star in three of the four seasons, and finished as the 1967 NL Cy Young Award runner-up.

 

Every Phillies fan who was around and old enough to follow the club (I was two years old that summer) is well aware of what happened during the 1964 season. What happened over the final two weeks that September has left a scar that remains visible more than a half-century later.
But that summer was filled with excitement for baseball fans in Philadelphia. Few days were more so than the afternoon of Sunday, June 21. On that Father’s Day at Shea Stadium in New York in the first game of a doubleheader, Bunning pitched a Perfect Game against the host Mets.
Berger describes the early innings of that afternoon as largely uneventful, with the Bunning and Triandos battery working the New York lineup perfectly. As the game wore on and the stakes grew higher, Phillies manager Gene Mauch began to juggle his defenders to get the best possible support behind his pitching horse.
In the bottom of the 5th inning, perfection was saved by a defensive gem. Berger wrote on it as follows:
Mets catcher Jesse Gonder smashed a line drive between second and first. Second sacker Tony Taylor lunged to his left, knocked the ball down, crawled on his knees to grab the ball, and nipped Gonder at first. That was the last play in the game that resembled a hit for the Mets.

Bunning got New York shortstop Charley Smith on a pop-out to Phillies shortstop Bobby Wine to open the bottom of the 9th inning. He then struck out a pair of pinch-hitters sent to the plate by Mets skipper Casey Stengel, getting John Stephenson swinging on a 2-2 pitch to clinch perfection.

 

An 18-year-old wunderkind named Rick Wise followed Bunning’s perfection with a solid performance of his own, with Wise gaining his first of what would be 188 career big-league victories in game two of that doubleheader. That Sunday sweep in the Big Apple pushed the Phillies two games in front in the National League pennant race.
An August spurt would lift the Phillies to a season high 7.5 games in front of their National League rivals a number of times during late August. They still held a 6.5 game lead as late as September 20.

And then, with just 12 games left, it all fell apart. The Phillies infamously lost 13 of 15 games after September 15, including 10 in a row. Despite winning their final two games, the club would finish a game behind the Saint Louis Cardinals.

 

Despite having a winning team in each of his four seasons with the club from 1964-67, the Phillies would never truly contend for a pennant aside from that 1964 club during Bunning’s first go-around in Philadelphia.
On December 15, 1967 with the Phillies looking to move into a rebuilding mode, Quinn shipped a now 36-year-old Bunning off to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for pitchers Woodie Fryman and Bill Laxton, minor league prospect Harold Clem, and a 20-year-old infield prospect named Don Money.
Bunning would split the 1968-69 seasons pitching for the Pirates and then the Los Angeles Dodgers. With Major League Baseball having expanded and moved to a divisional format for the first time, the Dodgers were involved in a four-team battle royale for  the newly formed National League West Division.
Los Angeles obtained Bunning in an August 15, 1969 trade from Pittsburgh, and the veteran righty would immediately join and remain in the Dodgers starting rotation. Within a week, LA took the divisional lead. But despite Bunning pitching well for them, the Dodgers would fade over the final two weeks in a performance that nearly mirrored the 1964 Phillies collapse.
That would prove to be Bunning’s final shot at the postseason. He never did pitch in a playoff game during his entire career. The Dodgers released him on October 22, 1969. Exactly one week later the Phillies brought him back, signing him as a 38-year-old free agent.
At that point the Phillies were preparing for their final season at Connie Mack Stadium, formerly Shibe Park, which had been a Philadelphia professional baseball institution since opening in 1909. The club wanted Bunning to provide some name recognition and experience for a team that had dealt away mercurial star Dick Allen and was looking to get younger in preparation for the 1970’s and a new era in a new ballpark.
Bunning made his final start at Connie Mack Stadium on Sunday, September 27, 1970. It was a classic pitching showdown with another future Hall of Famer, Fergie Jenkins, who had briefly been Bunning’s teammate with the 1965-66 Phillies. The 27-year-old Jenkins would come out on top, tossing a complete game, holding the Phillies to four hits in a 5-3 victory.
The following spring would mark the opening of a new multi-purpose sports stadium in South Philadelphia. Bunning was tapped by manager Frank Lucchesi with the honors of taking the mound for the first Phillies game at Veteran’s Stadium.

On Saturday afternoon, April 10, 1971 at approximately 2:21pm local time, Bunning delivered his first offering. Montreal Expos leadoff man Boots Day grounded that first pitch right back at him, Bunning turned and flipped to first baseman Deron Johnson for the out, and a new era in Phillies baseball was underway.

 

Bunning would remain in the starting rotation on a regular basis through July 1 but became less and less effective as the summer rolled on, finally relegated to bullpen duty over the last two months.
His final official Win in a Phillies uniform came on June 16, 1971 at The Vet in a 6-3 victory over Willie MaysWillie McCoveyBobby Bonds and the San Francisco Giants.
During his six total seasons with the Phillies, Bunning went 89-73 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.111 WHIP. He allowed 1,361 hits over 1,520.2 innings across 226 games, 208 of them starts, while striking out 1,197 opposing batters. He remains seventh on the all-time franchise strikeouts list today.

Including his years with Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles, Bunning fashioned a career 224-184 mark. He compiled a 3.27 ERA, 1.179 WHIP and struck out 2,855 batters over 591 games and 3,760.1 innings pitched.

 

After his retirement, Bunning was hired as a manager in the Phillies farm system and moved up through the ranks over the early-1970’s. As the big-league club was becoming a contender in the middle of the decade, Bunning appeared to be being groomed for the Phillies managerial job.
As told by Berger, there was apparently some falling out between Bunning and influential Phillies farm director Dallas Green. The two had been teammates during the mid-60’s and were longtime friends. But the Phillies unwillingness to give him the big-league job and Bunning’s own “brutal honesty“, as Berger put it, finally led to his being released after the NL East-winning 1976 campaign.
Following a failed attempt at becoming part-owner of the Houston Astros, Bunning returned home to Kentucky where he became a player agent. He was also recruited to run for a city council position in Fort Thomas and won, launching his political career.
In 1980, Bunning was elected to the Kentucky state house, where he would serve as a state senator through 1984. He tried a run for governor and fell short by 54-44% in that 1983 election, but his name was now growing statewide. He would win as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress just four years later and served in the House of Representatives for six terms.

When longtime Democratic Party incumbent Wendell Ford decided to retire and not run in the 1998 race for the United States Senate, Bunning accepted the Republican Party’s challenge to try to claim the seat. In a hard-fought campaign, Bunning edged out his Democratic Party opponent by 49.8-49.2% to claim a Senate seat.

 

Bunning would hold on to that U.S. Senate seat with a 50.7-49.3% victory over another strong Democratic challenger in 2004. But then as the 2010 election cycle approached, the then 78-year-old decided against seeking a third term. He had, however, played a large role in the Republican Party rise to power, and was succeeded in his seat by another Republican, Rand Paul.
Back in 1952 when he had received his first pro contract with the Tigers, Bunning purchased an engagement ring for his childhood sweetheart. He and the former Mary Catherine Theis would remain married for the rest of their lives and would have nine children. By 2013, that union had also produced 35 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

On May 26, 2017, Jim Bunning died from complications of a stroke that he had suffered in October 2016. He was 85 years of age. He is buried in the town of Fort Thomas, where his political career began, in his beloved home state of Kentucky.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Philography: Jim Bunning

1971 Phillies: My first team

 

 

 

 

 

I was just nine years old when a then ultra-modern sports cathedral known as Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, also known as Veteran’s Stadium or more simply “The Vet”, opened virtually in my South Philly back yard.

And it was the 1971 Phillies team, the first to play on a new Astroturf surface, that became the first Phillies team I ever followed.

My friends and I were fans of The Vet even before the place officially opened. We would ride our bikes to the stadium on the nice March days prior to it’s opening, and on many days even once it did open. We rode our bikes around the concourse, picking up speed, and then would hit the long, sloping pedestrian access ramps at full speed. The effect would be like putting our bikes on turbo-powered boosters.

My dad took my brother, Mike, and I to a Phillies formal “Opening Day” event for The Vet. This was not an actual game, but took place prior to that first game. We had seats somewhere in the upper deck, probably around what was the 600 level.

1971 Phillies
Veteran’s Stadium opened for that 1971 Phillies season

I clearly remember being in awe of the place. Everything was shiny and new at that point. The gleaming white concrete outer pillars. The surreal-looking green Astroturf artificial playing surface. The brown dirt of the base cutouts.

There were dancing fountains of green water in center field. A giant, 13-star Colonial era flag unfurling above them. Revolutionary War characters Phil and Phillis shooting off a cannon along the outfield walls. And what seemed like a massive computerized scoreboard.

I had never been to old Connie Mack Stadium, something that I still jokingly hold against my dad in our conversations. The neighborhood of that old ballpark around 21st and Lehigh had become so dilapidated during the late-60’s, when I was a little kid but old enough that I would have appreciated a trip there, that my dad just felt it was too unsafe to take us. And besides, he was not a big baseball fan back then. Golf and basketball were his sports.

But here we were at The Vet for this special Opening Day, because it was new, and it was an event that was close to our home. For that nine year old me, it was love at first sight. I was in love with the place, but I had still never seen a baseball game in real life. That would be a love that would last to this very day.

The Phillies began playing at the stadium just days later, and the 1971 Philadelphia Phillies team would become the very first that I would follow in my lifetime.

In the true Opening Game, on April 10th, 1971, the Master of Ceremonies for pre-game festivities and introductions was a new broadcaster in town by the name of Harry Kalas.

The Phils defeated the expansion Montreal Expos by a 4-1 score, with future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning getting the win, and all-time Phillies player/coach great Larry Bowa registering the first hit at The Vet.

1971 Phillies Montanez
Center fielder Willie Montanez banged 30 homers and finished 2nd in the 1971 NL Rookie of the Year vote.

The 25-year old Bowa would eventually grow to become one of my favorite players. But that first year my actual favorite players were a little second baseman named Denny Doyle, and a hot dog  of a center fielder named Willie Montanez.

Doyle was a scrappy 26-year old, playing his second season in the big leagues and as Bowa’s double play partner. Montanez was an exciting 23-year old who hit 30 home runs and finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting that season.

The manager of those Phillies was named Frank Lucchesi, a little olive-skinned Italian who fit right in with South Philly. Unfortunately the second year skipper would only last until halfway through the following season.

In that first year at The Vet, Lucchesi had a mixture of veterans and kids to call upon in both his lineup and on his pitching staff. That lineup was led by 32-year-old veteran first baseman Deron Johnson who would bang out 34 home runs and register 95 RBIs, and 29-year-old catcher Tim McCarver, who would later become a famed broadcaster.

Otherwise, this was a young ball club. Besides Bowa, Doyle, and Montanez there was 23-year old third baseman John Vukovich, 21-year-old left fielder Oscar Gamble, and 25-year-old right fielder Roger Freed.

The Phillies bench was also fairly young, with only 35-year-old fan favorite infielder Tony Taylor having much experience. That bench also included 24-year-old infielder Don Money, who hit the very first home run in Vet Stadium history.

The others who left an impression on me included infielder Terry Harmon (27), outfielder Ron Stone (28), catcher Mike Ryan (29), outfielder Larry Hisle(24), and outfielder Mike Anderson(20). And then came a September call-up from the minors for a prodigious 20-year-old slugger named Greg Luzinski.

The pitching rotation was led by Bunning, who was then 39-years-old in the final season of his Hall of Fame career. Bunning would make just 16 starts in that 1971 season. The last of those was a horrible appearance at the Astrodome in mid-July in which he would yield four earned runs on seven hits in lasting just a single inning.

Bunning also made 13 relief appearances, and it was as a relief pitcher that Bunning wrapped up his career with a two-inning stint at The Vet on September 3rd against the New York Mets.

Another veteran in that rotation was lefty Chris Short. A decade earlier, Bunning and Short had nearly helped lead the Phillies to an NL Pennant. Now they were both aging and in decline. Short was now 33-years old, and would go 7-14 across 26 starts in what would be his final year as a regular starting pitcher.

Also in the rotation for the 1971 Phillies was their up-and-coming stud, a 25-year old named Rick Wise. The right-hander would win 17 games for a team that won just 65, and would be traded just prior to the following season for a left-hander named Steve Carlton.

Filling out the rotation were Barry Lersch and Ken Reynolds, both of whom were back-end starters by today’s lingo. Veteran Woodie Fryman was strong as a swing-man who both started and relieved.  Joe Hoerner was an effective lefty closer for that Phillies team. The bullpen also had a quintet of good-looking 20-somethings in Bill ChampionDick SelmaBill Wilson, and Wayne Twitchell.

Those were my first Phillies. I watched them as much as I could on TV in those days, though not many games were broadcast other than on Sunday afternoons.  More often, I listened that summer for the first time to the excellent work being done from the radio booth by the team of veteran By Saam, former player Richie Ashburn, and the newbie Kalas.

My Dad got us out to The Vet for a couple of games before the end of that 65-97 season. But the losing record really didn’t matter to me at that point. I had been introduced to a new game, a new stadium, a new team, a new love.

I had no way of knowing at that time, but a bunch of those first 1971 Phillies in my life would become enshrined as part of a team Wall of Fame that had not even been established yet. That group included Bunning, Short, Bowa, Vukovich, Luzinski, and Taylor.

In just a few years, they would start to win at The Vet. Carlton and minor league reinforcements named Mike Schmidt and Bob Boone would join Luzinski and Bowa to form a winning core. It all began for me with those 1971 Philadelphia Phillies, and the opening of Veteran’s Stadium.