Super Star Baseball Yearbook '80
Which Way The Phillies and Pete Rose in 1980?
Philadelphia’s Under Achieving Phillies At The Crossroads
Ralph Bernstein, The Associated Press
The Philadelphia Phillies awarded themselves the 1979 National League pennant on a December day in Orlando, Fla., after signing one of the most prominent free agents in the history of baseball’s Re-Entry Draft. The Phillies’ front office felt it had discovered the missing link in a team that had won three consecutive National League East titles, but swooned in the playoffs, once to Cincinnati and twice to Los Angeles. In the 11 playoff games during those three seasons, the Phillies won only two.
On that 80 degree day in Orlando, Phillies’ owner Ruly Carpenter took his first multi-million dollar plunge into the free agent market. He approved signing Rose to a four year contract for a reported $3.2 million. Rose, later to be honored as baseball’s Player of the Decade, was expected to provide the Phillies with leadership the club felt was needed to get over the championship hump. Of course, it was expected the 38-year-old superstar also would have his customary 200 hit season, average in teh .300s, and play the aggressive baseball that earned him the name of “Charley Hustle” among fans and his peers.
There was still another factor in the Phillies’ signing of Rose, who had played out his option with the Cincinnati Reds and placed himself on the open market. The Phillies were concerned that attendance would fall because of their playoff failures, that fans were down on a team which had been marked as a dynasty of the late 1970s into the new decade. Carpenter, urged by executive vice president Bill Giles, bought the premise that Rose would keep the fans in those seats, as well as lead the team to its first National League pennant in 29 years.
The Phillies were an overwhelming favorite to walk away with the East, and projected as their league’s World Series representative. In addition to Rose, personnel director Paul Owens dipped into the trade market and acquired second-baseman Manny Trillo from the Chicago Cubs, and pitcher Nino Espinosa from the New York Mets. It appeared the Phillies were solid offensively and defensively, had good pitching, including an excellent bullpen. If they had a weakness it was the bench-personnel which had been decimated in the trades.
But something happened on super team’s job to the World Series. They finished fourth in the East. The front office was dazed, the fans disgusted. In late August, manager Danny Ozark was fired and farm director Dallas Green elevated to field boss for the final 30 games of the season. The Phillies were a prime candidate for flop of the year.
Ironically, Rose did everything that was expected of him. He played a new position, first base, and did a better than adequate job defensively. On offense he was Pete Rose. He hit .331, second best in the National League. He amassed 208 hits, breaking the record of nine 200 hit seasons he had held with Ty Cobb. He had 40 doubles, walked 95 times, struck out only 32, stole 20 bases. He dove into bases, played in every game like a 21 year-old, not a potential member of sports’ geriatric set.
Rose also did what Giles had promised when the front office executive said the future Hall of Fame player would overcome a potential attendance drop. Rose had the longest hitting streak, 23 games, during the last portion of the season. He not only helped a team that had fallen on its face keep the fans coming, but was instrumental in boosting the turnstile count over the previous season.
The one thing Rose did not do, was provide the intangible leadership this sometimes lethargic team appears to need so vitally. What the Phillies discovered was that Rose was a leader guy by performance. He wasn’t a holler guy in the clubhouse, a type that tried to infect teammates with his personality, his outlook toward the game. Rose doesn’t know how to play any other way than the flamboyant style that is his trademark. He’s gullible enough to believe that others should do these things on their own.
Rose tread cautiously. He was the center of attraction for the media in spring training. It was difficult to tell what he did more of in Florida, submit to interviews or play baseball. He came along very slowly, went hitless for some three weeks in spring exhibitions. He was concerned that his teammates resented the attention given him by the media. This was a more vexing problem, because many players on the team lacked media awareness, avoiding interviews if possible.
When the season opened, Rose went out of his way to see that his teammates had the opportunity to share the media attention. He would spend some time in an off-limits (to the media) area to be sure others received attention. Once he appeared in front of his locker space he sat and talked until the last microphone or note-pad vanished into the night.
Despite Rose’s efforts to assimilate with a new team, there appeared to be resentment of the newcomer who was earning some $800,000 a year in his first season with the club. Nothing was said, but the feeling persisted that some members of one of baseball’s highest paid clubs found it hard to digest the fact that Rose was the highest paid in the clubhouse.
There was another touch of irony. The manager, Danny Ozark, was the lone member of management who wasn’t overjoyed initially with the acquisition of Rose. Ozark was troubled by Rose’s advanced age, the fact that it left hard working Richie Hebner without a position. Ozark felt losing Hebner’s bat, even on a platoon basis, deprived the team of much needed lefthanded power. It also limited the duties of Jose Cardenal, a good righthanded hitter who played both first base and the outfield. Both later were traded, contributing to the weakness on the bench. Ozark felt he could win without Rose. The ex-manager probably will deny these were his feelings, but he’s a loyalist.
The Phillies did get off to a flying start, and through the first month of the season, it appeared maybe the brass was right. The East race would be over by July 4. But then things started to fall apart. The Phillies were subjected to a series of injuries that could be unprecedented in recent years on one team.
Actually, the injury problem started one February afternoon in California when righthanded pitcher Larry Christenson fell off a bike during a charity caravan. He broke his collarbone, missed spring training, wasn’t ready to pitch until almost June. During spring training, prize rookie pitcher Jim Wright broke a bone in his pitching wrist. Righthander Dick Ruthven developed an elbow problem. Ruthven opened the season in rotation, won his first six games, lost the next five, and by July had to be disabled. Christenson was unable to regain his form once he returned to the roster. Later, lefthander Randy Lerch was involved in a street mugging and suffered a broken bone in his right wrist.
On Wednesday, July 4, the Phillies lost Christenson again with a strained right groin, Ruthven with an inflamed right elbow, and Lerch with that broken bone. They recalled righthander Dickie Noles from their Oklahoma City farm team in the American Association. That left Ozark with a starting rotation of Steve Carlton, Nino Espinosa, Noles, and whoever the manager could dig up on the fourth day.
The bullpen too had its problems. Ozark lost righthander Warren Brusstar in spring training. Brusstar had developed into one of the league’s top relievers the previous year, an excellent middle inning pitcher. He had worked in 58 games. The sinker, slider style reliever specialized in throwing ground balls. He didn’t allow a home run in 93 1/3 consecutive innings. Brusstar was to have been the hammer in the bullpen for Ozark in 1979. He appeared in 13 early season games, then was gone for the season with shoulder miseries the club still isn’t sure have been solved.
During the season, second baseman Trillo broke a hand, shortstop Larry Bowa broke a finger, outfielder Greg Luzinski developed thigh problems, catcher Bob Boone shattered a knee, third baseman Mike Schmidt played with leg problems. Outfielders Bake McBride and Garry Maddox had off and on injury and illness problems. Reserve infielder Pete Mackanin was out most of the season with an injury.
Without Brusstar, the bullpen headed by Tug McGraw and Ron Reed was overworked, and it showed in their ERA figures, McGraw 5.14, and Reed 4.15. Rawly Eastwick was inconsistent, and Doug Bird, acquired from the Kansas City Royals in the spring, appeared in 32 games with a 5.16 ERA mark. Bird spent some time on the disabled list with arm problems.
Dallas Green did an acceptable job after replacing Ozark as manager. The Phillies were 19-11 under Green after he took over August 31. He has signed a one year contract to handle the club again in 1980. Green has been an organization man with the Phillies since the late 1960s, after a major league career as a pitcher who appeared in 185 games with a 20-22 record. He has been a player, coach and manager in the system, and moved into the front office in 1969, as assistant to then farm director Paul Owens. He took over Owens’s job when Owens was promoted to personnel director, succeeding the fired John Quinn.
Green wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with the idea of managing the Phillies, but bowed to the will of owner Carpenter and Owens. In making the announcement that Green would return this year, Owens said, “He was the best man for the job. We wanted to stay within the organization... I feel we have the type of ball club that would have taken someone from the outside too long to find out the different personalities of each player... He learned a lot about our personnel and I just think we are making the right move in light of the type of ball club we have.”
Owens almost confirms that the Phillies are a composite of individuals difficult to pull together in the team first theory. He obviously believes that Green’s tough, demanding personality, mixed with a genuine understanding of the players he’s dealing with, has the best chance of making it a family type team.
Green explains what he tried to do when he took over for Ozark. “When I moved to the dugout, I wanted to evaluate who wanted to play for Philadelphia and who didn’t. I wanted to find out what happened for us in 1979. I was encouraged. I felt in my heart that most guys were sincere in wanting to win, but that they had lost that spark and enthusiasm. The injuries, getting into a situation mentally that really was irreversible, winding up the season playing without four of our top players, all hurt.
“I was upset that the players had dismissed the 1979 season and were thinking of 1980. I told them we still had 30 games to play. I yelled a bit, got things going. Rose held his end up more than anyone could have expected. The guys played good baseball, which encouraged me to believe that we had guys who cared.
“I think the key to our failure last season was injuries, especially to our starting pitching. We never did get it straightened out. It started with Christenson, then Brusstar, Ruthven, etc. Brusstar’s loss added pressure to McGraw and Reed. Bird and Eastwick didn’t perform. The bullpen still is a concern because of age and inconsistency.
“If we can’t make a trade, we may have part of the answer within the organization in Kevin Saucier and Dickie Noles. I think I can get Brusstar type of performance from them, which would take the heat off McGraw and Reed. I can’t count upon Brusstar until I see him pitch. He hasn’t thrown a ball yet. He would be a plus in my book right now.”
The Phillies tried desperately to get relief help at the December winter meetings in Toronto, but for one reason or another couldn’t complete a deal. They’re still trying to pry Sparky Lyle loose from Texas.
Green expects Christenson, Ruthven and Espinosa, who also had some arm problems, to join ace Steve Carlton in the 1980 starting rotation. He also has high hopes for rookie Marty Bystrom, 9-5 with a 4.28 ERA in 26 games at Oklahoma City.
The manager is prepared for a media problem over his handling of Carlton, the lefthanded ace who posted an 18-11 mark last season. Carlton had his own method of training. He dislikes running, feels it does nothing for a pitcher’s condition, at least his. Green likes his pitchers to run. Will he make Carlton run?
“I know the media will make a lot out of what I do with Carlton,” Green says. “It’s a cross I’ll have to bear. Carlton is a mature person. He’s my best pitcher, works as hard as any pitcher I’ve ever seen, reminds me of Robin Roberts and Jim Bunning. I’ve got to convince him that he’s the leader of the pitching staff... I’m not going to say Steve Carlton has to run. I would like him to enter our pitching program as a leader of that program. He can do his own program as long as he wants, as long as he cooperates with the manager and the pitching coach.
“It’s time for Carlton to accept responsibility. The pitchers and other players look up to him. He’s earned their respect. They should. I do. Carlton didn’t get along with Danny (Ozark). Carlton created his own way of doing things. I don’t want to change that, just have him go along with the team concept too. We’ll go eye-to-eye in my trying to make him understand that we’re trying to put together a 10 man pitching staff, and that we have to work together. Individuals can’t go their own merry way. I want ‘we’ thinking on this ballclub not ‘I.’”
As for Rose, Green admitted he felt the same undertones of discontent early in the season because of Rose’s salary status. He said, “There were those who didn’t believe Pete was worth all that money. But he is aggressive, totally dedicated. He shuts out personal problems. He gives fans their money’s worth. And I think the players have come more and more to respect him. He leads by performance, not talking. The players should understand what he does to get a good press... He gives people what they want. He works at the total job of baseball... He won’t shut down the media, say ‘I’m an island within myself,’... I plan to ask the players to be totally cooperative in the public relations area.
Green believes that with the personnel he now has the Phillies can win the East in 1980. He feels he has a more solid bullpen with the additions of Noles and Saucier. He would like a little more offense on the bench. But he claims that if he can get the players to dedicate themselves to winning he feels comfortable going to spring training. He is confident that the Phillies will make good that promise of a world championship made in Orlando the day Pete Rose was acquired.