Monday, July 25, 2011

Random Past Phillie: Tadahito Iguchi

Name: Tadahito Iguchi
Position: Second Baseman
Born: December 4, 1974 in Tokyo, Japan
Acquired, Part I: From the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Michael Dubee on July 27, 2007
Acquired, Part II: Signed as a free agent on September 5, 2008
Phillies Debut: July 28, 2007
Final Phillies Game: September 28, 2008
Uniform Numbers: 12, 9
Career Elsewhere: White Sox (2005-07), Padres (2008)

About Tadahito Iguchi: In most sports, there are few times more hectic than the period right before the trade deadline. Contending teams scour the rosters of the non-contenders to see which players could potentially fill a need that could put them over the top. General managers are constantly working the phones to try and find a match. Players try to remain focused on the job at hand, but hear the rumors involving themselves or their teammates. Some deals are discussed at length publicly before finally coming to fruition. Others come together quickly, sometimes after a brief 11th-hour discussion between parties. A deal can also occur when a sudden need pops up due to unforeseen circumstances. That is how one Tadahito Iguchi came to be a Phillie. The first Asian-born and raised player to suit up for the club, Iguchi turned what appeared to be a crippling twist of fate into a move that helped save a season and take the team somewhere it hadn't been in quite some time.

Unlike other Random Past Phillies to be feature on here, Tadahito Iguchi's journey in professional baseball did not begin with an affiliate of a Major League Baseball team. Instead, it began in 1996, when he was selected by the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League. Iguchi debuted with that club in 1997 and remained with them through 2004. After struggling through his first four seasons in Japan, Iguchi broke out in 2001, hitting .261 with 30 home runs, 97 RBI, and 44 stolen bases. Two years later, he hit .340 with 27 homers, 109 RBI and 42 steals and followed it up by hitting .333 with 24 home runs and 89 RBI in 2004. Following the '04 campaign, Iguchi became a free agent and decided to take his talents to North America. He signed with the Chicago White Sox and would become the team's starting second baseman after beating out Willie Harris for the job in Spring Training.

While Japanese pitchers have been making an impact on MLB mounds for the better part of the past two decades, position players haven't experienced nearly the same level of success. One player who didn't seem to have much difficulty making the adjustment was Iguchi, who hit .278 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI in 135 games for the White Sox in 2005. It was a memorable year all around for the Pale Hose, as they won 99 games en route to bringing home the franchise's first World Series title since 1917.

Iguchi made an impact in the postseason, as his three-run homer in the fifth inning of Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox gave the White Sox a 5-4 lead they would never relinquish. The victory gave Chicago a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series, which they would sweep with a 5-3 victory in Game 3 at Fenway Park. The White Sox would then defeat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the American League Championship Series, four games to one before sweeping four straight from the Houston Astros to win the World Series. Iguchi hit just .191 in 12 postseason games, but got the prize all players covet. It was the third professional championship for Iguchi, whose Fukuoka Daiei Hawks took home the Japan Series crown in 1999 and 2003.

Iguchi proved his first MLB season was no fluke in 2006, as he hit .281 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in 138 games. The White Sox would not be able to defend their World Championship, however, as their 90-72 record left them in third place in the American League Central, six games behind the Minnesota Twins and five behind the Wild Card-winning and eventual AL Champion Detroit Tigers. Things would fall apart for the ChiSox in 2007, as they stumbled to fourth place with a 72-90 record. Iguchi also encountered his share of difficulty, hitting .251 with six home runs and 31 RBI in 90 games.

With his contract set to expire after the 2007 season, Iguchi was made available as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approached. On July 26, the Phillies received devastating news as Chase Utley went down with a broken hand after being hit by a pitch thrown by John Lannan of the Washington Nationals. With their season hanging in the balance, the Phils acted quickly and struck a deal with the White Sox the very next day. Iguchi was off to Philadelphia, where he would become the first player in franchise history who was born and raised in Asia (Bruce Chen, who pitched for the Phillies in 2000 and 2001, is of Chinese descent but was born and raised in Panama). Heading to Chicago was pitcher Michael Dubee, son of Phils pitching coach Rich Dubee.

Perhaps rejuvenated by finding himself back in a playoff race, Iguchi wasted little time making an impression with the Phillies. He collected a single and sacrifice fly in his first game with his new club, a 10-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 28. Iguchi would hit safely in 17 of his first 21 starts with the Phils, including 11 multi-hit games. Though his impact was appreciated and sorely needed, it was a known fact that Iguchi was living on borrowed time in the Phillies' lineup. Utley returned from the disabled list on August 27, and Iguchi would only make three more starts for the remainder of the season.

Though his playing time had been drastically reduced, Iguchi still managed to make an impact. On August 30, he delivered a game-tying pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth inning off New York Mets closer Billy Wagner, then stole second before being singled home by Utley with the winning run in a rousing 11-10 victory that gave the Phillies a four-game series sweep. Against the Nationals on September 30, Iguchi lifted a pinch-hit sacrifice fly to give the Phils a 4-1 lead in a game they went on to win by a score of 6-1 to clinch the National League East on the final day of the regular season. It was the first NL East title for the Phillies since 1993 and capped an amazing comeback in which they edged out the Mets after trailing by seven games with only 17 to go. The postseason was another story, though, as the Phils were swept in three straight by the eventual National League Champion Colorado Rockies in the NLDS. Iguchi appeared in all three games, going hitless in one at-bat and walking twice as a pinch-hitter.

Like many players who are acquired at the trade deadline, Iguchi was strictly a rental for the Phillies. A healthy Utley meant the club would not be able to give Iguchi the playing time he'd receive elsewhere, so the two sides parted amicably and were never very far from each other's mind. For the time being, Iguchi's next opportunity would come with the San Diego Padres, who signed him as their starting second baseman for the 2008 season. After winning the National League West in 2005 and 2006, the Padres lost a heartbreaking Wild Card tiebreaker in 2007, allowing three runs to the Rockies in the bottom of the 13th inning in a 9-8 loss. San Diego went into a freefall in '08, losing 99 games and finishing last. Iguchi suffered through a dismal season himself, hitting .231 in 81 games. With the campaign a lost cause, the Padres released Iguchi on September 1, allowing him to sign on with another team for the home stretch. To nobody's surprise, Iguchi became a Phillie again four days later.

Iguchi's second stint in Philadelphia did not have nearly the same impact as his first, as he appeared in just four games after signing with the Phillies, collecting two hits in seven at-bats. His only start came in the final game of the regular season on September 28, a contest that had become meaningless after the Phils clinched their second straight NL East title the previous day. Because Iguchi was not a member of the Phillies' organization prior to September 1, he was not eligible to be included on the postseason roster and was not with the club when they won the second World Series title in franchise history by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays, four games to one. He did, however, receive a World Series ring, his second in four MLB seasons. In doing so, Iguchi became the first player to ever win multiple Japan Series and World Series titles.

Unlike the previous offseason, Iguchi would have any full-time offers from MLB clubs waiting for him. Still wanting to be an everyday player, he returned to Japan as a member of the Chiba Lotte Marines, with whom he still plays. The Marines won the Japan Series title in 2010, making Iguchi a member of three championship squads in Japan and five overall as a professional ballplayer.

Personal Recollection: There wasn't much fanfare for Tadahito Iguchi when he was acquired by the Phillies, but man what a pickup he was in 2007. He'd been a nice player with the White Sox, but the Phils were pretty well set at second base themselves with Chase Utley. Then Utley's hand gets broken and let's face it, things didn't seem too promising for the Phillies in '07. But Pat Gillick got on the phone and swung a quick deal to bring in Iguchi and the rest is history.

Actually, the Iguchi trade may have been the only positive that came out of the Freddy Garcia deal. See, Garcia had been acquired by the Phillies from the White Sox following the 2006 season, with Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez going to Chicago. Garcia's only year in Philadelphia was an injury-plagued disaster, as he went 1-5 with a 5.90 ERA in 11 starts. The feeling was that Garcia was damaged goods when the trade was made, but the Phils still allowed it to go through. There was also a feeling that White Sox GM Kenny Williams offered Iguchi to the Phillies as a goodwill gesture of sorts with a player who was at best a fringe prospect at best going to Chicago. In case you were wondering, Michael Dubee has yet to reach the big leagues and is currently a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

After the 2007 season, the Phillies gave some thought to bringing Iguchi back to play third base, even though he hadn't played anywhere other than second since coming over from Japan. It's not known how seriously he took the offer, but it became a moot point when the Padres had an opening to fill at second base. The Phils eventually ended up signing Pedro Feliz to man the hot corner. Iguchi was welcomed back with open arms in September of 2008, though it's understandable if you've since forgotten that he returned. He'll always have '07, and it's pretty safe to say the Phillies don't win the NL East that year if they don't make that trade.

That's my story on Tadahito Iguchi. Feel free to share your own recollections.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Random Past Game: May 29, 1994

Date of Game: Sunday, May 29, 1994
Location: Veterans Stadium
Opponent: Houston Astros
Final Score: Phillies 4, Astros 2
Winning Pitcher: David West
Losing Pitcher: Doug Drabek
Save: Doug Jones
Home Runs: Tom Quinlan, Kim Batiste

Phillies Starting Lineup

Lenny Dykstra, cf
Mariano Duncan, 1b
Jim Eisenreich, rf
Darren Daulton, c
Milt Thompson, lf
Kim Batiste, ss
Mickey Morandini, 2b
Tom Quinlan, 3b
David West, p

Astros Starting Lineup

James Mouton, rf
Steve Finley, cf
Craig Biggio, 2b
Jeff Bagwell, 1b
Luis Gonzalez, lf
Andujar Cedeno, ss
Chris Donnels, 3b
Scott Servais, c
Doug Drabek, p

About this game: When you think of baseball history, the first things that enter your mind are achievements by legendary players. There's Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, Hank Aaron's 715th home run, etc. But the beauty of baseball and sports in general is that historic events can occur at any given time, regardless of the participants. On a sunny Sunday before Memorial Day at Veterans Stadium in 1994, a pair of Philadelphia Phillies pitchers came tantalizingly close to entering the record books. A date with destiny wasn't quite meant to be, but the home team did emerge victorious when all was said and done.

After coming within two victories of a World Series title in 1993, the 1994 Phillies were an injury-riddled shell of the previous season's pennant winners who found themselves in the National League East basement thanks to a 12-21 start. They'd finally heat up after that, though, and a 10-3 spurt got the Phils to within two games of the .500 mark by the time the Houston Astros came to town for a three-game set over Memorial Day weekend. There was a lot of buzz surrounding this series, though it had nothing to do with how either club was performing on the field. The reason for the hype was Mitch Williams visiting Philadelphia for the first time since being traded to the Astros following the '93 World Series, which of course ended when the Wild Thing surrendered a three-run walkoff home run to Joe Carter in Game 6, the second loss for Williams in the Fall Classic against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Astros had taken the first two games of this three-game set at the Vet by scores of 4-2 and 7-5, respectively. Solo home runs by Scott Servais and Steve Finley off losing pitcher Shawn Boskie snapped a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning of the series opener and provided the final score. It was not without drama, as Williams entered the game for Houston in the ninth and walked Jim Eisenreich before hitting Mickey Morandini with a pitch. After Kim Batiste lined to left, Williams was replaced by John Hudek, who walked Lenny Dykstra with two outs to load the bases before getting Mariano Duncan on a game-ending popup to save the game for winning pitcher Shane Reynolds. The Astros struck late to win the second game as well, snapping a 5-5 tie on a sacrifice fly by Luis Gonzalez in the seventh before adding an insurance run on an RBI single by Jeff Bagwell in the eighth. Todd Jones nailed down the save for Houston in the middle game as Brian Williams got the win. Andy Carter took the loss for the Phils, who entered the series finale in last place in the NL East with a record of 22-26, eight games behind the Atlanta Braves. The Astros sat at 27-21, tied for first in the newly-formed National League Central with the Cincinnati Reds, two games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Hoping to avoid a sweep, the Phillies sent David West to the mound in the series finale. West had been the lefthanded setup man for the Phils in 1993, going 6-4 with a 2.92 ERA while appearing in 76 games out of the bullpen. He didn't find that level of success out of the 'pen in 1994, going 0-4 with a 5.12 ERA in 17 appearances before being moved into a starting role after a series of injuries decimated the rotation. West made his first start on May 24 against the Cardinals in St. Louis, tossing four shutout innings and getting a no-decision in a game the Phils would win by a score of 4-0 thanks to a four-run ninth. It appeared to be a mound mismatch, as Doug Drabek would toe the rubber sporting a 7-1 record on the season to go along with a 2.42 ERA. But, as they say, there's a reason the games aren't played on paper.

West got his day off to a good start, retiring the Astros in order in top of the first while Drabek worked around a one-out single by Duncan in the home half. A leadoff walk and stolen base by Bagwell didn't faze West in the second, as the hefty lefty struck out Gonzalez, Andujar Cedeno, and Chris Donnels in order to retire the side. The Phillies would strike first in their half of the second, as Morandini singled with two outs and scored ahead of Tom Quinlan on what turned out to be the only home run of Quinlan's career, a two-run shot to give the Phils a 2-0 lead. There would not be another baserunner for either team until there were two outs in the bottom of the fourth, when Batiste launched what would be his only home run of the 1994 season and last as a Phillie, a solo blast to make it 3-0.

The only real trouble West faced all day came in the fifth, as Gonzalez led off with a walk before advancing to second on a passed ball by Darren Daulton. Cedeno followed with another walk, and after Donnels went down swinging for the first out, the runners moved up to second and third on a wild pitch. Servais was up next and sent a deep drive to the seats in left that hooked just foul. Given a reprieve, West came back to strike out Servais, then got Drabek on an inning-ending grounder to Quinlan at third. The Astros remained hitless as they went down in order in the sixth, but West wasn't stretched out enough to last any longer than the 102 pitches he'd thrown, so his afternoon ended right there.

Taking the mound for the Phillies in the seventh was Heathcliff Slocumb, who'd emerged as the club's top setup man after being acquired from the Cleveland Indians the previous offseason in exchange for Ruben Amaro, Jr. Slocumb issued a one-out walk to Gonzalez in the seventh, but kept the no-hitter intact as he struck out Cedeno and Donnels to retire the side. Astros manager Terry Collins pulled out all the stops in the eighth, sending three consecutive pinch-hitters to the plate in an effort to get off the schneid. It didn't work, as Mike Felder (batting for Servais) flied to Milt Thompson in left, while Sid Bream (batting for Drabek) and Kevin Bass (batting for James Mouton) grounded to Quinlan at third. The Phils were three outs away from what would've been the ninth no-hitter in franchise history and first in which more than one pitcher was involved.

There was another element of drama in this game, as Williams would make his second appearance of the series in the bottom of the eighth. The Wild Thing worked a full inning this time, but he yielded the fourth Phillies run of the day as Duncan walked to start the frame before being bunted to second by Eisenreich, stealing third, and coming in to score on a two-out RBI single by Thompson. The outing by Williams represented another "last" in this game, as it turned out to be the final career appearance he'd make in Philadelphia.

With that out of the way, the focus shifted back to the home team and a potential place in the game's history. The Veterans Stadium crowd of 52,930 buzzed in anticipation of witnessing an historic event as Slocumb headed back out to the mound for the ninth inning with the Phils holding a 4-0 lead. Because the game was no longer in a save situation, manager Jim Fregosi had elected to stick with Slocumb for a third inning and leave closer Doug Jones in the bullpen. If Slocumb was to finish off the no-no, he would have to go through the heart of Houston's order.

Visions of an on-field celebration danced through the heads of Phillies fans as the ninth inning got underway, but Steve Finley quickly provided a reality check as he led off with a single to break up the no-hitter three outs shy of its completion. Finley moved up to second on defensive indifference, then over to third when Craig Biggio flied to Eisenreich in right for the first out. A single by Bagwell plated Finley with the first Astros run of the game and sent Slocumb to the showers in favor of Jones. More defensive indifference saw Bagwell move up to second, and he'd come in to score on a Cedeno single with two outs to make it a 4-2 game and bring the tying run to the plate. Jones made sure the Houston comeback ended, as he got Donnels on strikes for the fourth time that day for the final out. History wasn't quite made by the Phillies, but they did salvage the final game in the series. West got the win, Drabek the loss, with Jones nailing down the save.

With the win, the Phillies improved to 23-26 on the season, seven games behind the East-leading Braves. They'd finally climb above the .500 mark on June 19, but they were never more than one game above sea level at any remaining point in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. A 14-22 mark after July 1 left the Phils in fourth place with a record of 54-61, 20.5 games behind the Montreal Expos when play was halted on August 12. The Astros fell to 27-22 with the loss and remained tied with the Reds atop the Central. The strike would prove costly to Houston, as their 66-49 record had them 1/2 game behind the Reds in the division and 2.5 games behind the Braves in the Wild Card standings when the remainder of the season was wiped out.

The victory was the first of the year for West, who stood at 1-4 on the season. Though originally intended to be a short-term replacement, West spent the remainder of the strike-shortened 1994 campaign in the rotation, finishing with a 4-10 record despite a respectable 3.55 ERA. Injuries would limit West to 15 appearances over the 1995 and 1996 seasons, 14 of which were starts. His career ended with six relief outings as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 1998. Slocumb's first season as a Phillie ended with a record of 5-1 and 2.86 ERA in 52 appearances. He'd take over as the team's closer in '95, earning a spot on the National League All-Star team with 32 saves to go along with a 5-6 record and 2.89 ERA. He was traded to the Red Sox after the '95 season in a deal that saw reliever Ken Ryan along with outfielders Glenn Murray and Lee Tinsley head to Philadelphia. Jones was an All-Star in '94, going 2-4 with 27 saves a 2.17 ERA in what turned out to be his only season with the Phils.

Drabek's loss was just his second in nine decisions to that point in 1994, he'd end up at 12-6 with a 2.84 ERA. Williams was released by the Astros two days after this game after going 1-4 with six saves and a 7.65 ERA in 25 appearances for Houston. The Wild Thing would appear in 20 games with the California Angels in 1995, going 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA and seven more with the Kansas City Royals in 1997, going 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA. In between, he had a brief stint in the minors with the Phillies in 1996, but never made it back to the parent club.

Quinlan hit .200 in 24 games for the Phillies in 1994, his only season with the club after brief appearances with the Blue Jays in 1990 and 1992. The remainder of his MLB career consisted of four games and six hitless at-bats as a member of the Minnesota Twins in 1996. Quinlan's brother, Robb, played for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from 2003-10 and was briefly with the Phils during Spring Training in 2011. Batiste would hit .234 in 64 games for the Phillies in '94, his last with the club. After spending 1995 in the minors, he resurfaced as a member of the San Francisco Giants in 1996, appearing in 54 games and hitting .208 in his final MLB season.

This was the closest the Phillies would come to a no-hitter between the ones thrown by Tommy Greene against the Expos in Montreal on May 23, 1991 and by Kevin Millwood against the Giants at the Vet on April 27, 2003. Exactly 16 years after this game took place, Roy Halladay tossed a perfect game against the Florida Marlins at SunLife Stadium, and he'd go on to throw the second no-no in postseason history on October 6, 2010 against the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

Personal Recollection: This was another one of those Sunday plan games, and it wasn't the first time I flirted with seeing a no-hitter in person. You may remember from the feature on Mike Jackson that I was unable to attend the game in which he came within three outs of a no-no in 1987, but in 1990 I saw John Smoltz toss 8.1 hitless innings for the Braves before Lenny Dykstra broke it up with a double and later that same season, I was at the infamous game when Sil Campusano denied Doug Drabek a spot in history with two outs and two strikes in the ninth. At least this time, I got to see the Phillies on the positive side of things.

Perhaps because this was a combined bid, there wasn't the usual buzz along the way that you normally get when a pitcher has a no-hitter going. It really wasn't until about the eighth inning when you looked up and realized the Astros hadn't gotten a hit yet. David West threw the ball very well, but not to the point where you thought he was untouchable.

The decision to leave Heathcliff Slocumb in for the ninth and not bring Doug Jones out of the bullpen wasn't really second-guessed, though I did wonder out loud while Slocumb was throwing his warmup tosses if keeping him for a third inning was a good idea. Maybe Jim Fregosi got gun shy after the whole Roger Mason controversy in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Still, Slocumb had thrown the ball well while he was in, so you can't be too upset about it. Sometimes you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. I didn't witness history that day, but I was in attendance when Kevin Millwood pitched his no-hitter in 2003. So that means I've been at games where pitchers have thrown a no-hitter and come within one, two, and three outs of doing so. Pretty cool, huh?

It was kind of sad seeing Mitch Williams pitch that day. He was completely shattered after what happened to him in the '93 World Series. I always liked the Wild Thing and was sad to see him traded, because I'd hoped he would be able to redeem himself as a Phillie. The guy just didn't have it anymore, though, mentally or physically. One of the guys Williams was traded for, Doug Jones, got the save in this game. Jones was a rare junkballing closer who a lot of people forget was very good in his only season with the Phils. It didn't mean a ton because the season was never finished and the Phillies weren't going to be in the race, but he was on his way to having one of the best years ever for a closer in franchise history.

Todd Jones eventually ended up getting the closer's role for the Astros. A decade later, he would be a Phillie after arriving from the Reds in a trade deadline deal. Seems like a pattern there, with Houston closers eventually pitching for the Phils. Doug Jones, Todd Jones, Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge. That's almost all of 'em over the last couple decades.

Being at the game, I didn't hear the live broadcast, but Harry's call was played on the news that night. Obviously, he was noting how the Phillies were three outs away from a combined no-hitter as Steve Finley stepped in. As soon as Finley made contact, Harry simply said, "Nope. Not gonna happen..." as only he could.

Tom Quinlan was only a Phillie for a brief time, so I assumed his home run in this game was the only one he ever hit with the team. I didn't realize it was the only one he hit in his career, though. It wasn't the last one for Kim Batiste, as he hit three more with the Giants in 1996. I do recall after the home runs, there was a Fred Flintstone "YABBA DABBA DOO!" sound effect played followed by Paul Richardson playing the theme from The Flintstones. The live action movie had come out around that time, which would explain that. I can't say I'm particularly proud of the fact that I can recall this. But on a day that featured eight no-hit innings from the immortal David West and Heathcliff Slocumb as well as home runs from the mighty Tom Quinlan and Kim Batiste, I guess some things are just hard to forget.

That's my story on May 29, 1994. Do you remember this game? If so, feel free to share your own recollections!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Random Past Season: 1989

My apologies for the lateness of this article. Got a little sidetracked with some other stuff, and you know how that goes

Year: 1989
Record: 67-95 (6th place in NL East, 26 games behind Chicago Cubs)
Manager: Nick Leyva
Coaches: Larry Bowa, Darold Knowles, Denis Menke, Mike Ryan, Tony Taylor, John Vukovich
General Manager: Lee Thomas
All-Stars: Von Hayes, Mike Schmidt*
Top Draft Pick: Jeff Jackson (1st Round, 4th overall)

*- won fan balloting at third base, but did not play because he had retired

About 1989: In baseball and all sports, franchises go through periods where nothing really seems to work for them. The Philadelphia Phillies have had more than their fair share of such periods over the course of their long history. Eventually, things reach the point where the only viable option is to clean house and start over. By the time the 1989 season rolled around, the Phils knew they had reached that point. However, there was one major obstacle that was preventing the franchise from going with a youth movement, as the greatest player in the team's history was still a member of the club. His sudden, somber retirement early in the campaign took care of that issue and the Phillies underwent a massive facelift almost immediately. The new arrivals livened up a dead clubhouse and perked up the club's on-field performance to a degree, but not nearly enough to prevent a second consecutive last-place finish in the National League East.

The Phillies had finished the 1988 season with a record of 65-96, last in the NL East and 35.5 games behind the Division Champion New York Mets, and 10.5 games behind the next-to-last St. Louis Cardinals. Lee Thomas had taken over as General Manager in June of '88, replacing the fired Woody Woodward. The club's on-field leadership would also change, as Lee Elia was fired as manager with nine games remaining in the season. John Vukovich guided the Phils for the remainder of the '88 campaign, then stayed on as bench coach when 35-year old Cardinals third base coach Nick Leyva was named manager the day after the season ended.

The most notable change among position players entering 1989 was in the middle of the infield, where veterans Tom Herr and Dickie Thon were added to man second base and shortstop, respectively. Herr had been acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Twins that saw lefthanded starting pitcher Shane Rawley head to Minnesota. Thon was signed as a free agent after spending the '88 campaign with the San Diego Padres. Darren Daulton was deemed ready to take on full-time catching responsibilities, replacing free agent bust Lance Parrish, who was dealt to the California Angels in the offseason. Continuing with an experiment that began late in 1988, Juan Samuel would play center field, while a combination of Von Hayes, Chris James, and Ron Jones would handle the corner spots with Hayes also sharing time at first base with Ricky Jordan. At third base, of course, was one Michael Jack Schmidt, who was returning after his '88 season was cut short due to a shoulder injury amid rampant speculation that he would retire after the '89 campaign. Catcher Steve Lake and outfielder Curt Ford were acquired from the Cardinals to help strengthen the bench, which would also feature infielder Steve Jeltz, outfielders Bob Dernier and Dwayne Murphy, along with first baseman/outfielder Mark Ryal.

Top 1988 winner Kevin Gross was not a member of the starting rotation in 1989, as he was traded to the Montreal Expos in exchange for starter Floyd Youmans and reliever Jeff Parrett. Ken Howell was also added to the rotation after an offseason deal with the Baltimore Orioles. Another newcomer, Steve Ontiveros, was signed as a free agent and would round out a rotation that also included holdovers Don Carman and Bruce Ruffin. Spot starter/long reliever Larry McWilliams was acquired in the same deal that brought Lake and Ford to Philadelphia, sending center fielder Milt Thompson to St. Louis. The aforementioned Parrett would set up for closer Steve Bedrosian while Greg Harris and Mike Maddux filled out the remainder of the bullpen.

The 1989 season marked the start of a new era in a fashion sense for the Phillies as well. The iconic powder blue road uniforms that the club had worn since 1973 were now considered to be outdated, and the Phils switched back to a variation of the gray and maroon threads they'd worn from 1970-72. The Phillies kept this style through the 1991 season, after which they moved on to the look they currently sport.

Predicted to be a doormat in the National League East in '89, the Phillies got off to a surprisingly strong start as they won six of their first eight games and nine of their first 15. It was an all-around team effort in the early going, as most of the starting lineup got off to fast starts at the plate while Howell and Ontiveros did a fine job of settling in to their new homes. It wouldn't take long for things to start turning in the wrong direction, though, and by the end of April the Phils were below .500 at 11-12. They'd never again be that close to sea level. Jones, Ontiveros, Youmans, and Marvin Freeman (called up to replace Ontiveros) all went down with injuries that caused them to miss all or most of the remainder of the year during the season's first month, while Samuel and Parrett also hit the DL in that time.

With their record at 17-23, the Phillies set out for a nine-game West Coast trip on May 23. It started well enough, as Howell tossed eight innings of one-run, three-hit ball in a 4-1 victory over the defending World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers in the first game of the trip. The Phils would not win another game on the trip, losing the final eight contests before returning home and getting swept in three games by the Expos to push the losing streak to 11. Along the way, the franchise would bid a tearful farewell to its greatest player ever.

After the fifth loss during the streak, an 8-5 defeat at the hands of the eventual National League Champion San Francisco Giants on May 28, Mike Schmidt announced to the team that he had played his final game. Like the ballclub itself, Schmidt had fizzled after getting off to a decent start, hitting just .203 with six home runs and 28 RBI in 42 games. He was also struggling badly at third base, having made eight errors while losing most of his range at the hot corner. Feeling he could no longer play up to his standards, Schmidt had been strongly contemplating retirement for quite some time. The May 28 game sealed his decision. With two outs in the fourth inning and the score tied at 3-3, Schmidt booted a routine grounder by San Francisco's Robby Thompson to load the bases. Will Clark followed with a grand slam to give the Giants a 7-3 lead en route to the victory. Schmidt decided at that moment he was playing in his final game and said as much to first base coach Tony Taylor after his final plate appearance, a ninth-inning walk against Mike LaCoss.

The official announcement of Mike Schmidt's retirement came on May 29, 1989. On that Memorial Day, a throng of reporters gathered around a makeshift podium in the clubhouse at San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium. During an emotional speech, Schmidt said, "Over the years of my career, I've set high standards for myself as a player, and I always said that when I could no longer live up to those standards, then it would be time to retire. I no longer have the skills needed to make adjustments at the plate to hit or to make some plays in the field and run the bases." Schmidt began to lose his composure when he said, "Some 18 years ago I left Dayton, Ohio, with two very bad knees..." and broke down while continuting with "...and a dream to become a Major League Baseball player. I thank God that the dream came true." At that point, Schmidt walked away from the podium, where fellow Phillies great Richie Ashburn consoled him in a scene few who saw it will ever forget.

While the organization was no doubt saddened by Schmidt's retirement, they also saw it as an opportunity to overhaul the ballclub. On June 2, James (who had taken over at third base for Schmidt) was traded to the San Diego Padres in exchange for first baseman/outfielder John Kruk and utility man Randy Ready. The deal was a surprise to many, since James was assumed to be the heir apparent at the hot corner, but that was nothing compared to what happened 16 days later.

During a Father's Day game against the New York Mets at the Vet on June 18, Bedrosian was called out of the bullpen, but not to take the mound. The reason for this was so the Phillies could announce he'd been traded to the Giants in exchange for lefthanded pitchers Dennis Cook and Terry Mulholland along with minor league third baseman Charlie Hayes, who was expected to take over at that position for the parent club in the near future. While that deal sent some major shockwaves around baseball, Lee Thomas wasn't even done making moves for that day. A walkoff homer by Von Hayes off Randy Myers gave the Phils a 6-5 win over the Mets, after which neither team was immediately allowed to enter their clubhouse due to the fact a trade between the squads was ready to be announced. This one saw Samuel head over to the Mets, with center fielder Lenny Dykstra, relief pitcher Roger McDowell, and a player to be named later (minor league pitcher Tom Edens) coming to the Phillies.

By the time the Father's Day deals went down, the Phillies were in last place with a record of 23-41. Rare as they may have been, the Phils did manage to record a few very memorable victories along the way. One came on May 15 at the Vet against the Giants as Carman and Scott Garrelts each tossed nine scoreless innings. The game remained deadlocked until the 12th when Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell hit back-to-back home runs off their future teammate Bedrosian to give San Francisco a 2-0 lead. One-out singles by Thon and Lake gave the Phillies a pair of baserunners in their half of the inning, and they were driven home with two outs when Dernier lined a ball to the left field corner that kicked away from Mitchell, who had difficulty picking it up. Dernier circled the bases for a walkoff three-run inside-the-park home run and a 3-2 win for the Phils.

One of the most unlikely victories in franchise history came at the Vet on June 8, 1989 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. On that night, the Phillies spotted the Pirates a 10-0 lead in the top of the first, which caused Bucs color analyst Jim Rooker to remark he would walk back to Pittsburgh if the Pirates lost the game. Thanks to two home runs each from Hayes and Jeltz and a five-run eighth inning, the Phils roared back for a 15-11 win. Rooker made good on his promise, walking from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh for charity following the season. Eight days after the comeback against Pittsburgh, the Phillies allowed eight runs in the first inning against the Mets at Veterans Stadium. Again, the Phils battled back, scoring five in their half of the first and eventually taking an 11-10 lead after seven. Victory would prove elusive in this game, though, as New York scored five runs over the last two innings for a 15-11 win. The Phillies did earn another big comeback victory on August 10 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, rallying from a 10-3 deficit for a 16-13 triumph.

Despite those heroics, it was largely a lost 1989 season for the Phillies, though their 67 wins were one more than their 1988 total. A last-place finish is still a last-place finish, and at 67-95, the Phils found themselves 26 games behind the NL East Champion Cubs and seven games behind the next-to-last Pirates.

Even in the worst of seasons, there are always some positives here and there, and that was the case for the Phillies in 1989. Though a late-season slump pushed his batting average down to .259, Von Hayes slugged a career-high 26 home runs while also leading the club with 78 RBI and 28 stolen bases in what turned out to be his only All-Star campaign. Jordan overcame a slow start to hit .285 with 12 homers and 75 RBI while Thon placed second on the club with 15 homers. Herr hit .287 in what would be his only full season as a Phillie, while Kruk rejuvenated his career by batting .331 in 81 games after being dealt from San Diego. Ready was the team's top bench performer after arriving with Kruk, hitting .267 with eight home runs in 72 games. Jeltz's four home runs were the first ones he'd hit since 1989, and though his .243 average may not look like much, it was his career-high. Charlie Hayes had his ups and downs at third base, but showed some promise by hitting .258 with eight homers and 43 RBI in 84 games with the Phils. On the negative side, Daulton hit just .201 in 131 games, which did nothing to ease doubts about his ability to hold down a full-time role. Dykstra hit just .222 in 90 games after being acquired from the Mets. The players who occupied the bench did very little to make the regulars worry about job security.

On the mound, Howell was the club's top starter, maintaining a 3.44 ERA while generally pitching better than his 12-12 record would suggest. Parrett won a dozen games out of the bullpen, going 12-6 with six saves and a 2.98 ERA in 72 appearances. McDowell had a sparkling 1.11 ERA in 44 games after arriving with Dykstra while also winning three games and saving 19. Pat Combs, a first-round pick in the 1988 Draft, debuted in September and proceeded to go 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA in six starts. Unfortunately, pitching performances such as Carman's league-leading 15 losses and 5.24 ERA were more the norm for the 1989 Phillies. Opening Day starter Youmans went 1-5 with a 5.70 ERA in 10 starts, while McWilliams was 2-11 before being traded to the Kansas City Royals late in the season.

The 1989 season was one of transition for the Philadelphia Phillies, albeit one that produced a familiar result in the end. The club did show some encouraging signs in the latter stages of the campaign and it was now a matter of building on that as the 1990s loomed.

Personal Recollection: I guess for a lot of Phillies fans in my age group, we went through some trying times rooting for the team. The 1989 season was one of those where you knew they weren't going to be any good and it didn't seem like there was much hope for getting much better in the foreseeable future. Another example of being able to stick with a team through pretty much anything if you can stick with them then.

I'll never forget watching Mike Schmidt's retirement press conference. Although Michael Jack obviously was nowhere near the player he once was, it was difficult to imagine the Phillies without him. It was so unexpected to see him break down like that, you couldn't help but choke up a little yourself. A day or two later, Schmidt held another press conference at the Vet for those reporters who weren't present in San Diego. It wasn't nearly as emotional, though there were times when he struggled to maintain his composure. Schmidt closed that conference by addressing young Phillies fans, in which he said, "Have faith in God, work hard, never give up, and your dreams will come true. Mine did."

The trades that were made elicited mixed reactions from Phillies fans, myself included. I guess I was a little too young to understand why you'd trade a guy like Steve Bedrosian, but as Lee Thomas remarked, "You don't need a great closer when you never have the lead." As if that wasn't bad enough for me, I pretty much lost it when the Juan Samuel trade was announced. Sammy was one of my favorite players and I absolutely loathed Lenny Dykstra when he was with the Mets. I wondered how I could ever root for a guy like that. I was rather indifferent towards Roger McDowell, though I thought it was kinda cool he shared a last name with my mother's side of the family. Pretty much all I knew about John Kruk at that point was that he was a fat guy with a weird batting stance. As it turned out, the Phillies got the better of all of the trades they made, and in Dykstra, Kruk, and Terry Mulholland, had three key contributors to the pennant-winning 1993 team.

As I mentioned earlier, for such a poor season, the Phillies did have some memorable wins in 1989:

- Bob Dernier's inside-the-park game-winner against the Giants produced arguably my favorite Harry Kalas call: "Swing and a line drive, it's a fair ball down the left field line going all the way into the corner! Here comes Thon into score, LAKE BEING WAVED AROUND...MITCHELL CAN'T PICK IT UP! LAKE SCORES, HERE COMES DERNIER! THE THROW TO THE PLATE...SAFE! I CAN'T BELIEVE IT! THE PHILLIES HAVE WON, 3 TO 2, IN THE BOTTOM HALF OF THE 12TH INNING! INCREDIBLE! Mitchell could not pick the ball up, down in the left field corner. It kicked away from him! Dernier has circled the bases! The Phillies have won, 3 to 2 in the 12th, would you believe it? Bedlam here at Veterans Stadium, when all looked lost. The Fightin' Phils came back and won, 3-2!" Whitey's yelling and screaming in the background was awesome, too.

- There was a 3-1 win over the Padres at the Vet on May 21, when Steve Jeltz's two-run home run in the eighth proved to be the difference. It was his first homer since 1984.

- The Jim Rooker game was an absolute classic, as was Richie Ashburn's call of Jeltz's second home run: "Fly ball, is it? Is it? IS IT? OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! THREE-RUN HOMER, STEVE JELTZ! (pause as Whitey was audibly laughing before regaining his composure) His second home run of the ballgame! The Phillies now trail, 11-9!" Jeltz also became the first Phillie to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game. The only two Phils to accomplish the feat since are Tomas Perez in 2001 and Jimmy Rollins in 2006.

- I don't remember any great Harry or Whitey calls from the 16-13 game at Wrigley. The ball was flying out that day, as Kruk, Darren Daulton, Randy Ready, and Ricky Jordan all went deep for the Phillies while Ryne Sandberg hit a couple bombs for the Cubs. Jeltz also made a great defensive play that day, when he fielded a grounder up the middle before flipping behind his back to Dickie Thon for a force at second.

- Thon hit a walkoff homer to beat the Mets, 2-1 on September 12 at the Vet, while Tom Herr hit one to win a game at Shea Stadium, 2-1 on September 25, which helped knock the Mets out of the race. McDowell got Gregg Jefferies to ground out for the final out in a 5-3 Phillies win at Shea on September 27. McDowell and Jefferies then exchanged some words, which led to a bench-clearing brawl. Weird, wild stuff.

The Home Companion that year was entitled "(Not Necessarily) Another Day at the Yard" and was hosted by Nick Leyva. Like many Home Companions, there was more focus on off-the-field stuff than what happened on it. One of the highlights was the team's annual Spring Training golf outing, in which Samuel decided to play the role of reporter. As the outing was wrapping up, Sammy saw Harry the K, who'd obviously consumed some adult beverages by that point. Samuel said, "Let me hear it!" to which Harry replied "Juan Samuel...rounding first on his way to second, look at Sammy run! He'll go to third, a triple for Juaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnn Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmmm-uelllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll!"

Another highlight was a segment entitled "Kruk's Korner" where the host basically rips on the misadventures of his fellow teammates, notably Ready's run-ins with the outfield wall at the Vet and Steve Lake's journeys on the basepaths. The tables were turned in the end, when Ready took over and showed Kruk's infamous tumbling headfirst slide into second as well as forgetting the number of outs in left field against the Pirates, which allowed Bobby Bonilla to score from second on a routine fly ball. McDowell's pet snake and his hot foot pranks were also featured prominently. The players seemed to enjoy each other's company, which is always a plus. As Von Hayes put it, "It's nice that we're ending the season and we don't hate each other." Didn't help them a ton on the field, though they did pick things up a little in the second half, going 35-43 after the All-Star break as compared to 32-52 before it. My, how times have changed.

Given how popular the powder blue uniforms are now, it's hard to believe that by 1989, everyone seemed ready to move on from them. Guess absence makes the heart grow fonder. The gray uniforms were exactly the same as the powder blues in design, just a different color. They must not have made a significant impact, because there's a lot of people now who don't recall the Phillies switching to road gray prior to adopting their current logo in 1992, assuming they kept the powder blues until then.

That's my story on the 1989 Phillies season. Feel free to share your own recollections.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shane Victorino: One Man’s Journey to the 2011 All Star Game

There were seasons when I thought Shane Victorino being voted onto the All Star Team was as elusive as the World Series ring is to Jim Thome. But then in 2009, I received a voicemail message from him asking me to vote for him. And then I saw him on television, going door-to-door asking people to vote for him like a politician. Only more genuine and more likely to keep his promise. The Flyin’ Hawaiian was pushing to get a spot on the All Star Team. He did get the spot -- the “final spot,” the last minute, do-or-die spot on the roster.

And here we are again in 2011 saturated by Phillies Nation with campaigning to vote for Victorino. But why? It seems as though everyone likes this man (except, quite possibly, for that fan in Chicago who threw beer on him and Hiroki Kuroda). We have many excellent reasons to adore him. He’s been an active supporter of the Boys and Girls Clubs for as long as we’ve known his name. He hustles on the field and always gives 100%. He chats it up with everyone on and off the field. He probably talks to the lightbulb in his refrigerator. He always seems to be having a darn tootin’ good time. When his parents visit Philadelphia, they bring pineapples to the team for crying outloud. A friend at CSN tells me he’s a heck of a nice guy, very humble and always helps people plan their trips to Hawaii. I’m trying to dislike him, but as I look over at a bobblehead of him in a grass skirt wearing a lei, I just can’t not like him. He just has that certain je nais se quoi. But what do we really know about him?

He will be 31 on November 30. He has spent the bulk of his career with the Phillies and started as number 18. When he replaced Aaron Rowand in CF, the “1” was dropped and we have since known him as number 8. He has one World Series ring. Three Gold Glove Awards. One Lou Gehrig Memorial Award. The Philadelphia Sports Writers Association named him their 2010 “Humanitarian of the Year.” Even at that dinner I saw him chatting it up with anyone who made eye contact with him. He is married with two kids. In the off season, he lives in Las Vegas. He claims it is for the climate and not the party scene. In high school, he was a track and field champ.

I would love to avoid statistics, but in baseball, it really is not possible. Since 2007, Shane has ranked in the top 10 for stolen bases in the NL. As a matter of fact, in 2010, he was 3rd in the NL. In 2009, aka his only All Star year, he ranked 8th in the NL with 181 hits and 7th in the NL with 102 runs.

This season, Victorino ranks 6th in the NL for batting average (of outfielders) and 9th in OBP. As recently as Sunday, he has 12 doubles, nine triples, nine HR, 34 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and 52 runs scored.

Yet, here we find ourselves again, pushing last minute votes to get Victorino into the All Star Game. He is competing with Andre Ethier, Todd Helton, Ian Kennedy and Michael Morse for the final NL spot. He recently partnered with Victor Martinez of the AL to vote “Victor Victorino” for the final spots on the All-Star Game roster. The Phillies are sweetening the deal for fans to keep him in first place by offering a drawing for those voting at least 100 times to win a chance to meet Victorino, two tickets to a Phillies game and a signed Victorino jersey. He is currently leading the NL, but on Tuesday saw Randy Culp, M.D., the hand specialist. Victorino was diagnosed with a Grade 1 sprain and whether he returns to the field or the DL remains to be seen. If he joins the All Star team, he will be in good company with Placido Polanco, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

You can vote for Victorino by clicking here:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Random Past Phillie: Jeff Stone

Name: Jeffrey Glen Stone
Position: Outfielder
Born: December 26, 1960 in Kennett, Missouri
Acquired: Signed as an amateur free agent on August 26, 1979
Phillies Debut: September 9, 1983
Final Phillies Game: October 4, 1987
Uniform Numbers: 26, 14
Career Elsewhere: Orioles (1988), Rangers (1989), Red Sox (1989-90)

About Jeff Stone: Occasionally on these Random Past Phillies posts, you see a feature on a player who was once considered to be a "can't-miss" prospect. Though scouting and player projection is an inexact science in all sports, there are those prospects who come along and seemingly possess the skill set necessary to make it big at the highest level. While those projections can often prove to be right on the money, there's a fairly good amount of "can't-miss" prospects who, well, miss. It can be a case of work habits or talent not translating to the big league level. Sometimes a player may not fit in with a coach or manager's scheme of things, and eventually falls out of favor. Or the experience and expectations could just be a little too overwhelming for a young player to handle, ultimately getting the best of him.

Few Phillies prospects from the past generation or so have been as highly-touted as Jeff Stone, a lightning-fast outfielder from rural Missouri who the organization hoped would be part of the next generation of stars to replace the aging core from the club's mid 1970s-early 1980s glory days. Stone got off to a brilliant start with the Phils, but a puzzling turn in the wrong direction that coincided with a managerial change damaged his career and reputation, stigmas from which he never recovered. Instead, Stone is perhaps best remembered for his malaprops, which, though possibly exaggerated were always good for a chuckle. They also seemed to imply that Stone was not a man of great intelligence and also impacted his reputation.

Jeff Stone's journey in professional baseball began when the Phillies signed him as an amateur free agent on August 26, 1979. Primarily a pitcher in high school, it was decided that Stone's legs and not his 90-mph fastball would be his ticket to The Show, so he was converted to a full-time outfielder. Stone made his pro debut in 1980, hitting .261 while stealing 32 bases in 55 games for Central Oregon of the Northwest League. That was nothing compared to what he did in 134 games for Spartanburg of the South Atlantic League in 1981, when he hit .277 while stealing 123 bases in 136 attempts. Moving up to the Carolina League in 1982, Stone hit .297 with 13 triples and 94 steals in 137 games. The climb up the organizational ladder took Stone to Reading in 1983, where in addition to batting .317 with 10 triples and 90 stolen bases in 125 games, Stone hit 25 doubles and nine home runs while driving in 67. Looking for some speed off the bench in their push to the postseason, the Phillies decided to make Stone one of their September callups in '83.

Jeff Stone made his MLB debut on September 9, 1983, appearing as a pinch-runner for Bo Diaz in the ninth inning of a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium and immediately recording his first career stolen base. That scenario that repeated itself in his next appearance three nights later, when he ran for Joe Morgan in the seventh inning of a game against the New York Mets at Veterans Stadium. Stone would get his first at-bat on September 13, reaching on a bunt single as a pinch-hitter for Tony Ghelfi. His only other plate appearances would come in the season's next-to-last game on October 1 against the Pirates at the Vet. In that game, Stone had two hits in three at-bats, both of which were triples, and recorded three RBI. The last two came in the eighth inning, plating Von Hayes and Darren Daulton with the decisive runs in a 5-3 victory. In all, Stone appeared in nine games for the National League Champion Phillies in 1983, collecting three hits in four at-bats while stealing four bases.

Stone began the 1984 season with Portland of the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .307 with 15 doubles, 14 triples, seven home runs, 34 RBI and 33 stolen bases in 82 games. Mixed in were a couple of stints with the parent club, and Stone didn't disappoint, hitting a phenomenal .362 with 27 steals in 51 games. Though the Phillies slumped to 81-81 in '84, there was great optimism for the future. The young trio of Stone, Von Hayes, and Juan Samuel were expected to terrorize National League pitchers at the plate on on the basepaths while Mike Schmidt and Glenn Wilson would supply the power to knock them in. With John Felske taking over the managerial reigns from the retired Paul Owens, a new age of Philadelphia Phillies baseball was dawning. Seeing this as an opportunity, this new era was dubbed the "Stone Age" by the team's marketing department.

Though the Phillies got off to a disastrous 1-8 start in 1985, the campaign began promisingly enough for Stone, who kept his batting average near the .300 mark for most of the season's first month. He'd soon hit a slump, however, one that he couldn't seem to shake. Felske constantly tinkered with Stone's approach, offering sharp criticism whenever the player struggled to grasp what his manager was telling him. This was a sharp contrast to Owens, who felt the best instruction for Stone was "You see the ball, you hit it, and you run." With his average at .250, Stone was sent back to the minors in mid-June, not returning to the Phils until late August. In 88 games for the parent club in '85, Stone hit .265 with three home runs, 11 RBI, and 15 stolen bases. The stress of the situation caused him many sleepless nights. After one particularly rough game against the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium, a teammate advised Stone to count sheep in order to fall asleep. Stone's reply was, "They don't have sheep in Pittsburgh."

After spending the first six weeks of the 1986 season in the minors, Stone rejoined the Phillies in mid-May and stayed with the club for the remainder of the campaign. He hit .277 with six home runs, 19 RBI, and 19 steals in 82 games with the Phils. Stone had two stints with both the Phillies and "AAA" Maine Guides in 1987, batting .256 in 66 games at the MLB level. Felske was fired in June of '87 and replaced by Lee Elia, but by this time it was apparent that Stone was no longer part of the organization's future plans. He went to Spring Training with the Phils in 1988, but his tenure with the club came to an end on March 21, when he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles along with infielder Rick Schu and outfielder Keith Hughes in exchange for outfielder Mike Young and pitcher Frank Bellino. A trade is always an opportunity for a fresh start, but it ended up being a nightmare for Stone in Baltimore. The Orioles lost their first 21 games of the 1988 season en route to a 54-107 finish while Stone managed just one hit in his first 32 at-bats en route to a .164 average in 26 games before being released following the campaign.

Stone signed on with the Texas Rangers for the 1989 season, where he was called up to the big club after a brief stint with Oklahoma City. He'd appear in 22 games for the Rangers, batting .167 before having his contract purchased by the Boston Red Sox in late June. The Red Sox made Stone a September callup, where he hit .200 in 18 games before releasing him shortly after the season ended only to be re-signed a couple months later. He was again a September callup in 1990, appearing in 10 games but making just two plate appearances. Stone made is mark this time, though, delivering a walkoff single in the ninth inning of a 7-6 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on September 28, helping propel the Red Sox to the American League East title. To describe how good the hit felt, he remarked that he was on "Cloud 10" in a postgame interview.

That single turned out to be the final hit of Stone's MLB career. He was again released and later re-signed by the Red Sox following the '90 season, but did not make it back to the parent club in 1991. Stone's pro career ended after spending time in the organizations of the Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, and Phillies in 1992, not reaching the Major Leagues with any club. His only other professional baseball experience beyond that was in 1995, when he was a replacement player for the Phillies during Spring Training while the regulars were out on strike.

In addition to the aforementioned quotes, there are several others attributed to Stone, the validity of which may be up for debate. Among the best known are replying that he didn't drink after being asked at a restaurant if he wanted a shrimp cocktail; leaving his TV behind upon returning home from winter ball because it only had Spanish stations; and asking if the moon in the city where he was playing was the same as the one he saw back home in Missouri.

Personal Recollection: All or most of my memories of Jeff Stone don't involve anything he did on a baseball field. I was just a couple weeks past my third birthday when he debuted for the Phillies and by the time I really started to follow the team, he was pretty much an organizational afterthought. While I was familiar with the name, I can't really recall much of anything about him playing.

My main memory of Stone comes from That Ball's Outta Here: The Mike Schmidt Story, which was a video the Phillies released in 1987 to commemorate Schmidt hitting his 500th home run. Produced by Dan Stephenson and narrated by Glenn Wilson (who was Schmidt's best friend on the club), it was a video diary of sorts, running from Spring Training of 1987 through April 18 of that year, which was the day Michael Jack connected off Don Robinson of the Pirates for number 500. Included are a couple of career montages, set to the tune of "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King and "Forever" by Kenny Loggins as well as clips from Spring Training and the club's annual golf outing with "I'm Alright" by Kenny Loggins aka the theme from Caddyshack providing the soundtrack. Excellent stuff if you've seen it, some of Video Dan's best work. Too bad it was never converted to DVD.

Anyway, back to Jeff Stone. Another part of this video featured Phillies players and fans predicting how Harry Kalas would call Schmidt's 500th home run. As you can imagine, most of the impersonations were pretty poor, though quite entertaining. The fan impersonations that stick out were a heavyset black guy with Jheri curls whose call ended with, "IT'S A HOME RUN! THE 500 HITTER!" and a couple of obnoxious (and possibly inebriated) white yuppie types. Among the players, Juan Samuel did an outstanding Harry impersonation if you can get past the accent ("Deeeeep fly baaaaallll, left field, that's OUTTA HEEEERE, HONRUN MIKE SCHMIDT!) and Glenn Wilson's was pretty good, too, if you can imagine Harry having a high-pitched Texas twang instead of his Midwestern baritone. Stone's, however, had me in stitches every time I saw it: "Swing and a long drive, might be outta here! It is! Ho' run numa fi' hunit fo' Mica Jack Smit!"

There was another part too, where the Phillies were on a bus trip to an away exhibition game. One of the players (it may have been Steve Jeltz) needed some money for whatever reason, and Schmidt offered him a loan. After the offer was accepted, Schmidt pulled out his wallet and proclaimed, "Smackas is arrived!" Stone was sitting behind Schmidt and his take on the situation was, "Yowza, yowza, yowza! Today must be my lucky day!"

I'd read about how badly Stone had struggled under John Felske after thriving with Paul "The Pope" Owens at the helm. Pope always had a great feel on how to handle players, sort of like how Charlie Manuel is now. It's true that you manage 25 different players and you have to adapt as much to them as they have to you. Lots of players had trouble with Felske in this regard, so it's probably not a huge shock he didn't get another managerial job after the Phillies fired him. Owens was also critical of how Felske handled Stone. Of course, Stone wasn't necessarily the brightest player around and even admitted that he never got a whole lot of instruction along the way, more or less being told to just go out and play. Not a whole lot of give or take from either side there. The quotes that supposedly came from Stone played a factor in all this, too. While they likely meant to be endearing, it more or less backfired and played into his reputation as a guy who was unintelligent and difficult to coach. Maybe Stone's career would've turned out the same way had Owens stayed on as manager, maybe not. We'll never know for sure.

That's my story on Jeff Stone. Feel free to share your own recollections.