As Mike Schmidt was the Phillies player of the ‘80's, Luzinski reigned as the Phillie player of the ‘70's. Think about that one for a minute. In the decade that really defined this franchise, the era of Schmidt, Rose, Carlton, Maddox, Bowa and Boone....Greg Luzinski was the premier player. In fact, next to George Foster, slugger-extraordinaire in Cincinnati, Luzinski was the most feared slugger in the National League in the ‘70's.
Perhaps the most impressive trait of Luzinski was his ability to hit for average as well as power, something Schmidt didn't learn for several years. A four-time .300 hitter, he showed the ability to hit the first pitch into the left field seats, yet take the two-strike pitch to right field. And he was much quicker on his feet than was ever given credit for, especially in his early years, before the ravages of knee injuries ultimately wore him down.
From the moment Luzinski arrived upon the Philadelphia scene in 1971 (though he did have 12 at bats in 1970), there was little doubt of his eventual stardom. He came up in September of that year and hit .300 with enough power to stamp him as a player the Phils could build around. And after a solid rookie year in 1972, his true coming out party was in 1973 when he hit 29 home runs and knocked in 97 runs for a Phillie team loaded with young talent.
Luzinski was also well known for his clutch hitting. Indeed, Phillie lore is famous with his exploits of clutch hitting. It was his three-run homerun in Montreal that clinched the 1976 division title. It was his three-run homerun that clinched the 1978 title against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. His two-run home run and clutch pinch-hit double won Games one and four of the NL Championship Games against Houston in the epic five-game series in 1980. Overall, in 16 playoff games, Luzinski hit five homeruns, a very impressive number.
His first real setback occurred in 1974 when his Phillies led the league in early June. Sparked by players like Dave Cash, Mike Schmidt and Willie Montanez, the Phils were the class of the NL East until a routine fly ball, and a seam in the dreaded Veterans Stadium turf, caused "The Bull" to suffer a devastating knee injury. Though he returned in September, his season, and that of the Phils, was never the same...and the league would have to wait one more year for the full onslaught of his power.
That onslaught occurred in 1975 to the tune of 34 Home runs, 120 RBI and a .300 batting average. That he was fully healthy was reflected in his playing in all but one of the 162 game schedules. It was in ‘75 that he and Schmidt began to form the preeminent home run duo of the mid ‘70's, Schmidt hitting 38 home runs that season.
Though the Phils had begun to achieve some great individual honors, as players like Schmidt, Bowa, Cash and Luzinski became household names, it was the period from 1976-1980 that the Phillies would truly become the class of the NL East. For Phillies fans, this was truly a golden era...four NL East titles, one World Championship and two seasons with over 100 wins. One fact is certain. This wonderful run of success could never have happened without the legendary clouts of one Greg Luzinski.
All great players have at least one defining season, the one season when all the stars are aligned perfectly, when every ground ball has eyes, when every line drive finds a hole, when every deep drive lands in the seats. Luzinski's season was 1977, his season for the ages. And as great as Schmidt's career was, it's unbelievable that he never matched Luzinski's 130 RBI total of that ‘77 season. Just contemplate on that for one minute.
There are many (this writer included), who maintain that the GREATEST team in Phillies history was the 1977 lineup - and Luzinski was its greatest player. His 39 home runs and .309 average, was the driving force behind a wrecking crew that won 101 games, played nearly .700 baseball for the last 103 games of the season, and set the Phils record that may never be matched.
Yet, in the irony of ironies, it was a fly ball he couldn't catch in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the NL Playoffs, which will forever taint that point in time. The Phils chances of playing in the ‘77 World Series slipped away with that fly ball. Luzinski and his team would have to wait three more years for a World Series birth.
In the Phillies greatest moment of team glory - the 1980 World Series Championship - Luzinski played only a minor part. His aching knees were a problem; and as such, he was reduced to a secondary role and went hitless in the Series triumph. But without "The Bull" they never would have made it. Ironically, his final game as a Phillie was Game Six of the 1980 World Series, when Phillie ghosts of past failure would be buried forever.
Luzinski was gone before the ‘81 season began. His troubles with Manager Dallas Green along with his bad knees made him a risk to the organization, a risk the Phils could no longer afford. Traded to the Chicago White Sox, he enjoyed three successful seasons as a designated hitter. He hit as many as 32 home runs and drove in as many as 101 runs. His career ended at 34 years old, after the 1984 season.
To this day, he remains committed to the game. He coaches at the amateur level, and remains a popular figure at Old Timers Festivities in Philadelphia. Children by the hundreds benefit from his famous Bull Ring, a place he sponsors for needy children to attend games for free.
Though his career was shortened by injuries, tales of his legendary home runs are still talked about by Phillie fans everywhere. One of the saddest moments of the demolition of Veterans Stadium after the 2003 season will be the destruction of locations where Luzinski launched his moon shots, places you had to see to believe. Believe it!
Phillie fans were blessed to have had a combination of Paul Bunyan and his Babe - the Blue Ox, in one player....our mighty Bull, Greg Luzinski.
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