The story of Bob Boone is a rather remarkable one, both for his timing and durability. Many remember Boone as the catcher who played during the greatest seven-year period in Phillies history (1975-81). What many don't know is that Boone was a converted third baseman who played less than 200 minor league games as a catcher before arriving in Philadelphia in September of 1972. Boone knew that his quickest way to the big leagues was through the tools of ignorance as he was wise enough to spot Michael Jack Schmidt blocking his path to the big leagues at third base.
Oh, how he took to catching, like a duck to water. With sharp intelligence (he was a Stanford graduate), a powerful arm, and quick reflexes, Boone became a fixture behind the plate for the Phillies, starting in the Spring of 1973. His rookie season was solid, with a .261 average and 10 home runs. Of greater importance was his becoming part of a foundation of players consisting of Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Steve Carlton – the lineup that would dominate the NL East from 1976-1981.
During this period Boone would take part in some of the most memorable games in Phillies history. One of Boone's most admirable qualities was his tremendous desire to succeed. After a bad knee injury in 1975 that gave his starting job to Johnny Oates, he returned in 1976 determined to recapture his position. Many players would have requested a trade but Boone said his father, the former great player Ray Boone, always taught him not to run from adversity. This lesson would serve him well as Oates was injured on Opening Day of 1976 in a collision with Dave Parker, which led to his reclaiming his job. He would never truly relinquish it until he left after the ‘81 season.
Among Boonie's accomplishments were three straight years hitting over .280 in ‘77, ‘78 and ‘79. He was also a regular member of the NL All-Star team from 1976-1978 and won Gold Gloves in '78 and ‘79. But numbers tell only part of the story. To understand Bob Boone was to know that his rock solid stance behind the plate, despite many bothersome injuries, was a source of strength to a team that was on the threshold of greatness.
In fact, he played in great pain throughout the pennant race of 1980 and it showed in his .229 averages. However, he remained a clutch performer as his .412 average and four RBI in the 1980 World Series shows. Speaking of clutch, it was Boone who produced an early two run single against Nolan Ryan in Game Five of the epic NL playoff series against the Astros in 1980. It was Boone who later hit the single off Ryan's glove in the eighth inning to continue what would ultimately be a five run eighth inning rally.
It was Boone who got several clutch hits in the World Series against the Royals, including an RBI single in the deciding game. And, yes, it was Bob Boone, on that dreary October afternoon in Montreal, with a NL pennant on the line, who singled to center field to tie the game at four and set up the eleventh inning heroics of Mike Schmidt. Without Boone's single, the Expos win the game, tie the Phils for first place, and set up a winner take all game on Sunday. We will never know what would have happened if it had gone to a pivotal final day.
What we do know is that Boone made that final game a moot point with his clutch single to center field. We also know many other things about the man. We know that he comes from an incredible baseball family. His father, Ray, was a big league infielder for many years. Bob's two sons, Aaron and Bret, are both very talented infielders in Cincinnati and Seattle.
We know that he had a rather dysfunctional relationship with star lefty Steve Carlton for many years. It was no secret that Carlton preferred to have Tim McCarver as his personal catcher, despite Boone's talents. We know that despite their differences Carlton won a Cy Young award in 1980, and Boone was his catcher.
We also know that Boone was an outspoken member of the Baseball Players Union team in 1981 and his image on television could not have helped his standing with the average Phillie fan in a city that is hardly pro union. When the players went on strike in ‘81, Boone was considered one of the union leaders. What we don't know is whether or not this contributed to his being sold to the Angels after the ‘81 season.
The Phillies felt his best days were behind him, but his three outstanding seasons as a member of the California Angels, under Manager Gene Mauch, disproved that theory. This writer's theory states that had Boone had those three solid years (‘82-‘84) in Philadelphia instead of Anaheim, it would be Boone, and not Daulton, whose name would forever be associated as catcher of the All-Veterans Stadium team.
For nine solid years, Bob Boone was synonymous with Schmidt, Luzinski, Bowa, Maddox, Carlton.... and winning. He helped forge a Phillie legacy that may never be repeated. He alone was the catcher on the only Phillies team ever to win a World Series. And in 1980, when the Phillies were, in Bonnie Tyler's words, "holding out for a hero,"...Bob Boone came through, as only heroes do.
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