CD's Connect the Dots... Best Yet At The Vet

As we say goodbye to our dear friend, Veterans Stadium, it is fitting that we give it a proper send off, and selecting an All-Time Phillies Veterans Stadium Team is a worthy endeavor. I have seen the early returns, and it is not my intention to attempt to influence any voters… but just for fun and old times sake, here are my picks.... the Best Yet at the Vet!

It's quite a challenge to name my All-Time team. So I developed selection criteria "befitting the Olympians of yesteryears." My mantra was…foolproof and outright credible. So, first in my list is talented longevity over mercurial stardom... long-term admirable service plays big in my world. A close second is my having seen in action every player that will likely make up the list, so this was not a case of reading Sporting News statistical sheets. Having said that, my third and last barometer is how unduly impressed I was with that talented World Champion 1980 team. It would be an easy pick and a proper case to have that entire team as my A-list... an amazing acknowledgement, seeing as the Vet has been around for over 30 years. It has seen and experienced practically a parade of talents from year to year. But, I am proceeding with a different list.

For obvious reasons, let us dispense with the four evident choices for pitchers...the players that will receive near unanimous support. No further comment is necessary as their numbers speak volumes about their deserving place on this team. Lefty Steve Carlton and Righty Curt Schilling, winners of the last three World Series games at the Vet, is a no-brainer, they will make almost every ballot. The same goes for shortstop Larry Bowa, current chief of the Phillies, and third sacker - Mike Schmidt. Unless you truly have a soft spot in your heart for Jim Lonborg, no other performer at this fourth spot even deserves a mention.

Taking their positions now on the diamond is the rest of my squad, and this writer will endeavor to elucidate the reasons for the selections.

My catcher is Bob Boone, rock solid and dependable for nearly 10 years (1972-81). Although there is popular sentiment for Darren Daulton, Boone is a more worthy candidate. He was the catcher during the greatest era in Phils history, was a timely and clutch hitter, and caught more games than nearly any other catcher in baseball history. A truly underrated player on this team. In fact, this is the first of three positions where a player from the 1980 World Champs is selected over a player from the 1993 National League Champion club.

It appears from studying the early returns that John Kruk is the popular choice at first base. Kruk, a solid and valuable member of the ‘93 team, and one of the more consistent hitters during his stay in Philadelphia, is a worthy candidate. BUT he is not the best candidate; Pete Rose is. To support my claim, ask yourself this.... which other player in Veterans Stadium history was brought to Philadelphia with the expressed purpose of helping the Phils WIN a World Series. Not just to make the Phils respectable, nor help them to move to the next level. No, Rose was brought in for one reason, and one reason alone...and was successful! In fact, his five years with the Phillies contributed to two World Series births.

Too many people forget all the wonderful things Rose did to help us win the World Series. Here's just a few…his scoring from first base in the tenth inning of Game Four against the Astros, when ONLY Rose would have even attempted to score. His bases loaded walk that forced Nolan Ryan out of Game Five when the Astros led 5-2. His clutch hits in the World Series. The sterling .331 average in 1979 and equally impressive .325 average in ‘81. Fact is, if not for the baseball strike in 1981, Rose may have helped lead the Phils to a back to back World Series triumphs. You see, I like John Kruk, but I love Pete Rose!

It is at second base that I probably offer the most controversial choice, given the popularity of offensive wunderkind Juan Samuel and ‘80 World Series hero Manny Trillo. I suspect Trillo will win, and is deserving.... but in my book, Dave "Yes We Can" Cash was better. I believe Cash will suffer because few voters saw him play, he was only a Phillie from 1974-76. Yet, Trillo was also only a member for four years. Cash did more in three years for the Phils, than Trillo did in four. If Pete Rose got the Phils to the mountaintop, it was Cash who allowed them to begin the climb. No player was more instrumental in giving the Phils an attitude that they could win than the effervescent Cash. He was certainly more than a cheerleader.... he hit .300, .305 and .284 during his three seasons with the Phils and achieved over 600 hits! He also was the quintessential lead off hitter and formed with Bowa a tremendous middle of the infield partnership. One more thing, if Rose convinced Michael Jack that he was the best, it was Cash who convinced him he COULD be. This writer thinks Cash won't get the votes.... but should.

With Bowa and Schmidty properly manning the left side of the infield, lets gaze out to left field. Out there, not where the buffalo roam...but where the bull did. "The Bull," as in Greg Luzinski. No hitter… not Schmidt, nor Allen, not even Thome, ever terrorized a pitcher more than Luzinski did during his prime years from 1972-‘78. His numbers were awe inspiring… a 39 home run season, a 130 RBI season, three straight .300 hitting seasons. Few remember that it was the Bull who hit the two-run home run off Ken Forsch in the sixth inning of Game One of the' 80 playoffs that set in motion the FIRST Phillies home postseason win in 65 years. It was also Luzinski who won Game Four with a clutch pinch hit double in the tenth inning.

As great offensively as was "The Bull", he was equally weak defensively, which is why my center fielder of choice is Garry Maddox. Quiet, introspective and smooth as silk.., it was Maddox who inspired Met announcer Ralph Kiners famous quote..."three-quarters of the world is covered by water and the other quarter is covered by Garry Maddox". This writer believes Maddox was basically invisible because he played during the era of Schmidt, Luzinski, Bowa, Carlton and Rose, yet had their utmost respect. Maddox played long and well, a career that spanned over 11 years. He hit as high as .330, stole over 20 bases six years in a row, and made an outfield of Luzinski, Madox and Johnstone a safe place for fly balls to be hit. He was that good!

Please note that there was no more scintillating player during the 1993 season and playoff and series run than Lenny Dykstra, a.k.a "Nails". His season was truly one for the ages, but if longevity and consistent quality production count for anything, Maddox deserves the nod.

Out in right field comes the only current Phillie, Bobby Abreu. Perhaps it will take historical perspective to put Abreu in his place, but it is this writer's opinion that Abreu may someday rank as one of the greatest players in Phillies history… certainly its greatest right fielder. Abreu suffers from the same "sin" those players like Aaron, Maris and Williams suffered from. They played effortlessly and freely, and one rarely noticed these daily skills. Only when season ending statistics are studied, that proper perspective on their talents was put in place.

Abreu may misplay some fly balls, and appear not to always hustle on ground balls. Yet day in and day out, he is a solid .300 hitting machine, with very good power, good base running skills and a very strong arm in right field. He also plays every day, not a fact to be overlooked. If anyone is to compete with Abreu for votes in RF, it will be the whirling dervish of the ‘80 champs, Bake McBride. While it is true that his ‘77 and ‘80 seasons were monuments to mastery, his stay was relatively short and did not have Abreu's overall skills.

For my relief pitchers, give me Tugger and Bedrock and I will guarantee you very few blown ninth inning saves. From the left side, Tug McGraw was beyond comparison. No player more captured the imagination of Phils fandom in 1980 than Tug. It seems he was on the mound at the end of EVERY crucial win the Phils had during the heroic months of September and October. Yet, McGraw was certainly not a one year wonder, he artfully manned the bullpen with the Phils for ten seasons, five of them with ERA's under 3.00. In all, he saved 94 games, and many more hearts!

If McGraw was ice, then Steve Bedrosian was fire. The All-Time save leader until this year, Bedrock as he was known, saved a very impressive 103 games in 218 appearances, nearly fifty-percent. Included in his resume was a Cy Young Award in 1987, a rare and cherished gift for a relief pitcher. Although his stay lasted less than four years, he was so dominating that he is a more deserving candidate than righties Ron Reed and Gene Garber.

Pinch hitters? Give me the dynamic duo of Greg Gross and Del Unser any day and I will feel comfortable going to my bench in a tight spot. This tremendous tandem were as productive as any bench twosome east of LA (we need not revisit Mota-Davillio, please!), and seemed forever to be on base during those tremendously taxing and exciting days in October of 1980.

Bases are loaded… and these are CD's picks.....Boone, Rose, Cash, Bowa, Schmidt, Luzinski, Maddox, Abreu, Gross, Unser, Carlton, Schilling, McGraw and Bedrosian. Though I do not expect all to be elected, this lineup would do any Phillie fan - past, present or future – proud. Indeed, The Best Yet at the Vet!

Columnist's Note: Suggestions, questions and comments welcome. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD


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