St. Louis Post-Dispatch - April 17, 1980
Slimmed-Down Bull Still Bullish on Birds
By Cal Fussman of the Post-Dispatch Staff
At the time, Jean Luzinskl took it with a grain of popcorn salt. Her husband, Greg, had stopped munching on the usual winter-evening snacks with the kids in front of the fireplace.
Then she noticed the large cord of wood piled outside their New Jersey house. It seemed to grow at a faster rate than it was being used in the fireplace. Her husband, alias The Bull, was chopping logs... after the morning workout with a few Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium... and after the tennis matches in the afternoon.
When steak, salad and potatoes were placed in front of The Bull at dinner, the french fries were left over.
"Why aren't you eating your potatoes?" she would ask.
"I don't know," he would reply.
Jean Luzinskl started scratching the top of her head.
Her suspicions were confirmed when the bottles of beer remained in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Yes, The Bull was on a diet.
The left fielder shed 22 pounds during the winter after being tortured by the Philadelphia fans, who booed him without restraint last year. The Bull hit only 18 home runs last year – 17 less than he hit in 1978 and 21 less than he hit in 1977. The Bull batted.252 last year, 33 points below his career average.
The Bull was a butcher in the outfield, the fans claimed, and was flabby and loafing. The team was losing and they had to blame somebody. Everybody seemed to be injured and a fan can't yell at an injured player. Why not yell at The Bull? He was having an off-year. Even some of the fans in The Bull Ring, a section of left-field seats that Luzinski buys for underprivileged kids, sniped at him after an occasional strikeout. Nothing like the fans in the City of Brotherly Loathe.
"I went through hell last year," The Bull said. t "So I worked like hell to get to where I am."
At a still-not-so-svelte 217 pounds, The Bull is back. He continued his fine early-season hitting Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium by rousing two Phils' rallies in Philadelphia's 8-3 victory over the Cardinals.
Luzinskl is batting.300 (six for 20) after five games. Any doubts as to whether he was planning to return to his 1975-77 form (during those three seasons he averaged.304, 31 home runs and 115 runs batted in and twice finished second in voting for the Most Valuable Player) vanished on opening day. In his first at-bat, he hit a three-run homer off Montreal pitcher Steve Rogers. The fans who had taunted him with jeers last season, stood and cheered.
"If I would have written a book about it," he said, "I don't think I could have come up with a better ending than hitting that home run."
As Luzinskl trotted toward third base, coach Lee Elia raised his hand in anticipation of the customary form of congratulations. The Bull jumped up and slammed his fist down upon the coach's hand as if his arm were a jackhammer.
"I think he temporarily dislocated my elbow," Elia joked. "I've got to watch out for Bull next time."
Elia became serious. "Anytime somebody loses that much weight and is that dedicated to getting in shape, you know he is going to have a good year," he said. "Usually, if a guy loses four or five pounds over the winter, he thinks he is in good shape."
After the opening game, Phils' Manager Dallas Green said: "I'd have bet my house that The Bull is going to have a hell of a year. The first payment is down."
Perhaps the second payment was placed Wednesday. Luzinskl ended a duel with losing pitcher Bob Forsch, 0-1, by grounding a double down the third-base line in the fourth inning. It drove in Mike Schmidt, who had doubled to right. And it capped a two-run rally, which started when Garry Maddox doubled to left-center.
"He's really hitting well. I'm really proud of Bull," Green said. "He went home after last season and looked in the mirror and decided that he wanted to make a few changes."
The Bull reduced his weight from 239 to 217. His naturally curly hair has been straightened. Contact lenses have been replaced by glasses. When Mrs. Luzinskl looked over her 29-year-old husband at spring training, she observed: "The people won't boo you because they won't recognize you."
Some people will never forget. Guys like Forsch.
"If he needed the glasses to hit better last year, 1 don't see why," said Forsch, who surrendered a home run and a triple to The Bull last season.
"I've had some good hits off Forsch," Luzinskl said. "I've always been able to hit some of his mistakes."
There weren't many of them Wednesday. Two years to the day after his no-hitter against the Phils, Forsch allowed only two runs on five hits and two walks in eight innings. Forsch has pitched well for 16 innings this season, allowing only four runs.
"If I keep pitching this way, I'll be all right," said Forsch. "I'd rather be winning. I'd rather give up four runs and win, 5-4."
This desire ran into two problems.
One: Phillies' pitcher Steve Carlton, who went 8⅓ innings and won his 150th game. Through eight innings, Carlton allowed six base runners and no runs in gaining his second victory without a loss.
"I've never seen a slider like he was throwing," said Cards' third baseman Ken Reitz, who had three of eight hits off Carlton. "If he pitches like that all year, I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the no-hitter column."