Wilmington Morning News - April 7, 1980
Wright fills strike void with two-hitter
‘People who saw me pitch today are going to think I am ready to join the big team.’
By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Even to Philadelphia television viewers it was just a meaningless exhibition game between two minor league teams. Heck, there wasn't even any Florida sunshine to pump back North on Easter Sunday.
But to the Phillies it was a red-letter day. It was like the first day a little baby walks; it was like the first day the little boy rides a bicycle.
Jim Wright, once the brightest pitching prospect in the Phillies' organization before injury after injury knocked him down, threw six scoreless innings allowing just two hits as Oklahoma City defeated a team of camp all-stars 3-2.
The game was televised back to the Philadelphia area, filling the void of a major-league exhibition that was canceled because of the players' strike.
For Wright, who missed all of 1979 because of a fractured arm he suffered while pitching in an exhibition game March 21, the performance was his best since 1978.
"That was the day I threw three scoreless innings against St. Louis down here," the 25-year-old right-hander said. "It was a great feeling to go out there and do what I wanted to do with the baseball."
With the Phils' pitching staff the biggest question mark entering Friday night's opener at Veterans Stadium against Montreal, Wright's outing was one of the most encouraging things to happen in 10 days.
"He's ready to pitch in the majors right now," said Jim Snyder, Oklahoma City manager. "He had great movement; be was moving the ball in and out. His fastball was really popping."
Wright has been bothered by arm miseries since August of 1977. He was having an outstanding summer when an injury ended his season. The problem popped up again during spring training in 1978, forcing him to miss most of the season and eventually have surgery.
"People who saw me pitch today are going to think I am ready to join the big team," Wright said. "Frankly, I don't know what they have planned for me in 1980. My only goal is to be healthy all season and get back in a good groove."
Most of the people who watched yesterday's game under cloudy skies at Jack Russell Stadium were surprised he was able to have such good control.
"That's something I have always had," said Wright, who has a 42-19 record in three-plus minor-league seasons. "I knew if my arm was healthy, I wouldn't have any trouble with control. Last year was a pretty difficult one for me. When you only have a high school education and have two children and you can't pitch, well..."
Last spring, Wright was hoping to land a spot with the varsity when the bone in his arm snapped.
"I heard it crack; I knew it was broken immediately," he said. "There was no doubt in my mind. I just wondered if I would ever pitch again.
"Now, I am more optimistic than I was when I came to spring training a year ago. There was some doubt in my mind because they bad taken out that bone spur and there was a hole in the bone in my arm.
If anything, the fracture helped strengthen my arm.
"Just like I said, I have one good thing going for me. I've always had good control. Even though I did not pitch at all in 1979, 1 can get the ball over the plate."
The cast was removed from his arm last June 21. After that, he started the long road back, performing various exercises to strengthen the arm.
"I tried to keep a baseball in my hand as much as possible," he said, "but I was not allowed to throw. I got my clean bill of health before Christmas and began lobbing the ball."
When asked if he thinks he was tested, he grinned. "If that's the case, I've passed the test. I've got years left; I've still got faith."
Wright admits he favored the arm early last spring, but when he was finally told to throw as hard as he could, he decided he might as well try.
"I knew it wasn't right earlier in the spring," he said, "but I kept hoping it would come around. Now, I just have to think that the injuries are behind me. I'm going to approach spring training with that in mind. It was a nightmare, but it is over, behind me."
EXTRA POINTS – The major-league team worked out prior to the minor-league team... Garry Maddox is still bothered by a slight muscle pull in his leg... Rawly Eastwick, the relief pitcher who was cut on Saturday, is heading back to Philadelphia today to sit by the phone. He says he does not want to go to Toronto, but would welcome a chance to pitch for the Mets, one of the teams interested in him... Rumors persist that the Phils are trying to land Cincinnati's Ken Griffey, but Player Personnel Director Paul Owens says that is not true... The team will have a squad game today, with regular workouts tomorrow and Wednesday... They will break camp after the Wednesday workout, arriving in Philadelphia about 6:30 that night... Thursday night's workout at the Vet will be open to the public.
Flabby fingers popping up in Florida
By Ray Fitzgerald, Field News Service
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – The baseball strike is disturbing to me, not because I have feelings one way or the other toward the issues involved, but because it undoes in a large measure what I had accomplished in spring training. I have never, as a matter of fact, had a better spring training.
Not because the stories I wrote were anything special. Not that. Spring training stories are never anything special. They are always hazy, lazy things, written against a backdrop of palm trees and swimming pools. Sometimes the stores are full of sound and fury but almost always they signify nothing.
No, the reason it was an especially significant spring training for me was that I worked hard down there and could see that the hard work was paying off.
As one gets older, one must guard against the baseball offseason.
It is always, during the winter, more pleasant and enjoyable to read trash such as Atlantic Monthly or the Kenyon Review rather than old box scores.
As Yaz has so often pointed out, it would be easy to let things slide, to come into camp mentally fat and out of shape.
But, like Yaz, I worked out all winter, checking past issues of Baseball Magazine, devouring the Baseball Guide, poring over The Sporting News.
As a result I came to Winter Haven better prepared than ever and didn't let up once I arrived, despite the obvious temptations of Andy's Igloo, the Fat Boy Bar-B-Q, and the porno movie house on Havendale Rd.
As soon as the press brochures from other major league teams arrived, I memorized the rosters. I knew that Vern Law's son, Vance, was trying to make it with the Pirates, that Ozzie Virgil's son was trying to hang on as the Phils' third catcher, that the Dodgers had an outfielder named Mike Marshall and another named Little Duke Snider.
Esoterica filled my head. No fact was so trivial it could be ignored.
The American League Red Book came in and then the National League Green Book, fountains of information, all seized and gobbled up by my steel-trap mind.
Mentally, I was ready to write about baseball, 1980. But there was the physical part, too, getting my body in shape for the long, rigorous, 162-game grind.
Anybody can cover an opening day. Anybody can write about the renewal rites of spring. But it takes a sportswriter in peak condition to attack the typewriter with enthusiasm on a hot August night when the Toronto Blue Jays are in town.
It takes even more discipline if you work in Toronto and are at the ballpark on a steamy August night when the Seattle Mariners are in town.
And so I toughened up my typing fingers, pounding away in my Holiday Inn cell while the rest of the world was out there diving into the pool and drinking Tom Collinses.
I did more than my daily story. To get my fingers ready, I'd type from A through D in the Polk County phone book, the equivalent to Rick Burleson taking 200 ground balls a day from Eddie Yost. The next day I'd go from E through H and so on.
Sheer drudgery, but if you want to stay in the big leagues at my-age, you have to pay the price.
Like any good ballplayer striving to become better, I worked on my weaknesses. I tossed around as many as 100 adjectives a day to beef up my vocabulary. I lifted heavy participial phrases and bulky parenthetical clauses until I thought my arms would fall off.
Every day I went one-on-one with Old Man Cliche, that ink-stained wretch. We had some ferocious battles, and sometimes he won and sometimes I did, but by the middle of camp, I had the old guy hollering uncle.
If a pitcher said, "I'm struggling a little now, but when the bell rings, I'll be ready," I'd keep my notebook shut and my pen in my pocket. When Haywood Sullivan told writers every day that he was burning up the wires trying to get another catcher, I'd look out the window and watch the coots walking around the edge of Lake Lulu.
What I'm saying is that I was as r Sittings M ready for the long season as I've ever been. It's as though I was a young scribe again, when" Jensen was in his prime and Piersall a gazelle in center field.
But now the players are on strike, and though they say they'll start the season, another strike may be called in May.
My incentive is gone. I no longer care about the San Diego Padres or feel bad because Ozzie Virgil was sent to the minors. I've burned my collection of baseball cards and the day before yesterday sent my Baseball Guides and World Series Record Books to the boys overseas.
My typing fingers, once covered with callouses from my extra spring training work, have gone soft and I doubt I could type a page from the Polk County phone book today.
My heart isn't in baseball anymore. I worked so hard in Winter Haven and for what? When Old Man Cliche knocks on my door looking for a rematch, I'll be a soft touch.
It's not that I won't always come to play and give 100 percent, and heaven knows, will never quit until the last paragraph is out.
It's just that I know when it's time to throw in the towel.