Philadelphia Inquirer - July 27, 1980
Despite controversy, Horner continues to homer – often
By Frank Dolson, Sports Editor
"OK," jabbered Larry Bowa before the start of Friday night's double-header, "what should we give Horner tonight? Should we have 'em throw it a little in or – well, where does he want it?"
Bobby Cox, the Atlanta Braves manager, laughed.
"Oh, just anywhere," he replied.
Bowa nodded solemnly. The Phillies' shortstop had seen Bob Horner's long-ball act the previous weekend in Atlanta. "I told our pitchers," he said, "Tf the bases are loaded and Horner's up, walk in a run.'"
The big, burly, blond-haired kid is that hot.
Well, try this for size. Going into last night's game with the Phillies, Horner had hit nine home runs in his last 11 games, 16 in his last 26. Not bad for somebody who won't be 23 until Friday, who has never played a single game in the minor leagues – although God knows Ted Turner tried. You don't have to side with Bob Horner in his long-running battles with the owner of the Atlanta Braves to acknowledge that the young man has gone through enough to drive the average guy up the wall. Horner is different. The battle over, at least temporarily, he merely resumes hitting baseballs over the wall.
It takes a remarkable person to do that. Baseball, after all, is, to a very large degree, a mental game. What happened to Horner this year – the 2-for-34 start, the attempt by Turner to ship him to the minors, the bitter waiting period that followed – could have destroyed him. Obviously, it didn't.
"When you've got things bugging you, it's hard to play this game," Bowa said.
But Horner is back playing it, back smashing those ferocious line drives into the seats. The major leagues are loaded with home run hitters, but none of them hits homers with the frequency of Bob Horner, who has averaged one shot over the fence every 13.3 at bats. Granted, it's very early in that career, but the fact remains that no righthanded hitter in history has hit home runs at that rate, and only one man – Babe Ruth, who hit a homer for every 11.8 at bats – ever hit them at a faster rate.
Horner's long-ball production would be remarkable for anybody. For a young man who has gone through the almost constant emotional upheavals that he has, it's downright incredible.
"The other night," said Braves relief pitcher Gene Garber, "he hit two of them (out of the park). He's up the third time, and we're all sitting in the bullpen, and all of a sudden somebody says, 'Hey, how come everything's so quiet?' He's so hot that you just had to sit and watch. You're almost expecting him to hit a home run."
"Some guys get hot," chimed in Larry McWilliams, another Atlanta pitcher. "But not home run-hot like that. Oh, maybe for a week, but not for two weeks, three weeks...."
Yet this is the same Bob Horner who, in early May, returned to the Braves after winning his fight not to go to the minors, and sat in the dugout in Pittsburgh talking about how difficult it was to wage that fight.
"The mental aspect of baseball is about 90 percent of the game," he said that night. "If you have a bad mental outlook for whatever reason, it's going to hinder you very much over the course of one game, one inning, one pitch, let alone the whole season."
Horner was hindered so much that, since returning to action, he has averaged one home run every 8.9 at bats, a truly astonishing pace.
"He can handle anything," his manager said. "I'm convinced of that. He came right into the major leagues out of college with all that pressure on him and he hit major league pitching. He had the salary dispute his second year, the fans were booing him because he sat out, didn't come to spring training, but none of that stuff seems to affect him even the slightest bit. He can be criticized in the papers or by the fans and it doesn't bother him. He hears it. He sure doesn't like it. But when the game starts, he's his own player."
It's a rare ability, one that some of the Phillies could use.
"I'm sure he feels pressure from time to time," McWilliams said, "but not like a lot of people. A lot of guys, they blow up. It affects their play and stuff. I've never seen it bother him too much. He's amazing. He hits a home run, he comes in, shakes bands and sits down."
No big deal. Just a businessman doing a day's work. Only Bob Horner's business is hitting baseballs over the fence.
"It's a job," he said shortly before hitting his 21st homer of the season Friday night against the Phillies. "It's fun to play, but it's still a job. A hard job. To give you an example, we flew in here today at 1:30. We were at the hotel at about 2:30, and we were on a bus to come over to the ballpark at 3, and we're playing a twi-night doubleheader. So it's hard. It's real hard. But you're getting paid for it, so you've got to put up with those things."
Horner is getting paid well – $333,000 a year – but, by the time he's through working at his present job, his current salary will probably seem like petty cash. After all, not even Hank Aaron (one home run for every 16.4 at bats) or Joe DiMaggio (18.9) or Hank Greenberg (15.6) or Harmon Killebrew (14.2) or Mickey Mantle (15.1) or Eddie Mathews (16.7) or Willie Mays (16.5) or Stan Musial (23.1) or Ted Williams (14.8) or Ralph Kiner (14.1) or Frank Robinson (17.1) or Jimmie Foxx (15.2) or Frank Howard (16.9) matched Horner's home-run frequency. And the kid is just starting... although, to hear him tell it, the road to baseball fame and fortune is just a succession of potholes.
"You never go through the aggravations (elsewhere) that you go through on a major league level as far as playing for money and supporting a family and that type thing," Horner was saying. "Those are pressures that are there without really thinking about them, and then you put all the other things on top of it and it makes it even worse."
Then how does he manage to perform so well under those constant, nagging pressures?
"It's a pride in yourself, more than anything else, to know that you can play through adversities," he said. "It's a pride in your ability and a pride in yourself as a human being. It's not easy. It's not easy, at all. Sometimes I was sitting at home through that time I was put on the disqualified list (by Turner) and I was thinking to myself, 'What in the world did I ever get into this crazy game for?' But it all works out. It has so far, anyway."
It's worked out so well that baseball people are waiting eagerly to see how many home runs Bob Horner will hit when he gets to play an entire season, some 600 at bats-worth.
With his talent, and his temperament, the big, burly, blond-haired kid who refused to go to the minors might just rewrite the record book.
Luzinski's ailing knee to undergo another test
By Bill Livingston, Inquirer Staff Writer
Greg Luzinski's right knee will be given an arthroscopic examination by Phillies team physician Dr. Philip Marone at Methodist Hospital tomorrow.
Which means, as Marone said last night, "There is something more ominous going on than we first thought."
Luzinski has been on the disabled list since injuring the knee while sliding into second base in a July 4 game at St. Louis. The injury was first diagnosed as "reactive synovitis," an irritation of the lining of the knee. Marone said "arthritic changes" (that is, spurs) were noted in the knee, which was operated on in 1974. Since incurring the injury, fluid has had to be drained from the joint.
As late as Thursday, Luzinski seemed ready to return to action. "But I examined him Friday after he was out there, pounding around, running cross-cuts and all that business," said Marone. "He had fluid again on the knee. I decided then something more than arthritic changes was going on."
A small incision is made in the knee in an arthroscopy, and an internal examination is conducted. Marone said the most optimistic date for the Bull's return to the lineup would be one week after the exam.
"If it's something more serious, it could be six weeks," he said. "He says he feels something slipping in the knee, and that doesn't add up to what we thought."
The apparent worst problem would be cartilage damage of some kind. In that case, he is probably through for the season.
NOTES: Bake McBride has now hit in 15 of the last 16 games, in which he's 20-for-63…. Trillo for the month: 31-for-87, .356, 8 doubles.... Rose's 2-for-4 evening ended a 2-for-29 stretch.... Final meeting with Atlanta today, Carlton vs. Rick Matula.
The suspense ends for Duke Snider
By Allen Lewis, On Baseball
Two weeks from today, four more will be enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame – three outfielders and former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey.
Unfortunately, Yawkey and former Phillies star Chuck Klein have died, but Al Kaline and Duke Snider will be in Cooperstown, N.Y., to savor their greatest honor.
In his first year and one-half, Kaline was little more than another name on the Tigers' roster, and it wasn't until 1955 that he showed the skills that eventually led to the Hall. By that time, the Athletics had moved to Kansas City. Philadelphians never saw him at his best.
Snider was a different story. Against the Phillies, the Dodger center fielder was often at his best.
Early in 1948, at Shibe Park, Snider hit what appeared to be his first major league home run, on a change-up. But Snider, whose biggest fault in those days was a tendency to swing at anything, stepped on the plate while lunging at the pitch and hitting it over the right-field wall. He was called out for being out of the batter's box.
On Memorial Day in 1950, Snider Allen Lewis on baseball hit three home runs against the Phillies in the first five innings. He missed a fourth by about four feet on a line drive off the screen atop the right-field wall at Ebbets "Field. The ball was hit so hard he got only a single.
In the same era, Snider made his greatest catch, climbing the left-center-field wall at Shibe Park to rob Willie Jones of a potential game-winning extra-base hit with the bases loaded.
Typical of Snider's up-and-down early career were his first two World Series. In 1949, he set a record for strikeouts and batted just .143. In 1952, he set a total-base record and tied the records for homers and extra-base hits while batting .345.
At Compton (Calif.) High School, Snider, a classmate of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, won 16 letters and pitched a no-hitter the first time he ever started a high school game.
Snider, who signed his first pro contract for a $750 bonus and $275 a month (his top salary was $46,000 and a Cadillac), failed to win the Most Valuable Player Award in 1955 because one writer refused to include him on the ballot when a sixth-place vote would have given him a tie with teammate Roy Campanella, who won.
Grayer and rounder, Snider, now a veteran broadcaster for the Expos, has mellowed since those days. Unlike some, he never complained when he failed to make the Hall. Finally elected after an 11-year wait, he said, "How sweet it is – even sweeter, I guess, because of the longer wait. The suspense kept building.... I think it means more to me this way."
NOTES: Bob Fontaine, recently fired as Padres general manager, not only picked Jerry Coleman out of the broadcasting booth and made him a manager, he also served up the San Diego skipper's first pro homer. That was back in 1942 when Coleman was a Wellsville infielder and Fontaine an Olean pitcher in the Class D Pony League.... In their first 84 games, Dodger catchers threw out only 29 runners in 122 steal attempts.... Just past the All-Star break, Braves shortstop Luis Gomez, a Punch-and-Judy hitter, had a 42-game errorless streak snapped. He made only one error in his first 57 games.... Ex-Phil Roger Freed, released by Oklahoma City, has been signed by the Blue Jays for their Syracuse farm club.
The answer to last week's Trivia Question: The 1911 Braves are the only major league team in this century that did not have a single pitcher who won as many as eight games. They had three seven-game winners during a season in which they won 44 games and lost 107. John Black of Chambersburg, Pa., was first with the correct answer.
This week's question: What major league team in this century won the most consecutive road games?
Trillo leads Phillies past Braves, 6-3
Walk lifts record to 7-1
By Bill Livingston, Inquirer Staff Writer
Their long-ball attack currently is broken into more splinters than make up the mess inside Greg Luzinski's knee.
And so, on the night the Phillies learned that Luzinski may be gone for a long time with his ailing knee, pending an arthroscope examination tomorrow, they scuffled past the Atlanta Braves, 6-3, before 33,112 at Veterans Stadium.
Rookie pitcher Bob Walk provided more astonishing revelations, littering 10 hits in 7-2/3 innings and running his record to a Carltonian 7-1. Ron Reed looked down an eighth-inning threat for the save.
The Phillies rattled a dozen hits, 10 of them off loser Phil Niekro, whose dancing knuckleball may be headed for a last tango, at least off the evidence of his 8-13 record.
Two doubles by Manny Trillo, in the second and third innings, provided half of the Phils' runs. Walk plopped a soft flare into right field to provide another run. Bob Boone's ninth inning home run was the only ball struck by a Phil that left the field.
The blow, only his seventh of the year, made Boone the third-leading power hitter on the club, behind Schmidt's league-leading 26 and Luzinski's frozen total of 15.
Walk provided seven scoreless innings, aided by a wonderful throw by left fielder Lonnie Smith, which flashed in and cut down Chris Chambliss at home to end the fourth inning when he tried to score from second on Mike Lum's single.
This was an inning in which all the defensive aspects of the Phillies' game glistened. Walk hit Brian Asselstine, leading off, and was reached for a single by Chambliss.
After Gary Matthews forced Asselstine at third, Walk went to 3-2 on Bob Horner, the Atlanta home-run machine, and then blew him away with a called third strike on a hard, high slider, setting up Smith's eventually important assist.
The Phils, meanwhile, were using their team speed to forge a 5-0 lead. Gary Maddox singled past Horner in the second inning and stole second, before Trillo doubled him home. Walk's two-out flare made it 2-0.
In the third, Pete Rose singled and Bake McBride slashed a shot behind Rose, down the right-field line, Rose taking third in a head-first lunge. After Mike Schmidt struck out for the fourth time in the past two games and Maddox flied out gently to left, Trillo wrestled one of Niekro's knucklers down the right-field line for a two-run double.
McBride, by the way, ran right through third base coach Lee Elia's stop sign and scored easily.
The fifth run, in the fourth came when Smith singled with two out. On a 1-0 count, Smith ran, Rose hit, and Matthews, briefly fumbling the ball in right, had absolutely no chance on Smith.
If this is grind-it-out baseball, then the whetstone functions at a buzzsaw pace.
"If there's anybody out there who can hit home runs," said manager Dallas Green, "then I'm sure somebody is not gonna let him go. I'm happy with the ball club; I think we'll come with the ball players we have.
There will be added pressure on Schmitty, because they'll work his tail off. But we have guys who can hit the ball out of the ball park on a given day."
As evidence, Green hopefully pointed to Boone and Smith. Smith has so far been given only one home run day in the majors. Together, they have been outslugged by, oh, Home Run Baker, among others.
If the Phils remain competitive in the hopscotch struggle of the Eastern Division, it will be because of performances like Walk's.
"He has matured on the job and done the job we always expected," said Green. "He has a sinking fastball, a hard fastball and slider, a curve, and he can throw the change. He had real good stuff. In the eighth, it just looked like he got tired and started getting the ball up."
Asselstine homered on the first pitch with one out then. After Chambliss fanned, things got stickier than the gluey air. Matthews singled to left. Horner singled to center. Mike Lum walked. Pinch-hitter Jeff Burroughs sent another shell into left, his long single scoring two runs and putting runners at the corners.
Reed, facing the go-ahead run in pinch-hitter Dale Murphy, got him to bounce to Larry Bowa for a force-play at second.
Green, afterward, lauded the "poise and demeanor" of Walk. "He's been thrown in the pressure cooker pretty good and he's handled it," said Green. "He's been a very steadying force along with Steve (Carton) and Rufus (DickRuthven)."
Until the painful yo-yo between rehabilitation and relapse in Greg Luzinski's knee can be stabilzed, that is the best the Phillies can hope for.