Philadelphia Inquirer - December 10, 1980

Jim Wright:  Royal chance

 

By Frank Dolson, Inquirer Sports Editor

 

Think of Jim Wright – the real Jim Wright, the one who earned a "cant-miss" tag as he blazed his way through the Phillies' minor league system a few seasons ago – and your mind paints a picture of a tall, slender youngster standing on the mound at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Fla., facing Reggie Jackson with the bases loaded. It was just an exhibition game, but to the kid on the mound it was opening day, the All-Star game, the World Series wrapped into one.

 

"My first outing (against a major league team)," he would recall years later. "I was pitching against Catfish Hunter. 1 was pretty nervous...."

 

The count went to three balls, two strikes, and Jim Wright did what he has always done. He challenged Reggie Jackson. He threw his best stuff at him, again and again and again. And Jackson took his best swing, again and again and again.

 

"He fouled off a few," Jim said, "and then I threw him a high inside fastball…."

 

And Jackson swung and missed.

 

No way to tell

 

No wonder they loved Jim Wright in the Phillies' front office. No wonder they were counting on him to become one of their top starters for years to come. He had it all – the makeup, the desire, the build, the talent – to become an outstanding pitcher in the major leagues. How could they, or he, have known that a young man who had never experienced any pain in his pitching arm would suddenly develop a dull throbbing in his forearm caused by a bone spur? How could anyone have imagined that the bone would be so weakened by the removal of the spur that it would snap in two while he tried to throw a fast ball past a Cardinal batter in another spring training exhibition?

 

All of those things and more happened to Jim Wright. So it was that the Phillies took a calculated risk this fall. They dropped him from the big league roster, thereby leaving him unprotected in the annual winter draft.

 

"We're gambling in a sense," general manager Paul Owens said last week, "but I think we've got a helluva good chance (to get him through the draft)."

 

A miscalculation

 

He thought wrong. The pitcher. who almost surely would have been in the Phillies' starting rotation by now if not for a series of incredibly bad breaks, was claimed Monday by the Kansas City Royals.

 

The news climaxed yet another of the emotional rollercoaster rides Wright has been subjected to in recent years. Initially, word that the Phillies had dropped him from the big league roster jolted him. "I found out in a terrible way," he said. "I read it in the paper. Then I got my form letter from the Phillies notifying me what happened."

 

But if that experience was momentarily shattering, the phone call he received from Kansas City this week more than made up for it. The Royals, encouraged by pitching coach Billy Connors – who knew Wright from their days together in the Phillies farm system – had decided to take a chance.

 

For Wright, it was the chance of a lifetime. A native of St. Joseph, Mo., his home is barely 60 miles from Royals Stadium.

 

After all those terrible breaks, he finally got a good one. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving young man.

 

Prayers answered

 

"My aunt called me last night," he was saying yesterday from his temporary winter home in Clearwater, where he's been working out. "She said all their prayers have been answered... I feel like I'm floating. I'll be floating all the way to spring training. This is just fantastic. You know the Phillies come down and play us (in spring training next season) " He laughed. "Us. The Kansas City Royals. It sounds funny."

 

Just the sound of his voice over the phone, the joy, the enthusiasm in it made you feel good. He'd been through so much. There had been so many setbacks. Maybe now, at long last, things are about to go Jim Wright's way.

 

"The Phillies were great to me," he said. "I was hoping they'd call me (from the winter meetings) so I could tell them how I feel. They always did what was best for me. That's why I always wanted to pitch in Veterans Stadium. I wanted to win some games for Ruly (Carpenter) and Pope (Paul Owens). But I guess it just wasn't meant to be."

 

 

Maybe not, but Reggie Jackson had better get ready for those high, hard ones. The Phillies' calculated gamble backfired; Jim Wright is an American League pitcher now. The guess here is he's going to be a very good one.

Phillies, Blue Jays talk trade

 

By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

DALLAS – There's a song on a few country jukeboxes in Texas called, "If the Phone Don't Ring, You'll Know It's Me."

 

Unfortunately for the Phillies, Paul Owens' phone didn't ring yesterday at baseball's winter meetings, and he knew it was the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

Owens remained hopeful about a Phillies-Brewers deal involving Milwaukee outfielder Sixto Lezcano and Phils pitchers Randy Lerch and Dickie Noles, among others. But the Brewers never got back to him yesterday. And Owens wasn't certain what that meant.

 

"I don't think they're hedging," the Phillies vice president said. "They're just not sure which way they want to go... They could be held up somewhere else. I'm not sure."

 

While Owens tossed around a lot of young names with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Brewers were going shopping yesterday. They explored a deal with St. Louis fof Rollie Fihgers, but that fell through. They talked with Houston about exchanging prized utility infielder Jim Gantner for a pitcher, but that didn't make it, either.

 

Their most serious venture was with the Mets, who have to do something thunderous if they want to sign Dave Winfield. Milwaukee is offering homer-strikeout king Gorman Thomas and hoping to get Mets reliever Neil Allen in return. That one is still on the burners.

 

At any rate, it is clear the Brewers are looking around for one major deal involving any of several characters. Right now, they're just trying to figure out which trade would be most attractive.

 

"I think they're going to do something big down here," said Jim Baumer, Milwaukee's former general manager and now the Phillies farm director. "I know the way they think. They want to do something big because they need it to sell tickets."

 

Brewers general manager Harry Dalton said yesterday he didn't think the Brewers-Phillies swap was especially "hot" at the moment. So, while the Phillies waited for the Brewers to call back, they were laying the groundwork for other things.

 

Owens' most serious discussions were with Toronto. The Phillies mentioned names such as All-Star game pitcher Dave Stieb (12-15, 3.70), righthanded starter Jim Clancy (13-16, 3.30) and shortstop Alfredo Griffin (.254, 18 stolen bases), the 1979 rookie of the year. Primarily, the Phils are after Stieb or Clancy.

 

The problem was the names Toronto threw back – Marty Bystrom, Keith Moreland, minor league shortstop Julio Franco (Carolina League player of the year) and the pitching prospect in the organization, left hander Mark Davis (19-6 at Reading).

 

Dallas Green isn't that sure he needs more pitching anyway, but he knows he doesn't need it badly enough to want to give up those guys.

 

"Bystrom? Moreland? Davis? We're not interested in that kind of deal," Green said. "At least I'm not."

 

But the Blue Jays also expressed interest in such prospects as infielder Luis Aguayo, centerfielder Bob Dernier (71 stolen bases at Reading) and infielder Jay Loviglio (.277, 33 stolen bases at Oklahoma City). And Owens came away thinking he might be able to group a few acceptable names together and pull something off.

 

"There were enough names thrown around," the Pope said. "It will be interesting to see what they come back with."

 

 

So nothing much concrete was happening. But Owens still said coolly, "I think we're in good shape."