Philadelphia Daily News - December 12, 1980

Phils:  All Bark, No Bite

 

By Bill Conlin

 

DALLAS – The old bird dog treed the possum yesterday. Now it's a question of barking him down.

 

It is also a question of deciphering what in hell is going on at these winter meetings.

 

OK, here's something to puzzle. A compensation award stands between the ability of Phillies GM Paul Owens, the old bird dog, and a deal he wanted to make with the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Sixto Lezcano, a man who has been transported from the outhouse to the penthouse in four short days. Here's how the scenario breaks down:

 

As the clock staggered past midnight last night, LaRue Harcourt was meeting with Brewers General Manager Harry Dalton. The wire services reported last night that the Cardinals would trade Ted Simmons, Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich to the Brewers for Lezcano and righthander Lary Sorenson.

 

THE PHILLIES felt this was strange, since they had been assured by Dalton that: (a) he would get back to the Phillies before he traded Lezcano and (b) that Sixto was not in the Cardinals package. One out of two ain't bad.

 

"We haven't heard back from them, but we've made them an offer that'll be tough for them to turn down if they're sincere about getting pitching." Owens said. "We've offered them Randy Lerch, Dickie Noles, Ron Reed and Scott Munninghoff and a helluva prospect for Lezcano alone – four pitchers for him."

 

More than reasonable, but the Brewers sound like a team catching the Cardinals with their brains suddenly down. Especially when Simmons announced yesterday that he will report to Milwaukee only if Gussie Busch awards him a $1 million contract settlement.

 

And that's why Harcourt was huddling with Dalton until the wee hours – trying to bulldog the percentages.

 

If you've followed that negotiation successfully, read on. It turns out that the Phillies have been shopping catcher Bob Boone all week, first to the Reds in a deal for Johnny Bench, which would make the Hall of Fame-bound reluctant catcher a first baseman and Pete Rose a leftfielder.

 

"It's been explored," Owens said, "but it's dead. Bench doesn't want to change teams at this time."

 

IN ADDITION, they have offered Boone to the California Angels in a major trade which would also send Randy Lerch to Orange County for the 1979 American League MVP, Don Baylor. But before you start dancing jigs over that little bit of daylight robbery, consider that a few racquetball courts and inexperienced catchers stand in the way.

 

"We've got some things holding us back from the California deal," Owens said. "I can't discuss what they are."

 

What it is is a loan by the Phillies to Boone at interest rates so low it would make two percent sound like inflation. The loan is significant enough for Boone to be one of the health club kings of South Jersey. The loan figures in the Baylor deal the same way that ransom notes fit into kidnapping novels.

 

And that's how the old ballgame stood at 3:30 this morning, your time, with The Pope heading for a briefing with his organizational people.

 

"We'll know more tomorrow after Simmons' agent gets back to everybody," Owens said. "All I know is that they're after pitching and we've made them a helluva offer."

 

Now they belong to the agents. And if the Phillies did nothing else last night, they were receptive enough to a deal to be on full alert.

 

They also have significant, but less intense interest in Atlanta outfielder Gary Matthews.

 

DALLAS GREEN favors the Lezcano deal because the 27-year-old outfielder is the best-rounded player in his price range.

 

Sixto's stock is so high you'd never know that clubs are talking about a player coming off a dreadful 1980 season.

 

The Brewers made it obvious that what they want from the Phillies is pitching – plenty of it. (Owens has already said no to the likes of Marty Bystrom and Mark Davis.)

 

The Angels have told Owens they desperately need catching and, naturally, the name of Keith Moreland has come up. But Boone's name came up more prominently and more often.

 

Baylor is only 31 and in 1979 he hit .296 with 36 homers and a league-leading 136 RBI and 121 runs scored. When healthy, he is a superb offensive player with a weak throwing arm. He is also one of baseball's class men.

 

What makes Lezcano and Baylor even more attractive is that both have several years left on their contracts and neither makes an exceesive amount of money.

 

One of the first free agents, Baylor currently earns $306,000 a year. Lezcano's salary is $303,000 a year. Neither amount reflects performance clauses.

 

THE PHILLIES had their busiest day yesterday and it was still in progress far into the night. They also had talks on a less intense level with the Mets and Cubs. The Cubs are trying to unload so many players – Jerry Martin, Barry Foote, Bill Buckner and Rick Reuschel at last count – they appear to be caught in their own revolving door.

 

As one baseball executive put it, "Teams from both leagues are trying to unload Barry Foote."

 

You won't get anybody in the Phillies front office to say it for the record, but their efforts to move Greg Luzinski are meeting with minimal response. There is not a great deal of interest at the level of player the Phillies have been talking about for the Bull.

 

Scheduled talks with the Texas Rangers apparently bogged down in the early stages when the Phillies let it be known that Bystrom and Davis are not available.

 

Meanwhile, there is land office business involving young players the Phillies regard as their future stars, the Bystroms, Davises, Francos and Morelands. You'd be amazed at some of the deals they could have patched together with two from that group as the keys. Toronto was still pushing yesterday after getting no for an answer Wednesday night.

 

If the Phils are serious about making a deal here this week – and the current inter-league deadline is midnight tonight – they will probably have to make some painful decisions.

 

Lezcano in right or Baylor in left has a nice ring to it.

 

The old dog has finally treed the possum.

 

 

It won’t be any easier to bark it down.