Philadelphia Daily News - December 23, 1980

Phils’ Unser Is Yes

 

By Bill Conlin

 

The Phillies have said goodbye to the free agent market for another year, proving that Paul Owens and his front office helpers are men of discerning taste. For the second straight season, the free agent they signed was one of their own.

 

The Pope, down to overpriced underachiever Jim Dwyer and realistically priced Del Unser, a known quality, bailed out of the most inflated market since Germany in 1922. Owens signed Unser, the playoff and World Series hero he verbally savaged at the winter meetings, to a two-year, guaranteed contract. No terms were announced – Del figures that's between him and the Phillies – but it would be safe to guess that Ruly Carpenter will have enough money left to buy Christmas gifts for Stephanie and the kids.

 

"It's not one of the biggies," Del said last night from his home in Moraga, a San Francisco suburb. "But it’s very big to me in the sense that I'll be around for two more years to savor what the Phillies achieved last season.”

 

Owens made some cavalier statements on Lost Monday in Dallas about Unser bleeping in his hat if he didn't like what the Phillies had offered him. Nobody took the remark seriously, except the guys who thought it was sincere enough to use in their stories.

 

"I HEARD THAT Paul said something like that," Unser laughed, "but I didn't take it to heart. I have some idea of what goes on at the winter meetings, and I doubt if that was an accurate summary of how Paul feels about me."

 

The stalled negotiations slid off dead center when Del got an offer from the Pirates, one of four teams which drafted him in the re-entry process. "Pittsburgh made me kind of a good offer," he said. "I got back in touch with the Phillies and it all happened in two days. There were some very nice little things included in the contract, little things that will make the season more pleasant."

 

Unser was an unclaimed free agent in the spring of 1979 when Owens invited him to work out in Clearwater with the Phillies and, perhaps, make the ballclub. There were no guarantees. All the Phillies offered him was a chance, which was all Unser had going for his career at the time. He made the club, played a key role off the bench and atoned for a mediocre 1980 offensive season with his superb play in October.

 

"In 1979 I was about to get out of the game," Unser said, "and I was given the opportunity to become a meaningful member of this current ballclub. I can't forget that and it was foremost in my thinking throughout. Philadelphia is our professional home."

 

IT WOULD HAVE been convenient and comfortable for Unser to sign on with the Giants. Candlestick Park is just a 20-minute commute. But Unser has always hated the Giants' stark wind tunnel of a ballpark. He doesn't feel comfortable playing there and why penalize himself during what are probably the final two years of his career?

 

"There would have been many advantages to playing close to home, but none of them would have applied to me as a ballplayer," he said. "I think I blend well with the Philadelphia ballclub. I know my role and I play for people who use me well."

 

So Unser, who plays Frack to Greg Gross' Frick, will be back with his closest baseball friend in 1981. Gross was re-signed by the Phillies last winter under similar free agent circumstances. Owens later signed free agent Lerrin LaGrow, a righthander who was not selected by the minimum two teams in the reentry draft and was therefore free to do business with any team.

 

LaGrow turned out to be a shot pitcher and Dallas Green released him before the All-Star break.

 

 

Dwyer, who is looking for a Dave Roberts-type score, is the only unsigned player the Phillies drafted in November. They will make no effort to sign the former Red Sox utility man.