Wilmington Evening Journal - February 15, 1980

Gross big hit as pinch hitter at Salesianum banquet


By Matt Zabitka, Staff Writer


Last year, seeing only part-time duty with the Phillies, outfielder Greg Gross earned $85,000.


After the season was over, the left-handed hitter from York, Pa., became a free agent and was drafted by nine teams, including the Phillies.


One of less than a handful of .300 hitters on the club (he batted .333), the Phillies didn't want to release their hold on the 5-foot-10, 165-pound, 27-year-old favorite of the fans. So the Phils the past December signed him to a five-year pact, with a "guesstimate" value of $1.1 million.


But all that gold isn't making the graduate of the Goldsboro (Pa.) Little League sit back and think of easy street the rest of the way.


He regrets not getting a college education.


Last night at the 32nd annual Salesianum Alumni Sports Banquet at Padua Cafetorium, where he proved a solid hit as a speaker, Gross discussed his future during an interview following the affair.


"I had a bat and glove in my hand ever since I could walk," he recalled. "I was always playing baseball, always wanted to be a ballplayer. The first organized type of baseball I played was in the Goldsboro Little League, right across from Three Mile Island.


"In high school, I was an average student – C's and B's. I did it without a whole lot of studies; I never worked at it real hard.


"It's very disappointing now as I get older that I didn't put more effort into it. But, hopefully, next winter I can get started and go back to school and start my college education, which I think is important. Hopefully, by the time I'm done playing baseball, I'll have a degree.


"I've been checking schools out and been in contact with people at Villanova, West Chester State and a couple of other places that are close to where I live in Berwyn.


"I definitely want to take some courses as far as coaching goes. I'd like to maybe coach sometime in high school or college. Right now, it would probably be very basic. Maybe some business background that I can apply after I'm done playing."


Gross, who broke into pro baseball as a 17-year-old outfielder in 1970 with Covington of the Appalachian League (he batted .351), has also discovered that baseball isn't a game of life and death, that there are more important things in life.


"Early last year, I was having a tough season," he recalled. "I struck out in a key situation with the game on the line. I went home, feeling sorry for myself and getting all caught up in what I was doing in my profession and everything.


"I was really mad, having failed in a key situation where we needed a run to either tie or win the game, I forget which. When I got home and walked in the door, my daughter came flying around the corner and jumped into my arms. She said, 'Hi, daddy. I love you,' like she usually does. It made me feel real good.


"It made me realize there are a lot of other things out there besides playing baseball and doing well, and from that day on I sorta had a different outlook on what was happening and I was even more relaxed when I was playing baseball. I think that was one of the reasons I had a good year."


Asked what kind of a role he anticipated the Phillies would use him in 1980, Gross said, "Right now, it's pretty much of a fourth-outfielder-type situation. Basically, what I did last year. I'll fill in defensively at times late in the game, pinch hit coming off the bench, and spot start for people giving them a rest now and then.


"The thing I'm looking forward to, I think Dallas (Green) is the type of manager that's going to utilize his bench and I think that's going to be good for me. I think I'm going to see more playing time this year than last and hopefully we can put everything together. But right now, I'm looking at being, basically, the fourth outfielder."


Did he notice any vast differences in managing between Danny Ozark and Green, Ozark's successor?


"Dallas is a more out-going type," he said. "He's, like he says, more of a holler-and-screamer type. He carries a little more discipline than what Danny did. Danny pretty much let the players do what they thought they had to do.


"But, as I've said before, I think players need a little discipline and I think that's the key ingredient that Dallas is going to bring to us this year, especially in spring training, getting us ready for the season."


Gross, attired in light brown slacks, a snappy sports jacket and a white shirt open at the collar, was impressed with the 81 Salesianum senior athletes, all decked out in white jackets, white shirts with black bow ties and black pants. He liked the discipline displayed in dress ana attention by the athletes seated directly in front of the dais.


"I think that (discipline) which was evident here tonight is important. I don't care if it's in high school or in our profession. I think in baseball, particularly, you have a bunch of grown men playing what I call a kid's game. Their egos are big. Their feelings get hurt easily. I think they, too, need some guidance. I think it's a place where you need discipline, no matter how old you are."


Gross noted that during the off-season he keeps in shape, working out regularly at the ballpark, getting ready for spring training.


"I don't hold down any kind of a job. I had some business interests, real-estate-type things, when I lived in Houston. I got out of that. I spend my winters enjoying my family. I do an occasional banquet now and then.


"I just finished a caravan thing with the Phillies into the Pennsylvania coal regions. No, I wouldn't say I was the hit of the caravan. No, not really. I think Pete (Rose) probably was – Pete and Larry (Bowa). Both did real well.


"This is really the first winter I've done any speaking at all. It's relatively new to me. It's not bad. I enjoy meeting the people and I like trying to convey a message. I just hope that in the future I get a lot better at it. I enjoy it; I have fun at it."


Gross is happy now at being a Phillie, but it wasn't like that when he first learned he had been traded by the Chicago Cubs to the Phils in February of 1979.


"At first, I was happy to get to the area. I grew up in York, Harrisburg and the Goldsboro area. That part of it, I was thrilled to death. But I knew coming over here they had a set outfield and everything and it was really sort of depressing in a way, because I knew I wasn't going to get to play at all."


During his banquet speech. Gross made comments about most of the Phillies' starters. About Pete Rose he said, "I don't have anything to say about him except that he's ugly."


"Now, in the post-banquet interview, he was asked if he was game enough to name his All-National League Ugly Team, like the late Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Danny Murtaugh used to do.


"That's a tough one," he broke into a chuckle. "I use Pete because he fits into my jokes. He being a new guy to the club, you can use him. Pete's a good sport. Matter of fact, on last week's caravan we needled each other the whole time. We switched jokes for different people. We had a good time. It was all part of the fun on the winter circuit."


At the start of last night's bash, toastmaster Wayne Rizzo, who contributed immensely to the success of the affair, explained that principal speaker Dallas Green had to cancel out because he was sick. Green sent a pinch hitter, Greg Gross.


As things turned out, Dallas Green would have had to be hotter than a firecracker to outdo the pinch hitter he sent here last night.


Greg Gross was a smasheroo. Other fine speakers during the evening were John Bunting, Eagles' linebacker; Kevin Conlin, the ex-Sal who played at Rutgers; Sydney Maree, Villanova's long-distance runner from South Africa; Justin Cause, the Sals' senior athletes' representative; and former Sal football captain Kevin Reilly, the only man on the dais who rated a thunderous standing ovation.