Philadelphia Daily News - February 22, 1980
Phillies Still Seeking Bench Strength
By Bill Conlin
A year ago, Paul Owens made the Big One. He pried Manny Tnllo. Greg Gross and Dave Rader loose from the Cubs for Barry Foote. Jerry Martin, Ted Sizemore and minor-league pitchers Derek Botelho and Henry Mack.
Trillo was the missing piece in the Phillies puzzle, the star-quality second baseman they coveted, the man who would give them baseball's best starting eight In the game. Today.
A year later, the jury is still out on the deal. Trillo's left forearm was broken by a Rick Sutcliffe pitch during the Phils' only brush with 1979 glory, a triumphal West Coast trip. Manny was the third in a series of falling dominoes which began with injuries to Larry Christenson and Dick Ruthven and didn’t end until it involved every starter but Pete Rose and every pitcher of note but Ron Reed.
THE ADDITION of a starting catcher, centerfielder and second baseman did nothing to rescue the Cubs from mediocrity. Foote was the clubhouse lawyer everybody in the Phillies front office knew him to be. Martin had a productive season but is screaming for the Cubs to pay him or trade him. Sizemore, a month that roared, criticized the Cubs' wine steward one time too many and was shipped to Boston.
Trillo is healthy, but the 1980 focus has shifted from the starting eight to a suspect, convalescing pitching staff and a bench which came up very short offensively from the right-hand side last year.
Owens has watched all manner of proposed deals fall through, including a major and possibly disastrous multi-player transaction with the Texas Rangers which was aborted by Sparky Lyle's $500,000 personal-services contract and indications by Bake McBride that he will play out his option if exiled to Arlington.
There were sighs of relief, including some from the front office, by people who felt that a young and still unfulfilled talent like Christenson and an offensive player of McBride's ability would be too high a price to pay for a mediocre package headed by a relief pitcher who will be 36. It bore an ominous similarity to the colossal 1966 disaster of a deal which sent a young pitcher named Ferguson Jenkins, outfielder Adolfo Phillips and first baseman John Hernnstein to the Cubs for elderly righthanders Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl.
IT WAS A MOVE which doomed the Phillies to nearly a decade of sub-.500 finishes. Phillips flamed out early and Hernnstein retired, but Jenkins swiftly blossomed into one of the' game's great pitchers, a man who could have had a Robin Roberts career with the Phillies. Hell, Fergie's still going strong 14 years later. Buhl's arm was long gone when he reported and Bob quit in '67 when he couldn't even get hitters out with his spitbalL Jackson has had a much better career in Idaho politics than he had pitching with the Phillies.
Owens probably ended his serious shopping for the bullpen hammer Dallas Green asked for in his Christmas stocking when he signed free agent Lerrtn LaGrow. LaGrow might be an echo of what Green has in overabundance – bullpen question marks – but at least the righthander widens the manager's range of choice. With Ron Reed, Tug McGraw, Warren Brusstar (please, Warren Brusstar!), Kevin Saucier, Dickie Noles, Doug Bird, Rawly Eastwick, Burke Suter, LaGrow and a handful of minor-league candidates, it will be standing room only in the bullpen this spring.
The search for bench strength continues and the latest name to surface is Mets leftfielder Joel Youngblood.
Youngblood, an underrated player who hit .275 with 16 homers and 60 RBI last year, told North Jersey baseball writer Marty Noble that hell be a Pirate or Phil by opening day.
THAT COULD BE wishful thinking on Youngblood's part. And his chances of becoming a Pirate diminished considerably when Bill Robinson failed to reach terms with Houston in a deal which would have added Joaquin Andujar to Bill Virdon's staff. Owens, however, is very interested in Youngblood, who, in addition to his power and ability to fill in at second base in a pinch, has the kind of throwing arm you'd like to see in left field in the late innings.
The Mets have been traditionally difficult to deal with, though, following each disaster of a trade with a period of conservative overvaluation of their modestly-endowed personnel. Starting with the Amos Otis giveaway and followed by the awful Tom Seaver plunder (Youngblood has developed into the best all-around player of that package), the less, of Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and John Milner, a blundering front office bulwarked – or hindered – by naive ownership drove a million fans away.
Doubleday, the publishing giant bought this cheap paperback novel of a team for $20 million, which might be the greatest literary heist since Clifford Irving.
But things are looking up with the hiring of Frank Cashen, an excellent executive in the best tradition of the Baltimore organization. Cashen will take over the front office operation after marking time in the commissioner's office waiting for somebody to ask him to rebuild their club. And if ever a baseball man dreamed of building something out of absolutely nothing, the Mets represent ground zero.
The long-proposed deal with Baltimore of outfielder Lonnie Smith for utility infielder Billy Smith apparently depends on the whim of Green, assuming it can be made. The feeling here is that Dallas is very reluctant to trade a former No. 1 draft choice who is a key yardstick of the manager's success as farm director. Trading the swift but so far defensively inept outfielder for a utility man would seem a repudiation of the Phillies minor league organization. On the other hand, Lonnie is out of options and if the Phillies feel they made a mistake, now is the time to try to minimize their loss.
The Pope arrived in Clearwater yesterday with an attache case crammed with scouting reports. You can bet his line is busy.