Camden Courier-Post - February 27, 1980
Christenson out to prove a point
By Rusty Pray of the Courier-Post
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Larry Christenson is regarding this spring training with the kind of wariness you would expect to find in an aging veteran or an expendable rookie. Certainly, someone of Christenson's talent, someone of Christenson's experience, should not be treating the routines of spring training as if they were exercises on a tightrope.
But the fact that Christenson, who, by all rights, should be in the prime of his career, is acting like a man out to prove himself tells you something about what he went through last year.
"Things," Christenson said yesterday, "went badly last year."
THAT'S PUTTING it in as few words as possible. What went wrong with Christenson last year was everything. He became nearly terminal victim of Murphy's Law, injuring himself in the most untoward ways.
Last winter, while on a benefit tour, the Phillies righthander fell off a bicycle-and broke bis right collarbone. That was before spring training began. He returned to the Phillies' rotation on May 12 and pitched for less than two months before another bizarre incident put him on the 21-day disabled list. This time, Christenson innocently tried to avoid a brushback pitch and wound up severely pulling a groin muscle.
His season plummeted from there. After going 19-6 in 1977 and a hard-luck 13-14 in 1978, Christenson fell to a 5-10, with a 4.50 earned run average in 106 innings pitched. His wins and innings are career lows, his ERA a career-high.
"WHEN I broke my collarbone 1 was in great shape, so it was a total letdown," he said. "I couldn't do anything for six weeks because I was immobilized in a cast. By the time I got back, I'd had no spring training and I was out of shape."
Christenson seemed only to compound his problems by returning to the team in May. The immense stress he put on his weakened shoulder by pitching contributed to the development of a bone spur, which grew every time he threw.
"It got so that 20-30 times a game the bone spur would go into a muscle or something and there would be sharp pain, especially when I tried to throw a slider," Christenson said.
THE PAIN was sharp enough to affect his follow-through and, before long, the 26-year-old was trying to pitch with a tender elbow as well as a sore shoulder. It is no wonder, then, that Christenson pitched only seven times after July 4 when he sustained the groin pull before undergoing surgery to repair the bone spur Sept. 19.
"I had a tough year last year," he continued. "Sure, they expected more out of me. I expected more out of myself. Everybody expects you to go out and do a great job every time. There are always high expectations... Sometimes, you just can't do it."
Strangely, the Phillies do not seem all that concerned about Christenson. Perhaps that is because they have enough to worry about in watching the progress of other pitchers injured last year such as Dick Ruthven, Jim Wright and Warren Brusstar.
"CHRISTENSON isn't much of a problem," said Phillies trainer Don Seger. "It (the bone spur) was there, but it wasn't a major problem. It was more of a problem of annoyance than pain. It didn't incapacitate him."
Or, maybe the Phillies' seeming lark of concern has more to do with the fact they misjudged the seriousness of the bone spur problem.
"I got that surgery on my own," said Christenson. "They (the Phillies) didn't tell me to. I was taking a chance, but I knew I needed it. I don't think they realized how much it hurt me."
It hardly matters now who thought what back in September. It is, perhaps, enough that Christenson is working with renewed dedication to ensure his health over a 162-game season.
CHRISTENSON began working out on his own, running two miles a day on the beach, here on Feb. 1, a full three weeks prior to the opening of these informal workouts and more than a month before spring training will begin in earnest.
"Larry Christenson. now there's a guy who wants to something constructive," said Manager Dallas Green. "He knows he did not contribute last year won-loss wise because of physical problems."
Christenson's dedication to running is something new. He, among others on the Phillies' pitching staff, did not run during much of the Danny Ozark regime. Christenson still says his reason for not running – an exercise that is to pitchers what batting practice is to hitters – is because of a lower back problem that has plagued him throughout his career.
YET HE is taking full part in Green's daily running program, mixing sprints with distance work during the two-hour sessions.
"At least I'm running, and that's what they want me to do," Christenson said. "I haven't run for three years or so and 1 still have to be careful because of my back. Running still isn't my thing... I'm not equipped for it... It's not good for my lower back."
But Christenson runs with the dedication of an aging veteran or an insecure rookie because he has something to prove.
He has to show the Phillies, the fans and himself that last year was a fluke, that he was victim to an odd assortment of injuries that came under bizarre circumstances.
Indeed, Christenson has to prove that he can live up to expectations, no matter how high.
Carlton joins Phils’ running drills
By Rusty Pray of the Courier-Post
CLEARWATER, FLA. – Speculation had been building all winter. Would Steve Carlton, the silent majority of the Phillies' pitching staff, balk at joining Manger Dallas Green's' ambitious running program? Would Green, in turn, discipline his lefthander? Would Carlton react by leading a spring-training revolt?
The answers were as anitclimatic as the questions were ridiculous. Carlton ran here yesterday with the team's other pitchers. It was simple as that.
"I never thought there would be a problem, with Steve," Green said. "It was you guys (the press). I think Steve's a pretty intelligent guy. He knows what we're doing, where we're going. He's familiar with my programs. He doesn't agree with them all, but he's smart enough to know I'm not out to hurt Steve Carlton."
Carlton, a dedicated non-runner, works hard with his own conditioning program. Under former manager Danny Ozark, Carlton was permitted to go his own way a route that included little more than a few brisk walks between dugout and pitcher's mound during games.
There was, of course, never anything wrong with Carlton's personal fitness program. He was in good enough shape to win 18 games for a club that finished fourth in the National League's Eastern Division last season. But others on the mound staff not as physically fit as Carlton decided that, if he didn't have to run, they didn't have to run.
When Green took over as manager late last season, he decided the next spring training camp – his camp – would include running... for everyone. Thus, the anticipated showdown.
• The trade that would have sent young outfielder Lonnie Smith to the Baltimore Orioles for utility infielder Billy Smith was vetoed by Green. General Manager Paul Owens left the final decision to Green, whose loyalty to the club's minor league prospects kept Smith in a Phillies uniform.
"Paul gave the field people that decision," said Green. "I just feel I can get as much out of Lonnie Smith as anyone. He's our home-grown guy and I think he can become an exciting player."
• The Phillies, who are shopping around for a right-handed pinchhitter as well as a reliever, may use Smith and catcher Keith Moreland off the bench if they do not make a deal. "I think," said Green, "we can do it with our own people."
• All but three of the team s regulars are already in camp, which does not officially open until Tuesday. Outfielder Greg Luzinski is in superb condition. Luzinski last year came under sharp criticism because it was felt he was overweight. The only starters who have not yet reported are first baseman Pete Rose, second baseman Manny Trillo and right fielder Bake McBride.