Philadelphia Daily News - September 11, 1980
Bystrom ♥ N.Y.
By Bill Conlin
NEW YORK – In politics it has been the Year of the Conservative. In diplomacy it has been the Year of the Hostage. In fashion it has been the Year of the Slit Skirt.
In baseball, Phillies division, it has been the Year of the Child.
Don't ask where the Phillies would be today without Bob Walk's 10-4 record, without Lonnie Smith's .337 average, 64 runs, scored and 28 stolen bases, without Keith Moreland's quiet .339 contribution, without the toughness of Dickie Noles. The rookies have turned a suspect bench into a solid one, given depth to an injury-plagued pitching staff.
Marty Bystrom, another big stud of a righthander in the Walk physical mold, joined Dallas Green's Wild Bunch last night. All Bystrom, a precocious 22-year-old who throws four pitches for strikes, did was shut out the Mets, 5-0, spinning a nifty, thrifty five-hitter sullied by just two walks and three-ball counts on only four hitters.
OK, shutting out the Mets these days is about as difficult as defeating a Democrat who runs on a more-spending platform. It's about as tough as finding a politician's hand under the table with an illegal buck.
BUT BYSTROM SHOWED the same velocity, breaking ball, control and command that wowed Dallas Green and Paul Owens during the Florida Instructional League two years ago and caused the Phillies to sack a full-time scout after a signing hassle which had South Florida baseball buzzing.
"How'd you like the kid?" grinned rookie catcher Ozzie Virgil, who is not exactly old folks himself. "I've caught him about three seasons in the minors and now you know why I've been saying Marty's a special pitcher. That's the way he pitched for six weeks down in the Instructional League last fall. It was a mismatch, really."
In early November of 1978, Green, then the farm director, and Owens watched Bystrom unfurl six innings of splendid pitching – 18 hitters up, 18 down. "It was about as good a game as a pitcher could pitch," Green said last night after the Phillies stayed a half-game behind the Expos in the merry East. "We knew we had made the right decision when we signed him. We told Danny Ozark we had a kid who threw strikes with fastball, slider, curve and changeup who was gonna be ready pretty damn quick."
He had a big year at Reading last season and the Phillies were ready to leap-frog him to the varsity during spring training. But Bystrom showed up limping from a hamstring pull he suffered while running on the campus of Miami Dade-South Junior College.
"THAT WAS A SETBACK for him and then he had a major one which put him out of the picture as far as the big club was concerned," Green said.
Bystrom slipped on the clubhouse floor in the Carpenter Complex shortly after he reported and suffered a serious hamstring tear.
"It was black and blue from top to bottom," Marty said after the first shutout by a first-nighting Phil since ill-starred Dave Downs blanked Atlanta after being called up in the dregs of the 1972 season. "I knew I wasn't going to be doing any pitching for awhile."
He was a spectator at Oklahoma City until July and he scuffled for a month. The hamstring still wasn't right.
"But when I got it together I pitched the way you saw me pitch tonight," he said. "I won my last five decisions."
Bystrom made it through the free agent draft unnoticed after an unspectacular high school career. It didn't bother the kid because he knew he was getting bigger and stronger and he planned to hone his skills playing American Legion ball. Draft? Hell, he was hoping he'd be good enough to attract attention from Miami-Dade South's high-powered JC program, one of the nation's finest.
Green started getting favorable reports from his area scout, Gust Poulous. Bystrom was doing well in Legion ball and worth a longer look.
"THE SCOUT GOT fired because of not signing Bystrom," Green said, revealing a fascinating political side of the free agent market. "The kid entered junior college out of high school and was not drafted... He went to Charley Green (Miami Dade South coach). He entered their fall program and we liked him. We had worked him out at our complex. Under the JC rules, we can sign him up until he plays in his first game. Four-year colleges, we can't do that. As soon as a kid enrolls at a four-year school we can't touch him until he turns 21 or his class graduates. Anyway, we had an old scout, the late Catfish Smith down in Miami. Matter or fact he's the guy who got Marty off the Legion team to go to Miami Dade-South. Hugh Alexander scouted him and every time we saw him we liked him. Hugh picked up on the fact that he had gone through the draft and was eligible to sign as a free agent. I called our scout up and said, 'Hey, I want this guy signed." He said, 'You can't sign him." I said we could sign him and I wanted him signed, that we had a good dollar evalation on him (bonus) and to sign him. He said, no, he wouldn't do that."
Green knew something was rotten in South Miami. He fired the scout. Catfish Smith and Hugh Alexander signed Bystrom and Coach Green made certain that the Phillies were less than welcome in his area. "He sent me a nasty letter and I fired one off that was twice as nasty," Dallas grinned.
THE IMPLICATIONS are clear. Scouts in baseball-rich areas often work both sides of the street, double agents, so to speak. Having been passed over in the free agent draft, the idea was to make Bystrom a more valuable commodity by getting him a JC scholarship. Maybe after two years the kid would have been good enough for Arizona State, Southern Cal, Clemson or one of the high-caliber Division I colleges. Now we have a potential top draft choice and a candidate for a big bucks bonus.
"At the time all this was going on, Charley Green didn't know any more about Marty than the Phillies did," Dallas Green said. "I don't want to hear all that crap about we were stealing a kid's education. He didn't know we were in the hunt for a kid we thought had a lot of potential until our scout did."
Bystrom said he hopes he gets a congratulatory telegram from Charley Green, that he was sorry Catfish Smith didn't live to see him pitch a shutout in his big league debut and that he would have no comment on the messy little South Florida recruiting war.
"I don't want to discuss any of that," he said.
Anyway, it was another big night for Dallas Green. Another one of his baby birds had come thrashing out of the nest, full grown and ready to fly. If Danny Ozark were still here, The Wizard wouldn't have touched Bystrom with a 10-foot kielbasa in this stage of a pennant fight.
"THERE'S ONLY ONE night like this in a pitcher's career if he's good enough and lucky enough to have it," Green said. "I know the kid must have a few tingles running through him right now."
The tingles might have been laced with ice water. Bystrom handled his first mass interview with aplomb, even managing to handle a lengthy list of hackneyed questions by an elderly New York Times writer with patience, if not flair.
"I had good stuff the day Dallas and Paul saw me in the Instructional League," he said. "Of course, they weren't big-league hitters up there. I've been throwing four pitches for strikes since my second year in the minors."
Yeah, he knew all about Dave Downs' debut in 72. He pitched in the minors with Dave's younger brother, Kelly. Dave's career was ended by a sore arm. He never had another happy day in a baseball uniform after that one brief hour on the big-league stage with a last-place ballclub.
Bystrom figures to last a little longer. And the good news is: There are more like him down on the farm.
PHILUPS: The offense rattled 15 hits off Mark Bomback and his successors. Phils put it away early scoring three in the first on RBI by Bake McBride (4-for-5), Greg Luzinski (double) and Garry Maddox (3-for-4) ... Phils scored insurance runs in the eighth and ninth. Dick Ruthven vs. Ray Burris tonight.
Pete Remembers Those Kinds of Septembers
By Ted Silary
NEW YORK – Most of the children have been dragged to the schools and most of the water has been drained from the pools.
Yes, we are now thigh-deep in September and, once again. Pete Rose is involved in a pennant race.
In certain locales throughout the country, fans are chewing their nails to the knuckles, managers are smoking butts by the cartons, announcers are screaming at the tops of their lungs and youths are sneaking radios under their pillows at bedtime.
HOWEVER. ONE September constant is conspicuous by its absence... the magical batwork of Pete (Old Faithful) Rose.
Don't compute the average now. but the Phillies first baseman is 8-for-45 since the last page was torn from the calendar and 2-for-20 since his last at-bat in the next-to-last-game in Los Angeles.
A slump by Pete Rose in September is almost akin to a 10-foot snow in October. Yet. it is upon us. Last night, as the Phillies pinned a 5-0 loss on the Mets, now riding a 3-for-26 themselves, Pete went 1-for-5 in the box-score and 2-for-5 in his mind. That followed an 0-for-6, 4-for-6 showing in that 5-4, 14-inning thriller over the Pirates.
You see, Pete Rose never stops hitting; the ball just doesn't fall in as much.
"I FELT I was swinging the bat pretty well in batting practice tonight." said Rose, now hitting 26 points lower than his lifetime average of .312. "And I stung it (double to left-center) my first at-bat. Hits come and go. Streaks come and go. I am up there trying, you know."
The rest of Rose's evening, following the double, included a pair of 3-1 groundouts, a liner to left that was gloved at shin level by Claudell Washington and a pop in the same direction. He was 0-for-10 in the twin wins over the Pirates, sending just one ball past the infield, though five grounders boasted at least some semblance of pizzazz.
Throughout his years with the Reds, Pete was known for leading the way in the stretch, bunching base hits like a florist bunches roses and scoring tons of runs thanks to the mashers.
But 0-for-10 in a crucial two-game series? The Reds would never have swept and neither, it was thought, could the Phillies.
"NO MATTER what we do, Pete Rose is very much a part of it," said Manager Dallas Green. "The only way you can say he's not a big part right now is with the bat But he's fielding the hell out of first base and anyway, Pete Rose helps the Phillies just by being Pete Rose.
"Pete's in a little slump, but that's because he's tired. He'll never let you know that. He'll just go out and do his job, take his 0-fers and hope for better days. Pete would probably be better off if I could rest him a few innings here or there, or even for a full day. But there haven't been many chances to do that lately."
Even if there had been chances. Rose would rather spit in Green's eye than miss an important ballgame. He has played in 301 straight games since joining the Phillies by the reentry route and you could probably count his partial games on the fingers of a grossly deformed hand.
Though chances are slim that Pete will rap 40 hits from here on in and extend his major-league record of 200-hit seasons to 11, he wants it known that we are the ones who are counting him out, not him.
"I DON’T anticipate having a bad September," said Rose, who scorched along at a .421 clip last September, collecting almost one-fourth of his season's hits. "It's still early. But I'm not even thinking about another 200-hit season. I've already got that record.
"Now is not the time to put personal goals ahead of team goals. I'm thinking about beating out the Expos and Pirates and getting into the playoffs. The way I can help on offense is to get on base and score a lot of runs. There's a lot of time left, over 100 at-bats. I'll do my share."
For most of his career, of course, Rose was a leadoff hitter, spraying a single here or a double there and scoring one or two hits later. But the presence of Lonnie Smith has changed all that.
When Smith gets a chance to play in a revolving-door outfield, he bats first and Rose bats second, which is almost like asking Bernie Parent to play goal on the heels of Gene Hart. Then again, as many advantages as Rose brings to the No. 1 hole, Smith brings one more – speed.
"YOU HAVE to approach hitting second different than you do hitting first," Rose acknowledged. "With one exception (in that final Pirate game), I don't think I hit with a man on base. That's because Lonnie went 0-for-5. When he doesn't get on base, that makes my job tougher. I can't work the bat. And if I do get a hit, we've got a one-out rally instead of a none-out rally."
Speaking of rallies, we all know it's only a matter of time (and timing) before Pete Rose resumes his role as hitman supreme. And in the meantime...
"You play good defense, which I do," Pete flared.
Sure. But how many fielding gems do you remember by Pete Rose in September? Right. Almost none. The man is paid to hit, especially when it means the most.
Like now. Like 10 days ago. Like he always does in September.
J.R. Going Home Soon?
HOUSTON (UPI) – The Houston Astros' team physician said doctors may decide today when pitcher J.R. Richard, recovering from a life-threatening stroke, can be discharged from the hospital.
"We're going to have a meeting Thursday to determine when he'll be able to be released," Dr. Harold Brelsford told reporters.
Richard, who had a 10-4 record before collapsing during an Astrodome workout July 30, underwent surgery at Methodist Hospital to remove a neck artery clot blocking the flow of blood to part of his brain. He has been hospitalized since.
Richard recently has been allowed to make short trips from the hospital and, on Monday, visited with teammates at the home of Astros part-owner Don Sanders.
THE 6-FOOT-8 right-hander did not talk to reporters but was observed to suffer continued weakness in his left arm and leg, although he was walking and friends said he was talking more clearly and seemed in good spirits.
"He had more on his plate than anybody," outfielder Terry Puhl said. "And he had that glitter in his eye. He knows he's still part of this team."
"He came over to my house after dinner," second baseman Joe Morgan said. "He laughed. He joked. He was his funny self again."
Manager Bill Virdon said he told Richard he would like to have him in the lineup against the Dodgers.
"He said, 'Yeah, I'm dying to get out of here,'" Virdon said.
Batting coach Deacon Jones said Richard seemed weary of everyone asking '"How are you?' and stuff like that, even though he knows they mean well.
"I think he looked absolutely great. He was recounting with my wife exactly what happened when he collapsed. He knows how serious it was. He said something like that will really humble you, or words to that effect."
"We talked about how he was feeling and when he'd be discharged," pitcher Nolan Ryan said. "But we didn't discuss baseball. We talked a little about hunting and I got the feeling he plans on resuming his activities this winter."
There were three winners in the Daily News Home Run Payoff contest yesterday.
In the fifth inning of last night's Phillies-Mets game, Maria Banford of Philadelphia won $10 on Bake McBride's single. Joe Mulcrone of Mont Clare and J. Ciglinsky of North Cape May each won four tickets to a Phillies game.
To date the Daily News has paid out $16,705.
Today's entry coupon appears on Page 18.