Camden Courier-Post - March 3, 1980

Blast of winter wind sends Phils indoors


By Rusty Pray of the Courier-Post


CLEARWATER, Fla. – On a winter day in Clearwater, life comes to a cold stop. Its residents, accustomed as they are to sun and warmth, flee from the chill as if it were some Northern plague come to afflict them.


Clearwater was a ghost town yesterday. With gale-like breezes and wind-chill temperatures in the high 20's, birds feared flight, palmetto leaves littered the streets like sagebrush and people hibernated within their homes. Even the omnipresent fishermen, who line the bridges here like roosting seagulls, were not to be found.


Indeed, Clearwater was as bleak as Cleveland in January on this winter day in March.


At Carpenter Complex, where the Phillies have been working out informally for the past week, the pace was considerably slowed. On any given morning, the batting cages are filled with hitters, the pitchers are running and the coaches are making sweeping tours of the grounds, talking with players and among themselves.


There was no such activity yesterday. Players and coaches alike shuffle about the club house with no discernible sense of purpose, joking here, playing a card game there. Plans to have injured pitchers Jim Wright, Dick Ruthven and Warren Brusstar throw off mounds are shelved for another less Northern day.


Manager Dallas Green decides early on against attempting any work out of doors and turns the morning over to karate expert Gus Hoefling, the club's strength and flexibility guru.


Hoefling has been a central figure all week, assembling the players for daily conditioning drills. On this winter day in Clearwater, he lines them up inside the clubhouse, putting them through a series of stretching exercises that would do the Marine Corps proud.


Maury Wills, the ex-Dodger shortstop now working with a cable television network, suddenly appears with a camera crew approximately the size of the Seventh Infantry. He is there to film Hoefling and his training regimen. Wills attempts to join the workout for benefit of the cameras, but quits before too long.


Green calls an early halt to Hoefling's drills and the players scatter. Wright and a few others resume a card game. Reserve infielder John Vukovich, a non-roster player trying to make the club, takes some catching tips from Coach Mike Ryan. It is Vukovich's hope that, by learning to catch, he'll serve as the Phils' No. 3 man behind the plate. His chances of making the club, even with the added catching dimension, are not good.


Vukovich joins regular catcher Bob Boone in a demonstration of some of Hoefling's more exotic exercises. They are martial arts disciples of Hoefling's and will do a series of kick walks for Wills' camera crew.


They begin by holding their arms at shoulder height. As they step forward, they must lift their legs high enough to kick their hands. Back and forth they go, stepping and kicking, looking for all the world like prospective punters trying out for a National Football League team.


Their performance draws considerable attention from the other players, who watch with a mixture of admiration and bemusement.


Boone and Vukovich eventually end their goose stepping and Wills' camera crew turns its attention of Trainer Don Seger, who has pitcher Larry Christenson strapped into a CYBEX II machine. Christenson is wearing a sun visor equipped with blinking red lights to celebrate the occasion. The crew's director wants a tight shot of Christenson's face when the strain begins showing.


Green wanders by an observer and is asked what he thinks of Hoefling's sometimes eccentric exercise program. Green's answer is strangely defensive. "If I didn't like it, it wouldn't be here. It has a place," Green says.


Another unrelated query elicits a more positive response from Green, who commends his players for their dedication.


"I can't say enough about their attitude," Green says. "It's a rainy day. They don't have to be here and we almost half the club here."


You could look at that another way and say more than half the club wasn't there. But there was, really, no reason for any of the players to be on hand. Workouts still are voluntary. Spring training does not begin in earnest for the Phillies until tomorrow, when camp officially opens.


Perhaps by then winter will have gone from Clearwater.

Unser gives lift from bench


By Rusty Pray of the Courier-Post


CLEARWATER, Fla – There is a knack to pinch-hitting that, or one reason or another, seems to elude a majority of major league baseball players. The transition from fulltime player to occasional hitter is one that seldom is successfully made.


Indeed, pinch-hitting was all but a lost art with the Phillies a year ago. Their .229 pinch-hitting average was a source of some embarrassment to the club. The righthanders were especially helpless at the plate, together accounting for fewer than half of the Phils' 50 pinch hits.


To understand just how weak most of the Phillies' pinch-hitters were, you need only consider that Bake McBride, Greg Gross and Del Unser, all lefthanders, had 31 pinch hits last season. McBride, a regular, pinch-hit only occasionally, going 3-for-9. Gross and Unser split the other 28 pinch hits in half.


UNSER, who washed ashore at the Phillies spring training camp as a free agent last season, is one of the few who have acquired the knack of pinch-hitting, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Even now, the 35-year-old Unser prefers not to consider himself purely a pinch-hitter. Rather, he likes to think of himself as a multi-purpose player who can come off the bench to field as well as hit.


"Every year I come early to see what I need to do to get there," Unser said yesterday after a brief indoor workout at the Phillies' Carpenter Complex. "This year, everything feels good so I guess that I did the right things over the winter."


Those things included hitting off a batting tee in the garage of his Moraga, Calif ., home, playing racquetball and lifting weights with his legs – a vital regimen, according to Unser.


"You can only get there with good legs – unless you want to be relegated to pinch-hitting for the rest of your career," he said. "That's not my idea of playing the game. If pinch-hitting were the only thing available to me, I would be a pinch-hitter. But I don't think that's all they want me for.


"I'M NICE insurance for the Phillies or whatever club I'm with. I can play all three outfield positions and first base. I'm in shape. I'm there if they need me.”


Unser did, in fact, come in quite handy for the Phillies last season. He had been with Philadelphia in 1973 and 1974 before going to the Mets and, later, Montreal. In 1978 he hit an unhealthy .196 for the Expos and it seemed his career might be finished.


"I wasn't happy with the situation in Montreal," he said. "I became a free agent after hitting .196 and, believe me,  that was no easy decision. They offered me a two-year contract – which I didn't believe. I turned it down because I wanted out of there."


Unser turned down offers from the seven clubs that drafted him in the re-entry draft and was without a team as  late as last February, when Phillies' General Manager Paul Owens picked him in another re-entry draft.


NOW, UNSER must be considered one of Owens' more successful reclamation projects. Signed last March to a contract that expires at the end of the season, Unser hit .304 and drove in 14 runs as a pinch-hitter. A line-drive hitter, Unser surprised even himself by setting a major league record with three consecutive pinch-hit home runs. He has seven pinch homers in his 12-year career, four of them coming last season.


"When I left Montreal I had two pinch hits all year," he said. "Then I turned it around and became a good pinch-hitter and that comes from extra work, hitting in the cages and off the tee and working with (Coach) Billy DeMars.


"In Montreal, I was making the transition from being an every day player. I had to get it in my mind that there's still something meaningful you can do for a club when you're no longer an every day player."


Unser began to apply himself to getting the knack of pinch-hitting when he came to the Phillies. During spring training he took instruction from DeMars. During the season, Unser spent much of his game-time in the locker room, swinging a bat in front of a mirror.


"I DON'T know of any real criteria for being a good pinch-hitter except to hit the ball hard consistently," said Unser. "A lot of guys have to play every day to hit the ball hard consistently. I did have to play every day – until last year."


Last season might even be considered a watershed year for Unser, who wants a multi-year contract from the Phillies after this season.


"I just worked so hard on hitting that my whole world revolved around the moment I would get up to the plate," he said


Which may well be the secret of successful pinch-hitting, a knack Unser forced himself to learn.