Wilmington Evening Journal - March 7, 1980

Phils’ Gross eyes more playing time


By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor


CLEARWATER, FLA. – GREG GROSS is whistling a happy tune these days. Call him Mr. Sunshine.


The Phillies' utility outfielder strolls into the clubhouse each morning happy as a lark. About the only thing that could make Greg Gross even happier would be the chance to play every day. But even though that is not likely to happen, Greg thinks he made the right decision when he played out his option last year, then turned around and remained with the Phillies.


After declaring his free agency and testing the waters, he stayed home. He signed a five-year, $1.1-million contract with the Phils and hopes to stay with them for the duration. There were strong bids from other teams, such as Montreal and the New York Mets, but the soft-spoken, hard-hitting Gross turned them down.


"We knew we wanted to stay in Philadelphia all along," he said. "I felt I owed it to myself to see what might happen if I became a free agent. It was a difficult decision. I did not see how I could become a starter for the Phillies. I thought I might be able to play regularly with someone else."


As spring training reaches high gear, the 27-year-old Gross is considered the Phils' fourth outfielder. That, however, could change if Player Personnel Director Paul Owens is able to make a deal.


If Owens is able to pull off an 11th-hour deal for a front-line pitcher, chances are Bake McBride will be involved in the deal. If that happens, the left-hand hitting Gross and the right-handed Lonnie Smith will platoon in right field.


"I liked playing for the Phillies last year," said Gross, a native of York, Pa. "I'm comfortable with the ball park and the fans, plus the city is close to my hometown. This was a consideration on a long-term basis. If I'm fortunate enough to stay and finish my career with the Phillies, it will be an advantage being here as far as the future is concerned."


Although Gross' contract is guaranteed, he received no guarantees he will remain with the Phils for the five years. "No, I did not get a no-trade provision," he admitted. "When we made the rounds of other clubs, we got feelers... and pretty much established a value. I knew the only consideration would be if someone offered me a whole lot more money than the Phillies - or a chance to play every day."


MONTREAL REPORTEDLY WAS prepared to bid high I for Gross, but the expos instead signed Rowland Office, a free agent who plaved last year with Atlanta. Later, the Expos traded for the Tigers' Ron Leflore. The Mets and Indians also showed strong interest.


"The Phils' offer was pretty much even with the others," said Gross, who hit .333 in 111 games last year after arriving here from the Chicago Cubs in the Manny Trillo deal. "Two clubs talked to me about becoming a regular and their offers were a bit more."


Gross was drafted by eight clubs, plus the Phillies.


"I'll tell you this," said Gross, modestly, "the Phillies' offer was far in excess of what the Expos gave Office, both in dollars and in years."

When the Phils failed to make a trade at last December s winter meetings in Toronto, and after free-agent outfielder Jay Johnstone signed with Los Angeles, Owens became more determined to keep Gross.


"Right now, my role remains basically the same as last year, said Gross. "I will fill in defensively, do some pinch-hitting and start on occasion. That could change, however. Last year I got a lot of confidence playing with this club. Even though there were times I sat a long time on the bench, I was still able to do the job.


"I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't say that the change in managers played a part in my thinking. Dallas Green impressed me as a man who likes to use his bench more than Danny Ozark did. I see more playing time for me. Although Dallas hasn't said it, I think that will be the case. Other guys need some rest It's as simple as that."


Gross, a lifetime .298 hitter, said there are some Incentive clauses in his contract – believed to relate to the number of games he plays.


"If Greg gets into an every-day situation, he’ll certainly be paid like an every-day player," said Owens.


Meanwhile, Greg Gross is one of the happiest guys in camp.

Players’ strike vote doesn’t worry owners


By Jerome Holtzman, Chicago Sun Times Service


TAMPA, Fla. – Ray Grebey, the owners labor negotiator, went 4-for-4 yesterday in his busiest, if not his best, day in baseball. He met with 26 major league public-relations directors, the general managers, members of his Player Relations Committee and the owners' eight-man Executive Council.


At the finish, Grebey said, in effect, that the threat of a players' strike was just smoke, a view shared by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.


"There is no crisis now, no horrible situation," Grebey said of the owners' contract dispute that has the Players' Association taking strike votes. The Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday followed the Phillies' lead and unanimously voted to support a strike. The Chicago White Sox are expected to add their unanimous support today.


"There are routine maneuvers taken by any union in this kind of situation," Grebey said. "You have to put that vote into perspective. It's not a strike vote but a vote to authorize a strike. They (the Players Association) have been careful to say they will reconsider the situation on April 1.”


Kuhn seemed neither surprised nor concerned that the executive board of the players union had passed a "strike action" resolution.


Kuhn added he doesn't anticipate a strike. "They (the owners and players) have the ability to make a deal," he said. "They both want to play ball."


Asked if he would use his "best interest" powers and intervene as he did four years ago, Kuhn replied, "I have no plans to step in. They're perfectly capable of working it out.”


Kuhn said if negotiations are not concluded before the April 9 opener, the season could begin anyway, with the owners honoring all of the terms of the previous four-year labor contract that expired Dec. 31.


Grebey wasn't in accord. After describing "compensation" as "a very flammable word," he said the owners might tighten some of the free-agency provisions – even if the players would agree to open without a contract.


This coincides with the view voiced by Marvin Miller, the players-union boss, who has warned the players not to perform without a contract. If they did, the players would have little, if any, legal recourse, then the owners could set new rules at will.


Though all of the club owners and represent-ives are vowed to silence, one general manager said he is ready for a strike. "Let them walk out," he said. "We'll sit and wait until they come back."

Pirates joins Phils in strike vote


Associated Press


The Pittsburgh Pirates have joined the Philadelphia Phillies in voting unanimously for a strike by the Major League Players Association if no contract agreement is reached with the owners by April 1.


Infielder Phil Garner, the Pirates' player representative, said his teammates voted unanimously yesterday at their training camp in Bradenton, Fla., to strike "if things don't get any better than they are now."


Neither Garner nor Marvin Miller, the executive director of the Players Association, would spell out what would constitute progress. Miller is touring the camps of the 26 major-league teams and polling the players on their feelings about a possible strike. It will take him until March 30 to poll every team in Florida, Arizona and California. Wednesday, the Phillies voted 40-0 at Clearwater, Fla., to approve a walkout.


Meanwhile, many other major leaguers said they would support a strike, but some would start the season without a contract.


An informal poll of the Texas Rangers at Pompano Beach, Fla., indicated they would unanimously support a strike. Veteran pitcher Ferguson Jenkins said: "Of course, I would support a strike. We'd be lost without the Association. We're like a bunch of floundering idiots without it."


Reliever Sparky Lyle said: "We would have struck last week. We have a hundred years of catching up to do."


Pitcher Jon Matlack, the Rangers' player rep, said that if there was a strike, it might not come until May.


"We could still strike, say in May, when it would hurt them (the owners) economically even more. Schools would be getting out by then, crowds start getting bigger and there are fewer rainouts. We'd still have that hammer to hit them over the head with."


At Fort Myers, Fla., in a survey of 20 members of the Kansas City Royals, most said they thought there would be a strike and none said they would oppose a walkout.


Outfielder-designated hitter Hal McRae said: "If a certain amount of progress is not made, there is going to be a strike, and it looks like we're not going to make any progress. It looks like we'll be forced to strike."


McRae emphasized that the players must support Miller. "We'd be crazy not to," he said. "Look where we'd be without him. If he tells you it's going to rain, get out your umbrella. Don't look at the sky.”


Third baseman George Brett said he would have to support a strike. "I don't think that we're any different than the Teamsters or the truckers or any other union," said Brett.


Clint Hurdle, a young Royals' outfielder, compared the owner-player relationship to "playing chicken with cars. You drive at each other to see who'll get out of the way first."


At West Palm Beach, Fla., Phil Niekro, the Atlanta Braves' 40-year-old pitcher and player rep, acknowledged that the strike possibility threatened opening day "if some things aren't done."


"Everything players have – meal money, first-class air fare, free-agency, salaries, everything – came because the Players Association stood up and fought four years ago," said Niekro. "It would be nice if every player on all 26 clubs could sit down in one room with Marvin, and I'll bet there would be 100 percent support for a strike."


Pitcher Joe Niekro, Phil's brother and the player representative of the Houston Astros, said the players were more united now than they were during the 1972 strike, which delayed the start of the season for nine days.


"The higher-paid players realize how much they benefitted from the last contract," said Joe Niekro. "Free agents owe everything to that contract. So do players who were successful through arbitration."


Pitcher Wayne Garland, the Cleveland Indians' player rep, said all the players he had talked to indicated they would support a strike. However, he said he had not yet spoken with all his teammates.


Among the few dissenters against a walkout are catcher Dave Skaggs and pitcher Steve Stone, both of the Baltimore Orioles. Both said they would prefer to play without a contract for a while.


And Orioles' pitcher Jim Palmer said that "under no circumstances will I take a vote now like we did in 72. I remember how Baltimore reacted after it was over. They even booed Brooksie (Brooks Robinson)."


"My posture is that if we take a stance like the owners did four years ago and aren't willing to give anything, we're doing the same thing the owners did and it backfired on them," said Palmer.

Phils change Billy Johnson’s luck


By Matt Zabitka


All kinds of great things were predicted for Billy Johnson when he was finishing up at Delcastle High.


Baseball, basketball, football – Billy was a phenom in all sports.


"He's probably the best receiver this state has seen in many, many years," Delcastle Coach Jack Hoopes once said, describing Billy's football talents. In the two years he was a starting end for the Cougars, Johnson snared 68 passes for 1,012 yards.


In basketball during his junior and senior years he led the Cougars in scoring and rebounding. He set a school career-scoring record and made the All-Blue Hen Conference Flight A first-team both years.


In baseball, as a third baseman and pitcher, he batted .435 and was voted to the All-State first-team his senior year.


Armed with a diploma, the big guy sat back and waited for the deluge of college offers which never came.


He settled for little Salem (N.J.) Community College, where he played fall baseball in 1978, then quit school that December.


Totally disappointed and disenchanted with the way things were turning out for him athletic-wise, Billy gave up on his lofty dreams and hopes. Last summer, he started the season with Canada Dry of the Semi-Pro League, then switched to Durney when the American Legion campaign opened. Durney was the team he had played for the two previous seasons, with Durney last season he batted .450, hit a couple homers and had a 5-1 pitching record.


Enter Pat Ramone, the youthful head coach of the Stahl Legion team, who had Billy as a 16 and 17-year-old.


"I was always very high on Billy as a baseball player," said Ramone. "I thought it was one big waste of talent to see this big (6-foot-5, 205) young man playing on local sandlots. I always felt he had the tools to play pro ball."


Ramone decided to do something about it. He made repeated calls on behalf of Billy to Phillies' scout Gary Nichols, who had previously made many appearances in Delaware, scouting Legion players.


"The last time I spoke to Nichols was in December," said Ramone. "He advised me to have Billy work out and to call back in February." A tryout was arranged for Johnson Wednesday.


Durney Coach Paul Rizzo got former Delaware catcher Herb Orensky, a Phillies' farmhand, to accompany Johnson to the Vet for the tryout.


At 10 a.m. Wednesday, before more than 60,000 empty seats at the Vet, there was Billy Johnson on the mound, throwing for almost a half hour to Orensky behind the plate.


Evidently, Nichols liked what he saw, because when Billy left the Vet he had signed with the Phillies and had a pre-paid plane ticket to Tampa, Fla., in his back pocket.


Billy departs for Tampa Friday, March 14, 8:15 a.m.


"I have no idea where I'm going," he said excitedly. "They told me there would be Phillies people at the airport to meet me and take me to my destination. They said that I'd work-out in Florida for a month before being assigned to a club.


"I just can't believe the things that have suddenly been happening for me. It's like a dream come true," said Johnson, trying to control his emotions. "I had just about given up all hope of ever getting a shot at playing pro ball. Now this happens. It's just unbelievable."


For Billy Johnson, Christmas arrived a couple months late.


•       •       •


Last year at about this time, after the announcement that Pete Rose would be playing with the Phillies, the fans were storming the ticket sales windows at the Vet.


So how are ticket sales moving this year?


"Sales aren't on par with last year," said Mike DiMuzio of Wilmington, who's in his third year in the Phillies' sales department. "With the Phillies finishing in fourth place last year, we expected to be swamped with season-ticket cancellations. But we haven't received as many cancellations as anticipated. There have been a few, but not many. Overall, I would say ticket sales for 1980 are very good, but not as good as last year."


Before he joined the sales office (he also handles the sale of souvenirs and publications), DiMuzio, a Delaware graduate, was a member of the ground crew for seven years.


Mike is a brother of Tom DiMuzio, the Blue Hens' 1969 second-team AP Little All-America quarterback. Tom currently resides in Pennington, N.J., and is in purchasing with the Johnson & Johnson (medical supplies) firm based in New Brunswick, N.J.


•       •       •


New York Mets' farmhand Paul Niggebrugge, the former Dickinson High All-Stater in basketball, soccer and baseball, isn't due in St. Petersburg, Fla., for spring training until March 17. That's when all the Mets' minor leaguers are to assemble.


But Niggebrugge, who made his pro baseball debut last summer with Little Falls, N Y., of the Class A New York-Pennsylvania League (he batted .275, hit 13 doubles, three triples and seven homers) got itchy feet. He could hardly wait to get started.


He and his bride, the former Cyndi Wagner of Sherwood Park, departed for St. Petersburg in their newly purchased van last Friday. Paul and Cyndi, his high school sweetheart, were married Jan. 12.


A former outstanding baseball player at Temple who was the Mets' 28th-round pick in the June 1979 free agent draft, Niggebrugge had been working out most of the winter with another Dickinson product in pro baseball – Johnny Wockenfuss of the Detroit Tigers.