View Full Version : Reds 1975 Opening Day third baseman dead at 59

03-08-2007, 07:15 PM
Due to his defensive problems in '73-74, the Reds had decided Dan Driessen's future wasn't as a third baseman.
Bob Howsam went looking for a third baseman that off-season, but the best he could do was land utility man John Vukovich from the Brewers for pitcher Pat Osborn. (There were rumors that winter of a Reds-Royals trade involving Tony Perez and George Brett.)
Vukovich was handed the starting job in spring training and started Opening Day, but only lasted 38 at-bats with the Reds, purportedly irritating Sparky with a temper tantrum after being pinch-hit for in the first inning.
Sent to the minors, traded that August to the Phils for a minor league pitcher.
His .211 batting average for the '75 Reds was a career high.

By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
March 8, 2007

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- John Vukovich, the longest-serving coach in Philadelphia Phillies history and a member of their only World Series championship team in 1980, died Thursday. He was 59.

Vukovich, who had been suffering from complications caused by an inoperable brain tumor, died in a Philadelphia-area hospital, the team said in a statement.

A first-round draft choice by Philadelphia in 1966, Vukovich, who served short stints as manager with Philadelphia and the Chicago Cubs, spent the last 19 years with the Phillies. He also won a World Series ring with the Cincinnati Reds in 1975.

During the 2001 season he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor that was surgically removed and treated with radiation therapy.

He returned to the field that season as third base coach. After the 2004 season, he accepted a position in the front office as a special assistant to general manager Ed Wade. Vukovich also was Philadelphia's spring training coordinator until 2004 and an assistant last season under new general manager Pat Gillick.

Late last year, Vukovich experienced persistent headaches and other symptoms. He was hospitalized in mid-January, although his family and close friends kept his condition guarded at his request. It was the first time he missed spring training in nearly four decades.

"Since the day he signed with us in 1966, Vuk devoted himself to baseball and the Phillies," said team president Dave Montgomery. "Today we lost our good friend and a special member of our Phillies family."

A utility infielder, Vukovich was a career .161 hitter in 10 big league seasons. He played 49 games in 1980, when the Phillies won their only World Series title. He had two stints with Philadelphia (1970-71, 1976-81), and played for Milwaukee and Cincinnati.

He retired in 1981 and went straight into coaching with the Chicago Cubs. Vukovich was an interim manager for the Cubs in 1986 and rejoined the Phillies organization in 1988. He went 5-4 as their interim manager that season.

"I watched him grow up in baseball, give every ounce of himself to reach his goal in the major leagues and stay there," said Phillies senior adviser Dallas Green, who was the manager of the Phillies' 1980 World Series championship team. "I respected him for his baseball knowledge, dedication to the game and the Phillies, his loyalty to his managers and organizations, his honesty and his work ethic. He was one of the best baseball men I've ever been around."

Vukovich won the inaugural Dallas Green Special Achievement award in 2004 for setting a Phillies record by coaching 17 seasons.

The team will wear a black patch bearing Vukovich's nickname, "Vuk," for the upcoming season.

03-08-2007, 08:57 PM
RIP, Vuk.

Wow. Imagine if a George Brett-for-Tony Perez deal would have gone through.

George Foster
03-08-2007, 10:34 PM
He played for the Reds in 75 which means he got his ring...RIP!!

03-08-2007, 10:58 PM
Pete Rose slid into that spot and Foster played leftfield - very fateful.

Big Klu
03-08-2007, 11:05 PM
I would like to know the reason that Sparky pinch-hit for him in the first inning. I'm sure Sparky had his reasons, but as a player I'm sure I would be upset in that situation, too.

03-08-2007, 11:41 PM
I don't remember the exact situation, but I believe the bases were loaded.
I can imagine a scenario where Sparky had an opportunity to break a game wide open early, and likely had George Foster (or Dan Driessen) available to hit for Vukovich.
I don't mean to speak ill of the dead — Vukovich's long career as a coach obviously reflects that he was a good baseball man — but it's almost impossible to overstate how poor a hitter he was.
At the time he came to the Reds, he was coming off three seasons, with a total of 425 at-bats, in which he hit . 166, .125 and .188.

03-09-2007, 12:50 AM
Make that the second inning. Here's a passage about the Vukovich-Anderson drama from "The Big Reds Dynasty", a 1997 book by John Erardi and Greg Rhodes.

"The Reds could not afford another sluggish start in 1975. Six of their first 10 games were against the Dodgers. When the Reds swept LA in three one-run games in the opening series in Cincinnati, exhilaration was in the air.

But on a West Coast swing, the Reds lost two of three to San Diego and four straight to LA. In two of the Dodger losses, the Reds had Rose on third with the go-ahead run late in the game with nobody out.

Both times Morgan, Bench, and Perez failed to deliver.

"A half-million dollars worth of talent," said Rose, "and they don't get me in."

In the third game of the LA series, with the bases loaded in the second inning and Vukovich due up, Anderson pinch-hit Driessen.

Vukovich, whose parents were in the stands, exploded. All the way from the dugout runway to the clubhouse, his rage carried him from lightbulb to lightbulb like a giant firefly in a horror flick. He burst every bulb -- and wanted more. Pop! . . . pop! . . . pop! . . . pop! If Vuke could only hit a baseball as square.

After the game, Anderson made his case.

"Simple," said Sparky. "Who's my better hitter -- Vukovich or Driessen?"
Anderson had said in spring training that his priority for third base was defense. But when it came time to practice what he preached, Anderson got no father than an evolutionist with the Book of Genesis.

Sparky needed something that worked.

The solution, of course, came in early May with Rose's move to third base.

03-09-2007, 03:34 AM
I remember being at the 3rd game of the 1975 season vs the Dodgers , I had seats behind the plate second deck at Riverfront. In the second inning Joe Ferguson hit a pop up between the plate and the mound a little up the 3rd base line I vividly remember Reds pitcher Clay Kirby yell take it John at which time Johnny Bench and John Vukovich both stopped -the ball fell in fair territory and Ferguson had a 20 foot double.

Everytime I ever heard Vukovich's name I still see the play clearly . RIP John Vukovich.

03-09-2007, 08:48 AM
he was so close to immortality but for...

1. not born in the era of the dead ball.

2. somebody coined "Mendoza Line" right before he proposed "Vukovich Line"

3. car broke down while leading final laps of four Indy 500's

4. Charlie Finley's idea of "designated fielder" was never realized

5. infamous farm director of the Phils: "sure, he's got a pitcher's arm, but I really think that we can teach him to hit"

6. #15

03-09-2007, 09:51 AM
RIP John Vukovich. In a way, he was the reason the Big Red Machine gelled. If he had came in and hit just a little bit Rose would have never moved to third and Foster may never had his chance in LF with the Reds. BTW, I had never heard that rumor of Perez for Brett. That is an interesting trade to speculate about.

03-10-2007, 07:59 PM
The Perez-Brett trade speculation is mentioned in a book from the mid-70s called "The Big Red Machine," by Bob Hertzel, I believe.
Had such a one-on-one trade gone down, Reds fans likely would have been outraged. Perez was coming off a 28-homer, 101 RBI season in '74; Brett had posted decent but not incredible numbers (.282, two homers, 47 RBI, 8 SB) as a rookie for the Royals.
At first glance, it appears it would have given the Reds lineup of the mid-70s an overload of lefty hitters: Morgan, Griffey, Brett, Geronimo and Driessen (replacing Perez at first base) to go with a switch-hitter (Rose) and two right-handed bats in Bench and Concepcion.
It's also possible Foster wouldn't have been given the opportunity to win a starting job under that scenario.

03-10-2007, 10:51 PM
May he R.I.P.

How about this though:

"A half-million dollars worth of talent," said Rose, "and they don't get me in.":D :laugh:

03-10-2007, 10:59 PM
I just checked to see what Vukovich was hitting when he lost his starting job with the '75 Reds. His last start came on April 23. That was his 16th game and his 15th and final start as a Reds thirdbaseman. At the conclusion of that game, Vuk was hitting .250 (7-for-28) with 3 doubles and just one RBI on the year.

He appeared in 15 more games and went 1-for-10 at the plate to bring his BA down to .211 as a Reds player. His final appearance with Cincinnati came on May 18. His next major league appearance came on Sept 26, 1976 as a Phillies' thirdbaseman in the 2nd game of a doubleheader in Montreal.

Sea Ray
03-10-2007, 11:22 PM
I recall Howsam tried to trade Perez to Oakland for Sal Bando and to NY Yankees for Graig Nettles.

Good thing none of those trades came down 'cause the key was getting George Foster into the lineup. He was what put the Reds over the top. Rose, Bench, Morgan and Perez were Hall of Famers but from 1975-1981 George Foster was the most dangerous hitter I've ever seen in a Reds uniform.

If you don't believe me or are too young to remember look at what happened to the Reds from 1981 to 1982. Losing George Foster meant a lot more to this team than losing Pete Rose, Joe Morgan or Tony Perez. The dropoff was incredible...

03-10-2007, 11:39 PM
Howsam was usually a good judge of talent, but Dan Driessen never really became the offensive star the Reds front office seemed to believe he was destined to be. (That's not to say he didn't have a few good seasons.)
If a Brett-Perez trade had been made and after this I'll quit pontificating about this imaginary series of events the 1975 Reds would have been best served to keep Driessen on the bench (or trade him for pitching) and move Rose to first base and Foster into left field.
Of course, the entire motivation to trade Perez at all was to get Driessen into the lineup, so that likely wouldn't have happened. (You'll recall when they finally moved Perez two years later, all they got in return was aging starting pitcher Woody Fryman and non-descript reliever Dale Murray.)
Had Brett, rather than Fryman, Murray and Driessen, been a major component of the Reds teams of the late 70s and early 80s, would we have seen another world championship or two?

03-11-2007, 07:59 AM
Had Brett, rather than Fryman, Murray and Driessen, been a major component of the Reds teams of the late 70s and early 80s, would we have seen another world championship or two?

Had the Perez for Brett trade been made, if it resulted in Driessen being in the lineup instead of George Foster, the 1975-76 Reds would have been a lot weaker. However, the 1979-85 Reds would've been much, much stronger with Brett in the lineup.

03-11-2007, 05:50 PM
It's hard to say how good Brett would have become away from the influence of Charlie Lau, though.

11-15-2011, 10:39 AM
Actually, in the 1971 draft, the Reds passed on both Brett and Mike Schmidt. Imagine if they would have selected one or both?

11-15-2011, 11:09 AM
IIRC, the Reds offered Perez for Brett, the Royals gave a flat refusal. I think they knew what they had in Brett.

George Anderson
11-15-2011, 12:01 PM
He is the first player from the 75' team to die.

Roy Tucker
11-15-2011, 12:24 PM
It's not that the Reds didn't try. According to Posnanski, these deals were discussed:

- Tony Perez to the Royals for George Brett
- Tony Perez to the Red Sox for Butch Hobson and Roger Moret
- Tony Perez to the A's for Sal Bando
- Tony Perez to the Yankees for Graig Nettles

All pretty fascinating.

http://books.google.com/books?id=ML3vdmhDfeYC&pg=PA31&lpg=PA31&dq=reds+royals+trade+george+brett+tony+perez&source=bl&ots=jUr6rcIGIm&sig=Xe4NTtzVI1SHSspzYnfVfNTehgQ&hl=en&ei=zJ7CTpzjB-jA2gXU8tCvDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=reds%20royals%20trade%20george%20brett%20tony%20 perez&f=false

11-15-2011, 12:31 PM
He is the first player from the 75' team to die.

That's true. And I think everyone who played for the '76 team is still alive.
Two pitchers from the '77 Reds, Woodie Fryman and Joe Hoerner, have died, however.

George Anderson
11-15-2011, 01:11 PM
That's true. And I think everyone who played for the '76 team is still alive.
Two pitchers from the '77 Reds, Woodie Fryman and Joe Hoerner, have died, however.

Yea all the players from the 76' team are still alive. Other than the coaching staff of Sparky, Klu and Shepard.

Will McEnaney was in a bad motorcycle wreck in the last year or so.

11-15-2011, 01:15 PM
He is the first player from the 75' team to die.

That's really amazing when you thing about it. All of those guys are at least well in their 60's and some 70ish. The Reds are very lucky to have these guys still around. They should try have them together as often as possible while they are in good health.

11-15-2011, 04:29 PM
I never minded the Perez trade was the aspect of getting Driessen in the lineup - I mean he looked terrific, less power but a line drive hitting guy who took a base, got on a lot, so the trade per se never bothered me. But you're kidding - Woody Fryman and Dale Murray are the comeback? Really? I was mad about that then, even I knew Fryman was very ordinary and Murray more so. The Reds should have and could have gotten more for either one, Perez or Driessen. Incredibly dumb trade.