Sometimes, potential excitement can be mixed with wackiness. The 1979 Philadelphia Phillies fit that statement.
After three consecutive National League East titles (1976-1978), the Phillies flopped to fourth at 84-78, 14 games out of first place. Manager Danny Ozark, who won 292 regular season games during those division titles, lost his job on Aug. 30. Phillies farm director and former Phillies pitcher Dallas Green took over as skipper to finish the season
First baseman Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose signed a four-year contract as a free agent. Rose batted .331 (208-for-628) with 90 runs, 40 doubles, five triples, four home runs, 59 runs batted in, and 20 steals. In 3,562 big-league games, Rose batted .303 with a Major League Baseball-most 4,256 hits, 2,165 runs, 198 steals, and 1,314 RBIs; however, he hasn’t been enshrined in Cooperstown, NY due to betting on baseball games.
Third baseman Michael Jack Schmidt provided power in his seventh full season with the Phillies, going 137-for-541 with 109 runs, 25 doubles, four triples, 45 long-balls, and 114 RBIs.
Second baseman Manny Trillo, Greg Gross, and Dave Rader, came to the Phillies from the Chicago Cubs for Ted Sizemore, Jerry Martin, Barry Foote, and two minor league pitching prospects. Although Trillo missed 40 games with a forearm injury, he tallied 40 runs, 83 singles, 22 doubles, one triple, six homers, and 42 RBIs. Gross appeared in 111 games and notched 58 hits in 174 at-bats.
Richie Hebner became expendable once Rose signed as Owens sent Hebner to the Montreal Expos for pitcher Nino Espinosa. Espinosa was 14-12 in 33 starts (212 innings) with three shutouts, eight complete games, 65 walks, 88 strikeouts, and a 3.65 Earmed Run Average.
The Phillies won 24 of their first 34 games. Game 34, however, was the 23-22 “shootout in Chicago” on May 17, in which the Phillies scored seven runs in the top of the first and led 17-6 heading to the bottom of the fourth. Schmidt homered twice, and center-fielder Garry Maddox, catcher Bob Boone, and even pitcher Randy Lerch also cleared the fence. Rawly Eastwick earned the win with two scoreless innings of relief in the 10-inning affair against the Cubs.
After the “shootout in Chicago,” the Phillies dropped 16 of their next 18 contests and slipped to fourth place in the division. The Phillies held the NL Easts’s top spot for 32 days. General Manager Paul Owens couldn’t pull out a big deal at the trade deadline.
Adding “Charlie Hustle” helped the offense produce 1,453 hits in 5,463 at-bats (.266 average) with 683 runs, 250 doubles, 53 triples, 119 home runs, 641 RBIs, and 128 steals.
Right-fielder Bake McBride posted 123 singles, 16 doubles, 12 triples, 12 sayonaras, 82 runs, 25 steals, and 16 RBIs. Maddox delighted crowds with 70 runs, 107 singles, 28 doubles, six triples, 13 four-baggers, 61 RBIs, and 26 steals. Left-fielder Greg “Bull” Luzinski batted .252 (114-for-452) with 47 runs, 23 doubles, one triple, 18 round-trippers, and 81 RBIs.
Boone went yard nine times and knocked-in 58 runs to go along with 114 hits. Shortstop Larry Bowa stole 20 bases, safely touched he 73 times, played 31 runs, and added 17 doubles and 11 triples.
Backup catcher Tim McCarver mustered 33 hits in 137 at-bats (.241 in 79 games) with 13 runs, 12 RBIs, and seven extra-base hits. Outfielder Del Unser added 42 hits in 141 at-bats (.298 in 95 games) with 26 runs, eight doubles, six homers, and 29 RBIs.
Rose accumulated a league-best 23-game hitting streak. Schmidt’s season-long hit streak reached 17 games. McBride stretched two hits for triples on June 15 against Cincinnati.
Inconsistent would best describe Philadelphia’s pitcher staff. Phillies pitchers demonstrated a 4.16 ERA in 1,441 innings with 10 shutouts, 29 saves, 33 complete games, 1,445 hits, 447 walks, and 787 strikeouts. The Phillies hasn’t struck out fewer than 800 batters since fanning 775 in 1961.
Lefthander Steve Carlton (18-11, 3.62 ERA) led the team in wins, starts (35), complete games (13), shutouts (four), innings (251), free passes, strikeouts (213), and low ERA. Besides Carlton and Espinosa, the starting rotation included Lerch (10-13, one shutout, 37 games, 35 starts, six CGs, 214 innings, 92 strikeouts, 3.74 ERA), Dick Ruthven (7-5, two shutouts, 20 starts, three CGs, 122 innings, 4.28 ERA), Larrry Christenson (5-10, 19 games. 17 starts, two CGs, 106 innings, 53 strikeouts, 4.50 ERA), and Dickie Noles (3-4, 14 starts, 90 innings, 3.80 ERA).
Coming out from the bullpen were Eastwick (3-6, six saves, 51 games, 83 innings, 4.88 ERA), Tug McGraw (4-3, 16 saves, 65 games, one start, 84 innings, 5.14 ERA), Roon Reed (13-8, five saves, 61 games, 102 innings, 4.15 ERA), Doug Bird (2-0, 32 games, one start, one CG, 61 innings, 5.16 ERA), Kevin Saucier (1-4, one save, 29 games, two starts, 62 innings, 33 walks, 21 strikeouts, 4.21 ERA), and Warren Brusstar (1-0, one save, 13 games, 14 innings, 7.07 ERA).
Carlton hurled three one-hit shutouts (two on his own and one for seven innings with McGraw finishing the other two frames). Ruthven one-hit host San Diego, 2-0, on May 9.
The Phillies showcased the NL’s best defense (.963 fielding percentage) with 148 double plays and a league-low 106 errors. Schmidt recorded 36 double plays and 361 assists at third base. Bowa displayed a franchise-best .991 fielding percentage for shortstops.
Bowa, Schmidt, Carlton, Boone, and Rose were selected for the 1979 All-Star Game. Veterans Stadium counted 2,775,011 ticket stubs at the gates. Class A affiliate Central Oregon (Northwest League ) won its championship.
KYW-1060 AM and WPHL-TV 17 provided Phillies broadcasts. Calling the broadcasts were Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn, Andy Musser, and Chris Wheeler.
Pete Mackanin’s lone hit in nine at-bats (13 games) was a home run in 1979 (he also scored another run). On Dec. 7, Mackanin was traded to Minnesota for pitcher Paul Thormodsgard. Mackanin would eventually become a bench coach, base coach, and even interim manager (when Ryne Sandberg resigned in June 2015) for the Phillies.
*Information about the 1979 Phillies can be found in “The Phillies Encyclopedia (Third Edition)” by Rich Westcott and Fran Bilovsky.