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So Long, Vuke
2007-03-08 22:11
by Mike Carminati

When I was kid the Phils coaches seemed as set in stone as Lincoln and Washington on Mt. Rushmore (or Dick Cheney wherever he may be). They never seemed to change. There was bench coach Bobby Wine, third base coach Lee Elia, batting instructor Billy DeMars, pitching instructor Herm Starette, Ruben Amaro at first, and the rookie Irish Mike Ryan in the bullpen.

In recent years, it seemed that the coaches came and went. They no longer resembled the well-hewn and hoary with baseball knowledge. I remembered them as over-age players whose main qualifications were card playing in the clubhouse. That might have been a function of my aging, not the sport.

However, there was one coach that I can to know more for his coaching career than his playing career, John Vukovich. Indeed his playing career was unremarkable except for having a strange talent for Zelig-like ubiquity: he won a ring with the Big Red Machine and the Phils' sole World Champion team. He played third and reportedly played it extremely well in Rick Wise's no-hitter, recording the final out. With 1980 teammate George Vukovich, no relation, he shared perhaps the oddest last name for two teammates weren't brothers (say that three times fast).

Vukovich is best remembered, however, as a coach. Indeed it seemed that the Phils kept him around more as a coach than a ballplayer. In his second tour with the Phils (1976-1981) he amassed just 88 at-bats and missed the 1978 season entirely (he was in Triple-A Oklahoma City). From the middle of the 1979 season through his retirement (1981) he stayed in the majors but still amassed just 78 ABs.

Now a coach, he joined the Dallas Green-led defection to the Cubs in 1982, and was almost promote to manage the team, but the Green regime ended in 1987. He returned to the Phils as coach the next year, and remained throughout the 2004, becoming the longest-tenured coach in Phils history (passing the aforementioned Mike Ryan).

Vuke was the bench coach extraordinaire,. He was the interim coach briefly but never did get to manage in the majors, though during the Bowa years, it seemed that he was about to take over the team constantly.

Now, like 1980 teammate Tug McGraw, he is gone.

I hope it's mot impious to take a look at some of his rather, let us say, unique numbers in the majors. So here goes…

Forget about the Mendoza line. Vukovich holds the dubious distinction of recording the lowest batting average for a Hall-of-Fame eligible player (i.e., with ten years experience).Here are all of the players who qualify and are at the Mendoza line or worse:

John Vukovich3B101970198127755937141644.
Bill BergenC1119011911947302813845212193.
Bill PlummerC1019681978367892723711482.
Charlie BastianSS10188418915041806241492611144.
Matt SinatroC10198119921402522061121.
Fritz BuelowC1018991907431133412525186112.
Mike RyanC11196419746361920146601228161.
Ron TingleyC1019821995278563522731055.195.270.307.577
Tim SpehrC1019911999363556763111972.198.298.360.657
Mike Laga1B1019821990188423391801655.199.241.355.595
Orlando MercadoC101982199025356240174745.
Tom EganC1019651975373979742532291.

He was also among the wor-, er, least best players to play for two separate World Series Champs:

NameYr1Tm1Yr2Tm2Career Win Shares
Ensign Cottrell1913Philadelphia Athletics1914Boston Braves0
Hank Schreiber1919Cincinnati Reds1921New York Giants1
Kid Durbin1907Chicago Cubs1909Pittsburgh Pirates2
Kid Durbin1908Chicago Cubs1909Pittsburgh Pirates2
Billy Beane1987Minnesota Twins1989Oakland Athletics3
Clay Bellinger1999New York Yankees2002Anaheim Angels5
Clay Bellinger2000New York Yankees2002Anaheim Angels5
John Vukovich1975Cincinnati Reds1980Philadelphia Phillies5
Mark Hutton1996New York Yankees1997Florida Marlins8
Paul Giel1954New York Giants1960Pittsburgh Pirates8
Randy Niemann1986New York Mets1987Minnesota Twins8

So long, Vuke. We'll not see your like again. To the Phils' credit, they will keep a reminder of him around the clubhouse. The Phils uniforms will bear a "Vuk" commemerative patch this season (I always thought it was "Vuke"). Not bad for a .161 hitter.

2007-03-09 01:27:33
1.   das411
Just a few links that I've seen that you may enjoy Mike:

2007-03-09 09:06:08
2.   rbj
And Ted Williams has two fewer WS rings than Vuk. Baseball is a strange game.

Condolences to his family.

2007-03-12 06:06:31
3.   Murray
Somebody wrote a letter to a newspaper (the Times, perhaps?) yesterday in which he asked how it was possible that the following participants in the 1980 playoffs all have suffered from some form of brain cancer:

Bobby Murcer
Dick Howser
John Vukovich
Dan Quisenberry
Johnny Oates
Tug McGraw

The guy, who was a physician, said that it was an unusually high level of brain cancer incidents for any population.

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