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Ode to Ted Sizemore Lest
2002-11-08 14:36
by Mike Carminati

Ode to Ted Sizemore

Lest you be led to believe that my comment regarding Ted Sizemore in my Rookie of the Year discussion was meant as a slight, I'll have you know that I have many found memories of his two years as the Phillies' second baseman in the mid-'70s.

The year was 1976. The Phils had been swept by the Big Red machine en route to a perfect Red October and their second straight World Championship. After the 1976 season, fan favorite Dave Cash left the team to sign as a free agent with Montreal. You have to understand that free agency was still new and it was viewed as something akin to desertion at the time. Not to mention that Montreal was still baseball's version of Siberia (unlike today). The fans had voted Cash into the starting lineup of Philadelphia-hosted Bicentennial All-Star game, his third straight (there were five Phils in total on the team though not Cy Young winner Steve Carlton). He was an exciting leadoff hitter, who had established the major-league record for at-bats in '75, and had led the league in at-bats and triples in 1976 and set the NL record for consecutive games at second base (443) while playing a slick second base (though looking back on his stats now, I can see that his game had begun to slip: 10 SB and 12 CS?). After the Phils finished with over 100 wins, first Dick Allen goes AWOL for the final weeks of the season and is soon jettisoned and then Cash abandons the faithful.

So what did the Phillies do? They quietly acquired a backup second baseman from the Dodgers, who happened to win the Rookie of the Year award seven years earlier, for expendable backup catcher and future manager Johnny Oates. It was so quiet that they merely assigned Oates' old number (6) to the new player. The player was Ted Sizemore and he quickly became a key part of the Phillies' 1977 pennant drive. He was a reliable and patient contact hitter (52 BB, 40 K) who batted second (Lou Brock credited his work in the #2 spot for enabling him to break the stolen base record with the Cardinals in 1974). There was a picture that I remember from Sports Illustrated that year in which Sizemore is yelling at the pitcher and pointing to home as if to say, "I dare you to pitch to me." It was great. It accompanied an article about the Phillies' starting to put together all the pieces during the 1977 season. The Phillies lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS that year due in part to a key error by Sizemore handling a relay on a Manny Mota double and then a fluke bad-bounce infield single in the ninth inning of game 3 with the teams tied one game each (remember that this was when League Championships were best-of-5).

Sizemore had a very poor injury-plagued season in 1978 (.523 OPS). And even though he had a stellar League Championship Series (.385 BA and .967 OPS), the Phillies again lost to the now-hated Dodgers. The Phillies revamped the team in 1979 to rectify the perceived problems. Pete Rose signed a mega-deal at the time (4 years at $800K per) to play, well, we already have Mike Schmidt at third, let's say first. Sizemore's poor offensive play and defensive lapses were seen as part of the problem. He was shipped to the Cubs, who in continued to operate as the Phillies West (even at the risk of employing Lee Elia as manager) well into the early '80s. The Phillies acquired gloveman and slap hitter Manny Trillo to replace Sizemore at second in the deal (along with pinch-hitter extraordinaire Greg Gross) for Greg Luzinski's caddy Jerry Martin, rookie and be-afroed catcher Barry Foote, and Sizemore. Trillo proved to be a major upgrade, offensively and defensively, and helped the Phillies win the Series in 1980 (he was the NLCS MVP). I still am awed by Trillo's quick-wristed throws to first.

So what have I been prattling on about you ask? My point is that Cash and Sizemore helped me, as a youngster, develop my Jungian archetypes for the second base position. Cash represented the slick-fielding, leadoff type player. Sizemore was the steady number 2 hitter. I have tried to evaluate almost every other second baseman that I have come across since according to that model. The reliables: Craig Counsell, Benji Gil, Adam Kennedy, Marlon Anderson, Todd Walker, Mark Grudzielanek, Luis Rivas, Mark Ellis, and D'Angelo Jimenez. The leadoff types are Ray Durham, Luis Castillo, Eric Young, Carlos Febles, Pokey Reese, and Jerry Hairston.

There is a third contingent that I was unaware of when I was a tike beause it was then so rare. These would be the second basemen who can bat in the heart of the order: Jeff Kent, Robbie Alomar, Craig Biggio, Bret Boone, Jose Vidro, Junior Spivey, Damion Easley (back in the day), Carlos Baerga (back in the day), and Mark Bellhorn (possibly). With the anemic offenses of the '60s and early '70s, the entire infield aside from first base became the bailiwick of defensive specialists. There were pioneers at each position who revamped their position into a power AND defensive one. Johnny Bench started it at catcher and it still hasn't caught on there completely. Mike Schmidt became the greatest third baseman of all-time with the power/defense combination. He revitalized the position and now it is seen as a run-producing spot. Cal Ripken did likewise 10 years later at short. The man responsible for the rebirth offensively at second was Lil Joe Morgan. People point next to Ryne Sandberg. All of these men are or will be in the Hall of Fame. But the person that was the linchpin between Morgan and Sandberg hardly even gets mentioned in Hall of Fame discussions. The person I am referring to is Bobby Grich.

Second base had always been a defensive position. Rogers Hornsby changed that a bit in the 1920s and Tony Lazzeri carried it into the thirties. There was a mini-revolution in the 1940s with players like Bobby Doerr, Vern Stephens, and Joe Gordon. Joe Morgan started as the leadoff, basestealing type, added power as he developed and became a rare breed of second baseman. Bobby Grich quickly succeeded Morgan and helped to make second a place to play for power-minded players. Grich was big for a second baseman (6'2") and hit 30 home runs and drove in 101 runs (with an adjusted OPS 44% better than league average) for the 1979 AL West champion Angels. Two years later, he outdid himself by tying for the league lead with 22 home runs in the strike-shortened season (and an adjusted OPS 64% better than average). Frank White was second among major-league second baseman with 9 (Morgan had 8).

Grich remained a power hitter for the rest of his career finishing with 224 home runs and an adjusted OPS 25% better than average. Ryne Sandberg succeeded him as the power-hitting second baseman, hitting 282 homers in his career and winning an MVP. Sandberg and to some degree Sweet Lou Whitaker became the fountainhead for the revolution at the position.

One day, I will have to post my argument for Bobby Grich as a Hall-of-Famer. Suffice it to say for now, that he was the linchpin in the revolution that created the Kents of today. One last note, the reason that Alfonso Soriano is so fascinating is that he can hit like a leadoff hitter and like a power hitter as a second baseman, something that only Joe Morgan ever did (with Robbie Alomar and Craig Biggio coming close) in the past. The question with Soriano is if he can play continue to play second base or will have to be moved to the outfield to cover his defensive weakness.

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