As painful as last week's early playoff exit was for Phillies fans, I think it is important to keep some perspective. We are currently living through the greatest run in the history of the franchise -- a history that could best be characterized as "long periods of futility punctuated by short stretches of excellence." The most recent such period of futility spanned more than a decade, from 1987 to 2000 (one flash-in-the-pan 1993 campaign excepted). Fortunately, I am not old enough to remember the first few years of that stretch, but having become a fan in the early 90s, I remember most of it.
It's certainly true that there is no better way to get fans to come out to the ballpark than to put a good team on the field. But if you are not going to put a good team on the field, you must provide alternate forms of entertainment if you expect anyone to show up.
Like a home run derby between two former Phillies stars:
The "Bull Blast" was a home run contest between Greg Luzinski and a challenger that happened every year for a few years in the late 80s. In August 1987, between games of a twi-night double header against the Dodgers, the Bull took on Dick Allen in the seven inning contest.
Intrepid beat reporter Les Bowen had the scoop:
And between games, you've got the "Bull Blast," a home-run hitting contest between ex-Phils Greg Luzinski and Dick Allen.
Such a deal.
Plus, it will be the first Veterans Stadium meeting between the Phils and Dodgers since May 20. Who knows how much weight Tom Lasorda has gained since then? Certainly, Lasorda has had reason to drown his sorrows in a plate of pasta - the Dodgers are 54-66, and have seven players on the disabled list.
Consequently, Lasorda has used 90 different lineups this season. The Phils have used just 74. But there is no truth to the rumor that after Luzinski and Allen square off, the Dodgers will try to sign the winner to play for them in the nightcap.
Luzinski has been approaching the contest as if that were the case, however. He was down at the Vet during the three-game Phils-Padres series taking batting practice, from 3:30 to 4 each afternoon. Allen's approach, typically, has been more enigmatic.
"He came in from the West Coast a few days ago and went straight down to Maryland," reported Dick Allen Jr., a member of the Phils' ground crew. "I don't know what he's doing, whether he's practicing or not. He's been playing in some of those old-timers' games . . . I think he can still hit one out. But I'm hoping they'll let me shag. I want to jump over the wall and rob somebody, like Eric Davis does."
A few things worth noting:
- As you'll see in the video, Dick Allen Jr. was indeed permitted to shag flyballs.
- Luzinski's homer at around 1:00 is absolutely pulverized.
- At the time of the Bull Blast, Dick Allen was 45 and 1/2 years old. Allen stood at just 5' 11" tall and weighed about 190 pounds, but nevertheless packed a tremendous amount of power, as he hit 351 homers in his career. One of the best offensive players in Phillies history, it's hardly surprising that he was given tons of shit by fans (his race probably also had something to do with it.) His 9.1 WAR Rookie of the Year campaign in 1964 and his 7.8 WAR 1966 season remain two of the top ten offensive seasons in franchise history.
- Yes, that's Chris Wheeler you hear.
Luzinski won the contest 8-7 in extra innings. The two faced off again the following year and Luzinski won again, this time by a score of 7-5.
I, for one, vote to resurrect this tradition. I doubt the Bull or Dick Allen are in any condition to hit balls into the seats (even at CBP), but maybe we can look forward to a Ryan Howard-Bobby Abreu matchup in ten years or so.