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Macho Low, Part 12: Nobody wanted to give Jose DeLeon run support

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Sometimes, you’re just somebody else’s missing piece.

Jose Deleon

There were some big personalities on the 1993 Phillies. But they weren’t the only ones. As part of a commemoration of the team’s 25th anniversary, we’re taking a look at the back-ups, drop-ins, and less-remembered Phillies who didn’t make it into a lot of the archival footage.

Jose DeLeon

Position: Bobby Thigpen-getter

Age: 32

Stats: 3.26 ERA, 34 SO, 27 BB in 47.0 IP

Like May through March, New Jersey isn’t perfect in April. Sometimes, instead of leaving, winter lingers into months in which it is unwelcome. And even the parts of the calendar that we swore had been springtime before are now a stubborn slog through ankle-deep slush.

In 1979, the weather, our planet’s natural defenses, was trying to defend us from the onset of baseball again by giving us cold air and wet faces in an attempt to keep us indoors. We ignored it and continued forward, leading to one of the baseball season’s many drenched, frigid at-bats across the sport.

As related in this unverified personal anecdote, losing was something DeLeon would get used to by the time he was a major league pitcher—he’d lead the National League in doing it, twice, with 19 losses in both 1985 with the Pirates and 1990 with the Cardinals.

But that’s not to say he deserved to: in high school, one of the more irritating themes of his career began to form that would last throughout his career: he would allow minimal hits, only to still have the ‘L’ hung around his neck when his offense would fail to back him. As an 18-year-old sophomore at Perth Amboy, he once threw a one-hitter and lost, and as a rookie he threw 118 strikeouts in 108 IP for St. Louis in one of his two 19-loss seasons, qualifying him for a “Sigh” Young Award in the Cardinals Encyclopedia. Though when DeLeon had the unenviable task of squaring off against a young Roger Clemens twice in 1986—when Clemens only lost four games all year—two of those losses came against DeLeon.

“Jose DeLeon may or may not be an ‘underachiever,’” read the third annual STATS Baseball Scoreboard in 1992. “But it’s easier to underachieve when your club only scores 3.15 runs a game for you.”

After high school, DeLeon chose to return to his native Dominican Republic in hopes of being claimed by a team in the amateur draft, for which he qualified. Despite his river-adjacent performance that day in April 1979, in weather that reportedly puts those MLB cowards to shame, DeLeon was indeed drafted by Pittsburgh with a pick they had received from the Expos as compensation for free agent Duffy Dyer.

It was the snaring forkball and 90-mph heater that made him an eye-opening prospect, but he also came equipped with a slider, change-up, and curve--with the White Sox from 1986-87, he was said to have developed a sinker, but this remains unconfirmed.

DeLeon had been in the league for parts of ten seasons when the Phillies grabbed him as a free agent in September 1992. He’d been serving as a starter until early June, when the Cardinals shifted him to the back of the bullpen, but he was allowing more earned runs than ever with an ERA 4.24 by July 27. They shifted him back into the rotation, in which he made starts of 5.0, 5.2, and 3.0 innings in length, allowing seven earned runs, seven walks, and 123 hits combined. His last appearance for them occurred against the Astros, and was his best one in weeks, as he allowed only a walk in 1.2 innings.

“Buy low! Buy low!” came Lee Thomas’ voice through the Veterans Stadium offices PA system. They threw $275,000 at a man who had made almost $2.5 million with the Cardinals in 1992.

The Phillies didn’t hesitate to use DeLeon in April, starting in their opening series finale in Houston, which DeLeon helped finish up for them by coming into ninth inning of a game tied at 3-3. Jim Fregosi’s late bullpen usage was getting a little dicey, as he could not just bring in Mitch Williams and call it a day, so David West got the first two outs before DeLeon came on to record the last out. It took him three batters to get that out, however, after he clocked Astros pinch hitter Chris James with a pitch and walked Craig Biggio to load the bases (A young Luis Gonzalez had singled off West, destined to lead the league in sacrifice flies at 25 years old).

The Phillies had DeLeon make one of his three starts on May 19. Six innings of three-hit ball in which he allowed only two earned runs was more than enough to give the 1993 Phillies a chance, but Mark Davis relieved him in the seventh and couldn’t withstand the offensive might of Marlins hitters like Chuck Carr (who was walked with the bases loaded) and Rick Renteria (who hit a two-run RBI single that didn’t even really want to be a single).

DeLeon’s next start was in the second game of a double-header on July 2; you know, the one that started at 1:28 a.m. After a massive rain delay, the Phillies had dropped a 5-2 game to a Padres team that had already lost 50 games. San Diego went up 5-1 early on DeLeon, but of the five runs he surrendered, only one was earned; with two outs in the third, DeLeon hit pitcher Andy Benes with the ball, then threw a wild pitch and watched the Padres put runners on first and third via a Mariano Duncan error at shortstop. So with two runners on through no fault of the Padres, Craig Shipley crushed 1-0 pitch to left center. The next inning started with consecutive doubles and also included a John Kruk throwing error that allowed a run to score. This game did not have a “winning vibe” around it, and it certainly didn’t have a “Mitch Williams walk-off single” aura. But, here we are.

And finally, DeLeon’s final start, and appearance, with the 1993 Phillies came on August 6, when he was no earning runs despite them crossing the plate. Once again, an error on his shortstop opened the floodgates against the Marlins, this time Kevin Stocker. Once again, Chuck Carr got to him, this time with a more aggressive tactic, hitting a home run, rather than being walked with the bases loaded. And once again, the Phillies managed to tie the game and DeLeon’s last inning before his departure was a 1-2-3 one. In the top of the ninth, down 4-3, the Phillies had a lead-off walk in Lenny Dykstra and even got him all the way to third base, only for Dave Hollins to strike out and end the game.

On August 10, DeLeon was traded straight up to the White Sox for his former teammate Bobby Thigpen, a man who once had the greatest season a reliever’s possibly ever had. People may have failed to notice the trade because it happened the same day Bret Saberhagen of the Royals admitted that he was the one who sprayed three reporters with a squirt gun full of bleach. His excuse was that he’d been actually aiming for some Mets employees.

As other members of Macho Low before him did, DeLeon left one pennant race and joined another. The White Sox gave DeLeon 10.1 innings in the regular season to show what he could do, and in return he gave them 4.2 innings in the ALCS against Toronto, in which he allowed only a single run, one walk, and six strikeouts.

DeLeon’s stifling numbers still stand out for those seeking the record-holders one level below useful, visible any time someone is tragically researching the hurlers who have erased entire lineups but still found themselves staring at an L.

DeLeon pitched in the majors until 1995. By the end of his career, in which he’d logged 1594 K’s, he and fellow Cubs alum Kerry Wood were the only two pitchers in baseball history to win fewer than 100 games... yet still record over 1500 strikeouts.

References

“STATS 1992 Baseball Scoreboard, 3rd Annual Edition,” by John Dewan, Stats Publishing, Don Zminda

“The Cardinals Encyclopedia,” by Mike Eisenbath