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Macho Low, Part 13: Tony Longmire liked to hit ‘um long

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From Wilson Park to Veterans Stadium, Tony Longmire just wanted to hit hard.

Tony Longmire

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.

Tony Longmire

Position: Deep ball-puncher

Age: 24

Stats: .231/.231/.231, 1 RBI in 11 G

For those of us who absorbed the mid to late nineties Phillies as children, there were, thanks to our age demographic and the rapidly developing technology available, opportunities to absorb this awful sport we love through the majesty of video games. Anyone who saw the colors and sounds (yes, BOTH) of the medium at the time knew they were the premier form of entertainment at the time. And they were exactly the format through which some of us best remember Tony Longmire.

Triple Play ‘96 for SEGA included not only actual player names, but the sound of the umpire cleaning the plate off with his brush between innings. This, having come up playing Bases Loaded on NES, was insane to me. Real players with not just real names, but first and last names? Teams that I know from real life? Sounds that generally sound like they could be coming from a baseball field, if it was played inside of a tin can? The level of detail was incredible. I mean, none of the uniforms had logos and none of the players had faces, but still. Incredible.

For those infamous 1996 Phillies (who?), Longmire was hitting third in Triple Play ‘96. His bat had some pop to it, but this one-AB sample size of “an easily caught bloop over second base” leaves plenty to be desired.

Nevertheless, the game helped burn Longmire into our psyches, and calls for his name have been shouted across the internet ever since, as recently as June of this year. And for good reason, too: Because Longmire wasn’t above making a little history.

There’s a place in California called Vallejo, where the independent league Admirals play. Since 2013, their home is Wilson Park. Wednesdays there are Wines-days. They sound delicious.

Vallejo does not have a long list of notable alumni, and while did not play for the Admirals, area man C.C. Sabathia has a ball field named after him at the local high school. The field has become a center point of the community, with a documentary about the facility, Wilson Park Chronicles, being produced in 2017, featuring interviews with Sabathia and other locals who reiterated that in Vallejo, baseball wasn’t just a game for children. The competition among the little league teams was ferocious, and the weekends on which games were held at the park brought the entire community together.

“Everybody in the league could hit a fastball,” says Vallejo native and former Mariners player James Terrell in the film. “Everybody in the league had a fastball. If you couldn’t get better here, there was nowhere you could get better outside Vallejo.”

Longmire’s baseball career was born in Wilson Park, coming up around the same time as his neighbor across the street, Kevin Dean. While Longmire would go onto play three years in the big leagues, he looked back at his rivalry with Dean as part of the reason why he was able to get better: Because playing against someone better than you elevates your game. Their rivalry has become the topic of Vallejo-area debates in the years that followed.

“A lot of people ask me that question all the time, who I thought was better, me or Kev.” Longmire said in a 2012 interview with VallejoGreats.com. “For me, it was Kev. Every day, he was better than me... for me, I was lucky that I had such a great athlete right across the street to compete against every day. And everything we did was always a competition.”

Dean’s baseball career peaked in the minors, playing for the Expos, Braves, and Astros farm systems from 1986 to 1993. Longmire, and many others from Vallejo, remain tethered to the community that raised them. Longmire threw out the first pitch of an Admirals game in June 2014, and appeared at a youth camp hosted by the team.

But in 1990, Longmire was looking for playing time. As a member of the Pirates’ farm system, he had yet to crack the big league roster, but in fact, quite inadvertently, the team was about to give him his big break.

Lee Thomas’ last serious roster move before the acquisition of Longmire had been to steal a young, anonymous third baseman off waivers from the Padres named Dave Hollins through the Rule 5 draft in December 1989. That turned out well, at least for the 1993 Phillies, and Thomas waited until the following August to make his next move. What the Pirates were doing, leaving a trio of outfielders in Wes Chamberlain, Tony Longmire, and Julio Peguero, completely unprotected, we do not know. Some have chalked it up to a “clerical error.” But the Phillies were able to claim them with relative ease, thanks to Pittsburgh apparently leaving their players vulnerable by accident. Thomas was not without mercy, however, and in exchange for Peguero, sent the Pirates another outfielder, so the move would look more like a “deal” and not a “steal” and not look quite as bad for Pittsburgh. The player they sent, Carmelo Martinez, who hit .211 for the Pirates in 1990, may not have been enough for someone to keep their job.

Nevertheless, Longmire was part of the equation now, and he took to the Phillies farm system with reasonable aplomb and terrifying power. He leapt from Reading to Scranton in 1991, slashing .281/.342/.415 with 25 doubles and nine home runs in 434 AB. 1992 was lost to injury—he’d had surgery to fix his shin splints, yet still earned a big league paycheck despite missing the season—but in 1993, Longmire came back primed for a promotion. He hit .304 for the Red Barons, with an International League-leading 36 doubles in only 120 games that helped make him an all-star.

The Phillies, needing to fill their last roster spot, called him up in September and he went 3-for-13 with his single RBI coming in the last game of the regular season. The Cardinals weren’t playing especially sharp with no post season ahead of them, and Longmire was able to punch a single off Omar Olivares after an error and a double had allowed a mess of runners to reach base.

He made an impact earlier in the month, however, when Pete Incaviglia worked a walk to lead off the bottom of the 12th in a 1-1 tie against the Marlins on September 22. Jim Fregosi wasn’t trusting Incaviglia’s legs to win the game and dispatched Longmire to take his stegosaurus’ place on the base paths. Longmire raced to third on a Lenny Dykstra single and scored the game-winning run courtesy of the player who’d been acquired before him, Dave Hollins, on a line drive to right.

Longmire sat through 1994, pretty literally, not getting many starts until people started getting hurt. The next season proved to be his best; he hit .356 with a .928 OPS and the only three big league home runs of his career in 59 games. On June 15, he sent Harry Kalas into bedlam with a three-run walk-off shot that gave the Phillies a 4-2 win over the Astros and a 29-16 record. Those 1995 Phillies were 38-21 by the end of June; what the hell happened to them? Well, they lost 20 out of the 29 games they played in July and lost 11 of their first 13 in August. So.

Longmire’s injuries returned, and his breakout season was abruptly ended with a broken wrist come August. The Phillies had clearly decided that they were out of it, as well, and Longmire learned that if he were to receive the surgery on his wrist that he was said to need, he would miss all of 1996. He didn’t make it out of spring training in 1997 and went for that post-big league career ball with the independent Tri-City Posse, a member of the Western League, which saw 25 teams start and fold within seven years of existence. By the time Longmire left the bigs, he did so with a career slash line of .285/.340/.391, and 3-for-8 lifetime numbers vs. John Smoltz, including a double.

Every player leaves a legacy. With every impact, no matter the size, a player leaves an impression on the sport and its fans. Vallejo has been an engine of athletic talent, and while not every three-team stand-out has gone onto stardom, there does seem to be a closeness to the community and a dedication in players like Longmire, who are delivering the same type of experience they received to the young athletes of today.

Which is probably more beneficial to a young player’s athletic abilities than Triple Play ‘96.

References:

“Phillies ‘93: An Incredible Season,” by Rich Westcott