The Phillies add more veteran help for the bench
What place did the Phillies finish in 1982?
Had you guess second place, congratulations! Those years in between World Series appearances seem to have been glossed over a bit. 1981 was split in half by the player’s strike, the creation of a divisional round of the playoffs meaning the reigning champions sort of sleepwalked through the second half of the season and never regained their championship form. 1982 is one of those years that sort of gets forgotten about, the team finishing three games behind eventual world champion St. Louis. But if you look at that version of the Phillies, there is one thing that becomes pretty clear when you review the numbers.
Their bench wasn’t that good.
Their starting lineup was showing a few cracks in the armor with Pete Rose and Garry Maddox starting to be shadows of themselves, but with Mike Schmidt (161 OPS+ in 1982), Gary Matthews (114) and Bo Diaz (115) hitting well, there was still a good backbone to build around. They just needed more veterans (as all teams believed once upon a time).
So, to remedy this issue (lack of veterans and better pinch hitting), the team on February 1, 1983 announced they had signed Tony Perez. This was after they had grabbed Joe Morgan earlier in the offseason in a deal with San Francisco that brought along Al Holland (more on him later in this series), so the team was really leaning into this whole veteran leadership thing. When the signing was announced, it was stated that “Perez’ role probably will be exclusively as a righthanded pinch-hitter...” 1 Perez was someone the team was fighting other teams with to acquire his services. General manager Paul Owens spoke about Perez in pretty specific terms, stating “We got some guys who get us singles and lead off innings. But we wanted someone who could give us the long ball, and with Tony and Bill Robinson we’ll have a couple of guys like that.” 2
The only thing with that is: Perez wasn’t going to pinch hit much for the Phillies that year. As a pinch-hitter, he only got four hits in 25 plate appearances, two of them double and none of them home runs. The power he was supposed to provide didn’t show up as a pinch-hitter. As you’ll see, he actually played a much bigger role than maybe the team had anticipated later on.
But there was no doubt that the team was getting older. We all know more about aging curves now than they did back then. Even forty years ago, teams would have much preferred the grizzled vet over the younger player, that battle-tested will veterans, particularly world champion variety, possess something managers craved to put in their lineups. One writer, Bill Conlin, spoke about this and how the team was building a different type of dynasty. 3
When he assumed the Phillies presidency after the 1981 season, Bill Giles promised us a dynasty...What Bill neglected to add was that it would be the Ming Dynasty. He also forgot to tell us that he planned to collect bits and pieces of the Big Red Machine the way the Smithsonian Institution collects vintage airplanes like the Spirit of St. Louis; that he would collect more phossils than phenoms.
Yes, the signing of Perez signaled who the team would be depending on as the season got started. Younger players like Len Matuzek and Bob Dernier would lose time to the veteran stable being assembled in Philadelphia. It would help this year, sure, but later on? We’ll have to see.
1 Pascarelli, Peter. (1983, February 1) “Reunion: Perez, 40, joins ex-mates on Phils,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, E-1.
2 Ibid., E-5.
3 Conlin, Bill. (1983, February 1) “Phils Turn to Perez For Help in a Pinch.” Philadelphia Daily News, p. 76