Memorable — or not — Phils’ middle infielders
“Yes We Can!”
If you were a diehard Phillies fan in the mid-1970s, you remember the phrase second baseman Dave Cash coined during spring training in 1974 after he joined the team in a trade with Pittsburgh in the offseason.
Reportedly, Cash uttered the phrase when he and fellow infielder Larry Bowa were successful at a dog track in Florida. “Yes We Can” was found on bumper stickers, T-shirts, and wherever it could be placed as well as, of course, splattered across the Veterans Stadium Jumbotron. It served as the slogan for the team’s revival that began with 80 wins in 1974.
Cash was one of many unique Phillies infielders highlighted in this version of Yesterday - a trip back in time in the late 1960s, the 70s, the 80s, and the early 90s.
From 1974-76, Cash was one of the team’s most productive players and an effective leader. He led the league in at-bats all three seasons, and was a three-time All-Star. Unfortunately, contract issues and some locker room racial tensions spurred Cash to sign with Montreal after the 1976 season, and he never was the same player until his retirement with San Diego in 1980.
Their Days Gone By ... We can all recall Bowa, Manny Trillo and even Ted Sizemore and Ivan DeJesus - or can we? - from their time in the Phillies’ middle infield.
Yet, there are some other players who were either staples on the roster and were up with the Phils for cups of coffee during the period.
Longtime utility player Terry Harmon was a fixture on the roster from 1967-77, logging 10 seasons with the club (he was in the minors in 1968). Harmon also saw some time at first base. He wasn’t known for his bat, but was recognized for his steadiness in the field.
Remember Luis Aguayo? He was Harmon’s counterpart in the 80s, being able to play the middle, as well as both corners in a pinch. Aguayo was recognized for his pinch-hitting duties and had some pop in his bat.
Also in the 80s, Steve Jeltz was a mainstay at short from 1985-88. The Phillies had high expectations for Jeltz, but the switch-hitter never quite reached them. He finished his career with Kansas City.
Jeltz hit homers from both sides of the plate in a 15-11 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1989 in which Pittsburgh scored 10 runs in the first inning at the Vet. At that point of the game, Pirates announcer Jim Rooker said he would walk home to Pittsburgh from the Vet if the Pirates lost. Rooker eventually made the 300-mile-plus trek for charity.
Unknown to many, Jeltz holds the records for most games played, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, runs batted in, walks and strikeouts among seven players born in France.
Those 90s Memories ... After Jeltz, Dickie Thon held down shortstop from 1989-91. Thon never regained his offensive prowess after he was hit in the left eye with a pitch in 1984. He became a victim of the boo birds in 1991, and the Phillies didn’t offer him a contract for 1992.
Who was the Phillies’ starting shortstop in 1993? Try Juan Bell. The former Orioles player joined the Phillies late in the 1992 season, and got the starting nod the next April. However, Bell’s lack of production with his bat and glove cost him his job.
In 1992, there were candidates at second and short who can be answers to a trivia question. Think back to the likes of Kim Batiste, Joe Millette, Dale Sveum, and Wally Backman. Let’s not forget Desi Relaford, whose name is likely to jog one’s memory.
That Other Hockey League ... From 1971-79, the World Hockey League (WHA) tried to make its mark as another expansion league into an established market like the ABA and the USFL attempted.
The WHA did have its share of major headliners like Gordie Howe, Mark Howe, Bobby Hull, Wayne Gretzy, and Mark Messier to name a few.
Philadelphia had the short-lived Blazers in the 1972-73 season, with former Flyer Andrew Lacroix, and yes, Bernie Parent, who had a modest 3.61 goals against average in 63 games. Parent left the team after the first game of the playoffs over a contract dispute, and returned to the Flyers to lead them to their first Stanley Cup.
Time to Build ... Did anyone ever try the Revell plastic model kits of the 1970s? The company featured various planes, helicopters, ships, and stock cars among other vehicles. They always had great cover pictures, but they were very cumbersome and tedious to build. They came complete with the black and white instructions that unraveled like a newspaper.
One usually had to try and piece them together with the white, squeeze bottle of the clear rubber cement, which had to be applied with just the right amount. Most of mine ended up sticking to my fingers.
I always had high aspirations to build a version of the Batmobile, but never accomplished it.
Fridays Were For Watching ... In my preteens in 1972, Fridays were the late nights to watch television sitcoms that I could relate to, and those which I thought my future life would be about.
“The Brady Bunch” was the dominant and popular choice to watch on ABC Channel 6, but “Bewitched,” “Room 222,” “Odd Couple,” and “The Partridge Family” all developed into fan favorites. But the night was capped with the then racy and controversial “Love American Style,” which featured recognizable stars in unlikely roles.
The lost fact here is that the lineup began at 6:30 p.m.
Some Final Thoughts ... Speaking of shortstops, does anyone remember 5-foot-5 Freddie Patek, who found stardom with Kansas City? Patek originally broke in with Pittsburgh, but couldn’t find a spot with veteran Gene Alley. Also recalling some commercials, why did “choosy mother choose Jif” peanut butter, or man “can’t live by peanut butter alone” with Skippy.
Do You Remember? ... Every week, I’ll mention a likely forgotten player from Yesterday. Remember Tom Underwood? The Phillies lefty starter burst onto the scene in 1975 and posted an overall 14-13 mark. The fabled Kokomo, Indiana native, whose wife was the twin sister of teammate Tommy Hutton, saw time as a starter and reliever the following season and compiled a 10-5 mark. Underwood was traded to St. Louis early in the 1977 season as part of a package to acquire outfielder Bake McBride. He finished his career in 1984 and passed away in 2010.