Of Men

Philadelphia is a notorious city. It is famously hard on its athletes, especially stars. It’s hard on coaches and general managers. So many players have come through this city only to leave under less than ideal circumstances, whether it was the city that ran them out, or the organization for which they played. Most recently, Allen Iverson and Chris Webber were sent packing, and Jeff Garcia was not even offered a contract. Last season, Bobby Abreu was sent to the Yankees for peanuts. Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling had vicious disputes with the ever-taxing Phillie management, and left in a flurry of bad press. Moses Malone was sent under poor circumstances Washington, spending the next several years killing the Sixers every time they played. J.D. Drew refused to sign with the Phillies–a maneuver that has earned him the bored enmity of battery-operated baseball fans for years.

Sports figures don’t last long, here. Mike Schmidt spent his entire career here, but it wasn’t until the final few years of his career that the last smattering of boobirds shut their beaks for the man’s at-bats. Billy Wagner left the Phillies to sign with the (Goddamn) Mets, and once he got to New York, the coward took to bashing his former organization. (We don’t care for Billy too much).

The Phillies newly acquired starting pitcher, Freddy Garcia, was asked about signing an extension. He understandably responded that he and his family would have to see what it’s like here, first. The despondency of a city that has known nearly 90 seasons since its last championship suspects Garcia will hear the fans after he has two consecutive bad starts, and he’ll politely decide to pursue free agency this off-season.

Recently, Chase Utley, upon signing a long, heavy contract, said that he wanted to retire a Phillie. Marty Biron, the new Flyers goalie, has said he wants to remain a Flyer for years to come, and he’s only been here a week. We can’t remember a player saying something like that.

It takes a combination of hard work, passion, talent, and dumb luck to be liked here (or anywhere, for that matter).

John Vukovich was not a talented player, but he was an excellent third base coach, and he was a constant for the Phillies for 24 years. He was hard working and passionate (and moustachioed!), and for no reason we can explain, we always loved him in Philly. Vuke died yesterday from complications due to a brain tumor at the age of 59–strangely, the same age and cause of death as another beloved Phillie, Tug McGraw.

Paul Hagen’s article in the Daily News pays tribute to a man that most Philadelphians only knew from a distance. It’s a beautiful tribute, and we send our condolences to Vuke’s family. They’ve lost a beloved family member, and the city has lost someone we’ll always consider one of our own. His conclusion explains perfectly our love for the man, and we’ll end with it, too, here:

Vukovich spent 31 of his 41 years in baseball in the Phillies organization, despite having chances to leave. He wore a Phillies uniform in the big leagues for 24 years. Only Bowa, with 25, beats him. Three years ago, Vukovich was asked to describe himself.

“Family man, first,” he said.

After that?

“Phillie,” he added with a grin.

John Vukovich: Family Man. Phillie.

Not a bad epitaph.

Rest in Peace, Vuke.

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball, Philadelphia

One response to “Of Men

  1. Caroline

    Fabulous entry on the love lost between the “city of brotherly love” and the stars it politely leads to the exits of its hallowed stadiums.

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