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MENDOZA'S HEROES: JOHN VUKOVICH

 

Here is an introductory profile on infielder John Vukovich. To read a more detailed biography on Vukovich and 49 other below .200 hitters, buy Al Pepper's new book Mendoza's Heroes by Pocol Press

The ultimate banjo hitter, John Vukovich owns the lowest batting average (.161) ever for a Hall of Fame eligible position player (defined by playing a minimum of ten years in the Majors). In fractions of ten seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, Vukovich reached the Mendoza Line just twice. Though he was not the player you might want on your rotisserie league team, his defensive talents were always in demand by Major League general managers. The archetypal "Hoover," not only was Vukovich a third baseman with great range, he was also adept enough to play all four infield positions. He owns a fine .951 fielding percentage for his career.

A Sacramento, CA native, John Christopher Vukovich displayed a deft glove as early as in high school. During his four years at Amador County High School, in Sutter Creek, CA, he led his district in fielding every year. Originally drafted by the Phillies in 1966, his ascension through their farm system was highlighted by a Sally League championship with Spartanburg in 1967 and the Eastern League 3B fielding title with Reading in 1969.

A surprisingly consistent hitter in the minors, Vukovich's '70 season with Eugene (OR) of the PCL was particularly memorable. That year, he slugged 22 home runs, drove in 96 runs and batted .275; he also led PCL 3rd sackers with a .954 fielding percentage, 122 putouts, 334 assists and 29 double plays. If that wasn't enough, Eugene won the PCL championship. On the merits of his 1970 AAA campaign, John Vukovich was awarded with a promotion to Philadelphia and went 1-for-8 in 3 games with the Phils during their final season in old Connie Mack Stadium.

As a rookie, John Vukovich became the Phillies starting third baseman in 1971. Batting just .166, with no home runs in 74 games, he drew the horse collar game after game. Yet Vukovich's defense was so superb, that his fielding statistics were quantitatively better than the National League's Gold Glove recipient at third base that year, Doug Rader of the Houston Astros. During Rick Wise's no-hitter over Cincinnati that year, which happened to be on TV, I recall watching Vukovich making numerous heart-stopping hit-robbing plays at the hot corner to preserve the no-hit effort.

Following the 1972 season, John Vukovich was part of a 7­player trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. Phillies starting third baseman, Don Money, was also dealt away. With Vukovich and Money gone, who was going to play third base? The Phillies ended up starting a rookie there in 1973. This rookie suffered throughout the season, batting just .196. Another Mendoza Hero, you ask? Not quite! The rookie was Mike Schmidt, whom we all know went on to be the greatest third baseman in baseball history.

John Vukovich played two seasons in Milwaukee. Though Vukovich averaged one strikeout for every four at bats with the "Brew Crew," at least he had some sting in his bat when he managed to make contact -- five of his six career home runs were hit over those pair of years. In his career year with the stick, 1974, John hit 3 homers and 11 RBI in just 80 at bats; he also had a personal best .313 slugging average that season. Though Schmidt could hit as many four-baggers in a single doubleheader at Wrigley Field, from a relative standpoint, John was a legitimate slugger while in the American League.

Traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1975, Vukovich hit his high-water mark in season batting average with a .211 clip over 31 games. More importantly, he did what the Reds and manager Sparky Anderson expected of him, providing quality infield depth. It was a combination of several smart acquisitions of role players, such as John Vukovich, that helped the Big Red Machine win their first World Series in 35 years after knocking on the door so many times previously in the '70s.

John returned to the Phillies organization in 1976, where he stayed until 1981. The Phillies were a far different nine from the bottom feeders when Vukovich played there the first time around. For these were splendid years for the Phillies, as they captured four division flags in five years. With a fundamentally solid infield all-around, Vukovich had few opportunities to ply his trade and witnessed most of the Phillies conquests from a dugout view.

After playing a scant 16 games in a span of four years, John Vukovich finally got a chance in 1980. He backed up infielders Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Manny Trillo and Pete Rose over his 49 games as a late-inning defensive replacement during the season. With the bat, not much to say -- his batting average for the season matched his career total; he did hit his only Big League three-base hit that year. After over a century of failure, the Phillies went all the way that year, winning their only World Series ever. Though John Vukovich was on the post-season roster, he became the lone Phillie to not make an appearance in either the NLCS or the World Series.  Yet he played his role, as infield utility man, just as well as he did with the Reds five years earlier and rightfully earned his second World Series ring. By the way, John was of no relation to George Vukovich, who played a similar reserve role for the '80 Phillies in the outfield.

As soon as his playing days ended in 1981, he would begin a long tenure within the coach's box. He was a coach for the Chicago Cubs from 1982 through 1987. Vukovich served as interim manager for Chicago after the firing of Jim Frey in 1986. He piloted the team to a 1-1 record prior to Gene Michael's appointment as permanent manager.

In 1988, he rejoined the Phillies once again. Manager Lee Elia had known Vukovich since his days at Eugene and knew he would be a good addition to his coaching staff. Maybe too good. September 23, 1988 was a dark day in the managerial ranks. Within that 24-hour span, the California Angels fired Cookie Rojas, while the Phillies dismissed Lee Elia. The Phillies were headed to a last place season, depths they had not seen since 1973. Moose Stubing and John Vukovich would manage their respective ballclubs for the remainder of this season. John Vukovich fared pretty well in his short stint, going 5-4 for a team that had problems posting wins all year. As for the Moose, he went 0-8 for the Angels; he is the only man in Major League baseball history to go both hitless as a Major League player (0-for-5) and winless as a manager.

Vukovich remains on the Phillies coaching staff to the present day. Though the Phillies have only one winning season in this period, that one triumphant campaign in 1993 was quite memorable to John Vukovich and the Phillies. In that year, they led the division wire-to-wire, upset the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, and came oh-so-close to beating the Toronto Blue Jays in the '93 World Series. Entering the 1999 season, John Vukovich is the Phillies third base coach.

John Vukovich is a graduate of Sacramento's American River College, where he earned an Associate's degree in Physical Education. Though his batting statistics do not quite compare to Ted Williams, Vukovich and Williams had a couple of things in common. Both are avid sportsmen and both served their country; while playing with the Phillies, John was with the Delaware National Guard.

John has dedicated nearly a quarter century, half his life, to the success of the Philadelphia Phillies ballclub. He has been with them in the best of times and the darkest of years. His future in baseball leadership remains bright. You'll be hearing from this gent for a long time.

  

 

Full Name: John Christopher Vukovich
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 190 lbs.
Born: Jul 31, 1947 in Sacramento, CA
Major League Debut: Sep 11, 1970

CAREER BATTING

YR

CLUB

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

BB

K

AVG

SLG

1970
1971
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1979
1980
1981

Phi
Phi
Mil
Mil
Cin
Phi
Phi
Phi
Phi
Phi

3
74
55
38
31
4
2
10
49
11

8
217
128
80
38
8
2
15
62
1

1
11
10
5
4
2
0
0
4
0

1
36
16
15
8
1
0
3
10
0

0
5
3
1
3
0
0
1
1
0

0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
0

0
0
2
3
0
1
0
0
0
0

0
14
9
11
2
2
0
1
5
0

0
2
0
2
0
0
0
0
0
0

1
12
9
1
4
0
0
0
2
0

0
34
40
16
5
2
1
3
7
1

.125
.166
.125
.188
.211
.125
.000
.200
.161
.000

.125
.189
.195
.313
.289
.500
.000
.267
.210
.000

Mg. Lg. Totals

277

559

37

90

14

1

6

44

4

29

109

.161

.222

 

Other Mendoza's Heroes:

 Bill Plummer


Got any good John Vukovich stories?

I hope you found this web page of interest. Please post your comments or any additional anecdotes, facts or other info with respect to John Vukovich. I will post other "Mendoza's Heroes" in the very near future.

 

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