Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Card #53: Greg Gross
Who Can It Be Now?
Gregory Eugene Gross was born on August 1, 1952, in York, Pennsylvania. He grew up in York County in a little town called Goldsboro though, as he said in a story in The Sporting News in 1974, the mailing address for the whole town was Etters. Gross's father was a steelworker, so Gross had a humble background.
He worked out for the Phillies scouts in high school, but he was drafted in the fourth round of the 1970 June draft (80th overall) by the Houston Astros. He signed almost immediately after the draft and, as a 17 year-old, spent his summer in the Appalachian League in Covington, Virginia. He hit so well there that the Astros skipped him up to Double-A Columbus (GA) as an 18-year-old in 1971 and then to Triple-A Oklahoma City in 1972 and Denver in 1973.
The Astros gave Gross a September call-up in 1973. He didn't hit very well that fall, but the next spring saw him break camp with the Astros. His numbers from that 1974 season are very strange -- the .314/.393/.377 slash line is not that weird, but Gross had 21 2Bs, 8 3Bs, 0 HRs, 12 SB, 20 CS, and 76 walks against just 39 strikeouts. For his efforts, Gross came in second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind St. Louis OF Bake McBride. Oddly enough, Gross's first season in the major leagues was the only season in which he saw action in more than 140 games. He hit so well that year that his teammates called him "Ty Williams" -- for Ty Cobb and Ted Williams. No pressure, then, Greg.
The Astros determined in 1976, however, that they wanted more power from the corner outfield positions. To be fair, Gross had spent three complete seasons in the massive Astrodome without hitting a homerun, so pretty much any kind of power would have been enough to replace him. As a result, the Astros traded Gross to the Chicago Cubs for infielder Julio Gonzalez.
Gross spent two years on Chicago's North Side. In those two years, Gross hit his first six homeruns as a major leaguer. Considering that Gross finished his career with seven total, that is significant. It was not enough to keep him in Chicago, though, as the Cubs traded Gross to the Philadelphia Phillies along with Dave Rader and Manny Trillo for minor leaguer Henry Mack, and major leaguers Derek Botelho, Barry Foote, Jerry Martin, and Ted Sizemore.
Once he arrived in Philadelphia, Gross took on the role that he would play for the rest of his career -- through 1988 with the Phillies and then in 1989 with the Astros. That role was "Left-handed pinch hitter." Reviewing his game appearances totals against his plate appearances totals makes his role clear, and 1980 is as good an example as any. Gross appeared in 127 games and came to the plate just 182 times. He walked 24 times and struck out just 7 times. His game log shows this as well -- Gross played just 17 complete games all season.
But, doing that, Gross got to play 10 years with the Phillies and came to the plate 1819 times. In his 5 years in Houston, he batted 1866 times.
Gross was done in the majors after 1989. He said in a later interview that he sat out from baseball for almost five years after that waiting for a team to call him because he thought he could still play.
Gross is very involved with the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the ALS Association -- the association fighting to find a cure for Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, if you were wondering). Indeed, if you are interested, you can help support the ALS Philadelphia Chapter by attending the Greg Gross Golf Outing on Monday, September 29, 2014, at the Old York Road Country Club in Spring House, Pennsylvania.
Greg Gross is fifth all-time in the number of hits achieved as a pinch hitter with a total of 143. He is behind Lenny Harris, Mark Sweeney, Manny Mota, and Smoky Burgess. Looking at the rest of the list on Wikipedia, I don't see anyone active on that chart. It will be a long time before anyone comes close to displacing Gross.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
I never saw Gross play that I can recall. And, it is very possible that we will not have too many more Greg Grosses to write about in, say, 20 years from now. As Gross himself mentioned in a Sports Illustrated article thirteen years ago, teams carry so many pitchers these days that teams, "don't have the luxury of keeping someone around who can't take the field."
After his playing days -- and after he took five years off before he realized he was not going to get the call to come play any more -- Gross became another "Baseball Man." He started his coaching career with coaching a high school team in Pennsylvania (Malvern Preparatory School). He moved up to the Colorado Rockies Minor League system, first in Double-A New Haven and then as a roving instructor.
He got called up to the majors, so to speak, in 2001 when his pal Larry Bowa named him as bench coach for the 2001 season for the Phillies. From 2002-2004, he was the Phillies hitting coach. He then spent 6 years as a hitting coach in the Phillies minor league system before getting the call back up to be the major league hitting coach in July of 2010.
Gross was let go by the Phillies after the 2012 season. GM Ruben Amaro didn't even let the showers get turned off in the clubhouse after the last game of the season (that's hyperbole, mind you...it was right after the game, but I don't know that for sure) before calling Gross into the GM's office to fire Gross.
Gross currently serves as the hitting coach for the Triple-A Reno Aces in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.
And, in case you're interested, you can hire him for a "Pick-up Game" for just $500 from the same folks who will bring you Rick Cerone. Or, spend $200 and he'll "be your personal coach giving you access to a World Series Champion."
That might be more worthwhile than the pickup game.