Sparky Anderson made many predictions over the course of his career. He was famous for hyperbole – a fancy word for spreading bull. But it was no bull what Sparky once said about The Bull, Greg Luzinski of the Philadelphia Phillies.
“That man makes pitchers want to go run and hide,” Sparky said when he saw the young Luzinski slug a home run what seemed like two miles during a spring training game. A few years later, after watching Luzinski inflict damage on NL pitchers for a couple seasons, Sparky was even more bold.
“By 1975, the Bull will have a chance to be the first National Leaguer to hit 60 homers,” Sparky piped. “He’s getting to be a better hitter all the time, and he has more power than he knows what to do with.”
Sparky was off a little bit with the numbers – Luzinski hit 34 homers in ’75, and never topped 39 in any one season. But the man they called “The Bull” was no bull – he was a real deal superstar slugger and his mighty bat helped his teams get to the post-season five times.
For much of his career, Luzinski, a powerfully built man of 230+ pounds with arms that looked like Michelin tires, played in Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, a park not known for being friendly to longball hitters. In his rookie season in 1971, Luzinski made it look pretty tiny when he slugged a baseball into the fifth deck of Veterans Stadium – way up where few ever sat. It was his first big league homer. Luzinski went on to hit 306 more in a 15-year career that saw him earn four All-Star nods.
His best seasons came while wearing the maroon of the Phillies, teaming with Mike Schmidt to form one of the most potent 1-2 punches in the game. Of all the homers he hit for the Phils, one stood out in particular for the distance and the damage it did. In 1975 he hit a ball to deep center at Veterans Stadium that hit the replica of the Libery Bell. The blast didn’t add another crack to the bell, but it did travel an estimated 550 feet.
Luzinski almost didn’t end up choosing baseball as a career – in high school he was the handsome, blond-haired, blue-eyed fullback of a three-time undefeated state champion football team in Illinois. He was courted by Notre Dame and signed a letter of intent with Kansas, but his heart was with baseball and he signed when he was selected in the amateur draft by the Phillies as the 11th overall pick in 1968.
“A lot of football people told me I was passing up a good thing by going into baseball, but I had dreamed about being a baseball player since I was a little kid.”
Luzinski helped the Phillies to three consecutive division titles and ultimately a World Series title in 1980. He was hobbled a bit and went hitless in that World Series, but he did blast five post-season homers as a member of the Phils, one of them against Sparky’s Reds in 1976.
Despite having averaged over 20 homers a season for more than a decade for Philadelphia, he was allowed to sign with the Chicago White Sox late in spring training in 1981. Playing in the AL where he could DH, The Bull showed he still had some pop in his bat, and at the age of 32 he hit 32 homers, helping the Sox to win 99 games and their first AL West title.
He may have never hit 60 homers in a season, but Greg Luzinski was one of the game’s biggest home run threats for more than a decade and a key member of several playoff teams. As a world champion with the Phillies in 1980, The Bull remains one of Philadelphia’s most popular heroes.