Friday, December 23, 2011

A Man Called "Vuk"

Airbrushed into his new uniform, this player spent all of 1972 in the minor leagues:

Card #451 -- John Vukovich, Milwaukee Brewers

Despite a short trial with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1970 and a longer one in '71, this would be John Vukovich's rookie card. This picture originally showed him wearing a Phillies uniform, but he was sent to Milwaukee before the 1973 season in the same deal that sent Don Money to the Brewers (and Money was airbrushed into an even more ridiculous-looking uniform on his card).

Getting traded to the Brewers was probably a good thing for Vukovich at the time, as Denny Doyle was the Phillies' regular second baseman. He spent two years in Milwaukee and then started 1975 as Cincinnati's third baseman. He was benched in favor of Pete Rose so George Foster could be given more playing time and then sent back to the minors. He would return to Philadelphia in 1976 and would stay with the organization for the rest of his career.

Though he was never an everyday player and rarely batted above .200, he was still quite popular with the team's blue-collar fans. Though he never played in the 1980 World Series, Vukovich was still a member of that World Championship team.

After retiring in 1981, Vukovich worked as a coach. Twice, he was named interim manager: he led the Cubs for one day in 1986 and split a doubleheader, and finished the last nine games of the '88 season for the Phillies. He was considered again for the Phils' skipper job in 2000, but the post went to his childhood friend and former teammate Larry Bowa.

In 2001, Vukovich was diagnosed with brain cancer. He fought it for years, but lost that battle in 2007. After his passing, he was inducted into the Phillies' Wall of Fame, the team wore his nickname on their uniforms and dedicated their 2007 season to his memory. That's high praise for somebody who was never a regular on the team.


  1. Great post. Vuk was the behind-the-scenes soul of the Phils for many years.

  2. I'm surprised to see Topps list him at 2nd base, since he had been a 3rd baseman (and not really a true "utility" player) up to that time.

  3. jim's statement represents one of my biggest complaints with 1973 set: The establishment of one position to a given player. Maybe Topps got Vunk and Bernie Allen mixed up.