That's a lot of Bull at first

Oct. 03, 1983
Oct. 03, 1983

Table of Contents
Oct. 3, 1983

The Phillies
America's Cup
Iowa-Ohio State
Yaz And Bench
College Football
Pro Football
Harness Racing
For The Record
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

That's a lot of Bull at first

DH Greg Luzinski will need a position if the White Sox reach the Series

The Bull wasn't exactly in a china shop, but he definitely was on unfamiliar ground as he took a few throws at first base during batting practice last Thursday night in Anaheim, Calif. He fielded most of the tosses with commendable grace—all things considered—until Catcher Marc Hill, having a little sport at third base, began deliberately throwing the ball low to first. Alas, Greg Luzinski, 32, the Bull of the White Sox, waved at the maliciously misdirected tosses as if he were a matador. After about 15 minutes of these exertions, Luzinski repaired to the more comfortable surroundings of his usual pregame habitat, the batting cage, to rocket tape-measure shots into the distant bleachers.

This is an article from the Oct. 3, 1983 issue Original Layout

This brief experiment at first base represented history of a sort, because Luzinski, who hadn't worn a glove in a game since he transferred to Chicago from the National League three seasons ago, was trying his rusty hand in the field for the first time under any circumstances this year in happy anticipation of getting another chance to do it in the World Series. If the White Sox, who clinched the American League West title on Sept. 17, make it to the Series, you see, Luzinski will have to play someplace on defense, because this is one of those years when designated hitter is a non-position in the Series. And Chicago Manager Tony LaRussa and his team can hardly expect to compete successfully for the world championship without the Bull and his 30 homers and 90 RBIs in their batting order.

"I don't want to be premature about anything," said LaRussa last week, "but we have to look at some alternatives here. And Bull isn't just another DH. We're talking about a DH who hits fourth, in the heart of our lineup." Recognizing that the Bull hadn't caught a ball in anger since September of 1980, when he was a decidedly immobile outfielder for the then world champion Phillies, LaRussa was trying Luzinski at first to see if he could get the hang of it. If the Sox whip the Orioles for the American League title, then the lineup juggling will begin in earnest. "Maybe," said LaRussa, "the Bull'll make six diving catches in one game, and there'll be no worry."

The speculation—and trepidation—became a bit less feverish on Saturday when Luzinski started at first against the Angels. LaRussa chose that day because he had a lefthander, Britt Burns, on the mound against a predominantly right-handed-hitting lineup that would be unlikely to send many shots toward first. The strategy worked. Luzinski's only chances in six innings of the 2-0 victory were four infield throws, which he handled flawlessly. One of them was low, but he caught it with no problem, and another, completing a double play, forced him to stretch. Bulls don't stretch very far.

When Luzinski trotted out to take his position he was wearing a batting helmet instead of a cap. "I haven't worn a cap in three years," he explained, referring to his last previous appearance in the field during the 1980 World Series, when he played left for Philadelphia. "I've got to break one in."

California's first batter, Gary Pettis, tested him by pushing a bunt past Burns and beating it out for a hit. "It was a rocky way for Bull to start," said LaRussa, "but Pettis would have beat out that bunt on any lefthanded pitcher. Bull did fine." Then, rolling his eyes: "Especially that great stretch."

Even Luzinski joked about that. "With my stretch, we better never need it," he said. "I was a little nervous before the game, but not once I got out there. I didn't exactly feel at home." Was he hoping to make a game-saving catch? "Not getting any tough plays didn't disappoint me," he admitted.

Afterward, LaRussa said, "There's no doubt in my mind that he can play first base and that he wants to. All I want now is for him to get comfortable there."

Luzinski, ever phlegmatic, is undaunted by the renewed challenge of trying to catch the ball. "I've had a first baseman's glove for the past three years," he says, and indeed he has frequently been seen with it tucked under his arm in the clubhouse. "I hadn't played first since '72, and I haven't played there regularly since '71, when I did it for a month. But I was a first baseman for three and a half years in the minors."

As it turns out, first is the most densely populated position on a team that is deep in most spots. Greg Walker, 23, the left-handed-hitting rookie who had a .274 average and nine homers at week's end, is nominally the starter there, although he sits down in favor of 36-year-old Tom Paciorek against many lefthanded pitchers and will himself substitute on occasion for the Bull as a DH. Paciorek, bidding to hit .300 for the third year in a row as a mostly part-time player, is primarily a first baseman, but he has also appeared in 49 games in the outfield, 33 of them as a starter.

And finally, there's Mike Squires, 31, a Gold Glove winner at the position in 1981, who comes in on defense for both Paciorek and Walker in the late innings of virtually every game. As a result of this specialization, Squires had some of the more interesting statistics of the season through Sunday—138 games played with 149 times at bat.

LaRussa envisions a World Series scenario that would have Luzinski starting at first with Paciorek in the outfield, probably replacing Rudy Law, and Squires at the ready to field the grounders and low throws from the seventh inning on when the Sox lead. Even Walker, the most likely victim of such machinations, approves the strategy, saying, "Everybody realizes we've got to have the Bull's bat in the lineup."

Luzinski has, in fact, had one of his more notable power-hitting seasons. In terms of average he has been hitting what appears to be his weight—.252 through Sunday—but three of his homers have cleared the roof in leftfield at Comiskey Park. "I've made the so-called adjustment to being a DH," he says. "It worked out well for me."

If the White Sox make it to the World Series, he will have yet another adjustment to make.

PHOTOLuzinski caught on quickly last week while playing defense for the first time since 1980.