For the 1977 Cardinals, there was no doubt about who was the most valuable player in the National League that season: Phillies left fielder Greg Luzinski.
Nicknamed “The Bull” because of his size (6 feet 1, 230 pounds) and power, Luzinski produced one of the most destructive seasons ever against a Cardinals team.
Luzinski’s 1977 performance was referenced recently because of how Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez tormented the 2012 Cardinals. With seven home runs and 23 RBI against St. Louis this season, Alvarez became the first player to achieve those combinations versus the Cardinals since Luzinski _ and the first Pirates player to do so since left fielder Ralph Kiner in 1950 _ according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
A look at the numbers of that trio against the Cardinals:
Pedro Alvarez……2012……….7…………………..23…….. .397 (23-for-58)
Greg Luzinski……1977……….9…………………..28…….. .351 (20-for-57)
Ralph Kiner………1950………9…………………..23…….. .337 (28-for-83)
In 16 games against the ’77 Cardinals, Luzinski also had seven doubles and nine walks. He posted a .441 on-base percentage and .947 slugging percentage versus St. Louis that year.
Luzinski, 26, did much of his damage against two of the Cardinals’ best pitchers _ Bob Forsch, a 20-game winner in 1977, and Al Hrabosky, St. Louis’ saves leader that year.
Against Forsch, Luzinski hit .467 (7-for-15) with four home runs in 1977. Luzinski was 3-for-4 (.750) with a homer against Hrabosky.
Starter Eric Rasmussen and reliever Butch Metzger were the most effective St. Louis pitchers against Luzinski in 1977. Luzinski was 0-for-10 against Rasmussen and 0-for-5 against Metzger that year. Luzinski was 20-for-42 (.476) against the rest of the 1977 Cardinals staff.
Luzinski had three 5-RBI games against the ’77 Cardinals. The second occurred on July 13 when Luzinski drove in all the Phillies’ runs and hit a pair of homers against Tom Underwood in a 5-2 Philadelphia victory. Underwood had been acquired by the Cardinals from the Phillies a month earlier. Boxscore
“Luzinski is the best two-out hitter in baseball,” Underwood said to the Associated Press. “He never misses a down-and-in pitch. I’m not the first guy he’s going to hit home runs off and certainly not the last. I made two bad pitches and I paid for it.”
Luzinski’s first homer off Underwood went 450 feet to “The Bull Ring,” a section of the left-field stands at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium that seated youngsters who were provided tickets by Luzinski.
Luzinski, who had signed a five-year, $1.5-million contract, bought 126 loge box seats for each of 36 Phillies home games and gave all of the tickets to youngsters from organizations such as the Salvation Army and the Big Brothers Association. Each ticket cost $4.50, so Luzinski paid $20,412, with no discount from the Phillies, both The Sporting News and Associated Press reported.
Luzinski also provided autographed pictures of himself to every youngster in “The Bull Ring” and he donated $100 to the organization in that section any night a Phillies home run landed there.
“There are many children who have never had box seats and I want to give some of them a chance to sit there and see how much fun it can be just to go to a baseball game at the Vet,” Luzinski said to The Sporting News.
In a three-game Phillies sweep of the Cardinals Sept. 9-11, 1977, Luzinski drove in eight runs and hit a home run apiece off Hrabosky, John Urrea and John Sutton. Afterward, the soft-spoken slugger surprised reporters when he told them he deserved to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award for his overall 1977 performance.
“I’ve had a hell of a season,” Luzinski said to the Associated Press. “… I’ve been consistent all year. That’s the key.”
Cardinals manager Vern Rapp agreed Luzinski would be the best choice for NL MVP. “What Luzinski has done proves he is the most valuable … Luzinski has always delivered when it meant something toward the ballclub winning,” Rapp said.
Luzinski finished the season with 39 homers, 130 RBI, a .309 batting average, a .394 on-base percentage and a .594 slugging percentage, leading the Phillies to their second consecutive NL East title.
But another left fielder, George Foster, playing for the second-place Reds of the NL West, was voted the NL MVP Award by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Foster received 291 total points and 15 first-place votes; Luzinski had 255 total points and 9 first-place votes.
Though the Reds finished 10 games behind the NL West-champion Dodgers, Foster had better statistics than Luzinski: 52 homers, 149 RBI, a .320 batting average, a .382 on-base percentage and a .631 slugging percentage.
“The way I figure it out we couldn’t win without The Bull,” Phillies catcher Tim McCarver said to The Sporting News, in explaining why Luzinski deserved the award. “And I think the Reds could have finished second without George Foster.”
Countered Reds second baseman Joe Morgan, who had won the award in both 1975 and ’76: “There’s really no comparison. If Foster replaced Luzinski in the Phillies lineup, they’d win by 20 games. George has done better in every offensive category and is a far better defensive player than Greg.”
Previously: Cardinals helped Joe Lis look like all-star