#CardCorner: 1978 Topps Greg Luzinski
It was a mark matched by only Mike Schmidt and Bobby Bonds during that offensively-suppressed era – and it stamped Luzinski as one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
Gregory Michael Luzinski was born Nov. 22, 1950, in Chicago. With broad shoulders, large hands and the frame of a fullback, Luzinski made a name for himself in the Chicagoland amateur leagues before he was legally able to drive a car. He posted a stretch with 18 hits in 19 at-bats for the Prospect Heights Little League team to the state finals. And by the summer of 1966, Luzinski was playing American Legion baseball before joining the Lions, a powerhouse team located in nearby Arlington Heights.
“In my five years of coaching here,” Larry Nomellini told the Arlington Heights Herald, “I’ve never seen a kid who comes close to him as a hitter.”
But Luzinski also starred on the football field for Notre Dame High School in Niles, a north-side suburb of Chicago. The Dons went 9-0 during Luzinski’s junior season, and soon the rugged fullback – who scored 11 touchdowns that year – was receiving scholarship offers from schools around the country, including the University of Notre Dame, his favorite team.
Baseball, however, remained his first love. And in 1968, the Phillies took Luzinski with the 11th overall pick in that summer’s MLB Draft.
The Phillies signed Luzinski to a bonus worth a reported $45,000 and sent the 17-year-old to Huron, S.D., of the Northern League, where he tied a league record with 13 home runs and finished second in the loop with 43 RBI in 57 games.
“I’ve just been meeting the ball well,” Luzinski told the The Daily Plainsman of his late-season surge. “Maybe it’s just getting over the initial pressure of playing my first season in pro ball.”
Luzinski’s manager that year was Dallas Green, who would play a major role in Luzinski’s career journey a decade later.
Luzinski hit 31 homers with 92 RBI for Class A Raleigh-Durham of the Carolina League in 1969 – weathering the effects of a scary beaning that left him crumpled at home plate – then torched Eastern League pitching with Double-A Reading in 1970 to the tune of a .325 batting average (tops in the league), 33 home runs and 120 RBI.
The Phillies rewarded Luzinski with a late-season call-up in 1970, and he appeared in eight games in September – mostly as a first baseman and pinch hitter. But with veteran Deron Johnson blocking Luzinski at first base, the Phillies sent their top prospect to Triple-A in 1971 – and Luzinski responded by hitting .312 with 36 homers and 114 RBI for the Eugene Emeralds of the Pacific Coast League.
By 1972, Luzinski was the Phillies’ Opening Day left fielder. And despite his 6-foot-1, 231-pound frame, Luzinski was surprisingly adept in the outfield.
“I never saw a guy work harder in Spring Training,” Phillies general manager Paul Owens told the Philadelphia Daily News. “He never picked up a first baseman’s glove the whole spring. And he’d chase guys out of left field so he could handle every ball.”
But once again – despite Luzinski’s six hits, including a triple and two home runs – the Dodgers defeated Philadelphia in the NLCS.
The Phillies went all-in for 1979, signing free agent Pete Rose to play first base. But injuries and an ineffective bullpen doomed the team to a fourth-place finish and cost manager Danny Ozark his job. Luzinski hit .252 with 18 homers and 81 RBI in 137 games.
New manager Dallas Green, who had been Luzinski’s first pro skipper in 1968, infused the team with a new spirit – and Luzinski was hitting .281 with 15 homers and 41 RBI through the team’s first 56 games in 1980. But on July 5, Luzinski injured his troublesome right knee while sliding into second base vs. the Cardinals. He underwent surgery July 28 and missed 45 games.
He returned in August to help the Phillies’ drive to their fourth NL East title in five years, finishing the season with a .228 batting average, 19 homers and 56 RBI in 106 games. His two-run, sixth-inning home run in Game 1 of the ALCS vs. Houston turned a 1-0 Astros advantage into a 2-1 Phillies lead that would become a 3-1 win – and Luzinski finished the NLCS with a .294 batting average and four RBI in five games to help Philadelphia advance to the World Series.
But in the Fall Classic, Luzinski appeared in only three games as Lonnie Smith took most of the at-bats as the Phillies’ left fielder. Luzinski went 0-for-9 as Philadelphia won its elusive World Series title.
The championship glow did not last long. Throughout the offseason, rumors swirled that the Phillies were shopping Luzinski. He struggled at the plate in Spring Training, hitting just .160 through eight games despite Green saying that he thought Luzinski was “on his way to having a good year.”
Then, the Phillies acquired outfielder Gary Matthews from the Braves on March 25, 1981. Six days later, the Phillies sold Luzinski’s contract to the White Sox in a cash-only transaction – sending him back to his hometown.
“There’s no secret that there was a lot of verbal abuse between us,” Luzinski told the South Bend Tribune in February of 1982 of his relationship with Green. “Our relationship is probably one of the reasons that I’m now playing in Chicago.”
Now a fulltime DH, Luzinski hit 21 home runs and recorded 62 RBI in 104 games in the strike-shortened 1981 campaign in the final season of the contract he signed in 1977, winning the Designated Hitter of the Year Award. The White Sox immediately brought him back with a three-year, $2.25 million deal – and Luzinski hit .292 with 18 homers and 102 RBI in 1982.
He recorded his fourth-and-final 30-plus home run season in 1983 – finishing with 32 homers and 95 RBI while helping the White Sox win the AL West title and again winning the DH of the Year Award. But the White Sox lost to the Orioles in the ALCS.
Luzinski struggled in 1984, though he tied a record with grand slams in back-to-back games June 8-9 and hit his 300th career home run on July 5. But he finished the season with just 13 homers and 58 RBI in 125 games.
He became a free agent after the season but found few offers and retired on Feb. 5, 1985, taking a position as the freshman baseball coach at Holy Cross High School near his home in Medford. N.J.
“The realization was that nobody wanted me,” Luzinski told USA Today.
Luzinski finished his 15-year career with a .286 batting average, a .363 on-base percentage, 307 homers and 1,128 RBI. He later coached in the big leagues, and his son, Ryan, was a first-round pick of the Dodgers in the 1992 MLB Draft out of Holy Cross High School.
“The day I don’t think I can play,” Luzinski told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1972, “I better get out of the game.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum