Saturday, January 5, 2013

#279 Greg Gross - Philadelphia Phillies

Greg Gross looks like he's trying to peek around a corner without being noticed.  Topps also has him following through with his swing on his '75, '76, '84, '86, and '87 cards.  When I was a kid anyone with the last name Gross seemed funny to me.  Maybe that expectation is why Gross has that perturbed look on his face in the inset.  Or maybe he was tired of people asking if Wayne Gross is his brother (nope, not related).

Baseball Card Database

Player: Greg Gross came up through the Astros chain and spent the first four years of his major league career in Houston.  A fourth round pick in 1970, Gross grabbed some attention right away by hitting .351 in rookie ball.  Three years later a .330 season at AAA Denver earned a promotion to Houston where he hit .231 in 39 at bats.  Has there ever been a AAA venue more different than the major league city than Denver/ Houston?  Transitioning from from the mile high thin air to the ball deadening Astro Dome had to be quite an adjustment for Astros prospects.  Gross didn't care, he had no intentions of hitting home runs.
Gross was the Astros starting rightfielder in '74 and had a fine rookie season. Houston put Gross in the leadoff spot and he got on base plenty with a .314 average and .393 on base percentage, but they forced him to steal bases with poor results. He swiped 12 bags but was gunned down 20 times. Gross played good defense and showed an accurate arm twice nailing Lou Brock at the plate.  His overall play led to a 2nd place finish for NL Rookie of the Year behind Bake McBride.

The left handed swinging Gross was a singles machine batting .294 and .286 the following two years with only 39 combined extra base hits in 1,059 at bats. He still hadn't hit a home run but a trade to the Cubs in December of '76 brought hope that he would hit a four-bagger sooner or later.

Gross was used more as a platoon player in Chicago and responded with a .322 average and the first five home runs of his career in 1977. After launching his first in July he had a power surge and even cranked out taters in back to back games in August.  The following year Gross batted .265 with an OPS+ of 80, the first time in his career it fell under 110.

A seven player trade sent Gross to the Phillies where he spent the next 10 years as a pinch hitter and occasional starter. As pinch hitters usually find out, it's hard to stay consistent without regular playing time. Gross hit .333 in '79 then had two season's under .250. He then hit .299, .302, and .322 and was regarded as one of the best hitters off the bench in the early 80's. He wouldn't hit over .300 again but in '87 he hit his first home run since he was a Cub in '78. If that doesn't prove the ball was juiced in '87 what does? Who knows for sure, maybe he was just due.
Gross got into the playoffs three times with the Phils.  He started his playoff career with a bang knocking three hits in four at bats in the 1980 NLCS. He struggled afterward going 0-17 in the '80 World Series and '81 and '83 postseasons.

In 1989 Gross signed with the Astros but found his return to Houston difficult batting .200 in 75 at bats. After not finding anyone interested in his pinch hitting duties he sat out the 1990 season. He tried making the Padres in '91 but was the final roster cut which ended his playing career.

Baseball Card Database

Flipside: Topps did a lousy job looking for Gross highlights from the '82 season. On 6-23 Gross got a rare start and went one for five in a 7-1 win. Woop-dee-doo. He batted off .366 when he came of the bench and had several big hits they could have used instead.

Oddball: Five of Gross' seven career home runs came in an 11 week span in '77 with the Cubs. He only hit four in his minor league career and three of those were inside-the-park jobs.

History: Gross batted .287/.372/.351 in his 17 year career and was a World Series champ with Philadelphia in 1980. Most of his career WAR (11.2) was earned early in his career with the Astros (9.2). In those days he was a good outfielder with an accurate arm, twice nailing Lou Brock at the plate as a rookie. As time went on he lost his speed and range. With batting contact as his one remaining tool he did well to last a long time as a reserve.
With the advent of 12 man pitching staffs pinch hitters like Gross have pretty much disappeared from the game. Gross has bounced around some as a hitting coach since his playing days. He recently filled that role for the Phils but he was fired at the end of the 2012 season.

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