We have now reached the 25th entry in my ongoing “Philography” series (you can enjoy the others through links at the bottom of this page) which spotlights the careers of important figures in Philadelphia Phillies history.
The Phillies announced recently that their 2020 Wall of Fame honoree will be Manny Trillo, the club’s starting second baseman from 1979-82 and the Most Valuable Player of the 1980 National League Championship Series. So, I felt it was time for him to receive the Philography treatment as well.
There are many Phillies fans who are aware that Trillo was obtained by the team as part of a huge eight-player trade with the Chicago Cubs early in spring training of 1979.
On February 23 of that year, Phillies general manager Paul Owens sent the club’s starting second baseman Ted Sizemore, outfielder Jerry Martin, catcher Barry Foote, and prospect pitchers Derek Bothelo and Henry Mack to Chicago. In return, Cubs GM Bob Kennedy sent Trillo, outfielder Greg Gross, and catcher Dave Rader to Philadelphia.
However, a fact of which those same fans may not be aware is that Trillo was actually originally signed by the Phillies way back in 1968 as a catcher from his native Venezuela. Quickly converted to third base, he appeared in 118 games at the lower levels of the farm system during the 1968-69 campaigns.
In December 1969 the Phillies left Trillo exposed to the Rule 5 Draft and he was selected by the Oakland Athletics. The A’s were a young, up-and-coming ball club filled with talented prospects. Oakland would finish in second place in the American League West Division in 1969 and 1970 before finally winning the division and advancing to the ALCS in 1971. That was followed by three consecutive World Series championships from 1972-74.
Trillo would spend the full 1970-72 seasons developing in the A’s system. At Double-A Iowa in 1972, Trillo hit .301 with 42 extra-base hits and 53 RBIs and really began to put himself on the radar for a big-league opportunity.
That chance would finally come the following year. On June 28, 1973 future Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams gave Trillo his first shot, starting the 22-year-old at second base in a game against the visiting Kansas City Royals at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
With the American League using a DH for the first time that season and former Phillies slugger Deron Johnson filling that role in this game, Trillo hit ninth in Williams’ batting order for the defending world champions.
In his first career plate appearance, Trillo’s bases loaded single off Steve Busby in the bottom of the 2nd inning scored Johnson to put Oakland on top by 1-0 in a game they would win 3-2 behind the pitching of Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers. Trillo’s inning would not end as well as it began, however, as he was picked off by Busby for the final out.
Trillo stayed with the A’s for a week, returned to the minors, and then received a promotion in September when rosters were expanded. He would play in 14 games down the stretch, almost all as a late innings defensive replacement for starting second baseman Dick Green. It was during that 1973 while at Triple-A Tucson that Trillo was converted fully to a second baseman.
Trillo was involved in a pair of controversies regarding his roster eligibility for the 1973 World Series. There was a strict rule at the time that only those players on the big-league roster on August 31 were eligible for postseason play. Trillo was not on the roster at that point.
After the Athletics sold Jose Morales to the Montreal Expos on September 18 and outfielder Bill North suffered a sprained ankle in that final month the A’s sought approval from the Baltimore Orioles to allow replacements for their playoff match-up. Baltimore gave it’s approval, which allowed Trillo and Allan Lewis to take their places on Oakland’s ALCS roster.
For the Fall Classic against the Mets, Oakland submitted the same request. New York would only approve Lewis but denied Trillo his eligibility. During Game 2, A’s second baseman Mike Andrews committed two errors in the decisive twelfth inning. Oakland’s flamboyant owner Charlies O. Finley then attempted to have Andrews placed on the disabled list in order to activate Trillo. Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled against the A’s, keeping Trillo out. The A’s would ultimately rally to capture the final two games and win their second straight world championship in seven games.
In the following 1974 season, Trillo made the Opening Day roster and appeared in a dozen April games with the A’s, including nine games as the starting second baseman. Unfortunately he hit just .100 with no extra-base hits over 24 plate appearances, a poor performance that got him sent back to the minors as Oakland went with Green and switch-hitter Ted Kubiak at the position.
Trillo received another September promotion, and this time around was also carried on the postseason roster for the two-time world champions. On October 5, 1974, Trillo made his lone appearance during the A’s dynastic championship run. In the ALCS opener against the visiting Baltimore Orioles he scored the final run as a pinch-runner in the bottom of the 9th inning during a 6-3 defeat. The A’s would come back to win the next three games to eliminate the O’s, then downed the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games for their third straight world title.
After that 1974 season, Trillo was traded for the first time. Oakland packaged him with veteran pitchers Darold Knowles and Bob Locker to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for 37-year-old future Hall of Famer Billy Williams. It was an effort by the A’s to extend their championship dynasty, but that run would end in an ALCS sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.
For Trillo, the deal was exactly the opportunity that he needed, as at age 24 he was immediately installed as the Cubs starting second baseman by skipper Jim Marshall. He knocked in 70 runs and fielded a flawless second base, a performance that earned him a third-place finish in the 1975 NL Rookie of the Year balloting.
Trillo would remain the starter at second base in Chicago over four seasons from 1975-78. In 1977 he would make his first of what would be four NL All-Star appearances. That 1977 season was the only non-losing campaign for the Cubs during Trillo’s time with the team.
The club finished at 81-81 in his 1977 All-Star campaign, then finished in third place in 1978, their highest finish in the standings while Trillo was with Chicago. Unfortunately, that still left them 11 games back of the Phillies, who were winning a third consecutive NL East crown.
Trillo wouldn’t have to worry about facing the Phillies after that season. The big trade between the two clubs went down and he replaced Sizemore as the second baseman at Veteran’s Stadium.
The Phillies fielded a new right-side infield in the 1979 season, with Trillo at second base and big free-agent signing Pete Rose at first base. They joined shortstop Larry Bowa and third baseman Mike Schmidt to give the Phillies the greatest infield group in franchise history over the next three seasons. Trillo would win his first career Gold Glove that year, the first of what would be three in four seasons.
“I felt like I was the rookie,” Trillo said per Matt Breen at The Inquirer in early March after learning of his Wall of Fame honor. “Because you had Pete Rose, you had [Larry] Bowa, you had [catcher Bob] Boone, you had Mike Schmidt. They were in the big leagues long before I got there. I learned a lot, because if there was something that I needed to be better at, I would ask those guys.”
Actually, Trillo’s first big-league experience came during Schmidt’s and Boone’s first full seasons with the Phillies in 1973, but we’ll forgive him that small error. He didn’t make many as a player, after all.
A disappointing, injury-marred season in 1979 cost the Phillies manager Danny Ozark his job. The stoic Ozark was replaced by fiery Dallas Green in 1980. That change, along with improved health, huge seasons from Schmidt and ace left-hander Steve Carlton, and key production from a handful of young players pushed the Phillies to a fourth division title in five years.
Trillo hit .292 with 41 extra-base hits in the 1980 regular season and joined Schmidt in being honored at their respective positions with the first-ever Silver Slugger Awards handed out in baseball history.
That outstanding regular season was only a prelude to the series of postseason performances which would cement his place in the hearts of Phillies fans who witnessed them first-hand.
In the dramatic five-game 1980 National League Championship Series victory over the Houston Astros, Trillo hit .381 and played outstanding defense, earning the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award. With the Phillies trailing 2-1 in the best-of-five series and their backs to the wall, Trillo would deliver five hits over the final two games, helping lead the club to 5-3 and 8-7 comeback victories.
The unforgettable Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS captured Trillo’s value perfectly. It started with the defensive aspect. His 2nd inning relay throw cut down Luis Pujols at the plate and kept the Phillies on top by 2-1 at that point.
The Phillies would fall behind and entered the top of the 8th inning trailing Nolan Ryan by a 5-2 score. The club rallied to tie the score at 5-5 when Trillo came to the plate with two outs and two runners aboard. After taking a strike, he ripped the next pitch into the left field corner. Both Ramon Aviles and Del Unser scored, capping a five-run rally that pushed the Phillies on top by 7-5 in a game they would finally win 8-7 in 10 innings to capture the franchise’ first NL pennant in three decades.
In the six-game World Series victory over the Kansas City Royals, Trillo was one of the few Phillies hitters to come through during the three middle games of the Fall Classic at Royals Stadium.
The Phillies were tied with Kansas City at two games apiece, but the host Royals took a 3-2 lead into the 9th inning of Game 5 looking to take a series lead. Schmidt led off that inning with a hot-smash infield single off Brett’s glove, then scored all the way from first on an RBI double by Unser to tie the score.
Unser was bunted over to third base by Keith Moreland, bringing Trillo to the plate with two outs against Kansas City’s side-arming closer Dan Quisenberry. With two strikes on him, Trillo smashed a ball back at Quisenberry. The ball rolled away towards George Brett at third base, and Trillo beat the future Hall of Famer’s desperate throw. Unser scored the go-ahead run on the play and the Phillies had a 4-3 lead. Tug McGraw would escape a harrowing bottom of the 9th, and the Phillies would take a 3-2 lead back to The Vet.
Trillo would go hitless in that clinching Game 6, but it didn’t matter. The Phillies won to capture the first World Series championship in franchise history, earning Trillo his third career World Series ring to go with two he had been awarded with the A’s back in 1973-74.
During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Trillo was once again an NL All-Star and was honored with both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards at second base. He would repeat the All-Star and Gold Glove honors in 1982. But the Phillies couldn’t get back to the Fall Classic either year, eliminated in a five-game NLCS by the Montreal Expos in 1981 and finishing second to the Saint Louis Cardinals in the NL East for 1982.
The Phillies had already begun to break up that 1980 World Series team. Pitcher Randy Lerch was traded to Milwaukee and pitcher Bob Walk to Pittsburgh in March 1981. Left fielder Greg Luzinski was sold to the Chicago White Sox later that same month. Reserve infielder John Vukovich was released in August 1981. Even more changes would come during the off-season and into 1982.
Lonnie Smith went to Saint Louis as part of a three-team deal in November 1981. Catcher Bob Boone was sold to the California Angels in December 1981. Both reliever Dickie Noles and catcher Keith Moreland were traded to the Cubs that same month, and then Bowa was also dealt to the Chicago Cubs just over two months later. Right fielder Bake McBride was dealt to Cleveland in February 1982. Unser was released in June 1982.
Following the 1982 season it was Trillo’s turn to say goodbye to Philadelphia. On December 9 of that year he was included as one of four players along with Julio Franco, George Vukovich, and Jerry Willard sent to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for outfielder Von Hayes.
With the Tribe, Trillo was elected to start for the American League in the 1983 All-Star Game. Boone was also an AL All-Star that year. They joined with 10 future Baseball Hall of Famers in romping to a 13-5 victory over Schmidt and a half-dozen more Hall of Famers on the NL squad.
Trillo didn’t last the year with Cleveland. He was traded to the Montreal Expos on August 17 with Montreal in third place in the NL East at the time, just 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Phillies. The Expos would go just 22-23 the rest of the way as the Phillies ‘Wheeze Kids’ club pulled away in September en route to a World Series appearance.
After that 1983 season, Trillo was awarded free agency for the first time. A month later he signed with the San Francisco Giants where in 1984 he played under Frank Robinson to open the season. When the Hall of Famer Robinson was fired two-thirds of the way through the season, Trillo’s first Phillies skipper, Ozark, came in as a replacement. Those Giants lost 96 games and finished in last place in the NL West Division.
In 1985 it was more of the same. Two managers, this time Jim Davenport and Roger Craig. Another last-place finish in the division, this time with 100 losses. Trillo contributed to that horrid season, hitting to a career low .224 batting average with little run production.
In December after that 1985 season Trillo was traded in a deal that returned him to Wrigley Field in Chicago with the Cubs. There he would play for three managers in 1986 on the North Side, including former Phillies 1980 teammate John Vukovich for two games.
With future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg entrenched at second base, Trillo was mostly used as a backup at both first and third bases during the 1986 and 1987 seasons in Chicago. The Cubs finished near the bottom of the National League both years. In that 1986 season, Trillo was teammates with a 20-year-old rookie right-hander named Greg Maddux as well as a 23-year-old rookie southpaw by the name of Jamie Moyer.
A free agent after the 1987 season, he re-upped for 1988 with the Cubs for another go-around. It was a fourth-place season in which he would play all across the infield as a reserve. Then in 1989, the Cubs would win the NL East crown and advance to the NLCS. Unfortunately for Trillo, he was gone that year, having signed with the Cincinnati Reds as a free agent.
At age 38 in the 1989 season, Trillo played in the final 17 games of his MLB career with a fifth-place Reds team. He hit just .205 with no pop, and on May 25, 1989 was given his release by Cincinnati, bringing his big-league career to an end.
From May 5-7, 1989, Trillo was given an outstanding opportunity by Reds manager Pete Rose. One last hurrah, if you will.
His former teammate with the Phillies used Trillo in all three games of a series at Veteran’s Stadium. That included starts in the final two contests in which Rose batted him second in the Cincy starting lineup, playing him at second base the entire game to the enjoyment of the Philly crowds.
Trillo produced two hits and scored a run over that final series in front of the Philadelphia fans. His old buddy Schmidt played in the first two games, going 0-4 at Riverfront Stadium. Schmidt would retire before the month was out.
In his own final game on May 20, 1989, Trillo went 0-4 against the Cubs. He grounded out, shortstop to first, Shawon Dunston to Mark Grace, off pitcher Pat Perry in the bottom of the 8th inning. He was released five days later. Three months after that, Rose accepted a permanent ban from baseball due to allegations that he had associated with gamblers in betting on Reds’ games.
Trillo enjoyed a 17-year career in Major League Baseball from 1973-89. Though many remember him from those outstanding four seasons in Philadelphia, he actually played nearly twice as long, parts of seven seasons, with the Cubs.
His final big-league numbers read 1,562 hits with 598 runs scored and 571 RBIs, a career slash line of .263/.316/.345, and 333 extra-base hits. Trillo was a four-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover, and two-time Silver Slugger. Two of those All-Star seasons as well as all of the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honors came with the Phillies. Defensively, Trillo led NL second basemen in assists four times, range factor three times, and putouts twice.
In 2007, Trillo was elected to the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame. When he is finally enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame, Trillo will become the ninth player and 11th individual overall from the 1980 World Series champs so honored. The only players from that team’s starting lineup not on the Wall are Rose, who was supposed to be honored three years ago before his induction was cancelled due to scandalous allegations, and right fielder Bake McBride.
“I was waiting for that moment. I’ve been waiting 15, 20 years,” said Trillo per Breen. “I always wondered. Now, they changed the rules. And I’m so happy. This is kind of like another World Series.”
For those of us who witnessed it as it happened, we will never forget that 1980 World Series championship team, the first to ever win a title in what was at the time the 98th season of Philadelphia Phillies baseball. And we will never forget the heroics of Trillo that fall. Those heroics clinched what is now a long overdue place among Philadelphia’s greatest baseball heroes.
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