With the Philadelphia Phillies and Major League Baseball going on hiatus due to the COVID19 pandemic situation, I was looking for a baseball fix on Friday night.
Someone had brought up the topic during a social media posting earlier in the day, and so I went fishing around on YouTube for a video of the Phillies dramatic victory in Game 5 of the 1980 National League Championship Series.
I was 18-years-old during that series, which I still believe is the greatest NLCS in postseason history. I watched that game “live” as it happened. For any Phillies fan who may have never seen the game or for those who haven’t in a long time, I can highly recommend it while seeking your own baseball fix.
As I watched the game, the legendary Phillies rally in the top of the 8th inning rolled around. To set the stage, the host Houston Astros had scored three times in the bottom of the 7th to take a 5-2 lead in front of their delirious fans at the Astrodome in the deciding game of what was already an exhausting and exhilarating series.
The Phillies captured the Game 1 opener by a 3-1 score. Greg Luzinski‘s two-run ‘Bull Blast’ homer backed a strong outing from Steve Carlton at Veteran’s Stadium to put the Phillies up 1-0 in the series.
Houston took Game 2 in 10 innings and Game 3 in 11 innings in what was then a best-of-five NLCS. Those two victories put the Astros on the verge of their first-ever franchise trip to the World Series.
In Game 4, the Phillies rallied from down 2-0 in the top of the 8th inning, scoring three times to take a late lead. Houston tied it up in the bottom of the 9th, but the Phillies won it by 5-3 with 10th inning RBI doubles from Luzinski and Manny Trillo.
That meant all four games were decided by two runs or less with the last four all decided in extra innings.
Trailing 5-2 into the top of the 8th inning of the deciding fifth game was a big problem. Could the Phillies rally late for a second straight night? But also, it was the “who” the Phillies were trailing that seemed to make this situation even less likely.
On the mound for the Astros was the now legendary Nolan Ryan, a Hall of Famer and baseball’s all-time strikeout king. Ryan was in his prime that fall, a 33-year-old who had signed with Houston as a big-money free agent and was in his first year with the team.
To that point, Ryan had largely shut the Phillies down, allowing two runs and five hits over the first seven frames while striking out eight batters and walking just one.
Trying to appropriately describe what happened in that top of the 8th inning to turn things around against a living legend would require a full article in itself. I urge you to look it up and watch yourself. Suffice it to say, the Phillies dramatically rallied.
As the inning rolled along, the Phillies tied it up. With two outs, Trillo stepped to the plate against Ken Forsch with two runners on base and the game tied at 5-5. The Phillies second baseman, who would be named the series MVP and who is scheduled to be inducted to the Wall of Fame this summer, came through. He ripped a two-run triple into the left field corner, putting the Phillies on top 7-5.
As the Phillies poured out of their dugout to welcome Ramon Aviles and Del Unser, the two players who scored on Trillo’s triple, television cameras captured someone wearing uniform number 13 with the name “Wendell” on the back jumping around with the team as part of the celebration.
Watch this video clip of the moment. After Trillo slides into third base, we see the Phillies celebrating. As they do you will clearly see our mysterious “Wendell 13” player pass before the cameras.
As soon as I saw this, my brain suddenly left Phillies celebration mode and entered trivia quiz mode. Who the heck was this Wendell? I knew that 1980 Phillies team like I knew my own family and was certain that there was no one named Wendell playing back then.
The first possibility that popped into my mind was Turk Wendell, a relief pitcher who I knew had played with the Phillies. However, I was sure that Wendell came along much later and so I looked him up.
Just as I thought, Turk Wendell had pitched for the Phillies, but in 2001 and 2003 (his 2002 season was lost to injury) as part of an 11-year big-league career. Since his career lasted from 1993-2004 and he was just 13-years-old in the fall of 1980, the only way that Turk could have been with the Phillies that night in Houston would have been as a batboy. But more research showed that he was born and raised in New England, so that seemed a longshot.
Now I had a mystery on my hands, and the former detective in me kicked into gear. Surface research on the 1980 Phillies showed not only no “Wendell” with them as a player or coach, but that team had no one wearing the number 13 at all. And the little that I could find on the batboys from that season showed no one named Wendell.
At that point it was getting late, and I decided to turn to a modern method for some help, posting the situation on social media. I woke up on Saturday morning to find that the intrawebs had not let me down.
Scott Carlton, son of the Phillies legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton, saw my post and came up with the answer. Turns out that the mystery man was former Capitol Records executive Bruce Wendell. But that led to two more questions: Who is Bruce Wendell? What the heck was he doing with the Phillies, in the dugout and in full uniform, that night in Houston?
Once again, the intrawebs came through. Matt D’Augustine (@D_Auguland on Twitter), a history teacher, dug up a 2017 article at hitsdailydouble.com titled “The Wildest Years of Radio Promotion, Part Two” written by includes the following paragraph with relevant part highlighted:
“John Betancourt at RCA was another big hitter, and one of the craziest guys I had ever seen, as he manically paced around offices across the country while slipping into bathrooms with alarming frequency. John was friends with Dr. J; I believe they’d played hoops together at UMass. He used Doc and the Sixers like the notorious Bruce Wendell, who ran Capitol promo, used Mike Schmidt and the Phillies to boost his cult of celebrity. He was even the batboy for the Phillies a few times. I was embarrassed for him for acting like an overgrown kid, but some geeks must have gotten off on it—why else would he keep doing it? Lots of bat and boy jokes inevitably went with the territory.”
Bruce Wendell was the former Senior Vice President of Promotions for Capitol Records. During the 1970’s he was one of the leading influencers in the music industry. While with Capitol he threw lavish parties with numerous celebrities involved as part of the process of building power and influence for himself and popularity for his clients.
More research found worthpoint.com offering this description of Wendell’s career during that decade leading up to that 1980 NLCS:
“After the break-up of The Beatles, Bruce personally handled all four individual Beatles and played a very influential role in each of their successes. Bruce would personally accompany them to all of their radio interviews, television appearances, magazine interviews, During the years when their record label, Apple Records, was in complete turmoil, Bruce paved the way for each of them to achieve their personal best and for their records to achieve gold and platinum record status.“
Well there you have it. Bruce Wendell was a big-shot influential Capitol Records executive who befriended Mike Schmidt and got in with the Phillies tight enough that he was allowed in uniform on the bench during the 1980 National League Championship Series.
Now that’s what I call power and influence.
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