There's nothing better than watching somebody go about their business with a fire in their belly and intensity in their heart. John Vukovich lived baseball in that manner, as you could see and feel the determination within the man (just like his childhood buddy Larry Bowa). Yesterday, the Phillies and MLB lost Vuk after a battle with a brain tumor/cancer at the age of 59. I grew up with Vuk in the Phils organization and it's strange to think of him no longer there. He was a member of the World Series Champions in 1980 and he was a coach for the NL pennant winning team of '93. The man saw time at Connie Mack Stadium, the Vet, and Citizens Bank Park...31 years of service altogether.
John Vukovich was drafted in the 1st round (10th pick overall) by the Phillies in 1966. He never amounted to much of a batter in the majors, compiling a lifetime .161 batting average in only 559 at bats during his 10 year career while playing all four infield positions. In all honesty, he was atrocious at the plate, but to stick around for 10 seasons he must have had positive attributes that teams wanted on their roster and in their clubhouse. From all accounts, Vuk was a leader and a gritty hard-nosed player. He was the guy who kept others focused and encouraged them to become better. He started with the Phils in 1970 and ended with them in 1981, playing for Milwaukee and Cincinnati in between. His true measure wasn't as a player, but as a coach where he made his greatest impact for the Phillies. The Phillies will wear a black patch on their uniforms this season with "Vuk" inscribed on it as a testament and tribute for the gratitude the organization owes this fine man.
Farewell Vuk, say "Hi" to Whitey for me.