PHILADELPHIA -- If you listened to Charlie Manuel over the years, then you know he believes pinch-hitting is the most difficult job in baseball.
Manuel knew from experience. He had 432 plate appearances in his big league career. He pinch-hit 164 times.
It is not easy sitting on the bench for several innings, grabbing a bat and coming up with a big hit in a critical spot against a top-notch starter or hard-throwing reliever. But that is the expectation for pinch-hitters: Get up there and deliver the goods.
MLB.com has been looking at the top five players at each position in franchise history over the past several weeks. This week, our American League beat reporters are looking at the top five designated hitters in team history. With no DH in the National League, this week the NL reporters are looking at the best bench bats in club history. What are the criteria for best Phillies bench bat? It is somewhat subjective, which means you might disagree with this list. That is OK, but we give our reasons for it:
1) Del Unser, 1973-74, '79-82
Key stat: Three huge pinch-hits in the 1980 postseason
Del Unser seemed to be in the middle of everything during the 1980 postseason. He hit a two-out, game-tying pinch-hit single in the eighth inning in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series against Houston. Unser stayed in the game and hit a one-out double in the 10th. He scored the winning run, giving the Phillies their third NL pennant in franchise history. He hit a pinch-hit double against Royals closer Dan Quisenberry in the eighth inning in Game 2 of the World Series, cutting Kansas City’s lead to one. Unser then scored the tying run in a 6-4 victory. He also hit a game-tying pinch-hit double against Quisenberry in the ninth inning of Game 5. This time, Unser scored the winning run.
But this is not just about one postseason, although Unser’s three postseason pinch-hits are a franchise record. He had 35 regular-season pinch-hits with the Phillies, which is tied for 11th. Four of those pinch-hits gave the Phillies the lead. Two tied the game. Unser hit one walk-off pinch-hit homer (against Rollie Fingers in 1979).
As a pinch-hitter, Unser had a .356 on-base percentage and a .425 slugging percentage.
2) Greg Gross, 1979-88
Key stat: Franchise leader with 117 pinch-hits
Greg Gross had a memorable ’80 postseason, too. A pinch-hit single in the seventh inning in Game 1 of the NLCS scored a run to give the Phillies a two-run lead. A pinch-hit single in the eighth inning in Game 4 sparked a game-tying two-run rally. And, of course, Gross’ surprise first-pitch bunt single against Nolan Ryan in the eighth inning in Game 5 loaded the bases in a five-run rally.
Gross had 568 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter with the Phillies, an astounding 310 more than second-ranked Tim McCarver (258) on the all-time list. Gross had five go-ahead pinch-hits and three game-tying pinch-hits. He had a .373 on-base percentage as a pinch-hitter, although only a .298 slugging. But the job of a pinch-hitter is getting on base. Gross did his job very well for a long time.
3) Greg Dobbs, 2007-10
Key stat: Franchise co-leader with seven pinch-hit home runs
Greg Dobbs remains one of Pat Gillick’s best finds as Phillies general manager, almost immediately establishing himself as one of Manuel’s favorite weapons off the bench. Despite having 330 fewer pinch-hit plate appearances than Gross, Dobbs has just six fewer RBIs. He had three go-ahead and two game-tying pinch-hits.
His seven pinch-hit homers tie Ricky Ledee for the club record.
4) John Mayberry Jr., 2009-14
Key stat: .505 slugging as a pinch-hitter is best in franchise history
John Mayberry Jr. here might surprise some people, but he posted impressive numbers as a pinch-hitter. He ranks 30th in pinch-hit plate appearances in franchise history, but is tied for third with six home runs. He hit .295 with a .345 on-base and .505 slugging as a pinch-hitter.
5) Tommy Hutton, 1972-77
Key stat: 52 pinch-hits is third in franchise history
A remarkable 10 of Hutton’s 52 pinch-hits with the Phillies either gave them the lead (eight) or tied the game (two). Five came against Hall of Famers: Tom Seaver (three), Bob Gibson (one) and Rollie Fingers (one).