Missing a dear friend

We knew it was a matter of time for our dear friend John Vukovich but when we received the news this morning, it flattened all of us.  Tears and hugs took over.

He and Tug McGraw succumbed to the same illness, brain tumors, and they were both 59 years of age.  That’s scary.

The response from the baseball world—current players, former players, coaches, managers, umpires, writers, broadcasters—has been overwhelming.  Phillies Alumni have been calling and e-mailing ever since the news broke this a.m.

When the 2006 season ended, he looked as he always did.  Six months later, he’s joined Tug, Johnny Callison, Richie Ashburn, Gene Mauch and Eric Gregg in baseball heaven.  “Vuk” loved to argue.  Heaven just got a little noisier.

Vuk was old school, hard-nosed.  He believed in working hard as a player.  As a coach, he could be as tough as a Marine drill sergeant.  His knowledge of how to play the game qualified him as having a master’s degree in baseball.

He could have a bark as scary as an angry German shepherd.  Yet, under that hard shell there was an enormous heart.  His smile would light up a room.  He was an unbelievable story-teller who would often have his audience in stitches. There were times he himself would laugh so hard, he couldn’t get the punch line out for the rest of us.

As a player, he was a student of the game.  He knew he didn’t have the greatest skills but he worked and worked and worked.  He learned to play the game the right way and preached that the rest of his career. Defensively, there were few better at third base. 

He recognized his offense – or lack thereof – with a sense of humor.  The combination to his suitcase was 161.  “My batting average.  Can’t forget that,” he would laugh.

He once joked, “My second career (coaching) was much better than the first (player).”

To me, he was like a brother.  I don’t have one but he filled those shoes.  He could tell when I was down and when I was up.  He’s stop by the office often during the season and call when the team was on the road and in the off-season.  He expected you to call him, too.  If you didn’t, he’d call and let you know.  He did that to me shortly before last Christmas when he was having difficultly speaking and remembering things.   Under his condition, I was pleased that he chewed me out because he sounded like the “old Vuk”.

He’d get on me about walking every day.  There were many times he’d stick his head in my office door: “Walk!”

So many of us were truly blessed to have been touched by this man.  His time with us was just too short.

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