BY DON SCOTT
Bob Boone, son of Ray and father of former major leaguers Aaron and Brett, was one of the guest speakers at the recent 53rd annual Reading Hot Stovers banquet. Also at the dais were long-time Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone and ex-Phillies and current Detroit bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer.
“Bret’s son, Jake, a freshman in high school, is a pretty good player,” Boone said about the possibility of a fourth generation Boone making the big time. “He’s been told ‘don’t come home and say you want to quit baseball. You’ve got no chance.’ There’s more pressure on him than there was on any of us.”
Bob Booone, a four-time All-Star catcher who started his career as a third baseman, did the opposite of his father, who started behind the plate before moving to the hot corner.
Reading was his home briefly, in 1970 and 1971, playing more games at third and shortstop before advancing to the Triple-A level in Eugene, where his manager was former Phillies catcher Andy Seminick.
“I always say Andy gave me two years of experience in that one year then I got a September call-up and became the No. 1 catcher in 1973,” Boone said.
“People ask me why I became a catcher.” Boone added. “I had been around the game my whole life and had all the tools of a catcher. I had good hands with a real strong arm, plus I was incredibly fast, this far (holding his hands about two feet apart). At third, I had that same speed for that distance, but nothing after that!
“I tease Philly fans saying ‘it was not only a blessing for me to become a catcher, but it was great for them because if I hadn’t changed they wouldn’t know who Mike Schmidt is’.”
Now the assistant General Manager, Vice President of Player Development for the Washington Nationals, who is basically in charge of their minor league system, Boone said it really took 10 years for the Phillies to be as successful as they were in the 1970s, and to win the 1980 World Series.
“(Larry) Bowa went up in ’71, (Greg) Luzinski in ’72, (Steve) Carlton came in ’72 and Schmidt and I were there in ’73,” said Boone. “Along the way we added young pitchers like Larry Christenson, Dick Ruthven, Tommy Underwood and we already had Jim Lonborg. Paul Owens brought in Tug McGraw, Ron Reed, Gene Garber, Gary Maddox, Bake McBride, and ultimately Pete Rose.
“When we played the Reds (1976), we weren’t ready for them,” Boone continued. “We lost to the Dodgers two years in a row (1977-78) with a team that was as good as the ’80 team when we got the breaks we needed. Back then it was five-game playoffs when we beat Houston that was probably the best one ever with four, one-run games.”
After spending 10 years (1972-81) with the Phillies, Boone was sent to the California Angels for a seven-year stay, then ended his career with one-plus seasons in Kansas City.
“They sent me out like I was dead, but in my heart I still say I’m a Phillie,” said Boone, “but not too often now since I’m with Washington.”
Looking back at the 2013 season, Boone pointed out that the Nationals were probably the best team in baseball the last six weeks.
“I think we realized that and are real confident about the team we’ll have this year,” said Boone. “Now we know the foibles of getting through 162 games. It isn’t always the best team that gets there at the end. You need a lot of breaks and luck so we feel good about this year and the future.”
As a former player and now on the business side of the game, when asked for his take on the Alex Rodriguez situation, he replied: “I don’t think guys felt resentful about PEDs at first, until they realized those using had a better chance. Now Major League Baseball has done a tremendous job in getting it as controlled as you possibly can, but it will never be completely controlled. There are always scientists finding ways to get around the testing. Players are now starting to feel guys are cheating “me”, which is a lot different than in the past.
“I’m glad I’m not in a position to have to make a decision,” continued Boone, “but I think now it’s at a point where players will want guys out of baseball forever if they break the rules. The system is morphing and I believe that’s where it is headed.”
He concluded with: “I was a union guy, but the fear was always about the leaks of testing, not the testing itself. If there is a false testing, how do we protect them? But we’re pretty much over that now.
“As an example, if a backup catcher knows he’s going to be released and he puts something in my coffee where I test positive. That’s what I mean about a false positive. I feel the testing will get stronger but so will then penalties,” he added.