Phillies Philography: Bob Boone
The Philography series highlights the careers of some of the most interesting and important figures in Philadelphia Phillies history.
The Philadelphia Phillies franchise was founded in 1883. Since 1978, the club has honored the greatest individual contributors to its success with a place on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
There are club executives and beloved broadcasters on the Wall. And of course, there are dozens of players.
The players on the Wall range from 19th century trailblazers to 20th century Hall of Famers to 21st century superstars.
But of those players, only two played the position of catcher. One of those was Bob Boone, selected to the Wall in 2005.
Boone was the seventh player from the 1980 World Series champions to be so honored. He thus joined Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Tug McGraw, Greg Luzinski, and Garry Maddox on the Wall of Fame.
A native of San Diego, Boone played there at Crawford High School. He would then become the Phillies sixth round selection in the 1969 MLB Amateur Draft as a third baseman out of Stanford University.
BOONE DEVELOPS WITH THE PHILLIES
As an advanced 21-year old, Boone made his pro debut that summer with the Phillies rookie level team in the Florida State League North. He was promoted quickly to A-level Raleigh-Durham in the Carolina League where he hit .300 over 325 plate appearances that summer.
In 1970, as the Phillies were closing out Connie Mack Stadium, Boone reached AA Reading. With 23-year old Don Money emerging as a strong player at the hot corner for the big league club, the Phils decided to convert Boone to the catcher position that summer.
Boone would repeat the 1971 season at Reading, still learning the ropes behind the plate as the Phillies opened up their shining new home at Veteran’s Stadium in South Philly.
The 1972 season would prove to be his big breakout campaign. Boone hit .308 with a .363 on-base percentage at AAA Eugene, banging 17 home runs with 32 doubles, 67 RBI, and 77 runs scored.
For that strong performance, Boone received his first promotion to the big leagues that September.
BOONE BEGINS HIS BIG LEAGUE CAREER
His first game came on a Sunday afternoon at The Vet. The date was September 10, 1972, and Boone entered in the bottom of the 7th as a pinch-hitter for starting catcher Mike Ryan. There he began his career by unceremoniously striking out against Chicago Cubs reliever Joe Decker.
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In that 1972 season, the Phillies had juggled their catching position between a trio of veterans, Ryan, Tim McCarver, and John Bateman, all of whom were aging into their 30’s. By the following year, Boone was the starter, and only Ryan remained to back him up.
Boone played in 145 games for the Phillies in his first full big league season of 1973. Over 575 plate appearances as a 25-year old he batted .261 with 10 homers, 20 doubles, and 61 RBI. For that performance he finished third in the 1973 National League Rookie of the Year voting behind Gary Matthews and Steve Rogers.
This was the official beginning of what would become one of the longest, most successful careers of any catcher in Major League Baseball history. Boone would be a starting catcher every season from that 1973 right through the 1989 campaign.
With the Phillies emerging as a contender in the mid-1970’s, the club decided to bring in veteran left-handed hitting catcher Johnny Oates to platoon with Boone in the 1975 season. It very nearly caused Boone to quit the game for medical school.
BOONE STARTS AS PHILLIES EMERGE
The Phils would finish a strong 86-76 in 1975, just 6.5 games behind the first place Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL East race. With a strong, young team entering the Bicentennial year of 1976, the Phillies became divisional favorites. Boone was reinstated as the unquestioned full-timer behind the dish.
The Phillies would capture each of the next three NL East crowns. The club won what was then a franchise record 101 games in both 1976 and 1977. Boone would become an NL All-Star for the first time in ’76, an honor that he would repeat with the Phillies in both 1978 and 1979.
Having taken well to the catching position, Boone developed during those years into one of the best defensive backstops in the game. In both 1978 and 1979 he would win the NL Gold Glove Award for the position.
PHILLIES AND BOONE FINALLY WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP
Despite entrenching himself as an All-Star caliber player at the big league level while playing for a perennial contender, Boone and the Phillies were unable to win a championship. In 1979 the team faded to a fourth place finish, and there was much talk that perhaps their window had closed.
But in 1980 under firebrand manager Dallas Green, the Phillies would fight their way back to the top of the NL East. Boone would, in fact, provide a pivotal hit as the club clinched the NL East crown. And this time would prove different in the postseason.
First, the Fightin’ Phils battled past the tough Houston Astros in what may be the greatest NLCS ever played. Then the Phillies fought off the talented Kansas City Royals to win the first World Series championship in franchise history.
Boone was an integral part of that World Series club. He batted .314 in the 1980 postseason, including .412 in the Fall Classic. He had three hits, including two doubles and two RBI, as the Phils won the opener by a 7-6 score. Boone then registered hits in each of the final four games of the six game series.
FINAL PAGE IN PHILADELPHIA
Still, Boone would be 31 years old in the 1981 season. And the Phillies now appeared to have his heir apparent ready to take over. Keith Moreland was 26 years old and had hit .314 in what was his official rookie season in 1980.
While the Phillies captured the first-half title during the strike-affected 1981 split-season, Boone and Moreland were basically splitting the catching duties.
By the time that the NLDS rolled around that October against the Montreal Expos, Moreland had taken over as the starter. The redhead started the first four games of that series, in fact.
It was only in the decisive Game Five that Green opted to go back to his veteran. In what would prove to be his final game in a Phillies uniform, Boone went 0-3. Rogers shut out the Phillies 3-0, giving Montreal their only playoff series victory.
BOONE HEADS WEST TO CALIFORNIA
Feeling that the 33-year old Boone was nearly finished, the Phillies sold him to the California Angels on December 6, 1981. Boone would demonstrate over the rest of the decade that his amazing career was actually just beginning a second act.
In California from 1982-88, Boone came under the guidance of former Phillies manager Gene Mauch. The resilient veteran Boone would be the starting catcher for each of his next seven seasons. Boone would add an AL All-Star appearance and four more Gold Gloves to his career resumé.
In both 1982 and 1986, the Angels would capture the AL West crown and advance to the ALCS. However, the Halos fell just short of a World Series appearance in heartbreaking fashion each time.
In the 1982 American League Championship Series they blew a 2-0 lead as the Milwaukee Brewers rallied to take three straight games.
In the 1986 American League Championship Series, the Angels led the Boston Red Sox by 3-1 in the series, and took a 5-2 lead into the top of the 9th inning of Game Five. But Boston, down to their last strike, rallied in dramatic fashion. The Red Sox would win in 11 innings, then blow the Angels out in the next two games to capture the series.
That November, Boone became a free agent for the first time. The Angels had a good thing going, and re-signed him to a three-year contract at more than $2.6 million total dollars.
BOONE ENDS HIS CAREER IN KANSAS CITY
In October of 1988, Boone became a free agent once again. This time the Royals offered him $1 more than he had been making in California, and Boone took that sign of respect and left.
Boone would finish out his career in Kansas City, adding a final Gold Glove Award to his mantle in the 1989 season.
At age 42 in the 1990 season, Boone was finally relegated to a backup role, and with a last place Royals squad, behind 26-year old Mike Macfarlane.
September 27, 1990 would prove to be Boone’s final game. Fittingly it came against the Angels. On a Thursday night at Anaheim Stadium, Boone went 2-3.
In the top of the 7th inning against one the game’s great feel-good stories, left-hander Jim Abbott, Boone delivered an RBI single in his final big league at-bat.
As if wanting to say goodbye to the game with a fun flourish, Boone still had a final surprise for those in attendance. With just 38 career steals over parts of 19 seasons, Boone took off for second base. As might be expected, he was unsuccessful, as Angels catcher Lance Parrish gunned the throw to second baseman Johnny Ray.
He would continue on, catching the bottom of the 7th and 8th. Starting pitcher Hector Wagner, a 21-year old Dominican right-hander, would be the last pitcher that he would handle in the big leagues.
END OF A LONG AND GLORIOUS PLAYING CAREER
Boone decided to try to come back in the 1991 season with the Seattle Mariners. However, he was released during spring training, bringing his playing career to its official end.
Boone finished with a .254/.315/.346 slash line. He recorded 1,838 hits with 303 doubles, 105 home runs, and 826 RBI. He won seven Gold Glove Awards, and was a 4x All-Star. Boone received MVP votes with both the Phillies in 1978 and the Angels in 1982.
In a nice piece on Boone’s career for the LA Times in 1992, Bob Nightengale quoted him:
“I think it’s hard for people to believe this,” Boone said per Nightengale, “but I went out exactly the way I wanted. I told myself years ago I was going to wring it out until the absolute end. And the end is when I can’t get employment. Some guys want to dictate how their career ends. They want their farewell tour. But I never wanted a Mike Schmidt press conference, the tears, and all that. You’ve got to understand, I was never in it for the glory. I was an aberration. God blessed me with skills that didn’t deteriorate. And now, I can leave with a certain satisfaction that I did my job for a long time, and I did it well. I did it the right way. And I take great pride in that.”
BOONIE THE SKIPPER
One of the smartest and most respected men in the game, Boone wasn’t out of it for long. He caught on as a coach, and by 1995 was named the Royals manager. He would serve in that role for parts of three seasons, and again for parts of three seasons with the Cincinnati Reds from 2001-03.
Boone finished with a 371-444 record as a skipper between the two organizations, never guiding a winning team. His best finish as manager was the 70-74 second place finish of his first Royals team in 1995.
Boone remains in baseball, however. He is currently the Assistant General Manager and VP of Player Development with the Washington Nationals.
Boone is also a part of one of baseball’s few three-generation families. His father, Ray Boone, was an infielder who played for six clubs between 1948-60. Two of his sons, Aaron Boone and Bret Boone, reached the Majors. Aaron played from 1997-2009, and Bret from 1992-2005.
This “Philography” is the continuation of a series which I began in October of 2014. The Boone piece marks the 15th in the series, which will continue in January with the other catcher on the Phillies Wall of Fame, Mike Lieberthal.
Each of the previous pieces can be viewed at the following link: