Vukovich dies at 59; won Series rings with Phils, Reds

Updated: March 8, 2007, 7:40 PM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- John Vukovich, the longest-serving coach in Philadelphia Phillies history and a member of their only World Series championship team in 1980, died Thursday. He was 59.

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For those of us in this world who were lucky enough to have our lives intersect with a beautiful man named John Vukovich, it feels as if we just lost Ted Williams, Jayson Stark writes. Blog

Vukovich, who had been suffering from complications caused by an inoperable brain tumor, died in a Philadelphia-area hospital, the team said in a statement.

A first-round draft choice by Philadelphia in 1966, Vukovich, who served short stints as manager with Philadelphia and the Chicago Cubs, spent the last 19 years with the Phillies. He also won a World Series ring with the Cincinnati Reds in 1975.

From 1988-2004 he was a Phillies coach, and at the end of the 1988 season was interim manager for nine games.

During the 2001 season he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor that was surgically removed and treated with radiation therapy.

John Vukovich

He returned to the field that season as third base coach. After the 2004 season, he accepted a position in the front office as a special assistant to general manager Ed Wade. Vukovich also was Philadelphia's spring training coordinator until 2004 and an assistant last season under new general manager Pat Gillick.

"I watched him grow up in baseball, give every ounce of himself to reach his goal in the major leagues and stay there."
-- Dallas Green, manager of the 1980 world champion Phillies

Late last year, Vukovich experienced persistent headaches and other symptoms. He was hospitalized in mid-January, although his family and close friends kept his condition guarded at his request. It was the first time he missed spring training in nearly four decades.

The team will wear a black patch bearing Vukovich's nickname, "Vuk," for the upcoming season.

"Since the day he signed with us in 1966, 'Vuk' devoted himself to baseball and the Phillies," team president Dave Montgomery said. "Today we lost our good friend and a special member of our Phillies family."

A utility infielder, Vukovich was a career .161 hitter in 10 big league seasons. He played 49 games in 1980, when the Phillies won their only World Series title. He had two stints with Philadelphia (1970-71, 1976-81), and played for Milwaukee and Cincinnati.

He retired in 1981 and went straight into coaching with the Cubs. Vukovich was an interim manager for the Cubs in 1986 and rejoined the Phillies organization in 1988. He went 5-4 as their interim manager that season.

"I watched him grow up in baseball, give every ounce of himself to reach his goal in the major leagues and stay there," said Phillies senior adviser Dallas Green, who was the manager of the Phillies' 1980 World Series championship team. "I respected him for his baseball knowledge, dedication to the game and the Phillies, his loyalty to his managers and organizations, his honesty and his work ethic. He was one of the best baseball men I've ever been around."

No one coached the Phillies for as many years as Vukovich. He won the inaugural Dallas Green Special Achievement award in 2004 for setting a Phillies record by coaching 17 seasons.

"He liked having an effect on players," said Boston manager Terry Francona, who had Vukovich on his staff during his four years as Phillies manager. "It's confusing, just hard to understand sometimes. I catch myself today starting to enjoy the game and remind myself maybe I shouldn't be."

Former Phillies pitcher and current Boston Red Sox Curt Schilling said Vukovich played an important role in his life and career.

"John was an incredibly integral part of my life, my career and a very, very close friend of mine," Schilling said. ``Life was very simple for him because the answer to every problem was just keep pushing.''

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press