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Yesterday: Leap Year memories

Another leap year is past us, and I always associate it with a girl who was in my elementary school class who was born on Feb. 29.

As far as sports, the major association with leap years is with the Summer Olympics that happen every four years.

In reference to pro and college sports, there have been just a few events over the years. One of the main events involved the Flyers in their inaugural year of 1967-68 when Leon Rochefort became the team’s first 20-goal scorer.

Also, this marks the time when spring training shifts to a higher gear and talk begins to generate about some of the Phillies’ budding stars for the prospective year.

In this week’s version of my Yesterday column - reminiscing about sports and pop culture from the 1960s, 70s, 80s and sometimes before and beyond - I’ll look back at a collection of tidbits from some of the “leap” years, as well as some of the past predicted budding stars from spring training pasts.

Leap-Yearonomics ... Both seasons that the Phillies won the World Series - 1980 and 2008 - were Leap Years.

Along the same lines, the Phillies have made the playoffs only three Leap Years in their 16-year playoff history. Aside from their two championships, their 1976 playoff appearance ended in a three-game sweep by the Reds in the NLCS.

Swinging Seventies’ Sizzle Sliders ... The Phillies’ 70s youth movement of Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, and Denny Doyle made their way through the minors to the parent club to establish a solid base.

But how about some of those who were ticketed for a spot and their trek derailed along the way?

There was outfielder Bryon Browne, who was picked up in the Curt Flood trade and never lived up to his expectations as a veteran presence. Browne’s final three years were with the Phils from 1970-72, and he hit .237 with just 13 homers and 41 RBIs.

Along with Browne, fellow outfielder Roger Freed - who was the right fielder at the Vet opener in 1971 - came over from the Orioles as a projected home-run hitter. Freed’s stint was short, as he hit .222 with 12 homers in two years.

Joe Lis (remember him?) was a prominent first-base/outfield prospect in the chain. He came up in 1970 and was gone after the 1972 season when he was traded - along with pitchers Ken Sanders and Ken Reynolds (see below) - to the Twins for Cesar Tovar, who was one of the biggest veteran player busts for the team.

Lis hit just .223 in his three seasons, and his 1973 campaign was his most prominent when he hit .245 with nine homers as a regular.

How about catcher Pete Koegel? The burly 6-6, 215-pound catcher came over from the Brewers for outfielder John Briggs in April 1971. Unfortunately, Koegel - another billed power hitter - played in only 53 games in two years and hit .173.

Do you remember Mike Anderson? He was the outfielder with a rifle arm and downward slant swing who was also seen as a sure investment as the team’s first-round draft pick in 1969.

Anderson lasted six seasons until he was traded to the Cardinals in the Bake McBride deal. He hit. 246 with 12 homers and 102 RBIs, but was a consistent pinch-hitter. Anderson returned to the Phils in 1979 as a reserve and hit .231 in 79 games.

Back in the late 1960s, Gary Sutherland was a middle infielder who had plenty of promise. Sutherland spent parts of the 1966 through 68 seasons with the Phils, hitting .255 overall. He was picked up by the Expos in their 1969 expansion draft, and managed a 13-year career.

Pitching Phailures ... On the mound, the Phillies have had their share of promising arms that quickly deteriorated. In the early 70s, there was a plethora of them that once appeared to form a young core.

Dave Downs was a 6-6, 220-pound right-hander who burst onto the scene in September of 1972 after an impressive spring training and minor league season. Downs pitched in four games, but arm injuries soon ended his career.

Aside from Downs, there were right-handers Barry Lersch, Lowell Palmer, and Billy Champion along with left-hander Ken Reynolds - all of whom were targeted as long-term solutions for that early 70s staff. All of them struggled mightily in Phillies’ pinstripes.

Then there’s left-handed pitcher Mike Martin, a former 1970 top pick, who could also play first base. Martin made it to Triple-A Eugene in 1973, but his career tumbled backward due to injuries and a lack of production. He never made it to the majors and was done in the minors by 1978.

Does right-hander Ron Diorio ring a bell? He came up in the 1973 season and then made the 1974 club. However, he was sent back to the minors to make room for Mike Rogodzinski - another outfielder who never panned out - who came off the disabled list. Unfortunately, Diorio was caught in a numbers game in spring training the following year and released.

Spring Shopping With The Sarge ... Without any doubts, the Phillies best spring training swap was the Steve Carlton-Rick Wise trade in February of 1972.

Yet, Gary “The Sarge” Matthews was involved in two Phillies deals. He came to the Phils from Atlanta in March of 1981 for pitcher Bob Walk. “Sarge” then signed a five-year extension with the Phils, but his time was short-lived.

Matthews was traded to the Cubs - along with Bob Dernier and Porfi Altamirano - from the Phillies to the Cubs for Bill Campbell and Mike Diaz in March of 1984. He was a key contributor to the Cubs’ NL Eastern Division title in 1984, batting .291 with 101 runs scored.

Turntable Terribles ... Staying in the 70s - 1972 to be exact - some of the worst rated songs were “Puppy Love” by Donny Osmond (I remember that one from my middle school dances) and “Rockin’ Robin” by Michael Jackson. Or “One Tin Soldier” (Rides Away, ring a bell?) by Coven.

On the other side, some of the top chart toppers were “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack, and the legendary “American Pie” by Don McLean.

WWF Wrestler Wrap ... Each week, I look back at a former WWF standout from our yesterday.

Do you remember Antonio Rocca? He was a standout in the 50s and 60s and mostly wrestled in bare feet. The Italian wrestler also held Argentinean citizenship, and he was famous for his “Argentine backbreaker (also known in modern terms as the “Human Torture Rack”). Rocca never held a title, but he was one of the more popular wrestlers.

I recalled him being a color commentator with Vince McMahon on the WWF broadcasts in the 70s and 80s.

Memory Lane ... Each week, I look back at a former athlete, coach, manager, or media personality from our yesterday. In keeping with the Leap Year theme, here is an athlete who was born in 1960.

Do you remember former Phillie Jeff Stone? The highly-touted, fleet outfielder never lived up to expectations throughout his five-year Phillies’ career. During his time with the Phils, Stone stole 68 bases and hit .291 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs.

Stone also spent a year in Baltimore, two in Boston, and one in Texas. Over his eight-year career, Stone hit .277 with 85 stolen bases, 11 homers and 72 RBIs. He never hit another homer outside of his Phillies’ days and drove in just eight more runs.

Mark your calendars for another Leap Year in 2028. Maybe another Phillies championship will follow the pattern.

And by the way, happy _ Leap Year birthday (you shouldn’t state a woman’s age), Terry (Marchak) Keller.

Feedback ... Your comments, ideas, and thoughts are always welcomed at tnsports@tnonline.com