They can still fool all of Greg Luzinski some of the time, and some of Luzinski almost all of the time, but that is no longer enough, or even advisable. These days the Phillies' fully matured Bull looms at the plate like a double-knit aerostat strayed from a Mummers' Parade and even bats in runs with singles.
It is only mildly surprising that the 24-year-old Luzinski leads the majors in home runs (26) and RBIs (84). Except for last year, when injuries kept him out of 77 games, he had been developing into one of baseball's most feared sluggers. In 1972, his first full season with the Phillies, he had 18 homers and 68 runs batted in. In 1973 his totals were 29 and 97.
What is astonishing is that Luzinski might finish this season with fewer strikeouts than RBIs and that he is among the National League's top batters with a .316 average. In fact, Luzinski has 69 one-base hits, even though at 6'1" and 225 pounds (when he diets), he appears to be anything but a singles hitter.
Luzinski looks like a linebacker or a fullback, positions he played well enough at high school in Niles, Ill.—enough to be recruited by USC and Kansas. He chose baseball instead, but retained a tendency to rely on strength and forget finesse. Hence those long balls. And those strikeouts.
Luzinski's arrival as the majors' most prolific slugger and an accomplished all-round hitter can be attributed at least in part to Dick Allen's return to Philadelphia. Allen gave the Phils another right-handed bopper who, along with 1974 home-run champ Mike Schmidt, could bat behind Luzinski and thus force opponents to pitch to the Bull. Allen also brought along his expertise on batting.
As a young slugger a decade ago, Allen had channeled his own superabundance of power by "thinking in terms of a two-base hit" every time he came to bat. Now he reminds Luzinski to do the same. "Remember your zone," Allen cautions as Luzinski goes to the plate. "Make him be in your zone," he reminds him again from the on-deck circle.
In baseball terminology, a batter's "zone" is that area of the strike zone through which he swings most effectively. With fewer than two strikes on him, he can concentrate on his zone and ignore pitches that do not transect it. Zoning is a technique used primarily by power hitters, since singles batters, who have tighter swings, ideally can go for any pitches reasonably close to the plate and punch or pull them to various parts of the field.
"Dick figures my zone is below my hands," says Luzinski. "I'm supposed to have trouble with the high pitch." And that is just how teams used to work on him. "We'd pitch him high and higher," says Astro Manager Preston Gomez, "then throw him low—anything low—and strike him out. But no more."
In the month before the All-Star break, Luzinski seemed to have the entire league zoned. During that stretch he hit 13 homers and had 36 RBIs. In the 11 games since then, he has had only one home run and driven across five runs. But at the same time, Luzinski has demonstrated his new maturity as a hitter. Pitchers now fear him so much that even the presence of Allen and Schmidt does not prevent them from working extra carefully to Luzinski. He has 11 walks in those 11 games, and since he has seen few pitches in his zone, Luzinski has been content to hit singles and raise his average four points. Clearly, he is no longer a man to fool with.