Phillies

From Joe Maddon's lasagna to Pat Burrell's snoring dog, retiring Phillies official Frank Coppenbarger is well equipped with memories

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Photo: Miles Kennedy

From Joe Maddon's lasagna to Pat Burrell's snoring dog, retiring Phillies official Frank Coppenbarger is well equipped with memories

Frank Coppenbarger ordered an iced tea and began telling stories.

"Did I ever tell you the one about ..." he said with a laugh.

This went on for an hour over lunch the other day. It could have gone on for a lot longer because, after a half-century working inside baseball's inner sanctum, Coppenbarger has more stories than Lenny Dykstra had batting gloves.

"Most high-maintenance player I ever had," Coppenbarger said. "You needed an equipment manager just for him. If he was having a bad game, he'd come in and take everything off — uniform, socks, underwear — throw it in the trash and put new stuff on. Sometimes he'd do it after one at-bat. He'd go back to the dugout and we'd fetch all his stuff out of the trash, wash it and hang it back in his locker."

Batting gloves were one of Dysktra's obsessions.

"We had a case we carried the batting gloves in," Coppenbarger said. "One drawer for Lenny, one drawer for the rest of the team. Sometimes he'd use a new pair every at-bat."

Color combinations were crucial to Dykstra.

"If he had a big night wearing red-and-blue gloves, we'd have three pairs on his chair the next day," Coppenbarger said. "He'd walk in the clubhouse and say, 'Red and blue, dude, red and blue.' And we'd say, 'We're ahead of you, Lenny. Already there.'"

The funny thing about Dykstra was that while he was a baseball version of Pig-Pen, the old Charles Schulz character, on the field, his locker was immaculate.

The guy in the next locker — not so much.

"John Kruk had the dirtiest locker," Coppenbarger said. "One year we found an old sandwich in the back. Another year, we found over $20,000 in checks from equipment and cards companies wadded up in there. He'd forgotten about them."

Darren Daulton's locker was a few seats away.

"He would just sit there and take it all in," Coppenbarger said.

What a show it was.

And what a seat Frank Coppenbarger had for all it — 50 years in baseball, including the last 30-plus with the Phillies, first as head equipment manager and then as director of travel and clubhouse services.

• • •

Coppenbarger recently retired from the Phillies. Wednesday was his last official day with the club. No more bats to order, no more planes, trains and automobiles to book, no more uniforms to mend, no more old sandwiches to clean out of the back of lockers.

Just a lot of great memories for a guy who fell in love with being around the game and all its characters as an 11-year-old batboy for the Decatur (Illinois) Commodores, a San Francisco Giants minor-league club, in the Midwest League in 1967.

Roy Coppenbarger kept a scrapbook of his son's first season as the Commodores batboy. One of the clippings, now yellowed with age, recounts an April 28, 1967 game against the Wisconsin Rapids. A young redhead named Charlie Manuel hit a home run to help Wisconsin beat Decatur, 4-3.

Is baseball a small world or what?

Forty-one years later, Coppenbarger was in the dugout, just a few feet from Manuel, when the Phillies won the 2008 World Series. The Phillies threw a big party that night and when it ended, club president David Montgomery looked at this big, gleaming trophy he'd been presented with a few hours earlier. He wanted to make sure it would be kept safe and delivered to the parade two days later. There was only one man for the job.

"Frank, can you take care of this?" Montgomery asked.

Coppenbarger wrapped a seat belt around the trophy and took it home to South Jersey. The next morning, he and the kids ate breakfast with it at the kitchen table and he brought it back over the bridge the next day for the parade.

After his years as batboy in Decatur, Coppenbarger enrolled at Millikin University in 1975. He wanted to teach and coach basketball. Or so he thought. The lure of being around baseball and the ballpark was too much to overcome. He left school and began chasing his dream of working in the majors. He worked in clubhouses out west in the California League and in the midwest in the American Association.

Coppenbarger was the equipment manager with the Angels' Class A Salinas club in the California League in 1978. Chuck Cottier, who 20 years later would work on the Phillies' staff, was the manager. Nowadays, minor-league teams have full coaching staffs. Back then it was just the skipper. He threw all the batting practice and it was quite a load on the ol' flipper. Sometimes Coppenbarger would pick up a round of BP for Cottier. Sometimes Cottier would reward him and let him take some swings.

"Ever want to play pro ball?" Cottier asked Coppenbarger one day.

"Hell, yeah," the young equipment man said.

Salinas finished the season with a doubleheader. Before the second game, Cottier produced a contract for Coppenbarger to sign. He hit third in the game. Joe Maddon, now the popular World Series-winning manager of the Chicago Cubs, was a backup catcher on that team. He hit seventh. Coppenbarger struck out in his only at-bat but he's forever immortalized with his own page of Baseball-Reference.com.

Maddon was a popular chap even back in those days.

"Everyone wanted to room with Joe because he was a great cook," Coppenbarger said. "He'd make these amazing lasagnas from scratch and invite guys over. Before eating, he'd take a Polaroid picture of each lasagna and write the date and all the people who were there on it. I ran into Joe a couple of years ago and he said he still had all of those pictures in an album."

Coppenbarger worked for the Cardinals' Triple A club in Springfield, Illinois for three seasons and moved up to the majors with that team in 1981. He was the Cardinals assistant equipment manager for seven years. He was there when the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series. He was there for Ozzie Smith's home run in the Go Crazy, Folks! game in 1985 and in the visiting dugout packing equipment two weeks later as the Kansas City Royals celebrated winning the World Series the night after umpire Don Denkinger's infamous blown call.

"Man, that was a tough night," he said with a wince.

• • •

In 1988, Cardinals executive Lee Thomas became Phillies general manager. He hired Coppenbarger to run the clubhouse and handle the equipment.

Coppenbarger's Philadelphia scrapbook is full of indelible memories and unforgettable characters.

He recalled being on the tarmac, supervising the packing of the team plane, one Sunday afternoon in San Francisco in May 1989 and seeing Mike Schmidt and manager Nick Leyva having a serious conversation underneath the plane.

"It was very unusual," Coppenbarger said. "I just had a funny feeling something was up. The team wasn't playing very well. Neither was Schmitty."

Once airborne, Leyva let Coppenbarger in on a secret: Schmidt would announce his retirement the next day in San Diego.

"When we landed, I pulled his jersey out of the laundry bag and took it to the hotel with me," Coppenbarger said. "You never know what could happen. I didn't want the last jersey Mike Schmidt would wear to disappear."

Two years later, he found himself running around Olympic Stadium in Montreal trying to secure a few bottles of champagne so the team could celebrate Tommy Greene's no-hitter. As the players were celebrating the no-hitter moments after the final out, Roger McDowell arranged for one of the attendants in the visiting clubhouse to go in the back room and get on the telephone and pretend to be the Canadian Prime Minister calling to congratulate Greene.

Coppenbarger still bubbles with laughter telling the story.

"Tommy was on the phone being very reverent," he said. "He says, 'Thank you so much, Sir, it's an honor to do this in Canada.' Meanwhile, the guy on the other end of the phone is 10 feet away behind a partition and the guys in the clubhouse are howling."

Greene was a 16-game winner on the 1993 National League championship team.

Like everybody else, Coppenbarger loved the cast of loonies on that team, but, "Oh, my god, they were nuts," he said.

One day that spring, Dale Murphy, the former two-time MVP with an altar boy's purity, thought Kruk was getting out of line on a team bus. Murphy, who would be traded later that spring, politely asked Kruk to cool it. He did it a second time to no avail. Finally, Murphy rose on the bus and said, "John, if you don't knock it off, I'm going to come back there and bop you one."

"Who says, 'I'm going to bop you one?'" Coppenbarger said with a laugh. "It was so Murph.

"And that bus got as quiet as a church."

The players on that '93 team liked to stay in the clubhouse into the wee hours of the morning after games.

"They'd have a few beers and talk about the game," Coppenbarger said. "It was their way of bonding, one of the things that made them special.

"But sometimes they'd be there until 3 in the morning and I was the guy responsible for putting the chain on the door. I wanted to go home."

Finally, Coppenbarger came up with a solution. Workers blew out a wall from the clubhouse into the tunnel at Veterans Stadium and installed a door with a crash bar.

"Let yourself out, boys, I'm going home," Coppenbarger told those late-night Phillies with great glee.

He knew that was going to be a special team as far back as spring training. He could see it all coming together. Daulton drove in 100 runs the year before. Curt Schilling was emerging. There was a chemistry building.

And that chemistry extended from the coaches room to the broadcast booth. Coppenbarger enjoyed a great friendship with the late John Vukovich and still does with Larry Bowa and Chris Wheeler. Coppenbarger misses the way Vuke used to torment Wheeler.

"Wheels used to carry a briefcase," he said. "Vuke would steal it and put it out behind second base during batting practice. Wheels would have to tip-toe out there to get it while guys would be trying to bomb him with line drives."

• • •

Coppenbarger watched from the front row as the nucleus of Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard came together to form a World Series winner. He can still hear Elvis, Burrell's bulldog, snoring under his desk during games. Coppenbarger loved that pooch so much that he ordered it a dog collar with a big replica of a 2008 World Series ring on it.

Utley was the most prepared player Coppenbarger ever encountered.

"He'd spend hours in the video room," he said. "And after his knee problems, he'd do whatever it took to get on the field."

Utley quickly won the admiration of Roy Halladay when the Hall of Fame pitcher arrived in 2010. Halladay was a serious guy who didn't mess around much, but he had a remote-control helicopter that he'd bring to the clubhouse now and then. One of Coppenbarger's duties was to pass out the paychecks on the first and 15th of each month. On one payday, Coppenbarger was looking for Howard, who was in the back room eating lunch.

"Give me that," Halladay said.

The pitcher taped Howard's paycheck to the helicopter, flew it into the back room and landed it right in front of Howard's plate. That was some big airmail.

"Roy didn't laugh much but he laughed his ass off that day," Coppenbarger said.

There was no laughing, however, when Cliff Lee decided to eschew the police-escorted team bus and take a taxi to Game 1 of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium. Coppenbarger, everyone's problem-solver, got a call from Lee about two hours before the game, long after the team had arrived at the park.

"I was on the field for batting practice," Coppenbarger said. "I thought he was calling from the trainer's room and maybe there was a problem with tickets or something."

Lee was stuck in traffic. He hadn't moved in 20 minutes. He was worried about making the game on time.

"Find a police officer and tell him who you are," Coppenbarger suggested.

Lee could not find a cop so he jumped on the subway and found his way to the stadium by following hordes of Yankees fans. But this was the first year of the new Yankee Stadium. Lee had never been there before. He could not find the players' entrance.

He called Coppenbarger again.

"Wait by the McDonald's and we'll send someone up for you," he told the anxious pitcher.

Of course, Lee pitched nine walk-free innings and struck out 10 for the win that night. To this day, Coppenbarger is not sure what amazes him more, that feat, or the fact that he was able to keep all the pre-game anxiety from the skipper, Manuel, the man that he'd first crossed paths with back in 1967 as an 11-year-old batboy in the Midwest League.

Those were the days when Coppenbarger's passion for the game and all its characters came to life.

"All I wanted to do was find a way to work my way through baseball and get to the big leagues," he said, finishing off that ice tea.

A half-century later, he heads off to retirement with two World Series rings and one heck of a scrapbook.

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5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

We've taken many strolls down Memory Lane during baseball's shutdown, but maybe not one as sad and ugly as this one.

Or, frankly, as humorous.

We're nearing the five-year anniversary of the low point of one of the most dreadful seasons in Phillies history.

Remember 2015? Ninety-nine (bleeping) losses. A season so bad it made Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg run away and hide.

Remember June 16 in Baltimore, the night that sorry season went from bad to completely off the hook?

Literally.

Jeff Francoeur remembers.

And not only because his left butt cheek hurt so much when it was all over.

Truth be told, even though the Phillies lost by the embarrassing score of 19-3 to the Orioles that night to complete their worst road trip in 132 years — yes, 132 — and even though the pitching coach and the team's star player almost dropped the gloves on the mound, Francoeur had a blast.

And he let that be known in the dugout after the seventh inning.

"I told the guys, 'Hey, I'm the only one to put up a donut tonight," the likable former Phillie recalled with a laugh on our Phillies Talk podcast recently. "It was a horrible road trip, the end of a bad time, yet it was kind of funny how it was able to play out. I still laugh when I think about it."

Francoeur spent a dozen years roaming the outfield for eight different big-league teams. Like many top baseball-playing athletes, he pitched in high school and dreamed of taking the mound just one time in the majors.

He was a reserve player during his one season in Philadelphia and more than once in that dismal campaign had reminded skipper Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure that he was available for bullpen duty if the team was having a particularly bad night at the office.

"We lost quite a few games in blowout fashion that year, so I was always kind of begging, 'Let me go in the game, let me go in the game,'" Francoeur recalled. "Ryno, to his defense, and I thought it was great, he never really wanted position players to pitch. He'd say, 'We've got enough arms to cover it.'"

But on June 16, 2015, as his team was on its way to completing an 0-8 road trip and his time as Phillies manager was nearing an end, Sandberg was forced to ditch his policy of not using position players on the hill. Jerome Williams had gotten torched and injured in the first inning and the Phillies had rolled through three relievers in the first six innings. 

In the fifth inning, Sandberg sidled up to Francoeur in the dugout.

"You still volunteering?" the manager asked.

"Absolutely!" the wannabe pitcher exclaimed.

As a player, Francoeur had a personal policy of putting his phone away and not checking it when he arrived at the ballpark for his workday. But on this night, he broke his own rule. After learning from Sandberg that he would pitch the seventh inning, he tiptoed into the clubhouse, pulled out his phone and called his wife, Catie, who was watching the game back in Philadelphia.

Catie, who knew her husband would never be near his phone at the ballpark, saw the number pop up and answered the phone in a panic.

"Don't worry," Jeff whispered. "Call my parents, get the DVR ready, I'm coming in the game to pitch."

Francoeur headed to the bullpen in the top of the seventh to warm up. Though he had pitched in high school and once in Triple A, this was different.

"My heart was pounding a mile a minute," he said.

He entered the game in the bottom of the inning. It was hardly a high leverage situation. The Phils trailed by a footballish score of 17-3. The Orioles' line score to that point looked like this: 6 3 3 1 1 3.

So, of course, Francoeur, throwing in the low 90s, had a 1-2-3 inning, the Phillies' first and only one of the night.

Looking for another quick inning, Sandberg sent Francoeur out for the eighth. That's when things went off the hook. Literally. Francoeur gave up a homer to Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles' eighth bomb of the game, then had trouble throwing strikes. He hit a batter. Walked a couple. His pitch count was soaring. Sandberg and McClure wanted to get someone up in the bullpen but they couldn't because the bullpen phone was off the hook. It wasn't until someone in the 'pen noticed McClure waving a white flag that the phone was put back on the hook.

By this time, Francoeur was laboring on the mound and Chase Utley was getting pissed. McClure went to the mound and was joined there by the entire infield. Utley, in no uncertain words, expressed his displeasure for what was going on and the way Francoeur was being pushed. Francoeur said he had one more hitter in him. He got that hitter and the inning — and the ordeal — mercifully ended with two runs in.

Five years later, the image of Utley giving McClure an earful is still fresh.

Was it as tense as it looked?

"Oh, it was worse than that," Francoeur said. "There were probably seven F-bombs in it. I thought those two were about to go right there on the mound. I said, 'This is all we need.' I remember I looked at Chase and thanked him for coming to my defense. I looked at Bob and I said, 'Look, this is my last hitter here,' and luckily, somehow, I got out of that inning. I still don't know how, but I did.

"To Bob's defense, he knew it. He said, 'We've let this get out of control.' But at that point, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself right there on the mound at Camden Yards. My first inning, that was phenomenal. The eighth inning, I had that coming and I take full responsibility for it."

The clubhouse was tense after that loss, the Phillies' 20th in a 25-game stretch. There were rumblings that big changes were coming, that Andy MacPhail was about to be hired as club president — and, indeed, he was. Sandberg called the loss "ugly," and added, "I almost don't know what to say." McClure denied any friction with Utley. Utley didn't make himself available to reporters after the game.

Francoeur, an upbeat, positive soul, was all of that after the game. His arm was fine. He said he had no issues with anyone and said the Phillies owed the Orioles an ass-whuppin' the next night in Philadelphia.

The Phillies lost that game, too.

Nine days later, Sandberg, worn down by the losing, resigned from the job.

Francoeur played out the rest of the season with the Phillies and was passionate about the team avoiding 100 losses. That is still one of his takeaways from the season. That and the sore left butt cheek.

"Two hours after the game, my left butt cheek was killing me from landing 48 times," he said with a laugh. "I could hardly even get off the train back in Philly.

"But I am the only one who put up a goose egg that night."

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