Terry Puhl

August 7, 2007

There’s no way to pinpoint the moment depicted in this 1980 card, but it seems that Terry Puhl is considering whether to try for the next base or return to the one he’s already crossed. His body language seems to suggest that he’s leaning toward a cautious return rather than a gutsy, barreling, Enos Slaughteresque assault on the extra base. Why take chances? Proceed with caution, avoid mistakes: It’s the proofreaderly way of Terry Puhl, who years after the last of his many error-free games is still the all-time major league leader in fielding percentage for an outfielder.

When I was a kid Terry Puhl was my favorite Astro, which was particularly significant because in the late 1970s and early 1980s the Astros were one of the three National League “mistress” teams that I rendezvoused with periodically in my mind to ease the pain of my marriage to the Boston Red Sox, a marriage that was going through a particularly sour and disillusioning period. The other two teams were the Expos, who played as close to my Vermont home as the Red Sox, and the Mets, who I got to see every summer during visits to see my dad in New York. The relative proximity of the Expos and the familiarity of the Mets explained those two extramarital dabblings. As for the Astros, I suppose I was drawn to them because in their blindingly bright uniforms, in their faraway location, and most especially in their style of play they offered the complete opposite of the gray, slow, plodding, fatally flawed, all-hit, no-pitch, Last Days of Yastrzemski Red Sox.

But for some reason among all the rainbowy tripling Astros I liked the somewhat colorless Terry Puhl the best, and I’m not at all sure why. He hit for a good, but not great, average. He had some power, but not really that much. He stole some bases, enough to have easily led the trudging Red Sox but not nearly enough to make a mark on the league leaders, or even to put him past the top two or three guys on his own team. In 1980 I got my first set of Stratomatic cards, so I began to appreciate that he was also a good, but not great fielder (an above-average “2” in both left and right field, an average “3” in center, with a decent but unspectacular “0” throwing arm), and that he of course hardly ever made an error. He was, I don’t know, the epitome of being pretty good. I don’t know why I would have gravitated toward that. Don’t most kids idolize either superstars or oddball Shlabotnikian benchwarmers? I’m not saying Terry Puhl was my favorite player in the world, because even though my love for the Red Sox had become at best complicated and at worst a joyless march of obligation I still loved them above all else, but in the buoyant fantasy where the entire Red Sox franchise from the remnants of the Yawkey family on down to Gary Allenson and the batboys tragically crash-landed into the Himalayas, leaving me a sports-team widower, Terry Puhl and the Astros would be there to help me learn to live again.

It’s possible I gravitated toward Terry Puhl because I was a very cautious kid. Maybe I’ll write another novel about my childhood someday and call it Portrait of the Proofreader as a Young Man. In it you’ll see me on family downhill skiing outings where my older brother skis fast and wipes out often while I avoid the expert slopes and snowplow down the intermediate hills, crouched and stiff like Terry Puhl on the brink of deciding not to press his luck, as in the above photo. You’ll see my brother at school and elsewhere getting into arguments and fistfights and occasionally even talking to girls and beyond that once in a great while getting to kiss them while I stick to the fringes and gradually master invisibility. The book will open when my brother and I are both very young, the day my brother gets hit by a car and breaks both his legs while running for an ice cream truck. I’m told I was there watching, but I don’t remember this. Maybe it’s one of those repressed memories. If that’s true it may explain in part why I have often retreated to the safe base to wait for someone else to make something happen.


  1. 1.  I played S-O-M in those days, and remember seeing “e0” for Puhl at least one year. I thought that was cool.

    (yeah, easily impressed was I back then …)

  2. 2.  I cheated on my beloved Red Sox back then, too. My mistress was the Padres. Yes, the uniforms were part of it. I also liked that San Diego was in California and the Beach Boys had been “all around this great big world” and their research showed California had the “cutest girls in the world.” I lived in Springfield, MA. The only cute girls I knew were on the Brady Bunch (Alice included…things were bad in my neighborhood).

    I still flirt with the Padres on occasion. But my new mistress is the Brewers. I like the young legs. And Milwaukee has beer. Which I’ve come to learn, if you drink enough of it, all the girls look cute.

  3. 3.  Well, I now have the results here of the interviews and the aptitude tests that you took last week, and from them we’ve built up a pretty clear picture of the sort of person that you are. And I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the ideal job for you is proofreader.

  4. 4.  Nice to see a pure “baseball themed” commentary today. I really like the other areas you venture into-as a regular reader who keeps checking for updates-but sometimes it is nice to keep it simple-this commentary reflect just perfectly that theme.

    I was an APBA and Strato player in the late 70’s and early 80’s also. APBA always had Puhl as a (2) in their ratings. (either you were a (1)slow moving, inept outfielder, think Rusty Staub, a (2) think either the aforementioned Puhl or someone in the Roy White category, the quinessential “decent” outfielder, or the highest rating a (3), Garry Maddox territory.

    I think also Puhl had some big hits in the 1980 classic 5 game NLCS playoffs vs the Phillies, which if my memory serves me(no, I shall not Google this, using actual human memory here), 4 of those games went into extra innings.

    Also, we would be remiss with mentioning the Berman ish nickname, Terry (Swimming) Puhl.

    The best use of “mistress” and the Houston Astros team I can remember since a possible Jim Bouton story in Ball Four after he was traded from the Pilots to the Astros.

  5. 5.  I played APBA, a lot. That 80’s Astros team was a very different animal. All the speed and lack of power. Enos Cabell was the only fast thirdbaseman I can recall off the top of my head. He had 42 steals one year. Great pitching.

  6. 6.  Its funny how the mind plays tricks. I had a vague recollection of Terry Puhl as a particularly poor fielder, that somehow matched up in my mind with him playing out his late career string in Philadelphia. Complete fabrication obviously. Perhaps I’ve mixed him up with Art Howe? Anyway, the overly cautious Puhl actually finished 2nd in the NL in triples in 1982.

  7. 7.  3: Great clip. Cuts a little close to home, maybe, but great nonetheless.

    6: In addition to the triples, Puhl also got thrown out trying to steal more than I would have guessed: 99 times out of 316 attempts in his career.

    Here’s what Bill James has to say about Puhl, who he ranks as the 86th best right fielder in history: “Puhl was a terrific mechanical player, but just didn’t have the power or the arm to be a top-flight right fielder.”

    I wonder what his stats would have looked like if he’d played in Fenway his entire career.

  8. 8.  I remember this card, and the name, but have no memories of the player… Thanks for bringing some color to my memories!

  9. 9.  Interesting article about Terry Puhl.

    We in the Astro Nation regard Terry as one of the quintessential Astros, right up there with Jose Cruz and Craig Biggio in displaying the gut and grittiness that is the team trademark.

    His player page is at http://www.AstrosDaily.com/players/Puhl_Terry.html, if anyone should want to check it out.

    With 15 seasons in the majors and a career .280 batting average, 62 homers, 225 doubles, 435 RBIs, and 217 steals, he acquitted himself well.

    In the outfield, over 1,300 games, his fielding percantage was a phenomenal .993.

    Not Cooperstown material, but a capable professional who did his job extremely well.

    If you want to see how tough he was, check out this link: http://www.AstrosDaily.com/video/1980Clinch1stPuhlScores.mpeg

    Many people don’t know that even though he’s a natural right-hander, he always batted lefty. When I asked him about that one time, he attributed it to his Canadian upbringing, explaining that in ice hockey, many players skate reverse-handed.

    Mr. Puhl stayed in the Houston area after his playing days were over and raised his family there, as many former Astros do.

    Today, he has many business interests, but gives one-on-one baseball lessons to kids at his home. I know this becase he taught my son how to hit and play outfield.

    You couldn’t meet a nicer guy, or a nicer family.

    Darrell Pittman

  10. 10.  9: Thanks a lot for the expert perspective, Darrell. I especially liked the video clip from that great one-game playoff with the Dodgers. My views on these guys are always from a distortingly wide distance, so I love when someone offers a closer look.

  11. 11.  Josh, one of you best entries.

  12. Josh:

    The Astros were not my mistress – they were my one and only. I grew up watching them, living and dying with them and even worked for them for a couple surreal years. In later years, I had the opportunity to do some business with Terry Puhl and forwarded an e-mail he had sent to me to my brother – proof of a shout out from a cardboard god.

    Loved the posts. Based on what I have read, we were born just days apart, and I can completely identify with much of the writing, but return to this site only on occasion. Reading about these players serves as a constant reminder that although life has been good, my child hood dreams did not come true.

  13. I was with you regarding your appreciation of him as being the “epitome of pretty good.” Come to think of it, the Astros as a team in the late-’70s/early-’80s fit that description, giving my team, the 1980 Phils, the most exciting playoff series I’ve ever seen. Puhl was a real pest in that series, as “epitome of pretty good” players can be. The Astros’ current rightfielder, Hunter Pence, appeals to me for all the same reasons.

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