Spring Training 1976: Red Sox bid farewell to Rico Petrocelli

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The quest to put things right for the Boston Red Sox following the heartbreak of falling to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1975 World Series opened with what many in New England may consider a betrayal. After playing his entire career in a Red Sox uniform, 32-year-old Rico Petrocelli had his hopes of finishing his career in Boston dashed in the offseason’s first major trade. To add insult to injury, the fan-favorite third baseman was dealt to the team that ended the Red Sox hopes of winning their first world championship since 1918.

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Indianapolis 3B Rico Petrocelli

The Petrocelli deal brought minor-league second baseman Joel Youngblood to Boston along with 17-year-old outfield prospect Paul Householder. Cincinnati also picked up pitching prospect Dave Schoppe.

Surprisingly, the Reds broke camp with Petrocelli unceremoniously sent to AAA Indianapolis. Reporters in Cincinnati initially believed Sparky Anderson wanted the veteran to back up Pete Rose and give him another right-handed option as a pinch hitter.

With Butch Hobson set to take over at the hot corner, the Red Sox decided to move another third base prospect in an attempt to add their own veteran bat to the bench, John Lowenstein was pulled away from a Cleveland fire sale in exchange for Dave Machemer.

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The most painful news to come out of spring training was the loss of Jim Willoughby following surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. Recovery is expected to take between four and five months. Willoughby saved eight games for the Red Sox in 1975 after coming over from San Francisco. He was the favorite to win the closer job this spring.

So, what to do with the back end of the bullpen? Manager Darrell Johnson announced he will move newly-acquired Tom House into the closer role. The former Braves reliever saved 11 games in each of his last two years in Atlanta. The decision to give the ball to House in the ninth could be a risky one. Fenway Park can be a rough home for any lefty.

The injury to Willoughby also precipitated a decision to move pitching prospect Don Aase to the bullpen. Could Aase find an eventual home as a closer?

One final minor injury note in the final week before the Red Sox closed out the Grapefruit League season could keep Jim Rice out of the lineup for the season opener in Baltimore. Rice is rehabbing a mild hip strain.

 

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