Vukovich was born in Sacramento, California and grew up in Sutter Creek, California. His father was the baseball coach for the local high school. He was a backup for the 1975 Reds World Series-winning team, although he was traded back to the Phillies before the playoffs began, and also for the 1980 Phillies World Series-winning team. He actually began the 1975 season as the Reds' starting third baseman, but was benched in favor of Pete Rose so that the Reds could get outfielder George Foster's bat into the lineup every day. He batted above .200 only twice in his ten-year career, appearing in 277 games while batting .161 with 6 home runs and 44 runs batted in, and had a .956 fielding percentage. During his second period of playing with the Phillies, he became beloved to the fans even though he seldom appeared in games; he was seen as a blue-collar player and the ordinary fan respected his effort. After his playing career ended, he joined the Chicago Cubs as a coach, and in 1986 he was manager for a day after Jim Frey was fired (he split that day's doubleheader). In 1987, he rejoined the Phillies, and after Lee Elia was fired with nine games to go, he took over as skipper, going 5-4 the rest of the season.
Vukovich stayed with the Phillies as a coach from 1988 to 2004, and was considered for the managing job when Terry Francona was fired in 2000. The job eventually went to Vukovich's childhood friend, Larry Bowa. Vukovich was diagnosed with a brain tumor early in the 2001 season and subsequently had surgery. He would return later that season, and remained on the coaching staff until being named special assistant to the General Manager following the 2004 season.
In late 2006, he again exhibited symptoms; he died at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia at age 59. The 2007 Phillies honored him by wearing a uniform patch on their right sleeve with his nickname, "Vuk". The Phillies also publicly dedicated their 2007 regular baseball season to Vukovich.
^Mandel, Ken. "Phils pay respect to Vukovich", Major League Baseball, March 9, 2007. Accessed March 17, 2011. "A private funeral will be held Tuesday near Vukovich's Voorhees, N.J., home, and many members of the Phillies organization are planning to attend by traveling to Philadelphia on a chartered flight."