Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia Phillies’

Hunter Quickly Home in PENCE-ilvania

July 31, 2011

Hunter Pence greets Phillies Mate Ryan Howard after Homer.

Hunter Pence got something from his new club, the Philadelphia Phillies, that he never could have gotten had he been traded to the New York Yankees. He got uniform number 3. No further explanation should be necessary. If it is, stop reading right now. You’re in the wrong house.

The very believable early coverage of Hunter Pence walking onto the field in a Phillies uniform in Philadelphia for the first time on Saturday were quite convincing of the young man’s matching desire and capacity for being at home with his change of teams. As he walked into the pre-game foray, he waved at fans in the stands, signed autographs at the railings, and generally hobnobbed with his new Phillies teammates as though he had been with them for five years.

The telling comment on Pence fell easily from his lips at the early media conference held to welcome him in one of the stadium’s internal meeting rooms. In expressing his thrill to be playing for a contender, Pence remarked that it was also good now to be with a team “that really wants me.” Stretch that sub-message out for proper size. In spite of what ball players say about baseball being  business and trades being a part of the game, players are also human beings. Getting traded, especially the first time, also feels like abandonment on one side and redemption on the other.

Hunter Pence is going to do just fine in Philadelphia. He was only one for five in his first Phillies game, but he also picked up an RBI on his first Philadelphia single from the number five hole in the lineup. Phillies clean up hitter Ryan Howard ought to be especially glad to see Hunter Pence hitting behind him now. Hunter’s presence there probably helped Howard get that pitch that he drove out of the park.

Good luck to the rest of the National League contenders from this point forward,  With the addition of Hunter Pence, the Phillies now look even more like the team to beat.

A Failadelphia Story.

March 6, 2010

The Phillies were Bottom-Feeders for Most of the 20th Century; the A's weren't much better most of the time..

I like stories about Philadelphia that have nothing to do with Ed Wade. This one starts off simply with a few numbers and a couple of questions:

1940, 1941, 1942. 1943.

Questions: (1) Did you know that both of the Philadelphia big league clubs, the Phillies and the Athletics, each finished in last place simultaneously for these four consecutive seasons? (2) Do you now think that there may be some historical reason for the fact that Philadelphia fans are still the crankiest and hardest to please? (3) Ya’ think?

At least, Connie Mack of the Athletics would periodically mobilize his resources and put together a pennant and World Series winning team through the early 1930s. Then he would back up the truck and allow the A’s to slip all the way to oblivion in a single season. After 1931, the A’s never rose again. The Phillies won pennants in 1915 and 1950, but only first tasted a World Series championship in 1980. That was the year that the Houston Astros lost the NL pennant to the Phillies due to some late inning playoff pitching failures and a ton of bad luck and bad umpiring calls. The bad luck actually began earlier when the league-dreaded giant fastballer, J.R. Richard, was lost to the Astros club via a career-ending stroke.

Back in the Failadelphia Folder days of World War II, there wasn’t much hope for any kind of early recovery or advance into winning for most bottom-feeding big league clubs. Those also happened to be the days in which the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals established their league leadership roles as frequent-flying pennant-winners, a situation that continues to grow, even in this era of greater parity and quicker hope for losing clubs transforming themselves into pennant winners.

Back in those buried-in-the-reserve-clause days, poor clubs survived by selling or trading their better prospects and players to the richer clubs for the sake of paying the rent. Crowds and gates were small. There were no revenue streams beyond the leaking-faucet trickle of gate ticket sales. Most clubs even gave away the radio broadcasting rights. It would take the later big money contracts with the television networks, free agency, the construction of super-duper gimmick stadia, Bonnie and Clyde pricing of ballpark food, the cutting edge marketing of game similar and game worn uniforms and collectible items, and corporate support of luxury accommodations to stir Mississippian movement in multiple new revenue streams.

Philadelphia of the 1940s had none of these advantages, but neither did any other city. In effect, this thing I’ve called a “Failadelphia story” was really baseball’s story until recent times. It was a plight that hung out as remarkably bad in the City of Brotherly Love during those four ungracious years, but other clubs like the St. Louis Browns and Washington Senators also felt its regular sting. How either Philadelphia club got any fans to the park in 1943 after heaping that much failure on the citizenry is almost beyond reasonable  comprehension. I guess people will take bad baseball over none at all.

Speaking of bad baseball. it was the Athletics who broke the double cellar deal with the Phillies by rising to a 6th place American League finish in 1944. The Phillies’ consecutive last place skein for that era ran for eight consecutive years, from 1938 to 1945.

Phillie home attendance in 1938, the first year of their eight season run as last place residents in the National League was 166,111. Phillies attendance in their 1945 eighth season of cellar-dwelling futility had risen to 285,057. Go figure. The late ’30s found people still digging out of the Great Depression. 1945 was a time of new hope with World War II wrapping up as a victory of freedom over fascism.

My favorite fan story from that era concerns an advertising sign that once hung at the ballpark during their long era of failure. It originally read that  ‘THE PHILLIES USE LIFEBUOY SOAP!”

A Phillies fan had taken a paint brush and made this addition: “…AND THEY STILL STINK!”

The Phold of ’64!

November 22, 2009

It’s not a new story. It’s also not one that those us who were around in those days will ever forget. The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies had the world on a string late in the season. With 12 games to go, they held a 6 1/2 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds and they were moving into a seven-game home stand that surely would allow them to finish the job and prepare for the World Series, most probably against the New York Yankees. It was to be the year that the Phillies got back at the Yankees for that four-game sweep in the 1950 World Series.

It was not to be. Something happened to turn destiny on its tail and send it the other way, shooting up the halls of heartache in eastern Pennsylvania and forever altering the course of baseball history.

The easiest, incomplete way to summarize it is simple. Manager Gene Mauch made a fatal decision going into the seven-game home stand to basically go with a two-man rotation the rest of the way. As a result, starters Jim Bunning and Chris Short got the nod to start 7 of the next 10 games, 6 of which resulted in starts on 2 days rest. The Phillies lost all ten games while the Cardinals and Reds both heated up.

The Phillies finally won their last two games of the season, but that only left them tied with Cincinnati for 2nd place. Philly fans had hoped for more. Didn’t happen. The Cardinals won on the last day of 1964, giving them a one-game championship advantage over Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

The “Philadelphia Phold” was complete. The New York Yankees-Philadelphia Phillies World Series Reunion would have to wait until 2009 while the ’64 St. Louis Cardinals renewed their 1926-1928, 1942-1943 World Series rivalry with the Bronx Bombers.

Because of The Phold, the Cardinals had a chance to beat the Yankees in a thrilling seven-game Series in 1964. The Cardinals win cost Yogi Berra his job as manager of the Yankees and handed it to Johnny Keane, the manager of the Miracle Cards, who himself was in line to be fired by St. Louis until his club pulled this incredible comeback and capture of the 1964 World Series Championship.

Who can ever know how far The Phold rippled? Maybe if the Phillies had made it to the 1964 World Series and lost to the Yankees, just maybe it would have been good enough for Mickey Mantle to retire then in contentment, sparing himself and the rest of us  those four extra final seasons (1965-68) that tore his career average down below .300 and exposed him to living decay as a ballplayer in the field.

Maybe this. Maybe that.

And who knows how the absence of The Phold might have affected the future careers of Yogi Berra, Johnny Keane, and Gene Mauch differently? When a team blows a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games left to play, it simply changes everything for everybody for all time.

What’s impossible to recapture here is how it felt daily to watch this steady slide into ignominy that the Phillies made so desperately. Short of writing a whole book that awakens all the five senses, including special horror movie sound effects on the subject, the best a writer can hope for in this short space is to show you how the Phold Phound Philly over that dark period through a daily look at changes in the standings:

9/20/64: The Phillies (90-60) led the Cardinals (83-66) & the Reds (83-66) by 6.5 games with 12 games to go for the Phillies.

9/21/64: Reds 1 – Phillies 0; Cardinals idle.

Phillies (90-61) led the Reds (84-66)  by 5.5 games & the Cardinals (83-66) by 6 with 11 games to go for the Phillies.

9/22/64: Reds 9 – Phillies 2; Cardinals 2 – Mets 0.

Phillies (90-62) led the Reds (85-66) by 4.5 games & the Cardinals (84-66) by 5 games with 10 games to go for the Phillies.

9/23/64: Reds 6 – Phillies 4; Mets 2 – Cardinals 1.

Phillies (90-63) led the Reds (86-66) by 3.5 games & the Cardinals (84-67) by 5 games with 9 games to go for the Phillies.

9/24/64: Braves 5 – Phillies 3; Cardinals 4-4 – Pirates 2-0; Reds idle.

Phillies (90-64) led the Reds (86-66) by 3 games & the Cardinals (86-67) by 3.5 games with 8 games to go for the Phillies.

9/25/64: Braves 7 – Phillies 5; Reds 3-4 – Mets 0-1; Cardinals 5 – Pirates 3.

Phillies (90-65) led the Reds (88-66) by 1.5 games & the Cardinals (87-67) by 2.5 games with 7 games to go for the Phillies.

9/26/64: Braves 6 – Phillies 4; Reds 6 – Mets 1; Cardinals 6 – Pirates 3.

Phillies (90-66) led the Reds (89-66) by 0.5 games & the Cardinals (88-67) by 1.5 games with 6 games to go for the Phillies.

9/27/64: Braves 14 – Phillies 8; Reds 9-3 – Mets 1-1; Cardinals 5 – Pirates 0.

Reds (91-66) now led the Phillies (90-67) by 1 game & the Cardinals (89-67) by 1.5 games with 5 games to go for the Phillies.

9/28/64: Reds idle; Cardinals 5 – Phillies 1.

Reds (91-66) now led the Cardinals (90-67) by 1 game & the Phillies (90-68) by 1.5 games with 4 games to go for the Phillies.

9/29/64: Pirates 2 – Reds 0; Cardinals 4 – Phillies 2.

Cardinals (91-67) & the Reds (91-67) are now tied for 1st; the Phillies (90-69) now trail by 1.5 games with 3 games to go.

9/30/64: Cardinals 8 – Phillies 5; Pirates 1 – Reds 0.

Cardinals (92-67) now led the Reds (91-68) by 1 game & the Phillies (90-70) by 2.5 games with 2 games to go for the Phillies.

10/01/64: Cardinals & Phillies idle; Reds 5 – Pirates 4.

Cardinals (92-67) now led the Reds (92-68) by 1 game & the Phillies (90-70) by 2.5 games with 2 games to go for the Phillies.

10/02/64: Mets 1 – Cardinals 0; Phillies 4 – Reds 3.

Cardinals (92-68) now led the Reds (92-69) by 0.5 games & the Phillies (91-70) by 1.5 games with 1 game to go for the Phillies.

10/03/64: Mets 15 – Cardinals 5; Reds & Phillies idle.

Cardinals (92-69) now tied with the Reds (92-69) for 1st; the Phillies (91-70) are 1 game back with 1 game to go for all three contending clubs.

10/04/64: Cardinals 11 – Mets 5; Phillies 10 – Reds 0.

Cardinals (93-69) win the NL pennant by 1 game over the Reds (92-70) and Phillies (92-70).

The Phillies came back with a death rattle run in their last two games, but it was far too little and way too late. Forty-five years later, 1964 still hangs in my mind as the most exciting pennant race in personal memory. Some of you will understand exactly what I’m saying here, as will those fans outside Philadelphia who didn’t cut their throats in funereal sympathy for the Phillies.

Houston Buffs: Danny Murtaugh.

November 16, 2009

Murtaugh (L) & Mazeroski were all smiles after Game 7 in 1960!

Danny Murtaugh started out his baseball career as a tough-nosed 20-year old infielder from Chester, PA for the 1937 Cambridge Cardinals of the Class D Eastern Shore league. He batted .297 in his rookie season, following that year with a .312 mark in his second round with the ’39 Cambridge club in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system. He played shortstop his first season; second base his second year. At 5’9″ and 165 pounds, Danny had the right body type and low center of gravity for a middle infielder. More importantly, he had the right kind of aggressive attitude as a critical playmaker.
After batting .255 and .326 in a split-season performance for Columbus and Rochester in 1939, Murtaugh joined the 1940 Texas League Champion Houston Buffs of the Texas League. This time around, Danny played third base, batting .299. The following season, Danny Murtaugh returned to the 1941 Buffs as a second baseman and batted .317 in 69 games. His performance was good enough to get him dealt to Philadelphia (NL), where Danny broke into the big leagues with as a “good field, seldom hit” second baseman (.219) who also reached base often enough to lead the National League in stolen bases with 18.
Murtaugh then improved steadily with the Phils, batting .241 in 1942 and .273 in 1943. Military service got the call in 1944-45. Danny returned in 1946, but, after a handful of at bats with the Phils, he was dealt back to the Cardinals and assigned again to Rochester. This time he excelled, hitting .322 over the road of a whole season.
Dealt next to Boston (NL) in the off-season, Danny again picked up a hand scoop of at bats with the Braves before he was assigned to AAA Milwaukee, where he again did well, batting a “Punch and Judy” .302 in 119 games.
Then Danny Murtaugh acquired his lasting identity. He was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he played second base for four seasons (1948-51). In the two seasons he played over 100 games for the Pirates, Murtaugh batted .290 in 1948 and .294 in 1950. He finished his nine major league season career in 1951 with a total batting average of .254 and a strong reputation for tough, heads up baseball savvy.
Danny Murtaugh’s ability earned him a four-year assignment by the Pirates as a minor league manager for New Orleans (1952-54) and Charleston (1955). He continued to play ball a little in 1952-53, wrapping up his nine season, 901-game minor league career with an impressive .297 batting average.
Danny Murtaugh began the memorable phase of his career when he took over as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957. For eight consecutive years (1957-64), Danny Murtaugh steadied the Pirates and led them in 1960 to their first pennant since 1927 and first World Series title since 1925. Who among us fans with blood flowing in our veins will ever forget Bill Mazeroski’s dramatic and iconic home run that gave the Pirates a freak-out, walk off victory over the New York Yankees in extra innings at Forbes Field in Game Seven back in 1960?
Pittsburgh’s administration never forgot the moment either. They brought Danny Murtaugh back three additional times as manager in 1967, in 1970-71, and one more time in 1973-76. He guided the Pirates to a second World Series title on his watch in 1971.
I’ve never read anything from anyone in the Pittsburgh organization back in those days that ever reflected badly on Danny Murtaugh as a manager. He really comes across as a never-give-up winner who believed in the value of solid fundamentally sound baseball and the importance of players psychologically leaning into the game with an attitude toward winning as the only acceptable outcome. It was the same attitude that some of us in Houston got to see in person through one of his former players who became a manager here and elsewhere. In his own quiet way, Bill Virdon exuded that same winning Murtaugh attitude. One doesn’t have to be a loudmouth screamer to be totally dedicated to winning.
Sadly, we lost Danny Murtaugh early. He passed away at his home in Chester, PA in 1976 at age 59. Happily, Danny spent most of his last year on earth doing the thing he did best: managing the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Dick Sisler’s Legacy.

November 4, 2009

For a couple of days now,  I’ve been battling a virus that has done everything justaYGrYANJ above turning me inside out. I still am hoping to get this article done before  I crash again. It will keep if I don’t, but it will be more timely to get it done now, while the World Series is still going on.

Two days ago, I made the kind of error in a story that I never used to make. I wrote that the Philadelphia Phillies reached the 1950 World Series in a playoff victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers on a late inning home run by Del Ennis.

Whoa! I was so wrong about something I usually know so well. And I should know it well. I was 12 years old and taking in baseball with all five senses back in those days. I even heard the big game played out on the radio because the last day of the season fell on a Sunday, October 1, 1950.

I guess I had a senior moment. We all make mistakes, but I probably never will recover from the aspect of my perfectionism that says, “Yeah, Bill, we all make mistakes, but that’s one you shouldn’t have made.”

I’m also interested in learning why we make certain mistakes. In this case, it’s pretty easy: When you get to be 72, don’t always trust your memory!

Enough said. Let’s get down to the business of historical rectification about a very important game played 59 years ago.

The big game had all the excitement of a playoff. It wasn’t. It was the last game of the season. The game was decided by a late inning home run, but it really wasn’t the Phillies long ball man, Del Ennis, who hit it. It was first baseman Dick Sisler, the son of the great Hall of Famer, George Sisler of the old St. Louis Browns, who lit his way into baseball history by slamming a 3-run homer in the top of the 10th that carried the Phils to their second National League pennant.

It was a season in 1950 that baseball genuinely relished back in the pre-playoff era. Back in those days, two runaway champions in both leagues made for a boring few weeks near the end of the season. Fans were just waiting for the season to end so the World Series could start.

Not so in 1950. The Yankees took a close pennant race over the Tigers, Red Sox and Indians in the American League. The National League race came down as a race to the wire between Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

A little background helps the story build-up here.

In 1950, the Phillies were coming off a run of 29 losing seasons in 30 between 1918 and 1948. After going 81-73 in 1949, they entered the ’50 season with bright hopes as the “Whiz Kids,” a nickname that flew off the page from their average player age of 26.

On September 20, 1950, the Phillies had a 7 1/2 game lead over the Dodgers. The the Phils proceeded to lose 7 of their next 9 as they went into Brooklyn for a final two games on September 30-Oct 1. Their lead over the Dodgers had shrunk to 2 games. A Dodger sweep could tie them with the Phils for 1st place and force a best 2 wins of 3 games playoff series for the NL pennant.

The Dodgers were pumped. The Phillies were exhausted. When the Dodgers won the Saturday game, 7-3, Brooklynites were salivating for more of that red Philly blood. The moment was electric – and a groundswell of Phillies fans trekked up  to Flatbush, both sensing their team’s need for support, and also  hoping to score a ticket for the big game. Most couldn’t find a ticket into the packed 32,000 capacity ballpark, but they hung around the streets, anyway, listening to the game on their radios.

The stage was set for melodrama – and the kind of baseball we will not see again due to changes in pitching philosophy over the past half century. The great Don Newcombe took the mound for Brooklyn in a face off against  future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts of Philadelphia. As you may have guessed, these guys dominated the day. Going into the bottom of the 9th at Ebbets Field, the score stood tied and tight at 1-1.

Cal Abrams led off the bottom of the 9th for Brooklyn. He reached 1st on a 3-2 pitch walk and then advanced to 2nd on a single to left center by Pee Wee Reese. Uh Oh! Here comes Duke Snider!

The Phillies played in, looking for a sacrifice bunt from the Duke under these circumstances, but the Duke fooled ’em. He lined a base hit to  center as Abrams took off, rounding 3rd and heading for home with the potential winning run. Because he was playing shallow, Ashburn made a perfect pick up and throw to the plate, where catcher Stan Lopata nailed Abrams for the 1st out, and preventing Abrams from scoring the pennant-winning run.

On the play at the plate, Reese raced to 3rd and Snider took 2nd, With the double play now off, the Phillies remained in the deep dew. The winning run was now on 3rd with only one out and Jackie Robinson was coming to the plate.

Roberts walked Robinson, loading the bases and setting up the double play.

Carl Furillo then hit a harmless pop fly to 1st baseman Eddie Waitkus for the 2nd out, but that still left room for Gil Hodges to play the assassin’s role as the next batter.

Hodges unloaded one, sending a deep fly ball to right center. Del Ennis pulled it in near the scoreboard for the 3rd out, sending the game into extra innings.

Pitcher Robin Roberts was the first scheduled batter in the top of the 10th. Are the Phils thinking pinch hitter? No way. Roberts bats and lines a single to left.

Eddie Waitkus failed to sacrifice Roberts to 2nd, but then he reached on a Texas Leaguer to center, with Roberts stopping at 2nd. The Phils had two men on with nobody out.

Ashburn tried to move the runners with a sacrifice bunt, but he pushed it too hard. Newcombe was able to make the play at 3rd, forcing Roberts. The Phils still had men on 1st and 2nd, with one out, and lefty Dick Sisler coming to the plate. On a 1-2 pitch, Sisler got good late wood on a fastball that took off for the opposite left field wall. The ball kept going as home crowd voices watched in startled shock. It landed in the left field stands for a home run and the Phillies were suddenly going crazy. They now led the Dodgers, 4-1!

The Phillies scored no more, but neither did the Dodgers. Robin Roberts went out and put them down quietly in the bottom of the 10th and the Phiilies were back in the World Series for the first time in 35 years, and for only the second time in their history.

Dick Sisler was the batting hero that day. No question about it.

Dick Sisler recorded only 55 home runs in his eight year major league career, but one of those blasts will be remembered forever, even by those of us who sometimes forget. My apologies, Mr. Sisler. I doubt I’ll ever forget you again.