For Fans Who Should Know Better

Mudville Crew            Contact Us

Mudville: May 28, 2024 4:44 pm PDT

Whiz Kids

I recently began composing a list of the most memorable games the Phillies have played since I started following them in 1946 as a ten-year-old potential baseball fanatic.

I list only games I either heard on the radio, watched on television, or saw in person: the pennant winner against the Dodgers in 1950, the World Series clinchers in 1980 and 2008, Jim Bunning’s perfect game in 1964, Johnny Callison’s walk off homer in the 1964 All Star game, Mike Schmidt’s four-home-run game in 1976 against the Cubs, and all those tension filled games against Houston in the 1980 playoffs.

Interestingly enough – and this says something about the “gloom and doom” of the Phillies fan –the game that remains most intensely etched in my mind is a loss: Chico Ruiz’s steal of home to start a ten-game collapse that cost the Phillies the pennant in 1964. It’s a game I can vividly remember because despite the wonderful way the Phillies played throughout the 1964 season, I had a terrible sense of foreboding that something would go wrong. (There’s a reason some people call Philadelphia, Negadelphia). Throughout that exciting ‘64 season I could still remember as a fourteen year old the agony of watching the Whiz Kids leading the Dodgers by seven games with eleven to play and almost blowing the pennant in 1950.

The ‘64 Phillies had their roots in the late 1950s when Bob Carpenter, the owner of the franchise, brought in baseball lifer John Quinn to rebuild a franchise that had gone sour since the glory days of the Whiz Kids.

Despite possessing the nucleus of a talented team in the early 50s, with players like Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, and Del Ennis, the organization stopped producing quality players and allowed the Dodgers, Braves, and Giants to forge ahead of them in the 1950s. A major reason for this decline was the reluctance of the Phillies to sign Black players. The Phillies were the last National League club to sign a Black player; and Quinn, who had integrated the Braves by signing players like Hank Aaron, Bill Bruton, and Wes Covington soon put an end to that.

After getting rid of the Whiz Kids, Quinn began rebuilding the farm system while making a series of shrewd trades. He got Callison, Tony Gonzalez, Cookie Rojas, and Wes Covington for players the Phillies could afford to give up. The farm system produced Chris Short, Art Mahaffey, Ray Culp, Dennis Bennett, Bobby Wine, Richie Allen, and Alex Johnson in less than five years. In 1960 he replaced Eddie Sawyer, the manager who in Quinn’s view was the face of the Whiz Kids, with Gene Mauch, a young aggressive skipper out of the Leo Durocher mold.

Beginning in 1962 the Quinn-Mauch axis rebuilt the Phillies into a competitive team finishing about .500 for the first time since 1953. Mauch was named Manager of the Year for the team’s 34-game improvement over a disastrous 1961 season. In 1963 the Phillies surprised the league by finishing in fourth place, ten games out of first. They were hottest team in the National League the last two months of the season. Buzzy Bavasi joking remarked that the Phillies should represent the National League in the World Series since “they played the best ball in the league the last two months.”

(Original Caption) Phillies manager Gene Mauch is a study in dejection as he sits along the dugout following the Phillies' 8th straight loss at Sportsman's Park. Mauch, whose team dropped from first to third place following this 8-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, said ``This thing isn't over yet, we still have a chance.``

During the off-season Quinn pulled off one of his best deals, getting Jim Bunning from Detroit for Don Demeter and journeyman pitcher Jack Hamilton. Bunning was needed to anchor a young and inexperienced pitching staff led by Mahaffey, Short, Culp, and Dennis Bennett. At the same time, Mauch decided to put highly touted rookie Dick ‘Don’t call me Richie’ Allen at third, a position he had never played.

The Phillies team that began the ‘64 season was young and talented but not on a par with the Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals, or Braves. They got off to a fast start, winning 9 of their first 11 games as Mauch managed brilliantly, spotting his young pitchers around Bunning, while platooning at three positions: shortstop, left field, and catcher. By the All-Star break the Phillies had either been in first or second place the entire first half. They never led by more than 1 ½ games nor were behind by more than ½ game. They played scrappy, intense baseball mirroring their manager, bunting frequently, taking the extra base often, and fielding their positions well – save for Allen, who was on his way to making 41 errors at third. The Wine-Ruben Amaro combo at short was among the best in the National League. Mauch often put Amaro on first for defensive purposes late in the game, arguing that a shortstop can make any play in the infield.

Clay Dalrymple called a good game and had a powerful throwing arm. Gonzalez was sure handed if unspectacular in center. Johnny Callison was in the process of establishing a reputation for one of the strongest throwing arms in right field. He led the league in assists for four consecutive seasons, accumulating more assists during those years than Robert Clemente, then in his prime.

Mauch juggled his pitchers and made masterful use of his bullpen, playing his hot hand, either Ed Roebuck or Jack Baldschun, depending on the situation. Instead of folding, as many baseball experts had predicted, the Phillies went 36-24 in July and August to open a 5 ½ game lead by the beginning of September.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - CIRCA 1964: Cookie Rojas #16 of the Philadelphia Phillies bats during an Major League Baseball game circa 1964 at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rojas played for the Phillies 1963-69. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Mauch got brilliant performances from Bunning and Short – the latter started the season in the bullpen and didn’t win his first game until May 1. He wound up 17-9 with an ERA of 2.20.  Bunning won 19 games, including his perfect performance on Father’s Day against the Mets, and became the first Phillies’ pitcher since Grover Cleveland Alexander to strike out 200 batters. Dennis Bennett was 9-5 at the All-Star break and Culp had won eight games by middle of July. Only Mahaffey was struggling, alternating good starts with games in which he had trouble getting through the first inning.

Cookie Rojas came off the bench to hit over .300 most of the season and play three different positions: left and center field as well as 20 games at second base. Allen proved to be one of the best power hitters in the National League, the best the Phillies had produced since Chuck Klein. He hit towering homers and along with Callison provided power in the middle of the lineup. Together they hit 60 homers and drove in 195 runs.

First base was problem all season. Roy Sievers, who had given the Phillies two decent seasons, was finished at age 37. He injured his leg early in the season and was traded away in July. Eventually Mauch tried nine different players at first. Hope that John Herrnstein would take the job didn’t pan out. After a good start he finished the season hitting just .234 with six homers.

Mauch’s platooning and hunches worked beautifully but ominous clouds began to appear starting in July. Culp hurt his arm and Mauch stopped using him. “He didn’t want the ball” was the way Mauch phrased it. After the All-Star break Bennett lost seven consecutive games due to a sore shoulder, an injury that eventually ended his career. He came back and won two crucial games in September; but his arm, which he had injured in a car accident in 1963, was shot.

Roebuck, who pitched brilliantly all season, suddenly cooled off in late August. “He throws ground balls” Mauch liked to say but in September the ground ball turned into doubles, triples, and home runs. Mauch also lost faith in Jack Baldschun who had been his premier reliever since 1961. In September, Mauch began to turn to Bobby Schantz, Bobby Locke, or rookies like Morrie Stevens in crucial games.

Johnny Callison of the Philadelphia Phillies bats during the 1964 season. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

Still, with all the problems that were developing, the Phillies returned home from a three-city western swing on September 21st with a 6 ½ game lead with just twelve games remaining. The last games of the road trip were wearying, one-run affairs including a 16-inning 1-0 loss to the Dodgers in which the winning run scored on a steal of home. Wes Covington, one of the few players to experience a pennant race, warned his teammates about “not letting themselves get carried away.”

The Phillies’ magic number was seven. It never changed. Every day it stared at you from the top of the sports page of the three Philadelphia newspapers: the evening Bulletin, the morning Inquirer, and the afternoon Daily News, like a ghost that would not go away.

The nightmare that would haunt Phillies fans until Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson sixteen years later to win the 1980 World Series began during the opening game of a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds on a cool Monday night, September 21st. The Phillies led the Reds and the surging Cardinals by 6 ½ games with the Giants 7 ½ games back.

At this point the Phillies were 12-9 in September. If they split their remaining dozen games or even won just four of them, there was no realistic way for the Reds or Cards to catch them. As it turned out, the Phillies would win just two more games while losing ten in a row – including seven at home – for one of the greatest collapses in baseball history. The newspapers talked of the veterans stepping up and taking the pressure off the youngsters like Allen and Callison. It didn’t happen. Everything went sour at once. The veterans, including Covington, stopped hitting; the bullpen failed to hold leads; and even sure-handed fielders like Tony Taylor misplayed balls in crucial situations.

Mauch, the reckless and daring skipper, suddenly lost his magic touch and turned conservative. All season his moves had panned out even when they seemed to defy common sense – such as platooning at short or playing an infielder like Rojas in the outfield. When Culp, Bennett, and Mahaffey stopped winning, Mauch had no replacements. Frank Thomas, who the Phillies got in a trade with Mets in August, had hit seven home runs and drove in 26 runs in the month, but he broke his thumb in early September. John Quinn got Vic Power to fill in at first but at 34 he was finished, and he hit just .208 during the 18 games he filled in for Thomas.

Philadelphia Phillies Clay Dalrymple (11) in action, framing pitch vs Milwaukee Braves at Connie Mack Stadium. Philadelphia, PA 5/11/1963 (Photo by Walter Iooss Jr. /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

The beginning of the end was a game that no one took seriously, the first game on a seven-game home stand, on Monday, September 21st, a date that for older Phillies fans will live in infamy (to quote FDR’s words about Pearl Harbor). The Phillies started Art Mahaffey, 12-9, who hadn’t won a game in almost a month, against the Reds journeyman pitcher, John Tsitouris, who had a 7-11 record. Sandy Grady, then writing one of the best sports columns in the Bulletin, described Tsitouris as having the “pitching motion of your Aunt Maud swatting a mosquito.”

Mauch had lost faith in Mahaffey. He had been yanked in the third inning of his last start against the Giants and had been passed over twice, once in favor of 19-year-old rookie Rick Wise. It didn’t seem to matter. The Reds were running out the clock and were playing to finish ahead of the Cards. But a second-place finish was worth $2000, a lot of money in those pre-free agent days.

On a chilly September night, Tsitouris pitched the best game of his season, perhaps his career. He would win just eight more games during the rest of his career and never again throw a shutout. Scattering six hits, never allowing more than one in any inning, he struck out eight and walked just two. Mahaffey pitched almost as well. But one inning would haunt him and the Phillies.

With one out in the sixth, Chico Ruiz, a benchwarmer playing third, looped a single to right. Vada Pinson, the next batter, smashed a ball up the middle, which Mahaffey deflected past a diving Taylor into right field. Ruiz scooted all the way to third, but Pinson was thrown out going into second by Johnny Callison. With two out, that brought up the dangerous cleanup hitter, Frank Robinson.

Robinson was one of the best clutch hitters in the National League, a hitter Mauch particularly feared. Pitching carefully, Mahaffey got a quick strike on him. During his windup for the next pitch, Ruiz suddenly broke for home despite the cries of third base coach, Reggie Otero, shouting “no, no, no.”  Surprised that anyone would attempt a steal of home with Robinson at bat, Mahaffey threw high and away, making it impossible for Dalrymple to make the tag, as Ruiz slid home safely. Interim manager, Dick Sisler, filling in for the cancer-stricken Fred Hutchinson, summed up the reaction to Ruiz’s play: “if he didn’t make it, he might as well have continued on to San Diego” – then the Reds’ top farm team.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 21, 1980: Pitcher Tug McGraw #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies talks with the Media after defeating the Kansas City Royals in game six of the 1980 World Series at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies won the series 4 games to 2. McGraw played for the Phillies from 1975- 84. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

The Phillies had four innings to tie or win the game. They got exactly two hits over the last four innings. Their best chance came in the ninth. Covington led off with a line drive double off the scoreboard in right field. Mauch put the speedy rookie Adolfo Phillips in to run. Despite having a bullpen duo of Sammy Ellis and Bill McCool ready, Sisler stayed with Tsitouris to pitch to the next batter, the lefty Herrnstein. A big, powerful, lefthanded hitter, he had failed to hit all season.

In situations like this Mauch usually played for the tie at home and bunted the runner to third. This time Herrnstein swung away and popped the ball to short. The next batter, Dalrymple, grounded to Pete Rose at second with the Phillips taking third. If Herrnstein had moved the runner, the Phillies would have tied the game. Tony Taylor, the next batter, walked to put the winning run on first. The next batter was the eighth hitter, Ruben Amaro, a light hitting shortstop. Mauch had two tough hitters on the bench, Rojas and Alex Johnson, both .290 hitters, but for some reason he let Amaro hit. He struck out on three pitches.

For the second time in three games, the Phillies had lost a game on a steal of home. Not a good sign.

Mauch, ever the hunch player, the master of unorthodox moves, did nothing to force Sisler’s hand. He didn’t order Herrnstein to bunt despite the fact that he had bunted for one run in the bottom of the first. He didn’t gamble and have the speedy Taylor try to steal second in the ninth, perhaps forcing a bad throw. It was totally unlike the way Mauch had managed all season and yet it proved characteristic for the next nine games. The gambler had lost his touch, and he couldn’t get hot again. Almost every move he made those last ten games backfired – whether it was pitching Short and Bunning three times in ten games or not using Roebuck or Baldschun in key relief situations,

Sandy Grady of the Bulletin and Allen Lewis of the Inquirer both sensed concern after the loss. Grady found the fans scared and bothered by the pressure of the pennant race while Lewis warned the Phillies not to panic and let the title be stolen away.

The Phillies season crashed. Seven home losses were followed by three in St. Louis to the surging Cardinals who went on to win the pennant and the World Series. For Phillies fans the memories of those ten games were almost too much to bear. I, for one, couldn’t watch the World Series because I believed that my team, the Phillies, should have been there. What was worse, a feeling developed that there wouldn’t be a second chance: no “wait till next season.’” The team of destiny had failed, and they wouldn’t be able to capture the amazing spirit of the ‘64 team.

That sentiment proved correct. Mauch was blamed, unfairly, for everything that had gone wrong, and was never again the darling of the fans or the daring manager he had been in ‘64. Increasingly, he turned to veterans like Dick Stuart, Bill White, Dick Groat, and even Bo Belinsky to put together another pennant team. Nothing worked. Bad trades also hurt. Ferguson Jenkins for Larry Jackson in 1966, for example, was a disaster

Johnny Callison at 27 suddenly lost his power and never again hit more than 16 homers for the Phillies. Allen soured at the racist taunts of the fans and became increasingly moody. In June 1968, Mauch was fired and the Phillies slipped into oblivion until Paul Owens began rebuilding the team in the early 1970s. An older generation of Phillies fans would not shed the scars of the ‘64 collapse until the final out of the 1980 World Series.

John P. Rossi is Professor Emeritus of History at La Salle University in Philadelphia. His most recent book was Baseball and American Culture, Rowman and Littlefield, 2019. He is also the co-winner of the Macmillan SABR Award for best research essay in 1998 for his essay on Bill Veeck’s attempt to purchase the 1943 Phillies.

Post a Comment

You don't have permission to register