And now, for those of you with a morbid curiosity, I present a brief history of the Philadelphia National League Baseball Club, nicknamed the "Phillies..."
In 1882, the Worcester Ruby Legs of the National League of Baseball Clubs had finished dead last for the second straight year, a pitiful 18-66. Apparently tired of the team's poor performance and the presumed finacial losses that went with it, the National League disbanded the team and moved the franchise to Philadelphia, where it was sold to A.J. Reach. That year, the Philadelphia Phillies were born (there seems to be some debate about this; the team was alternatively referred to as the "Quakers" through the 1889 seasons according to most sources, though the Phillies organization claims "Phillies" was always the club's official nickname). Either way, the newly reconstituted team started off by compiling the worst winning percentage the club ever had, even to this day (a dismal mark of 17-81!). However, it wasn't before too long that the club made a steady climb towards the top and respectability. The early years included some of the all-time greatest players, like Ed Delahanty. Unfortunately, Ed's teammates were not as pleased with his less-than-gentlemanly behavior as they were with his bat, and so one day on a road trip they threw him off a train as it was going over a high bridge. Well, no one's sure if he was really thrown off or whether he just stepped off in a druken stupor, but you can see where my money is. Anyway, this guy once hit four inside the park home runs, in one game!!! And he hit over .400 numerous times. Still, he couldn't bring the Phillies any pennants.
In 1914, a rookie by the name of Grover Cleveland Alexander happened into the Phillies locker room. The next year, they took their first ever NL pennant, only to lose to the Red Sox in the World Series (you know, it would take the Phillies to lose to the Red Sox in the World Series), 4 games to 1 (WLLLL). Alexander stuck with the team for a few more years and won quite a number of games for them, but the Phillies never repeated their success. Strapped for cash, the ball club sold him for $5 and a banana. All right, all right, that's a lie. It was two bananas (Actually, it was $75,000, pitcher Mike Prendergast, and some catcher named --- get this --- catcher Pickles Dillhoefer; thank you Rob Neyer, via David M. Jordan).
And boy did they stink after that. Even with a great like Chuck Klein, the Phillies were awful in the 1920s. And the 1930s. And the 1940s. Heck, in 1943 things got so bad (and the then-owner got so bankrupt) that the Phillies were for a time operated by the National League. Finally, in late 1943, the Carpenter family bought the team, and there was light at the end of the tunnel. Their primary concern was building a good farm system. And that they did. Soon the Phillies put together a team with farmhands and young players for whom they had traded, feautring names like Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Willie Jones, Curt Simmons, and Dick Sisler (who curiously gets a mention in Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea as the greatest home run hitter of them all... the book was published in 1950, and Sissler had just hit the home run that beat the Dodgers for the NL pennant). It was these men --- the "Whiz Kids" ---to the Phillies second ever pennant, in 1950. Unfortuantely, the Phillies were then swept by the Yankees in the World Series, losing the first three games by one run each. Ouch.
Though the Phillies remained a quality club for a few years, they never recaptured the 1950 magic, and never made a serious run at another pennant. It must be said that this was largely due to the club's less-than-progressive stance on race; it was Phillies manager Ben Chapman who led his players in some of the most virulent verbal assaults on Jackie Robinson during his debut season of 1947. Indeed, the Phillies did not have a single black player until 1957, a full ten years after Jackie Robinson's historic debut, a full ten years behind the developmental curve of the most advanced teams. Not surprisingly, the team's on-field performance suffered. They finished last four straight times, from 1958-1961. In 1961, The Phillies set the all-time major league record by losing 23 straight games.
After that final disgrace, the Phillies brought in tough-guy manager Gene Mauch to set things right. He took the team and turned it around quickly. By 1964, the Phillies were one of the elite teams in baseball. In 1964, pitcher Jim Bunning threw a "perfect" game: no hits, nor walks, nor errors. The Phils jumped out to a big lead in the National League in June of 1964, and with ten games to go had a six game lead. They seemed destined to appear in their third World Series. Oh, but how cruel fate can be; the Phillies collapsed, losing 10 straight. And gone were the hopes of the club's first ever World Series championship.
The years after that collapse were sad ones indeed for the Phillies. Rookie of the Year 1964, Richie Allen, who was one of the most promising talents ever to play the game, drank away his promise. The rest of the team faded away, and by 1969, the first year that the National League had divisions, the Phillies were struggling to finish ahead of the expansion Montreal Expos.
In 1970, the Phillies played their last game in Connie Mack Stadium, a tenth inning last at-bat victory against the Expos. And with that marked the end of an era. They openend 1971 in new Veterans Stadium, and in 1972 the Phillies traded away one of their few stars, pitcher Rick Wise (who once threw a no hitter and hit two home runs in the SAME GAME!) for a young prospect named Steve Carlton. Though Carlton was not happy, he later called it a "blessing in disguise." He was the winner in 27 of the Phillies 59 victories that year. The team built around him. In 1974, Mike Schmidt burst onto the scene as one of the game's premier power hitters. Names like Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinski came from the Phillies farm system. In 1976, the Phillies emerged as the best team in baseball, winning a franchise record 101 games. They lost to the Reds in the NLCS, but came back in 1977 to win 101 more. But again, they fell to their NLCS opponents, the Dodgers, in 4 games. In 1978, the Phillies again won their division, this time with 90 victories. But again, they lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS in 4 games (it was a best of 5 series then). The team needed something to put them over the top.
In 1979, the Phillies signed free agent Pete Rose, and by the end of the season, they fired manager Danny Ozark in favor of Dallas Green. Though the Phillies finished only 4th, their was a sudden and distinct attitude change in the locker room. Green simply would not accept the team's under-achieving, and in 1980 the Phillies came out strong and competitive. They held first for a while, but slumped in August and see-sawed with Montreal. By the season's final week, the Phillies needed to sweep Chicago in a four game series to set up a deciding series in Montreal in the season's final weekend. And somehow, they did it. And in the classic faceoff against Montreal, the Phillies needed to take two of three for the division crown. They won the first, and then, on the strength of a late-inning home run by Mike Schmidt, came from behind to win the second. The Phillies had set the table for one of most dramatic post season series in memory.
The Phillies squared off against the Houston Astros for the NLCS, and boldly took the first game, their first post season win since the 1915 team. They fell in the second, and then moved to Houston for the final three. The Astros beat the Phils again in the third game, and had the team on the brink of another playoff disappointment. But, in two of the most dramatic playoff comebacks in modern baseball history, the Phillies took the last 2 games and won the series 3 games to 2 to go to their first World Series in thirty years.
The Phillies faced the Kansas City Royals, who themselves had pulled off a big upset by beating the Yankees in the ALCS. The first two games were played at the Vet, and gave the Phillies a marked advantage. The Phillies came from behind in both games to win, and take a 2-0 advantage in the series. When the series shifted to Kansas City, it was the Royals who won two straight to even the series, and Kansas City had a lead late in the third game. But the spirit of these Phillies shone through, and they came from behind and won, giving them a 3-2 advantage as the series returned to Philadelphia. Steve Carlton dominated this game for seven innings and pitched into the eighth before yielding to Tug McGraw, with a 4-1 lead to his credit. Tug pitched two-heart stopping innings, but somehow managed to avoid giving up any runs. And with his last pitch to Willie Wilson, the Phillies finally, FINALLY won their first World Series, laying 97 years of history to rest.
The years after the victory saw the Phillies begin to show signs of aging. In 1981, the Phillies lost a special post-season playoff with the Expos for the division crown. In 1983, the Phillies climbed back to the top of the division, owing greatly to the addition of several key veterans. In the ensuing NLCS, Mike Schmidt keyed a 1-0 victory in Game 1, but it was Gary Matthews who really led the Phillies in this series. After 4 games, the Phillies had disposed of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and went to their second World Series in four seasons. But this time it was not to be; after an impressive Game 1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, the Phillies fell in four straight, marking the end of an era for the Phillies.
In the years after their last series loss, the Phillies declined steadily. In 1985, they went through their first losing season since 1974. They rebounded in 1986 to finish a distant second to the run away Mets. In 1987, the Phillies finished 80-82 in a disappointing season. But there was one shining light for the club: On Saturday, April 18, 1987, Mike Schmidt slammed his 500th career home run in Pittsburgh.
The Phillies then moved on a tail spin that left them searching for answers. Though there were a few bright spots between 1988-1992, there were also three last place finishes, and a parade of players. Still, Lenny Dykstra's remarkable 1990 season and the team's 13 game winning streak in 1991 stand as highlights.
The Phillies opened 1993 not expected to improve much on their 67-95, last place finish the year before. But fate smiled on the Phillies. They took first place in the NL East on the fifth game of the 1993 season, and held it until the end of the year. In fact, they were in first place every day but one. The season was a remarkable one in many ways; many of the Phillies players had career years, and there were several come back players, like Jim Eisenreich and Danny Jackson. Lenny Dykstra, who finished second in league MVP voting, scored 143 runs and gave the Phillies a spark they had been missing. Darren Daulton, who had emerged as one of the game's premier catchers, contributed 100+ RBIs. This team, more than any other in the NL, was a TEAM, an unspectacular but steady group who played HARD. After holding off the Expos late in the season, the Phillies, the underdog story of 1993, faced another uphill battle: the Braves in the NLCS.
No one expected the Phillies to win this series. They were just an annoyance in the way of the Braves' march to their third straight World Series appearance. Such was the world's attitude as the first game of the series opened in Philadelphia. Curt Schilling set a record by striking out the first 5 hitters he faced, and continued to perform strongly through 8 innings as the Phillies held a 1 run lead. But when the Phillies called for closer Mitch Williams, things started to unravel. The Braves tied it in the top of the ninth, and put a scare in to Phillies fans everywhere. In the top of the tenth, with John Kruk on second, Kim Batiste singled down the left field line, scoring Kruk from second and giving the Phillies a 4-3 victory and a series lead of 1-0. The Braves pounded the Phils in the next two, one in Philadpelphia and the other in Atlanta. With the Phillies reeling, Danny Jackson stepped up to make one of the finest performances of his career and give the Phillies a 2-1 lead after 7 innings. In the ninth, Mitch Williams came on to (barely) save it, and the Phillies had evened the series. In the next game, Curt Schilling pitched his way to another 3-2 lead before giving way to Mitch Williams. Mitch blew the victory for Schilling again, giving up a run and allowing the score to tie at 3-3. In the top of the tenth, Lenny Dykstra saved the day for the Phillies, belting a home run that would eventually lift them, 4-3. There was an air of optimism as the series shifted back to Philadelphia, with the Phillies on the brink of their most improbable World Series berth ever. There was never a doubt, as the Phillies jumped to a 6-1 lead behind Tommy Greene, and never looked back. Mitch Williams closed a one-two-three ninth by striking out Bill Pecota, and with that the Phillies became the National League Champions.
The World Series was something of a disappointment. The Phillies won two games, including an impressive 2-0 complete game by Curt Schilling, but blew two leads, including one FIVE run lead, and yielded to the high-priced Blue Jays four games to two. Everyone in Philly knows they should have won this series, but since the season itself was a total surprise, it's hard to be bitter (but heck, I can still give it a try).
After the surprise success of 1993, the Phillies went on another aimless tailspin. In 1994 they were injury riddled, and finished 4th (out of 5 in the new realignment) in a strike shortened season. In 1995 they started out strong, including a 4 game sweep of the Braves at Atlanta. They held first place until the end of June, and then fell apart. 1996 was nothing short of a disaster, with injuries and directionless management plaguing the team. 1997 was somehow shaping up to be even worse than 1996, but the Phillies pulled a 44-33 second half after a 24-61 start to avoid losing one hundred games. In fact, at 68-94, they weren't even the worst team in the league. Scott Rolen began his thus-far stellar major league career in 1997, becoming the first Phillie to win Rookie of thew Year honors since Dick Allen did in 1964.
The rest of the 1990s saw the Phillies start to build the foundation of a contender, both through signings at the big league level, and, more importantly, through the draft. In 1998, the Phillies traded Kevin Stocker for right fielder Bobby Abreu, a move that must go down as one of the three best Phillies trades ever. They also drafted Pat Burrell with the first pick of the 1998 draft. On the field, the Phillies enjoyed their most satisfying season since 1993. The young Phillies played extremely well in the first half of 1998, playing hard and remaining in the wild card race until mid-August; Scott Rolen and Mike Lieberthal emerged as stars, and Curt Schilling struck out over 300 batters for the second straight season.
In 1999, the Phillies put together an impressive run for the first four months. After struggling to maintain a record over .500 at the beginning of June, the Phillies really came into their own in June and July, and began to look like the winning young ball club we thought they could be. Randy Wolf made his Phillies debut in mid-season, and began his major league career 5-0. The team showed considerable improvement, and was near the top of the wild card standings as late as mid-August. Again, however, injuries combined with other deficiencies to fell the Phillies, who finished the season in a bad slump and failed to finish above .500 for the twelfth time in the last fourteen campaigns.
The "oughts" began with hopes high for the Phillies; many arouind baseball thought they would be one of the teams to come of age in 2000. Unfortunately, Curt Schilling was sidelined at the beginning of the year due to shouler surgery, and the phillies offseason acquisitions, Andy Ashby and Mike Jackson, did not pan out. With the starting pitching in a state of flux and the bullpen ravaged by injuries and inconsistent play, the team lost its confidence. The Phillies opened the year with a dismal 7-17 April and never quite recovered. By the trading deadline they were out of it, and so they shipped Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks fo four players, most notably Vicente Padilla. The Phillies finished 65-97, their worst season since 1997.
After the disappointing 2000, the Phillies fired manager Terry Francona and replaced him with the always-exciting Larry Bowa. The feeling was that the young team was too complacent, and that a Dallas Green-style motivator was needed to kick the team into high gear. In his first season, Bowa had the desired affect: the Phillies played very well for the first 2 months of the season, and put together some solid wins against solid teams. Even when they lost Mike Lieberthal to a gruesome knee injury in Arizona, the team persevered and continued to play well. They remained in first place from early April through the All-Star break, and flip-flopped with Braves a few times through August. Along the way, Jimmy Rollins broke out as a fine prospect, and Pat Burrell put together a nice sophomore season. The team stayed close with the Braves and had a chance to win the division right until the very end, and in the process produced their finest season since 1993, going 86-76.
After the successes of 2001, the Phillies regressed in 2002. Getting off to another dismal start, similar to the one that began the 2000 season, the team dug itself a whole right off the bat. Though the Phillies were able to recover somewhat, getting to 0.500 by the All-Star break, they were far out of contention by the time the trading deadline rolled around. Unable to reach an agreement with their top player, Scott Rolen, the Phillies traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and Mike Timlin. On the bright side, Brett Myers debuted for the Phillies in 2002. The Phillies finished a disappointing 80-81, and were left searching for answers.
Those answers came in a big way that offseason. The Phillies were the most aggressive team in the winter, adding Cleveland Indians slugger Jim Thome to their lineup. But they were hardly done; the Phillies also added veteran third baseman David Bell, and traded minor league catcher Johnny Estrada to the Braves for starting pitcher Kevin Millwood. Locked and re-loaded, the Phillies began 2003 with the highest expectations they had had in twenty years.
The results, unfortunately, were mixed. The lineup displayed big-output capability but was inconsistent; the pitching staff started the season strongly, but the bullpen faded disastorously in the second half of the season (as did some of the starters). The result was a good but anti-climactic 86-76 finish. Lost among the unfulfilled expectations was the achievement of Thome, who led the majors with 47 home runs, and the fine rookie season of Marlon Byrd, who began poorly but finished wonderfully as the Phillies leadoff hitter, batting .300 for the season. Also, 2003 was the last for the often vilified but ultimately venerable Veterans Stadium. The Phillies played their final game there on September 28, 2004, and what was left of the once-mammoth structure was reduced to rubble as the stadium was imploded on March 21, 2004.
The first year in Citizens Bank Park was one of the most disappointing in recent memory. Seemingly delivered to their baseball promised land, with one of the game's top two or three closers sudenly in the fold (Billy Wagner) to go along with the previous year's acquisitions of Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood, everyone felt sure that the bad luck of the previous year simply couldn't repeat itself, that the Phillies finally had the biggest, baddest team in the division, and that, at the very least, a playoff appearance was in the offing. Once again, however, the hopes of Phillies fans were frustrated. Wagner was injured about two months into the season, and never really pitched like the Billy Wagner we all thought we were getting. Jim Thome, for his part, had an absolutely incredible first half of the season that featured his 400th career home run, but was slowed by an injury to his hand in the second half that left him with still impressive but slightly off "Jim Thome" numbers. Worst of all, however, was the starting pitching; Kevin Millwood led a staff that seemed more shellshocked by the new ballpark and its admittedly banbox dimensions than anything else; the result was a team that only really started to play well long after the issue was settled: thanks to a stellar September, the Phillies once again finished 86-76.
The 2005 squad had what might accurately be considered the best Phillies season since 1993, winning 88 games, but still finishing one game out of the playoff race (I am really getting tired of writing that particular phrase --- "out of the playoff race"). There were signs of hope for a brightening Phillies future, despite the disappointing end, in which the Phillies were only eliminated on the season's final day: youngsters Chase Utley and Ryan Howard emerged as the legitimate stars of this ballclub. Utley began the year in a platoon at second with Placido Polanco, but, after a start to the season in which the Phillies bullpen weakness was embarassingly exploited, Polanco was traded to the Detroit Tigers for machete-wielding, gasoline-spewing reliever Ugueth Urbina, leaving to Utley the job of full-time second baseman. Utley responded by becoming a legitimate star, posting a .916 OPS with 28 home runs. As good as he was, though, even he could not overshadow the other major story of 2005: the emergence of Ryan Howard. Initially called up for a June road trip to serve as the DH in Phillies games against the American League West, Howard had fared exceptionally poorly and had really quieted the expectations of the legions of fans just salivating at his impending call-up. But when Thome was sidelined in late July for the rest of the season, Howard was called up to replace him and he never looked back. In just 88 games, Howard hit 22 home runs and posted an OPS of .923. By the end of the season, it became apparent that the Phillies would be trading Jim Thome to make a permanent place for Howard on their major league roster. These two exciting developments helped to salve the wound of a near-miss season, in which the Phillies had to beat the Houston Astros but once in six tries in order to make the playoffs (as it turned out), but failed to do so.
In the off season, the Phillies made a number of important changes, perhaps none more important than the switch from Ed Wade, who had been at the helm of this team since 1997, to long-time baseball man Pat Gillick as general manager. Gillick lends, at the very least, a cerdibility to a franchise seeking desparately to show the world they mean business, after so many disappointing seasons of late. Gillick's first move was to move Gentleman Jim Thome in order to free up payroll space, and also to plug a long time trouble spot for the Phillies --- center field. He brough Aaron Rowand into the fold, along with a couple of fine pitching prospects, for Thome's enormous bat. Time will tell how Gillick will continue to reshape the roster, but the Phillies are now, at the least, a younger team, with a couple of very exciting young stars leading them into the back half of this decade.
But what about the pitching? It's two months into 2006 as I write this, and the pitching, as always, is the problem. The starters are, as usual, inconsistent. They are paradoxically consistent in their inconsistency. See, this is what happens when you follow the Phillies: you go mad.
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