Saturday, August 18, 2007

Philadelphia Phillies--Land of 10,000 Losses

Here in Chicago, baseball fans are long accustomed to futility. The Cubs have gone 99 years without a championship, and the White Sox went 88 years without one until 2005. That's 187 years of futility. If it makes us feel any better, this season, on July 15th, the Philadelphia Phillies achieved a dubious distinction by becoming the first baseball team to lose 10,000 games. The Cubs have not lost 10,000 although they've been in the league 6 years longer. The saga began in 1883 as the Philadelphia Quakers lost their first 8 games and continued to lose 81 or their 98 games. Their best pitcher, John Coleman, won 12, but unfortunately, lost 48, a major league record unlikely to be broken anytime soon.

In the Phillies 125 year history, they managed to win one championship--in 1980. Over the years, the Phils have been so bad that if they were to win every game for the next 7 seasons, they still won't reach the .500 mark. Their combined record as of August 13, 2007, was 8823 wins and 10,010 losses, which, to put it in perspective, means that every season, on average, the team lost 10 games more than it won.

The Phillies finished in last place more than any other team in history--approximately 30 times. Between 1919 and 1947, for example, they finished last 17 times and next to last 7 times.

People may have sympathy for the Chicago Cubs for all those fruitless years, but at least the Cubs were competitive many of those years, appearing in the World Series (and losing) in 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945.

Some of the Phillies noteworthy low points include:

In the 1950 season, they had a good team and led the National League by 7 games with 11 left to play. They lost 8 of the next 10 and found themselves playing the Dodgers in the final game with the pennant on the line. Their star center fielder Richie Ashburn threw out the Dodgers Cal Abrams at the plate in the 9th inning to save the game, and the Phils won in the 10th inning on Dick Sisler's home run. The Phils went on to lose 4 straight games in the World Series to the NY Yankees.

In the 1964 season, the Phillies led the National League by 6 1/2 games with 12 left to play. They appeared to be a shoo in for the pennant, but in true Phillie fashion, went on to lose 10 games in a row (7 of them at home) and finish in third place behind both St. Louis and Cincinnati.

In the 1930 season, the Phillies lost 102 games, despite a team batting average of .315. Incidentally, the last team to hit over .300 did so 57 years ago. Despite their lusty hitting, the Phillies finished in last place because of awful pitching and fielding, as the team allowed 1199 runs, almost 8 runs per game. Some notable players were right fielder Chuck Klein who batted .386 with 40 homers and 170 RBI's, left fielder Lefty O'Doul, a converted pitcher, who batted .383 with 22 homers, and third baseman Pinky Whitney, who hit .342 with 117 RBI's. The Phils did have one decent pitcher, Phil Collins, who won 16 and lost 11, before he turned to singing.

In 1933, the aforementioned Klein, a Hall of Famer, won the Triple Crown, leading the league in homers, RBI's and batting average, but the Phils still lost 92 games, finishing 7th out of 8 teams.

In 1961, they lost 23 games in a row, sandwiched between wins by ex-Cubs and White Sox pitcher John Buzhardt. For the season, the Phillies lost 107 games and finished in last place for the 4th straight year. Buzhardt, who hailed from Prosperity, South Carolina, won 6 and lost 18 for the season.

In 1972, they won only 59 and lost 97 (and finished last) despite star pitcher Steve (Lefty) Carlton who won 27 and lost 10. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, May 21, 2007--Great Ballplayers on Awful Teams).

In the five years between 1938 and 1942, they averaged 107 losses each season (in a 154 game schedule).

In 1923, they lost to the Chicago Cubs 26 to 23 at the infamous Baker Bowl, which I'll cover in a moment. The Phillies didn't get revenge for that game until 1979 in Chicago's Wrigley Field when they blew a 12 run lead but rallied to beat the Cubs 23-22 in 10 innings. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, May 10, 2007).

The Phillies stadium, the tiny, decrepit Baker Bowl, named after owner William Baker, was their home field from 1887 to 1938. It was a state of the art stadium when it was built, but in 1903, the bleachers collapsed when the fans crowded to one end to watch a street fight, and 12 fans were killed and 232 injured. It happened again in 1927, but nobody was killed although 50 were injured.

At the Baker Bowl, the home run distance to left field was 335 feet, but in right field was only 272 feet with a 60 foot wall, similar to that at Boston's Fenway Park, but 30 feet closer to home plate. That almost guaranteed that the Phillies would hit many home runs--but the opposition usually hit more. The team had a 99 year lease on the stadium they couldn't get out of, and they were finally able to do so when the City condemned it.

In 1915, the Phillies won the National League pennant, led by Gavvy Cravath who hit 24 homers to set the modern record (later broken by Babe Ruth), and legendary pitcher, Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander who won 31 games and over 30 the next two seasons also. He won pitching's triple crown all three years. He was later portrayed by Ronald Reagan in the movie, The Winning Team. The Phillies traded him to the Cubs in 1917 because owner William Baker didn't think Alexander would come back from World War I. After that, the Phils went into a tailspin which lasted over 30 years.

Many of the team's problems were financial. In fact, one season, the league had to advance the team money so the players could go to Spring Training. The paid attendance at the games was so low that visiting teams lost money whenever they had to play the Phillies.

In all fairness, the Phillies have been competitive in more recent years, with star players like pitcher Robin Roberts, 1964 Rookie of the Year Richie Allen; Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Steve Carlton in thee 1970's, Pete Rose and Bob Boone in the 1980's and, more recently, pitcher Curt Schilling, and, of course, Ryan Howard, who hit 58 homers last season.

Some celebrity Phillies fans include Art Garfunkel, Will Smith, Kevin Bacon, Bill Cosby, singers Hall and Oates, and that other dynamic duo, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia of the Supremes. Some of their interestingly named managers include Bill Murray (1907-09 who was reportedly fired on Groundhog Day; Kaiser Wilhelm (1921-22) who, after losing World War I, needed a job; and Terry Moore (1954), whose namesake became famous for her claim to have married Howard Hughes on a boat, but the marriage certificate was lost at sea. Hughes, being Hughes, was unavailable for comment. Also consider Bucky Harris, one of three Hall of Famers to die on his birthday (the others were the Cubs Gabby Hartnett and Joe Tinker).

Incidentally, some other notables who died on their birthdays included William Shakespeare, Moses, King David, Machine Gun Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, and the Italian painter Raphael.

Be that as it may, with the Phillies playing in a new stadium and bringing in promising young players, they have turned things around and are now making the good citizens of Philadelphia proud of their team.




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