Saturday, January 31, 2015

Phillies As MLB's All-Time Losers

From 1883 through 2014, the Philadelphia Phillies have a combined all-time win-loss record of 9,464-10,551. 
The team is 1,087 games below the .500 mark. It would thus take the franchise approximately 60 consecutive 90-win seasons to get back to that all-time break even mark.
Those 10,551 losses are more than any club in MLB history. Only the Braves franchise with 10,303 are even remotely close. 
The Phils .473 all-time winning percentage is not the game's lowest mark: the Padres (.464), Mariners (.468), Rockies (.469), and Marlins (.470) are all lower. But each of those was a relatively recent expansion team, with San Diego's 1969 start the earliest of the bunch.
While the Phillies had losing records in each of the first two seasons in franchise history, including a woeful 17-81-1 mark in that first 1883 campaign, they have not always been on the losing side of the all-time win-loss ledgers. In fact, as late as 1919, a full 37 seasons into their existence, the club was above the .500 mark.
After that slow start, under the guidance of Hall of Famer Harry Wright, the Phillies became consistent winners. From 1885 through the 1917 season the team had 19 winning and 14 losing seasons. Most of those winners were big winners, and a number of the losers were barely on the negative side.
Under manager Pat Moran the Phillies won the 1915 NL Pennant, and reached a franchise high 138 games above the all-time .500 mark in 1917.

In 1915 under skipper Pat Moran, the Phillies won their first National League Pennant. The club would come close, finishing in 2nd place the following two seasons under Moran's guidance. 
By the end of that 1917 season, the Philadelphia Phillies franchise was a full 138 games over the .500 mark all-time. At this point, fans could probably never imagine the sustained losing that was about to begin.
In 1919, in the final season under Moran, the club slipped to 55-68-2 and finished in 6th place. It was the club's worst losing percentage since 1904, and would prove to be a portent of things to come. 
For the next three decades the team would never finish higher than 4th place, something they would accomplish only once.
From 1919-1948 the Phillies finished in 8th place in the 8-team National League an astounding 16 times, more than half of those 30 seasons. 
They finished in 7th place an additional 8 times, meaning that in 24 of 30 years the Philadelphia Phillies were one of the two worst teams in the league. There were also a trio of 6th place finishes, and a pair of 5th place finishes.
During this stretch, the Phillies didn't just lose, they often lost big. The team lost 100 or more games a dozen times, including five seasons in a row from 1938-42. The 1941 team lost a franchise all-time record of 111 games. The following year, the 1942 version improved...to "only" 109 losses.
In that stretch there was a lone island of winning. The 1932 Phillies went 78-76 under manager Bust Shotton, largely thanks to an MVP season from Chuck Klein. It was the lone 4th place finish during that long, futile stretch.
The Phillies finally emerged from all the losing as the Whiz Kids developed. In 1949 the young group went 81-73 under manager Eddie Sawyer, the club's best mark since 1917. The following year they won the NL Pennant with a 91-63-3 mark.
The Whiz Kids ushered in a short, competitive era. Between 1949 and 1957 the Phillies had four winning seasons and two more at the exact .500 mark. 
But then the losing began again, with four consecutive last place finishes from 1958-61. When the NL expanded to 10 teams in 1962, the Phils finished in 7th, but then began winning again. 
Under Gene Mauch, the Phils had 6 consecutive winning years from 1962-67, and nearly won the 1964 NL Pennant.

But in 1968, the losing was back, and it would last through the end of Connie Mack Stadium and into the early years of Veteran's Stadium. 
Finally, in 1974 under Danny Ozark, the Phillies began to win regularly, capturing 3 straight NL East crowns from 1976-78. Under Dallas Green, the Phils finally won the first World Series in franchise history to cap the 1980 season.
Since that 1974 season, the Phillies suffered through one major losing period. From 1988 through 2000, a period of 13 seasons, the club had only the magical 1993 Phillies to celebrate as a winner. 
Around that period, the majority of the last 40 years (until the last two) have been winning ones for the franchise, and they won a 2nd World Series in 2008.
So what caused the team to go from 138 games over the .500 mark after 1917 to 1,087 games below it today? 
Clearly it was that 30 years of sustained, deep losing from 1919-48. But what happened in those years? 
The biggest problem was ownership. William Baker, for whom Baker Bowl was named, and his successor Gerry Nugent were two of the most inept owners in baseball history.
Nugent especially had a reputation for selling off any player who emerged with talent. He was debt-ridden, and finally forced to sell the team. The man to whom he sold it, William Cox, was himself banned from baseball for betting on the team.
There was finally consistent improvement when he was forced to sell, and Bob Carpenter took over. Under the guidance of Carpenter and his son, Ruly, the Phillies would finally regain equilibrium as a franchise, and ultimately win that first World Series crown.
But the damage done by the Baker, Nugent, and Cox regimes to the all-time win-loss record was already done.
Poor ownership that cares very little about the competitive side of the game. That was what caused the Philadelphia Phillies to collapse into oblivion, a state in which they remained for three full decades. 
Then another couple hundred games in the hole was added in that poor era from the late-1980's through 2000. During that period, those running the club made consistently poor decisions in evaluating talent, causing a lengthy dry spell.
The Phillies have just come through their longest sustained period of excellence. From 2001 through 2011, a dozen seasons, the Phils finished either 1st or 2nd place a total of 9 times. They won 5 consecutive NL East crowns in that period, and that 2008 World Series.
But for the last two seasons, the Phils have collapsed back to losing. The current management regime is on record as saying they do not expect to compete for at least the next two seasons. Owners
hip of the team appears to be drifting, at best. Unfortunately for Phillies fans, it doesn't appear that the franchise is ready to start chipping away at that 1,087 game deficit any time soon.

Phillies Quadruple-Double Club

It's not the rarest feat in the game, but it does take a special player with a special and varied set of tools to join the "Quadruple-Double Club", something accomplished by just 19 players in the 132 seasons of Philadelphia Phillies baseball.
The Quadruple-Double is accomplished when a player reaches double-digits during a season across four categories: doubles, triples, homeruns, and stolen bases. 
To accomplish the feat, a player needs to have both power and speed. Without at least a certain amount of the former, he probably doesn't reach 10 homers, and without the latter he may not reach that mark in steals, certainly not in triples.
The first player to accomplish the feat was George Wood in 1887. Mostly an outfielder during a 13-year big league career, Wood played with the Phils from 1886-89. Wood drilled 22 doubles and 14 homers that season, while racing to 19 triples and swiping 19 bags.
Phillies Quadruple Double Schmidt
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt joined the Quadruple-Double Club in 1977
The Quadruple-Double was accomplished eight more times by four different players in the 19th century. Roger Connor became the 2nd to do it in 1892. 
Then between 1893-96, Hall of Famers Ed Delahanty and Sam Thompson each accomplished the feat three times. In 1900, Elmer Flick closed the century by joining the club.
For the first six decades of the 20th century, the Quadruple-Double was accomplished just five times, never twice by the same player. 
Baseball Hall of Famer Chuck Klein did it in 1932, when he won the NL Most Valuable Player award. Phillies Wall of Famers Gavvy Cravath (1913), Sherry Magee (1914), and Cy Williams (1920) all did it once.
Curt Walker, who mostly played rightfield over a dozen big league seasons, played for the Phillies from 1921-24. In 1922, Walker smacked 36 doubles, and joined the Quadruple-Double Club by edging past the other marks with a dozen homers, and with 11 triples and steals.
From the 1960's through the 1980's, another half-dozen players joined the club. Johnny Callison barely made it in 1962 when he had 10 triples and steals. 
In 1977, Gary Maddox and Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt became just the 2nd set of Phillies teammates, the first since Delahanty and Thompson back in 1893, to join the club in the same season. Their teammate, Bake McBride, joined the club in 1979.
A pair of players accomplished the feat multiple times during this three decade period. In the 1960's it was Dick Allen each year from 1965-67. In the 1980's, Juan Samuel became the first Phillies player to ever reach the magic marks in four different seasons, every year from 1984-87.
Phillies Quadruple Double Victorino
The Flyin' Hawaiian was a 3x member of the Quadruple-Double Club with the Phillies (Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)
In the last decade and a half, three different players have accomplished the Quadruple-Double feat a total of 10 times. 
Bobby Abreu did it in both 1999 and 2000, and centerfielder Shane Victorino joined every year from 2009-11.
Jimmy Rollins became the only player in franchise history with five Quadruple-Double seasons, accomplishing the feat in 2001 and 2002, 2004 and 2005, and again during his National League Most Valuable Player season of 2007. 
In that MVP campaign his 38 doubles, 30 homers, 20 triples, and 40 stolen bases was the most impressive all-around offensive season ever put together by a Phillies player.

It's hard to see a current Phillies player capable of accomplishing what has been done 35 times. While Chase Utley has always had the ability, he never did reach the total marks required in any given season, and now at 36 years of age, he is not likely to. 
But at some point in the future a player will come along to become the 20th in franchise history to join the prestigious Quadruple-Double Club. Who will it be?

Phillies Minors' Managers Make a Major Difference

The Philadelphia Phillies are in classic rebuilding mode. Over the next few years the organization has committed to trying to accumulate as much young prospect talent as possible through trade, free agent signings, and the Draft.
As these youngsters come in to the Phillies system, they will be placed at various levels in the minor leagues. Many of them will pass through multiple levels of that system. 
At each stop, the person with the greatest influence over their progressive development will be the manager at those stops.
Let's take a look at the half-dozen men who are currently guiding each of the Phillies six minor league affiliates at AAA-Lehigh Valley, AA-Reading, High A-Clearwater, Low A-Lakewood, Short Season Williamsport, and at the Rookie level GCL Phillies.

Phillies Minors Roly de Armas
Longtime organization man Roly de Armas guides the Rookie level GCL Phillies
While 63-year old ROLY DE ARMAS never reached the major leagues, he was a catcher in the Phillies minor league system from 1973-77.
On retiring, de Armas became a minor league manager in 1979 for the Phillies, guiding Helena to a 1st place finish. It was the first of 14 straight seasons managing in the Phils system for the Florida native, and he has been working in baseball at numerous levels since.
He had a few stints as a coach in the major leagues, including with both the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, and in the Phillies 2008 World Series-winning season even spent some time with the big club as the interim bullpen coach.
The coming 2015 season in the GCL will mark his 29th season as a minor league manager or coach, with the vast majority of those in the Phillies system. It will be his 9th straight season managing the Phillies rookie level team in the Gulf Coast League.

New to the organization for 2015, 51-year old PAT BORDERS brings a wealth of invaluable experience in the game. The 1992 World Series MVP as the Toronto Blue Jays catcher, Borders played parts of 17 big league seasons.
Generally out of baseball for the last 9 years, Borders has the respect of Phillies club President Pat Gillick, who was the Jays' GM during those 1992-93 World Series-winning years and knows him as a winner.
He hit 15 homers in 1990, 13 for that 1992 squad, and was the regular starting catcher for both of the Jays back-to-back World Series clubs in the 1992-93 season, including that 1993 team that beat the 'Macho Row' Phillies in 1993 on Joe Carter's dramatic homerun.
From 1992-94 he led all American League catchers in Assists, and in 1988 led the league when he threw out 47.25 of attempted base stealers.
Borders was the classic field general as a backstop, and if anyone can be gone from the game that long and step right back in, it will be him. 

Phillies Minors Shawn Williams
Shawn Williams moves up from Williamsport to the Low A Lakewood BlueClaws (Photo: MiLB.com)
SHAWN WILLIAMS is being promoted this season to Lakewood, New Jersey and the Phillies Low A level squad.
To say that he grew up in the game is an understatement. Williams' father, Jimmy, was not only the Phillies bench coach, but also was a big league manager with Toronto, Boston, and Houston. His brother, Brady, is a manager in the Tampa Bay Rays system at the AA level.
Williams went to spring training as a player with the Phils just two years ago, was offered an opportunity to enter the coaching ranks, and jumped at it. He was the manager at short season Williamsport last season, guiding that club to a 33-43 record.
Just 31-years old, Williams is clearly being groomed to play a major role with the club at some point. At the very least he is building a resume that will put him into position to be considered for MLB managing or coaching jobs in the next few years.

Now 54-years old, Greg Legg actually played for the Phillies, getting cups of coffee in both 1986 and 1987. That means he was a teammate of Mike Schmidt in the big leagues. With just 14 games and 22 plate appearances, he can still brag of a .409 career MLB batting average.
A 22nd round pick of the club in the 1982 MLB Draft, Legg spent 13 seasons in the Phils system, registering 1,094 hits. He joined the Phils minor league system as a coach for 1994, and got his first shot managing in the system in 1997.
He has been a coach and/or manager at all levels of the Phils minor league system up to AA, and was the hitting coach for the back-to-back South Atlantic League champion Lakewood squad in 2009-10. Last season, as the BlueClaws manager, he guided the club to a 53-84 mark, and is being moved up this season for a shot in Clearwater.

The Reading Phillies are likely to feature one of the best pitching staffs in all of minor league baseball during the 2015 season, including top Phils mound prospects Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin.
To guide these players, as well as top overall prospect shortstop J.P. Crawford, the Phillies are calling upon Dusty Wathan. He reached the major leagues as a player with the 2002 Kansas City Royals, making him a 2nd generation big leaguer. His dad John Wathan both played and managed in the majors.
Dusty spent each of his final two playing season in 2006-07 in the Phils organization, and got into coaching immediately afterwards. This will be his 4th season (204-222) at the helm of the R-Phils for the man universally considered as one of the top managers in minor league baseball. The 41-year old is sure to be on the short list of managerial candidates for big league openings over the next few years.
Phillies Minors Dave Brundage
Dave Brundage is back for his 3rd season at helm of Phils top minor league club. (Photo: lehighvalleylive.com)
This will be the 3rd straight season for Dave Brundage as the manager of the Phillies top farm club in Lehigh Valley. Prior to that, Brundage was the manager of the Atlanta Braves top farm club at AAA for 4 consecutive seasons.
A 4th round pick of the Phils in the 1984 MLB Draft, Brundage played two seasons in the clubs minor league system among 10 overall years in the minors.
He quickly reached the minor league managerial level upon retiring, and has spent much of the last 20 years as a minor league skipper, including winning the 2007 International League championship with the Richmond Braves. He has won over 1,200 games as a minor league manager overall.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Time Running Out on Chase Utley

Phillies 2nd baseman Chase Utley turned 36 years old last month. In this day and age, where players are no longer capable of extending their careers and/or enhancing their performance with the help of substances, that is old age in baseball years.
Not only is Utley battling Father Time, he is also battling his own body. He has been playing for the last few years on a pair of balky knees, dealing with both patella tendonitis and Chrondromalacia patella.
After suffering through a physically painful 2012 season, Utley learned to rest more, stretch better, and generally strengthen the muscles around his knee for more support. 
The result was an improved 2013 and 2014 performance, and a return to near the top of production among MLB 2nd basemen.
In 2013 at age 34, Utley banged out 18 homers and 25 doubles, his highest totals in those power categories since 2009. He also tied a career high with 6 triples. 
In 2014, while his homers fell to 11, he again reach a half-dozen triples, raised his doubles total to 36, and thus raised his extra-base total from 49 to 53.
Chase will never return to his 2005-09 prime years, when he was not only the premier offensive 2nd basemen in the game but also one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, period. But the production that he has given the Phillies over the last two years is certainly acceptable.
The problem is that age. While he has fought back against the bad knees and managed his conditions well enough to stay effective, that is sure to continue to get harder with each passing year. 
It is a sure thing that one of these years, Utley simply will break down, and likely for good. That could come at any time, including this coming 2015 season.

The 2015 season is the final guaranteed year in Utley's contract. He is due to make $10 million this time around, and needs to reach the 500 plate appearances mark in order to guarantee a $15 million contract for 2016.
That will be the case each year. He will need to keep reaching that mark to guarantee that salary through 2018. As recently as 2011 and 2012, Utley was unable to reach that mark due to his battles with various injuries, including those knees.
Phillies fans need to enjoy every game that Chase plays at this point. Time is running out for 'The Man' who has played 2nd base more than any other player in franchise history, and it is probably a 50-50 proposition that this coming season will be the last we hear "Kashmir" play as this fan favorite walks to the plate in red pinstripes.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

1971 Phillies: My First Team

I was just 9 years old when a then-modern sports cathedral known as Veteran's Memorial Stadium, otherwise known as Veteran's Stadium, or more simply "The Vet", opened virtually in my South Philly back yard. 
And it was the 1971 Phillies team, the first to play on the new Astroturf surface, that became the first Phillies team I ever followed.
My friends and I were fans of The Vet even before the place officially opened. We would ride our bikes to the stadium on the nice March days prior to it's opening, and on many days even once it did open. 
We rode our bikes around the concourse, picking up speed, and then would hit the long, sloping pedestrian access ramps at full speed. The effect would be like putting our bikes on turbo-powered boosters.
My dad took my brother, Mike, and I to a Phillies formal "Opening Day" event for The Vet. This was not an actual game, but took place prior to that first game. We had seats somewhere in the upper deck, probably around what was the 600 level.
1971 Phillies
Veteran's Stadium opened for that 1971 Phillies season
I clearly remember being in awe of the place. Everything was shiny and new at that point. The gleaming white concrete outer pillars. The surreal-looking green Astroturf artificial playing surface. The brown dirt of the base cutouts. 
There were dancing fountains of green water in center field. A giant, 13-star Colonial era flag unfurling above them. Revolutionary War characters Phil and Phillis shooting off a cannon along the outfield walls. And what seemed like a massive computerized scoreboard.
I had never been to old Connie Mack Stadium (something that I still jokingly "hold against" my dad.) The neighborhood of that old ballpark had become so dilapidated during the late-60's, when I was a kid who would have been old enough to appreciate a trip there, that my dad just felt it was too unsafe to take us. And besides, in reality he was not a big baseball fan. Golf and basketball were his sports.
But here we were at The Vet for this special Opening Day, because it was new, and it was an event that was close to our home. 
For that 9-year old me, it was love at first sight. I was in love, and I had still never seen a baseball game in real life. It would be a love that would last to this very day.
The Phillies began playing at the stadium just days later, and that 1971 Phillies team would become the very first that I would follow in my lifetime. 
In the true Opening Game, on April 10th, 1971, the Master of Ceremonies for pre-game festivities and introductions was a new broadcaster in town by the name of Harry Kalas. 
The Phils defeated the expansion Montreal Expos by a 4-1 score, with future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning getting the win, and all-time Phillies player/coach great Larry Bowa registering the first hit at The Vet.
1971 Phillies Montanez
Centerfielder Willie Montanez banged 30 homers and finished 2nd in 1971 NL Rookie of the Year vote.
The 25-year old Bowa would eventually grow to become one of my favorites, but that first year my actual favorite players were a little 2nd baseman named Denny Doyle, and a hotdog centerfielder named Willie Montanez
Doyle was a scrappy 26-year old, playing his 2nd season in the big leagues and as Bowa's doubleplay partner. Montanez was an exciting 23-year old who hit 30 homeruns and finished 2nd in NL Rookie of the Year voting that season.
The manager of those Phillies was Frank Lucchesi, a little olive-skinned Italian who fit right in with South Philly. Unfortunately the 2nd year skipper would only last until halfway through the following season. 
In that first year at The Vet, Lucchesi had a mixture of veterans and kids to call upon in both his lineup and on his pitching staff.
The lineup was led by 32-year old veteran 1st baseman Deron Johnson who would bang out 34 homeruns and register 95 rbi, and 29-year old catcher Tim McCarver, who would later become a famed broadcaster. 
Otherwise this was a young team. Besides Bowa, Doyle, and Montanez there was 23-year old 3rd baseman John Vukovich, 21-year old left fielder Oscar Gamble, and 25-year old right fielder Roger Freed.
The Phillies bench was also pretty young, with only 35-year old fan favorite infielder Tony Taylor having much experience. 
It included 24-year old infielder Don Money (who hit the very first homerun in Vet Stadium history), 27-year old infielder Terry Harmon, 28-year old outfielder Ron Stone, 29-year old catcher Mike Ryan, 24-year old outfielder Larry Hisle, a good-looking 20-year old outfielder named Mike Anderson, and a September call-up by a prodigous 20-year old slugger named Greg Luzinski.
The pitching rotation was led by Bunning, who was then 39-years old in the final season of his Hall of Fame career. He would make just 16 starts that 1971 season, the last a horrible appearance at the Astrodome in mid-July in which he would yield 4 earned runs on 7 hits in lasting just a single inning. 
Bunning also made 13 relief appearances, and it was as a reliever that he wrapped his career with a 2-inning stint at The Vet on September 3rd against the New York Mets.
Another veteran in that rotation was lefty Chris ShortA decade earlier, Bunning and Short had nearly helped lead the Phillies to an NL Pennant. Now they were both aging and in decline. Short was now 33-years old, and would go 7-14 across 26 starts in what would be his final year as a regular starting pitcher.
Also in the rotation for the 1971 Phillies was their real stud, a 25-year old righty named Rick Wise. He would win 17 games for a team that won just 65, and would be traded after the season for a left-hander named Steve Carlton.
Filling out the rotation were Barry Lersch and Ken Reynolds, both of whom were back-end starters by today's lingo. Veteran Woodie Fryman was strong as a swingman who both started and relieved. 
Joe Hoerner was an effective lefty closer for that Phillies team. The bullpen also had a quintet of good-looking 20-somethings in Bill ChampionDick SelmaBill Wilson, and Wayne Twitchell.
Those were my first Phillies. I watched them as much as I could on TV in those days, though not many games were broadcast other than on Sunday afternoons. 
More often, I listened that summer for the first time to the excellent work being done from the radio booth by the team of veteran By Saam, former player Richie Ashburn, and the newbie Kalas.

My Dad got us out to The Vet for a couple of games before the end of that 65-97 season. But the record really didn't matter to me at that point. I had been introduced to a new game, a new stadium, a new team, a new love. 
In just a few years, they would start to win at The Vet. Players named Carlton and Schmidt and Boone would join Luzinski and Bowa from the minor leagues. It all began for me with those 1971 Philadelphia Phillies, and the opening of Veteran's Stadium.