The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies were not supposed to be contenders, let alone win the NL East Division crown, let alone a National League pennant.
At least not as far as experts, and anyone who knew anything at all about baseball was concerned as that season began.
Well, at least not as far as anyone except the team themselves, that is.
In my lifetime, I have followed the Phillies through 45 seasons now, since I was a 9-year old kid in 1971. I have enjoyed some great seasons. Ten NL East crowns. Five National League pennants. A pair of World Series championships.
Never in all of those 45 seasons did I follow a single season, from start to finish, that was more enjoyable, more downright fun, than that group of 1993 Phillies.
Perhaps it was because it was all so unexpected. In 1992, the Phils had finished in last place in the NL East with a 70-92 record.
That 1992 cellar finish was their sixth straight losing campaign, and made it eight of nine seasons in which the club had not fashioned a winning record.
The Phillies swept the Houston Astros on the road in a three game series to open the season, on their way to winning eight of their first nine games. Their only loss in that stretch left them a half-game out in the NL East race. They would never trail again that season.
Morgan was 39-years old, and was now reunited with his old Cincinnati buddy Pete Rose, now 42-years old and in his final season of a five-year contract with the Phillies.
The ‘Big Red Machine’ Reunion would be completed when the Phillies signed Tony Perez as a free agent at the end of January 1983.
With the exception of the 24-year old Hayes, every Phillies positional starter was at least 30 years of age, as were three members of the season-opening starting pitching rotation, and the majority of the bullpen.
The club was so long in the tooth that they were given the nickname the “Wheeze Kids”, a nod to the 1950 NL champs who had been so young that they had become the “Whiz Kids” in team lore.
A dramatic, hard-fought, come-from-behind win on a Sunday in the hostile environs of Royals Stadium had left the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies just one win away from the first championship in franchise history.
The series would now return to South Philly for the final two games, the Phils hoping it would be just one, in front of the roaring, partisan fans at Veteran’s Stadium.
Philadelphia at that time had not won a major sports championship in 5 ½ years, since the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers had skated off with their second consecutive Stanley Cup in May of 1975. However, Philly was also in the midst of a pro sports renaissance.
Those Flyers had remained a strong contender throughout the 70’s, still led by future Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke. The Flyers had reached the Stanley Cup finals earlier in 1980, losing in six games.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers, featuring a true living legend in Julius Erving, had also become a perennial contender in recent years. Led by ‘Dr. J’, the Sixers had also come close, losing the NBA Finals earlier that year.
So on the chilly night of October 21st, 1980 the sports fans of Philadelphia could be forgiven if, for once in the town’s history, they felt on top of the sporting world.
What we were on that night, in actuality, was near the top. Our hockey and basketball teams had come close enough to see the summit, but were unable to reach that ultimate goal of standing on top of the mountain. The Phillies would now take their shot.
The Philadelphia Phillies had built an early 2-0 lead in the 1980 World Series over the Kansas City Royals with a pair of victories at Veteran’s Stadium.
The Fall Classic then shifted to Royals Stadium (now Kauffman Stadium) for three games over the weekend of October 17th through 19th.
In Game Three on Friday night, the two teams battled into the 10th inning tied at 3-3.
There in the bottom of the 10th, the host Royals gained life when their offensive star of the series, big 1st baseman Willie Aikens, singled off Tug McGraw to score Willie Wilson with the walkoff run in a 4-3 victory.
Then in Saturday afternoon’s Game Four, Kansas City tied the series thanks to a pair of home runs from Aikens. Those twin blasts had pushed the home side out to an early 5-1 lead after just two innings.
The Phils fought back with solo runs in both the 7th and 8th innings to make a game of it, but those rallies fell short.
A big 3rd inning explosion and Tug McGraw bullpen heroics gave the Philadelphia Phillies a 7-6 victory in Game One of the 1980 World Series at Veteran’s Stadium the previous night, setting the stage for Game Two on Wednesday night, October 15th, 1980.
This was a big night for me personally, as it was and remains still the only World Series game that I have ever personally attended.
I was 18 years old, working for a year at First Pennsylvania Bank as a low-paid, low-level clerk. I didn’t make a lot of money, and frankly saw an opportunity to make some quick cash.
The Phillies had added a new tier of seating for this World Series, bleacher style seating in what had previously been a walkway at the very top of the 700 level at The Vet, ringing the entire stadium.
The weekend before that Fall Classic began, you were able to purchase tickets at the stadium box office. I took a wad of money that I didn’t really have, and on a prayer and the hope that I could sell the tickets for a profit, went down to stand in line.
Tickets that were available by the time my turn came were for that upper level at $15 per ticket. There was a maximum available per person of eight tickets per game. I purchased eight for Game Two, shelling out the $120 from my wallet.
Based on today’s ticket prices, that might sound like a bargain to you. But remember, these were 1980 dollars, and I didn’t have $120 of them to spare.
However, the Phils were in the World Series for the first time since 1950, the 2nd time ever, and the 1st time in my lifetime. The team had the town wildly excited.
I believed that I could sell the tickets for a profit, but had no clue for how much. The very first day that I walked in to work and let it be known that I had them, one of the more well-off members of my department offered to buy a pair for $50 each. Sold! Later that same day, I sold another pair for another $50 each.
Four tickets sold in a matter of hours, and $200 returned on my original $120 investment.
The next day, which was the day before the game, I unloaded two more for $25 each. With a $130 profit, more than what I paid for the eight tickets, I was now going to use the final two for myself.
In the culmination of a six-week process, the Philadelphia Phillies announced today that 35-year old Matt Klentak has been hired as the new franchise General Manager.
He thus becomes not only the 11th GM in franchise history, but also the youngest to ever fill that position with the organization.
Klentak comes to the Phillies after serving as the assistant General Manager with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the last four years.
Klentak has worked in Major League Baseball for most of the last dozen years since graduating from Dartmouth in 2002. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics at the Ivy League school, as well as starring as the baseball team's starting shortstop.
Also as reported then, there were increasing signs that the announcement would come over this past weekend. Word indeed leaked out yesterday on the Klentak choice, and the club made that final announcement official today.
Let's be frank about one thing right up front: no one knows for sure whether this was the "right guy" for the job, or the "best possible" candidate for the position. No one knows "how he will do" as the club GM in the coming years.
What we do know is that Phillies fans clamored for the removal of Ruben Amaro from that position. Done. Phillies fans clamored for John Middleton to step up and take charge of the ownership group. Done.
Klentak has worked with and for MacPhail in the past. That doesn't make his hiring any more or less credible.
It is simply factual that when people work together in one organization, and move to a position of power within another organization, that they are going to try to bring talented people who they trust and in whom they have confidence along with them.
The Phillies underwent a lengthy identification, selection, interview, and evaluation, and process of available candidates.
From 2008-11, Klentak was MacPhail's right-hand man with the Baltimore Orioles. In the end, Klentak was clearly one of their favored choices as a finalist, and if a comfort level with MacPhail pushed him to the top, then fine.
"...if we do our jobs right, we will turn this into a winner and it's gonna be fun for a long time." ~ Klentak
It's now time for all three men: Middleton, MacPhail, and Klentak to get to work in moving the organization forward in the rebuilding process.
Middleton needs to make wise financial decisions that may include a couple of bold expenditures. MacPhail needs to utilize the resources provided by Middleton properly.
Klentak needs to work the phones, grease the palms, and swing the deals that will help push that process forward.
As quoted by the Associated Press, Klentak knows there is only so much that he can do in the end, at least as far as a timeline on that rebuild translating into a winner:
"I have very ambitious goals. I want to win. When is going to be dictated by the players. The game isn't about the guys who wear ties and sit at the table."
Many have wanted the Phillies to take a more analytics-based approach to player development. Under Klentak, that will absolutely take place.
"Teams that lean too far in one direction...are teams that tend to get in trouble. I want to make sure that we are looking at all avenues, all pieces of information, and create a nice, balanced approach..."
There was a lot of the usual glad-handing, back-slapping, and ego-stroking at today's press conference to announce the hiring. It's simply all a part of the process in today's media-starved world.
But now, the real work of rolling up the sleeves behind closed doors by these men will make or break this franchise over the next few years.
Some of that rebuilding process has already begun, pushed by Middleton as he began to take the reins, directing former club president Pat Gillick and ex-GM (now Boston Red Sox first base coach) Ruben Amaro Jr to start turning over an aging roster.
Next season, that group should be joined by top prospect shortstop J.P. Crawford at some point. Also, a number of other young pitchers will be getting a shot at the rotation and bullpen.
In the end, as we have anticipated all along, expect the next calendar year, including the full 2016 season, to be another year of examining, evaluating, and building upon the young talent already present in the organization.
"I think that, coupled with the first pick in the draft, the largest international bonus pool this year, the first priority in the waiver period, the first pick in the Rule 5 draft...if we do our jobs right, we will turn this into a winner and it's gonna be fun for a long time."
All realistic fans of the team are prepared for a possible rough 2016 season. What they want to see is at least incremental improvement.
Exciting selections in the MLB Amateur Draft, a couple of more strong youngsters added at the big league level.
Hope that this will not be a half-decade rebuild, but that the Phillies can return Citizens Bank Park to the glorious days of a half-decade ago, sooner rather than later.
Today's hiring of Matt Klentak to fill the GM position puts the team in place that will make the moves that will ultimately make that happen.
Today was a nice day for smiles and speeches. In Philly, talk is cheap. Sure, we want to get this right. We also want to win, and would prefer to not wait until the next decade for it. Get to work fellas.
As a new decade was dawning in mid-October of 1980, the Fall Classic would feature the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals.
In the late 1970's, both clubs had been frequent bridesmaids in the National and American Leagues respectively. But in 1980, both finally kicked in the door, won a pennant, and advanced to the World Series.
The Royals were a 1969 expansion team founded by a Kansas City businessman named Ewing Kauffman after the Athletics, who had left Philadelphia for KC just 14 years earlier, had left the Missouri city in 1968.
Kranitz never appeared as a player in MLB, but was drafted three times, and also spent parts of seven seasons in minor league baseball.
He was drafted twice in 1977 alone, with the Saint Louis Cardinals selecting him in the 3rd round of the old January phase of the draft, and then the Los Angeles Dodgers picking him in the June draft. In 1979, the Brewers made him their 4th round selection in June.
Kranitz was a righthanded pitcher who then proceeded to compile a 37-39 record in 119 minor league games, 79 of those as starting assignments, over five seasons of rising through the Brewers farm system.
He was never able to break through to the big league club, and moved on to the Chicago Cubs organization, where he made just one appearance in both 1984 and 1985. In all, Kranitz compiled a 3.98 career ERA, with a 1.534 WHIP, and a 512/400 K:BB ratio.
Per MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, Mackanin stated in regards to the Krantiz hiring: "Rick was my pitching coach in Venezuela in 1989. We go back a long way."
McLaren actually has managerial experience in Major League Baseball. For parts of two seasons in 2007-08, McLaren served as skipper of the Seattle Mariners, going 68-88. In 2011, he went 2-1 in the role of interim manager with the Washington Nationals.
McLaren was a Lou Piniella protege, serving under him on the staffs in both Seattle and Tampa Bay from 1993-2005.
He was the third base coach for the U.S. team in the first-ever World Baseball Classic in 2006.
As a player, McLaren was selected in the 7th round of the 1970 MLB Amateur Draft in June by the Houston Astros.
He spent parts of the next seven seasons rising slowly but steadily through the Houston organization, but was never able to advance beyond the AAA level.
A catcher through the vast majority of his career, McLaren hit for a career .250/.352/.363 slash line with 38 homers and 200 RBI over 1,870 minor league plate appearances.
On the McLaren addition to the staff, Zolecki quoted Mackanin as follows: "John has been around a long time, he's got a lot of experience. He can do anything I really need, anything I want zeroed in on."