A long-term gamble on youth
Strong points: Manager Gene Mauch is going with youth at almost every spot in an attempt to build a new Whiz Kid team. Everyone in the probable starting lineup is in his mid-20s except First Baseman Roy Sievers (35) and Left Fielder Wes Covington (30). The only certain strong point on the Phillies, however, is the power hitting of Sievers (27 HRs, 92 RBIs) and Don Demeter (21 HRs, 70 RBIs).
Weak spots: Lack of runs, poor defense. The Phils made the fewest hits and scored the fewest runs in the majors last year. Sievers was obtained from the White Sox to remedy that. The Phils may score a few more runs but they will give just as many away. Clay Dalrymple made more errors (14) than any other catcher in the majors, and Demeter at third is a converted outfielder. Sievers, at best, is only adequate at first and Tony Taylor at second slumped appreciably in his fielding last year. The only sure glove in the infield belongs to Ruben Amaro, the slick little shortstop who is on leave from the Army. Center Fielder Tony Gonzalez and Right Fielder John Callison are fast and sure-handed but Covington is in the lineup only for his bat.
The big ifs: Philadelphia pitching was the worst in the league last year. "We lost with pitchers everyone knew; we can't do worse with the kids," says Mauch. So the Phillies got rid of a handful of pitchers with a combined 10-30 mark and will go with fresh faces. Best of the baby corps is Art Mahaffey, 23, a sturdy right-hander who won 11 games last year and pitched well enough to win a lot more. Behind Mahaffey is Jim Owens (28), who came along strong at the end of last season, and Cal McLish (36), the only oldtimer on the staff. After these three, it's a parade of young hopefuls: Ed Keegan, 22, Jack Hamilton, 23, Dwight Siebler, 24, and Chris Short, 24. Jack Baldschun, 25, who relieved in 65 games last year and had a good 3.87 ERA, will be the big man in the bullpen.
Rookies and new faces: Frank Torre, the former Brave first baseman, is expected to relieve Sievers and supply an experienced bat in the pinch. Sammy White, the ex-Red Soxer, could win the first-string catching job. McLish, who came from the White Sox, adds vintage to the young pitching staff. Outfielder Ted Savage, 25, was the MVP in the International League last season with a .325 average. A right-handed batter with a good arm and fine running speed, Savage is a Henry Aaron-type hitter who can be fooled on a pitch and still line it for a double. A sleeper in the Phillies' camp is an 18-year-old Cuban pitcher named Marcelino Lopez. He handled major league hitters with ease in winter ball, is very quick and has the poise of a veteran.
OUTLOOK: The Phils came in eighth the last four years, lost more games each time. They will have to be very lucky to finish eighth again this season, will more likely be an embarrassed ninth or 10th.
How to lose 23 games in a row
Last August 20 the Phillies beat the Braves 7-4 in the second-game of a doubleheader. It was their first win in 24 games.
"It just built and built each day," Catcher Clay Dalrymple said of the record losing streak. "We were only out of a couple of games real bad. Most of the time we lost them in late innings. By our own average, we figured to lose 12 or 14 of those games. Then we lost about six more on bad breaks. A ball hits a pebble, a pop fly is missed, a line drive is caught. When you're going like that, every bad call goes against you. No umpire can ever see it your way.
"Near the end we might have pressed a little. You get to worrying what you'll do when you're up and you worry in the field. Then somebody hits a ball to you and you tighten up. The next thing you know three guys are on and somebody doubles and you're down again. It was awful. There are no soft teams in this league. You can't ever go into a town and be sure you'll win at least one."
For the first time since 1948, Robin Roberts was absent from the Philadelphia training camp. The newsmen and the photographers following the club turned their attention instead to a dark-haired, 23-year-old right-handed pitcher named Art Mahaffey. He is the one Phillie player described as untouchable in Manager Mauch's rebuilding program. In a game against Chicago last season Mahaffey struck out 17 batters.
"It was a funny thing about that game," Mahaffey said "I was in the groove. I just felt loose and the ball wouldn't go anyplace but the corners. It didn't seem as if I was throwing hard at all, yet I was striking a lot of men out."
The major league record for strikeouts in one game is 18, shared by Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax.
"Nobody told me about that until after the game," said Mahaffey. "I was just going for outs. If I had been told I was going for the record, I could have eased up on a couple of the tough guys and pitched to the other ones. I was real strong at the end and could have had a couple of more strikeouts easy. If I had had 19, that would have been worth some dough."
At 23, Art Mahaffey is a worthy successor to Robin Roberts.
"It's actually easier to hit well in the majors than in the minors," Frank Torre said. In 1958 Torre hit .309 for the pennant-winning Braves. Then he started slumping and was shipped to the minors last season after 4½ years in the big leagues. This spring Torre was trying out for a spot on the Phillies.
"In the minors the pitchers change so much and the conditions of the fields are a lot worse. If I didn't get back to the majors this year, I was through with baseball. Now I have a good chance to make this club. I only need six more months for my pension. That'll keep me hustling."