Twenty months ago a DC-6B taxied slowly across a rain-slicked runway at Philadelphia's International Airport bearing the most miserable collection of passengers in the history of major league baseball, if not in the history of aviation: the Philadelphia Phillies. Awaiting the team that had managed to lose 23 consecutive games were 300 proud Philadelphians and a five-piece band anxious to play Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Frank Sullivan, a pitcher, looked glumly from the plane window and gave his teammates a warning. "Men," he said, "let's get out of here at one-minute intervals so they can't get us all with one burst."
There is no town anywhere, the cliché says, that scorns a winner and loves a loser quite as much as Philadelphia. In 1956, for instance, a young, blonde Main Line actress named Grace Kelly was just starting to go good when she realized her predicament and promptly had herself shipped out. In 1962, when Philadelphian Sonny Liston acquired the heavyweight championship of the world, he sensed where winners stood and skedaddled right off to Chicago without even waving goodby to Locust Street.
This year Philadelphia may become a city torn. It seems to be in danger of having a winner in the Phillies, many of them the same forlorn souls who set that National League losing record back in 1961. During the first two weeks of this season the Phils have 1) received a fine four-hit pitching performance from Art Mahaffey (see cover); 2) stormed from five runs behind to beat the Cincinnati Reds; 3) won four of their first five games; and 4) had baseball's leading hitter in Don Demeter (.519). At the end of last week they had turned around and lost five of their next seven games, but not even this was enough to make Philadelphians happy again. It was apparent to everyone that the 1963 Phillies would never lose 23 straight games and, as horrible as it was to contemplate, might even finish in the first division for the first time in seven years.
Phillie fans, of course, were up to some novel tricks trying to put a stop to this nonsense. A lunatic found a nesting place in the center-field bleachers at archaic Connie Mack Stadium and started whipping firecrackers at the hometown outfielders. Hot-dog wrappers began cascading down from the stands, causing pitchers and infielders to stand in pools of mustard and waxed paper. Everyone in Philadelphia has suddenly become an expert about the Phils and everyone believes that the Phillies have faults which only he can spot. Take Mrs. Janet Rahner, for instance. She believes that the Phils "need some pitching" help to go along with Art Mahaffey. Janet Rahner should know, too, because she has sat in her box seat behind home plate—she and her husband, Al, and their 9-year-old French poodle, Caesar—for many a season.
While there is new hope in Philadelphia for 1963, as always it must be tempered with old Philadelphia caution. "Baseball joy," said an editorial in the Bulletin, "may turn to pain—and with the Phillies it usually has. Still, this is a time to dream."
The dreams, of course, actually began late in the 1962 season when the Phillies became the hottest team in baseball by winning 30 of their last 44 games. Lumped by many experts before the season began into a tarnished package that included the Houston Colt .45s, the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs, the Phillies turned out to be far superior to any of these. They picked up 26 games in the standings over their finish of 1961 and played over .500 baseball for the first time in nine years.
"The Phillies," according to Fresco Thompson, vice-president and talent-developer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, "are a good, young ball club. They are one of the teams to watch now and in the future." Fred Hutchinson, the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, says, "Every time you look up at the plate the Phils got another hitter coming up at you who can hit. It didn't used to be that way."
The things that have gotten the Phillies going are simply good management and good, young players. In 1959 Owner Bob Carpenter was confronted with an empty chair and a big problem when General Manager Roy Hamey accepted an offer from the New York Yankees. There was one man Carpenter wanted: John Quinn, who had built the Braves. Quinn-built Brave teams finished out of the first division only twice, won three pennants, tied for another first place and earned a world's championship. Quinn came to Philadelphia to work on Jan. 13, 1959, and he has not stopped working since. He built his present Phillies on the theory that "You can make trades that help you, sure. But the basis of a team comes from the farms. That worked for me in Milwaukee and I'm trying to do the same thing here in Philadelphia." Not long after Quinn left Milwaukee, four of his top scouts promptly followed him.
After losing the opening game of the 1960 season, Eddie Sawyer, then the manager of the Phillies, resigned. "I am 49 years old," said Sawyer, "and I want to live to be 50." Everyone, including Owner Bob Carpenter, thought that Alvin Dark, then an infielder with the Phils, would be appointed field manager by Quinn. Instead, Quinn went to Carpenter and said, "The man for us is Gene Mauch. I got him his first job [at Atlanta] and he had great success. At Minneapolis he got into two Junior World Series in two tries." Carpenter said something like "Who he?" but Quinn got his man.
Today Gene Mauch (pronounced Mock), at 37, is the youngest manager in the major leagues. Not too long after arriving in Philadelphia he began to confuse some of the fans with his strategies. Instead of having Phillie pitchers warm up in the bullpen along the left-field foul line as they had done for years, he moved them to right field, away from the "home side" dugout. "Most of the balls hit to left field in our park," says Mauch, "are straight away and will be caught or else go for home runs. Right field is different. It's tough to tell if a ball will be caught or if it will hit the wall. Let's say we get runners on second and third and somebody hits the ball to right. Somebody in the bullpen will wave to the base coaches and they can start to spin the runners around.
"On defense," continues Mauch, "the guys in the bullpen can direct the outfielder and warn him about the fence and tell him what base to throw to."
Gene Mauch is a pleasant but tough and introspective manager. "When I first came up to the Dodgers in 1944 as an infielder," he says, "I was fascinated at managing. I was an 18-year-old kid and thought I knew a lot about baseball. I didn't know a thing. I watched Leo Durocher and wanted to be a manager, to have a chance to handle players and to know as many answers as there possibly were. When I first got to managing in the minors in 1953 I fought everybody. Myself, my players, other managers and other players. I was 27 years old and running a ball club and I made a lot of mistakes."
Larry Gilbert, a member of the Miracle Braves of 1914, and one of the best and most successful Southern Association managers, spotted Mauch right away, however, as a superb tactician. "Gene Mauch," he said, "has brought more baseball into this league than any new manager in 10 years."
In the Southern Association, Mauch got into a feud with a Chattanooga pitcher, Jerry Lane. Lane said he was going to "stick one" in Player-Manager Mauch's car, or somewhere. Mauch dressed early one night and went out after Lane, who was shagging fly balls in the outfield. Mauch threw the only punch before the fight was broken up. It proved to his players that he was not afraid of anyone in any league.
For many years Mauch wore uniform No. 2, the same number that has always been associated with Leo Durocher. Today, however, he wears No. 4 and is not a carbon copy of Leo at all, although he can argue with the best of umpires. He has become popular with the Philadelphia fans because of his tempestuous ways. "I believe that the Phils are so highly thought of now," he says, "because they are young and have proven that they have talent. But I believe too that you can trace their playing together today right back to that losing streak of 1961. A feeling of unity came out of that whole rotten mess. They didn't like the insults that went along with that streak and they did not like to be identified as playing for a ball club that set a league record for losses in a row. During that time each and every one of them was identified as being a Phillie and that meant loser.
"No matter what we tried, it wouldn't work. A million things went through my mind. Everything went through my mind. Did I think I was going to be fired? I say everything went through my mind! The only thing I didn't really try was suicide, and I guess the reason I didn't try that was because it was the one thing that might have worked."
Before the Phillies began to play good baseball last August they once again went into a slump—an eight-game slump. "We thought maybe it was going to be the same thing all over again," says Mauch. "But suddenly they started to challenge people. They won a game, then another, then another, and they saw for themselves that they could get some runs and win. Once they started to win, it became like a big infection and they took on a feeling of great pride. Not selfish pride but pride in each other. When the outfield was warming up, the infielders and the guys on the bench would start to holler over at the other dugouts, "You ain't got no arms like those'; 'You ain't got guys that can hit like they can.' They believed it, too, and they bragged on each other and nothing makes a team move as much as that."
The outfield, of course, was and is worth bragging about. John Callison stopped trying to pull every pitch and hit .300. Don Demeter, who had shuffled through platooning systems in the past, played both third and the outfield and was told he had to bat in runs. He promptly hit .307 and knocked in 107. Tony Gonzalez, who had loafed in some of his past seasons, began to hustle and fielded 1.000 while hitting .302. Wes Covington, while certainly no Joe DiMaggio, fielded as well as could be expected for Covington and hit .283.
With the addition of Don Hoak, obtained from the Pittsburgh Pirates during the winter, the Philadelphia infield has also become as solid as one of Connie Mack Stadium's walls. Hoak, with his fire and spirit, is far more than just a very good third baseman, of course. He is the kind of man who makes a team want to win every game. Says Mauch: "He's the kind of a player I always wanted to be myself." With Bobby Wine and Ruben Amaro, the team has two fine, young and improving shortstops, and Tony Taylor is one of the good ones at second base.
The real hope for the Phillies at present and in the future, however, must come from Arthur Mahaffey Jr. He is young and powerful and fast and quiet and terribly concerned about his pitching. His face is often drawn tight and to a hitter he looks like a baffling snarl of arms and legs. "All I ever thought about in my life," he said recently, "was pitching in the major leagues." At 24, he is nearly ready to challenge Don Drysdale of the Dodgers and Bob Gibson of the Cardinals as the fastest pitcher in the National League.
When Mahaffey takes to the pitching mound in Philadelphia, the ball park is his. "I can feel the people pulling hard for me most of the time," he says. "When they are really with me I am a better pitcher." Only one thing can stop Art Mahaffey from becoming a great pitcher and it is possible that even that thing will not stop him. This year, when Third Baseman Hoak came over from the Pirates, he told Mahaffey that the rest of the league had been reading his pitches. Richie Ashburn, who retired from the Mets to take a job as an announcer with the Phillie network, said the same thing. Art Mahaffey seethed inside. He had been told that before by his own teammates and by his own manager, but somehow the idea of everyone else knowing what he himself knew stung him deeply.
If you ask Art Mahaffey what his biggest concern is in baseball, his big brown eyes are too honest to look away. "Hiding my pitches," he says. The hitters knew last year that when Mahaffey's elbows were out from his chest that a fast ball was on the way. If his elbows were drawn against his chest, it was a curve or a changeup. Forewarned, the hitters still could not stop Mahaffey from winning 19 games.
The development of Art Mahaffey as a pitcher closely resembles that of another right-handed fast baller, Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians. Just as Feller's father used to catch him for endless hours in Van Meter, Iowa, Art Mahaffey's father caught his son in the evenings after working as an elevator mechanic in Cincinnati. On Saturdays Mahaffey and his father would pack a lunch and go off to the park to pitch.
"When I got to high school at Western Hills High in Cincinnati," he says, "Paul Mohr was the baseball coach and he worked me and worked me and worked me and I loved it. He used to have numbers for spots on the catchers. One and two were the shoulders, three and four the knees. He'd tell you to pitch to one or two or three or four and he'd chart the pitches. At the end of the week he'd tell you that you threw so many bad pitches at such-and-such a number. If you were weak at one of them, you'd pitch until you had it right. In the winter I'd get up many mornings at 5:30 and go to the gym to pitch. Mr. Mohr would make us keep our right foot on a line and lift the left leg up over a chair and step over the chair to get the right pitching motion. It was pretty simple. If you didn't step right you fell down."
Once school was out for the year, Mahaffey played baseball four hours a day. "I wanted to play. I loved to play," he says.
After playing for eight minor league teams in five years, Art Mahaffey got into his first game for the Phillies on July 30, 1960. His move to first base was so deceptive that he was convinced he could pick a major league runner off the first time one was rude enough to get on. Curt Flood of the Cardinals was that first rude runner. Mahaffey picked him off. Bill White was the second runner. Bingo! Four days later Jim Marshall of the Giants got to first base and Mahaffey picked him off. Three for three. "Maury Wills," Mahaffey said the other day, "has stolen one base on me in three years. I hope it won't sound like I'm bragging when I say I don't expect him to steal another."