As unlikely as it may sound to seasoned observers of the city of Philadelphia, some 5,000 citizens waited two hours at the airport the other night to greet the homebound Phillies, the surprise team of the National League this year. "Last I remember something like this," said a harassed policeman as the crowd surged forward to envelop its returning heroes, "was the Whiz Kids in 1950." Horns and bugles blared, flags waved and poets tore passions to tatters with banners announcing:
YOU MAKE US A NERVOUS WRECK
BUT AS LONG AS YOU WIN
WHAT THE HECK!
Not to mention:
THE REST OF THE TEAMS ARE OUT THE DOOR
IT'S THE CHAMPION PHILLIES IN '64
A young man held up a placard proclaiming: CASTRO NO! ROJAS SI! in flamboyant tribute to the Phillies' Cuban-born Cookie, who is the team's third-string shortstop, second-string center fielder, second-string second baseman, third-string catcher and third-string left fielder. CALLISON FOR PRESIDENT! said another sign, inspiring the Phillies' right fielder (see cover) to observe in puzzlement: "Gee, this is the first time I've been mentioned for the White House!" At the last minute, a 12-car caravan from the 3500 block of Joyce Street screeched into the parking lot, where its 19-year-old leader explained that he had been driving around recruiting his neighbors, something that is not going to be done on Park Avenue if the Yankees win the pennant. Some Beatle fans chanted, "Hey, Phillies, we love you! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" The 9200 block of Frankford Avenue was represented by a delegation bearing a sign, GO, PHILLIES, GO!, thus putting itself one up on the 9100 block. For 45 minutes there was chaos, and the fans stayed on to cheer long after Rojas and Callison and Pitcher Jim Bunning and Manager Gene Mauch and the rest of the Phillies had been rushed to safety by wedges of law. The Philadelphia Inquirer, the oldest daily newspaper in the U.S. and one that usually practices decent restraint, summed up: "It was Caesar's victorious legions marching into Rome; it was Douglas MacArthur going down Broadway in a storm of ticker tape. It was the winners coming home."
The next night a visitor to Philadelphia, himself a former inmate of the city who had been brought up on the inept Phillies and the hapless A's, on pitchers like Line Drive Nelson and Boom Boom Beck, went to the ball park. Out of the dim recesses of memory, the visitor recalled that there were only two courses of activity open on a week night in Philadelphia: one could go to the ball park, or one could go to Linton's restaurant and watch the conveyor belt. He had seen the conveyor belt and found it lacking in programmatic content, and now he was perched in a seat at Connie Mack Stadium, traditional scene of more botched ground balls and hanging curve balls than any baseball arena east or west of the Jones Junior High in Toledo. The visitor watched apathetically as the St. Louis Cardinals sent up a speedy little center fielder named Curt Flood, who promptly opened the game with a hot smash into right field. Johnny Callison did a Keystone Kops in the wet grass and the ball squirted away as Flood sprinted for an extra base. Callison recovered his dignity and the ball simultaneously, and threw Flood out at second.
Then Lou Brock hit a cannon shot up the middle. Pitcher Chris Short deflected the ball in sheer self-defense, and Cookie Rojas charged across from shortstop so fast that his red-and-white uniform looked like a blob of pink. He barehanded the ball and threw Brock out by the thickness of a Connie Mack Stadium hamburger, 1-6-3 if you're scoring. To complete the half inning on the same dazzling plane, Dick Groat smacked a screamer about four feet over the head of Third Baseman Richie Allen, who clawed upward into the air, using everything but pitons, and pulled the ball down quicker than you can say Ray Ripplemeyer,
"Excuse me," said the visitor to a man sitting next to him. "Don't you ever have any normal outs here?"
"Nope," said the Philadelphian. "Here, every out's an adventure."
Adventure is not a word that comes immediately to mind when one thinks of Philadelphia or its Phillies. W. C. Fields once insisted that his tombstone bear the inscription: "I'd rather be here than in Philadelphia," moving John Barrymore, a native-born Philadelphian, to compliment Fields on his "rare insight." Generations of traveling salesmen have wowed the folks back in Bridgeport and Paramus by ad libbing, "I spent a week in Philadelphia yesterday," or "I went to Philadelphia last Thursday, but it was closed."
Ah, but that was long ago. Philadelphia has awakened from its civic somnolence. Billions of dollars have been spent on a massive urban-renewal program: midtown atrocities like the old Chinese Wall, a downtown eyesore that carried the Pennsy's suburban trains into the city, have been razed and replaced by high-rise apartment buildings and glassy skyscrapers. Expressways connect the farthest points of the city; employment is rising steadily; flowers bloom in window boxes in what used to be ratty slums; and everybody is looking ahead to 1976, when Philadelphia will put on a World's Fair.
Smiling overhead, as he has been for 69 years, is William Penn, bestatued atop City Hall, newly scrubbed and bathed in a glow of amber lights that can be seen for miles, a far cry from the days when the poor old Quaker stood dimly lighted in sooty anonymity. Philadelphia folklore has it that the statue once faced toward the ball park, but that Mr. Penn became so disgusted at a botched double-play ball that he turned away in shame. One may expect the city's founder to turn back again any day now, thus aligning himself with the rest of the city, which looks with strange, perverse Philadelphia pride on this team of seemingly average, everyday ballplayers rushing pell-mell toward a pennant just as if they knew what they were doing.
The Phillies may finish the season without a 20-game winner, without a .300 hitter and without a leader in any offensive department. The Phutile Phillies of years gone by have become the Phantom Phillies of 1964, a bunch of invisible men who do not seem to ken that a team without stars should not be a pennant contender. The Phillies appear so ordinary, at first blush, that Houston Sports-writer Mickey Herskowitz dubbed them "Gene Mauch and the Philadelphia Department of Recreation team." Not long ago, Phil Seghi of the Cincinnati Reds' front office watched the Phillies working out before a game. Looking at the likes of John Herrnstein, Costen Shockley (that's right: Costen Shockley), Rick Wise and Johnny Briggs, he observed: "If this ball club beats us tonight, I'll be looking for the mirrors they did it with." Nine innings later he was looking for the mirrors. One critic said, "The title of the Phillies' story should be: 'How to Succeed in Baseball Without Really Winning.' " But the indisputable fact is that the team has been winning, and some of the whys and wherefores defy simple explanation. The Phillies are masters of the back-up play, the bunt, the cutoff, the sacrifice, all the subtleties and nuances and disciplines of baseball. And, lacking stars, they have been forced to become a team. As Johnny Callison explains, "I've never played on a club where batters were so willing to give themselves up for the team. There's just nothing like it in baseball."
There is a reason for all this and the name of the reason is Gene Mauch, a gritty, gutsy little thinker who brought the team from the ninth circle of hell (23 straight losses, a major league record, in 1961) to pennant contention. Mauch has honed and sharpened the Phillies into the best defensive ball club in the National League, and he has done it by unceasing attention to detail. Some of his moves are old, some are new and some are borrowed. But all of them work. Consider:
Mauch has taught his infielders to flub pop-ups intentionally when a slow batter is up and a fast runner is on first. Thus the fast runner gets thrown out at second and the slow runner gets to first, where he is less likely to do any damage.
When Mauch smells a hit-and-run play coming up, he signals the pitcher to throw behind the batter, thus breaking up any possibility that the ball will be hit. "You have to do it," says Mauch, "especially on a guy like Dick Groat. If you give him a pitchout, he'll throw his bat at it, and half the time he'll connect."
For eons the Philadelphia bullpen was in left field, but Mauch moved it to right and thereby won many a ball game he would otherwise have lost. Now Coach Bob Oldis sits in the bullpen with a towel at the ready. If a ball is going to be over the reach of the enemy right fielder, Oldis waves the towel and the Phillies' base runners take off without further ado. When the bullpen was in left field such signals would have been useless; a ball over the left fielder's reach is a home run.
Mauch has taught his second basemen and shortstops to put on acting performances worthy of Peter Sellers, as, for example, in a game against Cincinnati. Frank Robinson, an excellent base runner, was on first. He was off and running when the batter hit a soft fly ball. Ordinarily, he would have seen the fly and jogged safely back to first. But Second Baseman Tony Taylor bent over in a crouch as though to field a ground ball. Shortstop Bobby Wine moved over to cover second on the "double-play" ball. "Give it to me quick!" Wine shouted. Robinson came barreling into second and was doubled off first base by 90 feet to end the game. "What an act!" said Wine after the game. "If I could hit, I'd be worth $1 million."
"We've got to do things like that." Mauch explains. "We're the kind of team that has to take advantage."
Mauch is a darkly intense, rock-hard, handsome man of 38. He was pulled out of a hat to lead the Phillies in 1960, and the magician who did the pulling was General Manager John Quinn, who specializes in such feats of necromancy. "I'd been watching that boy for something like 14 years," Quinn says, "and I knew he was right for our needs."
Mauch is the rare kind of baseball figure who pauses before answering any question, collects his thoughts and then speaks bluntly and frankly, and let the critics be damned. "There are managers who manage for the press box and the fans just trying to keep themselves out of trouble," he says with characteristic acidity. "But you can't hedge trying to keep your job, and you can't angle your decisions to suit somebody else. I come in for criticism because I do a lot of platooning. Believe me, I don't want to manage that way. The ideal way is to have a Kubek and a Mantle and a Tresh and a Howard and write down their names every day in the lineup, and just stay out of the way and don't mess things up. But we don't have that kind of team."
The Philadelphia fans, faithful though they may be, do not always make Gene Mauch's job easier. Philadelphians feel about baseball the way Milanese do about grand opera; they have been watching it for what seems like centuries, and they have become superknowledgeable and supercritical. A Philadelphia fan may come to the park dressed in Bermuda shorts, ankle socks, saddle shoes and an undershirt, but when it comes to telling a passed ball from a wild pitch or understanding the balk rule, he is unexcelled for sophistication. And nothing less than perfection will do; otherwise the Philadelphia fan boos. Philadelphia has long enjoyed a reputation as the booingest town in the majors. Every opposing player is razzed as his name is read over the P.A. system. A Phillies' player can go 4 for 4, but let him blow one play and he gets the old kazoo. Fans who miss foul balls are booed, and so are fans who don't. This is a fine old Philadelphia tradition, dating back to the days when the A's and the Phils, the Mets of their era, were smelling up the place. The reflex remains. A few weeks ago the Phillies' Ruben Amaro dove for a hot liner, missed it and came down hard on his shoulder. A hush fell over the crowd, for a change, as Amaro lay inert. Then he got up and returned bravely to his position. Now this is what Lindsey Nelson would call "an applauding situation," and indeed a handful of fans gave Amaro a nice round of appreciation. But one beefy man along the first-base line stood up and emitted a foghorn "boooo!"
"That man," said a seasoned observer of Philadelphia folkways, "is a Philadelphian. All them people that clapped, they're imposters."
"It can be a little rough on some of our kids," Mauch says. "I just try to explain to them that this is the way people are here, that they're really the best fans in baseball and they don't mean anything by their booing." He paused and scratched his head. "But it still puzzles me. How can anybody even shape his lips in the form of a boo when a player like Richie Allen comes to bat?"
Mauch and the Phillies learned deep respect for the hometowners three years ago, when the team racked up that appalling losing streak and was met at the airport by a crowd of well-wishers who carried Mauch off on their shoulders. "It was right then that the Phillies started moving," says Mauch. "Up until then we had a team made up of players who didn't want to admit they were Phillies. They considered themselves to be ex-Reds or ex-Braves, anything but Phillies. But when they lost 23 straight, they joined forces; they started to have compassion for one another. Then after they had a little success as a result of this unity of spirit, or whatever you want to call it, then the rest of the league started having respect for them, and by God this was good for these kids. Other players would say, "These aren't the Phutile Phillies any more, you'd better watch these baskets.' When they got that respect around the league, they began to get pride, and pride is what motivates anybody."
Mauch exploited, nurtured and protected his players' pride. He held Johnny Callison out of the starting lineup on the last day of the 1962 season so that Callison's .300 average would not be jeopardized. He wanted Callison to go through the winter and the next year thinking of himself as a .300 hitter. He used certain young-but-promising players like Callison, Tony Gonzalez and Clay Dalrymple only in games where he thought they could hit the opposing pitcher, and benched them against the likes of Warren Spahn and Sandy Koufax. When they gained confidence, he played them regularly. Dalrymple is exhibit A in what Mauch can do with a young ballplayer. "When Dalrymple came up to the Phillies," General Manager Quinn recalls, "I thought he was a horrible mistake made by one of our scouts." And since he had been only a Triple-A catcher the year before, Dalrymple knew nothing about National League batters. Says Mauch: "Dalrymple and I spent hours and hours talking baseball, figuring out together how to handle hitters. Remember, when he first came up I was green too. The only thing a manager can really contribute is what he knows about the league and what he knows about his own players, and I didn't know any of this. Dalrymple worked right with me and we figured it out together. And now that son of a gun goes out and calls a game damned near pitch for pitch the way I would want it to be called."
Mauch also communicated to the Phillies, almost by osmosis, a couple of fundamental prejudices of his own. "For one thing," he says, "I believe that there are certain players in this league who should never—I mean never—get a key hit against you. When one of those guys gets a hit and wins a game against us, it kills me. If I was a pitcher, and one of those weak hitters won a game against me, I'd quit. Or I'd be fined $50 every time he came up because he'd be flat on his tail every time he came to bat, and then I'd get him out with a dinky curve. They've legislated so greatly against rough-and-ready baseball that you're not allowed to intimidate batters that are susceptible to intimidation. But it can still be done—some.
"Another thing I tried to tell the players: most one-run games are lost, not won. You can always look back and find some point in the game where you gave 'em a run, some point where the perfect execution of an outfield throw would have cut off a run, or something like that. If I lose 6-0, you don't hear a word out of me. I don't like it, but I figure we got beat. But when we lose a game 7-6, I'm not very graceful about it." This year, to no one's surprise, the Phillies are 18-9 in one-run games.
Last year, when the team was piling up the best second-half record in the National League, they lost a game in Houston, of all places. Mauch came into the clubhouse and saw several of his players happily chomping away on a buffet supper. He flipped the table upside down, sending spareribs and barbecue sauce toward all points of the compass. Later he told Tony Gonzalez and Wes Covington to buy new suits to replace the ones that had been spattered and to charge them to him. Mauch tends toward this pattern of blowing his top and making up for it later as graciously as possible.
The net result of this behavior is that Mauch, who is the undisputed boss of his team on and off the field, makes few-close friends in baseball, and that seems to be the way he wants it. As Johnny Callison says, "Some of the people here have been saying that I should help Gene by trying to be the team leader, hollering and screaming to pump the guys up. But Gene doesn't need that. He's gonna do what he wants to do no matter who's up to bat. He makes me take 2-and-0 pitches and 3-and-1 pitches, and sometimes it surprises me the pitches he makes me take. He really runs the ball game. He's the big cheese, and you do what he says. If you play the game his way, fine. And he knows what he's doing. He's probably the best manager around."
Mauch, conversely, thinks that John Callison is the best right fielder around. Except for Third Baseman Richie Allen and Pitcher Jim Bunning, Callison certainly is the closest the Phillies have to a bona fide star. He is also the team's least visible man. Says a Philadelphia sportswriter: "Here's the story of Callison's life: one day he goes 5 for 5, and after the game all the reporters are interviewing Jack Baldschun, the relief pitcher. It's always been that way with Callison. He fades into the woodwork; you don't even know he's out there till you look at the statistics."
The statistics show that Callison is the team leader in runs batted in, if not in volubility, and has been for several years, although the rookie, Allen, is pressing him closely. Callison has led the National League in assists for the last two years and has a good chance to do it again. He is a soft-spoken, disarmingly modest ballplayer who is frankly confused by criticism, no matter how benign. A few years ago, Bobby Del Greco hung the nickname "Candy" on him, and it bothered Callison. Nobody ever defined precisely what was meant by "Candy," but the general interpretation was that he had a brittle arm, a "candy" arm. When he began leading the league in assists, the nickname disappeared (and so did Del Greco).
Callison was one of the many ballplayers who twisted and squirmed and struggled to avoid becoming a Philadelphia Phillie. When Callison was 17 and a hotshot high school athlete in Bakers-field, Calif., Babe Herman led a pack of scouts to the Callison home and tried to establish a rapport by going into the kitchen and whipping up a dinner. Herman's gourmet treats had no effect. Herman was scouting for the Phillies, and to Callison they were anathema. The young slugger signed instead with the White Sox. Two years later, after being injured and sick and generally miserable, he was traded to the Phils for Third Baseman Gene Freese. "It was the worst day of my life," Callison remembers. "That was the team I least wanted to be with."
General Manager Quinn, who could outtrade a Swiss pawnbroker, remembers the circumstances. "We had been dickering with the White Sox, and when they mentioned Callison something clicked in my mind. When Callison had first come up to the majors, the White Sox had made a movie called The White Sox Story. The first thing you saw was Chuck Comiskey sitting at his desk as vice-president of the team, and then you saw Johnny Callison giving his mother a goodby kiss and going off to spring training. And instead of being a White Sox movie it turned out to be a Johnny Callison movie. The fellow was exploited to the sky. He could run, he could throw, he could swing the bat. I never forgot that movie. I don't think the White Sox are showing it anymore. But Freese for Callison was a good trade, a fair trade. It met the needs of both teams."
Callison, underneath his homespun exterior, is not quite so easygoing as he appears. He has been criticized for not believing enough in himself, and there are those who maintain that his own inner doubts are all that keep him from becoming Philadelphia's best hitter since the redoubtable Chuck Klein. Says a teammate: "If John had any idea how great he really is, he'd hit .600. Take for instance, he's always borrowing bats. When he hit that three-run homer that won the All-Star Game, he was using Billy Williams' bat—a 32-ounce bat. When he went 5 for 5 and 4 for 4 against San Francisco, he was using Orlando Cepeda's bat—a 40-ounce bat. Why, the guy doesn't even have any confidence in his bats!"
To all of this Callison answers in his subdued, slow manner: "I believe in myself. I have confidence every time I go to the plate. Heck, if you don't, you might as well quit." Yet in a game against Cincinnati this year, Callison came up in the ninth inning with one out, two on and the Phillies two runs down, and in that all-or-nothing situation, decided to drag a bunt and leave the fate of the team in other hands. Luckily, he fouled the bunt attempt, took a second strike and then bashed a three-run homer to win the game, which to his critics seemed to be what he should have been trying to do all along. "I don't know," Callison says. "I just figured that the next batter had a better chance against a left-handed pitcher than I did."
Callison is touchy about his batting average and goes to great pains to avoid finding out what it is. "I know it sounds silly," he says with utter seriousness, "but every time I've ever looked at my average, it's gone down afterwards. I used to check it out. Two or three days later I wouldn't be hitting nothing. When I read the papers now, I check on my hits, my RBIs and my home runs, but I cover up the column that shows my average. I go into Cincinnati and Houston and they have your average up on the scoreboard. I look at the ground. I look at the crowd. I look around. I look anywhere but that scoreboard."
Callison's average, it can be reported without damage, is high enough to guarantee him employment next year, and, as usual, he is among the league's leaders in assists. But if the Phillies are to win the pennant, some of his teammates are going to have to start hitting, too. As former Whiz Kid Granny Hamner said the other day, "I picked the Phillies to win the pennant, but Callison and Richie Allen can't carry the team all year." Says the astute Johnny Keane, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals: "They're a heck of a ball club, but if they don't hit, they won't win."
Such assessments bother the Phillies little and Philadelphians not at all. "Sure," said the sandwich man on Market Street as he painstakingly constructed a hoagie, "they're not hitting and they got a sore-arm pitching staff. About the only thing they know how to do is win. But that's the name of the game."
All Philadelphia agrees, and no one would be surprised these days to hear a loud noise coming from atop City Hall. That would be William Penn, joining the other residents of Philadelphia, booing the Phillies on to victory.