"Tony Taylor was the only player who remembered the last time a mob of Philadelphians had come out to the airport in the early-morning hours to welcome the Phillies back home. That was in 1961, after the team had lost 23 straight games, and it was then that Pitcher Frank Sullivan, who was not sure about the mob's intentions, warned the deplaning Phillies: "Spread out, guys, so they can't get all of us with one shot."
Last Thursday the Phillies returned home to another early-morning airport reception, but this time there was no question about the mood of the people. The Phillies were conquering heroes now, a team that had valiantly overcome startling odds to win nine straight games on the road, and the 22 players walked the plank single file. The people were saying, in effect, "We luv ya, Phils!" There was not a single shot.
The situation throughout that victory streak was this: The Phillies—on paper and on the field—were really an expansion team, "the only 100-year-old expansion team in baseball," as Mike Ryan, their catcher, said. Their regulars were nowhere to be seen during the streak. Richie Allen was over at Monmouth Park, watching his racehorses arrive at the finish line even later than he usually got to the ball park before he was suspended. Johnny Callison was in the press box humoring a pulled groin muscle. Chris Short, the best left-handed pitcher in Philadelphia history, was in bed recovering from a back operation that will keep him inactive until next spring. Deron Johnson, the sometime long-ball hitter, had a hamstring injury, and both Rick Wise, the fine young pitcher, and Don Money, the rookie shortstop, were away defending the country with the military reserves.
Confronted with this name-dropping crisis, Manager Bob Skinner immediately formed a conglomerate of fuzzy cheeks, minor league veterans and undistinguished major league pensioners, pointed them in the direction of home plate and said something like, "O.K., fellas, go get 'em," hoping of course that they would not get maimed in the process. These new Phillies began to call themselves the Clearwater Bombers (after the famed softball team from the Florida city in which the Phillies train each spring) and they liked to joke that some ballplayers were making more money than all eight of them combined.
Tony Taylor, a good handyman, took Allen's glove (but not his salary) and tried to play first base. "Richie's glove was too big and too heavy," Taylor said, "so I borrowed one from Bobby Wine when we were in Montreal. I will give it back to Bobby pretty soon, I think." Terry Harmon replaced Money at shortstop and Ricardo Joseph, whose main claim to distinction was that he once quieted cantankerous Jim Coates with a sharp, accurate punch, moved in at third. "This is like the Winter League, this playing every day," Joseph said. "I always play every day down there, one position today, another tomorrow. I always hit down there, too."
The Bombers' outfield consisted of Johnny Briggs in left, Larry Hisle, a rookie, in center and Ron Stone, twice an American League reject, in right. Briggs, 25, has occupied a prominent position on the Philadelphia bench for the last five years and it was no real surprise that neither Montreal nor San Diego selected him in the expansion draft. Hisle, 22, will be a superior player someday. He has fine actions at bat and in the field, but he lacks confidence. "Larry carries his politeness too far," Skinner says. Hisle is a worrier, and early this season he left a game with a case of "acute anxiety."
Stone, 27, also lacks confidence. After the Phillies obtained him from the Orioles in a trade for Catcher Clay Dalrymple, he had an impressive spring and opened the season in left. But he fielded poorly and soon he could not hit either. "I'm playing now that Callison's hurt," he said, "but as soon as his 21 days on the disabled list are over, I'll be back on the bench. I don't like the damn bench."
The Bombers have the same catcher the Phillies had—sturdy, dependable Mike Ryan who played for the Red Sox in the 1967 World Series. Ryan couldn't hit the weight of his mitt until Skinner changed his batting style. Now he stands almost like Dick McAuliffe and takes short, choppy swings at the ball. His average still is not much, but he has nine home runs and 32 RBIs so far.
With Short and Wise unavailable for duty, the Bombers have had to use a Big Five of Grant Jackson, Woody Fryman, Jerry Johnson, Lowell Palmer and Billy Champion. Both Champion and Palmer started the 1969 season with Eugene of the Pacific Coast League. For bullpen stoppers the Bombers have Al Raffo and John Boozer, two more recent pickups from Eugene. Since the Phillie bench is the Bombers' lineup, their only real reserve player is Dave Watkins, a catcher who says he will play anywhere.
The Bombers played their first National League game two weeks ago in New York. The old Phillies had lost a doubleheader to the Mets the previous day, and Skinner—minus Allen, Callison, Johnson, Short, Wise and Money—had no reason to expect the situation to improve.
For a while it did not. The Bombers were losing 5-0 to the Mets in the sixth inning when Watkins, playing third base in the emergency, hit a home run and then a triple to help win a game that Boozer saved in the bottom of the 10th inning. Jackson won the second game with a four-hit shutout against New York. Moving to Montreal, the Bombers swept a four-game series with a new expansion team—the Expos—as Hisle had seven hits and six RBIs. Briggs hit a grand-slam home run, Joseph drove in four runs in one game and Palmer pitched a shutout.
The Bombers then invaded Pittsburgh where, after Boozer registered his third save in seven games, things took a desperate turn in the second game when the Pirates scored four quick runs against Jackson. The Bombers rallied for six runs in the fourth inning, with Harmon and Joseph driving in two runs apiece, and went on to win 7-4.
The road trip came to an end with a 14-4 win over Pittsburgh. The Bombers returned to Philadelphia only to become, sadly, the Phillies again. They lost four out of five to Gene Mauch's expansion Expos. Still, they were not being booed. Only regulars, apparently, get that treatment. As one man said, "These guys may lose a game or two but they will never quit." Cheers to that.