The Beautiful Losers: An Oral History of the Philadelphia Phillies

July 02, 2007
July 02, 2007

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July 2, 2007

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The Beautiful Losers: An Oral History of the Philadelphia Phillies

The existentialistSamuel Beckett exhorted, "Fail better." And no professional sports teamhas ever failed better or with greater frequency than the PhiladelphiaPhillies. Failure has become synonymous with a franchise whose players haveborne such nicknames as Losing Pitcher (Hugh Mulcahy) and What's the Use?(Pearce Chiles). If luck is on the Phils' side--and over 125 seasons it rarelyhas been--one day before the end of July they will record their 10,000thdefeat, a milestone never before reached by any franchise in any sport. ThroughSunday the tragic number stood at 9,991; the next most prolific losers, theBraves, are at 9,677.

This is an article from the July 2, 2007 issue

The Phillies' lackof success has been monumental. From 1918 through '48 they had only one winningseason. Between 1920 and '45 they lost 100 or more games 12 times. Over 27seasons, from 1919 through '45, they had 16 last-place finishes. During WorldWar II owner Bob Carpenter tried to shed the Phils' loser image byrenaming his club the Blue Jays. But students at Johns Hopkins, where sportsteams also use that sobriquet, objected on the grounds that the change would bedemeaning to birds.

On the Phillies'lowlight tape, of course, the most phantastic phree-phall is the Phillie Phlop.Up by 61‚ÅÑ2 games in 1964 with only 12 remaining, the team lost 10 in a row andthe pennant. Asked in '76 what he remembered about the implosion, manager GeneMauch muttered, "Only every pitch."

Which is not tosay that skippering the Phils is a no-win situation. The franchise has won aWorld Series (1980) and played 57 postseason games, 35 of them losses (which,incidentally, are not counted toward the 10,000 total). As ex-Philliesinfielder Solly Hemus observed in the mid-1950s, "Even monkeys fall out oftrees once in a while."

Happily, thePhils--and virtually everybody associated with the team, from employees to fansto players--are never at a loss for words. Here are some gleaned from a centuryand a quarter of the 10 not-so-grand.

Loss number 1, May1, 1883

"I hope thisdoesn't start a trend."

--Jamie Moyer,lefthanded pitcher and current Phillie, when asked what his forebear JohnColeman might have said after the franchise, then named the Quakers, droppedits inaugural game 4-3 to the Providence Grays. Coleman lost that game and 47others in '83, and the team finished 17-81.

Losses number2,523 through 3,484, April 14, 1920, to Oct. 5, 1929

"In the 20sthe Baker Bowl groundskeeper was so desperate for help to maintain the playingfield that he hired some sheep to trim the grass. When they weren't eating thefield, the sheep--two ewes and a ram--lived under the leftfieldstands."

--Rich Westcott,co-author of the Phillies Encyclopedia, on the perpetually undercapitalizedJazz Age Phils, who were in effect their own farm team

Loss number 3,586,Sept. 28, 1930

"Have youlooked at my pitching, by any chance?"

--Burt Shotton,manager, on why his Phils had finished last, 40 games back, despite a teambatting average of .315, second highest in the NL since 1900. The pitchingstaff, meanwhile, had a 6.71 ERA and surrendered 1,993 hits in 1,372innings.

Loss number 4,257,June 30, 1938

"Baker Bowlpassed out of existence as the home of the Philadelphia Phillies yesterdayafternoon. Equal to the occasion, the Phillies almost passed out with it byproviding one of their inimitable travesties, a delineation in which theydrolly absorbed a 14 to 1 pasting [at the hands of the New YorkGiants]."

--Bill Dooly, ThePhiladelphia Record sportswriter

Losses number4,751 through 4,840, April 24 to Sept. 29, 1943

"The guy knewnext to nothing about baseball. Otherwise, why would he have put money on thePhillies?"

--Rich WesTcott,on owner William Cox, who was banned from the sport for life by commissionerKenesaw Mountain Landis after betting on his team, which lost 90 games thatseason

Loss number 4,962,June 2, 1945

"VinceDiMaggio hit a pinch grand slam, yet the Phillies still got beat by thePirates. Vince led the National League in strikeouts that season despitemissing almost all of September with an injury. It figures we got Vince, andnot Joe or Dom. When brothers played in the majors, the Phillies usually woundup with the one who produced less. We had Harry Coveleski instead of Stan,Irish Meusel instead of Bob, Frank Torre instead of Joe, Ken Brett instead ofGeorge, Mike Maddux instead of Greg, Rick Surhoff instead of B.J. and JeremyGiambi instead of Jason. If there had been a Zeppo Alou, the Phillies wouldhave signed him."

--Harold Herman,90-year-old fan

Loss number 5,818,April 22, 1956

"ThePhiladelphia fans are the worst in the world. They don't deserve a major leaguefranchise. I wouldn't mind getting hit by a regular bottle, but when they breakoff the tops before throwing them, that's just too much."

--Whitey Lockman,New York Giants first baseman, after a 9-7 victory over the Phils

Loss number 6,152,April 12, 1960

"I'm 49 yearsold, and I want to live to be 50."

--Eddie Sawyer,explaining why he resigned as Phils manager after the season opener, a 9-4drubbing by Cincinnati

Losses number6,311 through 6,333, July 29 to Aug. 20, 1961

"No matterwhat we tried, it didn't work. The only thing that I didn't try wassuicide."

--Gene Mauch, onthe Phillies' 23-game losing streak, tied for the third-longest in baseballhistory

Loss number 6,333,Aug. 20, 1961

"Go in twosand threes. That way, they won't be able to get us all at once. They're sellingrocks at a dollar a pail."

--Frank Sullivan,pitcher, peering out a plane window at the hundreds of fans awaiting the teamat Philadelphia Airport after a road trip

Losses number6,569 through 6,578, Sept. 21-30, 1964

"Mauch was avolatile, damned-near-scary skipper who could straighten you out in a hurry.What puzzled us during the crash was how quiet he was. I guess he thought hewas taking the pressure off us players by not jumping our asses. We all waitedfor him to scream at us or throw a chair or upset a meal table, but he neverdid. If he had, we might have responded."

--Dallas Green,pitcher and future Phils manager, on the '64 collapse

"It was likeswimming in a long, long lake, and then you drown."

--Cookie Rojas,utilityman, on the Philly Phlop

Loss number 7,124,June 26, 1971

"We werelosing by [seven runs to the Pirates] when a flaky rookie named Roger Freed ledoff an inning with a hit. When Roger came around to score, he figured he wasdone for the day. But we nearly batted around in the inning, and Roger wasnowhere to be found. Eventually, one of the coaches discovered him in thesauna, where he was trying to lose weight by doing sit-ups as he ate friedchicken."

--Larry Bowa,shortstop and future Philadelphia manager

Loss number 7,206,June 6, 1972

"We had lost18 of 19 games when the club vice president Bill Giles tried to break the hexby staging Turn It Around Night at Veterans Stadium. Just about everything wasbackward: Starting lineups were introduced in reverse order, the seventh-inningstretch was held in the third inning, and the national anthem was played afterthe game [against the Houston Astros] ended. Plus, hex signs were handed out tothe first 10,000 fans. Ballplayers abhor being mocked, but this promotion wasso whimsical that we embraced it. Our players were horse----, but Turn ItAround Night was a blast."

--Tim McCarver,catcher

Loss number 7,226,July 9, 1972

"Nobody'sgonna make a scrapgoat out of me."

--Frank Lucchesi,manager, after a 26-50 start led to his firing

Losses number7,619 and 7,620, July 10, 1977

"The Phillieswould win the National League East even though we took only one of the ninegames we played at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Two of those losses cameduring a doubleheader [against the Pirates]. In the clubhouse after closing outboth defeats, Tug McGraw announced he had pitched so poorly that he belonged injail. Then he took a cab to a city jail and asked the desk sergeant to put himbehind bars. The cop was happy to, and Tug spent the night in lockup."

--Jay Johnstone,outfielder

Postseason lossnumber 13, Oct. 7, 1977

"In the thirdgame of the NLCS we led the Dodgers 5-3 going into the top of the ninth. Theyhad two outs and nobody on base when Vic Davalillo beat out a bunt. Then MannyMota smacked an 0-2 pitch to Greg Luzinski in left. Ordinarily, Bull would havebeen lifted for defense. But our manager, Danny Ozark, wanted to keep Bull'sbat in the lineup. Luzinski backed up to the wall, got his glove on the ballbut couldn't hold it. Davalillo scored, and Mota went to third on a bad relay.The next guy up, Davey Lopes, hit a shot at Mike Schmidt that took a wicked hopand bounced off him toward short, where Larry Bowa barehanded the carom andfired to first. Bowa's throw beat Lopes, but the ump [Bruce Froemming] calledDavey safe, and the score was tied. Not long after that, Lopes scored whatproved to be the winning run on Bill Russell's single. Angry as hell, I stormedback to my office, punched the door and broke my hand. It was our only breakthat day."

--Bill Giles, teamvice president and current team chairman

Losses number7,779 through 7,783, Aug. 25-29, 1979

"Even Napoleonhad his Watergate."

--Danny Ozark,manager, on getting axed after a five-game skid

Loss number 8,136,Sept. 25, 1984

"At the end ofthe season I lost three straight, the last on a walk-off homer by Rusty Staubthat made him the [second big leaguer after Ty Cobb] to hit one out in histeens and 40s. I drank a lot during that streak, but the disobedient sliderStaub hit was the first Rusty nail I ever served."

--Larry Andersen,relief pitcher and current Phillies TV analyst

Loss number 9,153,May 7, 1997

"After theCardinals had beaten us 14-7, Bobby Munoz, publicly criticized thepitch-calling of our catcher, Mike Lieberthal. So Terry Francona, our nice-guyrookie manager, called his first--and only--team meeting. He screamed, 'I'msick and tired of you guys acting like p------ and airing out your grievancesin the newspapers.' He went on like that for 10 minutes. When the meetingbroke, he called me, the old veteran, into his office. I thought he was gonnachew my head off, but he just smiled and asked, 'How'd I do?' I smiled back andsaid, 'Man, you were awesome!'"

--Rex Hudler,outfielder

Loss number 9,987,June 15, 2007

"If we have10,000 losses and 8,800 victories, that means we're only ahundred-and-something wins away from reaching the .500 mark."

--Charlie Manuel,arithmetically-challenged Phillies manager, after a 12-8 loss to theTigers.

Loss number 9,988,June 17, 2007

"A localsports-radio host wants the city to celebrate the 10,000th loss with a parade.I think that would be a disgrace. The Phils are my grandfather's team, myfather's team, my team, my sons' team and my grandchildren's team. We fans willendure this humiliation, and then maybe we'll start on our second10,000."

--Ed Deal,61-year-old ballpark security guard

Loss number 2,657,June 29, 1921

"Not anymore.I've been traded to the Giants!"

--Casey Stengel,gimpy-kneed Phillies outfielder, when asked if his leg hurt. Told of the swapin the Baker Bowl locker room during a rain delay, Stengel dashed half-clothedinto the deluge and gleefully circled the bases, sliding into each bag.

Loss number 9,481,Sept. 24, 2000

"On FanAppreciation Day my tires were slashed."

--Terry Francona,manager

EIGHT PHOTOSTIM SHAFFER/REUTERS; BRUCE BENNETT STUDIOS/GETTY IMAGES; TONY TRIOLO; PETER READ MILLER; WALTER IOOSS JR.; MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES; ANDY ALTENBURGER/CAL SPORT MEDIA; JASON SZENES/EPA (CENTER)EMPTY FEELING The Phillies' mosaic of heartbreak has included a five-game loss to the Red Sox in the 1915 World Series (top right), a crushing defeat to the Dodgers in the '77 NLCS (bottom, center) that left shortstop and future Phils skipper Bowa (bottom, right) despondent and the epic collapses of the '64 club skippered by Mauch (bottom, left) and that of Mitch Williams in the '93 Series (far left, center).PHOTOTRANSCENDENTAL GRAPHICS/GETTY IMAGESPHOTOBRAD C. BOWER/REUTERS