Back in thosedear dead days of spring and summer when winning was virtually a dailyoccurrence, the Phillies were fond of describing themselves in trendy baseballidiom as a team without "peaks or valleys." So emotionally anchoredwere they that the joy of victory and the agony of defeat (what little therewas of that) were nearly indistinguishable. The Phillies simply rolled over thestiffs in the National League East, toasting themselves at their team winetastings, practicing their transcendental meditation, whiling away a perfectlysplendid summer in the manner of gentlemen scholars on sabbatical.
Untoward eventsin recent weeks, both on the field and off, have established that the Phillies,contrary to their earlier image, have more peaks and valleys than Tibet.Granted, the protagonist of the present unpleasantness is Dick Allen, a man ofsuch consummate mischievousness that he could incite a riot in a Trappistmonastery. Still, the Phillies have proved themselves as frail as the rest ofus. Ordinarily this might be regarded as an encouraging development by theReds, the Phils' opponents in the National League championship series. Itmight, that is, if the memory of another team boiling with internal disorderwere not so vivid. Compared to the A's of 1972, the '76 Phillies are models ofdeportment, but the A's overtook Cincinnati in the World Series of four yearsago, and the Reds have been wary of intramural squabblers ever since.
If dissensionwill help them, the Phillies should be thankful for it, because they will needevery edge they càn get against the reigning world champions. For when theplayoffs begin this weekend in Philadelphia, the home team will be the underdogin the sort of series the owners were dreaming of when they established thedivisional setup in 1969 but have rarely gotten in the ensuing years. Accordingto their regular-season records, Cincinnati (102-60) and Philadelphia (101-61)are the two best teams in the majors. However, that fact alone is not whatmakes these playoffs so enticing. It is the hitting of theantagonists—long-ball hitting, line-drive hitting, lay-it-down-and-beat-it-outhitting—that promises to turn this into a special series. There will be runnerson base—lots of them. That means there will be plenty of opportunities forstealing, an endeavor at which both teams are proficient. And for scoring, acategory in which they held wide margins over the rest of the National League.And for big innings, a specialty of both clubs. Right down to the socks oftheir almost identical uniforms, Philly and Cincy both are Big Red Machines,the sobriquet given long ago to Cincinnati because of its prolific scoring.
The problem forthe Phils is that the Cincy machine is a little better at just about everythingexcept pitching, which the Reds define as a group activity intended to limitopponents to no more than 10 runs a game. Cincy's batters may be counted on forat least 11. George Foster led the league with 121 RBIs, and Ken Griffey wassecond in batting with a .336 average. Centerfielder Cesar Geronimo, a .257hitter in 1975, batted .307 this year, and the Establishment—Pete Rose and JoeMorgan—enjoyed routinely sensational seasons. Rose hit .323, while Morgan had a.320 average, 27 homers and 60 steals. Rose, Morgan and Griffey all scored morethan 100 runs, and Foster and Morgan batted in more than 100, with Tony Perezclose behind with 91 RBIs. Collectively, the Reds hit .280 to, of course, leadthe league. They scored more runs than anyone and had more homers and stolenbases, too. Johnny Bench is still probably the best defensive catcher in thegame, Dave Concepcion is among the finest shortstops, Morgan is an outstandingsecond baseman, and Geronimo has considerable range and one of the strongestthrowing arms.
October 10, 1976
But to win in ashort series, baseball savants insist, a team must have good pitching. TheReds' pitching is merely adequate, but they won a World Series with it a yearago and it is no worse now. In fact, rookies Pat Zachry and Santo Alcala giveadditional depth to a staff already distinguished more for numbers than names.Seven Cincinnati pitchers have won 10 games or more—an esoteric accomplishmentthat is, nevertheless, unequaled in National League history. So what if none ofthem won more than 15 or completed more than eight games? As the expressiongoes, there is always activity in the Reds' bullpen. Rawly Eastwick appeared in71 games and had 26 saves, Pedro Borbon pitched in 69 and Will McEnaney workedin 55. Of these earnest toilers, only McEnaney can be said to have had an offseason.
Individual meritsaside, the Reds play as a team. In Morgan's familiar words, "We do thelittle things better." The Reds run the bases, they advance their runnersexpertly and, when they have them in scoring position, they generally score.And their defense is hardly generous.
Only a littlemore than a month ago, the Phillies would have merited equivalent accolades.They, too, can hit, run and field. In Mike Schmidt, who led the majors with 38homers, Greg Luzinski and Allen, they have power hitters comparable to thebest. Outfielders Luzinski, Garry Maddox and Jay Johnstone all hit better than.300. Dave Cash and Larry Bowa, who form the Phils' skilled double-playcombination, and Maddox are good base runners. And Philadelphia has twostoppers, Steve Carlton (20-7 and 13 complete games) and Jim Lonborg (18-10),to Cincinnati's none.
For a long while,it seemed that the Phillies might win more games this year than the Reds. Fewteams have opened a season more impressively. After losing three of their firstfour games, they launched an amazing streak in which they won 51 of their next69 games and effectively disengaged themselves from the rabble in theirdivision. They moved into first on May 9 and were 15½ games ahead of thesecond-place Pirates on Aug. 25. The next day, they won the first of afour-game series with the Reds that was looked upon as a playoff preview. Itwas their seventh victory over Cincy against two losses. But they dropped thefinal three games to the Reds, then lost five more in a row. In the days thatfollowed, they won only five of 21 games. By Sept. 17, the Pirates were onlythree games back.
During this time,the Phillies were playing without Allen, who absented himself from the team inlate July, earning a suspension that was subsequently lifted when it waslearned he had an injured shoulder. Allen rejoined his teammates on Sept. 3,but, hurt and slumping, he was unable to arrest the descent.
With the Piratesalmost upon them, the Phillies rallied, winning seven of nine games beforeclinching the division title in Montreal on the 26th. Allen celebrated thissignal triumph, the first Phillie championship since 1950, in the solitude ofthe dugout while his teammates sprayed champagne in the clubhouse. He left theteam immediately afterward, eschewing a three-game series in St. Louis in favorof some restful days with the home folks on his farm in Perkasie, Pa. He tookoff this time with the alleged permission of Manager Danny Ozark, althoughreporters accompanying the team suspected permission was granted only after thedeparture. Allen accompanied this latest defection with the pronouncement thathe would not participate in either the playoffs or the World Series unless hisold pal, 40-year-old Infielder Tony Taylor, was placed on the team's 25-manroster for postseason games.
Allen's behaviorobviously did not sit well with his manager and some of his teammates. "Hemakes $250,000 a year," said Relief Pitcher Tug McGraw, who does not."If he was so hot to celebrate the championship with his family, he shouldhave flown them here to St. Louis. They said he's been hitting an hour and ahalf every day at home. What does he think his teammates are doing out here inSt. Louis?" McGraw also reportedly raised the delicate issue of race at astormy team meeting held last Wednesday by claiming that several of the blackplayers had formed a clique. "Somebody's sure been fooling me thisseason," said Maddox. "I never saw a sign all year of any raceproblems."
Team PresidentRuly Carpenter finally intervened in the Allen brouhaha. He met hisrecalcitrant employee at the farm and advised him that Taylor would be inuniform for the playoffs—but as a coach, not as a player. "Everything hasbeen straightened out," Carpenter said to the press after the conversation."Allen apologized for any problem he may have created. He will be inuniform tomorrow night."
If the Allen caseis indeed closed, then all that remains is Cash's season-long disenchantmentwith the Phillies' front office. Cash, who is considered the team leader, hasnot signed a contract and, unlike many of the other future free agents, seemsunhappy about it.
All of this griefmay serve to unite the Phillies for a supreme effort in the playoffs. An angryteam can be a winning team, as the A's have proved. Or it can come apart, ashundreds of other angry teams have in the past. Chances are the Phillies arenot as resilient as the roustabout A's of recent seasons have been. And theReds are not the team they were in 1972. They are better. Only complacency canundo them. In the battle of Big Red Machines, pick Cincinnati to win infour.