Tuesday, October 10, 2006
The Quakers wouldn’t become known as the Phillies until 1890, the name they would possess for the rest of their history aside from a adopting the name Blue Jays in 1943 and 1944. Their record of losing continued nearly unabated until 1915 when the team won the National League pennant and went on to the World Series against the mighty Boston Red Sox, led by their Hall of Fame outfielder, Tris Speaker. A young Babe Ruth had his first post-season appearance in Game One, pinch-hitting with one out for pitcher Ernie Shore in the bottom of the ninth. Ruth grounded out to first, advancing the runner to second. The next batter ended the game with a pop fly, giving the Phillies their sole victory in the series. The Phillies were led by Grover Cleveland Alexander, who went 31-10, hurling twelve shutouts and thirty-six complete games that season.
The next two years the Phillies finished second in the N.L., but then came crashing back to mediocrity as the 1910’s ended. It would be over a decade until the Phillies posted a record better than .500, and even then they were just a hair over .500 (78-76 in 1932). In 1941 the team actually lost 111 games, for a .279 winning percentage. It wasn’t until 1949 that the Phillies won more than eighty games in a season.
1948 was the crucial year for the Wiz Kids. The team had been signing young talent for some time in the Post World War II era and began to assemble the pieces they’d need to make a run at the 1950 pennant. The Phillies signed twenty-one year-old Robin Roberts as an amateur free agent in 1948. Roberts got the call to join the team in June and never looked back, going 7-9 with a 3.19 ERA in his first season. Meanwhile, the Phillies also called up pitcher Curt Simmons, who was just nineteen and had won his first major league game the previous season, throwing a one-run complete game against the Giants on the final day of the season. Simmons went 7-13 with a 4.87 ERA in 1948. Importantly, the Phillies also obtained pitcher Jim Konstanty with a minor-league contract.
Another of the team’s 1948 call-ups, second-baseman Granny Hammer, finally got to play a full season, while the twenty-three year-old right-fielder Del Ennis, in just his third season, had a breakout year, clubbing 30 home runs and 95 RBIs. The team also traded for Dick Sisler, their new first baseman, from the Cardinals. Every one of these players would play a significant role for the Phillies in 1950, but the biggest and most important event in the preseason however was the decision by Harry Walker, the team’s star hitter, to hold out. “The Hat” Walker had been acquired the previous season from the Cardinals and had a .371 batting average for the Phillies in 1947, making the All-Star team. Walker’s decision to hold-out enabled the Phillies to bring up their talented young rookie centerfielder, Richie Ashburn. Ashburn promptly took Walker’s job, hitting .333 in his first major league season.
Finally, the team fired old manager Ben Chapman in July, setting the stage for Eddie Sawyer to take over the team.
The next season the Phillies improved dramatically. On June 17 , 1949, the Phillies had actually vaulted into second place behind the Dodgers after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 8-0 to run their record to 33-25. The Phillies struggled from there on out, dropping back in the pack before going 16-10 in September. The Phillies would finish with a 81-73 record, placing third in the National League, sixteen games behind the Dodgers.
The board was set, the pieces were in motion and the glory days of 1950 were at hand…