Friday, October 06, 2006
For the last year or so I’ve been kicking around ideas about an extended project on the 1950 Phillies, the Wiz Kids. When most Phillies fans are asked to talk about what teams they remember they usually name three: the ’64 Phils, the team that choked on their way to the National League Pennant; the ’80 Phils, the team that won the franchise’s sole World Series; and the ’93 Phils, that loveable crew of misfits who nearly won the World Series that year. I’ve always thought it a little odd that the 1950 Phils don’t really get their due.
The Wiz Kids were a heck of a team. They were the youngest in the National League and they dethroned the mighty Brooklyn Dodgers, winners of the NL pennant two of the three previous years, in dramatic fashion. Had the team gone on from 1950 and realized its promise, perhaps the history of baseball in Philadelphia would have been different: instead of the Giants – Dodgers hegemony the NL saw in the early 1950s, the Phillies might have been in the mix, they might have been a contender, they might have even been a dynasty.
Instead the Phillies belly-flopped to fifth place in 1951, twenty-three and a half games behind the New York Giants. From 1951 to 1957, the Phillies record hovered around .500 and the team finished fourth or fifth each year. The players that made up the Wiz Kids – Richie Ashburn, Del Ennis, Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons – could never recapture that magic. The team collapsed during the 1958 season, finishing dead-last in the NL. It wasn’t until 1962 that the Phillies returned to .500, and a big factor in that was the presence of the expansion Houston Colt .45’s and the New York Mets, teams the Phillies went a whopping 31-5 against that season while going 50-75, .400, against the rest of the NL. Two years later the Phillies would have their epic collapse which would scar the team for the next decade.
I intend to dissect the Wiz Kids every way I know how. Those familiar with my writing will see my usual stats (Gross Productive Average, Isolated Power, Runs Created), as well as a few new ones (Base Runs). I also intend on branching out and giving my readers biographical sketches of key Wiz Kids, including players like Ashburn, Simmons, Ennis and Roberts. I’ll also be giving a narrative of the season.
But as I said, I'll continue to take a look at the post-season: I think the Mets are well-set for continuing along to the NLCS against the Cardinals. I am very surprised that both teams won because the Mets are so short on pitching and the Cards are essentially a one-man team. Without gaffes by the Padres and Dodgers in this series (e.g., the Padres botching a run-down of Pujols yesterday and the Dodgers sending two guys to get tagged at home on Wednesday), these series might be very different. The Yankees lost yesterday too and A-Rod turned in a less-than-impressive performance: 0-for-4, three K's. Ouch. Maybe the Tigers can win this after all?
So sit back and kick your feet up. Tuesday: The Wiz Kids Part I, The Road to 1950
Pennock, apparently a great judge of talent (Ashburn, Roberts, Simmons, Jones, etc.), set the foundation for the Phils' farm system; unfortunately for the Phils there was no one to build on that foundation after his death and the team made a series of disasterous bonus baby signings.
The failure to sign black players is well documented; only the Red Sox resisted intergration longer before signing their first black player. Dick Allen was the Phils' first black star and he didin't arrive on the scene until '64, nearly 20 years after Jackie Robinson.
I've read that Connie Mack had the opportunity to sign both Willie Mays and Hank Aaron; in that case the Phils might have been the team to leave. On other hand if Pennock had lived, he probably wouldn't have signed them either.
Ed: I think you hit the nail right on the head. That failure to sign black players and their inability to restock the farm system left the team to atrophy during the 50's. Their farm system was VERY productive in the late 40's, but it collapsed after that.