Friday, October 13, 2006
Eddie Sawyer began his baseball career in the 1930s as a prospect in the New York Yankees system. A severe shoulder injury in 1937 crippled Sawyer’s chances of making the majors, so Sawyer fell back on his degree in biology and taught at Ithaca College in New York State while making the transition to managing by coaching a local football team. Sawyer’s intellectual style of managing attracted the Phillies, who hired him to bolster their farm system by coaching the Phillies minor league team at Utica. After succeeding and developing talent there, Sawyer went to Toronto in early 1948 to take over the team there, meeting players like Richie Ashburn, Granny Hammer, and Willie Jones there. While coaching in Toronto, Sawyer made the wise decision to make Richie Ashburn a centerfielder instead of a catcher. At the end of July the Phillies high command made the bold decision to elevate Sawyer to manager.
He was just 37 and had never coached or played major league baseball before.
Sawyer was a calm, laid-back person who brought an intellectual’s style to the game. The patience that Sawyer showed his players enabled the Phillies to develop a lot of young talent during the 1948 and 1949 seasons. Sawyer’s decision to bring Jim Konstanty, a little-regarded pitcher languishing on the Phillies team in Toronto, up with him was a stroke of genius in 1950, as Konstanty won 16 games and saved 22 more and won the NL MVP award. (See, Part III on Monday.)
After the 1950 season the Wiz Kids dynasty in the making unraveled. The Phillies went 101-116 (.465) in 1951 and 1952 under Eddie Sawyer. What happened? Did Sawyer’s laid-back style backfire and result in his players getting lazy and arrogant? Or were the Phillies not talented enough to keep up with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, two teams willing to raid the Negro Leagues for talent, while the Phillies racist refusal to incorporate black players cost them games? Was Eddie Sawyer a scapegoat for the Phillies racism in the '50s?
I’d submit that the latter answer is probably the more accurate one, though Sawyer's laid-back style might have backfired as some of the young Wiz Kids grew lazy and complacent. But racism was probably the main factor. The Phillies, simply put, shot themselves in the foot by refusing to add players like 1951 MVP Roy Campanella, who grew up in Philaelphia, to their roster. While the Dodgers, Giants and the rest of the NL forged ahead with racial integration, the Phillies fell behind. 1951, the year after the Phillies pennant run, after all was the year that Willie Mays joined the Giants.
Not surprisingly, Eddie Sawyer stayed away from baseball and took a job with a company that manufactured golf balls in the Philadelphia area. In 1958 the team welcomed him back for a brief time, having him take over in July to oversee the first eighth-place (i.e., last-place) finish the team suffered since 1947. The ’59 Phillies also finished eighth. The Wiz Kids faded away. Ashburn was traded to the Cubs after the ’59 season, Shortstop Granny Hammer and Third baseman Willie Jones were dealt to the Indians, pitcher Curt Simmons was dealt to the Cardinals in 1960 and pitcher Robin Roberts left the Phillies after 1961. Eddie Sawyer’s decision to quit coaching after the first game of the 1960 season, a 9-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field which saw Robin Roberts surrender eight runs in four and a third innings pitched, stunned observers and really marked the end of the Wiz Kids era. When asked why he quit, Sawyer replied: "I'm 49 and I want to live to be 50."
The dynasty that should have been was over and Sawyer never returned to coaching. He went back to business and briefly worked as a scout for the Phillies and Kansas City Royals during the 1970s before passing away in Phoenixville in 1997.
Part III on Monday, we'll be talking about Jim Konstanty, the 1950 NL MVP.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I can’t say that I know enough about Cory Lidle the man to make many judgments, but his avid interest in aviation, though it ultimately led to his death, suggests to me that he had a restless spirit and wanted to challenge himself, which I find very admirable. I suppose the allure of flying is to soar hundreds of feet, if not thousands, above the chaos that engulfs our daily lives. I suppose that is where Cory Lidle found peace and serenity and I hope that he enjoys that same peace and serenity in the afterlife. Godspeed, Cory.
Baseball was played in the backdrop of this tragedy, and the Detroit Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the ALCS by beating the Oakland A’s 8-5 yesterday. I am very surprised that the A’s dropped the first two games at home, but I wouldn’t give up hope yet. 0-2 is manageable. I am deeply impressed by how the Tigers have put themselves together and have become such an impressive group in the post-season. These guys are really pitching well and their much-maligned offense is clicking. If they go to the World Series, as is looking increasingly likely, they are going to be a rough, rough team to beat.
Tomorrow night, Rich Harden vs. Kenny Rogers. The A’s kinda gotta win, because 0-3 is basically impossible to return from and the ’04 Red Sox were a once-in-a-lifetime team.
Meanwhile, baseball will be played in New York as well: Mets start against the St. Louis Cardinals tonight … with the way that the Tigers are playing I think it hardly matters who wins this thing, but it will be interesting to see which Cardinals team shows up and if the Mets dearth of pitching will hurt them.
If I could shift sports … it was only a matter of time before Mt. Owens blew up and I think it happened yesterday with T.O.’s little tantrum to the media where he bitched about not getting the ball enough. My favorite part was when T.O. acknowledged being told that the Cowboys base offense wouldn’t change to accommodate him, but he signed on with the ‘Boys anyway and expected them to make him the focal point of their offense. I could just imagine Bill Parcells slapping his hand to his face and groaning when he heard that.
Thanks to this last week I think you can safely say that T.O.’s days in Dallas are numbered. How long do you think a master motivator / manipulator like Bill Parcells is going to put up with this crap? He’s had to deal with the T.O. show all summer long and now that it is fall and he’s right back to acting like a spoiled child, when will Parcells simply say: “Enough is enough”? And yet here is T.O. doing what he did in San Francisco and what he did in Philadelphia: blaming the quarterback, reaming out the coaches for not adjusting their plans to fit his designs, and making his battle about him vs. the team and not the team vs. the rest of the NFL.
I was watching the NFL Network’s replay of the Eagles and Cowboys and I was struck by what everyone said afterwards about Lito Shepard’s first pick, when T.O. broke up the field and Bledsoe underthrew the route: Troy Aikman speculated that the play was more a miscommunication between T.O. and Bledsoe than Bledsoe making a bad throw. In the post-game, Bledsoe claimed he and T.O. had a miscommunication and that was why the pick happened. T.O.? Usual act from him: veiled accusations that the play was Bledsoe’s fault. The unbiased observer (Aikman) faulted T.O. for a miscommunication, Bledsoe took responsibility for his end of a mutual mistake, T.O. blamed someone else.
Eagles – Saints this week. Not to denigrate the Saints, but I don’t believe that they are anywhere near as good as their 4-1 record suggests. Three of their four wins were against the Browns, Packers and Buccaneers. Combined record of those teams: 2-12. I was impressed by their emotional homecoming win over the Falcons, but can they sustain that emotion? I doubt it. They haven’t come into contact with a team as explosive and aggressive as this one yet.
Stay tuned for Part II of the Wiz Kids tomorrow.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Anyway, back to matters at hand. No real news this past week on the Phillies front aside from the fact that charges were dropped against Brett Myers, which wasn’t any sort of a surprise: victims of domestic violence rarely want to testify against their spouse / significant other. Let’s hope that Brett stays out of trouble.
The Sporting News voted Ryan Howard as Player of the Year, an honor that is voted on by the players. Ryan was actually the landslide winner, with 294 votes to David Ortiz’s 75 and Albert Pujols’ 32. I think this bodes well for his chances in the actual balloting for MVP. I guess we shall see.
Meanwhile, my bold prediction of a Twins – Dodgers World Series went for naught as the Twins and Dodgers couldn’t even muster a victory in a single game, let alone a series. That said, I am happy with the result of the ALDS: the A’s, my second-favorite team, advanced as did the Detroit Tigers, the feel-good story of 2006. Better still, the Yankees, that collection of run-away egos and free-flowing money, crashed and burned. Joe Torre was nearly fired, A-Rod is in the doghouse and is virtually unmovable, so the Yankees are stuck with that mess.
So what do I think of the ALCS? Well, I am surprised that the A’s lost last night. I thought that Barry Zito matched up well against the Tigers lineup, but that was not to be. It didn’t feel like the A’s batters got much going at all against a formidable pitching staff. Good work Tigers. Personal prediction: the series will go to seven games and the A’s will ultimately take it.
As for the Cardinals and Mets … yawn. The idea of a team that won just 83 games representing the N.L. in the World Series is just wrong, but it might happen. I’m not overly impressed by either of these teams. The Cardinals pitching staff, long a strength, was actually one of the worst in the N.L. in 2006. Their offense was a middling affair, finishing sixth in runs scored, remarkable to do when you have so many weapons in your lineup.
As for the Mets … their pitching is awful without Pedro and El Duque. They should not have gotten past the Dodgers, but they did. Now they are down to Tom Glavine and … John Maine, Oliver Perez and Steve Trachsel? Ugh. These could be a lot of 10-7 games with the way these guys pitch.
The Mets saving grace is their prolific offense, which ought to make things interesting. However, I will go out on a limb and say: Cardinals in six games.
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…