September 24, 2008

THE DICE DON'T LIE:

The Fall of the Phillies (Joe Posnanski, 9/24/08)

[T]oday’s topic is possibly the most famous collapse in baseball history, the fall of 1964 Phillies, and also my good friend Bob Dutton. Bob is now the excellent Royals beat writer for the Kansas City Star and the president of the Baseball Writers Association of America … more to today’s point, though, he was a 9-year-old Philadelphia Phillies fan in 1964. He lived that collapse. It shaped him. As I watch the Mets try to fall apart in the final weeks for the second straight year (and also the Brewers) I think of those 9-year-old Mets fans (and also Brewers fans), who will take this with them forever.

We can start our sad tale on Sept. 20, 1964, when the Phillies beat the Dodgers 3-2. JIm Bunning threw a five-hitter that day — both the runs he gave up were unearned and due to a Vic Power error — and the victory gave the Phillies a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games to play. Bob remembers that the Wilmington Morning News ran a magic number on the front page — not the front of sports but the front page of the entire paper, which impressed him — and he remembers so clearly seeing that the Magic Number was 7. He remembers seeing that, of course, because it would stay at 7 for a very, very long time.

Funny thing is, even at age 9 Bob knew what most clear-thinking Philadelphia fans knew — the Phillies were winning with smoke, mirrors, trap doors, wires, sleight of hand, David Copperfield arrogance, planted audience members and all sorts of other magician tricks.

Bob says: “Yes, Richie Allen was a wonderful rookie talent. Johnny Callison was having a deal-with-the-devil year. Jim Bunning and Chris Short, especially Bunning, were terrific and capable of beating anyone. Gene Mauch was then, as he always would be, at his best in milking the maximum from an underdog club. … Even so, as the summer unfolded, the Phillies hung in there. You kept waiting for the collapse. We all did, really. I mean, we knew the Phillies weren’t as good as the Dodgers or the Giants or the Reds or the Cardinals. But they kept defying the odds.”

I remember this feeling in Kansas City in 2003. You KNEW the Royals weren’t good enough, and yet the summer went along and they stayed in first place, and after a while you just shrugged and decided that maybe they had the blessings of the gods. They didn’t, of course. But the Royals had the good sense to fall out of things early enough to make the year still seem cheerful. By September 20th, even the most cynical of Phillies fans had to move all his chips in with this team. Nobody blows a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games to go.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 24, 2008 4:25 PM
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