Monday, September 30, 2013

Henry Gerecke, Chaplain to the Nazis at Nuremberg

Pastor Henry Gerecke
Facebook, despite its time-consuming capability and other sundry irritants—"vaguebooking," Seinfeld-worthy excursions into the banal minutiae of our daily lives, bitching and moaning about the vicissitudes of our favorite sports teams (of which I, in particular, am too often guilty; I am, after all, from "Negadelphia")—nevertheless serves a useful purpose, both in staying connected to old friends and relations who live far away and also in exchanging information about which we otherwise would remain ignorant. Just this past weekend I had this latter experience, as my old friend David Brandt posted a link to a blog post at the Gospel Coalition entitled "From Hitler's Wolves to Christ's Lambs," the story of an obscure Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor from the American Midwest called Henry Gerecke, who served as the chaplain to 15 high-ranking Nazi War Criminals on trial for crimes against humanity at Nuremberg from 1945-46.

Joachim von Ribbentrop

Reading the post (as well as the chapter on Gerecke in Don Stephens's War and Grace) was a tear-inducing experience, both in reflection on the heinous crimes these men perpetrated and in grateful rumination on the matchless grace of God who in and because of Christ rescued some of these men and me from the eternal consequences we all have earned. Some of the names are familiar to anyone even mildly conversant with the history of the 20th century: Rudolf Hess, Hermann Goering, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop. That some remained hardened (Hess) or deeply cynical (Goering) is hardly surprising. What did surprise me (though it shouldn't have) was the apparently genuine repentance worked in some of these men by God's Spirit. Most striking of all was the case of Ribbentrop, who initially was coolly indifferent to the claims of Christ and to Gerecke's services, but who gradually showed unmistakable signs of repentance and was finally admitted to communion after the final plea at his trial. When on the gallows the American executioner asked if he had any final words to speak, Ribbentrop responded in a way I could not better: "I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul."

To many in today's Postmodern West such deathbed conversions are suspicious. To others the very notion of such conversions, whether genuine or not—especially if "genuine"—is scandalous. How is it "fair" that such men as Ribbentrop get to "go to heaven" when they performed such unspeakable acts during their lives? Such an objection, though perhaps understandable from the standpoint of the wisdom of this age, nonetheless fails to reckon with the real scandal here. As Chad Bird writes in his TGC post, "The scandal of Christianity is not that these men went to heaven; it is that God loved them so much that he was willing to die to get them there. Had it been a human decision, many would have thrown these men, guilty of such atrocities, into the flames of hell." 

The rejection of the Christian message as "scandalous" is nothing new, of course, as St. Paul knew all too well (1 Cor 1:18-25). But, at least in this context, such a rejection is based on a massive misunderstanding, to wit, that some people are more innately "worthy" of "salvation" than others, and that others are lost causes and forever debarred from "heaven" because of their empirically horrific moral resumé. Moreover, this misunderstanding fails to take into consideration some quite famous New Testament examples. Primary, of course, among these is the case of the Jewish revolutionary guerrilla who was crucified at Jesus' side on Golgotha (Luke 23). But the list would also have to include the Apostle Paul himself, who considered himself the "worst of sinners" (1 Tim 1:15) and one not worthy to be called an apostle (1 Cor 15:9) because he persecuted the church, attempting, as his admirer and co-worker Luke put it, to "destroy" it (Acts 8:3) and "breathing out murderous threats" against the disciples (Acts 9:1). But God, in his gracious sovereignty, called and regenerated him on the road to Damascus, and the Apostle never got over it. As he wrote to the Corinthian church he had founded, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect" (1 Cor 15:10). And reflection on that grace led, as it must do, to praise: "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Tim 1:17).

What the West's cultured objectors fail to appreciate is the simple fact that one can never "earn" God's grace. And that means conversely that no one is ever debarred in principle from being its recipient. Grace, by definition, is favor bestowed where such largess is undeserved. But, as my dad taught me so well when I was an undergraduate, grace, in the Pauline sense, is more than "undeserved favor." It is favor extended where wrath is deserved. And it is the whole world that needs such grace, including those moralists who imagine they have no such need. And the New Testament is unanimous in its testimony that God is sovereign to bestow that grace (and the mercy which is simply God's grace viewed from a different angle) when and to whomever he wills, and—most importantly—on the basis of the shed blood of his Son alone. St. Paul, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and I, Jimmy McGahey, all are sinners whose salvation is based solely on external grounds, namely, on what God in Christ did for us on the cross of Calvary. All of us can say a hearty "Amen" to the words of the great Charles Wesley, who wrote these immortal words back in 1749:
We have no other argument,
We need no other plea;
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.
Soli Deo Gloria. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Are Evangelicalism and Rigorous Scholarship Mutually Exclusive (Part 3)?

Over the past month I have intermittently (see here and here) raised the question as to whether or not "evangelicalism" and academic scholarship are compatible. My conclusion has been a qualified "yes." There are indeed quite significant pitfalls along the path, to which many would-be scholars have succumbed. However, if one manages to avoid the Scylla of rigid and doctrinaire confessionalism, on the one hand, and the Charybdis of a presupposed notion of the "necessary" entailments of biblical "inerrancy," on the other, it can, and demonstrably, has been accomplished. 

At issue, of course, is the role of presuppositions in academic study—necessary, to be sure, but problematic if they are allowed, a priori, and whether consciously or not, to delimit interpretive options or even to determine conclusions. It is here, of course, that evangelicals, with their notoriously conservative "bias," are often accused, sometimes legitimately, of failing to abide by the accepted standards of academic rigor. But that begs the question: Are non-evangelicals likewise guilty, more often than is publicly recognized and more often than they are likely to admit, of the same scholarly misconduct? 

To be sure, one rarely hears of such a possibility being seriously considered. It is "new" or "fresh" hypotheses, after all, that make academic careers and "radical" ones that catch the public eye. One thinks here of the late Robert Funk's infamous "Jesus Seminar," who democratically came to the conclusion that the real Jesus of history bore little resemblance to the church's "Christ of faith." Rather than claiming to be Israel's anticipated Messiah (let alone "Son of God"), Funk and company (inter alia, Dom Crossan and Burton Mack) painted a portrait of a wandering Cynic who spun ironic aphorisms about the lilies of the field, among other mundane things. For their efforts, the Seminar got what they wanted, viz., publicity, including feature spreads in Time and Newsweek, and instant credibility with a public tired of seemingly ossified and, it was widely thought, outdated Christian tradition. As a result, more "traditionalist" New Testament scholarship had to play on the defensive for a decade, never mind the fact that not only "conservatives" like N. T. Wright but non-evangelicals like Dale Allison and the agnostic Bart Ehrman demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Seminar's case had no leg on which to stand. But for many the Seminar represented "cutting edge" scholarship, never mind the fact that they prioritized their "fifth" Gospel, Thomas, for which there is no historical evidence prior to the second century, over the four canonical Gospels; never mind that they took an already hypothetical "document" ("Q," for which in some form there is somewhat compelling deductive evidence), posited a series of stages in its composition, and hypothesized various "Q communities" responsible for its message, none of whom supposedly were interested in Jesus' death and resurrection, and certainly not in any "saving" significance attached to them; and never mind the fact that Crossan invented a supposed "source" out of whole cloth, the so-called "Cross Gospel" (supposedly used as a source by the author of the late-2nd century pseudepigraphical Gospel of Peter), the secondary nature of which is obvious to all but the most inveterate lovers of fantasy. The point is an obvious one: the Jesus Seminar clearly failed to abide by the strictures of academic rigor, and yet became famous for it—one might even say because of that failure. Therein, it would seem, lies the temptation.

The situation is hardly different with regard to the letters of St. Paul. Back in 1985 I wrote my Master's thesis on the so-called "Christ hymn" of Colossians 1:15-20. One thing that struck me then, as it does still, was the reluctance of most scholars to attribute this remarkable text to the originality of Paul himself (assuming the apostle wrote Colossians, which is another matter to be discussed presently). Now, I am well aware that Paul more than once quoted confessional formulae that predated his ministry (or at least his letters). 1 Corinthians 15:3ff. comes to mind, as do shorter passages such as 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and Romans 4:25. But the 20th century saw the development of a cottage industry of sorts concerning the detection of pre-Pauline formulae and the positing of the apostle's supposed redaction and, at times, correction of these formulae (Romans 3:24-26 is classic in this regard). My point is that the criteria for such judgments are rarely as definitive as the pronouncements made by Pauline scholars would suggest. In his magisterial Manchester Ph.D. thesis, Fuller Seminary Professor Seyoon Kim wrote:
We object ... to the application of wrong criteria in these searches and to the excessive zeal which leads critics to declare this or that passage non-Pauline all too lightly with little sound basis. The excessive zeal is perhaps only too natural in an atmosphere in which the dominant impression seems to be: the more Pauline passages one is able to declare pre-Pauline, the more critical (=the better) exegete one is ... There must be, in the language of v. Campenhausen ..., a Hercules who, taking heed to the plea of M. Hengel ('Christologie und neutestamentliche Christologie', NT und Geschichte, Cullmann FS (1972), pp.43ff.) and others, can burn off the formula-hungry (or pre-Pauline material hungry) Hydra of her ever increasing heads. Otherwise, before long Paul may be portrayed as nothing more than, to use another picture, the archetype of a modern salesman, who went about in the oecume selling the ready-made goods produced by the 'Hellenistic-Jewish' and 'Hellenistic' theologians in their factories back in Syria and was also engaged occasionally in take-over bids for the goods of his rivals (The Origin of Paul's Gospel [WUNT 2.4; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1981] 149-50 n.6 [emphasis mine]).
In today's Pauline scholarship it is generally believed that only seven (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon) of the canonical thirteen letters that bear his name were actually written by Paul, the remaining six emanating in the later first century from a Pauline "school" of his followers. The reasons for such a judgment are complex, involving both linguistic and theological differences between those generally acknowledged and those that are disputed. Now the differences in both language/vocabulary and atmosphere between the major Paulines and the Pastorals (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) are indeed striking and possibly significant, and I certainly don't condemn evangelicals like Howard Marshall (in his ICC volume) who hesitate to attribute them directly to the Apostle. Nevertheless, in the light of the widespread ancient use of amanuenses and the unique purpose and recipients of those letters, can one be so certain? The case is even thinner for the widely-challenged Ephesians, with regards to which F. F. Bruce hedged his bets when he referred to it as the "Quintessence of Paulinism." Yes, the differences are duly noted, but the difficulties for a Pauline attribution are far from insurmountable, as my late friend and mentor Harold Hoehner demonstrated quite impressively in his Ephesians commentary (Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002] 2-61). Hoehner, a year or so before his untimely death, told me he had written an article he one day hoped to publish entitled "Why Paul Didn't Write Galatians." Now, if there's one letter everybody these days acknowledges as Pauline, it is Galatians. But he argued, tongue-in-cheek, of course, using the same criteria often used to dispute the authenticity of Ephesians, that the Apostle didn't write Galatians either (see page 28 of his commentary for one argument along these lines; unfortunately he died before he could get the article published). The point, of course, is not to argue that Ephesians or the Pastorals must be Pauline because they bear his name (after all, they may not have been). It is rather that the criteria often used are not as definitive as they are often made out to be, and that the reluctance many scholars have to attributing them to Paul has less to do with "objective," rigorous scholarship than it does to acceptance in a guild in which skepticism is de rigeur and considered the mark of a "critical" scholar.

No one was more critical of the mindset of so-called "critical" New Testament scholars than the late Professor Martin Hengel of Tübingen, whom I consider to be the most learned scholar of my lifetime. Hengel was no "evangelical" in the Anglo-American sense—indeed, as a German, how could he be?—though he was a practicing Lutheran. Though "conservative" by the standards of the German academy, he certainly could be critical of Luke's historical accuracy at times and held to the standard attribution of only seven letters to Paul. Yet towards the end of his life he became increasingly vocal about the failures of German New Testament scholarship. Lately I have been rereading his stimulating Paul between Damascus and Antioch, co-authored with his student Anna Maria Schwemer (trans. John Bowden: London: SCM/Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), which is peppered with scathing comments such as the following: "The real danger in the interpretation of Acts (and the Gospels) is no longer an uncritical apologetic but the hypercritical ignorance and arrogance which—often combined with unbridled fantasy—has lost any understanding of living historical reality" (pp. 6-7). And the following: 
[Rainer Riesner's Die Frühzeit des Apostels Paulus] should become a standard work of Pauline scholarship; yet I fear that given the spreading inability within our unhappy 'New Testament scholarship' to study ancient sources and use them to argue historically, this learned work will not easily find recognition. In any case it is easier to keep hawking round scholastic clichés and old prejudices pseudo-critically and without closer examination, than to occupy oneself with the varied ancient sources which are often difficult to interpret and remote (p. 15).
Much more could be said, of course. This is certainly not to say that non-evangelicals are guilty of such scholarly malfeasance any more than evangelicals are. Indeed, I know firsthand that such is not the case. But it is to say that evangelical presuppositions are no more a barrier to first-rate scholarship than those that often lead more "liberal" scholars to their own proposals and conclusions. Everyone has presuppositions, and such presuppositions are decidedly not a nasty fact to be papered over, but a necessary factor that enables understanding in the first place. What matters is the nature of these presuppositions and the manner in which they are utilized to come to one's conclusions. When one encounters any bit of sensory data, one interprets that data within the storied worldview one presupposes. The question we must ask, however, is whether or not we are willing to allow that data to reconfigure the worldview we presuppose. It is that willingness that entitles a scholar to the label "critical." And, to bring the matter back to my evangelical readership: this is a willingness we must cultivate. Truth, after all, is more important than institutional or confessional affiliation.

Before I close there is one further matter that should be said. Integral to a responsible interpretation of an ancient author (or any author, for that matter), is a sympathetic respect for the author and empathy for his or her recipients in the situation they were facing historically. Here is one area where evangelicals should excel in comparison with their more "radical" colleagues who lack such sympathy. Believing the Bible to be the Word of God entails a respect for the author, both a willingness to listen to and learn from what he wrote and a predisposition to look for coherence in it (i.e., a tendency not to look for superficial "contradictions" between texts or authors and thereby drive a wedge between what they say via false disjunctions). But—this must unfortunately be repeated—such a presupposed belief in the Bible as God's Word does not mean that we must always interpret the text in ways we feel are plain and obvious. That is what scholarly historical and literary analysis are for.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Forty Greatest Philadelphia Phillies of All Time, Part 3: ##21-30

The 1950 National League Champion "Whiz Kid" Phils at Shibe Park, 21st St. and W. Lehigh Ave., North Philadelphia

Here are numbers 21-30 in my list of the greatest players who ever played for the Philadelphia Phillies. For previous posts in this series, see here and here.

30. Jayson Werth (OF, 2007-10)

Jayson Werth left the Phillies somewhat acrimoniously via free agency after the 2010 season to sign with the then-lowly Washington Nationals. Needless to say, he is not the most popular player on the Nats with the South Philly faithful. But this is not a popularity contest. What Jayson Werth was was a great outfielder, an irreplaceable cog in the Phils' batting order protecting Ryan Howard and keeping opposing pitchers honest. Since he left the offense has never been the same. He came to the team in 2007 with little fanfare, having hit just .234 with 7 home runs in 2005 before a wrist injury ended that season and caused him to miss the entire 2006 campaign. In 2007 he flashed his potential, hitting .298 with 8 homers in just 255 at-bats. But it was the next three seasons that Werth finally came into his own and showed steady improvement. In 2008 he hit 24 homers in only 418 at-bats, stole 20 bases, batted .273, and slugged .498 before hitting .444 in the World Series against the Rays. In 2009 he upped his power production, slamming 36 homers, creating 161 runs (98 runs, 99 RBI), and, despite his .268 batting average, had a .373 OBP due to his 91 walks and slugged .506. In 9 postseason games, he hit 5 homers and drove in 10 runs as the team failed to make the World Series for the first time in three years. In 2010, he led the league with 46 doubles, hit 27 homers, produced 164 runs (106 runs, 85 RBI), batted .296 with a .388 OBP and .532 slugging percentage. And GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. just let him go, imagining that Ben Francisco could take over RF in his place ...

29. Darren Daulton (C, 1983, 85-97)

Dutch Daulton is unquestionably the greatest leader to have played for the Phillies in the past 50 years. He was the glue who kept the 1993 pennant winners in line and together throughout their unlikely run to the World Series. Early in his career Daulton showed little promise. From 2005-09 he never hit more than 8 homers or higher than .225. He had a good season in 1990 (12 HR, .268) before slipping back to .196 in '91. But his next three years were remarkable. In '92 he came out of nowhere to hit a career-high 27 home runs, bat .270, drive in a league-high 109 runs, and slug .524. In '93 he picked up where he left off, hitting 24 homers, driving in 105 runs, and slugging .482. Despite his .257 batting average, his 117 walks led him to a career-high .392 OBP. In 1994, a knee injury robbed Daulton of what was shaping up to be his best season. In just 67 games, he hit 15 home runs, drove in 56 runs, hit .300, and slugged .549. He would never be the same. But 1993 was enough to cement his reputation and place in any list of the Phillies' greatest players.

28. Garry Maddox (CF, 1975-86)

Maddox's 1980 Topps Card
(from the author's personal collection)

Maddox's nickname, "The Secretary of Defense," coined by columnist Bill Conlin, says all one needs to know. The winner of a Gold Glove in his first 8 seasons for the Phils ('75-'82), Maddox is by far the greatest fielding outfielder I have seen in a Phillies' uniform, patrolling Veterans Stadium's (relatively) vast acres with an equine grace that belied his speed and uncanny ability to get good jumps on balls hit in the allies. And in his early years after being acquired in 1975 from the Giants for my favorite Phillie, Willie Montanez, he could hit too. In 1976, the first of two consecutive 101-win seasons for the Phils, Maddox hit .330. The next year he hit .292 while upping his homer total to 14 and hitting 27 doubles and 10 triples. In each of his first 6 seasons with the club he stole between 22 and 33 bases, finishing his Phillies career with 189. His cumulative batting average in his 12 seasons in South Philly was .284. But it is his defense for which he will be remembered.

27. Del Ennis (LF, 1946-56)

Del Ennis was a hometown hero, a native of the Olney section of Philadelphia, who lived in the area till the day he died in 1996 at the age of 70. He was also a slugger of the utmost consistency. In his ten prime years (1948-57), all but the last with the Phils, Ennis hit 20+ home runs 9 times and drove in more than 100 runs 7 times. But his three best seasons were 1948-50. In '48, he hit 40 doubles, 30 homers, drove in 95 runs, batted .290, and slugged .525. In '49 he hit 39 doubles, 11 triples, 25 home runs, drove in 110 runs, batted .302, and once again slugged .525. In '50 he was the prime offensive force for the pennant-winning Whiz Kids, hitting 34 doubles, 8 triples, a career-high 31 home runs, a league-leading 126 RBIs, a career-high .311 batting average and .551 slugging percentage. For his efforts he finished 4th in the voting for the National League's MVP award. He ranks high in a number of career batting categories for the Phillies: 9th in runs (891), 5th in hits (1812), 7th in doubles (310), 10th in triples (65), 3rd in home runs (259), 3rd in RBIs (1124), 7th in runs created (1031), and 4th in total bases (3029) [he is also 1st in grounding into double plays, with 171, but we won't hold that against him]. For his Phillies career, he hit .286 and slugged .479, making up for his lumbering defensive presence in leftfield, for which he served as an anticipation for Greg Luzinski and Pat Burrell.

26. Chris Short (SP, 1959-72)

Short's classic 1967 Topps Card
(from the author's personal collection)
Short, ironically a towering 6'4'' lefty out of Milford, Delaware, was one of the best starting pitchers in the National League between 1964-68, until back problems rendered him a marginal player at best his final five seasons ('69-'73, when he sported a decidedly substandard 20-36 record). In his five peak seasons, Short went 83-45, won 20 games in 1966, and struck out 931 batters in 1259 innings. In the ill-fated 1964 season, Short had perhaps his finest season, going 17-9 with a microscopic 2.20 ERA (good enough for 3rd in the league behind Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and better than Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, and teammate Jim Bunning), striking out 181 batters in 220.2 innings. In 1965 he proved his success in '64 was no fluke, going 18-11 with a 2.82 ERA and striking out 237 batters in a career-high 297.1 innings. For his Phillies career he posted a 132-127 record with a good 3.38 ERA. He ranks fourth in wins (132), 4th in innings pitched (2253), 3rd in strikeouts (1585), 4th in shutouts (24), and 6th in WAR for pitchers (32.2) in Phillies history. Unfortunately, Short died young, suffering a ruptured aneurysm at the age of 50, and dying three years later in 1991 in Wilmington, Delaware, never having regained consciousness.

25. Lenny Dykstra (CF, 1989-96)

Dykstra watching one of his 2 homers in
 game 4 of the 1993 World Series

Lenny "Nails" Dykstra, in many respects, is a failed human being. But he was a great baseball player. In particular, he was a great big game baseball player, perhaps the greatest clutch hitter I have ever seen in my 50 years of following the game. When the Phils traded for the diminutive (5'10", 160 lbs.) Dykstra, I was overjoyed despite the fact that he had never hit more than 10 home runs or batted higher than .295 in his 4+ seasons with the Mets. I remembered his memorable 1986 postseason, when he hit .300 with 3 homers in 50 at-bats, including 2 in the Mets' victory over the Red Sox in the World Series. Little did I know that he would more than replicate his heroics for the Phillies 7 years later. In his first full season with the Phillies, Nails flirted with the .400 mark for much of the summer before cooling down and ending at "only" .325. He scored 106 runs and led the NL in both hits (192) and OBP (.418). The next two seasons he was limited to only 148 total games due to injuries both self-inflicted (smashing a car on the Main Line while drunk and breaking his collarbone) and in action (broken wrist via a HBP). Yet he hit .297 and .301 those two seasons. Nothing could have predicted his 1993 season, however, one of the greatest ever by a Phillies player. That year he led the league in at-bats (637), runs (143), hits (194), and walks (129). He also hit 44 doubles, 6 triples, a career-high 19 homers, batted .305, and had a career-high .420 OBP. For his efforts he came in second in the league's MVP balloting. But he saved his best, as usual, for the postseason. He batted .280 with 2 homers against the Braves in the NLCS, and .348 with 4 homers and 8 RBIs in the losing effort against the Blue Jays. The diminutive Dykstra never played a playoff series in which he failed to homer. For his career, he played in 32 postseason games, scoring 27 runs, hitting 10 home runs, driving in 19 runs, batting .321, and slugging .661. Unfortunately, injuries plagued Dykstra the remainder of his career, never playing more than 84 games in any of his final 3 seasons.

24. Johnny Callison (RF, 1960-69)

My 3 Favorite Players after the 1964 All-Star Game:
Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, and Johnny Callison
Callison watching his walk-off homer at Shea Stadium
in the 1964 All-Star Game
Callison, a smallish (5'10", 175 lbs.) power hitter out of Qualls, Oklahoma and Bakersfield, was the face of the Phillies in the 1960s. He came to the Phillies in 1960 in a trade with the Chicago White Sox. But it was in 1962 that the young (23) Callison hit his stride, and for the next 4 years was one of the premier players in the Senior Circuit. In those 4 years he scored 395 runs, hit 117 doubles, 47 triples (leading the league in '62 and '65), 112 home runs, and drove in 366 runs. His signature season was 1964, when he had 101 runs, 31 homers, 104 RBI, batted .274, and came in second behind Ken Boyer in the NL MVP voting only because of the team's historic collapse out of first place in the season's final two weeks. Callison was also a fine fielder, a master at playing Connie Mack Stadium's infamous corrugated "spite fence" in rightfield along 21st Street, and possessing a rifle arm (his assist totals in 1962-65 were 24, 26, 20, and 21). After 1965, despite his being only 27 years old, Callison's production mysteriously tailed off (despite his leading the league with 40 doubles in 1966). Upon further reflection, his declining statistics were probably largely due to the nature of the game during those years. Callison's OPS+ during his 4 peak seasons ranged from 125 to 140. From 1966 to 1969 they ranged from 109 to 120—a decline, to be sure, but not nearly as precipitous as it then appeared. Indeed, his 1968 season seemed like a disaster at the time (14 HR, .244). But his OPS+ was 120 that season, a mere 5 points below his classic 1964 campaign. That, of course, was the year of Bob Gibson's historic 1.12 ERA, a year in which only 5 players, none of them power hitters, hit .300, and only 3 batters (Willie McCovey, the Phils' Richie Allen, and Billy Williams) slugged .500 (Hank Aaron "only" slugged .498 and the 37-year old Willie Mays .488, coming in fourth and 5th, respectively). Nonetheless, after the season Callison was dealt to the Chicago Cubs, where he had his final productive season, hitting 19 homers in 1969. For his Phillies career, Callison hit 185 homers and batted .271. He ranks 8th among Phillies position players with a cumulative 39.5 WAR.

23. Ryan Howard (1B, 2004-13)

Ryan Howard, in his prime in the early part of his career, was one of the most feared sluggers in the game. after winning the NL's Rookie of the Year at the age of 25 in 2005 when he smashed 22 homers and hit .288 in just 88 games (making mockery of the Phils' longstanding practice of bringing players up from the minors only when they reach their mid-20s, the "Big Piece"—certainly not an ironic nickname for the hulking 6'4", 240 lb. slugger—had one of the greatest offensive seasons ever produced by a Phils' player in his first full year. In that 2006 season Howard won the NL's MVP award on the strength of his league-leading 58 home runs and 149 RBIs, while batting .313 and slugging .659, with an offensive WAR of 6.1. In each of the next 3 seasons Howard hit at least 45 homers (leading the league with 48 in 2008) and drove in at least 135 runs (leading the league with 146 in 2008 and 141 in 2009), though his batting average slipped to between .251 and .279, his strikeouts peaked at 199 in both 2007-8, and his walks steadily decreased from 108 in 2006 to 75 in 2009. Then came the 2009 World Series against the Yankees. After going 2-5 with 2 doubles in the game 1 victory, the Yanks shut Howard down, holding him to 2 hits in 18 at-bats the rest of the series, including 11 more strikeouts. The rest of the NL was watching, and Howard's production slipped considerably (even more than the general trend toward better pitching the past few years). In each of the next 2 years Howard hit more than 30 homers and drove in more than 100 runs, but his slugging percentage dropped to .488 by 2011. The reason? His steadily increasing inability to hit lefthanded pitching, particularly offspeed pitches (indeed, there are few things more pathetic in sports than Howard attempting to hit a southpaw's slider), which was exposed for all the world to see by the Yanks in 2009 (for a statistical evaluation, see my post here). Nowhere was his ineptitude made more evident than in his last two playoff series, both Phillies losses. In the 2010 NLCS against the Giants, Howard was superficially fine: a .318 average with 4 doubles. But he failed to drive in a run and struck out 12 times (surpassed only by his 13 Ks against the Yankees the previous year). Then, in the 2011 NLDS against the Cards, Howard went only 2-19, striking out 6 times in 5 games. And, of course, his season and probably his career went crashing when he tore his Achilles' tendon on the series' last play. Howard's fairly low ranking on this list may be somewhat surprising to those who know his HR and RBI titles, not to mention his second place rank on the Phils' career HR list (311). But his very poor defense and slowness of foot on the basepaths have to be taken into consideration, not to mention the highly offensive era in which he amassed his numbers. All told, his career WAR is a mere 18.8 (oWAR 23.1), less than half that of Johnny Callison and less even than the notoriously slow Greg Luzinski (19.1). As it stands, his number is only 0.4 more than that of John Kruk despite having 2017 more plate appearances than the Krukker. The lesson: superficial, decontextualized statistics can be very misleading.

22. Cole Hamels (SP, 2006-13)

Research has led me to a greater appreciation for Cole Hamels. Yes, he's not as good as either Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in their prime. Nevertheless, he has been one of the NL's best starting pitchers since he posted a 15-5 record and 3.39 ERA (135 ERA+) for the 2007 division-winning Phillies. In 2008 he actually improved, going a misleading 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA (ERA+ a career-high 141) and a league-leading 1.082 WHIP. In 2012 he was one of the few bright spots on the team, going 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA, striking out a career-high 216 in only 215.1 innings. As I write, his career record is 99-74, with a 3.38 ERA (123 ERA+). The 3-time All Star has struck out 8.5 batters per 9 innings for his career with his deadly changeup, and his 33.4 WAR ranks 5th on the team's all-time list. He has a 7-4 lifetime record in the playoffs with a 3.09 ERA, winning the 2008 World eries MVP along the way.

21. Jimmy Rollins (SS, 2000-2013)

Jimmy Rollins, despite his frustrating qualities (failure to run out ground balls, reluctance to take bases on balls, swinging for the fences out of the lead-off position, etc.), is the greatest shortstop ever to play for the Phillies. He is a 4-time Gold Glover, was the 2000 NL Rookie of the Year, and the 2007 NL MVP. Six times he has scored more than 100 runs in a season, 5 times he has led the league in triples, four times hit more than 20 homers, a ten times stolen 30+ bases, leading the league with 46 in 2000. In his MVP season of 2007, "J-Roll" put it all together, scoring 139 runs, amassing 212 hits, with 38 doubles, 20 triples, and 30 homers, driving in 94 runs out of the lead-off spot, hitting .296, and slugging .531. As of this writing, Rollins ranks 3rd all-time among Phillies in runs scored (1245), 4th in hits (2170), 2nd in total bases (3436), 1st in doubles (455), 3rd in triples (107), 10th in home runs (199) 8th in RBIs (832), and 2nd in stolen bases (425). His offensive WAR of 38.3 ranks 9th in club history, whereas his defensive WAR of 12.7 ranks 5th, with only Larry Bowa bettering him as a shortstop.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Forty Greatest Philadelphia Phillies of All Time, Part 2: ##31-40

The 1915 National League Champion Phillies

Before beginning my countdown, there is one player whom I inexplicably left off my list of players who either played too few years in Philly or whose best years occurred elsewhere. I am speaking of Francis Joseph "Lefty" O' Doul, who left an indelible mark despite being a denizen of North Broad Street's Baker Bowl for only two years. O'Doul, a native of San Francisco, began his Major League career as a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees (1919-20, 1922) and Boston Red Sox (1923), with little success, compiling a cumulative 4.83 ERA. After hurting his arm, the New York Giants sent O'Doul back to San Francisco to turn him into a power-hitting outfielder for their Seals affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. He finally made his way back to the Major Leagues at the age of 31 in 1928, when he hit 8 homers and batted a respectable .319 for the Giants. After the season he was dealt to the lowly Phillies where he teamed with Chuck Klein and Don Hurst and terrorized NL pitching for two bizarre seasons. O'Doul had his two greatest seasons in Philly, but with little team success. He and Klein, in particular, were the primary reasons why the team batted more than .300 in both 1929 and 1930. Nevertheless, the team finished in 5th place in '29 with a 71-82 record, and dead last in '30 with an abysmal 52-102 record. But O'Doul was remarkable those two seasons. In '29 he led the NL with 254 hits, a .398 batting average, and .465 (!) OBP, smashing 32 homers, slugging .622, and driving in 122 runs. For his efforts he finished second to the immortal Rogers Hornsby in the league's MVP voting. In 1930 he was nearly as good: 202 hits, 22 home runs, 97 RBI, .383 BA, 453 OBP, and .604 slugging pct. The Phillies showed their appreciation by unceremoniously shipping him after the season to the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers), where he continued to terrorize the NL's overmatched hurlers, winning the batting title again in 1932 (.368) en route to a .349 career average.

Now, here are numbers 31-40 in my list of the greatest players who ever played for the Philadelphia Phillies.

40. Curt Simmons (SP, 1947-60)

Simmons in 1949
Curt Simmons, hailing from Egypt, PA (near Allentown) was a 3-time All Star and Robin Roberts's southpaw counterpart on the famous 1950 "Whiz Kids" Phillies team that won only the team's second National League pennant. That year, despite National Guard call-uos in July and September (the latter finishing his season in the midst of a pennant race) he compiled a 17-8 record with 11 complete games in 27 starts, with a 3.40 ERA. Military service cost him the 1951 season, but he picked up in 1952 just where he had left off, compiling a 14-8 record with a 2.82 ERA (130 ERA+) and tying for the league lead with 6 shutouts. Over the following two years Simmons won 30 games for the declining Phils, in 1954 pitching 253 innings with 21 complete games and 3 shutouts. His 14-15 record belied his effectiveness, as witnessed by his splendid 2.81 ERA (144 ERA+). Declining effectiveness in the late '50s led to his departure to St. Louis, where he enjoyed a few more productive years before calling it quits after the 1967 season. In his career he compiled a 193-183 record with a 3.54 ERA. He won 115 of those games for the Phils.

39. Shane Victorino (CF, 2005-12)

The "Flyin' Hawaiian" was one of most electrifying players to play for the Phillies in their second "glory period" between 2007-11. He was also one of the most frustrating, never living up to the potential I, at least, believed he had. He was a superb defensive outfielder (though not, as disgraced former Daily News columnist Bill Conlin once claimed, the best defensive centerfielder in team history), winning three gold gloves patrolling the Bank's shallow confines. He also led the league in triples twice and stole more than 30 bases 4 times. He could also flash some power, especially in clutch situations (who can forget his grand slam off C. C. Sabathia in game two of the NLDS in 2008 or his 2 homers against the Dodgers in the 2009 NLCS?). In his finest season, 2011, he hit 27 doubles, 16 triples, and 17 home runs in only 132 games. Yet, for all his speed and ability, he never hit .300. For his Phillies career, he hit .279 in 987 games, scored 582 runs, hit 88 homers, and stole 179 bases.

38. Bob Boone (C, 1972-81)

Both glory periods of Phillies history (1976-83, 2007-11) were powered by home-grown talent (does current GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. appreciate this fact?). So it was with Bob Boone, the sturdy and steady, if unspectacular, backstop of the 1970s Phils. Boone never hit more than 12 homers (1978), drove in more than 66 runs (1977), or hit higher than .286 (1979), but he made three NL all star teams in his decade in South Philly. The reason? His defense. A master handler of pitchers, Boone won two gold gloves with the Phillies (1978-79), being blocked by the immortal Johnny Bench from winning any others (he would go on to win 5 more in the AL after moving to California in 1982). And he had a knack for the big hit. In the 1980 World Series, he hit .412 and drove in 4 runs against the Kansas City Royals.

37. Pat Burrell (LF, 2000-2008)

What might have been ... Pat Burrell was a strapping, 6'4'', 235 lb. leftfielder from the San Francisco Bay area and the University of Miami, who was taken by the Phillies as the first overall pick of the 1998 draft (and hence forever will be the anti-J. D. Drew for Phillies fans). In his debut in 2000, he hit a towering 435 foot triple to the mound in deepest centerfield at Houston's Enron Field. After his third and greatest season, 2002, in which he hit 37 homers, drove in 116 runs, and batted .282, he signed a six-year contract with the Phils, and promptly had his worst season for the team, with 21 homers and a paltry .209 average. In 2004, however, he made something of a comeback, hitting 24 homers in 448 at bats and batting a more respectable (and, as it would turn out, a very Burrell-like) .257. But that year was marred by a bad wrist injury from which he never fully recovered. Nevertheless, he came back with a bang in 2005, hitting 32 homers, driving in a career-high 117 runs, batting .281, and finishing 7th in the NL MVP voting. The following three seasons were extraordinarily consistent in their outcomes: between 29-33 homers,.250-.258 in batting, and .502-.507 in slugging. And he had a great eye, twice walking more than 100 times and even achieving a .400 OBP in 2007. Despite his lumbering gait in leftfield (something of a tradition in Philadelphia), he had a rifle throwing arm, gunning down 18 runners in 2001, after which teams learned their lesson and rarely challenged him. But his maddening inconsistency and developing foot problems marred these final seasons with the team. For example, his splits in 2007 were as follows: 1st half—11 HR, 30 RBI, .215; 2nd half—19 HR, 60 RBI, .295. 2008 was the mirror image: 1st half—23 HR, 57 RBI, .275; 2nd half—10 HR, 29 RBI, .215. In the 2008 World Series, he hit an abysmal .073. But his one hit was a very big one. In what proved to be the final at bat of his Phillies career, he hit a double off the centerfield fence in the driving rain off J. P. Howell. Eric Bruntlett, who pinch ran for Burrell, ended up scoring on an infield hit by Carlos Ruiz to provide the deciding run in the World Series clinching victory. For the 1306 games of his Phillies career, Burrell hit 251 home runs, drove in 827 runs, batted .257, and slugged .485. What might he have done were it not for those wrist and foot injuries?

36. Tug McGraw (RP, 1975-84)

The picture says it all. That is Frank Edwin "Tug" McGraw, father of Tim, rejoicing after striking out Willie Wilson at Veterans Stadium for the final out of the 1980 World Series on 21 October 1980. When acquired by the Phillies in 1975, McGraw was already a household name, starring in the bullpen for the Mets on the World Series champion team of 1969 and their pennant winning club of 1973. But as great as his 1969-72 seasons were, nothing would compare to 1980, when he arguably proved as important to the surging team's divisional crown (they were in 3rd place as late as August 30 and in 2nd as late as October 1) as the transcendent MVP Mike Schmidt and Cy Young winner Steve Carlton. After September 2, when he allowed a run against the Giants, McGraw pitched in 15 of the team's last 32 games, a stretch spanning 26 innings. And he allowed a grand total of 0 runs, striking out 22 and walking only 2 (both in an 8 September game against Pittsburgh). For the season he had a 5-4 record and a minuscule 1.47 ERA. He slipped somewhat in the playoffs (I once heard him claim he was running on fumes by that time), allowing 4 runs in 8 innings and losing a game against Houston in the NLDS, but rebounded in the World Series, posting a 1-1 record and 1.17 ERA in 7.2 innings over 4 games, striking out 10. For his Phillies career, the Tugger posted a 49-37 record with a 3.10 ERA (120 ERA+) and 94 saves. But I will never forget that magical night in South Philly with cops on horseback ringing the outfield warning track. It was the best night of my sports life, and the Tugger played the leading role.

35. Tony Gonzalez (OF, 1960-68)


The diminutive Cuban (5'9", 170 lbs.) is rarely remembered these days, but he was a formidable line drive hitter with occasional power and a fine defensive outfielder who twice led the NL in fielding percentage, going the entire 1962 season without making an error. Gonzalez batted over .300 three times for the Phils (1962, 1963, and 1967, when his .339 average placed second behind Roberto Clemente's .357) and hit 20 homers in 1962. In his 9 years in North Philly, Gonzalez batted .295 despite playing in a pitcher-friendly era. His OPS+ of 123 and WAR of 24.4 during those seasons (the latter more than Ryan Howard) put his numbers in perspective when compared with those compiled in the last two, pitcher-unfriendly, decades.

34. John Kruk (1B, 1989-94)

The "Krukker," as the late, lamented Harry Kalas dubbed him, is perhaps the most fondly remembered of the "Macho Row" who propelled the Phillies to the 1993 NL pennant.  A formidable line drive hitter with a keen eye (he walked 203 times, with OBPs of .423 and .430 in 1992-93), Kruk never batted less than .291 for the Phils, hitting over .300 four times in his six years with the team, including a .316 mark in the pennant-winning '93. All told, the .300 career hitter batted .309 for the Phillies with an OPS+ of 138. He may not have been an athlete, as he famously stated when confronted about his portly stature and unhealthy habits, but he sure was a great ballplayer.

33. Larry Bowa (SS, 1970-81)

Larry Bowa, with all due apologies to Jimmy Rollins, is the greatest defensive shortstop I ever saw play for the Phillies. He was a 2-time Gold Glover and 5-time All Star who made up for his diminutive stature (5'10", 155 lbs.) with a fiery disposition, fierce competitiveness, and steady reliability that more than made up for lack of flash. Never a great hitter—indeed, in his first four seasons he hit a total of 1 home run, never hit as many as 20 doubles in a season, and never hit higher than .250, bottoming out at .211 in 1973—he nonetheless worked to the point where he became a serviceable, and at times valuable, player at the plate and on the bases. In 1974, his first All Star season, Bowa scored 97 runs, stole 39 bases, and raised his average to .275. The following season he chalked up his one and only .300 season, batting .305 for the rapidly improving team and finishing 22nd in the MVP voting. Perhaps his finest season came in 1978, when he won his second Gold Glove, hit .294, stole 27 bases and finished 3rd in the MVP voting. In 1980, his age (34) was starting to show, as he hit only .267 and scored 57 runs. Not surprisingly, however, he rose to the occasion in the postseason, hitting .316 in the NLCS against Houston and .375 in the World Series against Kansas City. More importantly, he played a major role in the Phils' victory in Game 1 when, trailing 4-0 in the 3rd inning, he singled and, going against conventional wisdom, stole second base, igniting a 5-run rally that propelled the team to a 7-6 victory and the franchise's first World Series championship. For his career in Philly, the fiery Bowa amassed 1798 hits, scored 816 runs, stole 288 bases, and batted a respectable .264. Not bad for a guy many deemed too small and slight to make it in the Major Leagues.

32. Spud Davis (C, 1928-33, 38-39)


Spud Davis is one of the great forgotten Phillies. In his 8 years for the team, he batted over .300 six times, topping out at .349 in 1933, after which, in grand Philadelphia tradition, he was swapped to St. Louis for fellow catcher Jimmie Wilson, who had hit just .248 and .255 his previous two seasons. In his 8 years in Philadelphia, Davis hit .321. For his 16-year career, Davis batted .308, behind only Joe Mauer (.329), Mickey Cochrane (.320), Bill Dickey (.313), and Mike Piazza (.313) among all-time catchers.

31. Greg Luzinski (LF, 1970-1980)

Greg "The Bull" Luzinski had, with the possible exception of Richie Allen and Ryan Howard, the most pure power of anyone ever to play for the Phillies. He showed glimpses of his potential with the abysmal, 59-win 1972 team, when, at the age of 21, he hit .281 with 18 home runs and 33 doubles. The following year he improved with 29 homers, 97 RBI, and a .285 average. But it was the four year stretch between 1975-78, during which the Phils twice won 101 games and captured three consecutive divisional crowns, that he reached his peak. In those four seasons, he hit 129 home runs, drove in 446 runs (leading the NL with 120 in '75), and batted .299 (topping out at .309 in '77). In each of these seasons, despite his lumbering defensive deficiencies, he made the All Star team and finished no lower than 8th in league MVP voting, finishing second in both '75 and 77. But, as is all too common with players of his bulk, decline set in early. By 1980, at the age of only 29, he had slumped to 19 homers and a .228 average, prompting a trade to the White Sox, for whom he put in three more serviceable seasons before a 13 homer, .238 season in 1983 led to his retirement at the age of 33. For his Phillies career, Luzinski 223 homers (out of the 307 he hit total), drove in 811 runs, batted a respectable .281, and slugged .489. He compiled an oWAR of 28.2 and an OPS+ of 133. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Moody Bible Institute Changes Its Alcohol and Tobacco Policy for Faculty and Staff

While checking my Facebook feed this morning I came across a link posted by my friend Sam Spatola that, quite frankly, shocked me in a nice way. You see, his alma mater, Moody Bible Institute (also the school where my mother and father met), has just reversed its longstanding policy of banning all alcohol and tobacco consumption by its faculty and staff. In the article posted on 19 September in the Religion News Service, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports as follows:
(RNS) The Chicago-based evangelical Moody Bible Institute has dropped its ban on alcohol and tobacco consumption by its 600-some faculty and staff, including for those who work in its radio and publishing arms.
The change in August reflected a desire to create a “high trust environment that emphasizes values, not rules,” said spokeswoman Christine Gorz. Employees must adhere to all “biblical absolutes,” Gorz said, but on issues where the Bible is not clear, Moody leaves it to employees’ conscience.
Employees may not drink on the job or with Moody students, who are not allowed to drink while in school.
On the other hand, rules for students have not changed much:
Students must abstain from tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs and “sexual promiscuity” for at least one year before they enroll and during their time at Moody.
“In addition, students are to refrain from gambling, viewing obscene or pornographic literature, and patronizing pubs, bars, nightclubs, comedy clubs, and similar establishments,” the catalog says. “There will be no on- or off-campus dances sponsored or organized by Moody Bible Institute students or personnel.”
Evangelical attitudes towards what were once considered "worldly amusements" have been changing for some time (though old-line and neo-fundamentalists appear to be holding the line). The reasoning for such an attitudinal adjustment is debated. In Bailey's report she quotes Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History Magazine, who opines that the change is one of expediency and accommodation:
“It’s part of a larger trend of wanting cultural acceptance,” said Tait, who noted that professors would go to academic conferences and be embarrassed when they couldn’t drink with friends. “A lot of people saw attitudes to alcohol as a witness. Many people are saying there are other ways to witness and this is a way to fit in.”
Well, as one who formerly taught at an institution where alcohol proscription was part of a detailed legalistic code of conduct, I can attest to the frustration caused by such a rule when I attended academic conferences with colleagues from other, more moderate institutions. But really, aren't Christian professors able to be bigger boys and girls than Tait suggests? Is "cultural acceptance" that big of a deal? In other words, aren't more significant, biblically fundamental (word chosen deliberately) principles at work here?

Indeed, there was always something peculiar about these so-called "standards" of conduct. Their origin in 19th century American pietistic, revivalistic Protestantism is well known (indeed, older, more confessional traditional Protestants like the Dutch Reformed, Anglicans, and Missouri Synod Lutherans are almost entirely free from such strictures). Even as a child growing up in these circles, and later as a student at Moody's sister institution, Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University) in the '70s, I couldn't quite "get" the rationale for some of these rules. Particularly silly (so I thought at the time, and still do) was the lumping together of such "vices" as cinema attendance, dancing, card playing, and listening to rock music (that was always the kicker for me), with such sins as sexual promiscuity and illicit use of narcotics. More fundamentally—and ironically, considering these fundamentalists' stated love of Jesus—these rules did nothing more than to externalize and quantify both sin and acceptable Christian behavior, just like the Pharisees of old who, despite their good intentions, were excoriated by Jesus for their pathetic misunderstanding of what obedience truly entailed.

Most fundamental of all, however, is the patent disconnect between rule-based "standards of conduct" and St. Paul's teaching on Christian liberty in Romans 14.  If a given practice is not condemned, either explicitly or by necessary implication, in Scripture, we have no right to make such judgments today. With his usual perspicacity, the great Reformed theologian John Murray once said (to paraphrase from memory, since the book in which it is found is tucked away in a box in my daughter's attic!), "Those who disallow what the Bible allows are prone to allow what the Bible disallows." There is no real dispute—even my teetotaler father scoffed at those who suggested that the "wine" of the Bible, when spoken of positively, was nothing more than what we today would call "grape juice"—that the Bible allows the moderate drinking of alcohol. Yet, in my experience, those Christian groups who most stridently condemn alcohol use and even dining in pubs—the Britisher in me particularly finds that offensive—are the most blind to those patterns of thinking and behavior, be they pride, lust for power and control, and careerism, that truly embody what Paul considered the "world." In Romans 12:1 the apostle, in the elegant paraphrase of J. B. Phillips, wrote "Don't let the world squeeze you into its mold." Well, many of the 20th century's (and some of the 21st century's) Christians unwittingly have let the world mold their thinking and behavior even as they fancy that, by their external "standards" of behavior, they are keeping it at bay.

My guess is that most old guard evangelicals, and even some fundamentalists, understand this. Yet, because of constituency matters or latent pietistic sensibilities, many have attempted to justify their rules in other ways. "It's about testimony," some say, neglecting to consider that, say, the moderate and responsible use of alcohol is a more powerful witness than self-righteous, even if only in appearance, total abstinence. "Alcohol can lead to drunkenness," others have said. But, to use that logic, doesn't food lead to gluttony, which in today's world is one of western society's most despised vices? Or, as Martin Luther graphically put it when criticised for his love of wine and beer, by that logic we should ban women, seeing that they can lead to fornication! As Paul would have it, the truly free Christian should limit his or her liberty in such matters only on a voluntary basis, and then only in the interests of another brother or sister with a "weak conscience" who otherwise would be tempted to act against conscience on the matter when witnessing the exercise of that liberty. And such "weak" brothers and sisters do not include convinced legalists who never would consider tainting themselves by such "worldly" actions.

Unfortunately, in my experience as a student and professor at institutions holding to such "standards"—indeed, I once pointed out to the President of one of these schools that the very language of "standards" implicitly placed an illegitimate moral evaluation on such activities; he was not amused—these rules in actuality serve a darker purpose, viz., as a means to exert control and power over faculty and students alike. As a former student once complained, these "standards" are "oppressive." My reply was not wholly satisfactory: "they are small price to pay for the privilege of studying or teaching the Bible." Maybe so, but he was right, as I knew at the time from experience (for example, while sitting on a bench on the Ocean City, New Jersey boardwalk in the summer of 1975 for three hours while my brother and a friend watched "Jaws" in the Strand Theater, all because of PCB's stance on movies). Failure to treat adult Christians as truly free agents no longer under the "pedagogue" of man-made rules is oppressive, both treating them as the children they are not and, even worse, manifesting a lack of trust in them. Hence I applaud Moody's reconsideration of its rules for faculty and staff. Now, if only they could tweak those rules for their students ...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Forty Greatest Philadelphia Phillies of All-Time: Part 1

Phillies Logo, 1911-1920

It's mid-September, the first hints of fall are finally in the air, and the Phillies are stumbling to the finish line of a forgetful season, 9 games below .500 and 20 games behind the division-leading Braves, making mockery of my overly-optimistic opening day prediction that the club would win 85 games. Steep decline and debilitating injuries (which I should have anticipated) among the old guard stalwarts and largely overmatched "prospects" (save for the fragile Dom Brown) led to the thankful demise of Charlie Manuel's managerial tenure and hopefully will lead to a changing of the guard in the front office.

Phillies Logo, 1950-1959

What then is an inveterate Philly fan to do while trying not to be unreasonably optimistic about the "Kelly Express" operating out of Lincoln Financial Field? Reminisce, of course. Back in January I wrote a series of six posts listing those I considered the Forty Greatest Eagles of All time (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). Today begins a similar series on the men I consider the forty greatest Phillies who ever donned red pinstripes. The Phillies famously hold the record for most cumulative losses in the history of American professional sports. At the time of writing, the record stands at 10,453, against only 9389 victories. That amounts to an underwhelming .473 winning percentage (better, I might add, than the Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, and Tampa Bay Rays, all of whom are of much more recent vintage; actually, in the 50 years I have followed the team [1964-2013], the Phils have won 67 more games than they have lost, won 9 1/2 divisional titles, 5 National League pennants, and 2 World Series crowns [1980, 2008]; Philly fans will, it seems, never live down the 31 consecutive losing seasons between 1918 and 1948, a time when the Phils were decidedly the despised and/or neglected stepsister of the beloved and since-departed Philadelphia A's).

Phillies Logo, 1970-1983

Despite the franchise's acknowledged vicissitudes down through the years, it has a long and, at times, proud history. Indeed, the Phillies hold the distinction of being the oldest continuous one city, one name franchise in American sports history, dating back to 1883 (they were known as the Philadelphia Quakers until 1890). A number of Hall of Famers have called the Baker Bowl, Shibe Park, or Veterans Stadium home. And for real Philadelphians, who would never consider rooting for franchises in other, alien cities, the names of the players on the forthcoming lists will bring smiles of recollection and appreciation, even if their memory is tied solely to the pages of the Baseball Encyclopedia.

Phillies Logo, 1992-Present

As with my list of greatest Eagles players, I acknowledge the provisional nature of my judgments. Comparing players of different eras is always problematic, even in baseball, arguably the game with more continuity than obtains in the cases of, say, football or basketball. Nevertheless, players must be judged without anachronism, and that means comparing them with their own peers. Yet another problem is comparing players of different positions. Comparing second basemen to outfielders is not easy (does one give extra points to offensively proficient infielders because sluggers tend to be congregated in the outfield?), let alone any position players to pitchers. And does one give extra points to players who played the entirety of their careers in Philly? There are no easy, let alone definitive, answers to such questions. So I have laid down a couple of ground rules: a player must have played at least four seasons with the Phillies, and these seasons—even if at the early or tail end of the player's career—must have been ones in which he performed at peak effectiveness. Nevertheless, there are a few players who, though they fail to meet these criteria, still deserve comment. So here are six Phillies players whose best years occurred elsewhere or who didn't have quite enough peak seasons in Philly. The forty greatest list proper will begin with my next post.

1. Eppa Rixey (SP, 1912-20)


A strapping 6'5", 210 pounder from Culpepper, Virginia, Rixey played the first 8 of his 21 seasons with the Phillies. After an uneven start, Rixey came into his own in 1916, when he posted a 22-10 record and 1.85 ERA (despite being overshadowed by the great "Pete" Alexander) for the second-place Phils. He followed that with another fine season in 1917, posting a deceiving 16-21 record with a fine ERA of 2.27 over 281.1 innings (shades of 1983 Steve Carlton, 2012 Cliff Lee, and 2013 Cole Hamels, lack of run support for good pitchers being a longstanding Philadelphia tradition). But after a year off in 1918 because of World War I, Rixey posted two subpar seasons in 1919-20, losing 22 games and posting a 3.48 ERA (97 ERA+) in '20, leading to his trade to Cincinnati the following year. It was in Cincy that Rixey's career took off. He won 100 games in his first 5 years for the Reds, en route to 266 career victories, a record for National League southpaws that stood until Warren Spahn eclipsed it in 1963, and ultimate enshrinement in the Hall of Fame that same year. For the Phils, his record was 87-103, despite his ERA of 2.83 (ERA+=08).

2. Dolph Camilli (1B, 1934-37)

Dolph Camilli was one of an all-too-common breed in Philadelphia: a great player who got away due to poor management (later Phillies of this type include Ferguson Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg). A slugger out of San Francisco with a good eye (4 times he walked more than 100 times in a season, and for his career struck out only 14 more times than he was walked), Camilli came to the Phils via trade in 1934, and improved in each of his seasons playing at the Baker Bowl, whose cozy (to put it mildly) dimensions were perfectly suited to his powerful left-handed bat. In 1936 he hit .315, with 106 runs, 29 doubles, 13 triples, 28 homers, 116 walks, and 102 RBI, with a .441 OBP and slugging percentage of .577. In '37 he was even better, hitting .339 with 27 homers with a league-leading .446 OBP and a career-best .587 slugging average. Nevertheless, after that season he was inexplicably dealt to Brooklyn for a stiff named Eddie Morgan, who failed even to make the roster of a Phils team that won but 45 games. For the Dodgers, Camilli continued to shine, belting at least 23 homers in each of the next 5 seasons, topping out in 1941 when he led the league with 34 homers and 120 RBIs. In his four years in North Philadelphia, Camilli hit 92 home runs, drove in 333 runs, batted .295, and slugged .510.

3. Pete Rose (1B, 1979-83)

No name brings a smile to the face of an old Phillies fan more than that of Peter Edward Rose. Long a hated member of the rival Big Red Machine (for whom he had 3358 hits, scored 1741 runs, and batted .307, leading the NL in runs 4 times, hits 6 times, and batting 3 times), Rose was acquired via free agency prior to the 1979 season (in which he was 38 years old) in order to inject toughness and confidence in a team that had nothing to show for three consecutive divisional titles, in two of which they had won 101 games. Rose responded by hitting .331 and leading the league with a .418 OBP, though the team didn't respond as expected, abysmally falling to 4th place with an 84-78 record. The next year, however, the "Rose effect" kicked in (with not-so-gentle proddings from manager Dallas Green), as the Phils responded by winning their first World Series title behind MVP Mike Schmidt and Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton. On the surface, Rose's contribution was less substantial, as he finally began to show his age by hitting only .282 (his lowest since 1964) with a minuscule .354 slugging percentage. But he hit .400 in the thrilling NLCS against Houston and provided one of the definitive moments in team history when he caught a foul pop off the bat of Frank White in the 9th inning of their World Series-clinching victory over Kansas City that had deflected off the glove of Gold Glove-winning catcher Bob Boone (never mind Boone's claim that Rose "messed up" by not being in position to catch the ball in the first place). And with my own ears I heard Mike Schmidt give Rose the main credit, not only for helping him reach his full potential, but for propelling the team to its title, at his own 1995 Hall of Fame induction at Cooperstown. Rose had one more good year left in him, batting .325 in the strike-divided 1981 season, before age took its inevitable toll. Rose, of course, would go on to establish the Major League record for hits with 4256 and be banned for baseball for life because of betting on baseball. Indeed, Rose's failures as a human being are recognized. But it is high time that baseball reverse its course and reinstate Charlie Hustle. After all, drug users and dealers, let alone the vile Tyrus Raymond Cobb, are enshrined. Is betting on your own team qualitatively worse? The upshot is this: Pete Rose played the game the way it's supposed to be played. Period.

4. Jim Thome (1B, 2003-05, 2012)

Gentleman Jim is a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer, with 612 home runs, 1699 RBIs, and a signature season few can top: 2002, in which he hit 52 homers, drove in 118 runs, batted .304, and led the league in slugging at .677 in only 480 at bats for the Cleveland Indians. No wonder Phillies fans were thrilled and shocked in equal measure when the team acquired Thome via free agency after that season, a clear signal that the team's notoriously niggardly ways (that had cost them the services of such stars as Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen) were a thing of the past. Thome responded brilliantly, leading the league with 47 homers while driving in a career-high 131 runs in the team's final season at Veteran's Stadium. In 2004 he was just as good, hitting 42 homers, driving in 105 runs, and improving his slugging percentage to .581 in the team's first season at Citizens Bank Park. An injury-plagued 2005 season (7 homers, .207 in 193 at bats) and the rise of rookie Ryan Howard led the team to part ways with Thome, but he was far from finished. In his first 3 seasons with the White Sox, Thome hit no fewer than 34 home runs, meaning that he had hit 30 or more homers in 12 of the preceding 13 seasons, the only exception being 2005. Thome played with skill, power, and class. I only wish he had been around for the team's World Series victory in 2008.

5. Roy Halladay (SP, 2010-13)

"Doc" Halladay is one of the best pitchers of his generation. When the Phils acquired him prior to the 2010 season, they sent a signal that they intended to continue the success they had enjoyed the previous two pennant-winning seasons. Halladay, after all, had been a two-time 20-game winner for Toronto, winning the Cy Young Award in 2003 and leading the AL in complete games 5 times and shutouts 3 times. And Halladay didn't disappoint. His first year in South Philly saw him lead the NL in wins (21), innings (250.2), complete games (9), and shutouts (4), striking out 219, posting a minuscule 2.44 ERA while pitching at homer-friendly Citizens Bank Park, and throwing a perfect game against the Florida Marlins on May 29. For his efforts he was granted his second Cy Young Award. In the NLDS he threw a no-hitter against the overmatched Cincinnati Reds, though he faltered somewhat against the Giants in the NLCS, losing game 1 to Tim Lincecum and sporting a 1-1 record and 4.15 ERA for the series. In 2011, he was nearly as good: 233.2 innings, 19-6, 2.35, 8 complete games, a league-leading 163 ERA+, 220 strikeouts, and (according to the calculations of a 7.0 WAR. Nevertheless, despite a valiant effort, he was on the losing side of the decisive 1-0 loss to Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals in the decisive 5th game of the NLDS. Since his first two transcendent seasons with the Phils, Halladay has been wracked with arm injuries that have sapped his effectiveness and rendered his future uncertain at best: 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 2012, and 4-4 with a 6.71 ERA (and an uncharacteristic 5.0 BB/9 ratio) thus far in 2013. I wish him luck, but have the uneasy feeling that he is done, at least as a premier starter.

6. Cliff Lee (SP, 2009, 2011-13)

Cliff Lee is, if anything, even more popular with the Philly fan base than Halladay is. When the team acquired him at the trading deadline in 2009, he responded by winning his first 5 starts, and topped that by defeating the Yankees twice in the World Series that October. Since being reacquired prior to the 2011 series, Lee has been nothing but stellar, even in 2012, when his 6-9 record over 30 starts was due entirely to historically poor run support, considering his fine 3.16 ERA (128 ERA+!) that season. In his 3+ years for the Phils, Lee has compiled a 44-27 record with a 2.88 ERA (136 ERA+), has thrown 8 shutouts and struck out 720 in 731 innings while walking only 112.