|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)
3. Pete Rose (1B, 1979-83)
4. Jim Thome (1B, 2003-05, 2012)
5. Roy Halladay (SP, 2010-13)
6. Cliff Lee (SP, 2009, 2011-13)