Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Reformation Day (from 31 October 2012)

Today is Reformation Day. For the historically and theologically challenged among us, today is the 495th anniversary of the day when Dr. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, nailed a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences"  more commonly known as the "Ninety-Five Theses"  on the door of All Saints' Church (the Schlosskirche) in Wittenberg, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

Of all the people who have walked this earth in the 20 centuries since St. Paul brought his "gospel to the Gentiles" across the Mediterranean world, Martin Luther is my greatest hero. To be sure, Dr. Luther had his faults. He was often intemperate, and his rhetoric against the Jews  even granting the spirit of his age and the theological, rather than racial, basis for his rants  is offensive. Indeed, it was considered offensive even in his day. His colleague, Philipp Melanchthon, even commented at Luther's funeral (quoting Luther's erstwhile theological opponent, Erasmus): "Some have complained that Luther was more vehement than need required. I will not dispute against any, but I answer thus, that Erasmus has often said about Luther, 'God has given this last age a sharp physician because of the great diseases of the same.'"

Luther may not have been as formidable an exegete, or as balanced a theologian, as his younger contemporary Calvin was. But, I suggest, no one grasped the inner dynamic of the mind and temperament of St. Paul better than did the Wittenberger. Luther's 1535 Commentary on Galatians is no modern historical-critical commentary on the letter  how could it be?  but is as great a contextualization of the apostle's most personal and passionate letter as I have ever read. And those sensitive, effete theologians who today take offense at Luther would similarly take offense at the Paul who rained down anathemas on his opponents and hypothetically wished that the promoters of circumcision would have their knife slip and castrate themselves.

Most Protestant Christians today have never read the Reformer's great commentaries on Galatians and Romans, let alone the 1525 work Luther himself considered his greatest, De Servo Arbitrio (On the Bondage of the Will). But they do (hopefully) know his greatest hymn, "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" ("A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"), based on Psalm 46 and written sometime prior to 1531. In English translation, the text of the hymn reads as follows:
1. A mighty fortress is our God, 
 a bulwark never failing; 
 our helper he amid the flood 
 of mortal ills prevaling.  
 For still our ancient foe 
 doth seek to work us woe; 
 his craft and power are great, 
 and armed with cruel hate, 
 on earth is not his equal.

2. Did we in our own strength confide, 
 our striving would be losing, 
 were not the right man on our side, 
 the man of God's own choosing.
 Dost ask who that may be?  
 Christ Jesus, it is he; 
 Lord Sabaoth, his name, 
 from age to age the same, 
 and he must win the battle.

3. And though this world, with devils filled, 
 should threaten to undo us, 
 we will not fear, for God hath willed 
 his truth to triumph through us.  
 The Prince of Darkness grim, 
 we tremble not for him; 
 his rage we can endure, 
 for lo, his doom is sure; 
 one little word shall fell him.

4. That word above all earthly powers, 
 no thanks to them, abideth; 
 the Spirit and the gifts are ours, 
 thru him who with us sideth.  
 Let goods and kindred go, 
 this mortal life also; 
 the body they may kill; 
 God's truth abideth still; 
 his kingdom is forever.

I leave you with a video of the greatest setting ever provided for Luther's immortal hymn, J. S. Bach's Cantate BWV 80, performed admirably by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Concentus musicus Wien.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

John MacArthur's "Strange Fire" Conference: Some Belated Reflections

Let me be up front right from the start: I am a non-charismatic Christian. I am, to steal a neologism coined by my friend and former student Greg Baughman, an "Anglibaptisterian," raised and trained in the faith in staunchly "cessationist" circles. And, taking into consideration the Calvinist soteriology to which I give credence, one could easily (and rightly) hazard the guess that I belong to that subset of Christians often comically referred to as "God's frozen chosen." And anyone who knows me well might also guess correctly that I am temperamentally indisposed to appreciate, let alone practice, so-called "charismatic phenomena," in particular such "gifts" as tongues, miracles, and prophecy as advocated by Pentecostalism in any of its various manifestations.

I also highly appreciate the ministry of John MacArthur. From the time I first heard MacArthur in January 1976 in Arch Street Presbyterian Church's magnificent neo-classical sanctuary while a student at Philadelphia College of Bible, I judged him to be not only a powerful communicator, but also to be a man who took the Bible seriously and cared enough to use it responsibly in its function as the final word for Christian faith and practice. When he wrote his The Gospel according to Jesus in the mid-80s, I was thrilled at his frontal take-down of the sort of bastard-Calvinist easy-believism that was then running rampant in American evangelical circles. MacArthur may never have ever risen at the level of John Stott, Jim Boice, or S. Lewis Johnson as scholar-pastors, but he remains one of American evangelicalism's best preachers.

Nevertheless ... I have some serious reservations—I would use the term "concerns," but to do so would be to sound more pious than befits me—about the "Strange Fire" Conference held on October 16-18 at his Grace Community Church in Southern California (his book of the same title is due for distribution on November 12). Ostensibly the conference and book take on the Word of Faith and prosperity gospel movements, not to mention such unscholarly-yet-popular preachers as T. D. Jakes and Joel Osteen. So far, so good. As a New Testament scholar and theologian such preachers and movements get under my skin like few others do. Just the thought of so many people being influenced by such purveyors of mindless error boggles the intellect and reinforces the culture's regnant perception that the American Christian populace consists largely of gullible nincompoops.

But, as is his wont, MacArthur doesn't stop while he's ahead. Both in the conference and in his book, MacArthur lumps all charismatics/Pentecostals together. Indeed, the connection is made obvious in the blurb on the cover of his forthcoming book, which states: "The charismatic movement has always been a breeding-ground for scandal, greed, bad doctrine, and all kinds of spiritual chicanery. As a movement, it is clearly headed the wrong direction. And it is growing at an unprecedented rate." Apparently he considers such theological aberrations as the prosperity gospel to be, not aberrations simpliciter, but rather the inevitable fruit emanating from the poisoned root that is the charismatic movement itself. And he epitomizes the negative impact of the movement quite succinctly in terms of the utmost seriousness: charismatic worship is "counterfeit worship," akin to the "strange fire" offered by Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu who, according to Leviticus 10, were consumed by God's wrath for offering a sacrifice with unauthorized (and, hence, "strange") fire. And the matter, in MacArthur's mind, is eminently clear. What, then, explains its current burgeoning popularity worldwide? False teachers, of course, at the behest of Satan himself. As Melissa Barnhart reports:
I would like to say, in response to that, that if the issue is unclear – as some are claiming – it has only become unclear under the influence of false teachers. It was clear to the apostles. It was clear to the early church fathers. It was clear to the reformers. It was clear to the puritans. It is clear in creeds like the Westminster confession. It has been clear to reformed theologians like BB Warfield. It was clear to Spurgeon. It was clear, in the more modern times, to R.C. Sproul. Has it now become unclear, because of Aimee Semple McPherson, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Kenneth Copeland? That's a ludicrous idea.
Once again, let me reiterate that I am not charismatic. I have biblical, theological, and historical reasons for caution when it comes to this movement. So I don't criticize MacArthur for his rejection of it. Nor do I fault him for courage in opposing it openly (Trevin Wax makes this point as well). Rather, I find fault with two aspects of his critique, viz., its lack of nuance and its consequent over-generalization. The lack of nuance is manifested in the aforementioned lumping of the charismatic movement as a whole in with particular instantiations such as its Word of Faith and prosperity gospel manifestations.

Particularly egregious are MacArthur's comments on the so-called "clarity" of the issue. For such clarity is, in reality, phantasmic. The cessation of the "miraculous" or "sign" gifts was, according to MacArthur, "clear to the apostles." To what he is speaking I can only hazard a guess, for the fact of the matter is that there is no certain or unambiguous New Testament evidence that such gifts were limited, by design or otherwise, to the apostolic era. Scholars may dispute, and have done ad nauseum, the precise nature of the tongues, healings, and prophecy that St. Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians. But—and this is the point that needs emphasizing—such matters are not amenable to simple, let alone simplistic, solutions. And the only temporal indicator provided by the apostle of when, if ever, such gifts would be rendered redundant is found in 1 Corinthians 13:10, where he states that such things as tongues, knowledge, and prophecy will be done away with (katargēthēsetai) when "the perfect" (to teleion) arrives, transparently an oblique reference in context to the state of affairs consequent upon Christ's return. This is a matter on which nearly all New Testament scholars agree, and is why the vast majority of even noncharismatic scholars see the text as allowing in principle for these gifts' continuance until the end of the age (e.g., N. T. Wright and D. A. Carson, neither of whom, one might add, are prone to spontaneous bursts of "enthusiasm").

The same goes for MacArthur's claim that the "early church fathers" clearly saw the cessation of these gifts. Yes, the church rejected enthusiastic Montanism in the late 2nd century. Yet Irenaeus knew of glossolalia in his churches in the mid-2nd century (Adversus Haereses 5.6.1), and Novation (de Trinitate 29) and Ambrose (On the Holy Spirit 2.150-52) may indicate their presence in the 3rd and 4th centuries, respectively. On the other hand, Chrysostom (d. 407), in his Homilies on 1 Corinthians (no. 29 [on 12:1-11]) explicitly states that these gifts had ceased. Thus it would be better to make claims to which the evidence actually leads, to wit, that such gifts gradually became marginalized in the second century and, more importantly, that the historical evidence suggests that it has not been God's purpose to distribute these gifts or charisms as normative or universal aspects of the Spirit's gifting work for the church. That, however, is not the same thing as to say that these gifts have definitively and principially been withdrawn. And such nuance makes all the difference, both in substance and in tone.

Most troubling (oops, there goes that faux piety again!) egregious, however, is MacArthur's contrast of such confident cessationist champions as the Reformers, Warfield, Spurgeon, and Sproul with such water-muddiers and agents of confusion as Aimee Semple McPherson, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Kenneth Copeland. On the one hand, no one denies the certainty projected by MacArthur's list of heroes. Certainty, however, is no virtue in and of itself. After all, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin likewise exudes absolute certainty in connection with all her political and social convictions. But only the most inveterate right-wing "true believer" would view her snide certainty as anything but the easy, unexamined certainty of the simpleton.

More important is MacArthur's transparent use of shameless guilt-by-association rhetoric. In MacArthur's hands, Such rhetoric is designed to sway the listener/reader by contrasting the intelligent, accomplished, and virtuous cessationists with a number of cherry-picked charlatans who are paraded, like subdued provincials in Caesar's train, as continuationist champions. But such an argument is as invalid as it is disingenuous. It is a basic rule of argument to cite the best representatives of a given position against which one is arguing, not cartoon-character bad guys whose presumed representative character can hardly be taken for granted. Indeed, MacArthur's listeners/readers would hardly know, unless they had come by the knowledge antecedently, that there are a number of world-class New Testament scholars who not only are continuationists, but full-blown charismatics as well. Two such scholars are Gordon Fee, former Professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and Regent College, who affiliates with the Assemblies of God and has written one of the standard critical commentaries on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, and Craig Keener, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Seminary and a prolific author, who is in the midst of raising the bar of Lukan scholarship with his ongoing, already two-volume commentary on Acts. Neither of these men could be accused of 'promot[ing] a “Christianity” without Christ, a Holy Spirit without holiness', or advocating 'chaotic fits of mindless ecstasy' as a substitute for true worship (from the book's cover). Indeed, charismatics could, if they followed MacArthur's practice, turn the tables by comparing such men as Fee and Keener to Reformed/Calvinist "leaders" or teachers such as Reconstructionist hero Rousas Rushdoony or, even worse, Westboro Baptist Church "pastor" Fred Phelps. Reformed Christians such as myself would rightly take offense at such a comparison, rightly noting that such men are hardly characteristic of the broader movement as a whole. If so, we Reformed Christians who are not charismatic should show the same courtesy to our charismatic brothers and sisters that we expect from them. Not to do so is at best uncharitable. At worst it is slanderous.

This brings us to MacArthur's main point, viz., that charismatic worship is a false, inauthentic worship prompted by the great deceiver Satan himself, and hence is a grave offense to the Holy Spirit. Now I would be the first to admit that I find the charismatic worship format shallow and distracting. Likewise, I agree with MacArthur that today's regnant "seeker-sensitive" Protestant services are in large measure charismatic services without the tongues, playing as they do on emotion and the desire for entertainment while eclipsing the role of the worshipper's mind. And I would likewise agree with his assessment of the worst sort of Pentecostal services where disorder is the real order of the day, thereby ignoring St. Paul's admonition to the tongues-crazy Corinthians that everything in their church assemblies should be done "decently and in order" (1 Cor 14:40). Indeed, many, if not most, charismatic and Pentecostal churches of which I am acquainted largely fail to abide by the apostle's strict guidelines in 1 Corinthians 14 for regulating and prioritizing the exercise of the Spirit's gifts in the assembly.

But reference to 1 Corinthians 14 is a double-edged sword, and wielders better beware lest they be hoisted with their own petard. What I mean is this: public worship on the Lord's Day in more "traditionalist" Western Protestant churches—and this includes both the aesthetically beautiful liturgical/sacramental services of the Anglicans and Lutherans and the more "Word-centered" approaches of Baptists and Presbyterians in their "preacher box" houses of worship—rarely if ever looks like the type of worship gathering described by Paul in this chapter. And that in itself gives the lie to those who pride themselves on adhering to the so-called "Regulative Principle of Worship," according to which the church dare only to worship in the way commanded in Scripture. Such a principle certainly sounds pious, but in reality it is both anachronistic and unsympathetic to the fragmentary and descriptive (as opposed to prescriptive) character of the New Testament texts relevant to the discussion.

The point is this: all traditions, including my own, have their blind spots. All traditions, including my own, have theological elements that, at minimum, need some fine-tuning. I certainly have both major and minor quibbles with charismatic theology even as I prefer the Anglicanism of the 39 Articles and the Presbyterianism of the Westminster Confession. Neither of these two venerable confessions is infallible, however, as even their subscribers would (or should) attest. Indeed, as a New Testament student I have quibbles with bits of both, particularly in the realm of their theologies of baptism, which in any tradition must be considered a rather important aspect of worship. Yet deeming Anglican or Presbyterian worship (let alone Lutheran worship with its peculiar view of the Eucharist) to be "strange fire" is out of the question. Mutatis mutandis, the same should be one's stance with regard to the charismatic movement, especially when such worship is Christ-centered and sensitive to Paul's guidelines in 1 Corinthians 14. Of course, it is quite easy to dredge up examples where such strictures are not in evidence. But such examples are no more necessary to such an orientation than burning heretics at the stake and avoidance of evangelism are endemic to the Calvinism which I hold dear.

One final matter, almost as an afterthought: MacArthur boldly accuses the charismatic movement of "offending" the Holy Spirit by its false worship. No doubt he is correct in a large number of instances. But his assertion is notably uncoupled to an awareness of the delicious irony that unavoidably attaches to it. For, you see, Jesus was accused by Jerusalem's venerable teachers of the Torah of being possessed by an unclean spirit because of his striking success in casting out demons (Mark 3:22). In response, Jesus accuses them of "blasphemy against the Spirit" (Mark 3:29) for their attribution of the Spirit's work to Satan, a rather serious matter in that such is a sin Jesus says will never be forgiven. Consider me skeptical of charismatic claims to genuine possession of the gifts spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12-14. This is a considered view, with my innate temperamental reticence fully taken into account. But, I must ask myself, am I confident in the correctness of my judgment? No. Therein lies the rub. I don't believe I am, but what if I (and, a fortiori, MacArthur) am wrong? To what, then, would we be attributing that which in at least some instances would be a genuine work of God's Spirit? And even if cessationists like I are right, that begs yet another question: Is it impossible that God could be working to build his people through the instrumentality of a theologically-muddled movement? After all, that has been his modus operandi throughout church history, cocksure pronouncements of Roman Catholics and Protestants notwithstanding.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Forty Greatest Philadelphia Phillies of All Time, Part 6: ##1-5

The 2008 World Champion Phillies

We have finally reached the pinnacle: numbers one through five of the greatest Philadelphia Phillies of all time. For previous posts in this series, see here, here, herehere, and here.

5. Robin Roberts (SP, 1948-61)


Robin Roberts is the winningest right-handed pitcher in Phillies history, with 234, and was the National League's premier right-handed starting pitcher in the decade of the 1950s (199 wins, second only to Braves' southpaw Warren Spahn's 202). For decades he was the face of the franchise, and a humble guy to go along with it. The possessor of a fine fastball and curve, and even finer stamina and heart, Roberts emerged in 1949 as a 22 year-old when he won 15 games and posted a 3.69 ERA for the 3rd-place Phils. That was but an appetizer for the next six seasons, during which he won 20 or more games each year, a feat accomplished by only three other pitchers in National League history, viz., Christy Mathewson, Three Fingers Brown, and Ferguson Jenkins. [And that means Pete Alexander, Carl Hubbell, Warren Spahn, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, and Steve Carlton never did it, not to mention anyone from more recent generations who appear allergic to pitching on less than 4 days' rest.]. He began his streak with the Whiz Kids in 1950 when, holding a one game lead over Brooklyn on the season's final day, he went the distance in a pennant-clinching, 10-inning 4-1 victory over the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Over those six years, he posted a record of 138-78, starting 232 games and completing an amazing 161 of them. His best season came in '52, when he posted a 28-7 record and career-best 2.59 ERA (141 ERA+). He ended up leading the league in complete games 5 times, innings pitched 5 times, wins 4 times, strikeouts twice, and WHIP once. His career 69.7 WAR leads all Phillies pitchers. He was traded by the Phils to the Orioles after an abysmal 1961 season when, at the age of 34, he posted a 1-10 record and 5.85 ERA. But he rebounded nicely playing in the American League, posting three consecutive winning seasons. For his career, he posted a 286-245 record and 3.41 ERA. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

4. Ed Delahanty (OF-2B-1B, 1888-89, 1891-1901)

"Big Ed" Delahanty is not merely the greatest hitter to play in a Phillies uniform, he is one of the preeminent hitters the game has ever known. In his first stint in Philadelphia, no one could have guessed this, as he hit .228 and .293 and slugged .293 and .370 in 536 at bats in 1888-89. After defecting to his hometown Cleveland Infants (!) of the new Players League in 1890, he returned to Philadelphia in '91, but again showed little potential, batting only .243 with a .339 slugging percentage and 85 OPS+. But the following year, 1892, marked a sea change from Delahanty's former mediocrity. That year, he batted .306, drove in 91 runs, and led the league in both triples (21) and slugging (.495), with a stellar OPS+ of 156. Over the next ten years, nine of them at the Baker Bowl, he would prove himself to be baseball's best hitter. In '93, Big Ed scored 145 runs, drove in a league-leading 146, hit 35 doubles, 18 triples, a league-leading 19 homers, batted .368, and led the league in slugging with a .583 mark (164 OPS+). In each of the next two years he hit .404, "slipping" to a mere .397 in 1896, a year in which he led the National League in doubles (44), homers (13), RBIs (126), slugging (.631), and OPS+ (190). Furthermore, on July 13 that summer, he became only the second player to hit 4 home runs in a game, this time in a losing cause against the Chicago Colts. Delahanty had perhaps his best year in 1899, when he led the league with 238 hits, 55 doubles, 137 RBIs, a .410 batting average, a .582 slugging percentage, and a 189 OPS+. After two more seasons in which he batted .323 and .354, Delahanty once again defected, this time to the Washington Senators of the fledgling American League, for who he would hit a league-leading .376 in 1902. But it was Big Ed's last hurrah. On July 2 the following season, he was kicked off a train for drunk and disorderly conduct and took off after the train on the International Bridge connecting Buffalo with Fort Erie, Canada. What happened next is murky, but the outcome is clear: Delahanty found himself in the Niagara River and ultimately met his demise going over Niagara Falls. Thus ended the career of a .346 lifetime hitter, the fifth-highest mark in Major League history. In his years for the Phillies, Delahanty had 2212 hits, 442 doubles, 158 triples, 87 home runs, 1368 runs, 1288 RBIs, 411 stolen bases, a .348 batting average, a .508 slugging percentage, and a cumulative 153 OPS+. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945.

3. Steve Carlton (SP, 1972-86)

"Lefty" is the single greatest pitcher I have ever seen in a Phillies uniform, and it is not even close. Combining a healthy fastball with a slow curve and devastating slider which, when working, came as close to being unhittable as any pitch I have ever seen, Carlton was as effective on the mound as he was inscrutable off it. He came to the Phillies in 1972 in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals for Rick Wise. Even though Carlton had won 20 games in '71 and posted a 2.17 ERA along with 17 wins in '69, Phillies fans (including yours truly) were somewhat upset with the trade initially, considering the fact that Wise had won 17 games, posted a 2.88 ERA, and had no-hit the Cincinnati Reds on June 23, 1971, a game in which he also blasted two home runs. On May 30 of that season, our attitude appeared somewhat justified, as Carlton lost for the second time in ten days to the New York Mets, dropping his record to 5-6. But he would not lose again until he lost an 11-inning complete game, 2-1, to the Atlanta Braves on August 21—a span of 18 games, during which he won 15 consecutive decisions, climaxing with his 20th victory on August 17 against the Reds at Veterans Stadium, a game I vividly remember listening to on a small bedroom radio while on holiday in Wildwood, New Jersey. Carlton was particularly dominating in a 5-game stretch between July 23 and August 9, during which he pitched 5 complete games and allowed zero earned runs (were it not for an unearned run scored on August 1 by virtue of a John Bateman passed ball, Carlton would have pitched 5 consecutive shutouts). In those 45 innings, Lefty allowed a mere 22 hits, walked only 5, and struck out 37. At season's end, Carlton's record stood at 27-10—for a team that finished 59-97—with a 1.97 ERA (182 ERA+), 30 complete games, and 310 strikeouts in 346.1 innings. For that he was awarded the first of his then-record 4 Cy Young Awards (he also won in '77, '80, and '82). In my lifetime I consider this season to rank with Bob Gibson's 1968 and Pedro Martinez's 1999 and 2000 as among the greatest seasonal pitching performances in Major League Baseball. Carlton, of course, was not done. He would go on to win 20 or more games 4 more times, lead the league in complete games two more times, innings 4 more times, and strikeouts four times. The best of his remaining seasons was 1980, the Phils' first World Series championship team. That year he pitched 304 innings, had 13 complete games, struck out 286, had a record of 24-9, an ERA of 2.34 (ERA+ of 162), and a WAR of 10.2. In the postseason, he was 1-0 with a 2.19 ERA against Houston in the NLCS, and was 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA against Kansas City in the World Series, including a victory in the decisive game 6. 

Carlton is first on the Phillies' all-time list with 241 victories, 499 games started, and 3031 strikeouts; second in WAR with 64.6, in innings pitched with 3697.1, and in shutouts with 39; and third with 135 complete games. For his major league career he ranks 11th all-time with 329 victories, 9th in innings pitched with 5217.2, 14th in shutouts with 55, and 4th in strikeouts with 4136. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1994. Of all the left-handed pitchers who have played in my lifetime, Carlton is better than all but three: Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, and Randy Johnson. But only Carlton will forever be known as "Lefty."

2. Grover Cleveland Alexander (SP, 1911-17, 30)



When I began I fully intended to ensconce Steve Carlton in the second position on my list. But in the end, I just couldn't do it. Grover Cleveland "Old Pete" Alexander was simply too good—staggeringly good, as any who delve deeply into his years for the Phillies in the 1910s will quickly learn. As a kid I was well-taught by my father about the great players of the first half of the 20th century. From a child I knew that Alexander had won 373 games, third behind Cy Young and Walter Johnson on the all-time list. But until I actually studied his career, that big 373 was just a number—a big one, to be sure, but a bland statistic nonetheless. Old Pete came up to the Phillies at the relatively late (for that era; would that earlier call-ups were still the rule today in Philadelphia) age of 24. In his rookie year, 1911, Alexander promptly led the league with 28 wins, 367 innings, 31 complete games, and 7 shutouts, while posting a fine 2.57 ERA. The next year he regressed slightly, but still went 19-17 with a 2.81 ERA, and led the league in both innings (310.1) and strikeouts (195). Amazingly, this would prove to be the only year Pete failed to win as many as 20 games in his first 7 years in Philadelphia. In 1913 and 1914 he went 22-8 and 27-15, leading the league in wins the latter season. But it was his final 3 years in Philly that stand among the most remarkable stretches of pitching in the history of the game. In the Phils' pennant-winning 1915 campaign, Alexander went 31-10 with a staggeringly low, league-leading ERA of 1.22 (ERA+ of 228!). He also led the league that season in innings (376.1), complete games (36), shutouts (12), and strikeouts (241). In '16 he went 33-12 with a league-leading 1.55 ERA (172 ERA+), 389 innings, 38 complete games, 16 (!) shutouts, and a league-leading 167 strikeouts. Finally, in 1917, he won 30 games for the 3rd successive campaign (30-13) and once again led the league in ERA (1.83), innings (388), complete games (34), shutouts (8), and strikeouts (200). For three consecutive years he had won the league's unofficial triple crown of pitching. In his 7 years in Philly, he had posted a 190-91 record and a 2.18 ERA, leading the league in wins 4 times, ERA 3 times, complete games 5 times, shutouts 5 times, and strikeouts 5 times. Yet in 1918, in a move all too historically characteristic of Philadelphia's sports owners, the Phils shipped Alexander to the Cubs because, as owner William Baker confessed, he "needed the money." In '18, Alexander was sent to France to serve in the Army during WWI. When he returned in '19, he continued to excel, leading the NL in ERA his first two seasons in the Windy City and leading the league with 27 wins in 1920. Yet age (he was already 33 in 1920) and drink began to catch up with him, and though he remained an above-average pitcher through 1929, he never again regained the dominance he had while in the City of Brotherly Love. Alexander's career numbers (373-208, 2.56 ERA [131 ERA+], 437 complete games, 90 shutouts, 2198 strikeouts) continue to boggle the mind. One wonders what numbers he could have posted had he started his career earlier and taken better care of himself. Old Pete was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1938.

1. Mike Schmidt (3B, 1972-89)


Not many balls got between
these two guys

The question isn't whether or not Michael Jack Schmidt is the greatest player ever to play for the Phillies. The question is how high in the pantheon of greatest all-time Major League players Schmidt should be placed. Well, he was certainly no Ruth, Mays, Cobb, Gehrig, Williams, or Mantle. However, what he was, beyond all doubt, was the greatest 3rd baseman the game has ever seen. His offensive capabilities set him apart from Brooks Robinson; his speed and defensive prowess (10 Gold Glove awards on his resume) set him apart from Eddie Mathews; his lethal power set him apart from George Brett. The only thing that held him back, at least temporarily, was his reserved and somewhat prickly temperament which, at least early in his career, was the occasion of some conflict with the demanding and discerning Philly fan base. As he himself admitted in his memorable Hall of Fame induction speech—I can still hear it with the ears of my mind like it were yesterday—it was the acquisition of Pete Rose in 1979 that changed all that and set the table for both Schmitty's best seasons and the team's first World Series title in 1980, for which Schmidt and Steve Carlton were almost entirely responsible. Schmidt's career started inauspiciously. As a 23 year-old rookie on a miserable last-place Phillies' team in 1973, he hit a measly .196, striking out a ghastly 136 times in a mere 367 at bats. But the 18 home runs he hit provided a glimpse of things to come (a glimpse few of us in the stands saw at the time). 1974, however was a revelation, as the Phils dramatically improved—they stayed above .500 into late August—powered by newly acquired Dave Cash, a resurgent Willie Montanez and, above all, Schmidt's MVP-caliber play. Schmidt hit .282, scored 108 runs, drove in 116, walked 106 times (the first of 7 times he would walk more than 100 times), and led the league with 36 homers and a .546 slugging percentage. 1974 proved to be the first of Schmidt's National League-record 8 home run titles, second only to Babe Ruth's 12 titles in baseball history. [To put it into perspective, Schmidt's 8 titles are equal to the total titles won by Willie Mays and Henry Aaron combined.] He hit 38 homers in each of his next three seasons, showing the admirable virtue of consistency. And on 17 April 1976 he had his best game, becoming the 10th player, and the first since Mays in 1961, to hit 4 homers in a single game, in an 18-16 victory over the Cubs in the appropriately called Windy City. After a sub-par 1978 season, in which he hit a mere 21 homers and batted .251, the Phils acquired Rose, and Schmidt was never the same. In '79 he rebounded to hit 45 homers and drive in 114 runs, his highest total in 5 years. But it was in 1980 that Schmidt finally reached his potential,as he hit a league-leading 48 homers and 121 RBIs, batted .286 and led the league with a .624 slugging percentage and a 171 OPS+ (the first of 5 consecutive seasons he would lead the league in this barometer of offensive effectiveness). And it was his game-winning, 11th inning homer off Stan Bahnsen on 4 October at Olympic Stadium in Montreal in the season's 161st game that secured the Phillies' divisional title over the upstart Expos. [I can still hear the late Andy Musser's call, "He buried it."] Not surprisingly, Schmidt batted .381 with 2 homers and 7 RBIs against the Royals in the World Series to earn the MVP award for the series. After the season, Michael Jack was awarded, to no one's surprise, the first of his 3 National League MVP awards, an honor he would receive again in '81, in which he had his finest season. In that odd, strike-divided 107 game season, Schmidt led the league with 78 runs, 31 homers, 91 RBIs, 73 walks, a .435 OBP, a .644 slugging percentage, and a 198 OPS+, while batting a career-high .316. 

(image courtesy of the National Hall of Fame Library)
Indeed, while he never again would have such a monumental season, Schmidt continued to play at a high level through 1987, leading the league 3 more times in homers, 2 times in RBIs, walks, slugging and OBP, and 4 more times in OPS+, winning his third and final MVP in 1986 at the advanced age of 36. After a final top-notch season in '87, during which he hit his 500th career home run, Schmidt tore his rotator cuff and was never the same. After a little more than a year of subpar production, Schmidt retired tearfully in May of 1989 on the road in California, having gone 5-57 with no extra base hits in his previous 18 games. He finished his career with 1506 runs, 2234 hits, 548 home runs (15th on the all-time list, though 9th among those not tainted with the steroid scandal), 1507 RBIs, a .267 batting average, .380 OBP, .527 slugging percentage, 147 OPS+, and a team record 106.5 WAR (19th all time in Major League history for position players). Fittingly, he was elected into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibilty in 1995, to be inducted along with his good friend Rich Ashburn in front of a 28,000-strong sea of tens of thousands of red-clad, teary-eyed Philadelphians who made the trek to the storybook village of Cooperstown for the induction ceremony that took place on 30 July that summer. I was one of those fans, and it is a day I will never forget.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Two New Books from Inter-Varsity Press on Paul, the Law, and Judaism

November is the month to which all biblical and theological scholars look forward with the greatest anticipation. It is the month of the annual convention of the Society of Biblical Literature—and, piggy-backing on it, the big gatherings of the Evangelical Theological Society and Institute for Biblical Research. And that means one thing: brand, spanking new books hot off the presses for perusal and purchase at the rows upon rows of tables set up by the various publishers. I have already written about this year's most anticipated new arrival, the massive, two-volume fourth installment of N. T. Wright's Christian Origins and the Question of God series, entitled Paul and the Faithfulness of God. My devouring of that work will have to wait until November. In the meantime, however, Inter-Varsity Press has done a good job whetting the appetite by publishing, in advance of the big conferences, two shorter volumes on the narrower subject of Paul, the Law, and Judaism: Preston Sprinkle's Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation, and Brian Rosner's Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God.

Preston Sprinkle
If there is one subject that has dominated Pauline studies, and at times New Testament studies as a discipline, over the past generation, it is that of Paul and the Law/Torah. This is due, of course, to E. P. Sanders's paradigm-busting 1977 tome, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, which immediately rendered obsolete, not only the Bultmannian and post-Bultmannian Pauls of the previous generations of German scholarship, but much "traditionalist" study of Paul as well, whether of the Lutheran or Reformed type. Exposing as he did the straw man Protestant scholars had erected of Judaism to be the foil for Paul, Sanders opened up what Jimmy Dunn referred to as the "New Perspective on Paul" now more than 30 years ago.

The "New Perspective" (or any of multiple variations of it that were proposed) never garnered unanimous assent, and it is now common to hear that we are now in a "post-New Perspective era" of Pauline scholarship. That may be, but that emphatically does not portend a triumphant return of the unreconstructed "Old Perpective," no matter how much many American confessionalist types might hope for such to happen. The New Perspective, it seems to me, simply has provided too many nonnegotiable insights that simply can't be jettisoned willy-nilly. But the last word has not been spoken on this subject, which is why these two fresh volumes are more than welcome.

Brian Rosner
Both authors are well-suited to write on the subject. Sprinkle, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Eternity Bible College, Simi Valley, California, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Aberdeen under the direction of Simon Gathercole on the strength of a thesis later published as Law and Life: The Interpretation of Leviticus 18:5 in Early Judaism and in Paul (WUNT 2.241; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008). Rosner, an old friend of mine when we attended Dallas Seminary and Trinity Fellowship Church together back in the late 1980s, and now Principal of Ridley Melbourne Mission and Ministry College, has an extensive track record on the subject, dating back to his own brilliant Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, published as Paul, Scripture, and Ethics: A Study of 1 Corinthians 5-7 (AGAJU 22; Leiden: Brill, 1994). 

As the titles of their works indicate, their foci differ. Sprinkle takes aim at Sanders and his New Perspective allies and attempts to reexamine the Judaism of the Dead Sea Scrolls in particular to determine whether Sanders's broad-brush portrait of Judaism as "covenantal nomism" remains persuasive. The answer to that question has potentially serious implications for the study of Paul. 

Rosner, on the other hand, deals with the issue of "Paul and the Law" in more comprehensive fashion. Study of this subject has at times led to the conclusion that the problem is intractable because the apostle seems at times to talk out of both sides of his mouth. In perhaps his earliest letter, the Apostle tells the Galatians, "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that matters is a new creation!" (Gal 6:17, NET Bible). Yet he later writes to the Corinthians, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Instead, keeping God's commandments is what counts" (1 Cor 7:19, NET Bible). Of course, Paul's opponents in Galatia could have retorted, "Isn't circumcision one of God's commandments?" Therein lies the puzzle. I have long believed that understanding these two texts provides the key to understanding the Apostle's multifarious teaching about the Law. I suspect Rosner agrees.

Over the next few weeks I hope to have the time and strength to read these works and discuss them briefly in this platform. Now on to reading them!

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Forty Greatest Philadelphia Phillies of All Time, Part 5: ##6-10

The 1993 National League Champion Phillies

Here are numbers 6-10 in my countdown of the greatest Phillies of all time. For previous posts in this series, see here, here, here, and here.

10. Bobby Abreu (RF, 1998-2006)


Abreu's sweet stroke (
Bobby Abreu is the possessor of the sweetest swing of any Phillies player I have watched over the past half century. Yet, despite this and the formidable statistics he amassed over his 9 years in South Philly, Abreu remains a somewhat underappreciated player among the team's fans. The reason? The smooth and seemingly effortless way he played the game, Philadelphia fans being notoriously partial to gritty players who wear their emotions on their sleeves and the turf on their uniforms. From the time he was picked up from Houston after the 1997 season—a season in which he hit only .250 with 3 homers in 188 at bats—Abreu was touted as a sure bet with power potential. And he delivered immediately, hitting 17 homers and batting .312 in '98. Over the next 7 years, he scored more than 100 runs in 6 of them (the lone exception being 2003, when he scored a "mere" 99), hit 35+ doubles each year (leading the league with 50 in 2002), hit 20+ homers every year (topping out at 31 in 2001), drove in 100+ runs 4 times, walked 100+ times every year, stole 20+ bases every year (topping out at 40 in 2004), batted over .300 5 times (topping out at .335 in 1999), slugged over .500 5 times, and never failed to have an OPS under 126. He even won a Gold Glove in 2005. All told, for his Phillies career he hit .303 with an OBP of .416 (4th in team history) and slugging percentage of .513 (7th), with an OPS+ of 139 (10th). He hit 195 of his 287 career home runs in a Phillies uniform, and ranks 4th in OBP, 7th in slugging, 9th in runs scored (891), 8th in total bases (2491), 4th in doubles (348), 10th in RBIs (814), 2nd in walks (947), 7th in steals (254), and 6th in WAR for position players (47.0). In July of 2006 Abreu was basically given away to the Yankees by GM Pat Gillick before the team made an improbable, yet ultimately unsuccessful, run for the NL Wild Card spot. So he never experienced the glory years which were to follow. Still, good as he was, the nagging feeling remains—remember, I am a Philadelphian—that Abreu never quite reached the Cooperstown-level heights to which his natural talent should have led him. At the All Star break in 2005 (the last of his classic Phillies seasons), Abreu was on a pace to have his best season. Indeed, he rode the wave of a stellar May (11 HR, .396) to amass totals of 18 homers, 58 RBIs, 21 steals, and a .307 batting average heading into the break. And during the festivities he not only won the annual home run derby, he smashed the records previously held by Miguel Tejada to pieces. And Abreu was never the same. For the second half of '05, he hit only 6 homers and batted a pedestrian .260. The next season, before his trade to the Yanks he hit only 8 homers in 339 at bats, batting .277. Over the next 4 seasons with the Yankees and Angels, he would twice hit 20 homers (exactly) and drive in 100 runs 3 times. But never again would he bat .300, as his career averaged dropped to .292.

9. Chase Utley (2B, 2003-13)

Chase Utley is the very incarnation of the Philly-friendly athlete: hard-nosed, blue collar, and unafraid to sacrifice himself for the good of the team. He is also the very best player of the second "golden era" of Phillies history. As is unfortunately the latter-day Phillies' custom, Utley progressed slowly through the Phils' system after playing college ball at USC, finally getting called up at the age of 25 in May of 2004. That rookie season he flashed his potential by hitting 13 homers and batting .266 in 96 games. But it was the next 5 seasons in which he became one of baseball's biggest stars. In those 5 seasons he scored 553 runs (110.6/yr., leading the league with 131 in '06), had 875 hits (175/yr.), 196 doubles (39.2/yr.), 23 triples (4.6/yr.), 146 home runs (29.2/yr.), 507 RBIs (101.4/yr.), batted .301, and slugged .535. His OPS+ numbers ranged from 125-146, and his cumulative offensive WAR was 29.1. His defensive prowess, more a function of determination and hard work than inherent smoothness a la Joe Morgan, enabled him to post WARs between 7.2 and 9.0, with a formidable total of 39.5 for those years. His "anything for the team" mentality also manifested itself in a willingness to sacrifice his body both in the field and at the plate, where he led the NL 3 consecutive years in being hit by pitches. But this willingness to sacrifice ultimately took its toll. In the Phils' 2008 championship season, Utley had a monumental first half of the season, hitting 25 homers, driving in 69 runs, and batting .291. The second half of the season saw his average remain steady (.292), but his power dropped off dramatically (8 HR, 35 RBI). The following season he likewise started strong, hitting 20 homes, driving in 61 runs, and batting .313 before the All Star game. But a degenerative hip injury (which characteristically was kept from the public, who could sense something was amiss) caused his production in the second half to plummet to 11 HR, 32 RBI, and a .246 average. He perked up in a losing cause by ripping 5 homers in the World Series against the Yankees, but Utley would never be the same. Since that year he has never played a full season due to his bad knees. In 2013 he had something of a comeback season, hitting 18 home runs and batting .284, with an OPS+ of 125, but he is still a mere shell of what he was in his prime. For his career, he is a .287 batter with 217 home runs and a .498 slugging percentage: good numbers indeed, but not really indicative of his value to the great Phillies teams of the late 2000s. Is it enough for him to be elected to Cooperstown? Probably not, but only due to injuries, not his performance when healthy. As I have often stated, Utley is his generation's Don Mattingly.

8. Dick Allen (3B, LF, 1B, 1963-69, 75-76)

Allen holding his 40-ounce bat
Allen's classic 1966 Topps card
(from the author's personal collection)
"Crash" Allen (note the helmet in the field) doodling on
the dirt at first base in Connie Mack Stadium, 1969

Dick ("Don't Call Me Richie") Allen is the single greatest hitter I ever saw in a Phillies uniform. His prodigious home runs are the thing of legend, though, having seen some of them in person, I can attest the stories are not apocryphal: 18 blasts over the roof of Connie Mack Stadium's left field grandstand, one of them, in 1965, an estimated 529-footer over the massive Coke sign in left-center; 6 blasts over the 65' high scoreboard in right-center (!), itself 405' away from. home plate. In an era populated by such famous home run hitters as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Frank Robinson, only Mantle could match Allen's sheer power. But Allen was no one trick pony. His rookie season of 1964, my first year of following the team, was one for the ages: a league-leading 125 runs, 201 hits, 38 doubles, 13 triples, 29 home runs, 91 RBIs, .318 batting average, .557 slugging percentage, 162 OPS+, 8.8 offensive WAR (second only to Mays's 9.0). For his efforts he was awarded the NL Rookie of the Year award. In '65, though he was less spectacular, he certainly avoided the dreaded sophomore jinx, as he hit 20 homers, drove in 85 runs, batted .302, slugged .494, was fourth in the league with a 7.3 offensive WAR, and had an OPS+ of  145, a very fine number indeed, but one which would prove his lowest until he returned to Philly at the end of his career in 1975. In 1966 he had perhaps his finest season (unless one would prefer his MVP season for the White Sox in 1972), scoring 112 runs, hitting 40 homers, driving in 110 runs, batting .317, slugging a league-leading .632, with a league-topping 181 OPS+ and 8.3 offensive WAR. In Allen's first 6 seasons in Philly, he scored 585 runs (97.5/yr.), had 959 hits (159.8/yr.), 165 doubles (27.5/yr.), 59 triples (9.8/yr.), 177 homers (29.5/yr.), 542 RBIs (90.3/yr.), batted .300, and slugged .555. In those years his OPS+ numbers ranged from 145-181 and his cumulative offensive WAR was a staggering 41.5. Yet controversy followed him wherever he went. In '65 he was involved in a fight with teammate (and inveterate race-baiter) Frank Thomas, resulting in Thomas's release and the enduring hostility of Philly's largely racist white fan base. In '67, he almost ruined his career when he injured his hand supposedly attempting to push his car up the street in the rain at his home in the hilly Mt. Airy section of the city. Then in '69 he failed to make the team bus for a trip to Queens to play a doubleheader against the Mets. He had been to the track, feeding his love of horses and horse racing. That year he took to wearing his helmet in the field to guard against potential aerial assaults from the restless, hostile fans at Connie Mack. After the season he was dealt to the Cardinals, who dealt him the following season to the Dodgers, who dealt him the next year to the White Sox. It was in Chicago that Allen had his last three years of sustained success. When the Phils reacquired him in 1975, the fans' hostility toward him had waned, but so had his abilities. For his career, Allen smashed 351 home runs, drove in 1119 runs, batted .292, and slugged .534 (better than any eligible non-Hall-of-Famer before the steroid scandal of the '90s and '00s), with an OPS+ of 156 (tied with Willie Mays for 19th in baseball history, and better than any other Phillie). Yet he has been snubbed by the Hall of Fame. In part that may be due to his lack of staggering accumulated numbers. I suspect, however, it is due more to his troublemaking reputation Let me put it this way: If Tony Perez is in the Hall of Fame, Dick Allen belongs. If Orlando Cepeda is in the Hall of Fame, Dick Allen belongs. If Ron Santo is in the Hall of Fame, Dick Allen belongs (btw, I believe both Santo and Cepeda, but not Perez, truly belong).

7. Richie Ashburn (CF, 1948-59)

Ashburn's 1956 Topps card
(from the author's personal collection)
The master of bat control in action

Last month The Sporting News named Don Richard "Whitey" Ashburn the most beloved athlete ever to play for the Philadelphia Phillies. Such a decision was a no-brainer. No only did Ashburn excel on the field for 12 years for the team. After his retirement he immediately joined the team's broadcast crew as a wry color commentator, a post he held for 35 years until his untimely death, of a heart attack, in September 1997. As a player, Ashburn is best known as the best player on the Phils' 1950 "Whiz Kid" pennant-winning club. That season he batted .303, led the NL with 14 triples, and famously preserved the Phils' pennant by gunning down Brooklyn's Cal Abrams at the plate in the bottom of the 9th inning of the 154th and final regular season game on 1 October, allowing for Dick Sisler's 3-run homer in the top of the 10th to secure their victory.
But Whitey had many more good years to follow. He hit over .300 8 times in his 12 years with the team, leading the league twice (.338 in '55, .350 in '58, beating out rival Willie Mays by three points and Stan Musial by 13). He led the league in hits 3 times (including a career-high 221 in '51), triples twice, stolen bases once (32 in his rookie year of 1948), walks 3 times, and OBP 3 times (including a staggering .449 mark in '55). For his Phillies career, Ashburn hit .311 and walked more than twice as often as he struck out (946/455). Yet it was defensively that Ashburn really shone. Playing in Shibe Park's cavernous center field (447') behind such fly ball pitchers as Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons, Ashburn was able to utilize his lightning speed (he was reputed to be, along with Mickey Mantle, one of the two fastest runners in the Major Leagues) to lead the league's outfielders in putouts 9 times in the ten years between 1949 and 1958. In 5 of those seasons he even surpassed 500 putouts, including 1951, when he recorded 538, only 9 fewer than Taylor Douthit's 1928 Major League record of 547.

1963 Salada coin
(from author's personal collection)
1959 Topps Card (from author's personal collection)
One must remember that Ashburn played at the same time as Willie Mays in 6 of those seasons. Though he didn't have Mays's rifle arm or raw athleticism, the records seem to indicate that Ashburn was at least the equal of the consensus greatest all-time outfielder in range. After playing 2 years in Chicago for the Cubs and batting .306 for the hapless expansion Mets in 1962, Ashburn hung up his spikes and traded them for a microphone. It wouldn't be until 1995 that Ashburn was finally elected to the Hall of Fame, and I count it to be one of my most treasured memories to have been there in Cooperstown to hear him deliver his acceptance speech. Why did it take so long? The only answer I can come up with is that singles hitters are undervalued in comparison with power hitters. Ashburn's heyday was the 1950s, also the heyday of that triumvirate of power-hitting New York centerfielders named Mays, Mantle, and Snider. In that company it is quite easy to get overlooked. But at least the Veterans' Committee finally rectified the Hall's oversight while Whitey was still alive.

Ashburn in 1958

6. Billy Hamilton (OF, 1890-95)


The diminutive (5'6", 165 lbs.) "Sliding" Billy Hamilton was the Rickey Henderson of his day. His 914 stolen bases still rank 3rd all-time behind Henderson's 1406 and Lou Brock's 938. But he managed to amass his total in a mere 14 years (compared to Henderson's 25 and Brock's 10). The Phillies, in their first season known by that name, acquired the fleet-footed "human rocket" from the Kansas City Cowboys of the American Association after he had hit .301 and stolen a league-leading 111 bases in 1889. And for the next 6 seasons Hamilton distinguished himself as one of the very greatest to ever play for the franchise. In those 6 years he led the NL in steals 4 times, 3 times surpassing the 100 mark. He never scored less than 110 runs, and led the circuit 3 times, including 1894, when he set a record (which still stands) of 198. He led the league in walks 3 times, batting twice, OBP 3 times, and OPS+ once. His cumulative batting average with the Phillies of .360 and OBP of .468 are the highest in team history, and his adjusted OPS+ of 154 is second to only Elmer Flick's 156. In his transcendent 1894 season, Hamilton not only scored 198 runs, he had a combined 353 hits and walks, batted .403, and had an outrageous OBP of .521. Alas, in 1896 the Phillies made the first of the multitude of bad trades that have flummoxed the team's fans, when they dealt Hamilton to the Boston Beaneaters for a washed-up third baseman called Billy Nash. Hamilton, who ended his career with a .344 batting average, was selected for the Hall of Fame by the Veterans' Committee in 1961.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Forty Greatest Philadelphia Phillies of All Time, Part 4: ##11-20

The 1892 Phillies
Larry Bowa and Mike Schmidt celebrating
in the Phils' 1980 World Series Championship
parade on South Broad Street

We are now starting to reach the upper strata of the Phillies' greatest players. Here are numbers 11-20 in my ongoing list. For previous posts in this series, see herehere, and here.

20. Elmer Flick (OF, 1898-1901)

Elmer Flick, a .313 career hitter and 1963 inductee (via the Veterans' Committee) of the Hall of Fame, is best known as a Cleveland Indian, for whom he played the last nine years of his career, leading the league in hitting in 1905, three consecutive years in triples (1905-07), and twice in stolen bases (1904, 1906). But he played his first 4 seasons for the Phillies at the Baker Bowl on Broad and Huntingdon in North Philly, where he replaced future Hall-of-Famer Sam Thompson in the cozy confines of the Bowl's right field. During those 4 seasons he hit a cumulative .338, scored 400 runs, drove in 377 (one more than he would do in his 9 seasons in Cleveland), and stole 119 bases. His best season was 1900, when he led the National League with 110 RBIs, and almost won the Triple Crown: he finished second to Honus Wagner with a .367 batting average and second to the Boston Beaneaters' (later the Braves) Herman Long with 11 home runs. He also scored 106 runs (tied for 6th), hit 32 doubles (tied for 3rd), 16 triples (tied for 4th), stole 35 bases (9th), had 200 hits (4th), and a slugging percentage of .545 (2nd). After another fine season in 1901 (.333, 112 runs, 88 RBI), Flick jumped to the Philadelphia Athletics in the upstart American League in 1902. When the Peensylvania Supreme Court ruled that he could not play for Connie Mack's A's, he was placed on the Indians, where he would play for the rest of his career.

19. Sherry Magee (LF, 1904-14)

Library of Congress Image of Magee in 1911
The hotheaded Sherry Magee is one of the great, unappreciated players in Major League history. In his 11 years for the Phils, Magee scored 898 runs (leading the league with 110 in 1910), had 1647 hits (leading the league with 171 in 1914), 337 doubles (leading the league with 39 in '14), 127 triples, 75 home runs (hitting 15 in both '11 and '15, good enough for 3rd in the NL both seasons), drove in 886 runs (leading the league with 85 in '07, 123 in '10, and 103 in '14), stole 387 bases, batted .299 (leading the league at .331 in '10), and slugged .447 (leading the league at .509 in '10 and .507 in '14). During his career in Philly, Magee had a 142 OPS+ and a cumulative WAR of 47.9, leading the NL in offensive WAR in both '11 and '14. After the 1914 season, the 6th place Phils traded Magee to the pennant-winning Braves. Unfortunately for Magee, the Phils won their first pennant in 1915 by 7 games over the Braves. A good case can be made that Magee has been unfairly overlooked for the Hall of Fame. On merit he is a marginal case. But what has probably sealed the Irishman's fate as an outsider was his assault of umpire Bill Finneran after he struck out in a game in July of 1911. For his fit of rage, Magee was fined $200 (!) and suspended for the remainder of the season.

18. Scott Rolen (3B, 1996-2002)

Scott Rolen is one of my least-favorite Phillies stars of the last 50 years. He is also, in my opinion, the greatest-fielding third baseman I have ever seen not named Brooks Robinson, which one would not guess when looking at his hulking (6'4", 245 lbs.) frame for the first time. He was also a pretty fair slugger who hit 316 home runs, drove in 1287 runs, and batted .281 in his career despite debilitating back problems that likely cost him a plaque in Cooperstown. For the Phils he started off with a bang, winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1997 on the merits of his 21 homers, 92 RBIs, and .283 batting average. In '98, he avoided the dreaded sophomore slump by having his best year as a Phillie, smashing 31 homers, driving in 110 runs, batting .290, and winning his first Gold Glove. During the next three seasons he continued his exemplary play despite missing 95 games due to injuries, never failing to hit at least 25 home runs, batting .298 in 2000, and driving in 107 runs in 2001. But the front office's niggardly ways and apparent failure to prioritize winning rubbed Rolen the wrong way, and he became more sullen by the year, ultimately forcing the team to deal him at the next season's trading deadline to St. Louis, where he would have his best season (2004) and play on the 2006 Cardinals' World Series championship team. Rolen was right about the Phillies' front office stinginess. But he handled it poorly, both with the media and a lack of appreciation for the team's fans. And both are a shame.

17. Jim Bunning (SP, 1964-67, 70-71)
Bunning's classic 1964 Topps card
(from the author's personal collection)


When the Phillies traded the power-hitting Don Demeter to Detroit before the 1964 season for Jim Bunning, the 32 year old Kentuckian was already a star, winning 118 games and making 5 All Star teams while with the Tigers. What they didn't know is that the 6'3" Bunning's best years were still ahead. Indeed, his first 4 years in Philly propelled him to his election to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans' Committee in 1996. From 1964-67 Bunning had a record of 74-46, pitched 1191.2 innings (leading the pitching-stacked NL in '67 with 302.1), and struck out 992 batters (leading the league with 253 in '67). He won 19 games three straight seasons ('64-'66), led the NL in shutouts in '66 and '67, and had steadily-declining ERAs of 2.63, 2.60, 2.41 (ERA+ of 150), and 2.29 (ERA+ of 149). After the '67 season the Phils, deeming the 36 year old Bunning a safe bet to decline, dealt him to the Pirates for Woodie Fryman and Don Money. For once the team made the right decision. In the "Year of the Pitcher" (1968), Bunning slipped to 4-14 with a 3.88 ERA (his 75 ERA+ that year shows how dreadful that seemingly decent ERA was in that era). In 1970 the Phils reacquired Bunning, though he struggled mightily for two years on dreadful teams, going a combined 15-27. Nonetheless, his second tour of duty in Philly allowed him to become the first pitcher since the venerable Cy Young to win 100+ games in both the National and American Leagues. In his six years for the Phillies, Bunning went 89-73 with a 2.93 ERA (122 ERA+). For his career he won 224 games, success he later parlayed into a long career in the US Senate.

16. Cy Williams (CF, 1918-30)


The tall (6'2"), lanky (180 lbs.) Cy Williams was the National League's premier power hitter in the 1920s, three times leading the Senior Circuit in home runs (15 in '20, 41 in '23, and 30 in '27). His dead-pull hitting style perfectly fit the cozy dimensions of the Baker Bowl (280' down the right field line and only 300 to the right-center power alley; the "saving grace," if one is to be sought, may have been the 60' high tin wall emblazoned with a huge Lifebuoy ad ["The Phillies use Lifebuoy"]), which somewhat mitigated the results of the shift defenses pioneered against him. In his eight prime seasons for the Phils ('20-'27), Williams hit better than .300 six times (ironically, the two years he didn't were his two best home run seasons, '23 and '27). For his Phillies career (5077 at bats over 13 seasons), Williams hit 217 home runs, drove in 795 runs, and batted .308, with a slugging percentage of .500 and an OPS+ of 131.

15. Curt Schilling (SP, 1992-2000)



Curt Schilling, in my opinion, should be a sure-fire Hall of Famer, despite the outrageously low 39% of the vote he got this year in his first year of eligibility [the fact that the decidedly inferior Jack Morris received 68% of the vote gets my dander up and demonstrates the incompetence of many of the writers who do the voting]. Unfortunately, he is best known for his remarkable 2001-02 seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and 2004 season with the Boston Red Sox, in each of which he won more than 20 games, finished 2nd in his league's Cy Young voting, and distinguished himself with memorable postseason performances. But that is a shame, for he won 101 of his career 216 victories (against only 147 losses) while playing for the Phillies. In his first year for the Phils (1992) he came out of nowhere to post a 14-11 record with a 2.35 ERA (150 ERA+) and an NL-leading 0.990 WHIP. The next year he went 16-7 for the pennant-winning Phils and pitched admirably in both postseason series, memorably shutting out the Toronto Blue Jays in game 5 of the World Series, which turned out to be all for naught because of Mitch Williams's bookending meltdowns in games 4 and 6. Schilling came into his own in 1997-99, in each of which he was named to the NL All Star team, winning 47 games and posted ERA+ marks of 134, 143, and 134. In '98 he led the NL with 15 complete games and 268.2 innings pitched. Even more significantly, he proved himself to be the league's premier power pitcher, striking out a league-leading 319 batters in '97 and 300 in '98. However, Schilling, like Scott Rolen, became increasingly frustrated by the team's apparent lack of commitment to winning, and so forced the trade to the Diamondbacks during the 2000 season. The rest is history. Schilling still ranks 6th in Phillies history with 101 wins, 7th in WHIP (1.120), 4th in strikeouts (1554), and 4th in WAR for pitchers (36.8).

14. Chuck Klein (RF, 1928-33, 36-39, 40-44)

Philly's Two Great Sluggers of the early 1930s:
Klein (l) with the A's Jimmie Foxx

Chuck Klein was, if you will, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard 80 years before the Big Piece: a powerful left-handed slugger who terrorized the NL for 5 or so years while playing in a very homer-friendly ballpark, but who, for various reasons, slipped from peak performance at a fairly early age. But Klein was better, arguably far better than Howard. In his first 5 full seasons in North Philly Klein led the NL in runs scored 3 times, hits twice, doubles twice, home runs 4 times, RBIs twice, stolen bases (!) once, batting once, total bases 4 times, and slugging twice. The line from his 1930 season is simply staggering: 250 hits, 158 runs (led league), 59 doubles (led league), 40 homers, 170 RBIs, .386 batting average, .687 slugging percentage. He was great that year, as his 6.9 offensive WAR (3rd in NL) and 159 OPS+ attest. But that was the year in which Bill Terry hit .401 for the Giants, fireplug Hack Wilson of the Cubs hit 56 homers and drove in 191 runs, and the league batting average was .303. His best season was to come three years later, when he won the Triple Crown—Jimmie Foxx of the Philadelphia A's won the AL's Triple Crown that season, the only time the rare feat was accomplished in both leagues the same season—with 28 homers, 120 RBIs, and a .368 batting average (along with a league-leading 7.8 offensive WAR an 176 OPS+). Ironically, having won the NL MVP in 1932, he lost out to Giant hurler Carl Hubbell in '33. In classic Philadelphia fashion, however, Klein was traded after the season to the Cubs for Mark Koenig, Ted Kleinhans, and Harvey Henrick (have never heard of them? Don't feel bad. No one else has either). The only saving grace, if there was one, is that Klein's production, while still good, dropped significantly in Chicago. After a little more than two years in the Windy City, he was traded back to the Phillies, but apart from one memorable game, he was not the Chuck Klein of old. That one game occurred on 10 July 1936 at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. Klein that day hit 4 home runs, the last one a shot in the top of the 10th inning to carry the Phils to a 9-6 victory over the Bucs. He is one of only 16 players in the history of the game to accomplish this feat. Nonetheless, for the season he hit only 20 homers and batted .309. The next season he raised his average to .325, but he only hit 15 homers and his slugging slipped to .495, never to return again to the .500 mark. Evaluating Klein is somewhat difficult because of where he played. Perhaps no one in baseball history was more helped by the park in which he played (apart from Mel Ott?). The Baker Bowl, with its 280' right field fence and 300' right-center power alley, was a generator of doubles and cheap homers, and Klein obliged. In each of his prime seasons, Klein's home records far surpassed what he did on the road, but his last two are particularly striking. In '32, he hit 29 homers and batted .423 at home, 9 homers and .266 on the road. In '33, he hit 20 homers and batted .467 (!) at home, 8 homers and .280 away. What would he have done had he played his career a few blocks away at Shibe Park? One will never know.  As it was, he hit 243 of his 300 lifetime home runs for the Phillies, batting .326 and slugging .553. Klein was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame after being voted in by the Veterans' Committee in 1980.

13. Nap Lajoie (2B, 1B, 1896-1900)


Napoleon Lajoie is best known as a Cleveland Indian because of the 13 seasons he played there (1902-14). But his first 6 seasons were played in Philadelphia, the first 5 for the Phillies. In his first full season (1897) he drove in 127 runs, batted .361, and led the league in slugging with a .569 mark. In '98 he slipped a little (.324, .461), but still led the league with 43 doubles and 127 RBIs. After two more great seasons in which he batted .378 and .337. Lajoie defected to Connie Mack's A's in the fledgling American League, where he promptly had what is arguably his greatest season in 1901, winning the Triple Crown with 14 homers, 125 RBIs, and a .426 batting average (he also led the league in runs [145], hits [232], doubles [48], slugging [.643], and OPS+ [198]). The next year, following a ruling by the Pa. Supreme Court that Lajoie's defection to the AL violated the NL's reserve clause, he was sent to Cleveland, where he would lead the Al in batting three more times. For his career Lajoie amassed 3243 hits and batted .338, but for the Phillies he hit .345. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937, in only the second year of balloting, along with Tris Speaker and Cy Young.

12. Sam Thompson (RF, 1889-98)

Big Sam (6'2", 207 lbs.) was the Phillies' earliest batting star. When the team bought his services from the Detroit Wolverines prior to the 1889 season, he had already established himself as one of the game's top players, having led the NL in hits (203), triples (23), RBIs (166), batting (.372), total bases (308), and slugging (.565) in 1887. When he came to Philly he picked up where he left off, becoming the first player to hit 20 homers in a season, scoring 103 runs, driving in 111, and batting .296 in '89. Over the next 7 seasons, Thompson drove in at least 100 runs in 6 of them. He reached his peak in the 3 years beginning in 1893, when he was already 33 years of age. In '93 he led the league in hits (222) and doubles (37), hit 11 homers, drove in 126 runs, batted .370, and slugged .530, with an OPS+ of 151. In '94 he hit 13 homers, drove in a league-leading 147 runs, batted .415, slugged a league-leading .696, with an OPS+ of 182, also tops in the league. In '95 he led the NL with 18 home runs, 165 RBIs, and a .654 slugging percentage, while batting .392 with an OPS+ of 177. For his Phillies career, Thompson batted .334, scored 930 runs, drove in 963 runs, and slugged .509, with an OPS+ of 144. With 127 career homers for the Wolverines and Phillies, Thompson hit more than any other player before the beginning of the 20th century. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974 by the Veterans' Committee.

11. Gavvy Cravath (RF, 1912-20)


Gavvy Cravath was the greatest slugger of baseball's dead ball era. His 119 career home runs were more than anyone else in the first two decades of the 20th century. And he did it despite not becoming a regular player until he was 31 years old in 1912, when the Phillies brought him up from Minneapolis and promptly placed him in right field. Despite hitting only 2 home runs in 333 at bats for 3 AL teams in 1908-09, he immediately showed unexpected pop in his bat, hitting 11 home runs and slugging .470 his first year in Philly. Over the next 7 years he paced the NL in homers 6 times, RBIs twice, OBP twice, total bases twice, slugging twice, and OPS+ 3 times. Cravath had his best season in 1913, when he led the NL in hits (179), home runs (19), RBIs (128), total bases (298), slugging (.568), and OPS+ (172), while batting a career-high .341. In the Phils' 1915 pennant-winning season, he was almost as good, leading the league in runs (89), homers (24), RBIs (115), walks (86), OBP (.393), total bases (266), slugging (.510), and OPS+ (170), while hitting .285. In his nine years in Philadelphia, Cravath hit 117 home runs, drove in 676 runs, batted .291, slugged .489, and amassed a staggering cumulative OPS+ of 152. One can only imagine the numbers he would have put up had he played a decade or two later.