|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, here, here, 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)
3. Steve Carlton (SP, 1972-86)
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)|