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.


  1. Yup, that was a great day, July '95 in Cooperstown: 200+ tour busses from Philly to see Whitey and Michael Jack inducted. I remember saying to you afterward: "We should've set up a cheese steak stand!"

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