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The Year of the Blue Snow
Steve Wulf
September 25, 1989
That was 1964, when the Phillies blew the pennant and broke the author's heart. Now, 25 years later, he relives the loss with his heroes
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September 25, 1989

The Year Of The Blue Snow

That was 1964, when the Phillies blew the pennant and broke the author's heart. Now, 25 years later, he relives the loss with his heroes

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Why did we have to come so far, only to come so close? Why, why, why? "It was like swimming in a long, long lake," utilityman Cookie Rojas said at the time, "and then you drown."

Cookie Rojas, the advance scout for the California Angels, walks through the lobby of the Hershey Hotel in downtown Philadelphia, past Jack Baldschun, a salesman for a building materials company in Green Bay. Over at the check-in desk, Johnny Callison, a bartender at Tomatoes in Doylestown, Pa., and Danny Cater, an accounts examiner for the Texas state comptroller's office, are told their rooms aren't ready yet. Ruben Amaro, manager of the Tigers' Rookie League team in Bristol, Va., spots Callison and gives him a big, manful hug.

This summer, as part of the Equitable Old-Timers Series, the Phillies of 1964 were invited back to Philly for a 25th reunion on the weekend of Aug. 19. On first thought, it might seem strange to be honoring a team that broke so many hearts. But on second thought, the '64 Phillies have a stronger identity than most championship teams—the '64 Cardinals, for instance. "I played on the '67 Red Sox," says Dennis Bennett, the manager of a new shopping mall in Klamath Falls, Ore., "but people hardly ever ask me about that team. They always ask me about this team."

Even a casual observer in the lobby of the Hershey Hotel could see that these very different-looking men were somehow linked. Larry Shenk, now the Phillies' vice-president for public relations, was a rookie p.r. man in '64. "I was so ill-prepared to host a World Series that losing that season probably saved me my job," he says. Shenk began sending out letters of invitation to the reunion a year ago. The response was excellent, as evidenced by the roster of reunion attendees on the preceding page.

A few players were conspicuously absent. Congressman Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) declined, citing a prior commitment. Yankee manager Dallas Green, a pitcher on the 1964 Phillies, was fired by George Steinbrenner the Friday of the reunion weekend. Wes Covington, a former outfielder who now works in advertising for The Edmonton Sun, never replied to Shenk's invitations. Ex-pitcher Ray Culp, who's in real estate in Austin, Texas, wrote to say that he couldn't make it. Gus Triandos, who's living in San Jose, was recuperating from an automobile accident. And Chris Short, who won 17 games that year, was lying in a coma in a hospital in Wilmington, Del., having suffered a brain aneurysm while at work at an insurance company office last October.

Short was there in spirit, though. Art Mahaffey spent months organizing a benefit golf tournament for him; it was held on the Monday before the reunion and raised $46,000 toward Short's medical expenses. Over the reunion weekend, the former Phillies autographed 4,826 replica hats that sold out, at $10 apiece, at Veterans Stadium, with all the proceeds going to Short and his wife, Pat.

The reunion would not have been complete without Gene Mauch, of course. The 1964 Phils were his team, in glory and disaster. Nobody would have blamed him, though, if he had chosen not to show up. After all, for 25 years he has been reminded that he blew the pennant, and by returning to the scene of the crime, he would have to undergo another inquisition.

But he came back. Looking tanned and fit from his daily regimen of 36 holes of golf in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Mauch strode into a press conference held Friday afternoon, Aug. 18, and his eyes lit up with each flash of recognition: Callison, Wise, Baldschun, Clay Dalrymple, Roy Sievers, John Herrnstein, John Briggs. And his joy made this former Phillies fan—now 38, the same age Mauch was in 1964—absurdly happy. It was plain that Mauch, too, loved this team.

"I've had more talented clubs," Mauch told a group of reporters after the press conference. "But I've never had a smarter, more unselfish club than this one. They prided themselves on the little things. If we were playing the Cubs, they would practice bunting down the first base line to make Ernie Banks field the ball, not Ron Santo at third. They did what they had to do to win."

Someone asked Mauch about the last day of the 1964 season. "After our game was over, I went into the clubhouse and spun the dial on the radio, trying to pick up the Mets and Cardinals," he said. "When White hit the homer off Fisher, I knew it was over."

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