SI Vault
 
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
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
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

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

THE REUNION ROSTER

Pitchers

W

L

ERA

Occupation

Residence

JACK BALDSCHUN

6

9

3.13

Building supplies salesman

GREEN BAY

DENNIS BENNETT

12

14

3.68

Shopping mall manager

KLAMATH FALLS, ORE.

ART MAHAFFEY

12

9

4.53

Insurance agency owner

WEST CHESTER, PA.

ED ROEBUCK

5

3

2.22

Reds scout

LAKEWOOD, CALIF.

BOBBY SHANTZ

1

1

2.25

Retired

AMBLER, PA.

RICK WISE

6

3

4.04

Astro minor league coach

BEAVERTON, ORE.

Players

POS.

HR

RBI

AVG.

Occupation

Residence

DICK ALLEN

3B

29

91

.318

Sales representative

HOLLYWOOD

RUBEN AMARO

SS

4

34

.264

Tiger farm team mgr.

MIAMI

JOHN BRIGGS

OF

1

6

.258

Recreation supervisor

PATERSON, N.J.

JOHNNY CALLISON

OF

31

104

.274

Bartender

GLENSIDE, PA.

DANNY CATER

OF/1B

1

13

.296

Accounts examiner

AUSTIN, TEXAS

CLAY DALRYMPLE

C

6

46

.238

Food services salesman

CHICO, CALIF.

TONY GONZALEZ

OF

4

40

.278

Retired

MIAMI

JOHN HERRNSTEIN

OF/1B

6

25

.234

Bank vice-president

CHILLICOTHE, OHIO

COOKIE ROJAS

INF

2

31

.291

Angel advance scout

MIAMI

ROY SIEVERS

1B

4

16

.183

Retired

ST. LOUIS

TONY TAYLOR

2B

4

46

.251

Phillie 1B coach

BROSSARD, QUE.

FRANK THOMAS

1B

7

26

.294

Retired

PITTSBURGH

BOBBY WINE

SS

4

34

.212

Braves dugout coach

NORRISTOWN, PA.

As Gene Mauch fiddled with the dial, so did I. Twenty-Five years ago, on the afternoon of Oct. 4, 1964, he was in the visitors' clubhouse at Crosley Field in Cincinnati trying to pick up the Mets-Cardinals game on the radio while I was doing the same in the family station wagon outside a hunting lodge in Round Lake, N.Y.

We were hoping against hope that the lowly Mets would defeat the first-place Cardinals on the last day of the season. Earlier that afternoon, we, the Phillies, had beaten the Redlegs 10-0, and if New York could somehow complete a three-game sweep in St. Louis, we would end up in a three-way tie with the Cards and Reds. That, in turn, would necessitate the first round-robin playoff in major league history.

As the game floated in over the radio, we were buoyed when the Mets took a 3-2 lead in the top of the fifth; but in the bottom of that inning, St. Louis scratched out three runs to take a two-run lead and knock out starter Galen Cisco. Then, in the bottom of the sixth, the Cards' Bill White hit a two-run homer off Jack Fisher, and, suddenly, it was over. The Cardinals went on to win 11-5, and while Mauch and the rest of the guys boarded the bus in Cincinnati that would take them to the airport for the flight back to Philadelphia, I got out of the station wagon in upstate New York to seek the consolation of my dog, Brill. At a time like that, only a dog will do.

How I loved those Phillies. I had adopted them two years before, when I was 11 years old, because I needed a team and I figured a seventh-place team needed support. The fact that all of my friends in my hometown, Troy, N.Y., were either Yankee fans or Mets fans drew the Phillies even closer to me. I was beside myself when they swept the Dodgers at the end of the 1963 season to move into a tie for fourth place—first division!—and I sensed that '64 would be a special year. We had acquired pitcher Jim Bunning from the Tigers in the off-season for outfielder Don Demeter, and the reports from spring training on Richie Allen, a rookie from Wampum, Pa., were outstanding. Mauch said the Phils could win 92 games, and I believed him.

And it was a special year. On Father's Day, Bunning pitched a perfect game against the Mets. In the All-Star Game, Johnny Callison hit a ninth-inning home run off Dick Radatz to beat the American League 7-4. The Little General, as Mauch was called, pulled all the right strings, Callison and Allen drove in big runs, and Bunning and Chris Short mowed 'em down. On June 11, we tasted first place for the first time; on July 16 we took over the National League lead for good.

I devoured everything The Sporting News had on the Phillies, from the outrageous headlines (PHILS SNIFFING PENNANT PASTRY AS COOKIE REFUSES TO CRUMBLE) to the minutiae in the "Phillie Fodder" section at the bottom of Allen Lewis's dispatches ("Rookie Pitcher Rick Wise was sidelined for several days when he came down with the measles"). I changed my own pitching motion to emulate Bunning's fall-away style.

By Sept. 21 we had a 6½-game lead with only 12 games remaining. I graciously accepted the congratulations of my friends as the school year started. "How did you know?" they asked, and I answered, "It was just a feeling."

Then it happened. The Phillies' backup catcher Gus Triandos had already dubbed this season the Year of the Blue Snow, his own peculiar invention to describe its freak nature, but now the phrase took on new meaning as the losses began to pile up. The volatile Mauch, who will be forever second-guessed for starting Bunning and Short with only two days' rest on several occasions down the stretch, stayed quiet throughout the streak—"too quiet," as they say in the movies. On Sept. 21 the Reds beat the Phils 1-0 when Cincinnati rookie Chico Ruiz stole home in the sixth inning, and the Phillies proceeded to get swept by the Reds (three games), the Braves (four) and the Cards (three). It hardly mattered that they stayed close in seven of those games. This is what would come to be known as the Phillies Phlop.

The most poignant—and symbolic—moment of the losing streak occurred during the second of the three losses to St. Louis. Callison, weak and shivering from a mysterious virus, pinch-hit a single and then called for a warmup jacket while standing on first. But his fingers were shaking so badly that White, the Cardinals first baseman, had to snap up the buttons for him. It was a gesture of compassion that seemed to say, Here, let me button you up for the winter.

A few days later White hit that homer off Fisher. Mauch cursed the Fates, and so did I. I also cursed Mauch, and the Phillies. And I cursed my family for making me go to that stupid hunting lodge. Maybe I could have changed the cosmic scheme of things if I had watched the game against the Mets on TV at home. (That's the way 13-year-old minds work.)

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9