Twenty months ago a DC-6B taxied slowly across a rain-slicked runway at Philadelphia's International Airport bearing the most miserable collection of passengers in the history of major league baseball, if not in the history of aviation: the Philadelphia Phillies. Awaiting the team that had managed to lose 23 consecutive games were 300 proud Philadelphians and a five-piece band anxious to play Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Frank Sullivan, a pitcher, looked glumly from the plane window and gave his teammates a warning. "Men," he said, "let's get out of here at one-minute intervals so they can't get us all with one burst."
There is no town anywhere, the clich� says, that scorns a winner and loves a loser quite as much as Philadelphia. In 1956, for instance, a young, blonde Main Line actress named Grace Kelly was just starting to go good when she realized her predicament and promptly had herself shipped out. In 1962, when Philadelphian Sonny Liston acquired the heavyweight championship of the world, he sensed where winners stood and skedaddled right off to Chicago without even waving goodby to Locust Street.
This year Philadelphia may become a city torn. It seems to be in danger of having a winner in the Phillies, many of them the same forlorn souls who set that National League losing record back in 1961. During the first two weeks of this season the Phils have 1) received a fine four-hit pitching performance from Art Mahaffey (see cover); 2) stormed from five runs behind to beat the Cincinnati Reds; 3) won four of their first five games; and 4) had baseball's leading hitter in Don Demeter (.519). At the end of last week they had turned around and lost five of their next seven games, but not even this was enough to make Philadelphians happy again. It was apparent to everyone that the 1963 Phillies would never lose 23 straight games and, as horrible as it was to contemplate, might even finish in the first division for the first time in seven years.
Phillie fans, of course, were up to some novel tricks trying to put a stop to this nonsense. A lunatic found a nesting place in the center-field bleachers at archaic Connie Mack Stadium and started whipping firecrackers at the hometown outfielders. Hot-dog wrappers began cascading down from the stands, causing pitchers and infielders to stand in pools of mustard and waxed paper. Everyone in Philadelphia has suddenly become an expert about the Phils and everyone believes that the Phillies have faults which only he can spot. Take Mrs. Janet Rahner, for instance. She believes that the Phils "need some pitching" help to go along with Art Mahaffey. Janet Rahner should know, too, because she has sat in her box seat behind home plate—she and her husband, Al, and their 9-year-old French poodle, Caesar—for many a season.
While there is new hope in Philadelphia for 1963, as always it must be tempered with old Philadelphia caution. "Baseball joy," said an editorial in the Bulletin, "may turn to pain—and with the Phillies it usually has. Still, this is a time to dream."
The dreams, of course, actually began late in the 1962 season when the Phillies became the hottest team in baseball by winning 30 of their last 44 games. Lumped by many experts before the season began into a tarnished package that included the Houston Colt .45s, the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs, the Phillies turned out to be far superior to any of these. They picked up 26 games in the standings over their finish of 1961 and played over .500 baseball for the first time in nine years.
"The Phillies," according to Fresco Thompson, vice-president and talent-developer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, "are a good, young ball club. They are one of the teams to watch now and in the future." Fred Hutchinson, the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, says, "Every time you look up at the plate the Phils got another hitter coming up at you who can hit. It didn't used to be that way."
The things that have gotten the Phillies going are simply good management and good, young players. In 1959 Owner Bob Carpenter was confronted with an empty chair and a big problem when General Manager Roy Hamey accepted an offer from the New York Yankees. There was one man Carpenter wanted: John Quinn, who had built the Braves. Quinn-built Brave teams finished out of the first division only twice, won three pennants, tied for another first place and earned a world's championship. Quinn came to Philadelphia to work on Jan. 13, 1959, and he has not stopped working since. He built his present Phillies on the theory that "You can make trades that help you, sure. But the basis of a team comes from the farms. That worked for me in Milwaukee and I'm trying to do the same thing here in Philadelphia." Not long after Quinn left Milwaukee, four of his top scouts promptly followed him.
After losing the opening game of the 1960 season, Eddie Sawyer, then the manager of the Phillies, resigned. "I am 49 years old," said Sawyer, "and I want to live to be 50." Everyone, including Owner Bob Carpenter, thought that Alvin Dark, then an infielder with the Phils, would be appointed field manager by Quinn. Instead, Quinn went to Carpenter and said, "The man for us is Gene Mauch. I got him his first job [at Atlanta] and he had great success. At Minneapolis he got into two Junior World Series in two tries." Carpenter said something like "Who he?" but Quinn got his man.
Today Gene Mauch (pronounced Mock), at 37, is the youngest manager in the major leagues. Not too long after arriving in Philadelphia he began to confuse some of the fans with his strategies. Instead of having Phillie pitchers warm up in the bullpen along the left-field foul line as they had done for years, he moved them to right field, away from the "home side" dugout. "Most of the balls hit to left field in our park," says Mauch, "are straight away and will be caught or else go for home runs. Right field is different. It's tough to tell if a ball will be caught or if it will hit the wall. Let's say we get runners on second and third and somebody hits the ball to right. Somebody in the bullpen will wave to the base coaches and they can start to spin the runners around.