SI Vault
Jack Olsen
August 10, 1964
The city of Philadelphia, butt of jokes for decades because of its somnolent atmosphere and bad baseball teams, is wide-awake and yelling its head off for the league-leading Phillies, whose name seems to be on every street corner in the city
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August 10, 1964

Let's Go, Phillies!

The city of Philadelphia, butt of jokes for decades because of its somnolent atmosphere and bad baseball teams, is wide-awake and yelling its head off for the league-leading Phillies, whose name seems to be on every street corner in the city

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Ah, but that was long ago. Philadelphia has awakened from its civic somnolence. Billions of dollars have been spent on a massive urban-renewal program: midtown atrocities like the old Chinese Wall, a downtown eyesore that carried the Pennsy's suburban trains into the city, have been razed and replaced by high-rise apartment buildings and glassy skyscrapers. Expressways connect the farthest points of the city; employment is rising steadily; flowers bloom in window boxes in what used to be ratty slums; and everybody is looking ahead to 1976, when Philadelphia will put on a World's Fair.

Smiling overhead, as he has been for 69 years, is William Penn, bestatued atop City Hall, newly scrubbed and bathed in a glow of amber lights that can be seen for miles, a far cry from the days when the poor old Quaker stood dimly lighted in sooty anonymity. Philadelphia folklore has it that the statue once faced toward the ball park, but that Mr. Penn became so disgusted at a botched double-play ball that he turned away in shame. One may expect the city's founder to turn back again any day now, thus aligning himself with the rest of the city, which looks with strange, perverse Philadelphia pride on this team of seemingly average, everyday ballplayers rushing pell-mell toward a pennant just as if they knew what they were doing.

The Phillies may finish the season without a 20-game winner, without a .300 hitter and without a leader in any offensive department. The Phutile Phillies of years gone by have become the Phantom Phillies of 1964, a bunch of invisible men who do not seem to ken that a team without stars should not be a pennant contender. The Phillies appear so ordinary, at first blush, that Houston Sports-writer Mickey Herskowitz dubbed them " Gene Mauch and the Philadelphia Department of Recreation team." Not long ago, Phil Seghi of the Cincinnati Reds' front office watched the Phillies working out before a game. Looking at the likes of John Herrnstein, Costen Shockley (that's right: Costen Shockley), Rick Wise and Johnny Briggs, he observed: "If this ball club beats us tonight, I'll be looking for the mirrors they did it with." Nine innings later he was looking for the mirrors. One critic said, "The title of the Phillies' story should be: 'How to Succeed in Baseball Without Really Winning.' " But the indisputable fact is that the team has been winning, and some of the whys and wherefores defy simple explanation. The Phillies are masters of the back-up play, the bunt, the cutoff, the sacrifice, all the subtleties and nuances and disciplines of baseball. And, lacking stars, they have been forced to become a team. As Johnny Callison explains, "I've never played on a club where batters were so willing to give themselves up for the team. There's just nothing like it in baseball."

There is a reason for all this and the name of the reason is Gene Mauch, a gritty, gutsy little thinker who brought the team from the ninth circle of hell (23 straight losses, a major league record, in 1961) to pennant contention. Mauch has honed and sharpened the Phillies into the best defensive ball club in the National League, and he has done it by unceasing attention to detail. Some of his moves are old, some are new and some are borrowed. But all of them work. Consider:

Mauch has taught his infielders to flub pop-ups intentionally when a slow batter is up and a fast runner is on first. Thus the fast runner gets thrown out at second and the slow runner gets to first, where he is less likely to do any damage.

When Mauch smells a hit-and-run play coming up, he signals the pitcher to throw behind the batter, thus breaking up any possibility that the ball will be hit. "You have to do it," says Mauch, "especially on a guy like Dick Groat. If you give him a pitchout, he'll throw his bat at it, and half the time he'll connect."

For eons the Philadelphia bullpen was in left field, but Mauch moved it to right and thereby won many a ball game he would otherwise have lost. Now Coach Bob Oldis sits in the bullpen with a towel at the ready. If a ball is going to be over the reach of the enemy right fielder, Oldis waves the towel and the Phillies' base runners take off without further ado. When the bullpen was in left field such signals would have been useless; a ball over the left fielder's reach is a home run.

Mauch has taught his second basemen and shortstops to put on acting performances worthy of Peter Sellers, as, for example, in a game against Cincinnati. Frank Robinson, an excellent base runner, was on first. He was off and running when the batter hit a soft fly ball. Ordinarily, he would have seen the fly and jogged safely back to first. But Second Baseman Tony Taylor bent over in a crouch as though to field a ground ball. Shortstop Bobby Wine moved over to cover second on the "double-play" ball. "Give it to me quick!" Wine shouted. Robinson came barreling into second and was doubled off first base by 90 feet to end the game. "What an act!" said Wine after the game. "If I could hit, I'd be worth $1 million."

"We've got to do things like that." Mauch explains. "We're the kind of team that has to take advantage."

Mauch is a darkly intense, rock-hard, handsome man of 38. He was pulled out of a hat to lead the Phillies in 1960, and the magician who did the pulling was General Manager John Quinn, who specializes in such feats of necromancy. "I'd been watching that boy for something like 14 years," Quinn says, "and I knew he was right for our needs."

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