As the Phillies
came onto the field for their first game with the Cardinals, their gray road
uniforms were wrinkled and they marched over to warm up in complete silence.
The reporters descended on Mauch. His eyes were red and tired, and when he took
off his cap the sprinkling of gray hairs seemed to say more than he really
could. But as a flight of 20 reporters walked over the Phillie dugout to speak
to him he suddenly lifted his head straight up in the air as if looking at a
foul ball headed in his direction. The reporters scattered, arms up over their
heads. Mauch smiled at his little joke. "Who's choking?" he asked.
He answered every
question and all of them as honestly as he could. One reporter asked him,
"Who do you think will win the pennant?" Mauch ran his right index
finger slowly across the front of his uniform blouse, right where the red
letters spell out "Phillies."
St. Louis won the
first game 5-1, and afterward the door to Philadelphia's dressing room stayed
closed for 20 minutes. The next night they lost again, 4-2. Now they were in
third place behind the Reds and Cardinals, who were only percentage points
apart. After that game Mauch sat with his head in his hands in the small,
uncomfortable visitors' clubhouse, a huge pile of telegrams at his feet. The
overwhelming majority of the wires were from fans thanking the Phils and Mauch
for the thrills the team had given them over the year. "There is no news
tonight," he said to the reporters.
Very late that
night the oval bar in the Chase Hotel was filled with baseball people, and the
talk was about how the Phillies had folded. Everyone had a theory. Thomas'
injury, all the injuries, Power's recent failure to hit, pitching Bunning out
of turn, the badly timed errors, the bullpen's shabby work. Just before closing
time footsteps were heard in the long corridor that opens onto the bar. It was
Gene Mauch, his raincoat slung over his shoulder. The room fell silent as
everyone looked at him. "Would you like a drink?" a friend asked.
"I'd like a million," he said, and somehow managed to smile.
second game Callison, still weakened by a virus infection, nearly collapsed in
the clubhouse and could not start. Later he pinch-hit a single and begged to
stay in the game. Under baseball rules only a pitcher is allowed to wear a
jacket on the field, but Mauch sent a windbreaker to Callison as he stood on
first base. The outfielder's fingers were so weak that he could not fasten the
zipper and pull it up. Bill White, the Cardinals' first baseman, zippered the
jacket for Callison, and St. Louis never said a word about the rule that was
being broken. By now even the opposition was feeling compassion for the Phils.
The next night, before the last game in St. Louis, White, Dick Groat and Curt
Flood of the Cardinals stood by the batting cage and looked down into the
visitors' bullpen, where Mauch sat alone on a green bench. Groat, a veteran
professional who admires Mauch deeply, said, "No one could possibly imagine
what he has gone through or what is going through his mind now." The
Cardinals won again, the Phils looked awful and when Philadelphia got to
Cincinnati early the next morning Dennis Bennett said, "We've blown the
whole thing. We had it and it's gone." The Phils had still not won their
they won their last two games of the season, too late. They finished in a tie
for second with the Reds, but the Cardinals won the pennant. In the words of
Cookie Rojas, the season and the collapse were "like swimming in a long,
long lake and then you drown." Ruben Amaro's last letter of the season
arrived in Veracruz while the Phils were on their way to Cincinnati. "Dear
Papa and Mama," it began, "Something is wrong with the team. We are all
defeated before we start playing. Nothing is right, we just lose games. I have
no words to tell you what is wrong. You know by the papers that we are a losing
team, but we will keep on fighting to the end.... Perhaps I planned too far
ahead when I asked you to come to Philadelphia."
On the day when
Dictamen arrived at the Amaros' home in Veracruz with the headline, THE CARDS
WIN THE PENNANT, Do�a Pepa collapsed in tears. "I have only cried twice in
my life," she said later. "The first time was one day in Cuba. Amaro
was playing with Almendares against Havana. It was Sunday, and the game was
decisive and Havana won. At the last part of the game I broke out crying. The
other time is when I see the headline about the Cardinals. Oh, my son, my son,
I kept on sobbing."
Later Santos and
Do�a Pepa wrote to Ruben: "It's all right, son, don't worry. Next year the
team will make it."
the debris of defeat lingered in the team's clubhouse into the winter. In the
bottom of Ruben Amaro's cubicle were four gloves, a shaving kit, half a dozen
letters and a 50� Golden read-it-yourself book titled Little Black Puppy.
Second Baseman Tony Taylor had left behind an unopened 28� box of Webster Tips
cigars, Outfielder Wes Covington left a hundred letters and a flood of
telegrams, Pitcher Art Mahaffey left a "Big League Autographed Ball"
autographed by Wes Covington, Dennis Bennett went away for the winter after
flinging a paperback called Born to Battle on the floor. There was action in
the front office during the winter—Bennett was traded to the Boston Red Sox for
Dick Stuart, yet another powerful right-handed-hitting first baseman; Bo
Belinsky (see cover), the colorful, volatile left-hander, was obtained from the
Los Angeles Angels; and there were other deals—but elsewhere in the old ball
park time had stopped. A thin layer of dust covered the official playing roster
of the Milwaukee Braves on Mauch's office desk. Up above in the stadium itself
new sod took hold in the infield, but the only sound was the eerie whistle the
wind made as it squeezed through the louvres above the right-field wall. The
painters completed the yearly task of trying to make the old seats look like
new. Out on the scoreboard the slogan, "Tote 'em Home Pennant"
remained. When the sun got high enough it reflected off the eight tiny mirrors
the teen-agers had cast over the sides of the stands onto the outfield grass
like worthless coins on the day of that final home game.
This week at Jack
Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Unk Henry, the silver-haired clubhouse man, is
standing in his shiny nylon Phillie jacket in the clubhouse under the stands.
He has unpacked the 18 big red equipment trunks and the whirlpool bath, and he
is ready for another season.