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The Rise and Fall of the Fabulous Phillies
William Leggett
March 01, 1965
No team ever had a year like the one the Philadelphia Phillies had in 1964. Only a long-shot bet for the pennant, they started quickly and, led by players like Johnny Callison (right), established themselves as the big team in the National League. Then, two weeks before the season ended, they collapsed completely, lost 10 straight games, the pennant—and the dream. In the vivid photographs that follow and in the article beginning on page 57 is the detailed story of their strange and unforgettable season.
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March 01, 1965

The Rise And Fall Of The Fabulous Phillies

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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.

Before that 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 91st game.

In Cincinnati 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."

In Philadelphia 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.

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