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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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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.

An Epic That Ended as a Tragedy

At 12:30 on a Wednesday afternoon last October, in the green, garretlike executive offices of the Philadelphia National League baseball club, secretaries, ticket sellers, promotion men, publicity men and all the people who make up the front-office personnel of a major league baseball club began to gather in front of a large television screen to watch the opening game of the 1964 World Series. Many of them were emotionally and physically exhausted from the long season that had ended—for them—three days earlier with the Phillies a sadly beaten contender for the National League championship. When the surprising Phillies were fighting for and gaining the league lead during the season, these front-office people had been besieged with all sorts of requests—for tickets, for photographs, for personal appearances—from the millions of fans who had suddenly adopted the Phillies as their team. More than 1,425,000 people had paid their way into Connie Mack Stadium, that marvelous, ramshackle old monstrosity of a ball park, which for years had been known, half affectionately and half bitterly, as the "Chamber of Horrors." In 1964, as the Phillies won game after exciting game, the old nickname disappeared and the more upbeat "House of Thrills" took its place. Considering the way the Phillies played and won, the new name was more valid than silly, though the biggest single thrill the team gave its fans was probably the thrill of hope that the Phillies—dead last in 1961, loser of 23 straight games that year—were actually going to win a pennant for the first time in 14 years, the second time in nearly half a century.

But that was in the summer, and now it was October. At 12:45 a blast of march music came over the set, and a voice said, "The 1964 World Series is on the air." The cameras panned slowly over Busch Stadium in St. Louis. In Philadelphia some of the secretaries began to cry. Men lit cigarettes and looked down at their shoes. To these people, and to the others who lived for the Phillies, the World Series was being played where it did not belong.

By now everyone in Philadelphia knows—or thinks he knows—why the Phillies lost the pennant. History has already marked them as a team that lost when it was nearly a mathematical impossibility to lose. Leading the National League by six and a half games with only 12 games left on their schedule, the Phils lost 10 games in a row and had to win on the last day of the season to gain a tie for second place. The people closest to it—the players, the manager, the general manager—are still bewildered by that 10-game losing streak from a club which, during the entire season before the collapse, had never lost more than four games in a row. Yet Matt Wilson, who runs the two-chair barbershop just six doors down the street from the stadium, thinks he knows what happened to the Phils.

"They lost," says Matt to anyone who asks, "because the manager didn't do the right things at the right time. He should have used the pitchers he wasn't using. He should have played the people he wasn't playing. I went up to the stadium about 40 times, and a lot of people lost money and a lot of people were disappointed. Oh, well, forget it. It's gone now. All gone. It's nothing now but another part in the life of baseball."

Just a year ago this week, when the Phillies began spring training, not many considered the team a true pennant contender, and even the few who did could not argue with much conviction that the Phils were likely to unseat the Los Angeles Dodgers as National League champions. True, the Phillies were a coming team, one that was improving thanks to clever trades by General Manager John Quinn, excellent handling by Manager Gene Mauch and a continuing flow of help from a farm system that was starting to produce its own championship teams. In 1962 the Phils had moved up to seventh place; in 1963 they finished a surprising fourth. Still, when they reported to Clearwater, Fla. last February they were held at odds of 8 to 1, with four teams—the Dodgers, the Giants, the Cardinals and the Reds—favored over them.

The Phils did have some pluses going for them should the team find itself in a contending position during 1964. Two-thirds of their schedule after July 24 would be played at home, and one of the Phils' most notable characteristics in 1962 and 1963 had been powerful closing rushes. Mauch and Quinn had sliced the number of doubleheaders at home from 13 to seven because the manager felt strongly that doubleheaders confuse and harm a pitching staff.

Overall, the Phils were as good as the best teams at several positions, but there were also some large question marks. Quinn and Mauch hoped that one of these—the lack of a dependable right-handed pitcher—had been erased with the acquisition of Jim Bunning (see cover) from Detroit during the interleague trading period. A larger question mark was third base, where the Phillies had used 25 different players since 1959. But Mauch was convinced that he could make a major league third baseman out of Richie Allen, a muscular rookie up from Little Rock, Ark., where he had a reputation as a powerful hitter albeit a mediocre fielder.

Allen reported to spring training early with the pitchers and catchers because Mauch wanted him to get over any initial nervousness by the time the rest of the squad arrived four days later. He told Allen that third base was his until "you play yourself out of it." As Allen trotted onto the field for his first practice he appreciated the confidence that Mauch had expressed but, as is his custom, he paused long enough to say the 23rd Psalm to himself: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.... he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; for thou art with me...."

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