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A few years ago in a segment of Rocky and His Friends, Dudley Dooright, the mountie, posed this question on television: What is a dog team? The answer was the Philadelphia Phillies.
My, how that gag has lost its bite. Redeemed from loserhood by their hockey champions, the Flyers, those hootin', hollerin' Philadelphians want much, much more—nothing less than a divisional baseball title. And, God bless America, Kate Smith, they could get it.
The Phillies, who used to roll over and play dead by the middle of May, have been transformed into a sleek, clean-limbed contender, the pet of thousands at Veterans Stadium. Few teams can field better than this young club, additionally blessed with five starting pitchers, a dancing fan named "Yo Yo" and a talent for riding out hitting slumps at the top of their division, where they resided all last week. The old dog Phillies have learned a new trick called winning.
Some credit this to a psychological spinoff from hockey—DON'T LET THE FLYERS' FEELING FADE says the town's latest bumper sticker—but for the observant the signs were there a year ago, even though the team was above .500 only twice. While the Phillies finished 11� games out of first, with 71 wins and 91 losses, that was 26 games closer than in '72 and the smartest advance by any club in the division. Yo Yo, whose real name is Bernie Schiffrin, may have sensed the upswing even sooner. He came over from the Palestra to the Vet in 1971 and began dancing in the aisles to Hava Nagila whenever the Phils rallied.
With an improving team that was earning credit with the fans, Vice-President Paul Owens threw in some cash—namely, Dave Cash, 25, a second baseman who had been platooned for four seasons by the Pirates. To get him, Owens traded Pitcher Ken Brett, 13-9 in 1973. The deal originated in October, the result of approximately 10 minutes' conversation at a World Series game between Owens and Pittsburgh's Joe Brown. Owens calls it "one of the easiest trades I've ever made, since no third name ever came in to muddy the waters."
Clean it was, but controversial; Brett (who just missed a perfect game for the Pirates last week) was a proven talent, Cash less known. By now, however, Owens has been more than vindicated, for if any one player has inspired the Phils, it has been Cash.
"The reason we got him," Owens says, "is that we needed a hitter up front, at the top of the order. He's also a better fielder than people thought, but I particularly liked him because of the intangibles. He's a team leader. He'd been at Pittsburgh four years and they had won three titles. I felt that with Larry Bowa, who we think is one of the finest fielding shortstops in baseball, Willie Montanez at first and Mike Schmidt at third, our infield would be one of the best. I just felt he was what we needed, a player who could contribute to our team right away—and for the next eight to nine years."
Cash has marvelously exceeded expectations. He has hit safely in 40 of 49 games, stroking 61 hits from the leadoff spot for a .302 average. He has struck out only 11 times in 202 at bats. That's tangible. He hasn't shortchanged Philadelphia on the intangibles, either.
"I've always thought of myself as a guy who starts something," Cash says. "You have to be that way as a leadoff hitter. When I got here, I watched everyone for a while and then I said, 'You guys don't know how damn good you are.' There are players on this team as good as any in the league, but they've never been recognized. No one pays attention when you finish in last place. In spring training they started making comparisons with other players on other clubs and they started to realize, 'Hey, I'm better than he is.' They started believing in themselves."
No one has profited more from Cash's psychological boosts than Bowa, a 28-year-old who has 57 hits and has stolen 15 bases in a row.