"By the time I came here [in 1988], Darren had had three or four operations, and I didn't think he'd ever be healthy," says Philadelphia general manager Lee Thomas, who made various attempts to find a replacement for Daulton. "That's why I thought I had to do something. What I say now is that anyone who has had any injury whatsoever should look up to Darren Daulton, to see what he has done."
The turnaround came in the middle of the 1990 season. The knee simply started to feel better. The latest operation, the latest rehab, had subtly changed the conditions. There still was pain. (There is pain even today.) The difference was that the pain had become more tolerable. Limits were widened. He started to hit so well—.303 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs after the '90 All-Star break—and play his position so well that Thomas was moved to sign him to a three-year, $6.75 million contract. The promise had returned.
Then, on May 6, 1991, before the next step could be taken, Dykstra's car hit the tree. Daulton was injured again. The pictures in the paper showed him coming out of the hospital, Lynne at his side, his left eye virtually swollen closed. The stories centered on the drinking at the bachelor party, followed by the driving.
"There was a lot of heat for that," he says. "Lenny took most of it, but I got some too. I wanted to come back so bad, I rushed myself. I went out there, and I couldn't do anything. I had the double vision, a bad shoulder. The worst was when a guy tried to steal and I stood up and I saw two second basemen, two shortstops and I threw the ball about 10 feet. I had to get out of there. That was a tough thing to do, to go back on the disabled list."
All of this, of course, has been followed by two All-Star years. Has there been a better catcher in baseball? In '92 he hit .270 with 27 home runs and a league-leading 109 RBIs. This year he hit .257 with 24 homers and 105 RBIs, the primary run producer for a club that wasn't shut out until the last week of the season. He has become the acknowledged front man of this offbeat team, Brando on the lead motorcycle with his killer friends behind. Fregosi, when he became manager in '91, talked with Daulton about becoming a team leader, but Daulton thought it was not possible. How could a guy who is not playing well be a leader to anyone else? That is no longer a concern.
He is the guy who sits at his locker after the tough losses and answers the questions. The other members of the gang disappear to the trainer's room, but Daulton sits and talks. This is a curious team—defensive and paranoid. The flush of success is muted by the memories of failure for most of the players on this club, adding a quality of vulnerability to winning that does not exist in most places. Daulton knows more about vulnerability than any of them. Maybe that is why he leads.
"You become guarded," the grand survivor says. "You know that the same people who are cheering you now are the same ones who were booing you before. You don't like to think that."
As he talks, as he smokes his Marlboro Light and drinks his coffee, black, the other players sometimes listen in. A story. What kind of story is this? Williams wonders out loud if it would be possible for a relief pitcher, a closer, to slip away to watch a Sawyer Brown concert, then reappear at the ballpark around 10 o'clock to pitch the ninth inning. Kruk and Dykstra talk with each other. Incaviglia is in and out, mimicking Daulton's words.
"I did this...I did that...I, I, I," Inky says. "What is this, a book? What year are we up to now?"
"We're up to 1914," the interviewer says. "It looks like there might be war."