Philadelphia Phillie pitcher curt schilling has a warning for a visitor entering the Phillie clubhouse: "Be careful, the animals are out of their cages." Bare-chested first baseman John Kruk is posing like a bodybuilder. The bullpen closer, Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams, is eating a brick-sized burrito at 9:30 a.m. with a shirtsleeve pulled tightly over his head. (Don't ask.) Reliever Larry Andersen greets the visitor with a belch that sounds like a chain saw and then offers these words of wisdom: "If the world is insane and I'm insane, then I'm normal. If this team is insane and I'm insane, then I'm normal."
No, Larry, you're not normal. Neither are Krukie, Mikey, Bubba, Dude and the rest of the Phillies. Theirs is the wildest, funniest, crudest clubhouse in the big leagues, inhabited by a long-haired, unshaven group of recalcitrants, renegades and rejects. "You can't get on this club without a letter from a psychiatrist," says Schilling. "We're 25 B horror movies—we all have a dark side. But when those lights go on, we go out and play."
Do they ever. Through Sunday the Phillies had the best record (18-6) in the majors and a 4½-game lead in the National League East. Their start has been both impressive and improbable. In winning five of seven games last week, they had two amazing, game-saving defensive plays and one miraculous comeback. Says Andersen, "It's a team of destiny, of fate."
And talent. Philadelphia has a rotation of five hard throwers (Terry Mulholland, Schilling, Danny Jackson, Tommy Greene and Ben Rivera), an explosive offense featuring the best 3-4-5 hitters in the division (Kruk, third baseman Dave Hollins and catcher Darren Daulton), and 25 guys who play hard—or Kruk will kill them.
In recent years other teams have killed the Phils, who finished last in the East in 1992 with a 70-92 record. In fact, over the last nine years, since the Phillies' last National League championship season, in '83, they have been 98 games under .500. Philadelphia is the only franchise in the league that hasn't finished .500 or better in at least one season since '87.
The main reason for the turnaround is simple. For the first time in a long time, Philadelphia is healthy. Injuries—particularly to Daulton and centerfielder Lenny Dykstra—have eaten away at the Phils the last few years. A secondary reason is that over the winter, the front office improved the team's depth by trading for Jackson (2-0), who is throwing better than he has in four years, and signing four free agents: Andersen and outfielders Jim Eisenreich, Pete Incaviglia and Milt Thompson.
None of those four signees were wanted by their old teams—or by many others, for that matter. But the Phillies are a team of castoffs and misfits. "We're throw-backs—guys that the other teams threw back," says Incaviglia. Since being named general manager on June 21, 1988, Lee Thomas has traded for Kruk, Dykstra, outfielder Wes Chamberlain, shortstop Juan Bell and pitchers Schilling, Mulholland, Greene, Rivera, Jackson, Williams, David West and Mark Davis. For those 12, the Phillies gave up only eight players now in the majors, none of whom are major contributors.
"Everyone on this team has struggled at some point in his career, and none of us has lost sight of that," says Andersen. "Everyone will do whatever it takes to win. They say we're crazy, the Barbarians of the Northeast, but once the game starts, we have no fear."
But they do have good cheer. Whereas most major league clubhouses clear out immediately after a game, many of the Phillies hang out in the locker room after games—day or night, home or away—relaxing and talking baseball. On April 21 at Veterans Stadium, the game was called because of rain at 8:30 p.m. At midnight a few Phils were still in the clubhouse. "That's the only place you get to know people," says Kruk.
What exactly do they talk about? Well, there was the April 26 game against the San Francisco Giants in Philadelphia. The Phillies fell behind 8-0 but came back to win 9-8, even though their pitchers issued 14 walks. When the winning run scored in the 10th, the temperature was 35°, the wind was howling, and there were maybe 500 people left in the seats. But the Phillies didn't quit.