Twenty years ago today, Joe Carter hit the most infamous home run in Phillies history.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since that day. I remember watching the game with some friends and family, and we were all absolutely convinced that the Phillies were going to win. After the Phillies took the lead, we were already making plans where to watch game seven. And then, Carter dashed all of our hopes and dreams.
I figured that it was appropriate to take a look back at that 1993 season and see just how things got to the point where Carter could make history with one swing.
The 1993 Season
The 1993 season was a lonely island of success in a vast ocean of failure for the Phillies franchise. It was the team’s only playoff appearance between 1983 and 2007. Heck, it was the only year between 1986 and 2001 that they even finished with a winning record.
That 1993 team was a magical combination of injury-prone players finally staying healthy, career years, and a healthy dose of good luck. (There’s also the possibility that PEDs might have been involved, but the Phillies are hardly the only team from that era that could be said about.) They featured larger-than-life stars like Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, and John Kruk whose “everyman” vibe struck a chord in the hearts of Philadelphia fans.
They romped their way to 97 wins in the regular season, and then took down the heavily favored Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. Their opponent in the World Series was the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays. Back then, thanks to revenue from their new stadium, the Blue Jays carried one of the highest payrolls in baseball. They were loaded with stars like Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, Paul Molitor, and of course Joe Carter.
Side note: It seems strange to think that SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) was once considered the most impressive stadium in the majors. It’s immense size, retractable roof, and self-contained hotel made people think that this was the “stadium of the future.” That opinion quickly changed in 1992 when Camden Yards was built. All of a sudden, immense and futuristic wasn’t the “in” thing anymore.
SkyDome shouldn’t be completely disregarded as a relic of the past though. Even though retro became the new craze, SkyDome was the first baseball stadium to feature a retractable roof, a feature which has been copied in several stadiums built since then.
The 1993 World Series was fittingly bizarre. There were unexpected heroes (Jim Eisenreich), high scoring games (The Phillies lost game four by a score of 15-14), and clutch pitching performances (Curt Schilling‘s gem in game five). Game six saw the action return to Toronto with the Jays holding a 3-2 series lead, one game away from ultimate victory.
Game six did not start well for the Phillies. The Blue Jays scored three runs in the first inning, and had a 5-1 lead entering the 7th. But the Phillies did not go down quietly. As he had done all postseason, Lenny Dykstra fueled the Phillies offense with a momentum-changing three-run home run. The Phillies tacked on two more runs to take a 6-5 lead.
They needed their relief pitching to hold that lead, but the Phillies’ bullpen had been shaky all postseason. Middle reliever Roger Mason had been holding the Jays in check, but with one out in the 8th inning, manager Jim Fregosi chose to have lefty reliever David West face John Olerud.
Admittedly, West had been strong against lefties during the regular season, but in the playoffs, it seemed like the season’s heavy workload had worn on him. He had been ineffective for most of the postseason, and upon entering the game, he promptly walked Olerud.
Fregosi quickly brought in setup man Larry Andersen, another reliever whose effectiveness had waned in the postseason. Andersen retired the side, but not before loading the bases. The Jays didn’t score, but they were able to turn the lineup over so that the top of the order would be due up in the ninth.
After the Phillies were retired in the top of the 9th, closer Mitch Williams was brought in to finish out the game. For the newer Phillies fans who might not remember this series that well, I’ll offer a point of reference: Remember how much confidence you had in Brad Lidge during the 2009 postseason? That’s pretty much how we felt about Mitch Williams. Williams had always been notorious for his lack of control, but used to compensate with high velocity. By the end of 1993, that velocity had decreased significantly, and the results weren’t often pretty.
Williams allowed two runners to get on base, and with one out, he faced Blue Jays slugger Joe Carter. And the rest is history.
All of the good fortune that the 1993 Phillies experienced soon went away. In the following years, their injury-prone players once again suffered injuries, and flashes in the pan like Kevin Stocker and Ben Rivera couldn’t sustain their success. The minor leagues failed to produce much talent, and the team was either unable to, or refused to spend much money in free agency. The few expenditures they did make (Gregg Jefferies, Mark Portugal) turned out to be mistakes.
The team bottomed out with 95 losses in 1996, and things wouldn’t improve much until 2001 when a promising crop of young talent finally began to develop.
As bad as things were for the Phillies, at least things eventually did turn around for the franchise. It is difficult to believe, but in the 20 years since that series, the Toronto Blue Jays have not once qualified for the playoffs. They’ve had the misfortune of sharing a division with two notoriously high-spending teams (Yankees, Red Sox) as well as one of the best talent-producing franchises in baseball (Rays).
Oddly, both of the principles involved in the climactic home run have been well received in Philadelphia. Phillies management knew that Williams would likely never again be successful in Philadelphia, so he was traded to Houston. He continued to struggle there and his career soon came to a close. But partially because he made himself accountable for what happened, Williams returned to Philly and became a well-liked television personality.
While he gets booed whenever he makes an appearance in Philadelphia, fans don’t seem to hate Joe Carter the way you’d expect. The booing seems good-natured and done out of obligation rather than out of any real hatred. (Compare it to the reaction that Scott Rolen or J.D. Drew receives.) I think Philly fans just plain respect the guy.
Twenty years later, it’s a lot easier to look back on the 1993 season, and even the World Series, with fond memories. (I’ll say that it definitely helps that the Phillies have since won a World Series.) It’s fun knowing that the Phillies were involved in one of the greatest moments in baseball history, even if they were on the losing side. In my opinion, that home run, game, and series are all woefully underrated. If Carter had played for the Yankees, we’d probably be getting a week-long retrospective on ESPN this week.
It might have been an unfortunate end to the season, but that doesn’t lessen just how wonderful it was to be a Phillies fan in 1993.