Phillies 1993: My First Team

I can still remember where I was when Joe Carter hit the home run off Mitch Williams to win Game 6. We were in Virginia, staying in a hotel, on vacation. My family and our adopted “grandparents”, the Clemens, were taking a tour of a naval base, since Mr. Clemens was a retired naval officer.

While staying in the hotel, my parents let me stay up late since the Phillies were in the World Series. As soon as Carter made contact, my dad changed the channel. “It’s over,” he said meekly. Might have even had a tear. 

I screamed at him to turn the channel back on, not believing that the ball would carry over the fence. When he went back to the game, I saw the celebration. “TOUCH ‘EM ALL, JOE!” Sean McDonough said. I was sad. Then we went to Shoney’s the next morning, and everything was alright. I mean, come on….I was only 10 years old.

The 1993 Phillies were the first team that I closely followed. I had been a baseball fan before, but since I didn’t have the cable channel Prism, that consisted of me watching the Phillies play 2 innings on Sunday afternoons after church.

I would then get my glove and whiffle ball bat, and play phantom baseball by myself in the back yard. Even had phantom arguments with the umpires (they were never right).

Since I was actually starting to get better in Little League, I was really getting into imitating the pros. The Phillies that year had players you could imitate because they were “characters”, to put it mildly. Inky, Dutch, Nails, Big Ben, Wild Thing – these were the names I grew up with.

I’ll never forget watching the team clinch the NL East Division crown in Pittsburgh, and seeing the postgame replay the next morning where Harry Kalas was singing “High Hopes”

Then they beat the heavily favored Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. I really thought, “This is it. They are going to win the World Series!” It was with that youthful enthusiasm that I watched each game that I could, including the 15-14 slugfest in Game 4 of the World Series.

It was a great year, and a great team – one that would never again be as good as they were that year, until the 2007-2011 run. Even my wife has the same type of memories. She remembers her father coming home and just shouting that they were going to the game that night. She remembers going to around 25 games that year, since walking up and buying a ticket was so much easier back then.

I loved the players on that team. Still do, in fact. I thought they were invincible. There was no better pitcher than Curt Schilling. Lenny Dykstra was the MVP that year, no question. John Kruk became a local hero, with his everyman physique and sense of humor.

I didn’t know anything about “Macho Row” or anything like that – I just know that I loved that team. Looking back at them now, I have a much more critical eye of the team that captured my imagination. I can also now look at two main beliefs I had about that team and ask myself – was I right?

1) Was Curt Schilling even the best pitcher on that staff?

In my youthful exuberance, I had the stubborn belief that the then 26 year old Schilling was unbeatable. With a 16-7 record, he had to be the ace – look at those wins! Manager Jim Fregosi obviously thought he was the ace, since he’s the one who started Game 1 of the NLCS and World Series. Now, though? I’m not even sure he was the best starter on the staff. Yes, his record was good. His 4.02 ERA suggests he was average, but when looking at the more advanced numbers, his 3.46 FIP shows that he was actually better than that ERA suggests. A 7.1 K/9 vs. a 2.2 BB/9 show that Schilling’s combination of great stuff with great control was beginning to take shape, and his 235 innings pitched was an example of the workhorse reputation for which he would become known.

Tommy Greene (L), Curt Schilling (R) led ’93 Phils rotation

However, Tommy Greene, at the same age, was a bit better than Schilling that year. He did throw 35 fewer innings, but in those innings, he had a better K/9 (7.5), allowed fewer home runs (12 to Schilling’s 23), had a better FIP (3.07), and gave a up fewer hits per 9 innings (7.9 to Schilling’s 8.9). Greene even topped Schilling in rWAR (3.7 v. 2.6). Greene was a bit luckier than Schilling that year (.281 BABIP to Schilling’s .301), so that needs to be taken into consideration. Greene also received fabulous run support too (6.1 runs per game), but that really had nothing to do with the way he pitched. Greene would go on to have a rather middling career, while Schilling may be Cooperstown-bound at some point in the future. Yet when it is truly looked at with a more critical eye, while Schilling was exceptionally good in the playoffs (and Greene was exceptionally bad), over the entire 1993 season, Greene was probably just a bit better than Curt.

2) Lenny Dykstra – a season for the ages

Dykstra’s season leaps off of the Baseball Reference page for the ’93 Phillies – .305/.420/.486 slash line, with 19 HR, 66 RBI, 143 runs scored, 37 stolen bases, 129 walks and only 67 strikeouts, all from the leadoff position. He had a 144 OPS+, a .400 wOBA, and accumulated 6.5 rWAR. Defensive data isn’t available for that season, but Fangraphs credits him with -3.6 defensive WAR, so he was slightly below average with the leather – more than acceptable given that offensive production. It was arguably the best season he ever had (look up his 1990 season some time).

Centerfielder Lenny Dykstra was the ’93 Phillies MVP

Brief aside: we went to a Phillies game once while Dykstra was a member of the team. I can’t remember if it was a Photo Night or Fireworks Night, but we were on the field in the outfield. I remember patches of repaired Astroturf from where the gigantic wads of chewing tobacco for which Dykstra was known had ruined it. The look on my dad’s face – funniest thing ever. Moving on….

With those numbers, Dykstra should have been considered the NL Most Valuable Player, at least according to a certain 10 year old. How much more valuable can one player be? Well, that was before my family invested in a wave of the future known as cable TV. I didn’t have ESPN, so I didn’t know about the one-man wrecking crew out in San Francisco that year.

For all of the numbers Dykstra put up, Barry Bonds was better. Much better. He bested Dykstra in just about everything you could compare: OBP (.458), SLG (.677), OPS+ (206!), rWAR (9.9), etc. I could sit here and bore you with other numbers, but I won’t. Comparing their power numbers would be silly, as Bonds’ game wasn’t the same as Dykstra’s, but anyway one looks at it, Bonds was by far the superior player. Voters knew it too – he got twenty-four 1st place votes, while Dykstra got the only other four.

Dykstra was great that season. Any other year, the national media probably would have given him the award, especially as their hatred of Bonds grew. Yet, for as good as Nails was that year, he came up short as far as being considered the most valuable. 

There was something about that team that made Philadelphia love them. Maybe it was the fact that they were just a bunch of hustling scrappers that many people knew were playing way over their head. Heck, in 302 plate appearances, shortstop Kevin Stocker had a 125 OPS+. His next highest in his career? 92, in 1994. Everyone thought that they were built to last, but in the back of their minds, they knew. We’d better enjoy the ride now, because it probably won’t last long.

Feel free to share some of your memories of this team in the comments section. It would be great to see what you remember most about this unforgettable, beloved team. The very first team that I ever followed: the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies.

1993 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: 1B – John Kruk, 2B – Mickey Morandini/Mariano Duncan, SS – Kevin Stocker, 3B – Dave Hollins, C – Darren Daulton, CF – Lenny Dykstra, LF – Pete Incaviglia/Milt Thompson, RF – Jim Eisenreich/Wes Chamberlain, Bench: Ricky Jordan, Kim Batiste, Todd Pratt, Ruben Amaro Jr, Jeff Manto, Tony Longmire; SP – Curt Schilling, Tommy Greene, Danny Jackson, Terry Mulholland, Ben Rivera; RP – Mitch Williams, Larry Anderson, David West, Roger Mason, Mark Davis, Mike Williams, Jose DeLeon, Bobby Thigpen; GM – Lee Thomas, Manager – Jim Fregosi, Assistant – John Vukovich, Pitching coach – Johnny Podres, Hitting coach – Denis Menke, 1st base coach – Mel Roberts, 3rd base coach – Larry Bowa, Bullpen coach – Mike Ryan