Phillies and the Century Mark


The year was 1961.  A gallon of gasoline would cost you just 27 cents.  The average price for a home was $12,500 in the United States.  For an average of $2,850 you could purchase yourself a brand new car.

John F. Kennedy had succeeded Dwight D. ‘Ike’ Eisenhower as the President of the United States of America.  Diplomatic and consular relations were severed with Cuba that year, and in a related news development, the Bay of Pigs Invasion began and ended – in the blink of an eye.  Construction of the Berlin Wall commenced. The United States and Soviet Union were jockeying for position in the “space race” as the Cold War was just beginning.

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In the baseball world, Roger Maris hit 61 home runs – eclipsing the great Babe Ruth as the single-season homerun king. The Shirelles and Chubby Checker were music sensations. “West Side Story” and “The Parent Trap” were tops at the box office.

Oh, and our own TBOH Editor, Matthew Veasey, was born in November of that year. Generations have come and gone during the last 53+ years. Folks follow the club on TV and the internet now. Back then, newspapers and radio were the preferred medium. Times, and technology, have certainly changed.

It turns out that 1961 was also the last time that the local nine, the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club, lost 100 games in a season. Barring the club overachieving, the 2015 version just might reach that dubious mark as well.

The 1961 Phillies were as bad as advertised. They would finish in last place for the fourth consecutive season. Second year manager Gene Mauch, who had taken over in 1960 after despondent skipper Eddie Sawyer resigned following an Opening Day loss, was in way over his head – even Casey Stengel couldn’t win with the 1961 bunch.

Mahaffey led the 1961 Phils pitching staff with 11 victories.

Baseball fans in Philadelphia were roaming through a vast desert. The 1950 Whiz Kids were a distant memory. The popular Richie Ashburn had been traded to the Chicago Cubs before the 1960 season, and Robin Roberts was the only remaining member of that beloved NL pennant-winning club.

The Athletics had fled to Kansas City less than a decade prior, taking a half-century of Philly presence in the American League with them. The increasingly deteriorating neighborhood around aging Connie Mack Stadium kept what remained of the faithful fan base far away from the old ballpark at 21st & Lehigh.

How bad were the ’61 Phillies? They were capital ‘B’ bad. Really bad.  Putrid, even.  The club finished with a 47-107 record, a whopping 60 games under .500.  That equates to a .305 winning percentage. They finished a full 46 games behind the National League champion Cincinnati Reds.

The pitching staff was shellacked, allowing nearly 800 runs in 155 games. The offense was just as abysmal – 103 home runs and a .243 team batting average. Not surprisingly, the Phillies played worse at home, to the tune of a .286 winning percentage.

The turnstile count at Connie Mack Stadium was 590,039 – for the entire season! That was an average of 7,663 patrons per game. Many days and nights, the crowds didn’t approach that number.

The forgettable season began to unfold on April 11th, Opening Day, against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  Don Drysdale beat Roberts and the Phillies, 6-2, and off they went. They were tied for 5th place at 0-1 after that defeat. It would be the highest position they would occupy all year in the NL standings.

The Phillies set an all-time major league record of 23 consecutive losses – from July 29th to August 20th.  They were also shutout fifteen times during the course of the season.  They were able to muster a winning streak as long as four games just one time over the entire campaign.

Future Series-winning manager Green was a pitcher with the 1961 Phillies.

Roberts, a future Hall of Famer, had the worst season of his illustrious career to that point. He finished with an unsightly record of 1-10, and recorded a 5.85 earned run average.

Future 1980 World Series-winning manager Dallas Green was a right-handed swingman on the pitching staff. He pitched in 42 games (10 starts) with a 2-4 record and 4.85 earned run average.

And, of course, there was Ruben Amaro.  Senior, that is.  The elder Amaro was the starting shortstop on the club – playing in 135 games with a .257 batting average and a respectable .700 OPS.

First baseman Pancho Herrera, center fielder Tony Gonzalez, outfielder Don Demeter, and left fielder Johnny Callison paced the offense. Demeter came over in a trade with the Dodgers, and paced the club with 20 homers and 68 rbi.

Art Mahaffey and John Buzhardt led the pitching staff. Mahaffey somehow won 11 games with this lot, the only double-digit winner on the staff. The roster was dotted with such luminaries as Elmer Valo, Choo-Choo Coleman, and Bobby Malkmus.

To some Phillies fans, that season remains a memory – even if unpleasant.  To most others, it may as well have been held during the Stone Age. Nevertheless, it is a historical reference point in a franchise that is about to launch it’s 133rd consecutive season of playing professional baseball at the highest level.

The prognosis on this year’s version is not good.  The once mighty Phillies of the last decade are no more. Age and attrition have set in. An aging nucleus, a lack of supporting talent, and a barren farm system are a recipe for disaster. Immovable contracts are stunting organizational regeneration.  Let’s not forget that the general manager is a pariah – the architect of this perceived calamity.

Not many teams keep a Rule 5 player on their major league roster their entire season – let alone two players, as this team could. An outfield combination of Ben Revere, Odubel Herrera, Grady Sizemore, Jordan Danks, Brian Bogusevic, and Jeff Francoeur will not strike fear into any opposing pitcher.

As a matter of fact, they may take baseball back 100 years – to the Dead Ball Era.  Maybe the men in blue will allow the pitchers to throw a spitball or two as an homage, to give the Fightin’ Phils a fighting chance?

Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, and Sean O’Sullivan are most definitely not Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt.  There may be a few fights at the bat rack in visiting dugouts this season.  The staff ace wants out of town. The vaunted young relief pitchers seemed to be throwing Molotov cocktails every time they were summoned from the bullpen this spring.

The Phillies may surprise us all and hover around .500 all year.  Or, they could challenge the 1962 New York Mets for the record of modern futility. That expansion Mets club finished 40-120, and 55 1/2 games back in the NL standings. How would anything close to that go over with the current Phillies fan base?

A lot has to happen for the Phillies to avoid 100 losses.  A full season of Cole Hamels (questionable), a repeat performance from the bullpen (hopeful), a productive Ryan Howard (doubtful), and offensive production from the outfield (not a chance.)

So what is it that we have to look forward to at Citizens Bank Park, you ask?  Well, how about liquor, wine, a nine-patty cheeseburger, the antics of the Phillie Phanatic, and some guy named Chase Utley!  Works for me – sign me up!