Sunday, October 24, 2010

What if the Phillies Had Won the 1964 Pennant? Part I

The San Francisco Giants beat the Philadelphia Phillies last night, to take the 2010 National League Pennant.

For much of 1964, it seemed like the Pennant -- the League having no Divisional play at the time -- would come down to either the Phils or the Jints. But the Giants tailed off... and then, at the same time, with the Phils up by 6 1/2 games with 12 to go, the Phils lost 10 straight, the Cincinnati Reds won 9 of 10, and the St. Louis Cardinals won 8 of 10.

Final standings: St. Louis, Philly and Cincinnati each 1 back, San Francisco 3 back, and the Milwaukee Braves 5 back. The closest race in NL history. (In 1908, the New York edition of the Giants finished in a tie with the Chicago Cubs, with the Pittsburgh Pirates just 1 back, before a replay gave the Cubs the Pennant. But that was a 3-way race; 1964 had 3 within 1, 4 within 3 and 5 within 5.)

Odd: In 1964, the Phillies won 92 games, yet finished out of the postseason and are viewed as one of the most massive failures in baseball history; in 1980, the Phillies won 91 yet games, yet won the World Series and were viewed, until the Phils began their current run of success in 2007, as the greatest team in franchise history.

I'm not going to compare great Philadelphia baseball teams; that's a post for Uncle Mike's Musings (see link to the right) at a later time. But it's worth pointing out that, despite the Phils' 1980 and 2008 World Championships, an entire generation still looks at 1964 as the defining season of their lifetime, a wound that nothing can ever heal.

In 1950, the Phils won the Pennant, but got swept in the World Series by the Yankees. It was their only real Pennant race between 1915 and 1964. But do the fans old enough to remember 1950, all of them now over age 65, kvetch over that Series loss, the way the fans whose defining year was '64, now roughly between the ages of 50 and 65, think of that one?

*

If the Phillies had won the 1964 National League Pennant, could they have beaten the Yankees in the World Series? Certainly, they could have. After all, the Cardinals did.

But would the Phillies have beaten the Yankees? That's another story entirely, and I'm going to try to tell it.

Here's how the TTL-1964 World Series likely would have happened, based on the RL-starting pitchers used by manager Gene Mauch down the stretch, the ones Yankee manager Yogi Berra used, and the RL-results:

Game 1 at Connie Mack Stadium, Philadelphia, October 7: Whitey Ford vs. Chris Short. This would have given Short 4 days' rest since his last outing, on October 2. Pitching ace Jim Bunning today would have put him on just 2 days' rest, and that chance was already taken too often. In RL, Ford was hurt, and had to leave the game in the 6th inning, and Al Downing came in, and the Cards hit him hard. The Cards won, 9-5. It's not hard to imagine the Phils still winning, and thus winning their first World Series game in 49 years -- and only their second WS game ever. Phillies 9, Yankees 5. Phils lead 1 game to 0.

Game 2 at Connie Mack Stadium, October 8: Mel Stottlemyre vs. Jim Bunning. This would have given Bunning 3 days' rest since the regular-season finale on October 4. In RL, this was Bob Gibson's 1st WS game, and he lost it. In fact, the Yanks got 8 runs on 12 hits, the majority of it off a rested Gibson. Bunning on 3? I don't think he stops the Yanks. Yankees 8, Phillies 3. Series tied, 1-1.

Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, New York, October 10: Jim Bouton vs. Art Mahaffey. It would have been Dennis Bennett's turn, but Mahaffey had a better record. Would Mahaffey have pitched better than Curt Simmons, the 1950 Whiz Kid who finally, in RL, won a Pennant with the '64 Cards? Probably not, Simmons allowed 1 run on 4 hits through 8. Card manager Johnny Keane brought in knuckleballing reliever Barney Schultz to pitch the 9th. Schultz threw one pitch. Mickey Mantle cranked it into the upper deck. Would Phils closer Jack Baldschun have done any better? Almost certainly not. Yankees 2, Phillies 1. Yanks lead 2 games to 1.

Game 4 at Yankee Stadium, October 11: Al Downing vs. Short. Downing had a shutout going into the 6th, but Ken Boyer -- the Cards' Captain and the brother of Yankee 3rd baseman Clete Boyer -- hit a grand slam on a slider that didn't properly slide. Would the Phillies' Captain have done that? Probably not: Johnny Callison, like Downing, was a lefty. But that doesn't mean that Richie Allen (not yet insisting on being called "Dick" instead) wouldn't have. Phillies 4, Yankees 3. Series tied, 2-2. So, already, this is the best season in Phillies' history: The only season in which they've won at least 2 World Series games, something they wouldn't do in RL until 1980.

Game 5 at Yankee Stadium, October 12: Stottlemyre vs. Bunning. In RL, Stottlemyre and Gibson battled it out, and Tom Tresh homered in the bottom of the 9th to send it to extra innings. But Yogi pulled Mel for Pete Mikkelsen, and in the top of the 10th, Tim McCarver (not yet a Phils hero) hit a 3-run homer. Keane stuck with Gibson, and the Cards won. Would the Phils' catcher have done what McCarver did? Clay Dalrymple? Seriously? A better question might be this: Would Bunning on 3 days' rest have been better on this day than Gibson on the same rest? In RL, Cardinals 5, Yankees 2. In TTL, I think this one is different. Yankees 3, Cardinals 2, in the regulation 9. Yanks lead series, 3 games to 2.

Game 6 at Connie Mack Stadium, October 14: Bouton vs. Mahaffey. In RL, Bouton, at age 25 already something of a flake but still with a great fastball and not yet the knuckleball-relying, 30-year-old marginal pitcher who wrote Ball Four, lived up to his "Bulldog" nickname, while Simmons didn't have his good stuff and only went 6 innings. If the RL-Phils only do even a little bit better than the TTL-Cards did, the Series is over. Yankees 8, Phillies 3. Yanks win Series, 4 games to 2.

In RL, Game 7 at the first Busch Stadium (formerly the last Sportsman's Park), on October 15: was Stottlemyre vs. Gibson, both on 2 days' rest. Despite a 9th-inning Yankee comeback attempt, the Cards won, 7-5, and took the Series. But the Phils come up, er, short (Chris Short would have started for them), and there is no Game 7.

*

No, there's no choke, no "Phlop." Blowing a 1-game-to-0 lead isn't horrible. The Yanks blew a 2-games-to-1 lead in RL, and haven't gotten criticized down through the years for it. Maybe the Mantle walkoff (not that we called such a home run that at the time) in Game 3 gets remembered as "one of those moments" that just sort of happen to some teams, like the Phillies. But in this case, the Phillies don't blow it. They just get beat.

And for those of you who say, "You're only saying that because you're a Yankee Fan," make your own suggestion of how the Phillies could have won. After all, the Yanks were without their best starter (Whitey Ford) and their starting shortstop (Tony Kubek), and they still came within 2 runs in Game 7.

It's true that the Yankees were aging, and that this was the last Pennant for Mantle, Berra, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Bobby Richardson and Kubek.

But the Phils... the reason they didn't win the Pennant in RL is that they weren't really all that good. Aside from right field (Callison), 3rd base (Allen), and left field (an aging but still strong Wes Covington), they didn't have a very strong lineup. Three regulars hit under .240: Catcher Dalrymple, 1st baseman John Hernstein (Frank "Big Donkey" Thomas, not to be confused with the later "Big Hurt," missed much of the season with an injury), and shortstop Bobby Wine (just .212). And aside from Bunning and Short, they didn't have a whole lot of pitching. Really, this was a 4-man team: Callison (who finished 2nd to Boyer for the MVP), Allen (Rookie of the Year), Bunning (who might've won the Cy Young if each League then gave one out, Dean Chance of the Angels won it instead) and Short.

I don't know if the Cardinals, who actually did win the Pennant, were the best team in the NL. The Reds, the Giants, and even the Braves might have been better. Arguably, the Phils were only the 5th-most-talented team in the National League in 1964.

The shock isn't that they blew a sure Pennant, but that they were ever close to one.

Put it another way: If you could manage any Phillies team in a 7-game series, would you take 1964 over 1980? Would you take 1964 over 2008? Would you take 1964 over 1950? Would you take 1964 over 1993?

I wouldn't.

What I would do is tell the story of what might have happened if the Phillies had beaten the Yankees in the 1964 World Series. That's next. And if you're a Phillies fan, I think you're going to like it.

1 comment:

  1. The Phillies are trailing behind 8-3 in game six. After Bouton surrenders a double and two singles with a run scored making the score 8-4. Whitey Ford is sent to the mound. After walking Wes Covington and striking out Vic Power and John Briggs. he gives up two back to back home runs off the bats of Costen Shockley and Don Hoak. The Phillies win game 6 with a score of 9-8.

    Game 7: Connie Mack Stadium: The Yankees are kept at bay by Dallas Green who pitches a no hitter. The Phillies win 5-0 winning their first ever Word Series 4 games to 3.

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