COMMENTARY | The Philadelphia Phillies are the oldest continuous one-name, one-location franchise in professional sports history, dating back 130 years. For the vast majority of those years, the Phillies have been known for their futility, as evidenced by becoming the first professional franchise to lose 10,000 times.
Entering the 2013 season, only three active major-league teams -- San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays -- had an all-time winning percentage worse than the Phillies. All of those franchises have been operating less than 50 years.
The Phillies of the 21st century have enjoyed their most consistent stretch of success, winning five straight division titles, two pennants and a world championship from 2007-11. When the Phillies of the 20th century did perform well, they had a habit building up expectations for great things to come, only to crash and burn in the end.
Here are three of the more disappointing teams in Phillies history:
1951 Philadelphia Phillies
The 1950 Phillies won the second pennant in team history, the first in 35 years. They are remembered for winning that flag by beating the Brooklyn Dodgers in the last game of the season on Dick Sisler's dramatic three-run homer in the 10th inning. What most people don't remember is the Phillies had led the National League by 7 1/2 games with 11 to play then almost squandered that lead by losing eight of 10 games.
The Phillies were swept by the New York Yankees in the 1950 World Series. But the "Whiz Kids," as they were known, appeared primed to contend for years to come. Led by Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts (20-11, 3.02 ERA), Hall of Fame outfielder Richie Ashburn (.303, 84 runs scored), bullpen ace and league Most Valuable Player Jim Konstanty (16-7, 2.66 ERA), outfielder Del Ennis (.311, 31 homers, 126 RBIs) and third baseman Willie Jones (.267, 25 homers, 100 runs scored), the Phillies were young and talented. All of the aforementioned were 25 or younger, except for the 33-year-old Konstanty.
But in 1951, it was the Dodgers and New York Giants who would decide the pennant on the famous walkoff home run by the Giants' Bobby Thomson. The 1951 Phillies finished in fifth place, eight games under .500 and 23 1/2 games back. They would finish no better than third for the next 12 seasons.
1965 Philadelphia Phillies
There was no bigger crash and burn in 20th century baseball history than that of the 1964 Phillies. After four consecutive last-place finishes, firebrand manager Gene Mauch led teams to respectability in 1962 and 1963. But no one saw 1964 coming. That season, Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning (19-8, 2.63 ERA) and rookie third baseman Richie Allen (.318, 29 homers, 125 runs) arrived on the scene to join pitcher Chris Short (17-9, 2.20 ERA) and league Most Valuable Player runner-up Johnny Callison (.274, 31 homers, 104 RBIs) as the team's central characters. For 150 games, the Phillies appeared to be cruising to a pennant, winning 30 games more than they lost and building a 6 1/2-game National League lead with just 12 to play. Their front office distributed World Series tickets that are now collectors' items.
Then, suddenly, they collapsed like no other team ever had with 10 straight losses. The St. Louis Cardinals won the pennant by a game.
But the Phillies entered the 1965 season with high hopes. After coming so close, certainly they would learn from their bitter disappointment. Once again, Bunning would win 19 games. Once again, Allen, Callison and Short would have great seasons. But the 1965 Phillies would wind up winning seven fewer games than they had in 1964. In 1965, that was good for sixth place, 29 1/2 games behind the pennant-winning Los Angeles Dodgers. The Phils wouldn't challenge for a pennant again for another decade.
1979 Philadelphia Phillies
The other consistent stretch of success in Phillies history occurred between 1976-78 when they won their first three straight National League East titles, only to lose each year in the National League Championship Series. The 1976 and 1977 teams were the first in franchise history to win 100 games, winning 101 each season. Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton won 59 games and Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt slugged 97 homers over those three seasons. Outfielder Greg Luzinski, shortstop Larry Bowa and second baseman Dave Cash were All-Stars.
But the Phillies still couldn't quite reach the World Series.
In 1979, they signed Pete Rose, who had led the Cincinnati Reds to four World Series and two championships while hitting over .300 in 13 of the previous 14 seasons. The Phillies felt Rose would provide the leadership necessary to finally push them over the top. They entered 1979 looking like the team to beat in the entire National League. Rose would hit .331 and score 90 runs. Schmidt would slug 45 home runs, a career high at the time, and drive in 114 runs. Carlton would win 18 games. But the 1979 Phillies could do no better than finish fourth in the NL East, six games over .500 and 14 games behind the eventual world champion Pittsburgh Pirates. But this time, the Phillies wouldn't fall of the cliff entirely. It would take just one more season for the Rose investment to pay off.
In 1980, the Phillies would become baseball's champions for the first time in their history.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
- Sports & Recreation
- Philadelphia Phillies
- National League