How bad is 28 of 29 and 23 consecutive losses? The 1961 Phillies were arguably among the worst teams in Major League baseball history. The team finished 8th and last, trailing the 7th place Cubs by 17 games and the winning Reds by 46. The losing was numbingly historic. From May 1 to May 12 they lost 10 straight; from June 16 to June 23 they were 0-7. Four days later, beginning on June 27, they lost 14 of 15 including a 15 inning tie. But these stretches of futility were mild compared to what lay ahead. On July 22 Phillies’ lefty, Chris Short beat the Cubs 6-5; the team then lost five straight, won on the 28th, then went almost a month before they won again. It was a Major League record 23 straight losses unless you want to count the 1899 Cleveland Spiders who lost 24 straight. As bad as they were, and 28 out of 29 is incredibly bad, they were a Major League team with players like Robin Roberts, Chris Short, John Callison, Ruben Amaro, Tony Taylor, and Tony Gonzalez. Two days after the endless losing streak mercifully ended, Art Mahaffey pitched a one-hit shutout against a Chicago Cubs team headed by leadoff man Rich Ashburn.
Four games into the 1961 season, Phillies’ manager Gene Mauch looked at the lineup card handed to him by San Francisco manager Alvin “Blackie” Dark. When he lifted his head to meet Dark’s gaze he wanted to punch the bleeping Giants’ skipper in his smirking face. Mauch restrained himself with the thought that if he had Mays, McCovey, and Cepeda in the middle of his lineup and Marichal on the mound, he no doubt would be smirking too, if he wasn’t letting go with a giant horselaugh. Manager Mauch, coming off a season-opening three-game series in Los Angeles, where his Phillies had to face Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, and Roger Craig, was pondering the unfairness of it all—how could he compete with these guys?
On this day he could, thanks to a gutsy effort by 27-year-old righthander, Dallas Green, who fashioned a complete game five hit shutout, winning 2-0 on a two-run homer by centerfielder Tony Gonzalez. It was Big D’s only shutout that season, the second and last of his eight season pitching career. If anybody would have said in 1961 that 19 years later Dallas Green would become the first Phillies’ manager to win a World’s Championship, they would have been carted off to the looney bin. In 2011, 50 years later, Dallas Green, with his shock of snow white hair, serves as an advisor to the team, and is a familiar figure around Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia.
On April 23, in game two of a doubleheader at Connie Mack Stadium, Manager Mauch got another outstanding pitching performance, thie time from young (23) Art Mahaffey; in a complete game five-hit shutout of the Cubs, Mahaffey struck out at least one batter in every inning and ended with 17 strikeouts. In a year of epic losing, Mahaffey led the parade with 19 losses, but after this game, it was apparent what he was capable of doing.
And then the losing began. A 10-game losing streak in May. Ten of 11 losses from June 9 to 22; 15 of 16 losses from June 27 to July 13. And then, the mother of all losing streaks, 23 straight losses from July 29 to August 20. Robin Roberts took some of the blame—he was having the worst year of his career, going 1-10 with a 5.85 ERA. It was 35 year-old Robbie’s final year in Philadelphia, though he gathered himself to win 52 more games, including 42 for Baltimore, to finish with 286 and a spot in the Hall of Fame.
In a season of 107 bad outcomes, the Phillies put one in the books for the highlight films on September 12 in Los Angeles when they chased Sandy Koufax with a 9-run second inning on their way to a 19-10 win. Chris Short relieved John Buzhardt in a four-run Dodger first inning, and got the win. Don Demeter, who had started the season with the Dodgers, hit three Phillies’ home runs, scored five, and drove in seven runs. Phillies’ shortstop Ruben Amaro, yep, Ruben Junior’s dad, went three for four with his season’s only home run.By max blue
- Alvin Dark, Art Mahaffey, Chris Short, Cleveland Spiders, Connie Mack Stadium, Dallas Green, Don Demeter, Don Drysdale, Gene Mauch, Johnny Callison, Johnny Podres, Orlando Cepeda, Philadelphia Phillies, Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Roger Craig, Ruben Amaro, Sandy Koufax, Tony Gonzalez, Tony Taylor, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey