So how did the 1964 Phillies get to be so much better than the 1963 team? Let me count the ways: 1. Jim Bunning. How General Manager John Quinn pried the 33 year-old Bunning from the Detroit Tigers is a mystery. Here was a guy who in nine years with the Tigers had won 109 games against 87 losses with 16 shutouts, and played in five all-star games. That Detroit was six games better in 1964 without Bunning may help answer the question. The Phillies were five games better with him. 2. Dick Allen. The rookie third baseman brought a thunderous right hand bat to complement Johnny Callison’s left, and give the Phillies a powerful punch in the middle of the lineup. 3. Chris Short. The maturation of Short into a reliable left hand complement to Bunning gave the team a steady 1-2 pitching punch. 4. Jack Baldschun and Ed Roebuck. These two finished 78 games and saved 33. 5. The team remembered how to beat Houston and the Mets. The team was 28-8 against the two bottom feeders, and 64-62 against the rest of the league.
The winner of the 1964 National League pennant was all but decided when teams took the field for the September 21st games. The morning newspapers told the story: There were the high-flying Phillies, 6½ games ahead of Cincinnati and St. Louis, and a full 7 games up on the fourth place San Francisco Giants. With only 12 games left in the season, things looked good for the Phillies, but there was still work to be done; eight of those games were against the Reds and the Cards, and the remaining four against a hard-charging Milwaukee team that was far from a pushover with guys like Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Rico Carty, and Joe Torre to contend.
It has been often repeated that a prime factor in what turned into a 10-game losing streak was a sixth inning steal of home by Reds’ third baseman, Chico Ruiz in a 1-0 win to begin the streak, though how that loss contributed to what followed is far from clear. It could as well be argued that the 12-inning 7-5 loss to Milwaukee, loss number five in the streak, was the back-breaker, certainly it was a heart-breaker. Johnny Callison hit his 28th homer to tie the game at three in the eighth, and rookie Dick Allen’s two-out, two-run tenth inning inside-the-park homer tied the game at five after Joe Torre had put his team ahead with a two-run shot in the top of the inning. But the drama could not be extended when the Braves scored two in the twelfth, even though Allen and Callison were on base when John Herrnstein bounced to first to end it. Take a moment to picture the leg-pumping Allen rounding third and pumping for home on that inside-the-parker.
In the ensuing week, Cincinnati went 8-0 (five against the pathetic Mets), to ease a game ahead of the Phillies who went 0-7 to end the week tied for second with St. Louis who had won 7 of 8. For Cincinnati it was a high-water mark; they lost 5 of their next 6 to end the season, including the final two to the Phillies who salvaged only a shred of respect after 10 straight calamitous losses. The Cardinals won the pennant, to be sure, but only after a nerve-wracking season-ending three-game series against the more than dreadful New York Mets.
In the final weekend of the season as the calendar turned into October, Philadelphia fans were hoping, some even praying, for a miracle which, in all honesty, was the only way the Mets could win three straight in St. Louis and allow the Phillies to end the season in a tie which could only happen if the Phillies won the final two games in Cincinnati. If that happened, the season would end with Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and St. Louis in a three-way deadlock for first with identical 92-70 records.
It should also be noted that a four-way tie was also possible if San Francisco won their final two games with Chicago. This was a Giants’ team that two years earlier had lost 1-0 in a game seven World’s Series showdown with the Yankees that ended when Willie McCovey’s screaming line-drive bid for a Series winning hit was snared by Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson. But here in 1964, San Francisco fans got a taste of what Philadelphia fans had come to expect when the Giants of Mays and McCovey lost both games to the Cubs.
In certain South-Philly bars there was talk of offering the souls of first-borns to Baseball gods in exchange for a Phillies’ championship, but the movement never got off the ground when it was pointed out that such offerings were rejected over and over during the 10-game losing streak.
In Cincinnati it was different—never as desperate as Philadelphia. Reds’ fans knew about winning, they had been in the World’s Series as recently as 1961. And the team had performed brilliantly in the September stretch run, starting the Phillies on their disasterous decline with a three-game sweep on the Phillies’ home ground. But here they were, oh so close to another championship. Everything depended on the Mets. Imagine that—the Mets in a season-ending meaningful series. The Mets were in their third year of existence, and after losing 120 games in their debut 1962 season, were establishing a standard for futility surpassing anything the Phillies had ever achieved in their dolorous past. Mets’ manager Casey Stengel had long since christened his team “the amazin’ Mets” in recognition of their sometimes inventive ways of losing.games. The Amazin’s brought an eight-game losing streak, and 12 of 13 losses into the season-ending three-game series with the Cardinals in St. Louis who needed no more than a single win to run up the championship flag.
The Mets won the first game when their pint-sized lefty, Al Jackson, made Ed Kranepool’s third inning RBI single off 19-game winner Bob Gibson stand up for a 1-0 win. Game two fell apart early for the Cardinals as the Mets drubbed 20 game-winner Ray Sadecki, and seven relievers for 17 hits and five homeruns in a 15-5 blowout. The jittery Redbirds also contributed five errors to the fiasco. What was that all about?
When the teams took the field in St. Louis and Cincinnati on Sunday, October 4, the Reds and Cardinals were in a flat-footed tie for first at 92-69. The Phillies, facing the Reds, were a game behind the leaders at 91-70 after ending their losing streak with a heart thumping 4-3 win over the Reds, thanks to a four-run eighth inning keyed by the scintillating Allen’s game-tying two-run triple; you have to wonder if he was thinking of yet another inside-the-park dash. Alex Johnson, another rookie, singled to score Allen with the streak breaker as reliever Jack Baldschun put down six Reds in a row to gain his 21st save. It was like the Phillies were reborn after ending the losing streak; on the final day Jim Bunning blanked the Reds for his 19th win, and Dick Allen homered twice in a 10-0 Phillies romp. As late as the fifth inning in St. Louis, the Mets had a 3-2 lead and scoreboard watchers in Cincinnati could hardly believe their eyes when they saw that Cardinals’ 18-game winner Curt Simmons, who had sealed the Phillies’ tenth straight defeat beating Jim Bunning and his old teammates only three days earlier, was relieved by Bob Gibson in the top of the fifth . But in the end, Mets’ 19-game loser Galen Cisco had done all he could do, and a two-run double by Ken Boyer broke the dam for the Cardinals who went on to clinch the pennant with an 11-5 win.
It was over. The Phillies had lost once more. Forty seven years later some fingers are still being pointed, but what’s the use? Cincinnati and San Francisco could also mourn, to say nothing of Milwaukee and Los Angeles with their stables of future hall-of-famers. A case could be made that the 1964 Phillies were actually overachievers; that they had no business leading that fiercely competitive 10-team National League all the way up to the third week in September. Still, what if? What if they had the Mets on their schedule down there near the end?
Honors: Ruben Amaro won the Gold Glove for shortstops. Special mention: (1) Jim Bunning’s perfect game against the Mets on June 21, Father’s Day. (2) Johnny Callison’s two-out ninth inning three-run homerun off the Red Sox’ Dick “the monster’ Radatz at Shea Stadium, New York to win the All-Star game for the National League 7-4.By max blue
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- Bob Gibson, Casey Stengel, Chico Ruiz, Dick Allen, Dick Radatz, Ed Kranepool, Ed Roebuck, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Jack Baldschun, Jim Bunning, Joe Torre, John Herrnstein, John Quinn, Johnny Callison, Philadelphia Phillies, Ray Sadecki, Rico Carty, Ruben Amaro, Shea Stadium, Willie McCovey