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Phillies Win 2nd Franchise Pennant
It took 35 years, but the Phillies, at long last, won another pennant. Was it worth the wait? How can you even ask? How do you measure pain? How can you even think about such things after enduring the grinding, gruesome, September this team and its fans had just come through. It was as if the baseball gods had looked down on Philadelphia, and after several inconclusive ballots, had finally squeezed out a verdict: Okay, they can win, but they have to suffer. And boy, did they suffer.
Puddin’ Head’s Hit (to say nothing of Sisler’s): Phillies Beat Dodgers to Claim Flag—The Whiz Kids Do It
The Philadelphia Phillies first game of the 1950 baseball season was played on April 18 at Shibe Park in Philadelphia before only a hard-core bunch of baseball cranks mostly interested in checking out the National League defending champion Brooklyn Dodgers. Says who? The gate was 29,074, on the way to a record 1,217,035, and they were there to see the Phillies team that had excited them so much just five cold months ago. The Phillies had finished third in 1949, 16 games behind the Bums, but this year, manager Eddie Sawyer had them primed to compete with the best.
From 1947 to 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers won six National League pennants, in contrast to the chronically bad Phillies who, dating from their founding in 1883, had won but a single pennant, and that 35 years ago in 1915. A handful of fans remembered and remained hopeful, but in all honesty, how could the young Phillies be expected to compete against the likes of Duke Snider, Pewee Reese, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Carl Furillo, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, and Preacher Roe? The team writer Roger Kahn famously labeled “The Boys of Summer.”
On this mild spring day, two months before the beginning of the Korean War, smack in the middle of the 20th Century, Philadelphia manager Eddie Sawyer handed the ball to 24-year-old right hander Robin Roberts, a 15 game-winner in 1949. Roberts would be up against the biggest guy on the field, 6’4”, 225-pound, also 24 years-old, Don Newcombe,1949 Rookie-of-the-Year and 19 game-winner. For the 1950 season, Newcombe would start eight times against the Phillies, six times against Roberts. Newcombe had a highly successful season with 19 wins and only 11 losses, but six of those losses were at the hands of the Phillies. And it all began on this mid-April season opener when the Phillies handed the proud Dodgers a 9-1 thrashing (Newcomb lasted one inning) that set the tone for what was to follow. Eddie Waitkus was back at first base, batting third, where he led the team with 102 runs scored, 18 more than Whitey Ashburn. Dick Sisler played 137 games in left field, batted sixth, with 13 homeruns , and 83 RBIs. The power parade was led by Del Ennis, Willie Jones, and Andy Seminick with 31, 25, and 24 homeruns, respectively. This team could hit, and they could pitch with Robin Roberts (20-11), Curt Simmons (17-8), and Jim Konstanty (16-7) leading the way. Konstanty appeared in 74 games, finished 62, and saved 22. Fielding was shaky at best – shortstop Granny Hamner made 48 errors, shades of the 1890s.
What followed the opening day fireworks, was a Phillies team that blazed through May, June, July, and August with a 72-41 record to enter September with a 6 ½ game lead on the champion Dodgers, and a 12 ½ game lead over the suddenly hard-charging New York Giants under their torch-to-the-butt manager, Leo the Lip; the despicable Durocher. When Phillies manager, Eddie Sawyer looked at his 28-game September schedule, he could not have been comforted by the prospect of eight games with Brooklyn, six with the Giants, and seven with the still-contending Boston Braves and their dynamic pitching trio of Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain, and rain. And if that wasn’t bad enough he would have to do it without four year veteran at age 21, and 17-game winner, Curt Simmons, grabbed by the Army in the Selective Service draft—of all people, why Simmons? Baseball gods strike again at Philadelphia.
September was not kind to the Phillies, they lost all six games to the Giants, and five out of six to the Dodgers, to end the month a thin game ahead of the Dodgers facing a season-ending October 1st game at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn. Six days in New York seemed to have sucked all the juice out of the Phillies; they lost four straight to the Giants, then a deflating 7-3 loss to the Dodgers that set up the final showdown. Roberts entered September with an 18-5 record but the kid was near the end of his string; he had thrown way over 3,000 pitches, and was barely getting by, at times it seemed, on guts alone. He was 1-6 in September.
As the season had begun in April with Roberts versus Newcombe, so it would end in October. Newcombe, with his extra bulk, was holding up better than Roberts, he was 5-2 in September including both games of a doubleheader in Philadelphia on the sixth day of the month. But if Newcombe was holding up, there were questions about his team. Could the Dodgers win one more game to forge a tie with the Phillies? They had played three consecutive doubleheaders against the Braves at Ebbetts Field on September 27, 28, and 29, going 4-2, then yesterday’s win over the Phillies. Could they do it again?
They came close, as any fan of the Dodgers or Phillies could tell you. In the bottom of the ninth, Roberts’ tank running on empty in a 1-1 game, winning run on second, nobody out, Duke Snider singled hard up the middle—too hard—the ball got to Whitey Ashburn in a hurry and the Nebraska Flash uncorked a season-saving rope to catcher Stan Lopata that cut down Cal Abrams who didn’t bother to slide.
Roberts, a switch hitter, was due to leadoff the 10th, and convinced Manager Sawyer that Ashburn’s throw had given him new life, and he was ready to pitch another nine innings if his team need him to do that. For Roberts, the idea of pitching the game that would give the Phillies the championship was all he needed; they would have to handcuff him to keep him from continuing. He blinked in surprise to see the field lights go on after the 9th inning ended; it was 4:25 in Brooklyn and getting dark. In earlier years, the game might have been called because of darkness, but this was the middle of the 20th century. Technology ruled.
Roberts singled up the middle to begin the 10th inning. Eddie Waitkus, leading off instead of Ashburn since a lineup shake up in July, followed with another hit to put runners on first and second with none out. Ashburn tried to move the runners but bunted poorly and Roberts was forced at third. Then came Sisler. Give a star to Manager Sawyer here – when he switched leadoff men after being blanked by the Cubs’ Monk Dubiel on July 18, he put Sisler back into the three hole where he had been so successful following the Waitkus shooting last year. Famously, Sisler reached a high outside Newcombe fastball with his left-handed swing, made solid contact, and danced to first base as he watched the ball disappear over the left field wall for a three-run Phillies’ lead that Roberts held with a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th to win the pennant.
As a post-script, it should be noted that if not for two-out singles by Sisler, Del Ennis, and (drum roll, please) Puddin’ Head Jones in the sixth, there would have been no tenth inning to celebrate. Puddin’ Head’s hit may have been the most important in Phillies history to that point, and, Sisler’s hit notwithstanding, possibly since.
A final nod to Eddie Sawyer. How many managers in that situation would have pulled Sisler for seldom-used, and long-forgotten, utility outfielder Jackie Mayo as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the 10th ? The move paid off quickly when Roy Campanella’s leadoff line drive was speared by Mayo.
First Game of The Season
By max blue
For only the second time in the teams’ 67-year-old history, the Phillies had won the National League pennant. Now they could be called “The Whiz Kids.” In retrospect, that named hardly fit the team, with their several grizzled veterans – Andy Seminick may have been a lot of things, but a kid wasn’t one of them. But that didn’t really matter. No matter what you called them, they were winners.