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They decided to give Mayo Smith a crack at it. Did someone remember Phenomenal Smith from the Phillies’ 1889 team? Probably not, but never mind, Mayo didn’t have to be phenomenal, extra ordinary would do. Phillies’ management reached into the Yankee’s farm system, double A Birmingham of the Southern Association to be precise, for the 40 year-old career minor league.
“Here’s what you got, Mayo, make the most of it.”
Mayo knew about the stars, of course, Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Del Ennis, Puddin’Head – all at the peak of their powers and poised for another great year – Ashburn hit .338 and finally won a batting crown; Roberts, as usual, led the league in innings pitched (305), wins (23), and homeruns allowed (41).
But who were these other guys? Glen Gorbous, Stan Palys, Mel Clark, Jim Greengrass. And the flingers – Jack Spring, Dave Cole, Steve Ridzik, Thornton Kipper, Ron Negray, Ron Mrozinski, between them, these six one one and lost 11.
Did Mayo know what he was getting in to? He might have had an idea, but nobody could have known that the Dodgers, after losing again to the Giants in ’54, would come raging out of the gate looking for someone to gore; they won ten straight to open the season, including four straight in Philadelphia. By May 10 after an 11-game winning streak, the Dodgers were already 20 games over .500 at 22-2. At the same time, after a 13-game losing streak, the Phillies found themselves 13 ½ game out of first place before the middle of May, and Mayo Smith was wondering what hit him. The season for him, and the Phillies, was basically over before he learned th names of some of his players.
On April 30, before the carnage was complete, the Phillies and Reds tried to undo a 1951 trade that some oldtimers have yet to forgive, when they swapped Smoky Burgess for Andy Seminick, now 35 years-old. On July 30 they brought back Eddie Waitkus as well, but that didn’t help either.
But give Mayo Smith some credit, after the head-rattling beginning, he stuck with it, learned the guys’ names, and led them to a .500 finish at 77-77, and even had them in a fight for third place that the Giants eventually nabbed at 80-77. The Dodgers cruised to a 98 win season, 8 ½ games ahead of Milwaukee, where the young Hank Aaron was in the first of his 21 consecutive all-star seasons. And if things weren’t bad enough for non-Brooklyns, the bums had a 19-year-old rookie lefty named Sandy Koufax who struck out 14 Reds in a 7-0 shutout performance on August 27.
It should be mentioned that 1955 was the year the Phillies signed 21 year-old left hand pitcher Dallas Green to a free agent contract.