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The 1959 Philadelphia Phillies were a pale imitation of a Major League baseball team: no pitching, no hitting, no fielding, no hope; last by a landslide, 64-90, 23 games behind the LA Dodgers. The 1959 National League Pennant race was a sizzling three-team affair, but the Phillies had no part in it. Whitey Ashburn seemed exhausted after his heroic 1958 season, and only hit .266, with nine stolen bases and two triples. Robin Roberts continued his decline at 15-17, 4.27 ERA. On May 16, Granny Hamner, a 15-year Phillies veteran, only 32 years-old and still hitting .297 with power, was traded to Cleveland for an old tire. What was that all about? Phillies fans wanted to know. Three weeks later, Puddin’ Head Jones was gone, also to Cleveland. New General Manager John Quinn seemed determined to rid the team of the kids who were no longer whizzes. But to replace Puddin’ Head Jones with a guy who could only go 4 for 48. Come on, Quinn, you can do better than that. On December 9th Quinn did better; he traded Gene Freese to the Chicago White Sox for 20 year-old Johnny Callison.
Twenty five-year-old Sparky Anderson played second base for the 1959 Phillies; he sparkled in the field (only 12 errors in 152 games), but struggled at the plate, managing to hit only .218 in 477 at bats. What might have been Sparky’s biggest moment, came in his very first game. It was on April 10, a night game against Cincinnati at Connie Mack Stadium. Don Newcombe, no longer a Dodger, was the Cincinnati pitcher, matched against – who else? Robin Roberts. The two old war horses duked it out for five innings with no score; in the bottom of the sixth, Roberts took matters into his own hands, rapping a double to drive in the first run. In the 8th, Sparky Anderson hit a single to drive in the insurance run that gave Roberts a 2-1 victory.
Sparky Anderson played only that one year in the major leagues, but 11 years later, in 1970, he began a Hall of Fame managers career, having the very good fortune to inherit a team that soon became one of baseball’s historic dynasties, known as “The Big Red Machine.”