Wednesday, February 7, 2018

42 Homers Make the Phils Difference

TRIVIA QUESTION:   Before coming to the Phillies, Pancho Herrera played for what team in the Negro Leagues?  

The Chicago White Sox pitcher who won 29 games in 1919 and was portrayed in the film "Field of Dreams" was Eddie Cicotte. Reportedly Cicotte had a claus in his contract that if he won 30 games he'd get a huge bonus. He claimed the team held him back at the behest of team owner Charlie Comiskey as they had the pennant wrapped up and he didn't want to pay the bonus. This supposedly led to Cicotte's anger and helped him decide to join the conspirators in throwing the series for money. The following year he won 21 games and then was banned from baseball for life. He won 28 in 1917. Cicotte won his 29th game on September 19, 1919. However, he did get two more starts in the last seven games. On the 25th he went seven and got a no decision but to lend some credence to the theory of being held back, in his start on the 28th, he went only two innings giving up one run before being pulled. The Sox would go on to lose 10-9 but Cicotte was gone long before the game was decided.

Can 42 home runs in a season really make a difference? It seems so. The 1961 Philadelphia Phillies were a sorry lot. The likes of Pancho Herrera, Charley Smith and Ken Walters were just not enough for the '61 Phils to win more than 47 games. Finishing 47-107 it was the last year for long time ace Robin Roberts in a Philadelphia uniform. He went 1-10 in 1961 and after six 20-win seasons was sold to the Yankees. Before his career ended in 1966 he had been sold or traded and released by the Astros, Cubs and Orioles. He still won 52 games after the Phils let him go.

The rest of the 1961 pitching staff fared poorly as well. Art Mahaffey went 11-19, John Buzhardt 6-18,  Frank Sullivan 3-16 and even youngster Chris Short was 6-12. In all two others lost at least 10 games and no starter had close to a .500 record. 

At the plate the Phillie sluggers were the Phillie softies. The team leader in homers was Don Demeter with 20, but Tony Gonzalez with 12 and Herrera with 13 were the only players in double figures. Batting averages were soft as well. Gonzalez was the highest hitting starter at .277. 

Perhaps it was the youth factor. Aside from 40 year-old Elmer Valo the team average was 25 years, with four of the starters at 25 or younger. Four of the 13 pitchers were over 30 led by Roberts, 34. 

Somehow Gene Mauch turned his club around the following year winning 81 games and finishing in 7th place. Strangely enough the team got older, now over 27 years of age with the addition of Roy Sievers who banged 21 home runs, Frank Torre who hit .310 in a part time role and the improved Tony Taylor who led the team with 20 steals and came to the plate over 700 times. 

The homers went up. Demeter slapped 29, Gonzales hit 20 and Johnny Callison was an emerging star with 23. Both, along with Demeter batted over .300. In 1962 the team hit 42 more home runs than the previous season. It probably made the difference. They went from 7th in the league in homers to 4th in 1962.

The pitching showed improvement with the hitting as Mahaffey won 19, 36 year-old Cal McLish picked up 11, Jack Baldschun and Short won 23 between them. Interestingly enough, they committed about the same amount of errors in the two seasons.  

Herrera, the first Afro-Latino player for the Phils was prone to strike out way too much and commit too many errors. He was shipped off to Pittsburgh for Ted Savage and Don Hoak but was out of baseball before ever playing for Pittsburgh. Charley Smith was sent to the White Sox for Sievers and Buzhardt in a good trade. Smith bounced around the rest of the decade. Walters was sold to the Reds.

It wouldn't be long before Mauch had them contending and in 1964 they almost captured the NL title, only to fail miserably down the stretch and lost out to St. Louis.

Thank you to those of you who purchased my book after reading this column. It has been appreciated. 

Please share this blog with your friends and colleagues and leave a comment at the bottom of the blog if you have one. Thank YOU VERY MUCH!!

Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at, or on Amazon.

No comments:

Post a Comment