by Clark Groome
If you were to take a poll of Philadelphians about their most beloved sports teams – not respected, beloved – my bet is that two would be at the top of the list: the 1974 Stanley Cup-winning Flyers “Broad Street Bullies” and the 1993 National League champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Many of those Phillies, whom the late Phillies Hall of Fame play-by-play voice Harry Kalas described as a “wonderful band of throwbacks,” were back in town last weekend to celebrate the team’s 20th anniversary of that improbable year when the team that finished last in 1992 spent the entire 1993 season in first place, topped the favored Atlanta Braves to win the National League Pennant and then lost the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games.
What made this team so special, what so captured the imagination, support and affection of the city was the total surprise of it all. This was a team made up of many other organizations’ castoffs. Only pitcher Curt Schilling, outfielder Lenny Dykstra and catcher/captain Darren Daulton could qualify as stars. Who’d ever heard of John Kruk, Mickey Morandini, Jim Eisenreich, or Mitch Williams when the season started?
But over the weekend, it was clear that for all the oddballs on the team, for all the differences among them off the field, this group became what could be the definition of “team.”
That’s hard to fathom when you think it was made up of the irrepressibly hard-living Dykstra; the courageous Eisenreich, who overcame Tourette syndrome; the seemingly out-of-shape John Kruk, who famously said that “we’re not athletes, we’re baseball players”; the clean-cut Kevin Stocker; the veteran pitcher Danny Jackson; the hard-to-shut-up Schilling; the heart-stopping closer Williams; the cover-boy-handsome Daulton, and the hysterically irreverent and funny Larry Andersen.
Pitcher Danny Jackson, who played for seven teams and won two World Series (with the 1985 Kansas City Royals and the 1990 Cincinnati Reds) over his 15-year career, said Saturday, “We were a close team, and I hated leaving this team because from there on it was never the same.”
“There was never a team I was part of,” he said, “that stayed in the clubhouse for as long as we did and had great times with each other.”
While nobody else knew what this group could do, they did.
Manager Jim Fregosi said, “I knew in spring training our club was going to play well. The players on this team cared about each other. They cared about the organization that brought us all together. They cared about the City of Philadelphia because they were a group of really tough guys.
“It was a ball club that was kind of like the City of Philadelphia,” Fregosi said. “They loved the players on this team. They related to them. That was a team that gave everything they had.”
Curt Schilling, who was inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame Friday before the game against Atlanta, said that he, too, knew the group was destined to be something special. He knew that, he said, on the first day of spring training “when Jim Eisenreich threatened to shoot John Kruk with a bow.
“You had 25 guys who were dying to be at the park with each other,” Schilling said. “That’s different.”
They all said that much of the credit for the team’s success was due to Darren Dalton’s leadership.
Schilling: “I played for almost 20 years and I never, ever, played before or after with a better clubhouse presence than Darren Daulton. He was the reason we did what we did in ’93 and the reason the [Florida] Marlins [won the World Series] in ’97.”
Fregosi: “We had great leadership. Darren Daulton was key to that. I could call Daulton into my office and tell him what I wanted and he would go out and get it done. Players don’t like to hear from the manager all the time. They can accept more from their peers than they will from a manager or a coach.”
Daulton was central to the events of the weekend. In early July he underwent brain surgery to remove two tumors that turned out to be the devastating glioblastoma, the same cancer that claimed the lives of former Phillies John Vukovich and Tug McGraw. Dutch looked great, was happy to be able to participate in the weekend’s events, and received three thunderous standing ovations from the fans when he was announced at each of the three on-field events that were at the core of the weekend.
What was clear, what was palpable last weekend was just how much these guys still care about each other. Fregosi noted that they still act like they did 20 years ago.
To go back to the coach of that other beloved squad, the Flyers Fred Shero famously wrote prior to the team winning the Cup in game six of the finals against Boston, “Win today and we walk together forever.”
The 1993 Phillies didn’t win their game six. Despite that, from the evidence all around Citizens Bank Park last weekend, this is a team that, like those ’74 Flyers, will also walk together forever.