1972: A very bad year for Philadelphia sports

He couldn't do it alone: Steve Carlton won 27 games for the Phillies , who still finished in last place, 371/2 games out.
He couldn't do it alone: Steve Carlton won 27 games for the Phillies , who still finished in last place, 371/2 games out. (AP, file)
Posted: September 06, 2012

OK, so Phillies fans have had to endure a long, tough summer, one in which their expectations turned out to be as inflated as the bullpen ERA.

The sellout streak ended. So too, almost certainly, will the postseason streak. Two of the team's aces - Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay - never got going. And on a few now notorious occasions, neither did Jimmy Rollins, who gave new meaning to baseball's "dog" days.

There was little relief from the misery. Nothing but misery from the relief corps.

But stop your complaining. You don't know how good you've had it. Try living through 1972.

Forty years ago, Philadelphians suffered through one of the worst years in its long sports history.

Consider the fate of its four major pro teams:

The Phillies had a 27-game winner - the recently acquired Steve Carlton - and still finished in last place, 371/2 games out of first.

The 2-11-1 Eagles were last, too, and could very easily have been the only winless team in franchise history. The margin in each of those two victories was a single point.

The 76ers played 81 games in the two seasons that spanned the calendar year of 1972. They won only 18 of them. In 1971-72, they wound up 22 games under .500 and, in what must rank as the first- or second-worst NBA season ever, the astonishingly awful 1972-73 76ers finished 64 games below the break-even mark, at 9-73.

The 1971-72 Flyers were a virtual juggernaut by comparison, winning 26 of 78 games. Somehow, they almost made the playoffs. Almost because those hopes ended with just four seconds left in their season when a desperate shot from the blue line got past goalie Doug Favell.

It wasn't just lousy rosters. In three of four cases, the men who led those teams were so inept that even now the mere mention of their names produces as many guffaws as grimaces. As many names as Philadelphians called Frank Lucchesi, Ed Khayat, and Roy Rubin, genius was not one.

The fourth head man? Well, the Flyers' Fred Shero was nicknamed "The Fog."

Rubin's career-won-lost record was 4-47, Khayat's 8-15-2, and Lucchesi's 316-399. The only time any of the three ever had a team that finished above .500 was Lucchesi's 1977 Texas Rangers, and he had been fired 100 games earlier.

The year was as bizarre as it was bad.

Lucchesi, who was fired July 10 as manager of a 26-50 Phillies team, worried that he was being made a "scrapgoat." His replacement, general manager Paul Owens, almost got into a fight with his shortstop. And Bobby Clarke - yes, that Bobby Clarke - was honored by the NHL for his sportsmanship.

The Phillies. The 1972 season had been preceded by a brief strike, enough to push owner Bob Carpenter out of the game. He turned over the team to son Ruly.

One of the younger Carpenter's first moves was to meet with the players and urge them to dump Marvin Miller, the soon-to-be-legendary players' union representative.

"The meeting promptly ended after that suggestion," catcher and player representative Tim McCarver recalled.

The Phillies began the season relatively well, 15-12 through May 12. But by the midway point, they were 28-53, 22 games out of first. Four days earlier, Owens, the first-year GM, had fired Lucchesi and assumed the managerial role.

"I wanted to see up close just what we had," he would say.

He found out he had a pretty good shortstop in Larry Bowa, who led the league in triples (13) and won his first Gold Glove. But Bowa, like Owens, could be volatile, and the two clashed.

When Owens yanked him for a pinch-hitter late that season, Bowa snapped, telling reporters afterward he wanted to be traded.

Owens, who wasn't afraid to get in a player's face, had to be restrained from physically confronting his shortstop. After using a few scatological phrases to describe Bowa, he said, "He's all right as long as he's getting his hits and to hell with the ball club."

One pitcher, Carlton, captured an unmatched 46 percent of the games Lucchesi's Phillies won that year. Carlton's three rotation mates - Ken Reynolds, Bill Chapman, and Woodie Fryman - had a combined record of 10-39.

Those Phillies didn't do much on the other side of the ball, either. They hit .236 for the season, scored only 503 runs, had an abysmal on-base percentage of .302, and stole just 42 bases.

But there was hope. Owens recognized that in Carlton, Bowa, outfielder Greg Luzinski, and two late-season call-ups, Mike Schmidt and Bob Boone, he had a good nucleus on which to build.

The Eagles. When the 1972 NFL draft took place, the Eagles actually had a glimmer of hope. They'd gone 6-7-1 in '71 with journeyman Pete Liske at quarterback. A good draft, and they might take another step forward.

Their first four picks - Florida quarterback John Reaves, Syracuse defensive tackle Dan Yochum, Purdue guard Tom Luken, and Tennessee defensive back Bobby Majors - killed that optimism.

A top-flight receiving group - Harold Jackson, Harold Carmichael, Ben Hawkins, and Gary Ballman - was wasted. Reaves was a major bust and combined with Liske and Rick Arrington to give the Eagles perhaps the league's weakest quarterback grouping.

Khayat's club started 0-5. On Oct. 22 at Kansas City, the Eagles jumped out to a 21-0 lead on three long Liske TD passes to Jackson (36 and 41 yards) and Hawkins (67), then nearly squandered all of that lead, holding on for a 21-20 victory.

Two weeks later, they tied St. Louis, and on Nov. 12, thanks to six field goals from Tom Dempsey - born with only half a right foot - edged Houston, 18-17.

That was it. The Eagles lost their last five games, including a 62-10 shellacking by the Giants, and Khayat was fired and replaced by Mike McCormack.

The 76ers. Who knew the club's 30 wins in 1971-72 would be more than three times what their successors would manage?

The 1972-73 Sixers' 9-73 mark has been chronicled often enough. But two stories bear repeating.

They found their new coach, "Poor Roy Rubin," through an Inquirer want ad. Was it so surprising then that "Poor Roy Rubin" lasted just 51 games and lost 47 of them?

"The face was Phil Foster," Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson wrote of the ill-fated coach. "The voice was Rodney Dangerfield. The paunch was Jackie Gleason. The mission was impossible."

Rubin's idea of a halftime talk was, "Way to go, guys."

"Then he'd turn to his assistant," recalled center Dale Schleuter, "and say, 'OK, how many minutes we got left until the second half starts?' He was completely lost."

Much like the people who conducted the team's drafts.

Between 1967 and 1971, the Sixers' No. 1 picks, in order, were Craig Raymond, Shaler Halimon, Bud Ogden, Al Henry, and Dana Lewis. All busts.

When Henry was selected with the '70 draft's 12th pick, he, like much of the basketball world, was incredulous when he heard the news.

"Don't you mean the first pick in the 12th round?" he asked.

The Flyers. Of all the 1972 teams, only the 1971-72 Flyers seemed headed in the right direction.

Coached by the enigmatic Shero and led by Clarke, a 22-year-dervish from Western Canada, the team flirted with the playoffs despite a 26-38-14 record.

That season's end, though, was a dagger to the heart.

Needing only a tie to advance to the postseason (there was no overtime or shootouts in the regular season back then), the Flyers were even with the Sabres at 2-2 when, with fewer than 10 seconds remaining, Buffalo began a rush.

Former Flyer Gerry Meehan accepted a pass shy of the blue line, took another stride, and, from a spot on the ice forever determined to be 80 feet away, unloaded a desperate shot.

Somehow it eluded Favell. A thunderstruck Clarke dropped to his knees, as if felled by an ax, while Buffalo's fans erupted.

"I was 9," Shero's son, Ray, now Pittsburgh's GM, recalled earlier this year. "I remember I went to school the following day - I was in fourth grade - and I was so down in the dumps. And I walk by some kid who yells, 'Hey, Shero, your old man and Favell blew it!' I knew then I was in Philadelphia."

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, "Giving 'Em Fitz," at www.philly.com/fitz


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