The Greatest Phillies Season of All

Posted: August 02, 2013

WITH THE (probable) exception of the births of my two daughters, no moment in my lifetime was more exciting, joyous and just plain wonderful than when the sainted Tug McGraw punched out the Kansas City Royals' Willie Wilson to lock down the Phillies' first World Series championship at 11:29 p.m. on Oct. 21, 1980.

By then, I had lived through the epic collapse of the '64 team, Black Friday in the '77 playoffs against the Dodgers, the fly ball the virtually infallible Garry Maddox failed to grab a year later against the Dodgers and other psychic scar-leaving moments that are part and parcel of being a lifelong Phillies fan.

So by age 24, I was firmly convinced I'd never live to see the words "Phillies" and "world champions" in the same sentence. (Unless that sentence was: "The Phillies will never be world champions.")

And I am not ashamed to admit that, 33 years later, I still get a lump in my throat whenever I see a replay of Wilson's futile swing. Nonetheless, there is no question as to which year's Phillies squad is my personal favorite. That honor goes to the 1993 team - and it isn't even close.

Sure, that season ended horribly in the most dramatic fashion baseball has to offer: a walkoff three-run homer by Toronto's Joe Carter that quite possibly cost the Phillies their second world crown. But that happened in what is commonly known as the postseason. For regular-season thrills and chills, not to mention pure entertainment, the '93 squad reigns supreme.

That Greatest Season of All started with an absolutely insane guarantee made by a member of the local sports punditocracy who, that March, insisted the Phillies were a stone-cold lock to win the NL East, despite their last-place finish in 1992.

The argument, which included the 13 and 12 games scheduled respectively with the first-year Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies, had some merit. But still . . . first place? After all, this was a team that had no clearly established ace (although newly acquired lefty Danny Jackson was pegged for that role); a closer, Mitch Williams, whose nickname, "Wild Thing," hardly inspired confidence; and a roster spearheaded by (the apparently juiced) centerfielder Lenny Dykstra, and populated by a bunch of retreads and journeyman including shortstop Mariano Duncan and outfielders Pete Incaviglia and Jim Eisenreich, who famously played despite having Tourette's syndrome.

But then the season started with a three-game sweep of the Astros in Houston that launched the Phillies into the stratosphere. After 50 games, they were 35-15 and, except for a brief, midseason hiccup that made things a little interesting, they never looked back. But it wasn't just the victories that proved so appealing. It was how they were accomplished and by whom.

It seemed every game had a different hero. If Duncan - who never had more than 12 home runs in a season - wasn't hitting a game-clinching grand slam against the Cardinals' fearsome closer, Lee Arthur Smith (the Mariano Rivera of his day), second baseman Mickey Morandini was making an impossible catch on a line drive and completing a win-saving doubleplay against the Dodgers.

Then there was the morning of July 3, at precisely 4:41 a.m., when Williams ended some 12 hours of rain-delayed doubleheader baseball with a walkoff hit against the Padres (my wife and I stayed up to see it on TV). And just 5 days later came a 20-inning win over the Dodgers that Dykstra ended dramatically with a two-out, two-run, ground-rule double.

There was also a theretofore lowly regarded righthander named Curt Schilling who that season blossomed into one of the game's most dominating pitchers.

On the field, these guys embodied the ideal we Philadelphians have of ourselves. They did their jobs day after day, giving no quarter and asking none, leaving nothing on the field (it seemed every game ended with the position players' uniforms covered in dust, dirt and pine tar), and reveling in their lunch-pail efforts. Off the field, they could be found on "Macho Row," the area of the clubhouse where veterans Dykstra, Darren Daulton, John Kruk and Dave Hollins drank beer and talked baseball for hours on end.

Not that they were warm-and-fuzzy types. Led by their hot-headed manager, Jim Fregosi - who once during a radio interview suggested those who listen to the station enjoy carnal relations with their sisters while the on-air hosts do the same with their mothers - the '93 Phils, by and large, were a prickly lot, surly and inhospitable to fans and reporters alike. But they were also colorful throwbacks to the days when baseball was far more of a blood-and-guts affair, and players weren't the mollycoddled hothouse flowers they are today.

They were, in aggregate, a bunch of semi-anonymous misfits who ostensibly had no chance to succeed, but who did so in a most entertaining and endearing manner. And that, in their own weird way, made them absolutely lovable.

In the ensuing two decades, the Phillies returned to being a pretty lousy team, and then entered the greatest era (2007-11) in the franchise's sometimes illustrious, mostly ghastly, history.

And as I do for the 1980 squad, I will always have a special place in my Phillies-loving heart for the Howard-Utley-Rollins teams of that golden age. But even their World Series win in 2008 fails to put them, in my estimation, in the same class as the '93 team.

So, here's to Dutch and Krukker and Mitchy Poo and Inky and all the rest of those shaggy, mean-spirited overachievers who provided me and my fellow phanatics with the greatest Phillies season of all.

Daily News features writer Chuck Darrow is in his 50th season as a Phillies fan.

On Twitter: @chuckdarrow


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