Glimmer of hope for Phillies: 1993

Posted: February 13, 2014

I AM A sporadic pack rat. Which is another way of saying I tend to throw out valuable things and hold on to things of dubious worth.

Near or at the top of this list would be drawer No. 4 in my attic, which houses every Phillies media guide since my hire in 1992.

Back then it was a good idea to hold on to the damn things for historical purposes, but those were the days when the Internet was a futuristic rumor not taken seriously, and the public library was a valued institution and not the focus of a cost-cutting debate. Still, old habits are hard to break.

Much to my surprise, they have proven to be a value recently. Partly because they jog the middle-aged memory, and partly because they contain information that isn't readily available on the various well-used and well-done baseball statistical sites that have sprung like weeds over the years.

As your father probably has told you, the 1993 National League champion Phillies were a surprise team. The everyday lineup was comprised mostly of 30-something veterans obtained via trade and free agency, and a pitching staff full of surprises and overachievement. They were captained by their one homegrown star, Darren Daulton, and bolstered by a surprising rookie named Kevin Stocker, who was called up in July to supply defensive help but hit over .300 for most of the season before a late swoon.

Much has been written about that Phillies team, some of it even factual. Much less has been written about the team that preceded it and the teams that followed it, but if you're looking for a poke of sunlight amid all the ominous clouds surrounding the upcoming season, well, stay right there.

After two seasons of middle-of-the pack losing seasons in 1990 and 1991, the Phillies hit rock bottom in 1992, losing 92 games. After appearing in just 63 games in 1991, Lenny Dykstra played in 85 games that year, and although still just 29, the pervading thought at the time was that his best years were the ones he played in New York.

After playing 153 games and hitting 18 home runs and 33 doubles in 1991, 36-year-old Dale Murphy appeared in just 18 games in 1992, his last with the club.

Their No. 3 starter in 1992, 24-year-old Kyle Abbott, went to the post 19 times that season.

He won once.

Plan? There was a plan?

There were two foreboding breakouts that year. Curt Schilling had started a game just once in three previous seasons with two different clubs before the Phillies obtained him in a minor trade with Houston. Given the chance to start, the 25-year-old went to the post 26 times, completed 10 games and threw four shutouts. He was 14-11 with a 2.35 earned run average.

The other was Rule V pickup Dave Hollins. After hitting .298 in 172 plate appearances the season before, Hollins hit 27 home runs and drove in 93 runs in 1992. But given each player's history to that point, plenty of doubt surrounded either's chance of repeating such a season as the spring of 1993 approached.

There was also plenty of doubt about the Phillies' ability to compete, especially given the pre-luxury tax spending spree other clubs were involved in that offseason. The Braves signed Greg Maddux to a 5-year, $28 million deal. Barry Bonds went from the Pirates to the Giants. Dave Stewart, Andre Dawson, David Cone were just some of the big names who got big money and pushed baseball closer to what, a year later, would become its most debilitating work stoppage yet.

Averaging less than 25,000 fans a game in the already-antiquated Vet and with one of the lesser-paying local television deals, the Phillies did not play with the big boys then. Instead, general manager Lee Thomas worked a few minor deals, acquiring the following over a 2-week stretch in December '92: David West, Pete Incaviglia, Larry Andersen and Milt Thompson.

He previously had traded two guys you've never heard of for 30-year-old Danny Jackson (another guy with age and injury issues) and 1 month later signed Jim Eisenreich, whose battles with Tourette's syndrome cost him two seasons and millions of dollars and chased him from the game for two seasons, and, soon to be 34, made him a risky pickup as well.

Honestly, you think there are too many "ifs" for the 2014 Phillies? The odds of Japan winning Olympic hockey gold in Sochi are probably better than the odds of the Phillies winning the pennant in 1993.

And yet, as they re-assembled for their 20th anniversary last summer, they all said the same thing: They knew they were going to win in the spring of '93. They said it to each other, they believed it, they got off to a hot start that bred even more confidence.

No doubt, you will hear a lot of the same talk beginning tomorrow, when pitchers and catchers are due in Clearwater. You don't have to believe them. Given all the "ifs,'' you'd be crazy to. But you can hope, pray if you like, that Ruben's "Plan'' has the same success rate as the one Lee Thomas put into place 21 years ago.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon


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