Last of the Whiz Kids

1950 was the first year I followed The Philadelphia Phillies, daily, in the morning and afternoon newspapers.  (Remember them?)  Baseball fans got their money’s worth that year.  The Phils won their 2ndpennant in 68 years.

WHIZKIDS

How did they do it? 14 of the 32 men who played (at least a game) for the Phillies were 25 years old or younger.  Four of their eight position players were among them (and averaged 150+ games in a 154 game schedule).  Four of the six primary starting pitchers were also members of the team, nicknamed “The Whiz Kids” because of their youth.  (see above picture)  Fans looked forward to many years of success from such a young, talented group.  But it was not to be.  We’re talking about Philadelphia sports, remember.  But we did have 1950.

The Phillies stayed at the top of the NL standings all year.  Then came September and their multiple game lead over the League began to deteriorate.  Brooklyn’s “The Boys of Summer” gained on them.  Did anyone expect less?  Robinson, Reese, Snider, Campanella, Cox, Furillo, Hodges, Newcombe, etc. were not going down easily.

With one game in the season remaining, the Phillies held a lead of one game.  The season’s final contest would be played in Brooklyn. Robin Roberts started the game for the Phillies –his third game in a week.  Two youngsters were hurt and the veteran pitchers were not as talented, in spite of their experience.  Roberts, as expected, pitched the entire game –10 innings.  In the bottom of the 9thinning with the game tied , Richie Ashburn (the Phillies center fielder) threw out a runner at the plate.  In the 10th, Dick Sisler –Phils outfielder and son of Hall of Famer, George Sisler—hit a three run homer, and the pennant belonged to the Phillies.

Their reward?  The World Series –against The New York Yankees who were in the second year of what turned out to be a 5 consecutive year Championship run.  Joe DiMaggio was still available, not quite ready to turn Center Field over to Mickey Mantle.  Yogi Berra was behind the plate catching a wonderful pitching staff.  Their fourth best pitcher would pitch game four  He was a rookie: Whitey Ford.

The Phillies staff was hurt, tired, or relatively inexperienced.  For game one, Manager Eddie Sawyer –with Roberts too tired to go—chose a relief pitcher to start the game.  He had seen the pitcher in the minors and brought him to the Phillies. (More about his year later.)  The Yankees got one run.  Final score:  Yankees 1, Phillies 0.

Game two featured Robin Roberts starting, tired or not.  He held the Yankees to one run –until DiMaggio hit a home run.  Final score: Yankees 2, Phillies 1.

For game 3, Ken Heintzelman, an 11 year vet, started for the Phillies.  In 1949, he had won 17 games.  In 1950, he won 3.  Maybe he had enough gas left in the tank.  For the better part of 8 innings, he did.  But in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees scored.  Final  Score: Yankees 3, Phillies 2.

For game 4, manager Sawyer was forced to use a rookie, Bob Miller, who had a fine season, winning 11 games.  He lasted one third of an inning.  DiMaggio and Berra drove in 3 of the Yankees five runs.  The Phillies were shutout until the ninth.  Final Score = Yankees 5, Phillies 2.  The Yankees swept the Series.

Konstanty

While outclassed in the Series, how did the Phillies win 91 games and the NL pennant?  The Whiz Kids’ youth was in their favor.  Plus, they had Jim Konstanty. (see above)  He was a minor league pitcher brought to the majors by Phillies manager, Eddie Sawyer, in 1949.  He threw a slider and a change up (which he sometimes called a palm ball).  He threw a fastball, too, but “they hit that”, he said. In 1950, Konstanty was the NL’s MVP, the first reliever ever so honored.  Why?  He pitched in 74 games and totaled 152 innings pitched.  Those are not misprints.  In 1950, relievers were brought in to finish a game.  And there’s more.  His ERA was 2.66.  He won 16 games and saved 22.  He helped the Phillies win 38 of their 91 victories.  That accounted for over 40 % of their wins.

 

RR + RA

And the Phils had 2 Hall of Famers on their side.  Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn. (see above)  Roberts’ 20 wins in 1950 were followed by 5 more consecutive 20 win seasons.  In 1952, he had a season for the ages. Something the Phillies wouldn’t see again until Stave Carlton arrived.  His accomplishments in that year?  A record of 28 – 7, with an ERA of 2.59, pitching in 39 games, 30 of them COMPLETE games, and totaling 330 Innings Pitched.  In the Phillies’ 136 year existence, only Carlton and Pete Alexander put up numbers like Roberts.

And the Philles, in 1950, had Richie Ashburn, as well.  Yes, there was Willie, Mickey, and The Duke in the ‘50s.  But Ashburn should not be forgotten.  He caught 400+ fly balls in more years than the other 3 HOFers combined. And he hit, too.  Even when he played for the Mets when they arrived in NYC. He hit .300+ 9 times.  And thanks to his ability to draw walks, he had a .400+ OBP 5 times.  Twice he won the batting title: in 1955, he hit .338 –better than Mays and Stan Musial; in 1958, he hit .350 –again better than Mays and Musial.

Waitkus

And they, also, had “The Natural” playing first base.  No, not Robert Redford; the real one.  The man who, in 1949, was shot in a hotel room in Chicago and was (along with Bobby Thomson) the inspiration for the book.  Eddie Waitkus (see above)was his name.  A year after his “accident”, in 1950, playing for the Phillies, he appeared in 154 games, hit .284, and (thanks to his walks) got on base 237 times and scored 102 runs.

So, there you have it: thanks to a  parade of youngsters, Konstanty, Roberts, Ashburn, Waitkus, and a few others –32 men played for the Phillies in 1950– they  were a Pennant winner…and they would be again (in 30 years).

Now for the sad part. Thirty of the thirty-two Whiz Kids now reside on the wrong side of the grass.   Only 2 are still with us.  They are the Last of their teammates.  So, a bit must be said about them.  Curt Simmonswon 17 games for the Phillies in 1950 (as a 21 year old)  –and could have won more, but the military needed him in early September for a conflict in Korea.  Plus, he also missed all of 1951.  But starting in 1952, he returned to MLB and played 16 more years.  He won 164 more games.  Plus, in 1964, as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, along with Bob Gibson, his team  defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Curt’s teammate in Philadelphia., Bob Miller, a winner of 11 games in 1950, returned to the Phillies and pitched 8 more years.  He won another 31 games.

Now, Curt, at age 89 and Bob, at age 92, deserve a moment of your time to show  appreciation for what they did for the Phillies in their youth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About rcarmean

Two things... First, why have I decided to establish this blog? I like to put essays together. I research an idea or topic looking for information, statistics, stories, quotes, pictures, etc. I enjoy the process and seeing a finished product. I’m told that as I get older, new activities can help maintain energy and keep my brain alert. In other words, I am not doing this for money or fame. Second, regarding the gentleman in the collage of pictures above...it's not me. Those are photos of Christy Mathewson. Why him? When I was young, my primary activity was being sick. It took up much of my time. Eczema (a case so bad I was written up in a medical journal showing doctors what their patients COULD look like), asthma, and allergies. You know allergies: don’t eat this, don’t wear that, and, for Heaven’s sake, don’t touch any of these things (eg, dogs, cats, horses --I only saw horses in cowboy movies and TV shows, dust, swimming pools, my brother --OK, that’s an exaggeration, Rick was a fine brother). In my spare time between doctors' appointments, pills, and ointments, baseball kept me sane. In the 1940s and 1950s, when I grew up, pro footballI and basketball had not yet become extremely popular. Baseball truly was “the national pastime.” I listened to games on the radio (remember it? TV without the picture). I read magazines, books, and newspaper accounts of games. I collected baseball cards. I learned about the game’s history, as well as present. The same with its stars. One man stood out: Christy Mathewson. He was a great pitcher for the New York Giants in the early 20th century. But there was much more to him. At a time when professional athletes made little money (yes, there was such a time) and ball players were considered on the same level as actors, artists, and prostitutes, Mathewson stood out. One of his nicknames was: “The Christian Gentleman.” Most men is baseball drank, smoked, cursed, and fought —with other players, umpires, and fans. The fights were physical, not just verbal. Mathewson did none of these things. But he earned the respect of other players who did them all. Even Ty Cobb and John McGraw. There’s more. He was a college graduate (Bucknell University) when most men were lucky to have a high school diploma. He played other sports, including pro football which you wouldn’t recognize. He was handsome. He played in New York City, then as now, the largest city in the country. Excellence and popularity there meant fame and money. He dressed well. Today, his commercials would rival LeBron’s. And, finally, a hero’s life must have tragedy. After his playing career ended, WWI arrived. He suffered from influenza and was exposed to mustard gas. Chemical warfare. His lungs were damaged and he required treatment for the rest of his life. (Like my Grandfather who also fought in The Great War.) He died in 1925. He was 45 years old. I have his picture here because you need to know more about him than me. He was what an athlete could be. Players like him and their accomplishments got me through a sickly, painful childhood and can still sustain me in difficult times. *****
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