If ever a nickname fit appropriately the personality of a player, it was the nickname Mikey, given by Darren Dualton to retiring ex-Phillie third baseman Dave Hollins. You see, Hollins was among the most intense and aggressive players to ever wear a Phillies uniform. And though his star shone brightly for only briefly, it shone brightest to one of the most beloved Phillie teams of all time - the pennant winning 1993 group of misfits that stole the hearts of Phillie fans everywhere. The same team also nearly stole the World Series from the favored Toronto Blue Jays. But that would be getting ahead of us. How Hollins came to be a Phillie and how his career unfolded is story enough for now.
The December Rule 5 drafting of minor league players has been cruel to the Phillies. Losses of such players as former star George Bell and current American League youngsters Derrick Turnbow (in the Angels system) and Miguel Ascencio of the Royals are testaments to the misfortune that has struck the Phillies in this draft. However, the Phillies cannot claim to have never struck gold, for in December of 1989 the Phillies happily announced the drafting of two players - highly touted outfielder Sil Campusano of Toronto and the lightly publicized Dave Hollins of the Padres. Though most felt Campusano the better prospect, the Phils were drawn to the intensity and fire that burned in Hollins. They decided to keep him on the ‘90 roster instead of returning him to the Padres, and this was a move that would prove to have major ramifications in short order. Oh, not right away.... Hollins was young and green and so the Phils picked their spots for him in ‘90 and he responded with 5 HR in less than 150 at bats, albeit with a .184 average.
Hollins' true coming out party began in the Spring of 1992 when he was given the third base job by manager Jim Fregosi. Although this was an injury-wrecked season, stalwarts in the likes of Lenny Dykstra and pitcher Jose Dejesus were lost on opening day, an exploit difficult to stomach. Promising signs from coming contenders loomed ahead. Pitchers Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling and Ben Rivera pitched solidly, catcher Dutch Daulton led the league in RBI, first baseman John Kruk was a veritable hitting machine.... and a young third baseman named Dave Hollins, aka Mikey, seemed to be establishing himself as a rising star.
The Phillies have been blessed with many outstanding third basemen, including Richie Allen, Scott Rolen and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. To put Hollins in this category would be unfair.... and untrue. His career as a Phillie seemingly ended before it even began. Indeed, he was gone for almost two years after his heroic '93 season. For a couple of seasons, he was more than good enough - and more than good enough was an understatement for the 1993 version of Mikey.
There have been more talented Philie teams than the band of frolicking misfits that composed the '93 Phillies. Indeed, the ‘77 team was more powerful, the ‘64 team more resourceful, the 1980 team more successful. But for pure unadulterated joy and love of the game and how to play it zestfully, this team was beyond comparison. Oh, they were good - Kruk, Daulton, Dykstra, Pete Incaviglia, Wes Chamberlain, Jim Eisenreich, Mickey Morandini, Kevin Stocker, Mariano Duncan and Hollins formed a lineup that could scare any pitcher. A staff of Mulholland, Schilling, Rivera, Tommy Greene and Danny Jackson was as good as any five-man staff the Phils have EVER had. A bullpen of David West, current Phillie announcer Larry Anderson and Mitch "The Wild Thing" Williams, was versatile, strong and deep. But it was more the WAY they played the game that so caused a nation to fall in love with this team.
As popular as this team was, you could win many a trivial pursuit game by asking a person to name the clean up hitter on this team. No doubt Kruk, Daulton and Incaviglia would dominated the talk, but it was Hollins who batted smack dab in the fourth spot, and this was a spot he occupied all year. And what a year he had. Oh, forget the 18 home runs and 93 RBI. Think nothing of his only All-Star appearance, and the double he got in that game. Relegate the solid batting average and powerful arm to the back of the line. No, it was the intensity he brought to the team that made Hollins' 93 season utterly meaningful.
Tough? You want tough? Hollins had been playing with a painful bone bruise on his hand and refused to have it x-rayed, probably because he knew what it would show. Finally, he relented and was told it was a broken hamate bone. This may not be a problem for the average citizen, but for a baseball player, this is a serious injury. Indeed, slugger Bob Hoerner of the Braves was never the same after breaking his hamate bone. Hollins was told it would be a minimum of six weeks before he could play again, and that was considered optimistic.
Hollins was out for sixteen days! He commented upon his return that although he knew he might not be as effective, the team needed him for his consistent effort. You see, Hollins was a rare hitter, a player equally adept hitting from both sides of the plate, a rarity in a switch hitter. This made the middle of the Phillies order so difficult to pitch to, and Hollins knew it. This show of courage gave his teammates both admiration and love for Mikey. Though the injury slowed him somewhat, it was hardly noticeable. His five game winning home runs led the team. He scored over 100 runs and continued to keep box seat fans on the first base side of the dugout loose with his rapid fire, but terribly erratic arm. Along the way, he helped the Phillies win a pennant. Indeed, his two-run homerun in game six of the NL playoffs against Greg Maddux of the Braves, proved the eventual game winner in a 6-3 triumph that catapulted the upstart Phillies into the '93 World Series.
Unfortunately, Hollins is most remembered in the World Series for a play he didn't make, and a play he couldn't have made. This was the beginning of the downside of Hollin's Phillie career. As solid as he was at stopping most ground balls, it was a ground ball by Paul Molitor that handcuffed him - and was ruled an error - that contributed to the six run eighth inning rally in game four and ultimate 15-14 loss. Most defended Hollins and said it was a tough play, but in typical Hollins fashion, he refused to alibi and said it was a play that had to be made, and wasn't.
As memorable as this play was, a more meaningful play awaited Hollins and the Phillies only days later in Tororto. This was game six, with the Blue Jays one win from a World Series triumph and the Phils determined to get to game seven, and World Series stalwart Danny Jackson ready for action. And it appeared this would happen as a five run Phillie rally in the seventh inning led to a 6-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. Almost any Phillie fan can tell you where they were when Joe Carter struck his World Series winning blow with one out in the bottom of that ninth inning. I was nervously walking around the block, literally unable to watch an erratic Mitch Williams try to push the Phillies to Game seven. It was as if I could not grasp such a remarkable year ending in such a tragic way, and by avoiding the issue, perhaps it would go away. But go away, it did not, and as anyone who studies Carter dancing around third base can attest, it was not Hollins, leaving the field, but Kim Batiste, inserted for his defense, while Hollins sat nervously on the bench, hoping for a Game seven, a game that was never to come. In so many ways, this ending now seems appropriate for this group of wonderful, willful Phillies.
Indeed, it was as if this group had struck a Faustian deal with the devil that year, so many attained heights they would never reach again. Williams, after surrendering one too many home runs, was almost literally run out of town, and was gone before spring. Mulholland was traded to the Yankees, Greene and Rivera developed arm problems, Kruk and Daulton battled and overcame cancer. Dykstra, Chamberlain, Incavilgia, Batiste and Duncan never again attained the heights they achieved that season, and only Schilling could really attest to 1993 as the start of something big in his career.
As for Hollins, the descent was swift and definite. He suffered an injury wrecked ‘94 season, shortened by the strike, and by mid 1995, after one too many boos and catcalls from a now frustrated Phillie fan base, Hollins was traded in mid August to Boston for a mild mannered power hitting outfielder named Mark Whiten. On a personal note, I was in Boston that day, ironically to watch the Red Sox, with a trip to Philadelphia scheduled for the next day. I never got to see Hollins in a Red Sox uniform but I was there for Whiten's debut, a successful one in a victory over the Astros. Fans at the Vet seemed pleased with the trade, although history would record that Hollins was everything that Whiten was not, intense, high strung and combative. A piece of the Phillies soul left the team the day Hollins was traded, and perhaps it was that piece that Manager Larry Bowa was trying to put back together when he seemed almost stubborn in allowing Hollins to attempt a comeback with the Phillies. That it failed is not a blemish on anyone involved, that it was allowed to happen is perhaps poetic justice for a player who always left everything he had on the field.
That Hollins has announced his retirement now leads to speculation about his next career. Rumors of a coaching birth with the Phillies, though unsubstantiated, make sense, as players such as Pat Burrell and Marlon Anderson, give Hollins much credit for their progress as major league players.
Whatever the future holds for Hollins, it behooves us to give him three cheers as he celebrates his 37th birthday this Sunday, May 25. And though he may not smile, rest assured that if he could speak to you he probably would say, "he likes it, Mikey really likes it!"
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