Phillies Time Machine: 1962 - Back From The Abyss

When Phillie phanatics get together to talk about some memorable teams from the past, few will give more than a passing glance to 1962. Oh, they will speak in glowing terms of '80, '93, '77, even speak wistfully about 1964. All true enough and teams that make every Phillie fan smile. Yet, I submit to you that the greatest turnaround in Philadelphia Phillies history was made by the 1962 team - they literally came back from the abyss to win 81 games that year.

Never has a Phillie team come so far in so short a period...a whopping improvement of 34 games over the 1961 team. For those not around to witness the carnage, the ‘61 team, managed by young Gene Mauch, was among the worst of all time, to the tune of a 47-107 record, a 23 game losing streak, and a lineup that consisted of such less than luminaries as Joe Koppe, Choo Choo Coleman and Bobby DelGreco. But out of the ashes of ‘61 came a team on the rise, a team of youngsters like Johnny Callison, Art Mahaffey, Tony Taylor and Chris Short and a great leader in Mauch.

Though no one knew it at the time, the pain of ‘61 would lead to the gain in ‘62. The 1962 team did add some talent over the winter. Slugger Roy Sievers was acquired from Chicago, Cal McLish came in and stabilized a young staff, and rookies Ted Savage, Bobby Wine, Dennis Bennett and Jack Hamilton all contributed greatly. And, then of course, there was the addition of two new teams, the NY Mets and the Houston Colt 45's.

That the Phils used this to their advantage is an understatement, a whopping 30 wins and 6 losses against those two expansion franchises. Nevertheless the ‘62 team won on merit, they had four players with 20 or more home runs, Callison, Sievers, Don Demeter and Tony Gonzalez. They had a slick double play combination in second sacker Tony Taylor and shortstop duo Ruben Amaro and Bobby Wine. Clay Dalrymple was a sturdy young catcher who hit .276 and called a Mauch game nearly perfectly. The bench was sure and swift with such contrasting parts as the slugging Wes Covington and the mercurial Savage. Frank Torre, older brother to the more famous Joe, came in and hit .310 as a part time player. All-Star Art Mahaffey, he of the crackling fastball and stunning pickoff move, led the pitching staff.

Mahaffey's 19 wins would anchor a rotation of McLish (11-5), Hamilton (9-12), Short (11-9) and a cocky young lefty, Dennis Bennett, who would join the team in June and go on to win nine games. The bullpen stalwart was screwball delivering righty, Jack Baldschun, he of the unhittable scroogy and seemingly rubber arm. Dallas Green, Paul Brown and Billy Smith joined him. With an 81-80 record, this team was among the more interesting Phillie teams in nearly a decade, as they hit with power, ran the bases with aplomb and generally carried on with the attitude of their feisty manager, Gene Mauch.

This team had several highlights, among of which were an all .300 hitting outfield of Callison (.300), Gonzalez (.302) and Demeter (.307), four players with over 20 home runs, as mentioned, a solid everyday lineup, and the Manager of the Year in Mauch. In fact, this was the team that would begin to revive baseball in Philadelphia. A team on the edge of forever had actually clawed its way back to respectability in only one year. The turnaround was remarkable, yet not finished. For the remnants of this team would, with a few added players, be the cornerstone for the near magical pennant run in 1964.

If there were any regrets to this season, it may have been the finish. After clinching an over .500 record with their 81st win of the season, the team lost their final five games and Mauch later commented that he wished he had never predicted 81 wins. In his words, it was as if the team reached the goal and stopped playing. An added finishing disappointment was the failure of Mahaffey to get his 20th win.... in all, he failed in his final four starts to achieve the magic 20 mark.

Yet, these were but mere blemishes in a truly amazing season, when the ashes began to turn to flames...the story of the 1962 Phillies.

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