Phillies Time Machine: 1964 From Ecstasy To Agony

Ah, the 1964 Phillies. The ‘77 team was more powerful, the ‘80 team more successful, and the ‘93 team more macho. Yet only a few teams in Phillies history evoked passion from fans like the '64 Phillies. "The Year of the Blue Snow", is what Gus Triandos called it. This rare meteoric event brings strange but wonderful occurrences, and that's exactly what it gave the 1964 Phillies - a full display of its wonder for over 5 1/2 months. The 1964 Phillies... this is their story.

It began in July of 1963. A Phillie team, stuck in seventh place with a 31-40 record, suddenly caught fire and the heat lasted the rest of the season. With a finishing kick of 56-35, the Phillies felt that they had turned the corner in 1963 and were ready to compete with the big boys in ‘64. Manager Gene Mauch felt a pennant was not out of the question and confidently predicted 92 wins, a number that would prove prophetically accurate.

Returning stars Johnny Callison, Chris Short, Dennis Bennett, Tony Taylor, Art Mahaffey, and Tony Gonzalez formed the nucleus. With the addition of star right-hander Jim Bunning from the Tigers and exciting rookie, third sacker Richie Allen, this team seemed primed to compete with the likes of the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Cincinnati Reds for a National League Championship.

The 1964 Phillies had the makings of a winning team - strong starting pitching, a resilient and tough bullpen and clutch hitting. And truly, a great year they would have. Led by the clutch hitting of Callison, the power exploits of Allen, and the wonderful pitching of Bunning, Short, Bennett, Mahaffey and righty Ray Culp, the Phils burst out to a fast start, winning 10 of 12. They were winning effortlessly and began to excite the Philly fandom. Could this team win for the city its first pennant since 1950? With a three-game sweep of the Giants in early July, the Phils entered the All-Star break with a 1 1/2 game lead over the second place Giants.

Teams of destiny often display signs of magic and this Phillies team was no exception. A Jim Bunning perfect game on Fathers Day, three triple plays during the season, amazing late inning comebacks and a Callison home run - to win the All-Star game - convinced the team that "The Year of the Blue Snow" was more fact than fable. On July 15, the Phillies defeated the Pirates in Pittsburgh 7-5 to again take over the first place, a spot they would occupy for the next 75 days.

July was an exciting month with several memorable games. A clutch win in Cincinnati when Callison homered in the ninth, and super sub Cookie Rojas catching the bottom of the ninth to preserve the win. Rojas had never before caught a game in the big leagues. An exciting 13-10 extra inning win in Milwaukee when the Phils overcame four deficits to win the game. The game in Philly on a Saturday afternoon when the Phils scored seven runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to nearly catch the Cards, eventually losing 10-9. Needless to say, this game would take on added significance at the end of the season. A thrilling win against the Giants in late July when little used rookie Johnny Briggs doubled off the boards in right field to score two runs in the bottom of the tenth and win a game that seemed lost, 4-3. Of this, champions are made!

When the Phillies acquired right-handed slugger Frank Thomas in early August, the pennant flag seemed destined to fly in Philadelphia in 1964. Suddenly a lineup with sluggers Callison, Allen, Thomas and rookie Alex Johnson seemed capable of scoring runs in bunches. Scores of 9-4, 13-5, 8-1 and 12-5 became commonplace. The lead lengthened to a high of 7 1/2 games in late August. Players like sturdy catcher Clay Dalrymple, middle infielders Taylor, Ruben Amaro and the combination of Bobby Wine and Rojas.... aptly named "The Days of Wine and Rojas"…, muscular outfielder Wes Covington, rookies Johnny Hernstein and Danny Cater and relief pitchers Jack Baldschun, Ed Roebuck, John Boozer, and Bobby Shantz became household names. This was a Phillie team for the ages and creaky old Connie Mack Stadium became the place to be during the Summer of ‘64.

However, Summer turned to Fall and August turned to September, and though the ‘64 Phils went into September with a 78-51 record and a six game lead, there were warning signs ahead; signs that would portend problems. A glance at the schedule indicated that the Phils would have no days off in September, including a double-header on Labor Day. 31 games in 30 days. This taxes any team, and this Phils team was showing some cracks, albeit small ones at first. Pitcher Ray Culp became a forgotten man, Art Mahaffey began to struggle and Dennis Bennett developed arm trouble. Suddenly the deep pitching staff looked a bit depleted.

Then, on September 8, the blue snow started to change color when slugger Frank Thomas broke his finger in a questionable base running move. The Phils once potent offense began to sputter again. Perhaps the most damaging defeat of the whole season occurred on Wednesday, September 10, when the Phils were within one out of a 5-4 win over the onrushing Cardinals. A defeat here, and the following day would just about eliminate them from contention when a Ken Boyer single tied the game. The Cards scored five runs in the eleventh inning and a potential Phils win became a crushing 10-5 loss. This game took on added significance the next day as Short hurled a masterful 5-1 win over the Cards. The Cards had staved off elimination and they knew it.

The Phils embarked on their last long road trip, San Francisco to Houston to Los Angeles. Ten games in ten days, and although the final 6-4 record looked good, again there were warning signs of impending doom. The opening game in Los Angeles when rookie Rick Wise was knocked out in the first inning despite a 3-0 lead, was just a foretaste of the signs. A 6-5 loss to the hapless Houston Colt 45's against Bunning pitching on two days rest, and a Saturday night 4-3 loss in 16 innings when Willie Davis stole home, were unsettling. Yet the Phils flew home the night of September 20 with a 6 1/2 game lead and 12 games to play.

World Series tickets were going on sale, fans were in frenzy and Phillie Fever was the talk of the town. Monday, September 21, was the night Chico Ruiz stole home, and also the night that sent the Phils into a tailspin. This night is intricately etched in the minds of every Phils fan familiar with that team, it was the night that they would never recover from. It was the start of an incredible ten game losing streak from a team that had never lost more than four in a row. No wonder it gets an almost daily encore performance in the minds of some frenetic fans.

Without necessarily replaying in detail events of the ten games, here are some interesting facts about them. In all, the Phils were outscored 66-34. They led in four of the games, and as late as the seventh inning in three of the games. In one particularly sad ending, the Phils entered the ninth inning leading the Braves 4-3 and lost 6-4. To say that everything that could go wrong did go wrong is no understatement.. Errors of commission, errors of omission, bad base running, poor pitching, and just plain bad luck were all mitigating factors. The circumstances behind the pitching of Bunning and Short with two days rest several times during this streak is debated to this day though both pitchers wanted to be on the mound to help stop the streak.

There were heroes during this difficult period. Callison hit four home runs during the ten games, including three in one game. Richie Allen contributed by playing heroically. Memorable was his dash around the bases for an inside the park home run to tie a game against the Braves at 5-5 with two outs in the last inning.

It was always this writer's contention that had the Phils won that game, Allen's dash around the bases would be a favorite hand-me-down story told to Philly schoolchildren, even today. As it was, the Phils eventually lost 7-5 in 12 innings in what Gene Mauch later called "the most exciting game he ever witnessed."

Though the Phils finished the season at 92-70, one game behind the eventual World Series Champion Cardinals, this team should be remembered for its tremendous success, and not for its season ending slump. For 150 games this team provided Phillie fans with excitement, hope and wonderment, a phenomena that has rarely been duplicated. For one summer, this team had the phans under their spell, and captivated a city in a way no other team could. In a period of racial unrest, a city divided became a city united...all in its undying love of their Phillies.

For many of these players, this would be the utopic high point in their careers. Many would never again recapture the magic of that season. If veteran Phillie fans ever contemplate their baseball Camelot, it had to be the Summer of '64, the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, and the "Year of the Blue Snow." Oh what an enchanted time it was!

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