Phillies Time Machine: 1961 - Rock Bottom

The numbers are almost staggering yet well deserved. 60 games BELOW .500! A future Hall of Fame pitcher with a 1-10 record. Players named ChooChoo and Pancho. And a record breaking 23 game losing streak.

There have been worse teams in history than the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies.....but not many. If ever a team earned its record on merit itwas the 1961 Phillies. They were not lazy, neither dispirited nor undisciplined. They played every game as hard as they could. Led by a young manager, Gene Mauch, they always competed to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, in 1961 that was the problem. This team had very little ability.

In truth, they were a mixture of players like Robin Roberts, Jim Owens, Frank Sullivan and Bobby Malkmus who were near the end of their careers and players like Art Mahaffey, Johnny Callison, Tony Taylor and Chris Short, youngsters just getting their feet wet.

The Phillies final record of 47-107 was so bad that they finished over 20 games behind the seventh place team. That they never gave up was a tribute to the managerial abilities of Mauch because playing on this club must have tested everyone's resolve. To be sure, there were some positive developments to discuss.

In tall right-hander, Art Mahaffey, the Phils had a pitcher capable of winning on any given day. Indeed, his 11-19 record was a very solid record for this club and there was that game in April when Mahaffey struck out 17 Chicago Cubs in a 6-0 win. The Phillies had also drafted two players out of the minors who would not only contribute to this team, but coming teams of greater renown.

Catcher Clay Dalrymple and relief pitcher Jack Baldschun both showed talent, if inexperience that season, but with the experience would come a chance to display that talent. In fact, ten players from this team....Dalrymple, Baldschun, Callison, Mahaffey, Taylor, Short, Ruben Amaro, Wes Covington, Tony Gonzalez and Dallas Green would later play for the ill-fated 1964 team.

One cannot speak of the '61 Phillies without discussing "The Streak". The sheer numbers numb the mind - 23 straight losses – and over three weeks without one single win! Ironically, the same pitcher that won the game before the streak began, ended the streak more than 3 weeks later. His name was Johnny Buzhardt. And he, like Mahaffey, was actually a fairly talented young righty.

On the night of July 28, he defeated the San Francisco Giants 4-3. Little did he or any of the Philies realize that it would not be until the second game of a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Braves on August 20 that the Phils would win again. Twenty three straight losses.. Seventeen of the losses came on the road, and eight losses were by one run. Mauch would later call it the bottom for his team.... and the period when his players truly came together as a team.

Finally, on the night of August 20, the Phillies won a getaway game 7-4. What occurred next fills Phillie fans with pride even today. As the forlorn Phils arrived home that evening, a large crowd was at the airport to greet their heroes. It was an incredible gesture of love and affection for this team. The fans understood that this team, far from being hopeless, was a team worth adopting as their own. Callison was no longer an ex-White Sox.....he was a Phillie. Taylor was no longer an ex-Cub.....he was a Phillie. Gonzalez was no longer an ex-Redleg...he was a Phillie.

Out of the wreckage of a losing streak that still stands today would come a team that would nearly steal a pennant three years later. As mentioned the team was an odd assembly of grizzled veterans and wet-behind-the-ears youngsters. The starting pitching staff consisted of veterans Robin Roberts (1-10), Frank Sullivan (3-16), Art Mahaffey (11-19), Jim Owens (5-10), Chris Short (6-12) and Johnny Buzhardt (6-18).

The bullpen was manned by lefty Don Ferrarese (5-12), and righties Dallas Green (2-4) and rookie Jack Baldschun (5-3). The lineup didhave some talent, albeit young. Johnny Callison would show promise with 11 triples, Tony Gonzalez in CF hit almost .280 and other everyday regulars included Don Demeter, Pancho Herrera, Tony Taylor, Ruben Amaro and Charlie Smith.

The bench consisted of Clay Dalrymple, Wes Covington, Bobby Malkmus, Lee Walls, Bobby DelGreco and Ken Walters. And then there was catcher Choo Choo Coleman. His name did lend comic relief to the team, though his .128 average would be nothing to laugh at. Fortunately, he would be gone soon enough, drafted by a fledling team called the Metropolitans, based in New York. They would eventually be called the Mets and along with the Houston Colt 45's would bring the National League to ten teams.

Ironically, out of the ashes of ‘61 would come a plan that Mauch would put in place to insure that the Phils would never again endure a season like 1961. He made his goal three fold. He would build his team around a nucleus of Callison, Demeter,Taylor, Gonzalez, Mahaffey, Short, Baldschun and Dalrymple. He would rid the team of players who either had seen better days (Roberts, Sullivan, Owens) or would never see better days (Herrera, Walters, Malkmus and DelGreco). And, he would concentrate on building a team that could beat the Mets and Colt 45's on a regular basis.

It is a tribute to Mauch's vision and resourcefulness that all three plans came to fruition. The nucleus remained intact to form a solid team. The players that were let go, other than Roberts, never really surfaced anywhere else successfully. And in 1962, the Phillies beat the Mets and Colt 45's in an astounding 33 of 36 games. Of this, great turnarounds take place. But that is a story for 1962.

The story of the 1961 Phillies was a story unto itself, a story of flounder, futility and finality.....the final chapter in an era of lost hopes, lost dreams, and many lost games.

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