After the heartbreak of 1964, Phillie fans and players had high hopes for 1965. The nucleus of Johnny Callison, Richie Allen, Jim Bunning and Chris Short were back, and bolstered by reinforcements like pitchers Bo Belinsky, Ray Herbert and slugging first baseman Dick Stuart, not so affectionately called "Dr. Strangeglove." The nickname was in reference to his disaffection for the defensive part of the game. But Stuart was not acquired for his glove, it was his electrically charged power bat the Philies were after. They virtually salivated at the thought of Allen, Callison and Stuart terrorizing pitchers from the middle of the order.
The only problem with the acquisition of Stuart was that it left a real fan favorite, Frank Thomas, without a position. Thomas, who had nearly helped carry the 1964 Phillies to a pennant after his arrival in August, would have to be satisfied with an occasional pinch-hitting appearance. Undoubtedly, this did not set well with him, though he said little. Make no mistake about one thing, though. Thomas was very much loved by the Phillie phandom, and this love would play a major role with what would transpire on July 3.
Although the Phillies started slowly in ‘65, Richie Allen was playing brilliantly. This writer has said on more than one occasion that the Allen of 1964 and early 1965, was the greatest Phillie player I have witnessed on a ball diamond. His legacy was growing with each tape measure home run and at only 23 years of age, the sky seemed the limit. However, despite Allen's heroics his team was struggling and it appeared that the magic of ‘64 was gone forever.
In late June, the Phillies found themselves in fourth place, eight games behind the resurgent Los Angeles Dodgers, with a hugely disappointing 34-34 record. Suddenly, things turned around in a wonderful week of great pitching, timely hitting and clutch plays by Allen, Callison and Stuart. As the Phillies prepared to meet the Cinncinati Redlegs at Connie Mack Stadium on the night of July 3, the Phillies on the heals of a brilliant six game winning streak, were now perched within 3-1/2 games of the Dodgers. At 40-34 the Phils seemed primed to make their run to the top of the NL. What was about to transpire next would be discussed, dissected and digested.... with stories that have evolved as gospel, though they were not based on fact, but probably the baseball's fans version of the "Telephone" game.
That these stories hurt Allen beyond imagination will be left for the reader to decide. That it changed the course of Philadelphia Phillies history is beyond doubt. There are few things more enjoyable for a professional ballplayer than pre game batting practice. The carefree banter that goes on between teammates and opponents alike is cherished and honored. Players routinely tease and chastise other players and this ritual is respected and understood by all players. But on this particular night, Thomas began needling Allen in ways that were not understood, nor appreciated by Allen. Though the full text of the discussion was never revealed there were rumors that the needling had racial overtones. Allen, an African-American, did not appreciate the tone of Thomas's needling and said so. He challenged Thomas, who is white, to come at him and Thomas obliged and hit Allen on the shoulder with a bat.
The fight did not last long but the damage was done. In full view of an early arriving crowd, Allen and Thomas, two teammates and heroes from the ‘64 club, had come to blows. Although it ended as quickly as it had begun, what was to transpire in the game would be told and retold to this very day
The Phillies, flush with success and on the crest of a six game winning streak, had veteran Ray Herbert opposing fireballer Sammy Ellis. In a tight, taut game, both Allen and Thomas would play major roles. The early innings saw the game seesaw and as the game reached the bottom of the seventh inning, the score stood 4-4 when Thomas was called on to pinch hit with two runners on base. Allen had already homered that evening and played well. What took place next is the event that to this day has inspired the tales of the Telephone game that was presented at the beginning of this piece.
In true storybook fashion, Thomas delivered his first home run of the season, a three run blast to give the Phillies a 7-4 lead. Sadly, it would prove to be his first...and last home run as a Phillie in 1965. Surely, this story was meant for Hollywood and to this day, Phillie historians retell it and Thomas's game winning three-run home run. It is not only mentioned twice in the incredibly informative Phillies Encyclopedia, but also in several books and articles written about that night and that season. It is accepted as fact...like a Telephone story. Sadly, it is not true.
Thomas did indeed hit the dramatic home run, and a game lost suddenly seemed a game won. Surely the Phillies would take heart from the efforts of Allen and Thomas and win their seventh in a row. However, fact is sometimes stranger than fiction and the game would not end with a Thomas home run...but a Cinncinati rally, in the top of the eighth inning. The Reds struck for four runs to take an 8-7 lead. To their credit, the Phillies fought back and tied it 8-8 in the bottom of the inning. However, in the ninth the Reds pushed across two more runs, and lefty Bill McCool saved the 10-8 win for the Reds with a scoreless bottom of the ninth.
Though the game was dramatic by itself, the fight was the major story on all the papers the following day. What followed is again subject to conjecture because none of the parties was allowed to publicly discuss the event. However, the Phillies made a very public pronouncement of their loyalties in the matter by announcing the removal of Thomas from the team. Again, history tells a story of Thomas being released. As with the story of the game winning home run, this story is false.
In actuality, the Phillies removed Thomas from the roster and sold him to the Houston Colt 45's a week later on July 10. Because of the silence regarding the events that took place prior, Phillie fandom was cornered to choose sides, and the popular Thomas appeared to be the likely fall guy. That people sided with him, and against Allen may offer a clue why the Thomas game winning home run has withstood the test of time.
For Allen, the honeymoon in Philadelphia was officially over. Booed unmercifully, and not allowed to tell his side of the story, he became withdrawn, defensive and, ultimately antagonistic to his team, manager and his city. What looked like a Cinderella story turned into a tragedy as Allen and management clashed for several years before he was traded after the 1969 season. Though he did continue to wield a magic bat during the years between ‘65-‘69, Allen never again displayed the utter child like joy of being a ballpayer, a characteristic he freely exhibited before July 3, 1965.
As for Thomas, he played unspectacularly at Houston and finished his career in 1966. He never again rose to the heights of his dramatic play of 1964 when he seemed bent on helping the Phillies to a pennant. His popularity in Philadelphia remained strong and to this day, is spoken of softly by Phillie fans for his efforts.
Allen did return to the City of Brotherly Love in 1975 and helped the club to an Eastern Division crown in 1976. However, by the time he returned to the cheers of a forgiving crowd, he was clearly not the electrifying player that has made a stand up triple into a work of art during his first stint with the Fightins.
That this story is factual, yet fancy-full and conjecture-filled is beyond dispute. Many still insist that had July 3, 1965 never taken place, Allen would now be enshrined at Cooperstown in the Hall of Fame, wearing a P on his cap. He was that good.
That his story took a wandering from city to city was ironic because the fight that inspired this wandering was fought with a man who played on several teams himself. That these two men later made up and became solid friends is a tribute to both and their strength of character.
That the future of the Philadelphia Phillies dramatically changed after July 3 was not a secret. The ‘65 season floundered after July 3, and the team finished a disappointing 85-76. Future teams were being built around the talents of Allen, but his continued distancing from the team played havoc with their efforts to contend in the late ‘60's.
Finally, the story of that game, played against the backdrop of the infamous fight, and featuring Thomas as a game winning hero - is ironic. For like the Ruthian legends of famous home runs called and home runs hit, the legend of a Frank Thomas game winning home run on his last night as a Phillie remains alive today.... although the game thought won, was ultimately irretrievably lost, 10-8!
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