Phillies Time Machine: 1952

With the miserable 1951 season behind them, the Phillies set out to show that they meant business in 1952. Coming into spring training, the players were told that there were going to be changes made in camp. Phillies spring training was going to be all business and the Phillies let it be known that there were changes being made. From now on, the Phillies were baseball and nothing but baseball. Did it work?

The only thing that the Phillies had to show for the 1951 season was Richie Ashburn. A team that won the pennant in 1950 finished 23 ½ games out of first in 1951. The Phillies front office thought that the players had adopted too much of a playful, disrespectful attitude and set out to make changes that would put the Phillies back to the top of the baseball world in 1952. It was known as the "Philadelphia Phillies Austerity Program". Basically, it meant that the season was to be work and nothing but work.

Spring training opened with the players told that there would be no swimming, no golf or other pleasures that players had come to enjoy in spring training. The team went so far as to ban cars and wives from their training camp. Like college guys looking to have fun, many players smuggled in cars and wives and snuck out for a quick round of golf or a quick swim. Those who didn't – and many who did – just became unhappier and even rebellious.

Eddie Sawyer acquired second baseman Connie Ryan and catcher Smoky Burgess from Cincinnati, but gave up Andy Seminick and Dick Sisler in the deal. Curt Simmons was back from a stay in the Army and teamed with Robin Roberts to give the Phils strength at the top of the rotation.

Roberts was simply amazing in 1952. He finished with the most wins in the majors (28) since Dizzy Dean in 1935. Roberts won nine games in a row in one stretch and four of his seven losses were all bunched in the early part of the season, before he really came alive. Astonishingly, Roberts pitched 330 innings, throwing 30 complete games. Roberts issued just 45 walks and struck out 148 on the season. Maybe the most impressive thing that he did was beat the league champion Brooklyn Dodgers six times. At the end of the season, Roberts easily walked off with The Sporting News Player of the Year Award.

The Phillies had key players – Richie Ashburn, Del Ennis and Willie Jones – who all got off to horrible starts, helping to doom the season from the start. They all rebounded to some degree, but didn't provide the Phillies with the firepower that they were figured on to provide. Ashburn hit .280 and stole a team high 16 bases, Ennis led the team with 20 homeruns and 107 RBI while hitting .289 and Jones came back to hit 18 homeruns.

Phillies owner Bob Carpenter removed Granny Hamner as the Phillies team captain in June. Carpenter addressed the team during a June road trip and talked on impending doom when the team returned to Philadelphia if things didn't turn around quickly. Carpenter's involvement meant nothing and the Phillies continued to sink. By the end of the month, Carpenter tried another approach and fired Sawyer. Steve O'Neill came in to replace Sawyer and turned things around as best he could. O'Neill brought a better attitude to the clubhouse by easing the restrictions on the players. Eventually, the Phillies responded and won 59 of their final 91 games, pulling out of the basement and moving to fourth place where they would finish. While fourth place wasn't satisfying, the Phillies were just one game out of third and ended the season as the hottest team in the majors, leading to hope for the '53 season.

Such as the Phillies stretch run was, they were impressive. Roberts was as strong as ever and Curt Simmons put on a late season push on his way to winning 14 games. Karl Drews, who the Phillies picked up just before the start of the season, showed some promise, going 14-15 with a 2.71 ERA. Drews had been released by the vaunted New York Yankees, opening the door for his arrival in Philadelphia.

Burgess was better than the Phillies imagined, hitting .296. Rookie Mel Clark was inserted into the outfield later in the season and hit .335, including putting together a 17 game hitting streak.

O'Neill was credited with helping to fuel the Phillies turnaround, but he would last just another season and a half as manager before he too, would be out of the picture. As for getting back to the top, that wasn't going to come for a long time and in fact, the Phillies would go down before they made a turn toward another pennant.

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