Time Machine: 1950, Part 1

The Phillies came into 1950 with a good, young ballclub. Fans in Philadelphia seemed more confident about the Phillies chances than fans and sportswriters from other parts of the country did, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm. The pitching staff seemed especially strong and although there may have been a hole in the roster here or there, 1950 seemed to Phillies fans like it was their best shot in a long time at an elusive pennant.

The average age of the Phillies in the spring of 1950 was 26. It was that number that led to the nickname "Whiz Kids" for the Phillies. The name has been synonamous with the 1950 Phillies ever since. The Phillies had another facelift in 1950, abandoning the red, white and blue uniforms that marked the 1940s and adopting the now classic red and white uniforms that have lived on over the years.

One reason the team was so young was the emphasis on developing players through the Phillies minor league system. Owner Bob Carpenter had emphasized, both in actions and financially, his demands that the Phillies become a minor league machine. By 1950, the machine was pretty well oiled and was spitting out major league players. Pitchers Bob Miller and Bubba Church were the latest additions to come to Philadelphia through the minor league system. Between them, they would win 19 games for the Phillies in 1950.

Ken Heintzelman, Russ Meyer and of course, Robin Roberts led the pitching staff. Heintzelman and Meyer had each won 17 games in 1949 and Roberts posted 15 wins. In 1950 though, Heintzelman and Meyer would come nowhere their previous contributions. In fact, the two combined didn't even win 17 games for the '50 Phillies. It was Robin Roberts who paced the staff in 1950, going 20-11, 3.02. Curt Simmons shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation, winning 17 games and helping the Phillies stabilize things in the wake of the meltdown of Heintzelman and Meyer.

Jim Konstanty led the league by appearing in 74 games out of the Phillies bullpen. Konstanty pitched 152 innings, going 16-7, 2.68.

The big question offensively was whether Eddie Waitkus, who had suffered a gun shot wound suffered during the 1949 season. Waitkus had been lured to a hotel room by a 19 year old girl, who claimed to have a message for Waitkus from someone in his hometown of Cambridge, Massachusettes. When Waitkus arrived, the woman pulled out a rifle and shot Waitkus in the chest. The bullet punctured a lung and lodged near Waitkus' spine, leaving his life and career in jeopardy. Waitkus had worked hard to recover from the injury, but nobody was sure of his return or to what extent he could contribute in 1950. Waitkus recovered and went on to play first base and hit .284 for the 1950 Phillies.

The return of Waitkus allowed Dick Sisler to move back to left field after he had taken over for Waitkus at first base after the shooting. That reunited the outfield of Sisler, Richie Ashburn and Del Ennis, one of the better and more popular outfield alignments in Phillies history. The outfield contingent hit 46 homeruns with 250 RBI for the Phillies and posted a batting average of .304 on the season. Ashburn led the league with 14 triples, while Ennis led the league with 126 RBI.

The Phillies started the season with an impressive 9-1 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers, but then proceeded to love five of their next six games. The string of bad play didn't turn around quickly and by the end of April, the Phillies were mired in sixth place. That's about when things turned around. In early May, the Phillies reached the .500 level and went on a six game win streak. That streak temporarily put the Phillies in first.

Manager Eddie Sawyer saw the talent of Miller and Church while the struggles of Heintzelman and Meyer were obvious. Sawyer made a switch, putting Miller into the rotation. By mid-July, Heintzelman lost his spot in the rotation to Church, who would win his first three games as a starter. Sawyer was also pleasantly surprised by the season that Curt Simmons was putting together. Simmons was on his way to his first winning season as a Phillie and was even outperforming Robin Roberts through the first half of the year. Even though it appeared that the Phillies were putting it all together, they went out and acquired left-hander Ken Johnson from St.Louis in exchange for outfielder Johnny Blatnik.

For two months, the Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals, New York Giants and Boston Braves were pushing each other out of first place. One stretch saw the Phillies get swept by the Dodgers in a Memorial Day double-header, only to have a strong road trip that put them back on top. Then, they returned home and were swept by the Cardinals, moving St.Louis past the Phillies and into first. From there, the Phillies won five out of six games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and were again on top in the National League race.

If there was one turning point to the season, it came at Shibe Park. The Brooklyn Dodgers were in town and the Phillies went to work. Their offense beat Don Newcombe in the series opener, 8-5. Rookie Miller pitched the second game of the series and with help from Konstanty, beat Brooklyn 6-4. The series was to wrap up with a Sunday double-header. Bill Nicholson came up with a pinch-hit homerun to give the Phillies a 6-4 win in the opener and moved the Phillies back into first place. In the nightcap, the Phillies jumped to an 8-0 lead and Simmons had a no-hitter through seven innings when everything fell apart. The Dodgers tied the game, which was eventually called because of Philadelphia's Sunday curfew law.

The Phillies went on to swap five-game streaks. They won five in a row against the Giants and Dodgers, only to lose five straight to the Cardinals and Cubs. The race had gotten very tight. The Phillies were in and out of first place, but never by much. In fact, just one game separated first and fourth places as the Phillies opened a 16 game homestand in late July. It was the opening of that homestand that saw the Phillies move back into first place; This time, they stayed there for good.

They started the homestand with a double-header win over the Cubs. The Phillies dropped the third game of the series, but then pounded Chicago in the series finale and put together a five game win streak.

One of the reasons that the Phillies were not to be moved out of first place again, was Del Ennis. In one of the better stretches ever enjoyed by a Phillie, Ennis pounded opposing pitchers. Ennis drove in 7 runs to beat the Cubs 13-3 and finished the month of July with a total of 41 RBI for the month. While Phillies fans sometimes thought Ennis was too laid back, his teammates were seeing a different Ennis. Teammates often admired Ennis for his dedication to the game and for how he hustled at all times on the field.

Just as everything seemed to be perfect for the Phillies, duty called. Simmons had to leave the team for two weeks of training with the National Guard. In fact, there was concern that Simmons might have been drafted into service in the Korean War had he not joined the National Guard. Simmons was proud to serve in the National Guard and took his service seriously. Still, at home, the Phillies were left with a pretty big pair of shoes to fill.

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