CD's Connect the Dots... Phils Hope To Strike Gold

It was a cold morning in January of 1948 when James Marshall went to work to build a sawmill in Northern California. He could never have imagined the gold that he was about to discover. The upheaval was enormous. Much like Marshall, GM Ed Wade was working on one Mill (Milton) when he may have discovered his own gold mine in the form of the greatest 5-man rotation in Philadelphia history.

The story of Marshall and his far-reaching discovery, as set in historical context, is certainly different than the potential gold mine of a pitching staff with the Phillies.  Yet just as Marshall stumbled upon history, Wade never could have imagined his good fortune when he announced the acquisition of lefty Eric Milton late last year.

The acquisition of Milton was an admission that righty Kevin Millwood, the other King of the Mills, was destined for greener pastures as a free agent in the winter.  To Wade's surprise, he not only brought in one Mill, but two. Wade had inadvertently struck gold and the potential for this Phillie staff is just now starting to take people's notice.


The buzz has been slow to form. Perhaps it was the cold winter months; or the disbelief that this could really happen. After all, Phillie fans, long accustomed to Murphy's Law, probably kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Yet, as pitchers prepare to embark on spring training, the reality has begun to make itself known… this starting rotation could be the deepest 5 man group in Phillie annuals.

The advent of the five-man rotation is a fairly new thing so the comparisons to previous groups are none too difficult. In fact, most historians easily trace the best five-man rotation back to 1993, not coincidentally the year of the last Phillie pennant. That rotation of Terry Mulholland, Tommy Greene, Curt Schilling, Danny Jackson and Ben Rivera was deep, talented and versatile.

It consisted of three right-handers and two left-handers.  All five starters were entering 1993 with high hopes and great expectations and all won at least 12 games in '93.  Perhaps the keys to their success that year lie in their health. Only Mulholland missed any time and he was healthy when the playoffs began.

In almost eerie fashion, this year's group consists of three right-handers and two lefties. All five of this year's starters enter the season with high hopes and great expectations.  If healthy, all are expected to establish win totals in double figures.  The comparisons go even deeper. Lets take a look the earlier group and the current one and see the similarities.

Randy Wolf reminds many people of Terry Mulholland. Stylish, crafty, and just now entering his prime, Wolf could easily win 15-18 games this year, just as Mulholland was projected to do in '93.  Both have pitched in NL All-Star games and both are quiet, unassuming lefties.

Kevin Millwood and Tommy Greene have many similarities. A big strong right-handed hurler, Greene suffered from periodic bouts with arm problems but when healthy, was often overpowering. He tossed a no-hitter in 1991. He had a big year in '93 and won 16 games.

Millwood is also a big, strong right-hander, with often overpowering stuff. He has also had occasional arm miseries but was healthy last year and won 14 games. He also tossed a no-hitter and is expected to take the role of "ace" this year.

Perhaps no pitcher on the current Phillie staff has the raw stuff of Vicente Padilla. It is often said that if he ever corrals his rare mix of pitches he will win 20 games. He won 14 games last year and is counted on to win even more in 2004.

The pitcher from the '93 staff that most closely resembles Padilla is Curt Schilling. Blessed with great natural talent, Schilling won 14 games in 1992 and was counted on to blossom in '93. In fact, he did have a breakout year and was the Phil's best pitcher in the playoffs and World Series.

When the Phils acquired Eric Milton from the Twins, they knew they were bringing in a solid lefty, capable of winning between 12-15 games. A veteran of big games, he is expected to do well in his first year as a National League hurler. Although tentatively penciled in as the 5th starter, Milton could become much more to the Phils in '04.

Milton is almost a carbon copy of lefty Danny Jackson from the '93 staff.  A veteran American League starter, Jackson had a reputation as a big game pitcher and a guy capable of winning between 12-15 games. He, too, was penciled in as the 5th starter, yet was much more to the '93 squad, even winning the crucial game four of the playoffs against the Braves.

Brett Myers is the youngest pitcher in this year's rotation. As a first year starter last year, Myers won 14 games with a great curveball, and a bulldog mentality.  Although he is counted on as a solid middle of the rotation starter this year, there are still some doubts about his long term potential.  At his best, he should at least duplicate last year's win total.

Ben Rivera was the youngest starter on the '93 rotation. Also blessed with a solid curveball, he had burst on the scene the previous year with a sparkling 7-3 record in just over three months of work. Much like Myers, there were some doubts about Rivera as he entered the '93 season. He would win 13 games for the pennant winning Phils that year.

The comparisons are remarkable. The talent is similar. The Phils hope that the results will be the same. No staff in Philadelphia history has ever topped the 1993 group for top to bottom talent. In fact, few teams in Philadelphia history ever have come close.

Perhaps the only teams in Phillie past that entered a year with such promise of a deep and talented five man rotation was the 1964 squad and the 1987 class. Both teams seemed to enter the seasons with the potential of having five pitchers of almost equal ability. That neither lived up to their potential adds to the luster of Wade's prospective gold strike in 2004.

The ill-fated 1964 team appeared blessed with pitching riches as they entered the season.  With the mid winter trade for Jim Bunning, Manager Gene Mauch could count six starters on his staff.  Besides Bunning, that squad entered the season with Chris Short, Dennis Bennett, Ray Culp, Art Mahaffey and veteran Cal McLish as likely starting pitchers.

Ironically, it was a lack of dependable starting pitching that ultimately doomed the '64 team.  McLish suffered a career ending shoulder injury; while Bennett and Culp also saw arm woes curtail their seasons. When the season ended, the Phils had only three dependable starters left, Bunning, Short and Mahaffey.

The 1987 team also had high aspirations as they entered spring training. After a solid finish to the 1986 season, the free agent signing of catcher Lance Parrish and the addition of starter Joe Cowley to a young and talented pitching staff buoyed this squad.

Cowley was expected to add balance and durability to a staff top heavy in left handed pitching. Southpaws Shane Rawley, Bruce Ruffin and Don Carmen, along with righty Kevin Gross and Cowley looked to be a very strong five man rotation.

Unfortunately, potential did not play out to performance as Cowley lost all semblance of control and was gone after only four starts. His 15.43 ERA is still considered by many as the worst performance ever by a Phillie starting pitcher.

Only Rawley and Carmen had solid seasons, as Ruffin and Gross were inconsistent throughout the '87 year.  By 1989, only Ruffin remained with the club as a starting pitcher.  In fact, the sudden demise of Rawley was almost as bewildering as Cowley's misfortune.

A quick glance throughout major league rosters reveals in greater detail the good fortune of the Phils in having such a deep and talented fivesome. Few teams have such depth in skill and versatility and if all five stay healthy, the Phils can easily expect 70 wins from the group.

James Marshall never expected to make history the day he went working the mill and discovered gold. His discovery remains to this day a second to none event. GM Ed Wade never expected to assemble a history making rotation the day he went working to acquire a Mill and instead struck gold.

Although the 1964 and 1987 rotations are ample proof that talent and potential are still fraught with uncertainties, the fact remains that the ghosts of 1993 beckon this staff to greatness, history-making greatness.


Performance will dictate whether or not Wade stumbled on to fool's gold, or a gold mine that will pay off in World Series, winning riches and a place at the top of the Philadelphia five man rotation staffs of all time.


Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast

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