1951: A Season of Discontent

If 1950 was the best of times, 1951 took the Phillies right back to the worst of times. The loss of a key member of their pitching staff combined with egos that were inflated by their success of the previous season to spell disaster for the Phillies. A team that came into the season favored by many to return to the World Series sank to new lows as baseball in Philadelphia returned to the disappointment of pre-1950 days.

The first sign of potential trouble came when Curt Simmons was lost for the season to serve a commitment in the Army. To lose Simmons, who went 17-8 in 1950 and was second on the staff in wins, dealt a serious blow to the Phillies chances. Simmons wasn't just a leader on the field, he was well respected in the clubhouse, partly because of the way he had pulled his career back on track after disappoint seasons.

Bubba Church, who was a part-time starter on the 1950 team took over some of Simmons' duties in the starting rotation and went from a decent pitcher to a strong part of the Phillies staff. Church finished 1951 with 15 wins, finishing second on the staff in wins (the same ranking Simmons had held in 1950) and finished the season with a 3.53 ERA making 33 starts and 5 relief appearances. The highlight of Church's season was a one-hitter that he threw against Pittsburgh.

Robin Roberts was his old, steady self. Winning 21 games with a 3.03 ERA, Roberts continued to be the leader of the Phillies staff. Roberts led the league in games started (39) and innings pitched (315) and did what he could to hold not just the pitching staff, but the Phillies team in general together.

Outside of Church and Roberts, no other pitcher had double-digit wins. Perhaps the most disappointing member of the staff was Jim Konstanty. In 1950, Konstanty led the league in games pitched with 74 and finished 16-7 with a 2.68 ERA. The following season, Konstanty, coming off an MVP season, managed to win just 4 games and saw his ERA jump to 4.03 out of the Phillies bullpen. Bob Miller, another double-digit winner in 1950, struggled so much that he wound up back in the minors.

Offensively, Richie Ashburn, Dick Sisler and Willie Jones were leaders. They were all at least as productive as they were in the previous season and in many cases, outperformed what they had done to help the Phillies to their pennant. Ashburn hit .344 with a league leading 221 hits. Sisler contributed with a .287 average and Willie Jones hit .285 and led the team with 22 homeruns.

If Konstanty was the poster boy for disappointment on the pitching staff, Del Ennis got that title for the position players. Ennis dropped his average 44 points to .267 and drove in 53 less runs than he did in 1950.Granny Hamner, Eddie Waitkus and Andy Seminick also fell on hard times. The three combined to hit just .250 and their other numbers dropped much lower as well. Mike Goliat joined pitcher Miller in a return to the minor leagues. For Goliat, his troubles began in spring training when he was disciplined for various infractions of the teams rules.

The Whiz Kids, who had played with intensity in 1950 became complacent. Many who covered the team noted their lack of desire and the attitude had become too arrogant. Perhaps, success at an early age had spoiled many of the players on the Phillies squad. There were highlights. The team rallied to pull themselves out of seventh place and before long found themselves third in the standings. A late season swoon ruined the rally and they finished the season fifth with a 73-81 record.

Manager Eddie Sawyer, who had been a respected father figure to his players in 1950 was little more than acknowledged by his team in '51. Sawyer tried to use his fatherly approach and also turned to a high-volume, fiery approach at times in an effort to turn his team's fate around. Nothing seemed to work and 1951 would go down as the beginning of the end for Sawyer. By the end of June of 1952, Sawyer, unable to recapture the respect of his players was dismissed.

Maybe, it was a case of too much, too soon. The young Whiz Kids of 1950 didn't grow up much over that winter. In fact, they regressed. The magic that they showed in 1950 is still adored in the history of Phillies baseball. Even the disappointment of 1951 hasn't put much tarnish on that one summer of success. Still, the 1951 team goes down in history as one of the great collapses of a returning pennant team. Somewhere over the winter of 1950 and '51, the best of times turned into the worst of times.

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