September 21, 1964: The Day The Season Ended

Sometimes, the significance of an event only becomes clear with the advantage of hindsight. Such was the case forty years ago today – September 21, 1964 – when what seemed like a lone incident that would eventually fade into oblivion grew to titanic proportions with the benefit of hindsight that would torture the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies. It was one moment in time that led to one loss, which has led to forty years of memories.

Perhaps it was desperation. Whatever it was, it defied all baseball logic and surely had to have the help of the baseball gods to have led to all it would lead to over the following games of the 1964 season.

With Frank Robinson, one of the more feared homerun hitters of his time, standing at the plate in a scoreless ball game, Chico Ruiz defied all of the odds of baseball and attempted to steal home. Art Mahaffey, pitching for the Phillies, saw Ruiz break, but was stunned enough to deliver a pitch that was low and away from both Robinson and catcher Clay Dalrymple. Perhaps as equally surprised was Dalrymple, who lunged for the pitch, but could only turn to watch it bounce off the fence behind home plate at Connie Mack Stadium. Ruiz made it a 1-0 game in the top of the sixth inning.

After the initial shock, the Phillies and their fans realized that it was still just a 1-0 game. However, neither team would again dent the plate and the Phillies would lose. After the game, the talk was of Ruiz' mad dash for the plate and how it defied the way the game was usually played. It just simply wasn't the time or place to attempt such a maneuver, but it worked. Maybe, the fact that it was so out of place was exactly the reason why it did work. Again, perspective took over and the Phillies and their fans, they glimpsed at the standings and realized that all was still right with the world. Ruiz had managed to pull the Reds out of a second place tie with St.Louis and move his club to 5 ½ games behind the Phillies. The idle Cardinals were six games back and there were just eleven games remaining for the Phillies.

Panic had not yet set in. There was surely no way that either the Reds or Cardinals could catch the Phillies. Although the pessimists might have seen it coming. Of the eleven remaining games, four were against the Reds and another three were against the Cardinals. If either team was going to make a run at it, they had their chance.

The '64 season had made manager Gene Mauch a genius. Seemingly every move he made worked. Every lineup card he filled out produced. For the first 150 games, Mauch was thought to have a crystal ball that would allow him to know just how to make things play out. The Phillies came into September 21st with a 90-60 record. The Cardinals and Reds didn't seem to have the ability to match up with the gang from Philadelphia. They were good, but the Phillies were simply having their way with things. Jim Bunning had thrown a perfect game on Father's Day and rookie third baseman Richie Allen was tearing up baseball on his way to winning Rookie of the Year honors. If there was any further proof needed that '64 was the year of the Phillies, they had turned three triple plays. It was simply their year. Destiny called and it seemed that the baseball gods were abiding by the plan, until autumn hit. Then, it all seemed to turn.

Mahaffey's gem against Cincinnati would be the best game that a Phillies' pitcher would throw the rest of the way. He held a tough Cincinnati club to one ill begotten run even though he had no offense to back him up. Still, Mauch would lean hard on Bunning and Chris Short when he and the team did start to panic in the final days of the season. When it was all over, Mauch would point to Frank Thomas' thumb injury as the reason why the Phillies would skid all the way below St.Louis and Cincinnati.

As the sun rose over Connie Mack Stadium on September 21, 1964, there was no way to know that the next thirteen days would turn out to be one of the first pieces of evidence that Philadelphia fans would point to as evidence of their teams simply not coming through. It seemed like it was in the bag, but somehow, the Phillies were also-rans. Outside of Philadelphia and St.Louis, the collapse of the Phillies is seldom remembered. Those final thirteen days of the 1964 season are lost on many. In St.Louis, they're remembered fondly as the stretch that would propel the Cardinals to a World Championship. In Philadelphia, they are remembered not really with the disdain that an outsider may think. Instead, they're remembered for how a dream fell short. The '64 Phillies aren't hated; they're celebrated. It was a team that had captured the city even though the end result wasn't what the fans had in mind. It was a team worth remembering.

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