September 21, 1964

By all baseball standards, the key moment that sparked the Phillies famous slide in 1964 should have never happened. It defied all conventional - and smart - baseball moves. Chico Ruiz may have been lucky or may have known exactly what he was doing, but his steal of home turned out to help sink the Phillies pennant hopes.


On a team with Frank Robinson and Pete Rose, he wasn't the best player on the team.  He wasn't the best Rookie on the team; teammate and September call-up Tony Perez went on to a Hall of Fame Career.  He wasn't even the best player nicknamed "Chico" on the team - Leo "Chico" Cardenas was an every day player.  From 1964-1971, Cuban-born Hiraldo Sablon, played as Chico Ruiz.  In an 8-year career that was ended by a fatal automobile accident, he averaged 70 at bats per year – less than one for every other game his team played.  For his entire career, he hit 2 home runs, drove in 69 runs, and ran one 6th-inning 90-foot sprint that gave his team a 1-0 victory, and changed the course of a whole pennant race. 


Gene Mauch was the manager of the opposing Phillies that Monday night.  Mauch brought a flavor to the game of baseball.  He knew the rules better than any other manager, and no antic was out-of bounds if it would give his team an advantage.

During his first full season as manager, he refused to announce his starting pitcher to the visiting Giants.  So he submitted a lineup card with four pitchers in the starting lineup: Don Ferrarese listed in center field, Jim Owens at third base, southpaw Chris Short catching and Ken Lehman listed as the starting pitcher.  After the Giants committed their lineup, substitutions abounded.

Mauch was the type of manager who would forearm Mets catcher Chris Cannizzaro in the face as the backstop reached into the Phillies dugout for a foul pop.  When the Phillies batter was called out for interference, he rushed onto the field with a rule book, and eventually had the call overturned. Some credit Mauch with creating the National League double-switch.

As brilliant a manager as he was, the game of baseball continually did to him what the sound of his name would imply: throughout his managerial career, baseball "mocked" Gene Mauch.  He was the manager during the longest losing streak in Major League Baseball history.  When it became evident that Mauch and phenom Richie Allen could no longer co-exist, the trouble-making Allen was preferred, and Mauch was dumped.  As manager of the 1986 California Angels, he led his team to a division title, a 3-1-game lead against the Red Sox in the ALCS, and a 5-2 ninth-inning lead in Game 5.   Mauch must have remembered 1964 as he saw the Red Sox advance to play the Mets.  Mauch never did get to manage a World Series team.


The Phillies were in their 82nd year as a franchise, and had only two pennants and no championships to show for it.  1964 seemed different, and the year was unfolding as a show of magic.  The Phillies got off to a 6-1 start against the Mets and the Cubs.  Newly acquired ace Jim Bunning had pitched baseball's ninth perfect game – and the century's first for a National League team.  Fireballing lefty Chris Short had become a reliable number 2 pitcher.  The bullpen was anchored by the screwballs of Jack Baldschund and the sinker of Ed Roebuck.  Right fielder Johnny Callison became the All-Star game hero with a walk-off three run homer.  Richie Allen was having a Rookie-of-the-Year season.  The only apparent threat to the pennant, the San Francisco Giants, had bowed out of the race by mid-August.

After defeating the Dodgers on September 20, the Phillies commanded a 6½ game lead with just 12 games left to play.  Their record was 90-60, and their magic number was 7 over the Reds and the Cardinals, who were tied for second.  Over the next week and a half, that magic number would plummet down to 6.  And the Phillies found themselves in third place.


Mauch has been accused of mismanaging the pitching after that.  And in retrospect, there may be some truth to that charge.  The ace was Jim Bunning, followed up by Chris Short.  Dennis Bennett, Art Mahaffey and Ray Culp did most of the pitching while the two aces rested.  Rick Wise, the 18-year old whom they later traded for Steve Carlton, showed promise as a spot starter.  But Bunning and Short were the clear fan favorites – and the favorites of manager Mauch.

The nine games in the nine days that followed that initial loss saw the following starting pitchers:

Sept 22                Short

Sept 23                 Bennett

Sept 24                 Bunning

Sept 25                Short

Sept 26                Mahaffey

Sept 27                Bunning

Sept 28                Short

Sept 29                Bennett

Sept 30                Bunning

Some say Mauch misused his judgment in an attempt to win every game.  This fan will defer to the experts, but from one 10-year old boy's perspective, any strategy to stop the bleeding was welcomed.  Callison warned the team through the press: We haven't won it yet.  The grip was loosening, but not lost; we remained in first place, and merely had to hold on one more week.  One win – just one win – and I knew the Phillies had what it took to recover.  But during that stretch, the Cardinals had gone 9-1; the Reds had gone 9-0 – including two double-header sweeps - before losing two to the Pirates, and settled for a 10-2 run.

Going into the final weekend of the season, the Cardinals had a half-game lead over the second place Reds; the Phillies were 2 games behind the Reds.


The Phillies acquired right-handed slugger Frank Thomas from the New York Mets on August 7, 1964, just for the purpose of giving their lineup one more much needed bat.  His goodwill ended in July 1965, after a violent fight during batting practice with reigning Rookie of the Year Richie Allen.  Quickly, the Phillies sold Thomas to the Houston Astros.  Quickly, the Phillies went into turmoil.  As quickly as the 1964 pennant drifted into the stratosphere, only to be found a week later in St. Louis, the Phillies' standing as a force in the National League pennant race flew away.  And it would not emerge again until Dave Cash led the Yes-We-Can boys to the scene in 1974.

The Phillies fell to fourth, fifth and seventh (out of ten) place before letting Mauch go in mid-1968.  Then they spent two years in fifth (out of six) before holding the National League East cellar securely intact for three years.

What wouldn't happen in 1964 was not scheduled to appear even plausible for another 16 years.   

"If Chico Ruiz wants to steal home with Frank Robinson at the plate, he'd better be safe, or he can keep running all the way to San Diego [AAA]." – Manager Dick Sisler


But the Phillies were not mathematically eliminated yet.  There remained yet two more games.  (For reasons I don't recall, there was no game scheduled for that Saturday.)  If the Phillies could win them both on the road, AND IF the Reds lost both of their remaining games at home, AND IF the Mets could defeat the Cardinals all three of their remaining games in St. Louis, then all three teams would finish 92-70, and there would be a three-way runoff for the pennant – the first time in history that would have ever happened.

The Phillies had control of the two games they played, and the two that the Reds played – for they were playing each other.  But they had no control over the 51-108 Mets, and the Cardinals, winners of 9 of the last 10, needed to win just one.

Friday night against the Reds went to the Phillies 4-3.  Chris Short pitched on three days' rest.  The game featured a near three-run Reds home run that Phillies left fielder Alex Johnson pulled back into play, and the Phillies scored a triple play. The Mets' Al Jackson outpitched Bob Gibson 1-0.  Saturday saw the Reds and Phillies idle, and the Mets taking full control of the Cardinals 15-5.  It came down to the last day of the season.

Sunday featured Bunning again: Jim Bunning and Chris Short pitched 5 of the final 6 games, and 7 of the final 11.  The final game featured two Richie Allen home runs, giving him 29 in his Rookie year.  The Phillies won handily, 10-0.  All that remained was for the Cardinals – playing one time zone to the west - once again to fall to the Mets, and the runoff could begin.  

The Mets were pitching 6-18 Galen Cisco; the Cardinals went with Curt Simmons – a pitcher who had won 17 games for the Phillies during their 1950 pennant year.  The Phillies were now in the clubhouse, hoping against hope that their old friend would lose.  In a rare following of out-of-town games, ABC affiliate Channel 6 ran occasional crawlers through the ensuing show keeping fans current on the game's progress.

And we stared at the final score in disbelief.

"If Chico Ruiz wants to steal home with Frank Robinson at the plate, he'd better be safe, or he can keep running all the way to San Diego [AAA]." – Manager Dick Sisler

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