Any Phillie historian of the past fifty years would have little trouble identifying the two most popular Phillie teams of that era. While the '77 team was more powerful, the '80 team more successful, and the '83 group more diverse, few would argue that the Phillie teams of 1964 and 1993 captured not only the hearts, but the essence of Philadelphia blue collar baseball. Though neither was favored to win, both did so in ways that only a Phillie fan could truly appreciate, with aplomb, grit and hard work. In many ways, no players epitomized those teams greater than Mssrs. Bunning and Schilling.
Yet, for all their similarities, and the numbers are a bit staggering, never before were their paths so clearly crossed as when Congress called several major league stars to testify in the now growing steroids scandal that threatens to tear at the very fabric of the hollowed grounds the game has meant to all of us. Now this article is not to comment or cast judgement on the players who testified that day. As an ongoing drama, there will be more than enough time for that, and more than ample ink space will be devoted to it.
No, rather I wish to offer for public consumption the pride I felt that day for our two former heroes, Bunning and Schilling. Oh, this is not to lift them up as heroes, suffice it to say that both had and still have more than their share of critics. Bunning, it was said, could be petty and condescending, and never met a press reporter he liked. Schilling has long had his enemies in the clubhouse due to his principled stand on issues from Christianity to family life.
Still, for all the negatives, Philadelphians could be proud of these two on this day for the stand they took, and the reminder they gave to all Phillie fans of efforts in year's past that still stand as giants in today's history books.
To review that day's happenings from a Phillie perspective, Bunning, the Hall of Fame right-hander who almost helped carry an average Phils team to extraordinary heights in that magical Summer of '64, was the first to testify and his words carried substantial weight. As a former player, and now Congressman from Kentucky, he offered a unique perspective from both sides of the arguement, and his words were compelling.
He reminded the players that it was not they, but you and I, who were the owners of the game, and they were merely entrusted with the caretaking of it. He also talked about how strange the game had become, when players in their late 30s and early 40s were becoming more powerful and skilled instead of less so. He recalled how former stars that he competed against, mega stars like Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron regressed in their mid 30s and didn't improve.
He speculated that it would seem almost blasphamous to compare numbers that those athletes put up as opposed to numbers now being seen with almost constant regularity. Without openingly casting guilt on the players, Bunning made it obvious that he was convinced that no work in the weight room was the sole reason for today's performance and staggering statistical numbers.
Pardon me if I cannot help but reflect on the absolute mystical way that this pitcher moved me as a small boy in that wonderous '64 season. I can still recall my father taking me to a baseball game on July 4, 1964...first place San Francisco Giants versus the second place Philadelphia Phillies. Legend had it that whoever led the league on this historical date would win the pennant and as I studied the standings before game time I found that the Giants led my beloved Phillies by half a game.
I convinced myself that the legend was was meant for the END of the day and not the beginning. Still, a closer look at the rosters made me wonder just what chance this team had against the vaunted Giants. A quick glance of the rosters showed a San Francisco team that included future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Duke Snider, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry as well as stars like Jim Ray Hart, Billy Pierce, Jack Sanford and Jesus Alou.
On paper this team looked almost unbeatable. Then I had but to glance at the Philadelphia roster to see names that might make better Scrabble game names than major league baseball stars. Players like Clay Dalrymple, John Herrnstein, Wes Covington and John Boozer were the norm on the Phillie scorecard. Still, the team had two solid All-Stars in Chris Short and Johnny Callison and a wonderous rookie third baseman named Richie Allen.
And, the Phils had a pitcher named Jim Bunning. Tough, courageous and the author of no-hitters in both leagues, including a perfect game against the Mets less than three weeks before. In his first season as a Phillie, after several solid years with the Detroit Tigers, Bunning was brought to Philadelphia precisely for games like this one. Though the Giants had the talent edge, we had Jim Bunning.
Oh, what a glorious day that was for me! In a stadium of over 30,000 Giant fans, I was filled with awe as Bunning mowed down the Giants with such ease. Down went Mays, back to the bench went Cepeda. McCovey flailed away at Bunning's curveball and Hart found no respite from the famed Bunning inside fastball. Still the game entered the eleventh inning tied at two until the Phils pushed across three runs for a 5-2 victory.
By my count, there was but one voice cheering for Bunning that day...mine! And when this victory vaulted the Phils back into first place as the sun set on Independence Day, I went to bed convinced that the gods of baseball would smile on a team in first place at the END of this day, and not at the beginning.
Though fate was ultimately unkind to this team, and history would recall their ten-game losing streak as still the greatest collapse in baseball annuals, I would never forget the way Bunning pitched that day, and for several seasons thereafter. In an almost tragic sense, Bunning and then Manager Gene Mauch would never participate in a World Series game, though both would have more than their share of winning.
Bunning would go on to win over 100 games with the Phils and proudly wear the red Phillie cap into the baseball Hall of Fame, along with Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Snider, Marichal and Perry, the adversaries on the long forgotten Independence Day. Yes, Phillie fans, Jim Bunning may have worn a red cap into the baseball Hall of Fame, but it was a white hat that he wore at the Congressional hearings on Thursday. On a day when there were few heroes to be found, Bunning can be counted as one of them.
Equally heroic that day was another Phillie right-handed star of yesteryear, current Boston Red Sox hurler, Curt Schilling. Ironically, unlike his baseball playing partners like Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmiero and Mark McGuire, Schilling was called to attend because of his outspoken stance against steroid use. More than one congressional bigwig commented that Schilling was asked to speak because his words could be trusted, and his opinions valued.
Yes, clearly Curt Schilling was the one player who wore a white hat that day. Even though he did little to offer insights into today's clubhouse culture, his words were still valuable nevertheless. In criticizing former player and steroid user, Jose Canseco, he took a stand for today's athletes. Yet, in condemning steroid use, as he always has, he made it clear that he represented the players who did things the just and honorable way. He made it clear that he felt that steroid use was not only dangerous, but unfair and had much to do with tipping the balance in skill levels over the past several years.
Observing Curt Schilling at those hearings brought me back to 1993, another magical and glorious year in Phillie history. As a young right-handed hurler, with a sharp fastball and independent nature, Schilling was perhaps one of the least liked teammates on that club. Oh, he was respected for his talent, and not one player questioned his desire to excel and win. Few Phillie fans will ever forget those five consecutive strikeouts to begin the '93 playoffs against the vaunted and favored Atlanta Braves.
No one has ever disputed that those five strikeouts set the tone for what would become an intriguing and surprising upset for the Phils that year. In fact, though he failed to win either of his starts, Curt Schilling's efforts were rewarded with a Division MVP award that year. Yet, as memorable as he was against the Braves, his performance in Game Five of the World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays is a game Phillie fans discuss in hushed tones to this day.
With a 3-1 games deficit, and facing World Series elimination, Schilling was told by Manager Jim Fregosi that he would almost certainly have to pitch a complete game to save an exhausted and beleaguered bullpen crew. With an early 2-0 lead and no more, Schilling pitched a game every bit as heroic as the one Bunning tossed nearly 30 years earlier on July 4, 1964.
They stopped counting his pitches at 130, but it was said that Schilling threw over 150 pitches that chilly evening in October of 1993 when the Phils absolutely had to have every one of them. His eventual 2-0 win still ranks as one of the benchmark pitching performances in World Series history, one of several for mercurial Schilling.
As with Bunning, it says here that one day Schilling will be forced to choose the hat he will wear as he enters the baseball Hall of Fame. It also says here that Phillie GM Ed Wade missed a glorious oppurtunity of historic nature when he failed to bring Schilling home a year ago last November. If this had occured, Schilling's choice would have been cemented; he has always bled Phillie red.
Now, however, the choice is more complex, and it will surprise few if he instead goes in as a Boston Red Sox player, much to the chagrin of Phillie phaithful. Regardless of the cap he chooses when he ultimately retires, one thing is clear. On a day when many baseball players wore black hats and many Congressional legislators seemed to prefer style to substance, Philadelphia's own ace righties Jim Bunning and Curt Schilling were conspicious by the manner in which they conducted themselves.
Yes, Phillie fans, we have often had little to cheer about, and much to anguish over. In over 100 years of activity, a Phillie fan has learned to suffer continually and hope eternally. The pain has been almost constant and the rewards few and far between. Still, on Thursday, March 17, 2005, St. Patricks Day, when the rest of the populace wore festive green garb and hat, the Phils were the good guys...and the good guys still wear white hats.
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