Looking Back: 1996

With the 2006 calendar in its first month, it's a good time to look back at the anniversaries that Phillies fans may want to either celebrate or forget. We'll go back 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 years in our special Looking Back series. In this installment, we look at Jim Fregosi's final season at the helm of the Phillies; 1996.

After losing in the World Series in 1993, the Phillies went right back into their familiar mode of disappointment. One year after being crowned National League Champions, the Phillies went 54-61 in the strike shortened '94 season and managed just a 69-75 mark in 1995. The Phillies were looking for Jim Fregosi to return the team to the magic of '93, but there were no miracles to be found.

After the disappointment of '95, the Phillies continued to search for a combination of young players and veterans that would create the right combination and a winning formula. Charlie Hayes and Andy Van Slyke left the Phillies via free agency. Their spots in the lineup were taken by free agents Todd Zeile and Pete Incaviglia. Dave Hollins exited via free agency and the Phillies made Gregg Jefferies a full-time first baseman rather than having him shuttle between left field and first base as he had done in his first season with the Phillies. Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton, two mainstays of the '93 NL Champions were hobbled by injuries. Daulton played in just five games, while Dykstra played in 40 games for the '96 Phillies.

As for pitching, Curt Schilling came back from injury to start 26 games for the Phillies. Mike Williams led the team with 29 starts and Terry Mulholland, who had spent a season with the Yankees and another with the Giants after leaving the Phillies in a trade following the '93 season returned to the Phillies as a free agent prior to the '96 season. The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation were filled with a combination of Mike Mimbs, Rich Hunter, Mark Grace and Sid Fernandez. In the bullpen, the Phillies dealt Heathcliff Slocumb, who had saved 32 games in 1995 to Boston with two minor leaguers for Glenn Murray, Lee Tinsley and Ken Ryan. Murray and Tinsley would be utility players and neither would hit over .200 (Murray hit .196 and Tinsley hit .135). Ryan was a good fit, pitching in 62 games out of the bullpen, posting a 2.43 ERA with 8 saves. Ricky Bottalico stepped into the closer's role and saved 34 games in 1996.

Through the first two months of the season, the Phillies were 26-26 and were basically treading water. The bad news was that the Atlanta Braves were off to a fast start and the Phillies were already nine games out after Memorial Day. If things seemed gloomy then, they would only get worse. In June, the Phillies had three separate five-game losing streaks and their longest winning streak of the month lasted just two games. At one point, the Phillies won just one out of thirteen games. Mercifully, June came to an end and the Phillies found themselves with just six wins in the month and in last place in the NL East, 17 1/2 games out.

Things started out better in July. The Phillies won five out of seven games and went into the All-Star Break with a record of 37-49. After the break, they would win three straight in Montreal and even if they were still out of the race, they were at least showing signs of life. At least until they flat-lined again by putting together a seven-game losing skid and dropping 13 out of 14 games. When July ended, the only questions were whether the Phillies would avoid losing 100 games, which they hadn't done since 1961, and whether Jim Fregosi would survive the season. In the end, the Phillies didn't lose 100 games, finishing 67-95 and after the season, Fregosi did lose his job. General Manager Lee Thomas would survive for just one more season when his assistant, Ed Wade, would take over as GM.

Benito Santiago would wind up leading the Phillies in homeruns with 30 and in RBI with 85. The bad news was that he was eligible for free agency following the '96 season and would sign with Toronto. Daulton would return to take over as the Phillies catcher for 84 games in '97, but would eventually be dealt to Florida where he would be part of a World Series Championship team. Gregg Jefferies would put up solid numbers (7-51-.292 with 20 stolen bases) and Jim Eisenreich was his usual steady self (3-41-.361). Other than that, there wasn't a lot of offense, although 24 year old center fielder Ricky Otero would hit .273 and steal 16 bases to give some false hope that he could develop into an everyday player. Unfortunately for Otero, he would play just one more season in Philadelphia before his professional career would come to an end.

Among the starting pitchers, Schilling finished with a 9-10, 3.19 mark, but was slowly growing uneasy with the situation in Philadelphia. Mike Grace showed signs of promise with a 7-2 record and a 3.49 ERA in 12 starts. Mulholland was the only other starter to finish with a record over .500 at 8-7. Bottalico did the job as the closer with 34 saves and 3.19 ERA in 61 games. After that though, the bullpen was just average and often found themselves in bad positions thanks to the starters.

The Phillies would have another four losing seasons under Terry Francona before former Phillie Larry Bowa would take over the club and lead them to an 86-76 record in 2001.

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