Looking Back: 1991

If there was a season that gave birth to the squad that would become the National League Champions in 1993, it was likely the '91 season. In that year, key pieces were in place and the man who would mold it all into shape came to Philadelphia.

The 1983 World Series loss to the Baltimore Orioles seemed like a million years ago. Since that season, the Phillies had finished at or above .500 just twice (1984 and 1986). In the manager's office, Paul Owens gave way to John Felske, who gave way to Lee Elia, who gave way to John Vukovich, who gave way to Nick Leyva. With the Phillies reeling, there was to be another change in managers during the 1991 season.

Nick Leyva had struggled to win with the Phillies. Coming into the season, he was 144-180 in two seasons with the club. The Phillies started the '91 season by going 4-9 and Lee Thomas had to fire Leyva, one of his best and closest friends in the game. The change brought Jim Fregosi and a completely different attitude into the Phillies' clubhouse. Under Leyva, the Phillies simply lacked a cohesive voice. They were a bunch of individuals and were in fact, individuals that weren't highly regarded or respected around baseball. Fregosi, the deep-voiced, macho choice to lead the club used that very fact to turn things around. Under Fregosi, the Phillies would go 74-75, finishing the season six games under .500. After losing their first two games under Fregosi, the team started to listen to his preaching. They rattled off a five-game winning streak and found themselves just three games under .500 with a 9-12 mark. At that point, they were just 4 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh and starting to believe.

By the time Fregosi arrived, the Phillies had already weathered a storm. In spring training, news leaked that center fielder Lenny Dykstra was part of a gambling probe. Dykstra had lost almost $80,000 on golf and poker bets and when the news arrived in commissioner Fay Vincent's office, there was no idea of how he would react. Just the prior August, former Phillie Pete Rose had signed an agreement proclaiming himself permanently ineligible for the Hall of Fame because of his involvement in gambling, although many of those allegations centered around betting on baseball. There was no evidence that Dykstra had the same kind of issues, but still, gambling was a hot topic and Dykstra was a pretty large target. Vincent allowed Dykstra to play, but placed him on one year's probation, but Dykstra's problems weren't over.

Returning from a bachelor party for teammate John Kruk, Dykstra and Darren Daulton were involved in a car accident. Dykstra would suffer serious injuries and miss 61 games with a broken collarbone and other various injuries and would also be charged with drunk driving. While there were concerns that Vincent could further penalize him since he was already on probation, the commissioner decided against further disciplinary action. When he returned, Dykstra would find himself running into the wall in Cincinnati and braking the same collarbone that he had broken in the accident. In all, he would miss 91 games. Daulton missed 63 games over the course of the season. There were other injuries on the '91 squad as well. Von Hayes was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken wrist, forcing him to miss 73 games and pitcher Ken Howell lost the entire season because of arm problems.

The '91 Phillies may have been one of the most exciting losing teams in history. Dale Murphy collected his 2,000th career hit and Randy Ready and Ricky Jordan teamed up to pull off the first triple play for the team since 1968. Tommy Greene made his second career start one to remember, posting a no-hitter in Montreal. Newcomer Dave Hollins was showing promise and as Jim Fregosi continued to revamp the lineup, the team started to respond. Fans and experts alike, spoke of the newfound swagger in Philadelphia and the players were coming together under Fregosi.

At one point, the team that had gotten no respect won 13 straight games and 16 straight at home. As August ended, the Phillies had won 23 of 32 games, but started the season's final month at 62-67, 15 1/2 games out of first. While they were out of the division race, they were determined to finish the season at the .500 mark and give themselves something to build on for 1992. They would win 11 of their final 18 games, but a slump in early September hurt their chances of reaching their goals and they finished with a 78-84 mark, good enough for third in the NL East. Fans stayed optimistic as the groundwork was being put in place for a team that would bring the World Series back to Philadelphia and forever be known for Macho Row and mullets.

 


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