Revenge for 1950? Really?

Robin_RobertsThe Phillies brought out Robin Roberts, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher and one of the all-time great guys in the history of the game, so he could talk about his one and only World Series appearance on Monday afternoon. The significance, of course, was that Roberts and the Phillies were swept by Joe DiMaggio’s Yankees in the series that took place 59 years ago.

Some folks around these parts haven’t forgotten about the 1950 World Series mostly because it used to be that the Phillies didn’t play for the championship all that much. After all, before 1950 the Phillies had been to the World Series just once—in 1915—and never again until 1980.

With that kind of track record, it’s obvious to see why the Phillies in the World Series is such a big deal to the old-timers. It’s easier to see why it’s a big deal when they are faced up against the Yankees. They beat them in four straight in 1950, for gosh sakes!

But the world changes, time marches on and all that kind of stuff. The A’s don’t play in Philadelphia or Kansas City anymore. Yankee Stadium has been replaced by a newer Yankee Stadium and Connie Mack Stadium (or Shibe Park depending on your preference or demographic) was like two stadiums ago.

Check this out: my five-year old was born into a world where the Red Sox have won it twice, the White Sox once and where the Phillies are going to the World Series in back-to-back years. It’s crazy. Crazier still, the Yankees haven’t won it since 2000. Think of it… he has never been alive long enough to see the Yankees win the World Series.

Yet 1950 is a big enough deal that they have to push Robin Roberts in front of the microphone so he could talk about Bubba Church, Curt Simmons and, of course, Jim Konstanty.

“The Konstanty thing was a miracle,” Roberts said about the league’s top reliever making his starting debut in Game 1 of the 1950 World Series. “(Manager) Eddie Sawyer gave him the ball and he went out there like he was doing it his whole life. … That really was a miracle. If he would have won that would have been something they talked about forever, but because he lost people kind of forgot about it.”

Yeah, it’s funny how that works.

Then ol’ Robin had to talk about pitch counts and things like that.

“If you ever saw Stanky play…”

Sorry, let’s just cut him off there. If you ever saw Stanky play? Robin, good sir, we never saw you play. No one from the regular group of scribes and definitely not the players knew anything about Roberts or the 1950 Whiz Kids. In fact, on the Phillies coaching staff only two guys were old enough to have vague memories of Roberts’ Phillies. Charlie Manuel was six and Davey Lopes was five when the Phillies last played the Yankees.

They are much older now.

No, the 1950 World Series is about as meaningful as those three games the Phillies and Yankees played back in May. I watched ESPN trot out stats from the series played in May when the Phillies won two of three even though Brad Lidge got two blown saves.

Really? May?

“We’ve played about 200 games since then,” Jayson Werth said, exaggerating slightly. “It doesn’t matter.”

Live in the now, that’s what Robin Roberts does. He says he has the MLB Extra Innings package so he can watch all the games and follows the Phillies just like any die hard baseball fan.

So yeah, Roberts wants the Phillies to get “revenge” for the 1950 World Series. You know, not that he thinks of it that way.

“I really enjoy watching the games,” Roberts said. “It would be awful nice to see them win it again, not just because it’s the Yankees but because they are bordering on something really extraordinary.”

***
Since we’re on the subject of Philadelphia vs. New York in the World Series, how come no one is talking about those A’s and Giants matchups? In three different World Series, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s beat John McGraw’s New York Giants in two out of three.

The Giants took the 1905 World Series in five games, but Philadelphia bounced back in 1911 in six games and then again in 1913 in five games.

So there’s that, too.

These are the good ol’ days

robin_robertsThe Phillies alumni weekends are always good for some unintentional comedy. For instance, amidst guys like Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts, a player like Doug Clemens or Keith Hughes trots out onto the field to be introduced before the game. Looking back at the records, Hughes played in exactly 37 games for the Phillies – 93 over the course of four seasons with Baltimore, New York and Cincinnati.

So maybe a few years down the road guys like Nelson Figueroa and Jack Taschner will jog out onto the field before a game in a Phillies uniform to some polite golf applause.

But after the end of last season the Phillies alumni weekend is something of a relic. Better yet, it reinforces the idea that we are in the midst of the second golden age of the team’s history. There were the years from 1976 to 1983 when the Phillies went to the playoffs six times and the World Series twice.

Baring a collapse of Mets-like proportions (or ’64 Phillies style), the Phillies will go to the playoffs for the third year in a row for just the second time in team history. Moreover, the team already has one World Series title and is a favorite (along with the Dodgers) to get back to the Series for a second year in a row.

No one needs to see old ballplayers like Keith Hughes or even Jim Bunning to trot out onto the field from a historically moribund franchise to realize that these are the good ol’ days. Right here, right now.

That’s the thing isn’t it? By winning the World Series the Phillies have made alumni weekends useless. Sure, it’s neat to see Mike Lieberthal and Jim Kaat around the ballpark again, but really, if there is anything that the Phils prove with their old players is that they weren’t very good for a long, long, long time.

Besides, it used to be that the team needed to summon Mike Schmidt from the golf course in Florida and Steve Carlton from his underground bunker near the Four Corners region of Colorado in order to get folks to come out to the ballpark. That little glimpse at members of the team’s only championship used to put fannies in the seats before folks realized that a contending ballclub was far more interesting than a trip down amnesia lane.

Hey, there’s Greg Luzinski! Didn’t I just see him out in right field eating ribs?

Apropos of nothing (and as pointed out by another scribe), is there another franchise that has a weirder collection of Hall of Famers than the Phillies? Sure, Robin Roberts is a true gentleman and as nice a man there is walking this earth, but the other three? Really? How crazy are Schmidt, Carlton and Bunning?

Plus, why is Jim Bunning in the Hall of Fame to begin with? He never pitched in the World Series and was the ace pitcher on a team responsible for one of the greatest late-season collapses in sports history… hey, winning matters. That’s why they keep score.

If Bunning is a Hall of Famer, then so too are Jim Kaat, Tommy John, Jack Morris, Luis Tiant and Bert Blyleven.

Anyway, at the alumni things Crazy Steve is introduced as “the greatest pitcher in team history,” which is fair. It’s impossible to deny Carlton’s greatness. However, Robin Roberts was no slouch either and it makes one wonder what kind of video-game like numbers he would have produced if the Phillies had been even a bit respectable.

After going to the World Series in 1950, the Phillies finished better than fourth place just one time in Roberts’ tenure with the team. Still, the great righty figured out how to win 20 games and pitch at least 300 innings in six straight years.

Or try this out… after going to the World Series in 1950, the Phillies finished better than third place just twice until getting into the playoffs in 1976. Old-timers day?

No thanks. The good memories are being created out on the field right now.

*

Another interesting tidbit from the alumni weekend was watching Pedro Martinez trot out to the first-base line in his Phillies uniform to salute the team alums. The interesting part about that was that a lot of stat heads and baseball historians regard Martinez as one of the best – if not the best – pitcher of the past 60 years and he still can’t get into a game for the Phillies.

Amazing.

Nothing to see here except for everything

By the time the Olympics end, chances are the story of the American murdered at the Drum Tower on will be lost beneath an avalanche of stories about Michael Phelps, Dara Torres, Tyson Gay and the rest of the probable heroes of the Beijing Games.

But that’s a shame. Todd and Barbara Bachman, both 62, parents of the wife of volleyball head coach Hugh McCutcheon, were stabbed by a Chinese national on Saturday. Todd Bachman died and his wife sustained what were described as life-threatening injuries. Their daughter, Elizabeth Bachman McCutcheon, an Olympian volleyball player in the 2004 Games in Athens, witnessed the entire tragedy, which included the alleged murderer’s leap to his death from 130-feet from the tower.

Reports are that the man was wearing a red shirt and laid on the ground, face down, for two hours before he was removed from the scene.

More strangely, American writers were on the scene covering the murder in great detail before sending the stories back to their papers and onto the World Wide Web. But reports are that the Chinese government made no mention that anything happened on the state-run news broadcasts.

As far as the Chinese government was concerned, nothing happened.

For us, Phil Sheridan and Marcus Hayes delivered riveting accounts of the scene and circumstance of the tragedy. In a time of anguish and despair, Marcus and Phil stepped up.

Read the accounts:

Phil Sheridan: Fatal China stabbing raises questions

Marcus Hayes: Thunderous Silence

***
Meanwhile, back to the relative tranquility of the United States…

Back in 1984 in the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., I stepped onto an elevator with Robin Roberts. We chatted about the Olympics, which was topical since the L.A. Games were approaching and since he was working for USA Baseball as a consultant. The next time I had a chance to talk to Roberts was tonight just as the Phillies were starting the game against the Pirates.

Twenty-four years between chats is too long.

Anyway, aside from the talk about the 1950 baseball season and his ability to pitch nine innings seemingly every time he took the mound, I asked Roberts about that 1984 Olympic team.

“Man, we had some good players,” he said.

They sure did. Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Barry Larkin, B.J. Surhoff and a catcher from Philadelphia named John Marzano took the silver in the first year baseball was re-introduced to the Olympics.

Strangely, the next time I talked to Roberts about Olympic baseball was before the last time the sport will be a part of the Olympic program.

Talk about the circle of life…

Regardless, seeing Roberts wasvery fun. I even wrote about it.

Baseball fans should treasure guys like Roberts for as long as they can.

***
Coming tomorrow in full, blow-by-blow detail:

Charlie vs. Myers.

Don’t mess with Charlie.

Plus, Kobe, LaBron and Darfur.