The Phillies were booming with optimism at the start of their 1964 season. After a long era of dismal teams, it seemed that the Phillies were finally ready to field a club that was worthy of special accomplishments.
Between 1958 and 1962, the Phillies had finished four straight times in last place and once in seventh. They hadn’t been in the first division since 1955. In 1961, they had lost an all-time record 23 straight games. Now, after climbing to fourth place the previous year, it was time to move up and become a legitimate contender.
That is exactly what happened. For 150 games. And then the bottom dropped out, creating one of the worst collapses in baseball … and sports … history. It was a Philadelphia cultural disaster that even now, 50 years later, has not and can not be forgotten.
With 12 games left to play in the season, the Phillies were running away with the National League pennant. They had a 6 1/2 game lead, and World Series tickets were being printed.
How could a team not win the pennant with that kind of lead? The Phillies found a way. They lost 10 straight games, toppled out of first place, and blew what would’ve been the Phils’ first pennant since 1950.
Before that, it had been a spectacular season. The Year of the Blue Snow, it was being called, because everything was going just right. Big crowds would come to Connie Mack Stadium nearly every game, ultimately reaching a then-club record 1,425,891 for the season.
This was a team full of outstanding players. It had Dick Allen, Johnny Callison, Tony Taylor, Tony Gonzalez, Wes Covington, and Clay Dalrymple in the starting lineup. Cookie Rojas was an excellent utility player. And Jim Bunning, Chris Short and Art Mahaffey in the starting rotation and Jack Baldschun in the bullpen anchored a superior pitching staff.
During the season, there were plenty of highlights.
Bunning, obtained in a trade and en route to a 19-win season, pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day, the first perfect game thrown during the regular season since 1922.
Callison, who would finish with 31 home runs and 104 RBI, hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the National League a 7-4 victory in the All-Star Game. And Allen hit .318 with 29 home runs, and would later be named the league’s Rookie of the Year.
“We really had a good team,” Allen said many years later. “It was probably one of the best I ever played on. We played well all season until the end.”
The Phillies had a master strategist as a manager. Gene Mauch, who had taken the reigns in 1960, made moves that had never been seen before. Some said the skipper with the hot temper overmanaged. But the Little General, as he was called, always seemed to be one move ahead of the opposition.
There were, of course, some shortcomings. The club had no regular shortstop, alternating Ruben Amaro and Bobby Wine. During the season, the Phils used nine players at first base, finally acquiring Frank Thomas, who immediately went on a tear, but then broke his thumb and missed the rest of the campaign.
Throughout the season, 39 different players, 18 of them pitchers, appeared in at least one game.
The Phillies opened the season with a 5-3 win over the New York Mets. At the end of April, they had won 10 of 12 games and were in first place by one game. Through the next two months they were never lower than second except for one day in early May. At one point, the Phils broke Juan Marichal’s 12-game winning streak with a 7-2 win over the San Francisco Giants.
From June 13 through July 9 the Phillies won 19 of 26 games, including Ray Culp’s one-hit, 9-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs. Then a 13-3 streak put them four games ahead on Aug. 15. Two weeks later, during a run that featured Covington’s six RBI with two homers and a double in a 12-9 decision over the Milwaukee Braves, the lead was up to seven and one-half games after Mahaffey blanked the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-0.
On Sept. 1, Callison, Covington, and Thomas all homered in the seventh inning to lead the Phils to a 4-3 win over the Houston Colts.
On the morning of Sept. 20, the Phils’ record was 90-60 and they led by 6 1/2 games. The next seven games were at home. A flag was about to fly at 21st and Lehigh.
Or so everybody thought.
Then on Sept. 21, Cincinnati’s Chico Ruiz did the unthinkable … he stole home with two outs and Frank Robinson at the plate. It gave the Reds a 1-0 victory over the Phils and Mahaffey.
In the next game, the Reds pounded Short to take a 9-2 victory. Vada Pinson followed that with two home runs to give the Reds a 6-4 win. A day later, the Braves beat Bunning, 5-3, with the help of Joe Torre’s three RBI.
Two more losses to the Braves followed. Then on Sept. 27 in their final game of the homestand the Phillies fell out of first place and were replaced by the Reds after getting trounced by Milwaukee, 14-8, despite three home runs by Callison.
“Deep inside, I didn’t really think we’d lose,” Bunning recalled. “I kept thinking, ‘Are you kidding? We can’t blow this. It’s got to stop. All we need is to win a couple of games.’”
The Phillies hoped their luck would improve as they began a road trip. But a change of scenery didn’t matter, and they crashed to third place after a 5-1 loss to the Cardinals and Bob Gibson. A 4-2 defeat at St. Louis followed, and then to add insult to injury, the Phillies lost to former Phil Curt Simmonds and the Cards, 8-5, for their 10th straight loss.
The streak was finally over. While it existed, Mauch had started Bunning and Short each three times and Mahaffey and Dennis Bennett each twice. Despite being highly criticized over the years for using each starter with three days rest, Mauch had little choice since the other starter, Culp, was injured and couldn’t pitch.
The Phillies, though, weren’t out of the race yet. After a day off, they beat the Reds, 4-3, as reliever Ed Roebuck got the win. Another off day followed. The Phils trailed both the Reds and Cardinals by one game. If they could beat Cincinnati in the final game of the season, and the Mets beat the Cardinals, the first three-way tie in history would result.
The Phillies did their part by trouncing the Reds, 10-0, as Allen homered twice and drove in four runs and Bunning fired a six-hitter. But the Cardinals beat the Mets, 11-5, to clinch the pennant. The Phils and Reds tied for second with 92-70 records.
That ended the most calamitous season in Phillies history and sent an entire city into a state of shock.
“It was,” Callison remembered years later, “the worst disappointment I ever had. It was such a great year otherwise. I never saw any other team that was as together as much as that one. Everybody pulled for everybody else. Everything we did was right until the last 12 games.”
Then the Blue Snow turned into mud. And it would be another dozen years before the Phillies would return to the land of pennant contenders.
Phillies’ 10 game losing streak in 1964
Sept. 21 (90-60, +6.5)
Reds 1, Phillies 0: Yes, Chico Ruiz steals home, with two outs and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson at bat, and the Phillies are shut out by John Tsitouris (in the final game of the season, the Phillies score 10 runs against Tsitouris and six relievers, about two weeks too late). It’s the seventh straight one-run game the Phillies have played, of which they’ve won only two. The Phillies leave eight men on base, including pinch-runner Adolfo Phillips after Wes Covington’s leadoff double in the ninth. Dick Allen, whose double is the Phillies’ only other extra base hit, is out trying to stretch it into a triple in the third. Art Mahaffey is the hard-luck loser.
Sept. 22 (90-61, 5.5)
Reds 9, Phillies 2: The Phillies start accepting World Series ticket request. By the next morning, there are more than 50,000 at the post office. Pete Rose steals home on a double steal, again with Frank Robinson batting. Then Robinson homers to finish a fourrun third off Chris Short, and it’s 60 before the Phillies finally score after 19.1 innings without a run. Phillies reliever Ed Roebuck hits Ruiz in the eighth and Ruiz, leading 91, steals second. Jim O’Toole throws the Reds’ second straight complete game.
Sept. 23 (90-62, +4.5)
Reds 6, Phillies 4: No steals for Chico Ruiz, but he homers for the Reds’ first run in the fourth (it’s the second of his rookie season, and the last he’ll ever hit in the major leagues). Phillies take a 32 lead into the seventh, but the Reds knock out starter Dennis Bennett with two singles. Pete Rose’s RBI single off Ed Roebuck ties the game, and Vada Pinson’s threerun homer unties it. Reds manager Dick Sisler, a hero of the Phillies’ 1950 Whiz Kids pennant, goes to his bullpen for the first time in the series and Sammy Ellis, 23, fans five Phillies in the final three innings. Sisler became Reds manager because Fred Hutchinson was stricken with cancer. Hutchinson, 45, returns for the final game of the season against the Phillies. He dies five weeks later.
Sept. 24 (90-63, +3.5)
Braves 5, Phillies 3: Joe Torre triples twice and knocks in three runs, and winning pitcher Wade Blasingame throws seven shutout innings and has an RBI single as Milwaukee builds a 50 lead. The Philies use two walks, a wild pitch and three singles to score three times in the eighth, but reliever ChiChi Olivo fans Tony Gonzalez with two on to end the inning. Jim Bunning goes six innings in taking the loss.
Sept. 25 (90-64, +3)
Braves 7, Phillies 5 (12): Phillies rally from tworun deficits in the eighth and 10th; Braves score twice in the 12th. Chris Short takes a 10 lead into the seventh when Denis Menke reaches on Clay Dalrymple’s catcher’s interference to start a tworun rally (a Dalrymple error in the 12th provides some symmetry and allows the Braves’ final run to score). Johnny Callison’s two-run homer ties it in the eighth, and Dick Allen’s two-out, two-run, inside the park home run negates Torre’s two-run homer in the 10th.
Sept. 26 (90-65, +1.5)
Braves 6, Phillies 4: Alex Johnson homers in the first, the Phillies take a 40 lead in the second and Art Mahaffey pitches seven innings and turns a lead over to the bullpen. Bobby Shantz, 38, preserves it by working out of a basesloaded, one out jam in the eighth but isn’t as fortunate in the ninth. Trailing 43, the Braves load the bases on two hits and an error; a triple by Rico Carty (Rookie of the Year runner-up to Dick Allen) unloads them. The Phillies go down 123 in the bottom of the ninth vs. 43-year-old Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, knocked out of the rotation by his 5.29 ERA. It’s Spahn’s second save of the year and 27th career.
Sept. 27 (90-66, +.5)
Braves 14, Phillies 8: Johnny Callison hits three home runs, but the Phillies need three or four more. They lead 32 after three, but Jim Bunning, starting on two days rest, gives up six runs in the fourth. Reliever Dallas Green doesn’t fare much better, giving up four more runs in the fifth. By the time Callison hits his first home run, the Braves lead 123; it’s 144 when Callison hits his second. In the ninth, the Phillies need a touchdown and twopoint conversion. It’s 146 when Callison hits his last homer of the day and season. When the game ends, the Phillies fall out of first place for the first time since the morning of July 16, 73 days earlier. They do not return to it this late in the season for more than a decade, until the National League has gone from 10 teams to 12, one division to two, and it takes winning the NLCS to win the pennant.
Sept. 28 (90-67, -.5)
Cardinals 5, Phillies 1: Chris Short starts on two days rest and doesn’t fare any better than Bunning, failing to finish the sixth inning. The Cards nick Short for runs in the second, fourth and sixth, which is plenty for Bob Gibson, who throws a five-hitter through eight. The Phillies start 22-year-old rookie Costen Shockley at first base for the first time since injured Frank Thomas was acquired in July. Shockley, who hit 36 homers in AAA, singles once in four at-bats and doesn’t play again until he pinch-hits in the 100 season finale. He’s traded after the season for Bo Belinsky, hits .187 for the Angels in 1965 and never plays in the majors again.
Sept. 29 (90-68, -1.5)
Cardinals 4, Phillies 2: Dennis Bennett starts, his arm sore, and can’t finish the second inning. Manager Gene Mauch brings in Ed Roebuck, usually a late-inning specialist, in the second, and the Phils close to 32 on a two-run Gus Triandos pinch-single in the fourth. But the Phils don’t score again, Bill White homers in the sixth and Cardinal starter Ray Sadecki wins his 20th of the season. Johnny Callison, too sick to start, singles as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and stays in the game. The Cardinals don’t object when Callison dons a windbreaker, in violation of baseball rules. The ailing Callison is unable to zip up his jacket, so White does it for him. After the season, Bennett is traded to Boston for good-hit, poor-fielding first baseman Dick Stuart.
Sept. 30 (90-69, -1.5)
Cardinals 8, Phillies 5: Jim Bunning starts again on two days rest and gives up two in the second (a Tim McCarver homer), two in the third and two more in the fourth before Bobby Locke relieves him and gives up two more. It’s 80 Cards after four, and that’s more than enough for former Whiz Kid Curt Simmons, who pitches into the ninth. The Phillies get the tying run to the on deck circle before rookie Gordie Richardson gets his first big league save. Bunning, who was 185 before the streak, falls to 188; his 18th win at Los Angeles on Sept. 20 is still, 10 days later, the most recent Phillies win.
The day after the Phillies’ 10th straight loss is their first off day in more than a month. Their last previous day off was the last day of August. They are 2.5 games behind the first place Cardinals (9267) and 1.5 games behind second-place Cincinnati (9168), which beats the Cubs on Oct. 1 to make it a 2 game lead. The Phillies (9070) have two games left at Cincinnati; the Cards have three games remaining with the last place Mets (51108). If the Phillies sweep the Reds, and the Mets sweep the Cards, the top three teams will be tied for first. Sure enough, the Phillies score four runs in the eighth inning on Oct. 2, tying the game on a Dick Allen triple and taking the lead on Alex Johnson’s single to beat the Reds 4-3.
The losing streak is over. The Mets beat the Cards and Bob Gibson 10 on Al Jackson’s five-hitter. On Saturday, the Mets beat the Cards again, 155, while the Phils and Reds are idle. The Cards and Reds are tied, and the Phillies trail both by a game with one to play. The Phillies catch the Reds and thrash them 100 on the season’s final day, as Allen homers twice and Bunning, back on three days rest, wins his 19th.
The Mets lead the Cards, 32 in the fifth. But the Cards rally to score three times in the fifth and sixth innings, Gibson pitches four innings of relief on a day’s rest, and the Cards win the game 115 and the NL pennant. The Phillies and Reds tie for a second, a game back.