Before Comcast SportsNet came about in 1997, there was PRISM. No, not the NSA’s mass surveillance program, but rather the cable television channel, Philadelphia Regional In-Home Sports and Movies. PRISM was launched in 1976 as a joint venture between Ed Snider’s Spectacor and 20th Century Fox. For a subscription fee of around $12, Philadelphians had, for the first time, the ability to watch all Flyers, Phillies, and Sixers home games, all Big 5 basketball matchups, and all WWF events held at the Spectrum.
In addition to broadcasting live sporting events, PRISM showed a variety of other programming. Under the direction of Sport Director Jim Barniak, PRISM and its sister station SportsChannel Philadelphia, had a slew of sport talk shows and anthologies (The Great Sports Debate, Broad and Pattison, and Sports Scrapbook among others), as well as countless movies (and even the occasional late night skin flick). PRISM had it all. However, the station had some teething issues.
PRISM spent the first five years of existence operating at a loss. This could be attributed to the cost of acquiring the rights to broadcast sporting events and movies, as well as management’s reluctance to run advertisements. At launch, PRISM had a grand total of six subscribers. In the early days of cable, there were very few cable providers and the vast majority of American urban areas were not wired for cable. Those who were fortunate enough to live in an area with the necessary wiring faced astronomical costs. In 1976 PRISM’s $12 price tag was the equivalent of $52.20 in 2017 dollars. At a time when gasoline cost $0.59 per gallon, and median income was around $13,000, PRISM was a luxury that many families could simply not afford.
By 1986, PRISM had a subscriber base of approximately 370,000 households in the Philadelphia area. The majority of these subscribers were suburbanites, as much of the actual city of Philadelphia remained unwired for cable. However, there was a slight loophole that Philadelphian’s could exploit. From 1983-1985, the signal for PRISM was broadcast over the air via WWSG Channel 57. The signal was scrambled, however, this scrambled signal was easily decoded with the proper equipment. This arrangement ended after channel 57 was sold to a new owner and changed over to an entertainment channel later to become UPN-57 (now CW Philly).
Ownership of PRISM varied a great deal over the station’s lifetime. Originally a joint venture between Spectacor and 20th Century Fox, the network became fully owned by Spectacor in 1982. Ed Snider’s group would promptly sell PRISM a year later to a joint venture between Rainbow Media and the Washington Post. In 1985, CBS purchased a minority share in the network before cashing out in 1987. The Washington Post also sold its interest in the venture to Rainbow Media, leaving the Cablevision (formerly owned by the Dolan family, now Altice USA) subsidiary as the sole owner. A deal to sell a 50% share to NBC for a 50% Cablevision interest in the new NBC cable channel CNBC fell through in 1989, leaving Cablevision as the sole owner of PRISM until shortly before the channel’s demise.
In 1990, Cablevision launched a sport-specific basic cable channel called SportsChannel. This channel carried PRISM sport events in the event that there was a scheduling conflict. While the channels were affiliated, they maintained their own separate graphics and announcing teams until 1995, when Cablevision created a uniform appearance that was used on both channels. With a growing network of channels, a new 10-year carrier deal with Comcast, and an ever growing subscriber base, life must have been looking pretty sweet to PRISM’s management. Unbeknownst to all, the end was nigh.
The end of PRISM came rather suddenly in the form of the juggernaut that is Comcast. In 1996, Comcast acquired Spectacor and all of its assets, including the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Philadelphia 76ers, the Spectrum, and the new arena now known as the Wells Fargo Center. The new Comcast-Spectacor behemoth announced that they would be allowing the Flyers and Sixers broadcast deals with PRISM to lapse in favor of starting a new regional sports network that would be centered around their team’s games. PRISM had already lost their TV deal with the Big 5 over a monetary dispute (The Big 5 wanted to be paid for the broadcast rights, while Cablevision felt that the Big 5 should have been paying them), and now lost two of their three professional sports broadcast deals. However, there was one saving grace: this new network would take some time to get started. As the Flyers deal had lapsed just after the merger, this meant that the team was without a broadcast partner. Cablevision, believing that they could get a one-year deal on the cheap, sent the Flyers (and thusly Comcast) a low-ball offer. The response from the Flyers was that they would be producing their own broadcasts in-house, and would sell the rights to said broadcasts to local networks until Comcast SportsNet was ready to air. Panicked, Cablevision agreed to a one-year deal worth approximately $5 million dollars.
In the meantime, Cablevision sold a 40% stake in their sports holdings to Fox/Liberty media for a cool $850 million in June of 1997. PRISM was meant to be rolled into the new Fox Sports Networks, with national pieces being mixed in with local content. There was a slight issue with this however, as the Phillies had just jumped ship to Comcast. This left PRISM with no long-term commitments from any sport organization. Fox decided that the best way to handle this was at the negotiating table. In late summer, Comcast and Fox came to an agreement. PRISM and SportsChannel were shutdown on October 1st, 1997, and the Sixers were let out of their broadcast deal. In exchange, SportsChannel’s signal was purchased by Comcast to be used by the new Comcast SportsNet, while PRISM’s signal was retained by Fox/Liberty, and hosted the Premium movie channel Starz!. Just like that, PRISM was gone.
PRISM and SportsChannel undoubtedly changed the course of Philadelphia sports fandom. Prior to PRISM, Philly fans had three options for consuming Philly sports. They could go to the game, listen to it on the radio, or read about it the next day in The Bulletin, Inquirer, or Daily News. They could also hope and pray that their team was good enough to feature on nationally televised games. Outside of the ranks of the dedicated beat writer, the sport media lens was very broad and unfocused. PRISM was a key part in focusing that lens in Philly, and came about at a time where all of the teams were winning. This success, coupled with the ability to watch that success helped to create the Philadelphia superfan of today.
Until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, American Major professional baseball had been segregated. African-American baseball enthusiasts were forced to form their own leagues, known collectively as The Negro Leagues. From 1933-1952, the Philadelphia Stars were the team that represented Philadelphia’s black community. They were founded by Ed Bolden, the former owner of the Hilldale Athletic Club. The team was also partially owned and financed by Eddie Gottlieb, the owner of the SPHAS basketball team and the future owner of the Philadelphia Warriors NBA franchise. They played at 44th and Parkside in West Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Railroad Company YMCA Ballpark, except for on Monday nights, when they played at Shibe Park. In 1933, the Stars were an independent team, meaning they were not part of any official league. However, the next year saw them join the Negro National League, the country’s premier baseball league for African Americans.
That initial NNL season would be a great year for the club. Behind the superb pitching of Stuart “Slim” Jones and the hitting of Baseball Hall of Famers Jud Wilson and Biz Mackey, the Stars controversially won the 1934 National Negro League Championship over the Chicago American Giants. During the 6th game, a scuffle broke out in which a Stars’ player apparently touched the Umpire. As this was an ejection worthy offense, Chicago’s manager protested, but the player was not ejected. The Stars would win game 6 to tie up the series at 3-3. The deciding game 7 would be called due to darkness at 4-4. In game 8, Slim Jones would dominate the Giants lineup, pitching a shutout on the way to a 2-0 Stars victory. However, neither team was pleased. The Stars claimed that the Giants used illegal players, while the Giants were upset that there were games played at night. The NNL commissioner threw out both complaints, and the Stars were declared champions. This championship was to be the team’s only triumph in their history. The team’s fortunes slumped with the performance of Slim Jones. Jones died in December of 1938 of pneumonia at age 25 after, allegedly, selling his coat for a bottle of whiskey.
Due to the lack of consistent record keeping in the Negro National League, much of the history of the Stars is unknown. However, what is known is that they played in the NNL until 1948, when the league went under. After Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the talent level in the Negro Leagues declined severely as black players were poached from their Negro League clubs. This left only the Negro American League for the Stars. The Philadelphia Stars played two more seasons in the NAL before the team folded.
The Stars had some notable players not named Slim Jones. They had several Hall of Famers play for them, including but not limited to: legendary pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige (two separate stints 1945, 1950), Philadelphia’s own Roy Campanella (1944), Jud Wilson (1933-39), and James “Biz“ Mackey (1933-1937). Additionally the Stars fielded 1956 MLB All-Star Harry Simpson (1946-1948), and Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, a player-coach for the legendary barnstorming New York Renaissance basketball team. (1940).
Looks like I’m also gonna have to update the Phillies All-Nickname Team.
Phenomenal Smith was born John Francis Gammon in Manayunk in 1864, and made his pro debut with the Athletics of the American Association in 1884. The next year he joined the Brooklyn Grays. It did not go well. His teammates didn’t appreciate the cocky 20-year old, and when he said he didn’t need teammates to win, they taught him a lesson. In his first start, the Grays intentionally committed 14 errors and Smith lost 18-5. The team President fined the players $500 each, but in an effort to ensure team harmony, fired Gammon after only one game.
Following that debacle, he joined the Newark Little Giants of the Eastern League. On October 3rd of 1885, he threw a no-hitter in which he struck out 16 and didn’t let a ball leave the infield. The performance was so remarkable that it earned him a new nickname, Phenomenal Smith.
He kicked around the majors and minors for the next several years, re-appearing with the Athletics in 1889, then joining the Phillies in 1890. He was cut in 1891, and never made it back to the majors, though he played and coached in the minors for another 15 years, playing for colorful teams such as the Green Bay Bays, the Hartfort Cooperative, and even a team that named itself after him, the Pawtucket Phenoms. While coaching a team in Norfolk, VA, he signed a young Christy Mathewson. Under Smith’s tutelage, Matthewson thrived, and by the end of the season he was signed by the New York Giants.
After retiring, Smith joined the Manchester, Massachusetts police department. He died in 1952 at the age of 87.
Excited about Scott Alberts of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia coming to speak at the store on Saturday, I was doing a little research on the Athletic Club and came across this amazing lithograph. It was drawn by John L. Magee in 1867, and it shows a highly detailed picture of a baseball game between the Athletic Club of Philadelphia and the Atlantics of Brooklyn. The game in question took place on October 22nd, 1866, and was named the Second Great Match Game of the Championship.
Be sure to click on the photo to check out some of the detail. A few things to note. For one, it appears that men have all the Standing Room Only seats, but there a considerable amount of women at the game, all of them sitting in the bleachers. The game was played at the ballpark the team used in the 1860s. It didn’t have a name, but it was located right beside the Wagner Institute (more on that soon). There is a pickpocket who has just gotten busted, it appears, in the lower left, with the stolen pocketwatch in hand.
In the middle, bottom, we see a man holding a sheet of paper with the words Toodles on it.
That man appears to be Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, and he’s presenting Toodles to his business partner, John Sleeper Clark. Booth and Clark managed the Walnut Street Theater at the time, and Toodles was a popular play that Clark regularly starred in. Below is a photoraph of Clark, proving it to be him. And not only would it make sense for the other man to be Booth, but the aquiline nose and prominent jaw certainly make it look like him.
(Before we go any further, I want to be sure to give credit where credit is due. The picture comes courtesy of Baseball Researcher, and his friend Rob Pendell found out about Toodles. Just incredible detective work, and I thought a few more people might be interested in this.)
Booth and Clark weren’t only business partners, they were also brothers-in-law, as Clark had married Booth’s sister Asia. In fact, Clark spent time in prison after the Lincoln assassination because he handed over letters John Wilkes Booth had sent him before the assassination to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which then published them. Less than a year after attending this ballgame, he moved to London with Asia and his kids.
(It wasn’t Magee’s first time drawing a Booth. Around the same time, he had drawn this picture of John Wilkes being tempted by the devil to kill Lincoln.)
The ballpark was located right next to the Wagner Institute, as you can see in the picture below. I have posted it next to picture I took at the Wagner a couple of weeks ago. I believe the place I took the picture would have been right around where the Athletics clubhouse was. Which makes it appear that John L. Magee was probably drawing from a window in the back of the Institute while he was watching the game. It would make sense, as the picture does seem to drawn from an elevated vantage point.
As for the game itself, the two teams had built quite a rivalry, and three weeks previous a record crowd of 30,000 had come out in Philly to see the two teams play (that’s more people than the Phillies average per game this season). The crowd had been so large that the game had to be cancelled. One week previous to the October 22nd game, they had gone to head to head again, in the first game of the championship, and 18,000 had shown up in Brooklyn to see the Atlantics win 27-17. The Athletics had been hurt by the 44 errors they made. It was a rare loss for the Athletics; they would finish 23-2 that season in league play, averaging almost 50 runs a game. Atlantic wasn’t too shabby themselves. They finished 17-3.
As for the players, after consulting with Scott Alberts, who is speaking at Shibe Sports on Saturday at 5:30 p.m., here they are:
- At bat is Dick McBride. He was a star pitcher for the team.
- On deck is Al Reach. Once his playing career was done, he ran a sporting goods store that made him millions. He also helped found the Phillies and was their first team President. His partner at his store was Benjamin Shibe, the man who the store is named after (he co-founded the A’s with Connie Mack). You will now find a historical marker at Reach’s stores former location, 1820 Chestnut.
- Dan Kleinfelder is running to second. He batted leadoff and played outfield.
- Checking in at the table is Charles Gaskill. An outfielder, he would die at the age of 32 in 1870.
- Sitting next to him is Count Sensenderfer. Born on Spring Garden with the name John Phillips Jenkins Sensenderfer in 1848, he was called the Count because of his aristocratic air. He was a star, but his career was beset with injuries. He later served two terms as Philadelphia County Commissioner.
- Standing with bat in hand is Wes Fisler.The son of Camden’s Mayor, he was a short first baseman who today is best known for scoring the first run in MLB hisory.
- Sitting next to him is Patsy Dockney. This Ireland-born star was renowned for his toughness. The night before a game in St. Louis, he got in a knife fight and needed 50 stitches. The next morning, he asked a nurse to fetch him some water, slipped out the door while she was gone, and ran down to the ballpark to catch that days game.
- Standing next to him is Ike Wilkins. Don’t know much about the Athletic shortstop except that a trophy bat presented to him was found in a Philly attic a few years ago.
- And sitting to the far right is Lip Pike. The first Jewish baseball star, he was a 21-year old rookie at the time of this game. He had hit 6 home runs in a single game earlier that year. Nonetheless, he was kicked off the team the next year. He was born in New York, however, and according to his SABR bio, non-native players were frowned upon by the A’s. By the time baseball officially went pro in 1871, he was a star for the Troy Haymakers. There’s a pic of him below.
In Game 2, it was all Athletics, as they were leading 31-12 when the game was called of rain after 7 innings*. The bad weather didn’t stop people from coming out to see the game, however (including at least one well-prepared man, standing near the batter, with an umbrella). 20,000 were on hand to cheer on the home squad, including a pickpocket, an assassin’s brother, and a bleacher full of ladies. Thank you, John L. Magee for creating something so remarkable almost 150 years ago.
*Game 3 was never played; there was an argument about gate receipts.
We have Athletic club t-shirts you can purchase here. Scott Alberts, of the vintage baseball club Athletics, will be speaking at Shibe Sports at 5:30. Admission is free, and beer and snacks will be provided.
On Sunday afternoon, the Phillies got no-hit by Josh Beckett at Citizen’s Bank Park. It was only the 2nd no-hitter ever thrown at CBP (the first was thrown by Roy Halladay). But it was hardly the first time the Phils had been no-hit. Here’s a list of all previous no-hitters thrown against the Phillies with fun facts about each one.
September 13, 1883-Hugh Daily/ Cleveland Blues. The first man to no-hit the Phillies had only one hand…his left hand had been blown off in a gun accident when he was a kid. The next year he would throw 4 one-hitters in a single season, a record he still shares today with Grover Cleveland Alexander.
July 12, 1900-Noodles Hahn/ Cincinnati Reds. The first MLB no-hitter of the new century. Remarkably, the next day after getting no-hit, the Phillies scored 23 runs. (You can get yourself a 1900 Reds cap here.)
July 4, 1908-Hooks Wiltse/ New York Giants. This is a famous one, where a blown umpire’s call cost Wiltse a perfect game with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the 9th.
September 6th, 1912- Jeff Tesreau/ New York Giants. Tesreau was a rookie sensation, leading the NL with a 1.96 ERA that year.
September 9th, 1914- Iron Davis/ Boston Braves. The no-hitter was the highlight of Davis’s otherwise uneventful major league career. Interestingly, he also went 3-4 at the plate that afternoon. They were the only three hits he had all year. (You can purchase a Braves hat from that era here.)
May 7th, 1922- Jesse Barnes/ New York Giants. Three years earlier, Barnes and the Giants had beaten the Phillies at the Polo Grounds in 51 minutes, still the shortest 9-inning game in MLB history.
September 13, 1925-Dazzy Vance/ Brooklyn Robins.Known for his blazing fastball, Vance would lead the NL in strikeouts for 7 straight years, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.
June 12th, 1954-Jim Wilson/ Milwaukee Braves. Wilson was a journeyman who played for seven different teams in his 12 year career. He later became GM of the Milwaukee Brewers. (You can purchase a 1954 Milwaukee Braves hat here.)
September 25, 1956- Sal Maglie/ Brooklyn Dodgers. Two weeks after throwing this no-hitter against the Phils, Sal the Barber was on the losing end of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series. (Get the iconic 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers hat here.)
August 18th, 1960- Lew Burdette/ Milwaukee Braves. The Braves beat the Phillies 1-0. Burdette scored the only run of the game.
September 16, 1960- Warren Spahn/ Milwaukee Braves. The 39 year-old lefty became the second Brave pitcher to no-hit the Phillies in less than a month. Both games took place at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
May 17, 1963- Don Nottebart/ Houston Colt .45s. The 20-year old Nottebart (above, celebrating the no-no with teammates) threw the first no-hitter in .45s/Astros history. The Phillies did manage to push a run across, however, thanks to an error and a sac fly.
June 4, 1964- Sandy Koufax/ LA Dodgers. Koufax’s third no-hitter in three years, only rookie Dick Allen reached base, on a walk in the 4th.
July 29th, 1968- George Culver/ Cincinnati Reds. A few years later, Culver would become a member of the Phillies. (Get a 1960s Cincinnati Reds hat here.)
April 17th, 1969- Bill Stoneman/ Montreal Expos. Only the 9th game in the history of the Expos franchise, and only Stoneman’s fifth start in the majors. He would throw another no-no three years later. This would be the last no-hitter pitched against the Phillies on their home field until 2014. (The Phillies were never no-hit at Vet Stadium.) (Purchase a 1969 Expos hat here.)
July 20th, 1970- Bill Singer/ LA Dodgers. Pretty cool: you can listen to Vin Scully call the 9th inning of this no-hitter here.
April 16th, 1972- Burt Hooton/ Chicago Cubs. Hooton is of course best remembered for melting down in the famous Black Friday game in 1977. But five years previous, as a Cubs rookie, he threw a no-hitter against the Phillies in only the 4th start of his career.
April 16th, 1978- Bob Forsch/ St. Louis Cardinals. The last no-hitter thrown against the Phils until Beckett’s on Sunday, it was helped by a controversial call by the official scorer in the 8th inning, giving an error on a play the Phillies thought was a hit by Garry Maddox.
May 25th, 2014- Josh Beckett/ LA Dodgers. The 5th Dodger pitcher to no-hit the Phillies, the most of any team.
Part of the fun of being a baseball fan is the knowledge that otherwise ordinary players sometimes become legends overnight. Howard Ehmke was one of those players. Though he had been a very effective pitcher for the Red Sox in the early 1920s, by 1929 he had run out of steam, and Connie Mack was ready to let him go that August. But the 35-year old sidewinder convinced the Tall Tactician that he had one more great game left in his arm, and he remained on the roster.
Mack shocked the baseball world when he went with Ehmke as his starter before Game 1 of the 1929 World Series against the Cubs. Even Al Simmons was reported to have said to Mack when he saw Ehmke warm up, “Are you going to pitch him?” It was one of the greatest hunches in baseball history. Ehmke mowed down the Cubs right-handed heavy lineup, striking out 13 and leading the A’s to a 3-1 win (You can read the full story here). They would go on to win the Series in 5 games. Only three pitchers have ever struck out more than 13 in the 84 Fall Classics since then.
That winter, he decided to approach Mack with an idea. Baseball fields turned into such a mess when it started to rain, Ehmke thought it would be a good idea to maintain the integrity of the infield by spreading a large canvas tarpaulin over the diamond when it started to rain. Mack decided to invest in the company. It paid off. Both the tarp and Ehmke Manufacturing were born, and the company still operates out of Northeast Philadelphia (though they now make military gear instead of baseball gear).
I’ve been away from here for a minute but with a good reason that I think most of you will be quite excited about…I’m teaming with Phillies Nation to do a Philly Dream Series between the 1929 A’s and the 2008 Phillies! That’s right, instead of recreating a Series like I did here the past two years with the 1911 World Series and the 1929 World Series, we’ve decided to create our own Series. We’ve done it by running the two teams through a sim called Whatifsports.com. We’re going to have pregame videos, box scores, postgame writeups and some other really fun stuff, as the games will take place on the same days as the actual World Series (Game 1 is Wednesday). Really excited to take this goofy little idea to the next level and to a larger crowd, and I certainly hope you faithful fans of the site who followed my last two Series will come along as well. This is gonna be a heck of a lot of fun.
1990 had not been a particularly memorable year for Terry Mulholland. He was 6-6 with a 4.34 ERA on the season, and as he took the Vet Stadium mound on August 15th against a Giants team led by Will Clark and Matt Williams, he didn’t feel particularly great.
“It wasn’t a great warmup,” Mulholland said. “I didn’t throw more than a handful of balls over the plate. I wasn’t that enthusiastic about the way I was pitching.”
But once the umpire yelled “Play Ball!” it was quickly apparent that he had something special. He struck out the first two batters, and mowed down the Giants lineup through the first six innings, with not a single Giant reaching first base.
Mulholland’s family, who were watching from their home in Uniontown, PA with Terry’s maternal grandparents, could feel the excitement rising. “We stayed with that tradition of not saying ‘no-hitter'” Terry’s father said. “We’re not even superstitious, but baseball players do it that way in the dugout, so we did too.”
Then, in the top of the 7th, a minor blemish. Charlie Hayes scooped up a Rich Parker grounder and threw it erratically to first. The throw pulled Kruk off the bag, and an error was charged to Hayes. Still, Mulholland had his no-hitter intact, and he enticed Dave Anderson to ground into a double play, eliminating Parker, then covered the bag on a grounder to Krukker to end the inning.
By that point, the crowd of 32, 156 at the Vet was going wild. The Phils had taken a comfortable 6-0 lead, so the only drama left was whether or not Mulholland would get his no-no. He goaded three Giants in the 8th to hit lazy fly balls into the outfield, and he was three outs away from becoming the first Phillie to throw a no-hitter in front of a home crowd since Red Donahue had shut down the Boston Beaneaters at the Baker Bowl in 1898.
Pinch hitter Bill Bathe led off the 9th by grounding out to Charlie Hayes. Then Juan Uribe sent a weak dribbler to short. Out #2. Up to the plate stepped a pinch hitter, future Hall of Famer Gary Carter. Mulholland quickly ran the count to 1-2. The crowd began to chant “TER-RY! TER-RY!” Mulholland began to feel the pressure, and took a timeout to gather his thoughts. “My right leg was beginning to feel kind of wobbly,” he said later. “I didn’t feel 100 percent behind the next pitch, so I huddled with myself.”
Two pitches later, Carter sent a screamer down the third base line, at the man whose earlier error had spoiled the perfect game. “It was a hard shot down the line,” Mulholland said. “I couldn’t tell if it was going to be fair or foul and [Hayes] didn’t have time to make that decision.” Hayes shot his left glove arm across his body, and reeled in the rope (You can watch the play here). It was done. Terry Mulholland had pitched the first no-hitter in Vet Stadium history, against the team that had traded him to the Phils less than a year earlier.
”You can’t realize what went through my mind when he caught that ball. It was such a rush of emotion. I’m not usually an emotional guy, but I knew the significance of that.”
Meanwhile, back in Uniontown, his parents were soaking it all in. “We all just looked at the zeros,” said the senior Terry Mulholland, “and said, ‘Isn’t that great?'”
Pat Gillick is a hero in this town because they won a title under his watch. But it is certainly worth noting that the vast majority of that team was signed by Ed Wade. The only major players on that team brought in by Gillick were Jamie Moyer, Jayson Werth, and Brad Lidge (well, unless you count Matt Stairs as a major part of that team). In 2006, he traded Bobby Abreu for a bag of baseballs. Furthermore, Gillick nearly derailed the team in 2007 when he made one of the worst trades in Phillies history, one that still carries repercussions today.
As the Phils headed into the 2007 season, their front office and fans were dogged by the frustration a team feels when it keeps coming tantalizingly close to the post-season. In 2006, they missed it by three games. In 2005, they missed it by one. So they knew they were close, and thought that a front line pitcher would get them over the top. Enter the vastly overrated Freddie Garcia, coming off a season in which he had won 17 games, but had a bloated ERA of 4.53 (To show how worthless wins are to gauge a pitcher, last year Cliff Lee had 6 wins and a 3.16 ERA). Nonetheless, the Phils thought he could be the staff ace they needed to get them over the hump, and so they decided that he was worth two blue chippers, Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez. Garcia was signed to a one year, $10 million contract, then went out on the field and completely bombed, going 1-5 with a 5.90 ERA. Of course, the numbers were so bad because he was hiding a shoulder injury from the team. After giving up 6 runs and recording 4 outs in a loss to Kansas City in June, he was sent to the DL. He never pitched for the Phillies again.
Now, a Freddie Garcia for Gavin Floyd trade would have been bad enough. Floyd was no superstar, but the numbers he put up from 2008-2010 would have made him a fine back of the rotation pitcher. But it was the other pitcher that makes Gillick look
like a dope, and has to make you wonder if the Phillies would have felt the need to spend so lavishly on starting pitchers at the expense of the bullpen and hitting the past few years. Gio Gonzalez is a full fledged stud, and unlike current Phils pitchers is both young and signed to an incredibly generous deal for the Nationals (5 years, $42 million.) He has been essentially unhittable since 2010, putting up numbers very similar to Cliff Lee’s for about a third of the price, and Gio was #3 in NL Cy Young voting last year. The only scratch on his record is his connection to Biogenesis, which could result in a lengthy suspension in the near future.
It is worth noting that the White Sox blew it just as bad as the Phils did with Gonzalez…after receiving him so generously from Philadelphia, they turned around and traded him to Oakland for Nick Swisher, who lasted one year in Chicago and batted .219.
With the trade deadline coming up (and the Phils hopefully selling), I thought we’d look at a few terrible trades in team history. I’ve already covered a few, but I’m gonna cover a couple more and then make a list of the worst five trades in Phils history.
It’s just incredible how many times the Phils have been raked over the coals by the Cubs. There was the infamous Ryne Sandberg trade, there was the awful Ferguson Jenkins trade, and just as awful as those two was when the Phillies traded away one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history to the Cubbies for a man named Pickles and a few bucks.
In 1915, Alexander established himself as a pitcher on the same level as Walter Johnson. His season is almost incomprehensible to the modern fan. He went an amazing 31-10 with an unbelievable 1.22 ERA. The next year he went 33-12 with a 1.55 ERA. In 1917, he went 30-13 with a 1.83 ERA. An incredible run of seasons, and Alexander had established himself as one of the greatest players in the game. So what did the Phils do? They traded him (and his highly regarded batterymate “Reindeer” Bill Killifer) for practically nothing.
They had their reasons. The US had just been dragged into World War I, and the Phils assumed Alexander would be drafted, so they traded him to the Cubs for Pickles Dillhoefer, Mike Prendergrast, and $55,000. Alexander did indeed get drafted by the Army, and fought on the front lines. The horrifying experience left him deaf in his left ear, injured his arm, left him with epilepsy, and caused him to drink heavily. Even so, he dominated for two years with the Cubs after the war, and remained a decent pitcher into the 1920s. However, his drinking became a major issue, and in 1925 the Cubs sent him off to the Cardinals. He was a World Series hero for the Cards in 1926, and had a few more decent seasons before hanging them up in 1930. He would win a total of 183 games after leaving the Phillies.
As for Pickles and Prendegrast? They were non-entities. Pickles would play a total of 8 games for the Phils, batting .091. Prendegrast would last just over a season, going 13-15, with a 3.20 ERA. And even worse than the trade itself, it kicked off an era in futility that has never been matched in pro sports, and probably never will be again. After finishing in 2nd place in 1917, they slipped to 6th place in 1918 without Alexander. They would fall to last place in 1919. It was a position they would get comfortable with…they finished last or next to last in 24 of the next 27 seasons. They finished over .500 in one of those 27 seasons. The Grover Cleveland trade started a freefall which continued downhill for the next generation. Pickles Dillhoefer wouldn’t be around to see the downfall his trade to the Phillies hastened. He died of typhoid in 1922.