Born on December 7th, 1936, Bo Belinsky once said, “It’s no fun knowing that in every home in America your home is celebrated as a day of infamy.” He was known for his self demeaning wit, his playboy persona, and his electric fastball. But by the time his career was over, he was also known as one of those tragic figures whose vices prevented him to ever reach his full potential.
Bo Belinsky began his career as a rock star in LA. As a handsome 25-year old rookie, he won his first five starts, threw a no-hitter in his 4th start, and dated Playboy models, soon becaming the toast of the town in a city that rarely elevates baseball players to the level of movie stars. But it wasn’t long before his hard living took a toll, and his fall from grace was swift and spectacular.
In some ways, Belinsky was a perfect example of a typical “What if?” question: if you could be a superstar for 2-3 years, dating Playboy models and partying with the Rat Pack, but have a rough life for the next 40 years, would you do it? It’s a question worth pondering, especially when you consider that his stay at the top included girlfriends such as Connie Stevens, Tina Louise, and Mamie van Doren, the latter of whom he was engaged to. (He later married Playboy Playmate Jo Collins, though the marriage was brief).
His wanderlust and naivete were paradoxically charming and destructive. This from an incredibly fascinating piece by Pat Jordan on Belinsky in SI in 1972 (seriously, a must read).
“My problem was simple, Babe,” he says, staring straight ahead. “I heard music nobody else heard. I remember once in the Texas League when the team bus stopped in Veracruz so we could eat. All the players went into the restaurant except me. I thought I heard music down the street, so I went looking for it. I found a two-piece jazz band playing on the sidewalk in front of a bar. I listened for a while, and when they went inside, I followed them. I had a few drinks and then left. I had every intention of returning to that bus until I ran into another jazz band. I followed them into a bar, too. What I didn’t know was that all these bars hired jazz bands to lure customers inside. Man, after that bar, it seemed like every step I took there were these buglers waiting for me. I woke up six days later in a hotel room in Acapulco. I had a sponsor. This blonde Mexican—she had to be blonde, right!—was sitting by the bed saying, ‘Belinsky! Belinsky! I make you great yanqui bullfighter! But first we must change your name.’ I said, ‘Sure, Babe, we’ll change it to Lance. Lance Belinsky, how’s that?'”
After such a promising start with the Angels, he quickly came crashing down to earth, never to rise again. A month after his no-hitter, he was accused of pulling a woman out of his Cadillac and assaulting her. Two years later, he punched a 64-year old reporter. His days as an Angel were done. His next stop? Philadelphia. The Phillies were, like Belinsky, coming off a disastrous year, and manager Gene Mauch was hoping two negatives would equal a positive. Belinsky arrived with much fanfare, making the cover of SI before throwing his first pitch in Philly. The team was excited that Belinsky was bringing some LA glamour (and his on again off again girlfriend Mamie van Doren) to Philly.
Glamorous Mamie Van Doren was coming to Clearwater to root for ex-fiance Bo. During batting practice several players waited near the gate Mamie was supposed to enter. No luck. Once the game began, shiny heads kept popping up out of the dugout; shiny eyes scanned the stands for Mamie. No Mamie. The Phillies, left at the altar in last year’s pennant race, had been stood up again. Mamie sent word that the weather was too cold. The following day was overcast but mild. Again, no Mamie. “I wasn’t feeling groovy,” she explained. “This would never have happened,” Catcher Gus Triandos told Belinsky, “if we had won the pennant.”
Mauch wasn’t worried about Mamie van Doren, but he was hoping he could bring the former phenom back to the top of his game. He explained what happened in Philly in an excellent 2005 piece in LA Magazine (only the PDF is available, but it’s worth a read, and made the “Best Sports Writing of 2005” book, where I first came across it.)
“I went to a great deal of trouble to get Bo. People said, ‘You’re crazy.’ But I was pretty cocky and thought I could take on anybody.” Convinced that Belinsky’s fastball was his most effective pitch, the manager did his best to persuade him to abandon the showier but less consistent screwball…At first Mauch appeared to make headway. “Bo went to Houston and threw a 3-hitter relying on his fastball. Four days later, we get to Los Angeles, Bo gets two strikes on a hitter in the first inning, and here comes the goddamn screwball. I go to the mound and say, ‘One more of those and you go to the bench.’ The fastball wasn’t flashy enough for Bo. Flash meant a lot to him, ore than baseball did, which he saw as sort of an hors d’oeuvre to get things started-girls, parties.”
Belinsky refused to abandon the screwball, and was relegated to a role in the bullpen. It was in the Philly bullpen that he got hooked on amphetamines. Things went steadily downhill. He left Philly and went to Houston, then to Pittsburgh, then to Cincy. He never recaptured the magic, and ended his career with a 28-51 record and a 4.10 ERA (the ERA sounds respectable, but remember the 60s were a pitcher’s decade).
The above SI article portrays him as a alcoholic, and after that article, things got a lot worse before they got better. He graduated from booze to coke, and began hanging out with gangsters and pimps. He got remarried, but while wacked out of his mind, he shot his wife in the hip. He went in and out of rehab. After he and his wife divorced, he neglected his children. He found Jesus, tried to get clean, and often would go years without a drink. He spent the last decade of his life gainfully employed at a car dealership in Las Vegas. But he never fully escaped his demons. He tried to commit suicide in 1997, and four years later he died at age 64. Interestingly, he was buried 5 plots away from another 1960s star who never could escape his demons, Sonny Liston.
Another Philadelphia tragedy, if you missed it the first time, the Fast Rise and Tragic Fall of Tyrone “The Mean Machine” Everett.
For Eagles fans, it’s death, taxes and hatred for the Cowboys. Despising America’s Team is instinctual, almost genetic. Just as our fathers passed down the “bleeding green” passion that turns the majority of fans into manic depressives on Sundays, they also imparted the feeling that we should hate Dallas above all others. We don’t know why, we just know we are supposed to hate them.
Sure, there’s no shortage of reasons to dislike the Cowboys (See Exhibits A, B, C, D, E and F), but I’ve always wondered why it’s them and not the Giants, or the Mets, or the Penguins, or the Celtics that hold that not-so-special place in our hearts. Luckily, Ray Didinger answered that question a few years ago on Comcast Sportsnet:
If you are a younger fan, you probably never heard about Dallas linebacker Lee Roy Jordan cheap-shotting the Eagles’ Timmy Brown and knocking out four of his teeth. That happened in 1967 and turned the rivalry into a blood feud.
The Cowboys and Eagles first met in 1960, but 1967 was the first year they were divisional rivals. That year, the National Football League Capitol Division (now known as the NFC East) was formed. It consisted of Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington and New Orleans, who would be replaced by the New York Giants in 1968.
The first meeting of the ’67 season took place on October 29 at Franklin Field and ended with a 21-14 Eagles victory. Other than a surprise onside kick that turned into an Eagles touchdown drive, the upset win was pretty uneventful. The same can’t be said for the second Eagles/Dallas game that year. It was December 10, 1967 and the 4-7-1 Eagles traveled to Dallas to take on the division leading 8-4 Cowboys. The Cowboys had already clinched the division, rendering the outcome of the game meaningless. But Dallas’ “doomsday defense” made it a statement game; a statement made at the expense of Timmy Brown’s jaw.
In ’66 Brown ran two kickoffs back for touchdowns in one game against Dallas, propelling the Eagles to a 24-23 win, so it’s not a stretch as to why Brown was a target. In fact, Brown was interviewed by Stan Hochman years later and said he received phone calls the morning of the game from some of the Dallas guys he knew telling him there was a contract on his head.
In the late stages of the game, with Dallas having dominated the Eagles and built a 31-3 lead, the Cowboys fired the first shot in the “blood feud” that exists to this day. The Eagles possessed the ball and a passing play in the flat for Brown. After quarterback Norm Snead’s pass sailed over his head, Timmy Brown slowed down and relaxed. And that’s when it happened: Dallas middle-linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, who was in Brown’s vicinity, dropped Brown with an elbow to the face mask well after the whistle sounded.
With Brown dazed on the ground, Jordan stepped over the injured Eagle, taunting him. The blow was significant; it fractured Brown’s jaw and loosened six of his teeth. Brown said, “I wound up eating nothing but liquids for a month and a half. Jordan got a 15-yard penalty and that’s all.”
The root of the hatred Philadelphians harbor towards the Cowboys, their coaches, their cheerleaders, their fans, their stadium and their colors was a cheap shot on Timmy Brown. “That,” Brown told philly.com in a story in 2013, ” started the rivalry.”
If you’d like to wear your Eagles pride on your sleeve, or your head, pick up one of these vintage Eagles hats from Shibe Vintage Sports and get free shipping with the promo code: eagles2015
September 21st is, quite simply, the darkest day in Philly Sports History. It was on this date, in 1964, that a mediocre utility infielder born with the name Hiraldo Sablon Ruiz did one of the stupidest things a baseball player can do, and in so doing started a chain of events that resulted in one of the most monumental collapses in the history of sports.
Born to a cigar maker in Cuba in 1938, at the time of the events in question he was a 25-year old rookie known as Chico. He is today more famous in Philadelphia than he is in his native city of Santo Domingo. If you don’t know who he is, ask your father. Or better yet, don’t. He seems happy. You’d hate to ruin his day. If your father is the salty sort, he’d probably just utter, “Chico F***ing Ruiz…I don’t want to talk about it.”
Ruiz is the gut punch in Philly that Bartman is in Chicago, and nearly as unlikely. He was a utility infielder with a .236 batting average when the Reds faced off with the Phillies that afternoon in 1964. The Phillies had Art Mahaffey on the mound, and a 6.5 game lead in the National League with 12 games to play. At 2:30 that afternoon, a young second baseman by the name of Pete Rose stepped into the batters box at Connie Mack Stadium, and the darkest day in Phils history began.
The 1964 Phils were a team whose whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The Giants had Mays, the Reds had Robinson, the Pirates had Clemente, the Braves had Aaron, the Phils had…Cookie Rojas. But it was a gritty team, the kind that Philadelphia falls madly in love with (see ’93 Phillies, 2001 Sixers). Go Phillies Go! bumper stickers started appearing on cars, and when World Series tickets went on sale in September, 90,000 were sold within hours. When their plane landed in Philly on September 19th after a West Coast swing, 2,000 fans had greeted them at the airport.
Mahaffey had his best stuff that day, and the game went into the 6th inning at double nil. With one out, Chico Ruiz got a single. Vada Pinson lined a screamer off of Mahaffey’s glove and into right field. Pinson tried to stretch it into a double, but Johnny Callison nailed him at 2nd with a perfect throw. And so, with two outs and Chico on 3rd, up to the plate stepped the dangerous Frank Robinson. Mahaffey quickly ran up two strikes on the right handed slugger, paying little attention to the Cuban dancing off of third base. Mahaffey wound up to deliver the pitch that he hoped would quell the Reds rally…and inexplicably Chico Ruiz broke for home.
If there is anything in baseball that is stupider than stealing home with 2 outs, 2 strikes, and a right hander at the plate, I can’t think of it off the top of my head. Mahaffey would explain why years later. “Chico Ruiz stole home with two outs and two strikes on Frank Robinson. Now you must realize that with two outs and two strikes, if you throw a strike Frank Robinson swings and knocks Chico Ruiz’s head off. It was just so stupid. Ruiz wasn’t even thinking. Robinson was so upset because he was one of the league’s leading hitters and near the lead in RBI and this guy’s stealing home with him hitting. It was just such a crazy thing. We didn’t know it was going to start a 10-game losing streak, but it couldn’t have started in more ridiculous way.”
Mahaffey was shaken by Rico’s brazen stupidity, perhaps scared that if he threw a strike he would be an accessory to an involuntary manslaughter. The ball went flying out of his hands, far outside of catcher Clay Dalrymple’s reach. Ruiz slid safely into home. There was a stone silence, as Phillies fans shook their heads in shock, and the Reds bench was dumbfounded by the stupidity of their 3rd basemen. “It was,” said Pete Rose years later, “The dumbest play I’ve ever seen. Except that it worked.” The Reds took a 1-0 lead, and they held it. The Phillies went 0-8 with runners in scoring position, and the game ended 1-0 in the Reds favor.
After the game, Phils manager Mauch would scream in the clubhouse, “Chico Fucking Ruiz beats us on a bonehead play of the year. Chico Fucking Ruiz steals home with Frank Robinson up! Can you believe it?” The next night, Mauch ordered his pitcher to drill him in the ribs. Ruiz smiled as he walked to first.
The “bonehead play of the year” started the monumental collapse of 1964. The Phils would lose their next 9 games as well, manager Gene Mauch would panic and start his two best pitchers (Bunning and Short) on two days rest 6 times, despite having Ray Culp waiting in the wings. The rest of the collapse is another story for another day. But today is a dark anniversary of the steal that started it all.
As for Chico Fucking Ruiz? In 1967, he became the first and only player to ever pinch hit for Johnny Bench. In 1969, he would utter one of the most hilarious sentences in baseball history. After starting for two straight weeks for injured shortstop Leo Cardenas, Ruiz stormed into the managers office with an ultimatum. “Bench me or trade me!” He was traded to the Angels, where he had a Gilbert Arenas moment with teammate Alex Johnson, allegedly pulling a gun on Johnson in the clubhouse. In 1972, he died in a car accident in San Diego. He was 33-years old. In his 8-year career, he stole home one time.
Big things are expected from the Eagles this season, and plenty of experts have them in the Super Bowl. Let’s go back through the years and see what predictions SI has made in past years. There are some fun ones here. We start with Peter King’s analysis in 2005.
The problems started before camp, of course, when Owens announced that he wanted to renegotiate the seven-year, $49 million contract he signed in 2004. Then he took shots at quarterback Donovan McNabb, calling him a hypocrite; injured his groin; and was se
nt home for arguing with Reid and offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Who knows how this soap opera will play out, but you can be sure that whether Owens plays 16 snaps or 16 games this season, Reid will have the Eagles focused and ready to play.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Terrell Owens singlehandedly destroyed a team perhaps more than any other single player in NFL history. They finished 6-10. In 2002, Peter King saw the Eagles weakness before the season started.
But a funny thing happened on the way to improvement. In the off-season the Eagles lost star middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who was released after a contentious contract negotiation with coach Andy Reid. That loss might be crippling if 275-pound Levon Kirkland or unproven four-year vet Barry Gardner fail to be adequate replacements.
It is well worth noting that this year is not the first time that the Eagles have entered the season without a quality middle linebacker. In 2002, letting the Axeman walk may have very well cost the Eagles a shot at going to their first Super Bowl. Who can forget his replacement, Fat Levon Kirkland, futilely chasing Joe Jurevicius in the NFC Championship Game? Things weren’t looking good back in 1994, though there was some new hope thanks to new ownership.
…none of the new guys they brought in this year can match the quality of Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons, who followed Buddy Ryan to Arizona. And the defensive line, which once was the most feared in football, now reads, from left to right: William Fuller, Andy Harmon, William Perry and Mike Flores…The offense is more flash than smash. The Eagles were 4-0 last season until quarterback Randall Cunningham went down with a broken ankle; then they lost their next six. It was the second major injury in three years for the 31-year-old Cunningham. Two darting runners, Vaughn Hebron and rookie Charlie Garner, should help ease the pressure on Cunningham to take off and leg it.
The biggest plus is new owner Jeff Lurie, who stepped in and made sure that everyone was signed on time. It’s the first time since 1984 that that has happened in Philadelphia, where it’s being said that Lurie has brought a new, aggressive attitude to the team. Now if he could only step in at defensive end.
Take away two players and the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES are a sub-.500 team. Despite a mediocre line, quarterback Randall Cunningham had a magical year, practically willing his team into the end zone. End Reggie White was the best defensive player in football. But White missed much of training camp in a contract holdout, and the Eagles were on their way to nowheresville.
When he returned in late August, White said that if Buddy Ryan were not coach, he would never have played forPhiladelphia again. The players win for Buddy, not for the Eagles. Owners don’t like that kind of thinking.
Philly has some noticeable holes. Ryan keeps talking about a heavy running game, but that’s all it has been, talk. Even with White’s NFL-leading 18 sacks last year, the Eagles ended up last in pass defense, giving up the most yards ever by an NFC team. Philadelphia plays on high emotion. Last year it could beat anybody, but it could go in the dumper against anyone too. It will be another nail-biting season in ’89.
SI predicted a 9-7 season. In fact, the Eagles went 11-5, with Eric Allen, Seth Joyner, and Andre Waters taking some of the pressure off Reggie White (The offense continued to be a One-Man Show). In 1979, the Eagles were continuing their climb to respectability, but were being slightly derailed thanks to cocaine.
The PHILADELPHIA Eagles slipped into the playoffs last year on the winged feet of Wilbert Montgomery, only to make a quick exit when they blew a 13-0 fourth-quarter lead to Atlanta. Montgomery’s 1,220 yards rushing erased Steve Van Buren from the Eagle record book, but the guy who knocked down the linebackers for Montgomery last year, 215-pound Fullback Mike Hogan, won’t be around. Hogan and reserve Halfback Boomer Betterson were arrested on cocaine charges…Philadelphia’s strength, especially against the run, is the defensive front seven, led by greatly underrated Right End Carl Hairston, Inside Linebacker Bill Bergey and a comer at outside linebacker, Reggie Wilkes. The Eagles’ first pick in the draft, Jerry Robinson from UCLA, has impressed everyone with his speed (4.6 for 40 yards) and could be a starter at outside linebacker. Another draft pick, Tony Franklin of Texas A&M, seems ready to end the Eagles’ long search for a quality placekicker.
They would ultimately finish the season 11-5 and make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs, where they’d lose to Tampa. And finally, in 1966, things were looking up for the Birds.
The offense again should be hard to stop. Quarterback Norm Snead, after a good 1965 season, had surgery on a weak knee and is in excellent shape. At his best Snead can call a smart game, balancing the strong Eagle running with accurate passes at short and medium range. Behind Snead is King Hill, a certified big league quarterback who has knocked around for eight years but has never been No. 1. Although he has a strong arm he is not No. 1 because he is terribly inconsistent. The Eagles’ No. 3 quarterback is the little-used scrambler, Jack Concannon. Tall and strong, a good runner and a pretty fair passer, Concannon could be valuable as a halfback. He can run well enough, and with the threat of the halfback option pass he could be doubly dangerous.
In any case, the Eagle running can be outstanding. Now that Jim Brown has retired, the other Brown, Tim of the Eagles, is the most versatile runner in the game. He weighs 198 and can burst through the line or sprint around it with equal facility. He is at his fancy best when he breaks clear and shows off his repertoire of fakes or his tantalizing change of pace. Last year Brown was third in yardage (861) and first in average yards per carry (5.4).
Timmy Brown didn’t live up to expectations, rushing for 548 yards for a mere 3.4 yards per carry, Snead threw 8 TDs and 11 interceptions, and the defense allowed more points than the Eagles scored. And yet, somehow, the Eagles finished 9-5 and 2nd in the East Division. Go figure.
When I hear the name Sonny Jurgensen, I typically think Washington Redskins. However, Jurgensen played the first 7 years of his career right here in Philly. A 4th round pick out of Duke, he was a backup for the first four seasons of his career. He watched from the bench as Norm van Brocklin led the Birds to a 1960 championship win over the Packers, then finally got his shot in 1961. He didn’t waste much time in showing Eagles fans what he could do. He threw for new NFL records 3,723 yards and 32 touchdowns, doing so at a time when football was considered “3 yards and a cloud of dust”, a sport suited for running between the tackles. (His 32 TDs is still the Eagles team record.) Throwing the ball was risky, and defensive backs could grab, shove, and interfere, meaning deep balls were coin flips. It’s no wonder, then, that the gunslinger Jurgensen threw 24 Int.’s in 1961 and 26 Int.’s in 1962.
For some reason, right out of the gate Eagles fans had it in for Jurgensen. These comments from Jurgensen come courtesy of the Eagles Encyclopedia:
Philly is a tough town. My rookie year, I won 3 of my 4 starts, and they still threw beer cans at me when I came through the tunnel. I said, “My God, what’s going to happen if I do bad?”
One game against Dallas in 1961, I was booed when I was introduced. I mean, I was booed by everybody. The first pass I threw was intercepted. The booing got worse. The 2nd pass I threw was intercepted, and fans started coming out of the stands. Our trainer got in a fight with a couple of them behind the bench. I thought we were going to have a riot.
I wound up throwing 5 touchdowns and we won going away. The fans were cheering my by the end, but they weren’t loud cheers. It was polite applause, like you’d hear at a tennis match. I couldn’t please them. A friend of mine went to the game. He told me, “Man, I never heard anything like that. Everybody around me was booing you.’ I asked him what he did. He said, “I booed you, too.” It was the thing to do.
Apparently Jurgensen suffered from “Abreu’s disease”, as I call it. He made things look too easy, he smiled too much, he seemed to be having fun no matter what the score was. That doesn’t go over well here now, and it didn’t go over well then. Things only got worse in 1962, as the team staggered to a 3-10-1 record. Jurgensen spent much of the 1963 season injured, and at that point the Eagles decided to trade him to the Redskins for QB Norm Snead and cornerback Claude Crabbe. The trade took place on April Fools Day, and I’ll give you one guess as to which team played the fool. Jurgensen put up Hall of Fame numbers for the Redskins for the next 11 years (though, notably, never leading them to a postseason win), while Snead would suffer through the Joe Kuharich era, the darkest period in Eagles history. He would then bounce around the NFL, ending his career with 61 more interceptions than touchdowns. Jurgensen, meanwhile, would get to play his former squad a few months after the trade, and absolutely destroy them. Video highlights of his superlative performance can be found here. Happy birthday, Sonny.
Beginning in 1962, Major League Baseball has chosen the Most Valuable Player in the All-Star Game. Throughout the years, it’s been called a number of things (Arch Ward Memorial Award, Commissioner’s Trophy, and now the Ted Williams MVP Award), but only one Phillie has ever called the award his own.
Three Phillies were selected to represent the National League in the 1964 All-Star Game at Shea Stadium: Jim Bunning (P), Chris Short (P), and Johnny Callison (OF). The Phils players had mixed results. Bunning shined, spreading two hits over 2 shut-out innings while striking out four (Bob Allison, Bobby Richardson, Elston Howard, and our good-old-friend Jim Fregosi). In the top of the 6th, Chris Short was brought in with the NL leading 3-1. After striking out Tony Oliva, Short gave up consecutive singles to Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew. He coaxed a fly-out from Bob Allison, but then gave up a 2-run triple to Brooks Robinson before earning the final out of the inning and being replaced.
The AL would take a 4-3 lead in the top of the 7th on a Jim Fregosi sacrifice fly. The National League All-Stars went down in order in the bottom of the 7th and the bottom of the 8th. Entering the bottom of the 9th inning, they were still down one run to the American Leaguers.
Willie Mays walked, stole 2nd, and then scored on an Orlando Cepeda hit to tie the game. After a Ken Boyer pop-up, a walk and a Hank Aaron strike out, up stepped Johnny Callison. With 2 outs and 2 men on base in the bottom of the ninth inning, Callison smoked a Dick Radatz offering deep into the right field seats for a game-winning, walk-off home run.
The go-home-run was good enough for Callison to earn the MVP award (then the Arch Ward Memorial). He is the only Phillie to ever take home the award. Callison’s walk-off HR wasn’t the first in All-Star game history, but it is the last.
Callison joined Ted Williams (1941) and Stan Musial (1955) as the only players in baseball history to accomplish the feat.
Mets center-fielder Jimmy Piersall set the gold standard for showing up the opposing pitcher, and he did so against the Phillies.
On June 23, 1963, the Phillies faced the Mets at Forbes Field. Jimmy Piersall led off the bottom of the 5th inning with a home run against Dallas Green to put the Mets up 2-0. The ball was little more than a pop-fly that just cleared the right field wall It happened to be Piersall’s 100th career homer; and Piersall happened to be certifiable. Instead of simply trotting around the bases and quietly celebrating the milestone, Piersall did what he vowed to do: He circled the bases running backwards.
Duke Snider had hit his 400th career earlier in the season and Piersall didn’t think Snider received enough attention for the feat. He wanted to make sure his 100th got noticed, and he even practiced the backwards trot. When he was interviewed about his celebration after the game, he said “I did it good too. I even shook hands with the coach on third base.”
The stunt didn’t amuse Commissioner Ford Frick. Although he didn’t reprimand Piersall, he warned that if he ever did it again, “He’ll hear about it. But then he probably won’t hit another 100 so the subject won’t come up.” Casey Stengal, the Mets manager at the time, didn’t approve either. He cut Piersall just two days later.
The 1964 Phillies are remembered as the team whose season was 12 games too long. Up 6.5 games with 12 to go, the team began a 3 game set with the second-place Cincinnati Reds. In the 7th inning of the first game, with the score knotted at 0-0, Chico Ruiz stole home against Art Mahaffey and the Reds held on to win 1-0. That game kicked off the biggest choke-job in the history of Philadelphia sports, as the Phils went on to be swept by the Reds, the Milwaukee Braves, then the St. Louis Cardinals during a 10-game losing streak that ended all hope for the postseason and that haunts old-time Phillies fans to this day.
But before the Phillies made the kind of history we’d all like to forget, Jim Bunning made the kind of history that we are all happy to remember.
On June 21, 1964 the Phillies faced the Mets in a Father’s Day double-header at Shea Stadium. Bunning, who was enjoying his first year in a Phillies uniform, was slotted against Tracy Stallard in Game One. Bunning was flawless as he faced 27 batters and retired them all in a 6-0 win. His was the first perfect game in team history and the first in the National League’s modern era. The previous NL perfect game came in 1880.
And to all those weirdo baseball superstition guys out there, when Bunning walked into the dugout after the bottom of the 5th, he shouted to his teammates: “C’mon, let’s get that perfect game!” He said he did so because “the pressure not only builds on the pitcher but on the fielders as well…I was just trying to relieve it by talking.”
The last out came against pinch-hitter John Stephenson. The count was 2-2 after Bunning threw 4 straight curves. Bunning came back with yet another curve and fooled Stephenson for the final strike. Here’s a fantastic picture of the final pitch (note the scoreboard):
Also, check out this great MLB Network video of Bunning’s perfecto, which includes footage of the final three outs.
Bunning finished the ’64 season with a healthy 19-8 record and a 2.63 ERA. However, he was just 1-3 in his final four outings during the Phillies collapse. Partly to blame was Phils’ manager Gene Mauch who threw Bunning on short rest after hitting the panic button (Bunning started 4 of the final 9 games of the season).
After the ’64 season, Bunning pitched three more years with the Phillies and put up solid numbers. However, he never reached the postseason in Philadelphia and after the ’67 season in which he led the NL in strikeouts, he was shipped off to Pittsburgh. He retired in 1971 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
Though it was overshadowed by the final stretch of the season, Jim Bunning’s perfect game on June 21, 1964 set a standard that no Phillies pitcher matched until Roy Halladay did so 46 years later.
Former Phillie ballplayer Dick Allen was more than just a disgruntled slugger. He was also quite a decent singer. Here he is heard singing his song “Echoes of November” with his group the Ebonistics. According to wikipedia, he once sang at halftime of a Sixers game while a member of the Phillies and got quite an ovation:
“Here came Rich Allen. Flowered shirt. Tie six-inches wide. Hiphugger bell-bottomed pants. A microphone in his hands. Rich Allen the most booed man in Philadelphia from April to October, when Eagles coach Joe Kuharich takes over, walked out in front of 9,557 people at the Spectrum last night to sing with his group, The Ebonistics, and a most predictable thing happened. He was booed. Two songs later though, a most unpredictable thing happened. They cheered Rich Allen. They cheered him as warmly as they have ever cheered him for a game winning home run.”