Terry Tosses a No-No

courtesy of mlb.com

courtesy of mlb.com

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.”

courtesy of dickallenhof.blogspot.com

courtesy of dickallenhof.blogspot.com

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?'”

Here’s the boxscore from that game. 


The Time Jeff Lurie Interviewed Three Future Super Bowl Winners, and Didn’t Hire Any of Them

Vermeil-EaglesWith the Eagles on the hunt for a new head coach, I thought we’d take a look back at one of the most fascinating coaching hunts in Birds history.

On May 6th, 1994, a year after failing to buy his hometown Patriots, Jeff Lurie bought the Eagles from Norman Braman. At head coach he inherited Rich Kotite, coming off an 8-8 season. It was too close to the new season to fire him and start over, so Lurie reluctantly kept him on board. The Eagles surprisingly started the next year 7-2 under Kotite. Nonetheless, Lurie announced after the hot start that he would not be renewing Kotite’s contract, and Kotite made it clear that he was going to start looking for a new job. All momentum the team had built up was lost, as they dropped their next 7 games, and Kotite quickly got the ax. Lurie then turned his attention to a former Eagle coach in the hopes of returning the team to glory…Dick Vermeil.

Vermeil had quit coaching following the 1982 season, citing burnout. For the next 12 years he was an analyst on television. But like most coaches, he had the bug, and he almost took an offer from the Falcons in 1986 (When things fell through with Vermeil, the Falcons took former Eagle coach Marion Campbell instead).

Vermeil met with Lurie a few days before the Eagles last regular season game of 1994. By January 13th of 1995, it looked like a deal was imminent, according to the Daily News.

After weeks of anticipation, questions, delay, no comments, media speculation and a Monday breakdown at the negotiating table, a source close to the negotiations told the Daily News yesterday that, barring unforeseen complications, an agreement is “not too far away…These things just take time, and I’m confident that it will eventually happen, but at its own pace. No one is trying to force anything.”

Two days later, things completely broke down. Apparently Lurie got nervous about the fact he was hiring a guy who hadn’t coached since 1982, and who wanted to not only be coach but GM. “Understand this was a risky offer,” Lurie told the Reading Eagle after negotiations broke down, “Because it was an offer to someone who hadn’t coached in 12 years, but yet someone I had great hope and respect for.”

Lurie continues, “He’s an intense competitive guy, and I think he was bitter that we were unwilling to really meet his requirements. I just don’t think that would have been responsible for this football team to put us in the situation where we just didn’t know how well Dick would do.”

Vermeil had a different take on why things broke down. “In nine hours of meetings-three, three-hour meetings, every time I mentioned football things, he said, ‘I’d like to be collaborated with, but the final decision will be yours’. And then when it (the contract) became written, it just wasn’t that way.”

And so the coaching search continued. Later that same week, the Milwaukee Sentinel reported, “Mike Shanahan appears to be the man at the top of Lurie’s head coaching wish list now that Dick Vermeil has been erased from the picture.”

tony_dungy_1992_11_29-1But on January 31st, 1995, Shanahan was hired by the Broncos. Eagle fans were getting restless. Lurie was flying from town to town, interviewing seemingly every coach in the country. But at this point it was down to three men: Gary Stevens, offensive coordinator for the Dolphins; Tony Dungy, defensive coordinator for the Vikings (right); and Ray Rhodes, defensive coordinator for the 49ers. Sal Pal reported that Stevens appeared to be the frontrunner.

Lurie met with them all in Miami. He had a meeting with Dungy for 6 hours. It went extremely well, but he was still a longshot. Lurie and Stevens met on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 1st, and it seemed like things were set in stone. On February 2nd, Kevin Mulligan of the Daily News reported that “sometime today – barring breakdowns in the contract-writing process – Stevens is expected to have a new title: Philadelphia Eagles head coach.”

But as Mulligan was going to press at around midnight, Lurie was having a late-night meeting with Rhodes that lasted until 2:45 a.m. Wednesday morning. After the meeting, he made his decision. Ray Rhodes would be his guy. He spoke with Rhodes’s agent on Wednesday and started hammering out a deal. By Wednesday afternoon, Ray Rhodes was the Eagles new head coach, signing a 5-year, $5 million salary.  He would last 4 years in Philly, going 29-34-1. After a great start, going 10-6 and winning Coach of the Year, things went downhill rapidly, and he was fired after a disastrous 3-13 season in 1998. He is currently a defensive assistant for the Browns.

Gary Stevens would never become an NFL head coach, remaining Dolphins Offensive Coordinator until he was fired in 1998. He never coached in any capacity in the NFL again. Mike Shanahan was a long shot for the Birds, as most people figured he would take the Broncos job. He did, and led them to two Super Bowl wins. Dungy would remain Vikings coordinator for one more year before he was hired to  be head coach of the Buccaneers, and after turning that franchise around, he later won a Super Bowl with the Colts. And Dick Vermeil would return to coaching with the Rams in 1997, and lead them to a Super Bowl victory in his third season as coach. Pretty amazing that Lurie interviewed three guys who would go on to win Super Bowls, and didn’t hire any of them. Doesn’t give me a ton of confidence this time around.

 


Terrible Teams: 1998 Eagles

With the Eagles totally in the tank this year, I thought we’d take a look back at some of their worst teams of all time. We’ll start with their last truly awful team and work our way backwards. We begin with the 1998 Eagles.

“You know what I want? I want the Eagles to lose the rest of their games,” one raspy voiced man said, “so Lurie will give up and sell the team.” A call on WIP earlier tonight? Nope, a call on WIP in November of 1998, as documented by this New York Times piece about the disastrous 1998 Eagles season.

In 1997, the Eagles had gotten quite excited about their young QB Bobby Hoying. After his first start, Rich Hoffmann wrote, “Bobby Hoying leaves you wanting to see more. It’s that simple.” He would have a couple of spectacular games and end the ’97 season looking like the QB of the future. He completed 57% of his passes and threw for 11 TDs and 6 Int’s. But at the end of the ’97 season the team lost offensive coordinator Jon Gruden, who went to Oakland, and running back Ricky Watters, who went to Seattle. Even with this exciting young QB, it would be tough to build on their 6-9-1 season the year before.

It was. The team was awful. The nightmare season started in their home opener against the Seattle Seahawks, who beat them 38-0. Hoying went 9-23 for 60 yards and had an INT returned for a touchdown. It would be the only TD he would throw all season.

There were more blowout losses on the horizon. The Broncos crushed them 41-16. The Cowboys beat them 34-0. The Redskins rocked them 28-3, the Giants 20-0. The offense was atrocious. They scored more than 20 points in a game once all season (a 24-21 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.) In fact, their 162 points (10 ppg) was the third lowest scored by any team since the NFL went to a 16 game game season in 1978.

Bobby Hoying was a complete disaster. Without Gruden as his offensive coordinator, he lost all confidence. He threw for zero touchdowns and 9 Interceptions and convinced the incoming administration that it was time to get a new QB and not Ricky Williams in the draft. In addition to not being able to complete passes, he was sacked constantly. His lone victory as QB was a 10-9 win over the Lions, a game in which he managed to throw for all of 97 yards.

There was some good to come out of that year, however. Young RB Duce Staley had a 1,000 yard season. Hugh Douglas, who had just come over from the Jets, was a breakout star, garnering 12.5 sacks. The team (with Rhodes as GM) picked well in the draft that year, getting Tra Thomas in the first round, Jeremiah Trotter in the 3rd, and Ike Reese in the 5th.

Rhodes, whose career with the Eagles had started with so much promise, was let go at the end of the season. Though Jim Haslett was considered the front runner for the job, it was Andy Reid who was the surprise hire. The rest, as they say, is history.

 


Boomer Beats the Birds

The November 24th, 1996 matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles was one of the most exciting games in Eagle history, featuring thrilling special teams play, two improbable comebacks, and 37 points scored in the last 11 minutes of the game.

The Eagles came into the game 7-4, but after a scorching start under coach Ray Rhodes and Ricky Watters they had lost their last two contests.  The Cardinals had won two in a row and with a 5-6 record were trying to make a late push towards the playoffs.

The first three quarters were fairly uneventful. Ricky Watters scored a TD for the Eagles in the first quarter, rookie Leeland McElroy had answered for the Cards in the 2nd, and otherwise Gary Anderson and Kevin Butler exchanged field goals. The Cards held a 16-13 lead entering the 4th, but then Boomer Esiason hit Pat Carter with a 6-yard pass to give the Cards a 22-13 lead with 10:58 left. Just over two minutes later, Ricky Watters went around right end from 4 yards out to pull the Eagles within 2.

Boomer Esiason then led the Cardinals on a methodical drive down the field and hit Larry Centers (remember how awesome that guy was on such terrible teams?) for a 4 yard score to give the Cardinals a comfortable 29-20 lead with 2:45 left in the game. Then things got crazy. Derrick Witherspoon (below right) returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to the house to pull the Eagles within 2. The Birds then attempted an onside kick. It went out of bounds, but fortunately for them one of their players was onsides. Due to a strange quirk in the NFL rulebook, it meant they got to kick again. This time the ball bounced out of the hands of the Cards Anthony Edwards and was scooped up by Johnny Thomas of the Eagles. He would have scored a TD on it, but NFL rules don’t allow recovered onsides kicks to be returned (boo! Lame rule.) The Eagles then moved into field goal range while running out the clock. The Cards answered by burning all 3 of their timeouts. Finally, Gary Anderson nailed a 32 yarder with 52 seconds left to give the Eagles a 30-29 lead.

The Cardinals got the ball back on the 35-yard line and Boomer Esiason went to work. With no timeouts remaining, he kept hitting receivers along the sidelines, confounding Eagles cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. Finally, with 14 seconds left, he hit Marcus Dowdell from 24 yards out to give the Cardinals the win. It was one of Dowdell’s 3 career TDs. Esiason had led the team 65-yards down the field in 38 seconds with no timeouts left. It was a total collapse by Philly’s secondary. Boomer ended up throwing for 367 yards that day, 180 of them in the 4th quarter.

Ray Rhodes was crushed, saying he was at “an all-time low.” The defense took out their frustration on the Giants the next week, allowing an incredible 121 yards of total offense to New York. They would rally to finish the season 10-6, and lose to the Niners 14-0 in the playoffs. The Cardinals would only win one more game all season.

RELATED: Eric Allen’s incredible INT return against Boomer Esiason, one of the most thrilling plays in Eagle history.


Ravens vs. Eagles in Vet Embarrassment

In 2001, the Ravens got ready to play the Ravens in a preseason tilt. The teams got to the stadium, got dressed, and then nothing happened. The team had to cancel a preseason game because the already terrible Vet turf was even worse than usual, and the Ravens refused to play on it. Thus set off a series of unfortunate events, and a condemnation of the field from Joe Banner.

Some disappointed fans, among the estimated 45,000 in attendance, smashed will-call windows and other areas outside the 30-year-old stadium. Six people were arrested for unruly behavior, and that was just one problem.

The press elevator then got stuck between the first and second level while a news conference took place. There were no injuries, but 18 people waited 41 minutes to be let out….

…”It was completely unanimous from everybody’s perspective,” Eagles president Joe Banner said. “The field is not suitable to playing.

“We’re disappointed. We’ve been going through this for years. It’s not acceptable. The conditions this team is forced to play in is absolutely unacceptable and an embarrassment to the city of Philadelphia.”

In fact, the Eagles were hoping that the Vet was going to be nicer in 2001 than it was the year before. It was the first facility to ever get Nextturf installed. Unfortunately, therein lied the problem. Since it was rather new, the people installing it didn’t realize that it was tough to fit it properly over the segments of the field that were also used for baseball, and that’s why they had to cancel the game. Before the Nextturf, the field had been even worse. This from a 2000 article in the Orlando Sentinel.

No official body count has been kept regarding the injury toll that the infamous turf at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium has taken on NFL players over the years.

Perhaps the most tragic victim was Chicago Bears wide receiver Wendell Davis. In 1993, Davis leaped to catch a pass and landed awkwardly on the hard surface. Davis ruptured tendons in both knees on the play.

Bucs secondary coach Herman Edwards played nine seasons (1977-85) with the Eagles and never missed a game. He considers himself fortunate.

“It’s like this,” Edwards said, banging his foot on Tampa Bay’s concrete locker-room floor. “Only green.”

Actually, it’s worse these days. Stadium maintenance personnel erred last week in failing to cover the field in the days before Philadelphia closed the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals. When an ice storm froze the field, workers treated it with calcium chloride solutions normally used to de-ice roads. The treatment left an oily residue that made the field even more slippery.

“It was on the players’ shoes, on their bodies, on their hands,” Reid said. “They couldn’t lick their fingers unless they wanted to taste that stuff. Plus, it was water resistant.”

It is somewhat amusing that some Philadelphia sports fans could never understand why the Eagles never built a winning sports franchise, at the same time they played at the most despicable stadium in sports history, as if the two weren’t interrelated. As for the Wendell Davis injury, SI wrote about it in 1993. Pretty gruesome.

Chicago bear wide receiver Wendell Davis looked over his shoulder into the blue sky above Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium on Oct. 10 and saw the football spiraling toward him. Davis, in full gallop, had Eagle cornerback Mark McMillian right with him, and the pass was a bit under-thrown. Davis figured he would have to stop, turn and outjump McMillian for the ball.

At the precise moment that Davis planted his feet to jump for the ball, his turf shoes dug into the AstroTurf and held solid, as though they were nailed to the carpet. Davis felt something snap simultaneously in both knees, and he flopped to the artificial turf as if he’d been shot. He began screaming in pain. He tried to move his legs but couldn’t. When the trainers and team doctor reached him and straightened both legs, Davis looked down to see why it felt as if someone were stabbing him in both knees with knives.

“I saw the doctor trying to find my kneecaps,” Davis said last week from his hospital bed in Chicago. “They found my kneecaps up in my thighs.”

It’s so interesting to me that while it is considered common knowledge today that artificial turf is horrific in terms of injury, less than 20 years ago, people were saying that the evidence was far from conclusive (from the same article).

Says Greg Grillone, the stadium director at Veterans Stadium, “It’s not practical to have a grass field. I haven’t seen evidence that AstroTurf is responsible for injuries. But with all the injuries this year, it does make you scratch your head.”

There is simply no question that the green concrete at the Vet was a tangible cause of increased injury, making Grillone sound like Bob Dole refusing to acknowledge the health risks of tobacco smoke. But even as fewer and fewer pro teams play on it, it is still a very lively business, and there have been incredible advancements in making it safer and more “realistic”. In fact, with giant chunks of sod flying up in the air whenever the Bears play a home game, there are plenty of folks in Chicago clamoring for artificial turf. It would eliminate the sod problem. There are no chunks of grass, it’s obviously much easier to maintain in harsh winters, and there are some studies that the newer stuff causes fewer injuries. The Packers actually play on a turf field, though you wouldn’t know it to look at it. There is, technically, no more “frozen tundra at Lambeau Field”. So while thankfully the green concrete is no longer en vogue, it is interesting to note that artificial turf is poised to make a comeback.


David Reid’s Incredible Gold Medal

We’re back after a brief hiatus. Things have been crazy, as I’ve taken on a 40-hour a week part time gig for Comcast for the Olympics. Posting will be fairly sporadic for a few weeks, then we’ll hit the ground running hard in September with football, and October of course marks our 2nd annual “Relive the World Series Spectacular.” This year we’ll be doing the ’29 Series between the A’s and the Cubs. Contributor Michael Collazo penned this piece about a former Philly boxer who took gold in Atlanta in ’96.

David Reid, a soft-spoken kid from North Philly, was a highlight of the 1996 Olympic Games – even though Muhammad Ali, changing sports TV marketing and a bomb upstaged what could have made him a star.

Lots of boxing’s past stars used the Olympics to become household names. Ali (then Cassius Clay), Joe Frazier, “Sugar” Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya come to mind. By 1996, TV storylines — from Ali’s torch lighting to more family-friendly gymnastics, basketball and track & field coverage — hogged up NBC primetime, not boxing. Remember too on July 27, a scary bombing at Centennial Olympic Park marred what was supposed to an America’s love-in at the Atlanta Games.

On top of all that, Team USA Boxing had put up a disappointing showing. While Cuba – Team USA’s natural boxing rival – were on its way to scoring four gold and three silver medals, the local team was struggling to finish with just five bronze medals. Trenton’s Terrance Cauthen, who trained at Joe Frazier’s Gym on his way to Atlanta, scored one of those bronze medals at 130 lbs. On August 2th, two highly touted fighters you may know took crushing defeats. Future pro Light-heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver – AKA Mason “The Line” Dixon from the film Rocky Balboa — lost handily in his semi-final bout. And before he had a “Money Team,” a 19-year-old Floyd Mayweather lost a controversial, one-point decision to Bulgaria’s Serafim Todorov – a fighter who was eight years older than Floyd and in his third Summer Olympics.

So on August 3rd, Reid, Team USA’s light middleweight (160 lbs.) representative, entered his gold medal fight against Cuba’s Alfredo Duvergel as the last hope. Reid’s advantage was a familiar face in his corner. As a middle-school kid, Reid had met Team USA’s lead coach Al Mitchell at Athletic Rec Center on 26th and Master Streets. Ever since, Reid trained and followed the instructions of Mitchell – all the way to the Olympics and beyond.

Early on Duvergel, a southpaw, used his counter-punching to control the first two rounds. Reid was stunned in Round 2, taking an Olympic-style standing eight-count. Entering Round 3, computerized scorecards showed Reid trailing 15-5. It felt like 1948 all over again – the last time a US boxing team had not scored a gold medal. Then before Round 3, Coach Mitchell gave Reid some advice.

“I told him ‘Hey, you can’t win,’” Mitchell told NBC’s Beasley Reece. “’The only way you can win is meet him with the right hand, go for the knock out – meet him.’”

And meet him he did. Reid threw a shrewd right, hitting Duvergel square and flooring the frontrunner. The referee counted to ten then waived off the fight. Reid’s jumping for joy was classic. He had won the gold.

“I’ve finally fulfilled my dreams now,” Reid said after the fight. “I look at myself – another Roy Jones, Ali…ah man.”

Reid’s highpoint was Atlanta. He essentially fought through an entire amateur and pro career with one bad, droopy eye. His poor vision cut his pro career short. Reid’s highest profile fight was his overwhelming loss to Tito Trinidad in 2000. Today, there are stories of Reid staying close to Coach Mitchell now in Michigan, broke and slowed by his illnesses.

But to Philly fans, Reid should always remember that elated gold medal winner jumping for joy.

David Reid should always be a star to us.

North Philly native and former Syracuse University classmate of Donovan McNabb, Michael Collazo is Group Sales Manager for Prudential Center in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @MCollazo215.


When Ruben Homered Off Miguel Batista

Today’s post comes courtesy of a tweet from KYW’s Matt Leon I found pretty fascinating. 

The Phillies face 41-year old Mets pitcher Miguel Batista tonight. It won’t be the first time Ruben Amaro has seen Batista. In fact, the two know each other from Batista’s very first appearance in the major leagues.

It was April 11th, 1992. The dominant Pittsburgh Pirates were facing the lowly Philadelphia Phillies at the Vet. Doug Drabek, father of former Phils prospect Kyle Drabek, was on the hill for Pittsburgh. Andy Ashby was hurling for the Phillies. The Pirates were  on their way to winning 96 games, the Phillies on their way to winning 70.

Ashby somehow shut down the Pirates incredible lineup, which included Jay Bell, Barry Bonds, Andy van Slyke and even current D-Backs manager Kirk Gibson, while Drabek struggled against a fairly weak offense that included Dale Murphy, Mickey Morandini, and yes, a center fielder who would end the season with a .219 BA, Rueben Amaro.

After 6 innings, the Phils led 5-1, and Jim Leyland decided to give a 21-year old Dominican a chance. In came Miguel Batista, and he induced Mickey Morandini to line out, then walked a player named Julio Peguero, who would play a grand total of 14 games in the majors. Up came Ruben Amaro. The future Phils GM sent a ball into deep right center, scoring Peguero (One of three career runs he would score in the bigs.)

1992 would turn out to be a career year for Ruben Amaro. He hit .219, with 7 homers and 34 RBIs (both career highs). The man he faced, Miguel Batista, is quite a character. He has played for a total of 10 different teams, has written a novel, and is considered one of the good guys of Major League Baseball.

 


#4 Most Underrated Athlete in Philly Sports History: Ricky Watters

The defining moment of Ricky Watters career in Philadelphia came in his first game as an Eagle.  On September 3, 1995, the Eagles opened up the season at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During the second-half, Ricky Watters alligator-armed not one, but two Randall Cunningham passes over the middle of the field.  It didn’t help that the Eagles lost 21-6, and Watters was held to 37 yards rushing with two fumbles.  Sure, Watters was booed by the hometown fans for not sacrificing himself for the team, but those boos were nothing compared to the aftermath of Watters’ postgame comments to the media.

Watters was honest, maybe too honest:

“Hey, I’m not going to trip up there and get knocked out.  For who? For what? I mean, there’s another day. I’m going to make a whole lot of plays. I made a whole lot of plays where I was at before. I’ve always made plays.”

“For who? For what?”   Those four words damned Ricky Watters in this town.  He had committed a cardinal sin.  The fans and the media jumped on Watters.  The Inquirer labeled it “Wattersgate.”  His words were spread in large print on the back cover of the Daily News.  No matter what Watters did from that point forward, he didn’t have a chance to be accepted in Philadelphia as one of our “Philly guys.”  And it’s a shame, because his on-the-field play stood in stark contrast to that comment.

His numbers are staggering.  After scoring three touchdowns in a winning-effort for San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIX, Watters came to Philadelphia as a free agent.  It didn’t take long for him to make an impact.  In 1995, he rushed 337 times for 1,273 yards and 11 touchdowns.  He also added 434 yards on 62 receptions.  In ’96 he amassed 1,855 yards from scrimmage with 13 total touchdowns. In ’97, he had 1,550 total yards and 7 touchdowns.  He never rushed for fewer than 1,110 yards and never caught fewer than 48 passes.  From ’95-’97, he carried the ball 975 times, more than any other player in the NFL.  In ’95 and ’96 he was selected to the Pro Bowl team and named All-Pro.

Even though he spent just three seasons in Philadelphia, Watters ranks 6th in franchise history in rushing and 5th in rushing touchdowns.  He is the Eagles all-time leader in rushing yards per game.

Based on his numbers, Watters is clearly one of the best running backs in Eagles history.  But he didn’t let his numbers speak for themselves, and so he lands on this list as the 4th Most Underrated Athlete in Philadelphia Sports History.

Previously:

#15- Byron Evans#14- John LeClair#13- Von Hayes#12- Freddy Leach#11- Brad McCrimmon#10- Del Ennis#9- Eddie Plank#8- Dick Allen#7- Kimmo Timonen#6- Bobby Abreu#5- Joe Frazier


#6 Most Underrated Athlete in Philadelphia Sports History: Bobby Abreu

Abreu is a really interesting case study in Philadelphia. He was quite similar to Donovan McNabb: grossly underrated in Philly, slightly overrated nationally. Abreu’s biggest sin was his laissez faire attitude in a city that simply doesn’t accept that. It’s fine for fans to be upset about the attitude, but to ignore his skill and contributions to the Phillies while he was here is to be so blinded by irrationality that you simply miss the big picture.

Bobby Abreu is on the fence for the Hall of Fame. That’s not because he’s overrated, it’s because he’s an elite player. His numbers with the Phillies are simply staggering, and he is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to ever wear a Phillies uniform (Phillies Nation has him ranked 10th all time).

  • Bobby Abreu has the 4th most doubles in Phillies history (348), behind Mike Schmidt, Jimmy Rollins, and Big Ed Delahanty. Pretty heady company.
  • Abreu has the 9th most homers in Phillies history (195) with 7 more than number 10 on the list, Chase Utley.
  • He has the 9th most RBIs in Phillies history (814).
  • He has the 9th most runs scored in Phillies history (891).
  • Of the 3 guys with a higher OBP than Abreu in Phillies history (Abreu’s is .416), none has played since 1911. The highest OBP on the Phillies last year was .355, by Victorino. And keep in mind, .416 wasn’t Abreu’s high. That was his career average on the Phils.
  • Since the end of WWII, only two players have had a higher career batting averages while with the Phils, John Kruk and Richie Asburn. Abreu’s average was .303.
  • He’s 7th all time in steals in Phillies history with 254.
  • Abreu has the 12th most hits in Phillies history (1474).

So, who else in Phillies history is in the career top 10 of homers, RBIs, runs scored, doubles, OBP, and steals? Nobody. In fact, nobody is even close. So if you want to get mad because he didn’t charge facefirst into walls, go right ahead. But don’t ignore the fact that he is one of the 5 greatest offensive players in Phillies history. Babe Ruth was a mediocre defensive right fielder who didn’t crash into walls either. That didn’t mean that his offensive numbers should be completely discounted. Should we be mad at Mike Schmidt because he didn’t steal more bases? No, I’m not comparing Abreu to Babe Ruth or Mike Schmidt. My point is that it’s unfair to judge a player because of one weakness and completely ignore everything he contributed positively to the team.

There is also a notion that he “isn’t clutch”. But the numbers simply don’t back that up. According to baseball reference, in games that are late and close, he hits .282 with a .411 OBP  (I cannot find exclusive Phils stats on this split, only full career stats). Compare that with “Captain Clutch” Derek Jeter, who with a very similar number of at-bats hits .292 with a .384 OBP .  The slight edge goes to Jeter, but it’s hardly a blowout, and he’s considered to be the most “clutch” player in the game.

Abreu was one of the greatest players in Phillies history, and yet bring up his name in this town and you’ll get a rolling of the eyes and muttering about hustle because he didn’t sacrifice his body on every play. There was no doubt that Abreu hustled on the basepaths, and no doubt that he excelled in every phase of the game that didn’t have to do with crashing into walls. But this being Philly, that’s all that matters. I appreciate hustle as much as the next guy, but at a certain point talent needs to be appreciated too. Because his talents at the plate and on the basepaths are completely ignored due to his mediocre defense, Bobby Abreu is #6 on this list.


Most Underrated Philly Athletes of All-Time: #14 John LeClair

(6 points)

American-born NHL star John LeClair sits at No. 14 on our list of the most underrated athletes in Philadelphia sports history.  His career spanned 16 seasons, 10 of which were spent wearing the Orange and Black (’94-95 to ’03-’04).  There’s no denying the fact that John LeClair was one of the best scorers in the history of the franchise.  A quick run-down of his resume makes this abundantly clear:

  • As a Flyer, he averaged 43 goals and 83 points per year.*
  • He scored 50+ goals in three consecutive seasons from 1995-1998, becoming the first American-born player to accomplish that feat.
  • He amassed 70+ points in five consecutive seasons from 1995-2000.
  • He won the NHL Plus-Minus Award for the ’96-’97 season and the ’98-’99 season.
  • He was an NHL All-Star in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
  • He ranks 5th in Flyers history in goals and 7th in Flyers history in scoring.

So how is a guy with those stats underrated?  Two words: Eric Lindros.  Most Philadelphia sports fans credit Lindros for most, if not all of LeClair’s production.  Obviously, playing on the same line as one of the most talented players in the history of the league has its benefits, but the Vermont-native’s size (6’3″- 236lbs.), strength, and finishing ability can’t be questioned.  Whether he was parked in front of the net- taking a beating, deflecting shots, or pouncing on rebounds; or letting one of his heavy slap shots go, LeClair was a force for the Legion of Doom.  Lindros’ raw talent and play-making ability overshadowed LeClair’s consistency and production, which were vital to the success of that line.  And don’t forget Mr. Lindros wasn’t healthy all that often.  In the ’96-’97 season during which Lindros was absent for 30 games, LeClair still scored 50 goals.

No Flyer has dared to wear #88 since the Flyers traded Lindros to the Rangers in 2001, but there’s a 20-year-old kid wearing #10 for the Flyers now.

*In seasons he registered at least 76 games played.