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).
The team was born at the Super Bowl. Philly construction tycoon Tom McCloskey was in LA for the 1973 Super Bowl with 8 friends, but couldn’t find a ticket. Kansas City Chief owner Lamar Hunt heard about McCloskey’s dilemma and scrounged him up 9 tickets. Hunt, an NASL owner as well as NFL owner, then persuaded McCloskey to buy an North American Soccer League team and put it in Philly.
Other than the Flyers,Philadelphia’s pro franchises at that point were a joke. The 1972-73 Sixers were wrapping up a 9-73 season, the worst in NBA history. The Phillies were coming off that famous 1972 season, where Steve Carlton recorded 27 of their 59 wins. Over the previous 5 seasons, the Eagles had gone a combined 17-49-5. So Philadelphians were excited by the prospect of a potential winner, and a league record 21,700 attended the team’s home opener. The team would finish the season averaging over 11,000 fans per contest, by far the best in the league. The fans delighted in the scrappy play of the squad, particularly the 5’5″ sparkplug Andy “The Flea” Provan and stingy rookie goalkeeper Bob Rigby. Coach Al Miller led a fast moving offense that was fun to watch, and the Atoms went 9-2-8 on the season, good enough for 2nd in the league after the Dallas Tornadoes.
The Atoms knocked off the Toronto Metros 3-0 in the playoff semifinals, then took on Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Tornadoes in the championship game. Bill Straub, a Philly native who was pressed into action after not playing for the team all season, scored a goal, Dallas kicked another one into their own net, and Bill Rigby shut down the powerful Dallas offense. Philadelphia was NASL champion in their first season of existence, and Rigby became the first soccer player to ever be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You can watch highlights of that game here.
It was a rapid rise to the top, and an equally quick fall. They would never make the playoffs again, and after a promising start, the team folded in 1976. A new NASL team, the Philadelphia Fury, would begin play in 1978.
The Philadelphia Firebirds were a minor league ice hockey team that began play in Philly in 1974. One of their first owners was former Phillie great Robin Roberts, though he left after they lost a ton of money in their first season.
They began play in the North American Hockey League, where they played from 1974-1977. Among the players on that inaugural team was goalie Reggie Lemelin, who would play for the team for five years before later enjoying some success with the Calgary Flames and would be the Flyers goaltending coach for 13 years.
The team had some great nicknames. The best was Gordie “Road Hog” Brooks, but they also had Dave “Crash” Kelly, Fred “Fats” Williams, Bob “Waldo” Neely, and enforcer Mike “Barretta” Haworth.
The Firebirds won the league’s Lockhart Cup in 1976, defeating the Beauce Jaros, a team based in Quebec, 4 games to 2. (Here’s a great photo of a packed house in Philly for one of those games. A friend of mine who was at one of those games said that Paul Newman attended, as he was scouting for his upcoming film Slap Shot, which was based on the NAHL.)
The league folded in 1977, and the team moved to the American Hockey League. They played there for two years (in one of those seasons, they featured a right wing named Steve Coates; they also had a young left wing named Mike Eruzione who played with them for 6 games before becoming a national hero), then moved to Syracuse in 1979, where they played for one year as the Syracuse Firebirds. They folded a year later. For their 5-year run in Philly, they played at Convention Hall on the edge of Penn’s campus near Franklin Field.
Heading into the 4th quarter of the January 3rd, 1993 NFC Wild Card game between the Saints and Eagles, things were looking dim for the visiting Birds. The offense had sputtered for three quarters, and the Birds trailed the Saints, 20-10. Worse yet, the Saints D was the best in the NFL, surrendering a measly 12.6 ppg for the season, which would be the lowest average of any defense in the 1990s. The Superdome was rocking: the home team had NEVER won a single playoff game in franchise history, and they were 15 minutes away from their first.
On the Eagles side of the field, it was their superstars Randall Cunningham and Reggie White who were trying to get off the schneid. The two men had never won a playoff game, and the 29-year old QB had gone 0-3 with 0 TDs and 5 INTs while the offense had sputtered to 8 points a game in three playoff appearances.
With 10:37 left in the game, the Eagles faced a 3rd and 10 from the Saints 35. Randall lofted one into the left side of the end zone. Fred Barnett, who made his one and only Pro Bowl that season, made a spectacular leaping catch over cornerback Reginald Jones, and the Eagles had cut the lead to 20-17. Moments later, while rolling out to his left, Saints QB Bobby Hebert made an awful pass that settled into the arms of Seth Joyner. The Eagles leaned heavily on Heath Sherman in the ensuing short drive, and it was capped by a Sherman 6-yard run around the left end. The Eagles, seemingly dead in the water only minutes before, now took the lead, 24-20.
Momentum had clearly shifted, and the Saints meltdown continued on their next drive. On 3rd and 25 with the home team on its own 5-yard line, Reggie White bullrushed his way into the backfield and sacked Hebert for a safety. A Roger Ruzek field goal on the ensuing drive made it 29-20. Bobby Hebert’s nightmarish 4th quarter continued, as a pass into the flat was picked off by Eric Allen and taken 18 yards to the house. Final score: Eagles 36-Saints 20. The Birds had scored a remarkable 26 points in the final 11 minutes of the game. It was a shocking comeback, as the Saints hadn’t given up 26 points in an entire game all season. But the comeback was somewhat overshadowed by events earlier that same day: the Bills had overcome a 35-3 Oilers lead to pull of the greatest comeback in NFL history.
The Eagles season only lasted one week longer. The next week they fell to the Cowboys 34-10. The win over the Saints was, remarkably, the only playoff victory Randall and Reggie ever had as Eagles.
RELATED: Highlights of that game.
Boxscore of the game.
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.
DICK BARTELL (SS-1933). Tremendously underrated shortstop of the 1930s, “Rowdy Richard” Bartell is ranked the 38th best shortstop in baseball history by thebaseballpage.com, and yet I have barely heard of him (though he is involved in one of my favorite photos in baseball history). He and Chuck Klein were the only two Phillies to play in the very first All-Star game, in 1933. Dick was the type of player Philly loves, running hard on every grounder, and he was hated in Brooklyn for the way he threw his spikes in the air when he slid into base. The Phillies traded him to the Giants in 1934. In 1940, he became a goat for the Tigers, when in Game 7, with the team holding a 1-0 lead, he caught a relay throw from the outfield with a slow runner just rounding third. For reasons that have never been understood, he froze with the ball, despite his teammates yelling at him to throw it home. The Reds scored another run and won Game 7, 2-1.
PINKY WHITNEY (3B-1936). Another of the most underrated Phillies of all time, Pinky was a hard hitting third baseman for the Phils in the 1920s and 30s, and part of that 1930 team we love so much. His .341 BA in 1937 was 4th best in the league. He made only one All-Star team, and that was in 1936. He was also a fine fielder, and Phillies Nation has his ranked as the #47th best Phillie of all time.
HERSH MARTIN (OF-1938). Hersh was a career minor leaguer who finally got the call up to the bigs at age 28. He made the most of it, and in 1938 he was the only Phillie selected to the All-Star game, after batting .335 in the first half of the season. He cooled off a bit in the 2nd half, finishing the year at .298. He played two more years with the Phils, then was demoted back to the minors (strangely, when you consider that the Phillies were hardly better than a minor league team at the time). He was called back up by the Yankees during the War, and batted .302 in 1944.
DANNY LITWHILER (OF-1942). 1942 was a big year for Danny Litwhiler. He was the first regular major leaguer to have an error free season, which may have had something to do with the fact that he was the first player to stitch all 5 of the fingers of a glove together (That glove is on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame). It was also his first and only All-Star game appearance, as he was the Phils lone representative in the midst of yet another awful year. He was a hustler and a scrapper, and his tenaciouness paid off, as the Cardinals took him off of the awful Phillies and placed him on a winner the next season.
WOODIE FRYMAN (P-1968). Fryman got off to a torrid start for the Phils in 1968, opening the year 10-5 with a 1.61 ERA. That earned him a spot on the All-Star team, the only Phillie to make the team that year. He didn’t get a shot to show his stuff in the game, however. 8 years later, while a member of the Expos, he again made the All-Star team, he was again the team’s only representative, and once again did not take the hill. After finally retiring from baseball in 1983 he returned to his tobacco farm in Kentucky.