Philly Sports Memories: John Finger

Here’s Part 2 of our Ongoing Segment called Philly Sports Memories (To read Part One, from Phillie Nation’s Nick Staskin, click here.). Today we hear from John Finger, who has been writing about the Phillies for Comcast SportsNet since 2000, and has been a fan since way before that. He grew up in Lancaster, and was a fan of  the Phillies as a kid. He has been on hand for a lot of the biggest moments in Philly sports history, as well as a few big moments in Orioles history. Here he discusses a few of his favorites. You can read more from John on his blog, Finger Food

When you write about sports for a living, oftentimes extraordinary events are just another day at the job. For instance, after Roy Halladay pitched the second no-hitter in postseason history, I spent my time after the game talking to the vanquished Cincinnati Reds. Moreover, it seemed as if they were more awed than humilated.

I also saw Allen Iverson pour in 47 points in a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals as well as Michael Jordan’s very last NBA game and just the second World Series title by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Those definitely stand out.

I saw “For who, for what,” and the 4th-and-1 play against the Cowboys.

However, baseball games always seem to resonate a little more and usually it’s the last games of the season.

To me, there has always been way too much aggrandizing about Opening Day in baseball. Opening is just the first of 162 and rarely has any true impact on the season. Better yet, unless it’s totally extraordinary, Opening Day is never memorable.There is no significant action.

But the last game of the season –- that’s when the memories are made.

Game 162 is the time for heroes and for the real pros to step into the spotlight. Even when teams are just playing out the string, the last game of the year is like running that final 385 yards of the marathon. Anybody can do the first 26 miles, but it’s that last stretch where legacies are defined.

As a kid I also romanticized about the last game of the year and suffered the wide-eyed, Field of Dreams-types during Opening Day. I was more interested in the guts of the action and not the first few easy strides of the race, which meant I spent all summer figuring out what it was going to take for a team to make the last day the most important one.

Sometimes I got lucky, too. I can recall being at the Vet for Game 162 in 1991 when David Cone of the Mets struck out 19 against a Phillies club that featured Doug Lindsey and Braulio Castillo. In fact, Cone had a shot to tie the all-time record for strikeouts in a game after he whiffed the first two hitters to start the ninth inning. But Wes Chamberlain doubled and Dale Murphy – a player who lead the National League in strikeouts three times and ranks 13th on the all-time whiffs list – grounded out to end the season.

The Vet seemed empty that day with most of the crowd holding Walkmen to listen to the Eagles’ early-season loss at Tampa Bay with Brad Goebel at quarterback, but when Cone had a chance to tie the record it was the loudest the fans were all day.

Here is the box score from that David Cone game. And here is a short writeup about the game. Interestingly, the Phillies made a run at Cone in December of 1992 when he was a free agent, but he turned down their 3 year, $15 million offer to go to the Royals for 2 years and $10 million.

When the Sixers Drafted Back to Back Baseball Players

Most people in Philadelphia remember the 1996 draft as the one in which the Sixers drafted Allen Iverson with the #1 overall pick. And no wonder. Iverson was the player who, for better or worse, defined this team for the next decade. But the Sixers 2nd round picks were fairly remarkable as well, but for very different reasons.

With the 31st pick in the 1996 draft, the Sixers selected 6’9″ Forward Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson made the team, but played sparingly. After the season ended, he was signed by the Kings. He played a season in Sacramento and a season in New Jersey before calling an NBA career quits and deciding to give baseball a try. He was hardly a hardball superstar, but he was good enough to kick around the league from 2002-2010, pitching for the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Dodgers, Marlins and Orioles.

The Sixers also held the very next pick in the draft, and used it to select Ryan Minor. Minor was a superstar guard at Oklahoma, averaging over 23 PPG his junior year and 21 PPG his senior year. His junior year, he was named the Big 8 Player of the Year. And he might have played here alongside Iverson if the Sixers didn’t already have a full roster. According to a 1998 Inky article about Minor:

“I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on with that organization,” said Minor, pounding a baseball into the palm of his glove as he sat in front of his locker.

“They drafted three guys in that second round when they already had 12 guys under contract,” Minor said. “They knew exactly who was going to be on their team that year, so all the guys they picked had no shot, no shot at all. What I don’t understand is, if they knew that, why didn’t they just trade a couple of the picks? That would have been the fair thing to do.”

Instead Minor got cut, was picked up by Baltimore, and became the answer to a trivia question: who played 3rd base for the Orioles the night Cal Ripken’s streak finally ended? He is currently the coach for the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Orioles Single A farm club. Here’s a good write up about him from last year. (He has since returned to his job with the Shorebirds.)