MLB Franchise Four: Philadelphia Phillies
Major League Baseball is at it again, dreaming up silly fan involvement devices to stir interest in the game. This time it is the Franchise Four: voting for “the four most impactful players who best represent the history of each franchise.” Never mind that “impactful” is as nebulous and impossible to define as “valuable” and that no one is going to tune in breathlessly to Fox on July 14 at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati to learn the results of the voting. We will take the bait and pick one franchise to evaluate – the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies have been at this baseball thing a long time, since 1883. A while back they became the first team in professional sports history to lose 10,000 games. Pop psychologist Malcolm Gladwell posited in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something and the Phillies have spent more than twice that amount of time losing so they are pretty good at it. They did not win their first World Series for 97 years. So let’s look at who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Philadelphia baseball:
Richie Ashburn. The MLB Franchise Four nominates eight players from each team. Alphabetically, Ashburn is first up, just as he was for 12 years in the Phillies line-up. The Tilden, Nebraska native won batting championships, collected 2,574 hits, made an iconic throw from centerfield that helped the Phillies into the World Series in 1950 and was eventually enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He wore number one on the filed and was number one in the hearts of Phillies fans as a broadcaster for 34 years. Asburn is a lock for the Franchise Four.
Mike Schmidt. The next lock for Mount Rushmore is Mike Schmidt, unquestionably the greatest player ever to wear the red and white pinstripes. The Ohio University product led the National League in home runs eight times, belted 548 round-trippers in his career and played the best defensive third base of his era. He never wore another uniform in his 18-year major league career.
Steve Carlton. The only possible knock against “Lefty” is that he was not a home-grown Phillie, not arriving in Philadelphia until he was 27 years old. But what a debut in 1972 – Carlton went 27-10 for a dismal team that only won 59 games total. Carlton pitched over 13 years with the Phillies, winning 241 games and three Cy Young Awards as the most dominant pitcher in the game. That’s three for the Franchise Four; now there is wiggle room amount the nominees.
Jim Bunning. Bunning is best remembered by Phillies fans for pitching a perfect game against the New York Mets on Father’s Day in 1964. He’s in the Hall of Fame but only pitched six years for the Phils in two tours of duty and never won 20 games. He has a better chance of winding up on the real Mount Rushmore as a former senator from Kentucky than the Phillies Mount Rushmore.
Robin Roberts. Robin Roberts, on the other hand, won over 20 games six years in a row in the 1950s on his way to to Cooperstown. With a career WAR of 83.1, Roberts is second only to Schmidt and ahead of Carlton. He is a definite “maybe” for the Franchise Four, even if he is not the best right-handed pitcher in franchise history. That would be Grover Cleveland Alexander who broke in with the Phillies in 1911 and went 190-91 in his seven years with the team, including three consecutive 30-win seasons. But Old Pete is not even on the ballot and his name is too long to write-in that many times.
Chuck Klein. The one old-timer MLB saw fit to include on its ballot was Chuck Klein. Klein also started his Hall-of-Fame career with the Phillies and compiled an eye-catching OPS over 1.000 in four of his six seasons. He won the Triple Crown in 1933 and that wasn’t even his best year. That would have been 1930 when he batted .368, led the league in doubles with 44, smacked 28 home runs and knocked in 120. But impactful? The Phillies had only one winning season in those six Klein-fueled campaigns.
Nope, the last face on the Phillies Mount Rushmore to join Ashburn, Schmidt and Carlton will be between second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins who started a National League record 1,187 games together as a double play combo. There is no way to choose between the two homegrown icons, only the voters can do that and we will find out when the Franchise Four results are announced at the 2015 All-Star Game.