Of the 10,000 losses suffered by the Philadelphia Phillies — and their fans — over the years (making them the first professional sports franchise to lose 10K games), 9,990 of them, combined, probably aren’t as painful as 10 that were endured in 1964.
On September 20, 1964, the Phillies were 90-60. They had a 6-1/2 game lead over the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. There were 12 games to play. World Series tickets, no doubt, were at the printer (no NLCS in those days). The Phils were about to win their first pennant since the “Whiz Kids” did it in 1950.
The Reds came into Philly on Monday, the 21st, for a three-game set. The Reds swept. The Milwaukee Braves followed the Reds into Philadelphia for a four-game series. The Braves swept. Reeling, the Phillies ventured into St. Louis for a three-game series. The Cardinals swept.
Ten losses in a row. The Phillies were now 90-70, 2-1/2 games out of the lead. They were mathematically eliminated.
Mauch: Why is this man smiling?
Those ten losses will live forever in infamy in Philadelphia — and throughout MLB. They pigeon-holed manager Gene Mauch into being a skipper with the reputation of not being able to win the “big one.” And indeed, Mauch was at the helm when the 1986 Angels blew the pennant on a David Henderson home run off Donnie Moore. Years later, Moore turned a gun on himself and blew his brains out, still hurting from giving up Henderson’s homer. Mauch didn’t resort to such drastic measures. But he still couldn’t shake the rep.
The truth is, Mauch panicked in 1964 — and by his own admission when discussing those horrible ten days in a memoir. He pitched his best hurlers, Jim Bunning and Chris Short, on short rest — sometimes only two days’ worth. He didn’t trust his bullpen, or any other starter. In the ten games, Bunning lost three times, Short twice. They accounted for half the losses — and they were starters. Bunning lost on the 24th, 27th, and 30th of September.
Then, in cruel fashion, the Phillies won their last two meaningless games to finish 92-70.
The Cardinals won the pennant, and nipped the Yankees in the World Series in seven games.
The 1964 Phillies are still known as baseball’s all-time chokers. Even the 1978 Red Sox, who let the Yankees make up a 13-game deficit between July and October, weren’t as bad. Nor were the 1995 Angels, who lost 10 of 11 games late in the season to blow the division to the Mariners. Nor was any other team, in any other year, in any other league. The Phillies had a 6-1/2 game lead with twelve games to play. Their magic number was seven — and there it stayed.
Not until 1980 did the Phillies finally win a world championship. It’s still their only World Series title.
So when is 10 > 9,990? Just ask Phillies fans.