Philadelphia Phillies: All Time Greatest Team

Philadelphia Phillies (1883-Present)

Phillies is short for Philadelphians

Also known as the Quakers

National League (1883-Present)

National League Champion: 1915, 1950, 1980, 1983, 1993, 2008, 2009

World Series Champion: 1980, 2008

Philadelphia had a club in the Major Leagues from the beginning. In 1871 the Philadelphia Athletics had the first champion in history, they won the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players title in that league’s first year. They would participate in all five seasons that the league existed, then be one of the charter members of the National League in 1876. Unfortunately, their financial structure was weak, and along with the New York franchise they were forced out of the league in 1877. The National League struggled along for the next six years with teams in Buffalo and Troy, New York, Providence, Rhode Island, and Worcester, Massachusetts, but no team in the nation’s two largest cities; New York and Philadelphia. The crisis came to a head for the National League in 1882, when the upstart American Association opened operations and quickly put franchises in both cities. The National League’s reaction to the threat was to challenge the new league directly and put franchises back in both cities. Thus was created two teams that would become the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York/San Francisco Giants. Both franchise have been in operation ever since.

The Philadelphia Phillies have been the least successful of all the National League Franchises begun in the 19th century. Even with that, they have had their moments. From 1891 to 1901 the Phillies had three Hall of Famers patrolling their outfield every year but two, and in those two years they had two of the three positions covered by players who would eventually be enshrined. Despite the efforts of Ed Delahanty, Sam Thompson, Billy Hamilton, Roy Thomas and Elmer Flick (All with plaques in Cooperstown) the Phillies couldn’t win a Championship. They were competitive though. That all changed with the emergence of the American League in 1901. The Phillies were decimated. It’s telling the impact the new league had on the Phillies by noting that the first five batting champions in the Junior Circuit were all ex-Phillies (Ed Delahanty, Elmer Flick, and Napoleon Lajoie three times).

The Phillies would become a doormat until the signing of the greatest pitcher in National League history in 1912 propelled them back into contention.  From 1912 until 1917 Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander reached heights for a pitcher only matched by American League hurlers Walter Johnson and Lefty Grove. The Phillies even eked out Philadelphia’s first National League Championship in 1915 when Alexander won the first of his three straight pitching triple crowns (leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts).

What happened to Alexander with the Phillies is all you need to know about the next 60 years of futility. After his third straight season leading the league in wins (31, 33, 30), ERA (1.22, 1.55, 1.86), strikeouts (241, 167, 201) and shut outs (12, 16, 8) the Great Alex asked for a raise. Phillies owner William Baker’s response to his big star was to trade him away to Chicago. The next 60 years in Phillies history are rather bleak.

They played in the worst ballpark in the Major Leagues, the Baker Bowl, before tiny crowds, they were losing the battle for Philadelphia to the American League’s Philadelphia A’s. The two most significant things that happened during that period were two of the most famous in season collapses in National League history. In 1950, with a young team, known as the “Whiz Kids”, the Phillies were up by 7 ½ with 11 games to play, but needed a 10th inning home run by Dick Sisler on the last day of the season to secure the pennant. They weren’t so fortunate in 1964, leading by 6 ½ games with 12 to play they would lose their next 10, ultimately finishing one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

Finally winning the inter-city battle with the Philadelphia A’s (the A’s moved to Kansas City in 1955, then to Oakland in 1968), the fortunes of the franchise turned in the 1970s. Trading for Steve Carlton, then developing Mike Schmidt, the Phillies would have a run of success as never before, winning five division titles, two National League Flags, and the franchise’s first World Series Crown between 1976 and 1983. They have been a solid franchise since. They had another run of success, winning five straight Eastern Division Titles between 2007 and 2011, included in that run were two World Series appearances and their second World Series win in 2008. Since 2011 it’s been a struggle, but they signed Bryce Harper prior to the 2019 season and optimism reigns again in Philadelphia.

Catcher

The Phillies are another team that does not have an obvious choice at catcher. No Hall of Fame member, or prospects to be in the Hall of Fame. Well, maybe Bob Boone (1972-1981), he was outstanding on defense but a millstone at the plate. Jack Clements (1884-1897) was the last regular catcher in the Major Leagues to be left handed. He caught 1,160 games in the big leagues, more than 700 games more than any other left handed catcher. 1,041 of those games were with the Phillies. He was also the first to wear a chest protector. All that said, Clements is only the second best catcher in Phillies’ history. Darren Daulton (1983-1997) was a marginal defensive backstop, who’s diverse offensive skills, medium range power with lots of walks, made him a very productive run producer. If we could combine the offense of Daulton with the defense of Boone, that would be a Hall of Fame Catcher. As it is, Daulton is the narrow choice over Clements and Boone

First Base

The best player who played a regular first base for the Phillies is Ryan Howard (2004-2016) . The problem is what to do with Richie “Dick” Allen (1963-1969, 1975-1976). Allen played every infield and outfield position for the Phillies. Third base and first base were his primary positions. With Philadelphia he played third base 544 times, and first base only 315 times (he also played 146 games in the outfield), but for his entire playing career he played more games at first than third. Between 1964 and 1966 Allen reached a peak level of performance that was equal to any other Philly in history, except Pete Alexander. That includes Mike Schmidt, Ed Delahanty, and Steve Carlton. Considering that he had a relatively short stay in Philadelphia, and primarily as a third baseman, he’s competing with Mike Schmidt. It’s impossible to list him ahead of Schmidt at third, but couldn’t we consider him at first? Allen was a pain in the butt, nobody who had him wanted to keep him. He became a cancer on every team he was on. So, despite the numbers, was he really a valuable person to have on a team? This is another difficult choice, between a player we dislike, but had great statistics, and a player we do like and admired, who’s numbers weren’t as good (also see our discussion on Barry Bonds). Call it a very selfish pick, but we think 2006 National League MVP Ryan Howard (2004-2016) did more to help the Phillies win than any other first baseman.

Second Base

Chase Utley (2003-2015), by a wide margin.

Third Base

The greatest third baseman of all time is Mike Schmidt (1972-1989). Since he was a Philly for his entire 18 year career, the choice here is very easy.

Shortstop

The weakness of the Phillies’ franchise can be best identified by the choices at second base and shortstop. Jimmy Rollins (2000-2014) and Chase Utley were both fine players, the core of a team that won back to back National League Pennants and a World Series Title. But, despite Rollins’ MVP in 2007, neither one of them are going into the Hall of Fame. Still, they are clearly the best players in Phillies’ history at their positions. That says all you need to know about the Phillies Franchise.

Aug 26, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins (11) throws to first for an out during the first inning of a game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Left Field

Ed Delahanty (1888-1889, 1891-1901) was one of the biggest stars in baseball in the 1890s. Unfortunately, he is now most remembered for the mystery surrounding his death. On the night of July 2nd, 1903, “Big Ed” was kicked off a train outside Niagara, Canada for being drunk and threatening other passengers. Disoriented, he wandered across a railroad bridge, that spanned the Niagara River, towards Buffalo, New York. He then either fell,  jumped, or was pushed (most likely fell) into the Niagara River. His body was found seven days later below the Falls. A pathetic end to a great career.

Center Field

Not only are Billy Hamilton (1890-1895), Roy Thomas (1899-1908), and Richie Ashburn (1948-1959) all in the Hall of Fame, but they are as evenly matched as three center fielders can be. “Sliding Billy” Hamilton was probably the best of the bunch at his peak, but he was only in Philadelphia for six years. Thomas was there for ten years where he shared the outfield with three other Hall of Famers. He was an excellent defensive outfielder. Ashburn came up as one of the “Whiz Kids’, who won a NL Championship in 1950. Ashburn’s Championship was the only one any of these three brought to Philadelphia, which is a black mark to all three. In a very close call, we’ll go with Richie Ashburn (1948-1959).

Right Field

More Hall of Fame members in right. Elmer Flick (1898-1902) was the best of the group, but he was only in Philadelphia for five years. Chuck Klein (1928-1933, 1936-1939, 1940-1944) won a triple crown for Philadelphia in 1933 with 28 HR, 120 RBI, and .368 BA, numbers that were not all that impressive considering the era and that his home park was probably the best hitters park in major league history. Sam Thompson (1889-1898) is probably slightly ahead of Flick and Klein, but then again maybe he wasn’t. All three are enshrined in Cooperstown as is Clifford “Gavvy” Cravath (1912-1920) who seems to be a step ahead of the previous three. Cravath led the league in Home Runs six times in his Phillie career, also drove in 100 runs or more another three times. His Home Run totals were not impressive by historical standards, but this was the decade before Babe Ruth changed the way offenses were constructed. Del Ennis (1946-1956) and Johnny Callison (1960-1969) are not in the Hall of Fame, but they belong in the conversation. Ennis, another one of the “Whiz Kids” , was a consistent 100 RBI man who played as much left field as right, while Callison was the favorite for the NL MVP in 1964 before the Phillie collapse in the final two weeks of the season. Bobby Abreu (1996-2006) came up in the 1990s and put up some astounding numbers. In a seven year span he hit between 20 and 31 home runs, drove in over 100 five times, and walked more than 100 times every year. A completely unappreciated star. We might want to move Sherry Magee (1904-1914) over from left field. After all, by the metrics we use, he is the second best outfielder in Phillies’ history (behind Ed Delahanty). Magee seems like the logical pick, but in his 11 seasons in Philadelphia he played right field only 13 times. He did not demonstrate that he could handle the position. With reservations, we’ll go with Bobby Abreu (1996-2006). Obviously we’re not real confident with the pick.

Pitchers

The greatest pitcher in National League history was Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander (1911-1917). The one negative is he was only there for seven years, but what a seven years! One thing about the Philadelphia Phillies is the quality of their best pitchers. All four of them are in Bill James’ top 30 of all time.

Steve Carlton (1972-1986) is the #2. In 1972 he went 27-10 for a team that finished last and won only 56 games. This was one of his four Cy Young seasons. A great pitcher.

Robin Roberts (1948-1961) would be a #1 for most franchises, but he falls to #3 for the Phils. He was only the best pitcher in the National League from 1950-1955, finishing in the top ten of the National League MVP vote in five of those years.

#4 is Senator Jim Bunning (1964-1967, 1970-1971). He split his best seasons between Detroit, Philadelphia, and the United States Senate. All four are front line Hall of Fame members. A dynamic 4-man staff.

Manager

Harry Wright (1884-1893),the Grand Old Man of Base Ball, last job as manager was with the Phillies. His team went 636-566 in those years. His 636 wins is third on the Phillies’ all time list behind Charlie Manual’s (2005-2013) 780 and Gene Mauch’s (1960-1968) 646. Mauch, like Wright never won a championship in Philadelphia, convincing us to rate them behind Charlie Manual (2005-2013). Manual skippered the Phillies to five Eastern Division titles, two NL Pennants, and a World Series. Thus, he claims the title as the top Phillie manager.

MVP

The greatest Philly of all time is not a simple decision. Let’s deal with the easy stuff first. We can quickly dismiss Ed Delahanty. If he was so great, how com the Phillies couldn’t win?

That leaves Mike Schmidt and Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander. The level of excellence attained by Alexander during his seven years with the club is unprecedented. The Phillies were really bad when they signed him, and got much worse after they traded him away, but for the seven years he was there they were one of the better teams in the National League. The impact he had on the Phils might be the most profound of any player in the history on any team.

Schmidt, on the other hand, was the best of many who led the club during their most successful period. From 1976 to 1983 the Phillies won five division titles, two National League Pennants and the franchise’s first World Series. Mike Schmidt won two of his three MVP Awards in this period. He was probably the best player in baseball for five of those years. The best offensive player to ever play third base, he also won 10 Gold Gloves for his defensive ability. Because he spent his entire career in Philadelphia, and Alexander didn’t, we’ll take Mike Schmidt. But ask us tomorrow and we might change our minds.


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