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Season From Hell

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Ashley is Art Mahaffey’s world—so much so that photos of his 7-year-old granddaughter, along with her drawings, literally wallpaper over a framed copy of artwork commemorating a legendary Philadelphia Phillies team he pitched for. In the back bedroom of his Allentown home, the pair plays “office.” Ashley has her own desk, though she often sits in Mahaffey’s leather chair. She’s usually the boss in this office. 

In his short but significant major-league career, Mahaffey was the boss only on the days he drew a starting assignment. Even then, domineering manager Gene Mauch smothered any thoughts of superiority.

Regardless, Mahaffey was the first Phillies player to appear on the front of Sports Illustrated after a then-record 17 strikeouts in an April 1963 game. The cover is a screen saver on his laptop these days. To the right of his granddaughter’s office collage, there are two telegrams inviting Mahaffey to the 1961 and ’62 All-Star Games. He still wears his ’61 All-Star ring.

Along with the ring, Mahaffey, now 78, wears a gold necklace with a No. 28 charm. His 16-year-old son, Michael, gave it to him a month before he was killed in a 1974 auto accident on Route 3 between Broomall and West Chester. 

Ten years earlier—and 50 years ago this month—his 1964 Phillies blew a 6½-game lead with 12 to play. In the process, they let the National League pennant and a trip to the World Series slip through their fingers. “Others can lie about their age, but I can’t,” he says. “My bubblegum cards say it all—or you can punch me into the computer.”

From left: Art Mahaffey and the Sports Illustrated cover that now serves as his screen saver; A mockup of the program for a World Series that never happened (note the empty white flag); An unused sheet of 1964 World Series tickets.

Mahaffey also has a daughter, but they’ve been estranged for years, which makes Ashley and his wife, Janet, the “miracles” of his life. A New York stockbroker when he left the game after six seasons, he pitched the last two-and-a-half years with a torn rotator cuff. While living in West Chester, Mahaffey ran a successful insurance business in Newtown Square. He’s been in Allentown for 16 years. “I keep quiet,” he says. “I don’t mention that I played with the Phillies, but Ashley tells everybody she meets that I played with the Phillies. Of course, at my age, I’m proud. It was in the days of the Hall of Famers. I pitched against Mays, Aaron, Banks—it was the greatest era there ever was.”

And 1964 was one of the greatest Phillies seasons. Confident, the team printed and began preselling World Series tickets. Then came the final two weeks-—nothing short of an implosion that included an improbable 10-game losing skid. With any luck, even on the last day of the regular season, the Phils could’ve still finished in a three-way tie and forced a round-robin elimination series with the Cardinals and the Reds. But luck was apparently in short supply that season

The collapse came early for this year’s team. But on Oct. 4, 1964, the Phils were just a game behind St. Louis and Cincinnati, who were tied for first place with 92-69 records. Philadelphia sent future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning to the mound. He did his part, shutting out the Reds, 10-0. But the Cardinals beat the Mets 11-5 after losing two straight, 1-0 and 15-5. 

 

From left: Former Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter in the 1960s; Dallas Green. 

In the end, the Phillies finished tied for second place with the Reds, a game behind the Cardinals. At that point in history—when there were no divisions or 10-team National and American leagues to win outright—no team had ever lost a pennant with a 6½-game lead and fewer than 15 games to play. If the Phils had won only four of their last 12 games, the Cards would’ve needed to win 11 of their last 13. At no point that season had the Phillies lost eight of 12, nor had St. Louis won 11 of 13.

“You take a collapse like that to the grave,” says Phillies catcher-turned-analyst Tim McCarver, who’s 72 now but turned 23 the day after his 1964 Cardinals beat the Yankees 4-3 to win the World Series. McCarver still recalls one headline, “Cards Win Series,” with the subhead, “Khrushchev Removed From Power.” “I’m forever grateful to have been on the other end of that [situation],” he says.

Despite the golden anniversary, the Phillies haven’t—and won’t—recognize the 1964 team and season in any significant way. Instead, they’ve focused on promoting the 10th anniversary of Citizens Bank Park. “While ’64 was a highlight for a while—like the (1950) Whiz Kids once were—for both, their prominence began slipping with the [success of] the 1970s and [early] ’80s,” says Larry Shenk, the Phillies 50-year public relations guru and current vice president of alumni relations. “Now, the last six or seven years have taken over that. The ghost of ’64 didn’t die easily. It came back in ’93 and ’77. But [Larry] Bowa said the ghost was finally dead when we won it all (in 1980).”

As immediate past president of the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association, Springfield’s Rich Westcott fought to have the 1964 debacle excluded from this year’s awards banquet. He ultimately prevailed. “It was a long, drawn-out argument—and I won,” says Westcott, who covered the team’s home games on-and-off that year for the Delaware County Daily Times. “Who wants to be reminded of that horrible, horrible event?”

An author and historian who just released his 24th book, Great Stuff: Baseball’s Most Amazing Pitching Feats, Westcott has written eight books on the team. He also published the Phillies Report from 1983 to 1997, taking care to avoid 1964 whenever he could. “At this point, that season doesn’t fit anywhere except at the bottom of the barrel,” he says. “It doesn’t rate with ’80 or ’08. The Whiz Kids can’t compare; they’re also a team that didn’t win [it all]. The Phillies had horrible years [other
than ’64].” 

Like 1961, when the Phils lost 23 straight—still a modern-day major-league record. “It was almost like a freak season the way it popped up,” Westcott says of ’64. “It was a great tragedy because [of what] didn’t happen—and should have.”

Dallas Green has his own opinion of 1964. “For the guys on that team, it will always be there,” says Green, who signed with the Phillies after his junior year at the University of Delaware. “It rears its head every time they have a losing streak, or when they’re in first place. It never goes away totally.”

Left: Johnny Callison; Right: Larry Shenk and Dallas Green.

Now the senior adviser to Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr., Green had returned to the organization to manage the 1980 world champions. He once owned a 60-acre Chester County farm; his son, Doug, now occupies a portion of it. At 80, Green still attends every home game, covers road trips on TV, and evaluates staff and players throughout the organization.

In 1964, Green was in his fifth year as a player in the big leagues. With the acquisition of Bunning, he knew he’d be in the back of the bullpen and used as a “mop-up guy,” as he wrote in his 2013 autobiography, The Mouth That Roared: My Six Outspoken Decades in Baseball. Then, a week shy of his 30th birthday, Green was sent to the Triple-A Arkansas Travelers. Around that time, his father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died a few weeks after Green’s demotion to the minor leagues. 

After a two-month stay, he rejoined the Phillies in September, a day after the start of the infamous 10-game losing streak. The first game he pitched was a 14-8 loss on Sept. 27. It dropped the team into second place for the first time since July 16.

When the losing began, Mauch went into a shell—essentially panic mode, Green wrote in his book. “He confused us,” Green clarifies. “All season, he screamed, yelled, hollered and threw things around the clubhouse. During the [losing streak], he never had a tirade. We were all waiting for the volcano to erupt, and it never did. Maybe we were waiting for him to save the season.”

Yet Mauch, in a strategy that still baffles critics, began starting Bunning and left-hander Chris Short—who pitched with Phillies from 1960 to 1972—every third day. They each had three consecutive starts on just two days’ rest and went 1-5. (They were 0-5 until the 10-0 Bunning win in the final game.)

A native of Lewes, Del., Short had a breakout season in 1964, winning 17 games with a 2.20 ERA. A two-time All-Star and a 20-game winner in 1966, he retired with back problems, then returned to his native state as an insurance agent in Wilmington. At the office in October 1988, an aneurysm ruptured in his brain. Short remained in a coma for three years and died in 1991 at the age of 53.

Once during those late years, Shenk remembers putting a baseball in Short’s left hand—and, for a moment, there was movement. “‘Good guy’ is an over-used expression,” Shenk says. “But Chris Short was a really good guy.”

It was Mahaffey who paid Short’s nursing-home bills by organizing charity golf tournaments. When Short died, Mahaffey used the $120,000 that was left—including $20,000 from Phils’ alum Larry Christenson and a golf event he’d run—to start a baseball scholarship in Short’s name at the University of Delaware. Contributions also went to the Philadelphia office of the American Diabetes Association.

Today, Short’s widow, Pat, is his voice. Her husband defended Mauch, says Pat.

This past spring, she packed a U-Haul full of her husband’s baseball memorabilia and sent it to Hunt Auctions in Exton. “He thought it was terrible that everyone blamed [Mauch],” she says. “But none of the longtime players blamed him—only the reporters and the fans who booed him out of Philly.”

Art Mahaffey’s relationship with his manager soured early on. After the young flamethrower—he could hit 101 mph and “fog it,” he says—was called up in 1960, he was 5-0 in the midst of a 6-18 road trip. Hall of Famer Robin Roberts had the other win. 

At Wrigley Field, Mauch pulled Mahaffey aside before the game and forbade him to let Ernie Banks hit a home run. When Banks did just that, the manager stormed the mound and unleashed a battery of vulgarities that forever severed their relationship.

“In ’64, he told me that if we get to the World Series, I wouldn’t pitch—that I’d just be watching,” Mahaffey recalls. “He was just a nasty man. But I can’t blame it all on Gene. Blame us, too. We had no player-leader. Tony Taylor could’ve been. But the way the tension was, I don’t think anybody could’ve snapped the streak.”

During the infamous 10-game losing streak, Mahaffey had the two best starts. He started the first one, and was on the mound when Reds rookie Chico Ruiz stole home with two outs and two strikes on future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. The Phils lost 0-1. Five days later, he pitched into the eighth inning and left with a 4-2 lead, but the bullpen blew it in a 6-4 loss to the Milwaukee Braves.

“All we needed was one win to break the streak,” says Mahaffey. “In the 23 straight [losses in ’61], John Buzhardt won to break the streak, and the next game was a shutout. But, in the midst of the 10-game streak, there got to be silence in the clubhouse after all Mauch’s screaming and yelling. The silence was deafening. We didn’t think we could lose that pennant. Then the tension became awful.”

In ’64, Mahaffey started 29 games and won 12, but his ERA was 4.52. He could dazzle one game, then leave onlookers dumbfounded the next. Prior to 1964, he was the hands-down pick to be the pitching staff’s ace. A pre-season trade with the Detroit Tigers for Bunning ended that.

Certainly, one of the highlights of ’64 was Bunning’s perfect game on Father’s Day in the first of a doubleheader against the Mets at Shea Stadium. It was the first perfect game in 84 years in the National League, and the seventh in history. Bunning won 19 games in 1964 (’65 and ’66, too), made an All-Star appearance, and finished with an ERA of 2.63.

The Phils won 10 of their first 12 in ’64. By May 1, Richie Allen, that season’s Rookie of the Year, was hitting .431 with six home runs. He hit .415 in the two-week slide, finishing the season with a .318 average, 29 home runs and 91 RBIs. 

Allen—who has an established distaste for the media—opted out of an interview for this story. He remains the only Rookie of the Year and league MVP not in the Hall of Fame. “I wish they’d shut the gates and let us play ball, with no press and no fans,” he once said.

In August ’64, Phillie Johnny Callison made the cover of Sports Illustrated after his walk-off home run won the All-Star Game. In the story, the Phils were said to be full of “invisible men who do not seem to understand that a team without stars should not be a pennant contender.”

That season, Callison—who died in 2006—played in all 162 games. He hit 31 home runs and drove in 104. He finished second in National League MVP voting to the Cardinals’ Ken Boyer. Winning a pennant made all the difference.

There were plenty of non-stars. In consecutive starts, rookie pitcher Ray Culp outdueled future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, a 14-time All-Star and 363-game winner. But Culp never won another game that season. By mid-August, injuries kept him off the mound. 

 

Left: Richie Allen’s 1964 Rookie of the Year baseball card; Ruly Carpenter today.

Shortstop Bobby Wine had a rocket arm and split time (as many did in ’64) with Ruben Amaro Sr. When Wine left the Phillies after 1968, he played for Mauch in the expansion Montréal Expos for four years. Wine, who lives in Norristown, was Green’s bench coach in 1980. He was also the third-base coach for the 1983 pennant-winning Phillies.

By the 1964 All-Star break, the Phils were 47-28, enjoying a 1½-game lead over the Giants and a 10-game lead over the fifth-place Cardinals. But 31 of the Phils’ first-half matchups were against the lowly Cubs, Colt .45s and Mets. They won 24 of those games (.770) and were just a bit over .500 against the rest of the league. As it turns out, losing eight of the first 12 games after the break was a sign of things to come.

But they rebounded. Short beat Cardinals ace Bob Gibson on July 24 in a complete-game 9-1 victory. In August, he shut out Pirates ace Bob Veale. By Aug. 23, the Phils were 6½ games ahead of the Giants, seven ahead of the Reds, and 10 in front of the Cardinals again.

Soon, though, the chinks in the armor became evident. On Sept. 8, Mahaffey lasted less than an inning against the Dodgers. That was followed by a two-inning Mahaffey start against the Giants and a 9-1 loss. 

Up 3-0 behind Short on Sept. 18, the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, resulting in a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers. Jack Baldschun—who threw a screwball that dove like a sinker—couldn’t maintain his third of four leads in September. The next night ended in a 16-inning 4-3 loss. The winning run was scored on another steal of home, this time by Willie Davis.

“The real reason [we lost] was that we had a bad bullpen,” Green says. “For whatever reason, Gene eventually got mad at Jack—the only bona fide closer in the day—and wouldn’t pitch him. That left myself and six other guys to try to close out games—and we weren’t capable.”

Then, on Sept. 21, Ruiz broke for the plate. A startled Mahaffey unleashed a hurried, wide pitch that arrived too late, and the Phillies lost their first of 10 in a row on a most unorthodox play. 

“It was unbelievable,” Mahaffey says now. “If Robinson swings the bat, he knocks Ruiz’s head off. It was so ignorant and stupid. People say, ‘Weren’t you thinking about him stealing home?’ No! To this day, they’re still talking about it as one of the most stupid plays in the history of baseball.”

Mauch was so angry that he ordered Short to bean Ruiz the next game. “I tried twice and missed,” Short told Villanova-based MLB fan Lou Orlando, author of 1994’s The Ultimate Phillies Trivia Quiz. “Then he hit my next pitch for a home run, and the Reds beat us again.” 

Ruiz, who died in a 1972 auto accident, never hit another home run or stole home again in his career. That same night, Pete Rose was safe at home as part of a double-steal against Short. 

After that, the Phils lost four at home against the Braves, and three to the Cardinals—consecutive losses eight, nine and 10. Whiz Kid Curt Simmons—whom the Phils traded four years earlier—was masterful in a matchup with Bunning, winning 18 in 1964 for St. Louis. 

“We could see the fear in their eyes,” McCarver says of the series with the Phils. “We smelled blood.”

Now 80, first baseman Bill White was an eight-time All-Star and won seven straight Gold Gloves. He was with the Cardinals at the time, and he says the difference between the two teams in 1964 was simple. “Our manager (Johnny Keane) let us play; Gene liked to play chess,” White remembers. “When there isn’t a noose that’s been tightened around your neck, you can go out and play. Gene tightened the noose. Those guys could feel it around their throats.”

Perhaps that’s partly why the historic collapse doesn’t feel a half-century old for former Phillies right-hander Mahaffey. “People talk about it so much,” he says. “No one has forgotten us. Even when they don’t know I played [for that team], they bring up the ’64 Phillies.”