Monday, April 4, 2011

Random Past Season: 1992

Year: 1992
Record: 70-92 (6th in NL East, 26 games behind Pittsburgh Pirates)
Manager: Jim Fregosi
Coaches: Larry Bowa, Denis Menke, Johnny Podres, Mel Roberts, Mike Ryan, John Vukovich
General Manager: Lee Thomas
All-Stars: Darren Daulton, John Kruk
Top Draft Pick: Chad McConnell (1st Round, 13th overall)

About 1992: With the enormous amount of success they've achieved in recent years, it's not too difficult to get excited about the start of a new Philadelphia Phillies season. It's basically a given the team will be in contention and it seems as though it would take something completely catastrophic to not be participating in the postseason. Obviously, this hasn't always been the case with the Phillies. In fact, this era has been a rare exception in franchise history. In many years, not finishing in last place could've been considered a successful season for the Phils. The .500 mark was like some sort of mythical place we could only dream about. Entering the 1992 season, the Phillies seemed poised to break on through to their first winning season since 1986, but a rash of injuries and a lack of pitching depth quickly put an end to those hopes. In fact, it can be argued that those hopes were dashed during the season's first at-bat. With that, what many people thought could be a breakout season for the club never materialized.

The Phillies had spent the bulk of the 1991 season in the National League East basement, but a 13-game winning streak in late July/early August vaulted the team to some level of respectability. Though their final record of 78-84 may not seem like much, it was the club's highest win total since 1987. It was also good enough for third place in a division that saw only two teams (the Pittsburgh Pirates at 98-64 and St. Louis Cardinals at 84-78) finish above .500. Though they didn't yet appear ready to be a serious pennant contender, the Phillies looked to be building a solid core with a winning record being a reasonable goal for 1992. In the offseason, the club made some headlines when they aggressively pursued ex-Pirates star Bobby Bonilla on the free agent market. It turned out that the Phils were more interested in Bonilla than he was in them, as he was more or less using his talks with the Phillies as leverage in his negotiations with the New York Mets, which was where he ended up signing.

The only free agent of note to come to Philadelphia was utility man Mariano Duncan, who had most recently been with the Cincinnati Reds. General Manager Lee Thomas still had a busy offseason, though, as four trades altered the look of the ballclub. After nine star-crossed seasons with the Phillies, Von Hayes was dealt to the California Angels for pitcher Kyle Abbott and outfielder Ruben Amaro, Jr., who would complete the first (and to date, only) father-son combination in franchise history. Von wasn't the only Hayes traded after the '91 season, as third baseman Charlie Hayes was sent to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Darrin Chapin, a deal that paved the way for Dave Hollins to take over at the hot corner. Never able to regain the promise of his head-turning 1986 callup, Bruce Ruffin was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers for infielder Dale Sveum, while catcher Darrin Fletcher went to the Montreal Expos in exchange for relief pitcher Barry Jones. The Phillies made what was thought to be a minor deal at the end of Spring Training when they sent pitcher Jason Grimsley to the Houston Astros for a righthanded spot starter/long reliever who had a live arm, but didn't appear to possess the maturity level and work ethic to stick at the MLB level. His name was Curt Schilling.

As far as returning players, the main key was to be a healthy Lenny Dykstra, who had missed 99 games in 1991 due to a pair of major injuries. The Dude was out over two months as a result of his infamous near-fatal drunk driving crash that also left Darren Daulton seriously injured and also missed the final six weeks of the season after sustaining a broken collarbone crashing into the wall at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. The Phillies had gone 36-27 in the 63 games Dykstra did play in '91, and he was very sorely missed at the top of the lineup during his absences. Daulton was also fully healthy entering the 1992 campagin and looked to put a miserable '91 season behind him. The aforementioned Dave Hollins was half of a new look on the left side of the infield, as rookie Kim Batiste would take over at shortstop for the departed Dickie Thon. Terry Mulholland would anchor the starting rotation after winning 16 games the previous season, while Tommy Greene hoped to build off a strong 1991 season that saw him win 13 games and throw a no-hitter. Mitch Williams would be back as the closer after winning 12 games and saving 30 more in his first season with the Phillies.

Speaking of altering the team's look, the Phillies would also be sporting new uniforms in 1992. The threads from their glory days of the late 1970s and early 1980s were considered outdated by the time the 1990s rolled around (the powder blue road unis had been discontinued in favor of gray ones following the 1988 season), with many fans hoping for a return to the 1950s and 1960s red and white look made famous by the 1950 Whiz Kids and 1964 squad. A Nostalgia Day game in 1991 that saw the Phillies wear those uniforms proved to be a huge success, and it was announced not too long after that the club would be changing its look in '92. The exact design was kept under wraps, but it was generally assumed to be a variation of the 50s/60s getup. One hint was dropped in the offseason, as the team unveiled its new logo. The lettering was similar to the old look, with the main exception being the stars that dotted the "i's" were now blue instead of red, with the Liberty Bell serving as a backdrop. The exact uniforms themselves would not be seen until Opening Day, as the Phillies wore the outgoing burgundy during Spring Training and even for batting practice before the first game of the season. On April 7, a crowd of 60,431 packed Veterans Stadium for the season and home opener as the secret was finally revealed during pregame introductions. It was a splash of old and new, as the red-and-white pinstriped uniforms were clearly inspired by those of the Whiz Kids era, but also included names on the back with rounded letters and numbers, the latter of which also appeared on the left sleeve of the uniform. Caps were red with a white "P" that was similar to but not exactly like the 50s/60s model and featured a blue button on top. The Phillies still wear this style uniform today. In 2008, they added a cream-colored alternate for home day games that is based on what the team wore in the late 1940s. Incidentally, the Phillies sported those late 40s unis for Nostalgia Day in 1992.

Amid all the hype, the 1992 season finally got underway for the Phillies at the Vet against the Chicago Cubs on April 7. For all intents and purposes, it could easily be said that their season ended that same day when Lenny Dykstra was hit by a Greg Maddux pitch leading off the bottom of the first. Dykstra stayed in the game, but it was revealed afterward that he'd sustained a fractured wrist and would be out indefinitely. With the club hinging so many hopes on Dykstra staying healthy, losing him figured to be a death blow, even with the season just one game old. Ruben Amaro, Jr. would take The Dude's spot in the lineup. At first, it looked as though the Phillies just might be able to survive Dykstra's loss as Amaro smacked two doubles and a three-run homer the next night to spark an 11-3 rout of the Cubs for the team's first win of the season. Amaro would hit three home runs over his first five starts as the Phils won four of their first six games without Dykstra in the lineup. The success would be short-lived for both Amaro as the team, as the Philadelphia native went into a deep slump and ultimately got sent to the minors in July and a six-game losing streak sent the Phillies to last place with a 4-9 record. They would never be fewer than two games under .500 at any point for the rest of the season.

Dykstra rushed back to the lineup on April 24, but struggled mightily and hit well below .200 before finally starting to come around in the middle of May. Recurring knee problems sent Dale Murphy to the disabled list twice within the season's first six weeks, his only appearance beyond that point was a one at-bat cameo in the final game of the season. Jim Lindeman, one of the club's top reserves in 1991, suffered a back injury and would be limited to 39 at-bats in 1992. The injury bug also bit the starting rotation, as Tommy Greene went down with shoulder tendinitis and Andy Ashby broke his wrist after being hit with a line drive, causing both pitchers to miss the majority of the season. In all, a franchise-record 17 different Phillies visited the disabled list in 1992.

Despite the club's injury woes, the Phillies were able to creep close to .500 by the beginning of June. Terry Mulholland rebounded from an 0-3 start by winning nine of his next ten decisions. The injuries to the pitching staff had forced Curt Schilling into the rotation on May 19, and he would never look back. John Kruk flirted with hitting .400 for much of the first half, while Darren Daulton was having a better season than any other National League catcher. On June 8, Schilling three-hit the Pirates in a 7-0 victory to open a three-game series at the Vet. That win left the Phils at 26-28, but just four games behind the East-leading Buccos. Pittsburgh would win the next two games, however, and the Phillies would be left in the dust.

On July 2, the Phils were 34-41 as they set out on a 13-game West Coast trip that would lead into the All-Star break. The trip would feature a pair of doubleheaders, one in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco, which came as a result of the Phillies being in those cities during the riots that followed the verdict in the Rodney King trial. The Phils went just 2-11 on the trip, losing the final eight games in the process. A 7-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Vet in the first game after the break pushed the losing streak to nine and left the Phillies at 36-53. A pair of blowout wins would follow (including a 14-3 romp over Los Angeles that would prove to be Kyle Abbott's only 1992 victory against 14 losses), but the Phils could not sustain any kind of momentum and spent the remainder of the campaign in the NL East cellar. As the calendar turned to September, 100 losses weren't necessarily out of the question. On September 20, the Phillies were defeated by the Pirates, 3-2 in 13 innings to drop their record to 59-88. Perhaps using that as motivation, the Phils finally found their stride over the final two weeks of the season as they won 11 of their final 15 games to finish 70-92. Included was a six-game winning streak from September 20 to 26 and four wins in a row following an 8-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the first game of a September 27 doubleheader. Those were the only two times the Phillies won more than three straight games in '92.

The Phillies did get a nice individual accomplishment in 1992, as Darren Daulton's 109 RBI were enough to lead the National League. Dutch also hit 27 homers. A late slump cost John Kruk a shot at the batting title, but he still hit .323. Dave Hollins proved capable of being an everyday player, as he slugged 27 home runs and knocked in 93. He was also hit by a league-leading 19 pitches, which is a franchise record for the most in a season by a switch-hitter. Mariano Duncan played all over the field and hit .267 in 142 games. In addition to his broken wrist, a strained hamstring and later a broken hand limited Lenny Dykstra to 85 games in another lost season. Wes Chamberlain and Kim Batiste were sent to the minors after rough starts, though Chamberlain would finish strong after returning. Ricky Jordan raised his average from .266 to .304 over the final month. With the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins set to begin play in 1993, the Phillies thought enough of Jordan to leave him on the protected list for the Expansion Draft that was held following the season.

On the mound, Terry Mulholland finished at 13-11 while leading the league with 12 complete games. Curt Schilling went 14-11 with a 2.35 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .201 average. Ben Rivera arrived in a trade with the Atlanta Braves early in the season and went 7-3 with a 2.82 ERA in 20 games, 14 of which were starts. Mitch Williams was 5-8 with 29 saves and a 3.78 ERA. Most of the remaining hurlers struggled in 1992, as the staff finished the season with the worst ERA in the National League. That offset a productive offense that finished behind only the Pirates in runs scored among NL teams. A season of great anticipation quickly dissolved into another cellar-dwelling year for the Phillies in 1992. Another offseason full of question marks would present itself as they looked ahead to 1993.

Personal Recollection: Up until that point, the 1992 Phillies season was the most eagerly-anticipated one I could remember. The new uniforms created quite a buzz, but beyond that, the 13-game winning streak in 1991 led many to believe the team wasn't far away from making some noise in the NL East. Then Lenny Dykstra breaks his wrist on Opening Day and just like that, you're thinking "there goes the season" again. In fact, many people around the organization said it was like the air going out of a balloon and the Phils never could really bounce back from that. The injury didn't help, but the main problem was that the pitching outside of Terry Mulholland and Curt Schilling (Ben Rivera pitched very well, but the season was pretty much a lost cause by the time he arrived) was awful that year. Losing Tommy Greene was tough, he could've been something special if he could've stayed healthy. You just had to feel sorry for Kyle Abbott. It has to be pretty rough on a guy going 1-14. He had a 5.13 ERA, which I guess isn't all that bad for someone with that record. That team could hit the ball, though, and Darren Daulton finally showed why the Phillies stuck with him for so long. Dave Hollins really burst on the scene after showing some promise in spot duty the previous year. He'd be an All-Star in 1993, but never did a whole lot after that. Late in the season, the Phillies acquired "Shortstop of the Future" Juan Bell from the Baltimore Orioles. Didn't work out so well.

The Home Companion video released after that season was entitled "You Gotta Love the Game" and hosted by Darren Daulton. The team didn't do so well on the field, but the video was quite entertaining. There was a great bit on the All-Star uniform fiasco. See, the All-Star Game was played in San Diego that year, and the Phillies had played their final series before the break there. Since Daulton and John Kruk were selected to the All-Star team, they stayed in San Diego instead of flying home with the Phillies. The problem was their uniforms were loaded with the rest of the team's luggage and Kruk or Daulton didn't have a uniform to wear for the Workout Day before the game. A clubhouse attendant searched all the concession stands to see if anyone carried Phillies shirts, to which one employee responded "why would we sell that?" Daulton opted to wear an All-Star Game t-shirt while Kruk infamously wore the jersey of Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, with whom he was good friends.

One thing you also saw in the video was that the players on the team really seemed to enjoy playing with each other and there were a lot of personalities. This was confirmed in John Kruk's autobiography, I Ain't an Athlete, Lady..., when he wrote that while the Macho Row gang of 1993 got all the attention, "we were the same way the year before, but we sucked so nobody noticed." The players also believed that many members of the front office frowned upon the team's image, but changed their tune when they started winning in '93. Suddenly that image became marketable, or as Kruk put it, "when we were in last place we were assholes, when we were in first place we were trendsetters."

Given everything that happened during the magical worst-to-first run of 1993, it's largely forgotten that 1992 was supposed to be this team's breakthrough season. It was a really weird year in that the offense was at or near the top of the National League in runs scored the whole season, the top two starting pitchers were among the best 1-2 in the league, and yet they still finished in last place. They did go on a pretty good run to end the season, which didn't mean a whole lot in the standings, but I think it did give them a little something to take into the offseason heading into '93. When Darren Daulton was going for the RBI title, they started paying more attention to things like advancing runners and being a little more heads-up on the bases in order to maximize Dutch's opportunities. Funny how the pursuit of an individual accomplishment had an overall positive impact on the team aspect.

Despite the fact the Phillies finished last in '92, I had a good feeling about '93, though I never could have predicted the level of success they ended up having. It helped that the Pirates (who won the NL East in 1990, 1991, and 1992) were about to lose Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek to free agency, while none of the other NL East teams seemed all that imposing, but there just seemed to be a good vibe about the way the Phils finished the 1992 season. I guess maybe there was something to that.

That's my story on the 1992 Phillies season. Feel free to share your own recollections.


  1. page for the 1992 Phillies:

  2. Funny, for whatever reason I have few specific memories of the 1992 season, but I must have followed it closely enough, because I certainly do remember telling my father in February of 1993 - and I remember exactly where we were when I said - that 1993 would be the Phillies best shot at the NL East since I could remember, and then I cited everything you said in this article about the NL East going into 1993.