The Whiz Kids

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Dick Sisler is mobbed by his Whiz Kids teammates after the 10th inning home run that won the 1950 NL pennant

 

The team that we now lovingly know as the Philadelphia Phillies was born way back in 1883 as the Philadelphia Quakers. During that first season they also became referred to as the ‘Philadelphians’, which was frequently shortened to ‘Phillies‘, and so the club thus has the distinction of being the oldest, continuous, one nickname, one city franchise in all of pro sports.

In 1887 they began to play regularly at ‘The Philadelphia Baseball Grounds’, which became ‘National League Park’ in 1895, and finally became known as the ‘Baker Bowl’ in 1914. After playing there for over a half century, the Phillies moved to ‘Shibe Park’ in 1937, which they shared with it’s original tenants, the American League’s Philadelphia Athletics. (The ballpark was renamed ‘Connie Mack Stadium’ in 1953 after the legendary A’s owner/manager.)

With the notable exception of the 1915 World Series season, the Phillies were mostly losers on the field during that first half-century. But new ownership during the 1940’s began to put increased emphasis on the farm system, developing strong players who finally jelled in the 1950 season.

Two of those players went on to become long-term Phillies legends and Baseball Hall of Famers. Center fielder Richie Ashburn was a Kansas farm boy who could run like the wind. One of the great Negro Leaguers of the time famously called Ashburn ‘the fastest white man in the game.’

Robin Roberts was a bulldog of a starting pitcher who by the end of the century was recognized as one of the top 75 greatest players in the history of the game by The Sporting News.

Together, Ashburn and Roberts helped fuel a young, exciting Phillies team that gradually rose into contention, and which because of their youth were handed the nickname of ‘The Whiz Kids’.

By the final week of the season the young Phillies were battling the far more veteran Brooklyn Dodgers for the National League pennant. Roberts started three times for the Phillies that week, including the season finale showdown on the final day at Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn.

The two clubs battled into the bottom of the 9th inning, where a base hit saw Cal Abrams head for home as the Dodgers potential winning run before a perfect throw from center field by Ashburn nailed him to preserve the tie and send the game to extra innings.

In the top of the 10th with two men on Dick Sisler stepped up to the plate. The son of Baseball Hall of Famer George Sisler delivered the biggest hit in Phillies history to that point, driving a three-run opposite-field home run to put the Phillies out in front.

Roberts set the Dodgers down in the order in the bottom of that 10th inning, and the Philadelphia Phillies had won their first NL pennant in 35 years.

In the World Series the club that everyone was by now calling ‘The Whiz Kids’ would take on the powerful New York Yankees.

For Game 1 at Shibe Park, manager Eddie Sawyer was unable to call on his ace Roberts because of that pennant-stretch work load. So, Sawyer tapped reliever Jim Konstanty, who would be named the Most Valuable Player in the National League that season, for the assignment. Many felt that the game was a mismatch in favor of Yankees 21-game winner Vic Raschi.

Konstanty, normally a relief pitcher, surprised most everyone by nearly matching Raschi pitch-for-pitch. But the Yankees scored a 4th inning run that held up for a 1-0 victory in the opener.

For Game 2 in North Philly, Roberts was back on the hill facing Yankees ace Allie Reynolds, and it resulted in yet another pitcher’s duel. New York again took the lead with a 2nd inning run, but Ashburn’s RBI tied it up in the bottom of the 5th, and the two teams battled into extra innings.

In the top of the 10th, future Hall of Fame legend Joe DiMaggio stepped to the plate and blasted a solo home run to left field. It would stand up as the winning run in a 2-1 Yankees victory.

Down 2-0 after a pair of dispiriting one-run losses on their home turf, the Phils moved on to Yankee Stadium where a third consecutive pitchers duel took place.

Phillies left-hander Ken Heintzelman carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning, but he finally tired, got wild, and loaded the bases. Konstanty relieved to try and preserve the lead. Unfortunately, the usually sure-handed Granny Hamner bobbled a ground ball that allowed the tying run to score.

That tie moved into the bottom of the 9th where Russ Meyer came on to pitch for the Phillies and retired the first two batters, and the Series appeared headed for its second straight extra inning tilt. But Meyer then allowed three consecutive singles, the final one to Joe Coleman knocking in the game-winning run.

That 3-2 victory had the Yanks up by three games to none, all three victories in tense affairs taken by just a single run each. Now they looked to clinch their franchise’ 13th World Series title in front of the home fans in Game 5.

Yogi Berra‘s 1st inning homer and a 3-run 5th inning rally put the Yanks up 5-0, and they coasted into the 9th inning with that same big lead. After recording the first two outs, the home team was apparently ready to end it easily.

The Phillies decided to put up one last fight, however. They put two men on base and then, with two outs, Andy Seminick hit an easy fly ball for what looked like it would be the final out. Yankees left fielder Gene Woodling settled under it, the ball came down into his glove…and popped out, falling to the ground as two runs scored.

Suddenly the Phillies were down 5-2, and when the next batter got a hit they were improbably, perhaps miraculously bringing the tying run to the plate.

Alas, there would be no miracle. Reynolds came on in relief and struck out pinch-hitter Stan Lopata. The Yankees celebrated their title as the home crowd went wild. The Phillies walked off the field having fought a great dynasty to a near draw, yet still having been swept.

The Phillies were young and talented, and it seemed as if they had a bright future together as contenders. Even that was not to be as the team slowly faded back into mediocrity over the next few years.

But for one glorious summer in Philadelphia, a young, talented, lovable group of ballplayers excited the town and battled the dynastic Yankees in the World Series.

It would be years before many of those ‘Whiz Kids’ would ever again have to pick up a dinner check in the the city of Philadelphia, and they are still remembered fondly more than a half-century later.