My Philography series of mini-bios highlighting the careers of the most interesting and important individuals throughout Philadelphia Phillies history continues with this 23rd entry.
In 2002, Tony Taylor became the 24th person overall and the first-ever Hispanic player to be honored with a place on the Phillies Wall of Fame. He has since been joined by Juan Samuel (2008) and Bobby Abreu (2019) as Hispanic players honored among the franchise immortals.
Sports columnist Milton Richman, who became the sports editor at UPI and was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame with the Taylor Spink Award in 1981, said of Taylor back in 1975: “Tony Taylor has a special way with people. It doesn’t matter who they are, other ballplayers, fans, or the press. He’s to the Phillies what Ernie Banks was to the Cubs.”
That “special way” – his friendliness, positive personality, and willingness to share a knowledge of and passion for the game that he loves – is what has always endeared Taylor to Phillies fans, especially those who got to enjoy his years as a player with the team during two stints and a long-time association with the club as a coach and goodwill ambassador.
Taylor played for 19 seasons in Major League Baseball, 15 of those in a Phillies uniform from 1960-71 and then from 1974-76. Though his career ended more than four decades ago, Taylor is still 12th on the Phillies all-time hits, 16th in steals, and 17th in runs scored on the franchise leader boards. Only four men – Schmidt, Ashburn, Bowa, and Jimmy Rollins – have played more games in a Phillies uniform.
Born Antonio Nemesio Taylor Sánchez on December 19, 1935 in Central Alava in the Matanzas province on the island of Cuba, Taylor was raised there and began playing baseball as a young boy. He would eventually get to enjoy the game alongside his younger brother, Jorge.
Central Alava was “a quiet place,” Taylor said in 1970 per a more detailed bio piece on him by Rory Costello and Jose Ramirez for SABR. “Nothing to do but play ball or swim in the river. As a boy I went to school and worked in my cousin’s butcher shop. I liked chemistry. If I didn’t go into baseball, I would have become a chemist for a sugar company.”
During the mid-late 1950’s, Taylor turned professional. He was officially a member of the San Francisco Giants beginning in 1954, and played the next few years in both the Cuban professional league and in the U.S. minor leagues, building a reputation as a slick-fielding shortstop.
After playing with Dallas in the Texas League during the 1957 season, the Chicago Cubs selected Taylor from the Giants in the December Rule 5 minor league draft. He was then immediately installed as the Cub’s starting second baseman and leadoff hitter at just age 22.
Taylor’s glove proved far more advanced than his bat during his rookie 1958 season in the Windy City. But that glove was good enough to keep him in the starting lineup. The following year, Taylor’s offensive production took a step forward. His average jumped 55 points to the .280 mark and his slugging percentage rose nearly 80 points, with Taylor nearly doubling his number of extra-base hits.
He opened the 1960 season still as the starter at second base with the Cubs, but that wouldn’t last long. On May 13, 1960, Taylor was dealt to the Phillies along with catcher Cal Neeman, with the Phils sending their starting first baseman, Ed Bouchee and young starting pitcher Don Cardwell to Chicago.
Taylor quickly became a fan favorite at Connie Mack Stadium. He hit .310 over his first 56 games as new manager Gene Mauch‘s starting second baseman with 16 extra-base hits , 17 RBIs, 31 runs scored, and a dozen stolen bases. That performance earned Taylor his lone career National League All-Star nod.
The young Phillies won just 59 games in that 1960 season, finishing in last place in the National League. But over the next few seasons they slowly built a contender under Mauch.
A core group of players that included outfielders Johnny Callison, Tony Gonzalez, and Wes Covington, catcher Clay Dalrymple, shortstop Bobby Wine, and pitchers Chris Short and Art Mahaffey all grew up together during the early 1960’s with the Phillies.
In 1962 the club finished 81-80, their first winning season in nearly a decade. The following year they upped it to 87 wins and a fourth-place finish. Then two big moves set the Phillies up to become legitimate contenders.
A big trade with Detroit in December 1963 brought in the veteran ace starting pitcher that the team needed in right-hander Jim Bunning. And a 22-year-old Dick Allen was handed the starting third base job as a rookie.
The addition of that big arm and bat to the maturing, talented, tight-knit core proved to be an exciting and winning mix and they led the National League for much of that summer. On Father’s Day, Bunning tossed the first Perfect Game in Phillies history as the Phillies downed the Mets by 6-0. An incredible play at second base by Taylor with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning helped make that historic gem at Shea Stadium possible.
Holding a 6 1/2 game lead with just a dozen left on the schedule, the Phillies organization printed up tickets for their first World Series appearance since 1950.
As even Phillies fans who weren’t around to experience the disaster are well aware, that Fall Classic appearance wasn’t meant to be. The team suffered through an infamous collapse, losing 10 straight games and 13 of 15. Though they won their final two games, the 1964 Phillies would finish a tantalizing one game out, in second place.
That group would never win a pennant, but they were a winning ball club. The Phillies enjoyed a winning record for six consecutive seasons from 1962 through 1967. Taylor was a starter during that entire period. As the 1960’s came to a close, that winning core began to age and was traded away, the club’s performance deteriorated on the field, and Taylor slid over to third base. In 1969 the Phillies would win just 69 games.
During spring training in 1970, the SABR bio describes what Taylor called “the biggest moment in my whole life.” His mother and sister, and his sister’s husband and children, arrived in Miami from Cuba. Taylor had been trying to get them out since 1962. “They led a difficult life. They did not believe in the Communists and were not given food and clothing. They had to buy things in the black market.”
In that 1970 season the Phillies played their final year at old Connie Mack Stadium. The former Shibe Park had been the club’s home since 1938, and had been the home of the American League’s Philadelphia Athletics from 1909-54. But the brand new Veteran’s Stadium was being built in South Philadelphia and would become the Phillies new home for the 1971 season.
Taylor spent that final year at Connie Mack serving as a utility player at age 34 on a rebuilding Phillies ball club, with youngsters Denny Doyle and Bowa taking over the starting roles in the middle infield.
On a Sunday afternoon in that final summer at the old ballpark, Taylor enjoyed a moment that would live on in Phillies history. It was August 2 and there were just over 10,000 fans at the start. Most were no longer there as the Phillies came to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning, trailing the San Francisco Giants by 6-3.
Larry Hisle led off with a double off Giants starter Ron Bryant and Doc Edwards followed with a base hit, moving Hisle to third base. When pinch-hitter Terry Harmon worked Bryant for a walk, the bases were suddenly loaded.
Giants skipper Charlie Fox went to his bullpen, calling in southpaw Mike Davison as Taylor stepped to the plate. In his 13th big-league season, Taylor had just 60 career home runs at that point. This moment would produce number 61 as Taylor blasted the first-ever walkoff grand slam in Philadelphia Phillies franchise history.
Taylor would open the first 1971 season at The Vet still with the Phillies, but would not finish the year with the team. On June 12 he was dealt to the contending Detroit Tigers for a pair of minor league prospects, neither of whom would ever reach the big-leagues. He would serve as the backup to Dick McAuliffe at second base with Detroit over the next three years.
It was with those Tigers where he would make his lone playoff appearances, starting and playing the full Games 2-5 in Detroit’s heartbreaking loss to the eventual World Series champion Oakland A’s. Taylor was just 2-15 in that 1972 ALCS, and went 0-4, striking out twice, in the decisive 2-1 victory for Oakland. In fact, he flew out to center field against Vida Blue for the final out with the tying run on base in the bottom of the 9th inning for the final game at Tiger Stadium.
In December 1973, Taylor returned to the Phillies, signing as a free agent at age 38. He would close out his playing career as a utility player and pinch-hitter over three final seasons in Philadelphia as the club finally returned to contending status in the mid-1970’s. This was when I saw Taylor play in person, in that twilight of his career.
Per the SABR bio, a July 1974 AP account included the following: “All Tony Taylor has to do is stick his head out of the Phillies’ dugout and the fans go wild.” This feeling too was mutual. “I love those people,” said Taylor of the Veterans Stadium fans. “If a guy gives one hundred per cent they cheer for you. They know baseball, and they know whether a player is playing hard or not.”
During an early 1976 slugfest at Wrigley Field, Schmidt drilled home runs in four consecutive at-bats during an 18-16 victory for the Phillies over the host Cubs. Per Larry Shenk, the Phillies Hall of Famer and all-time greatest player used one of Taylor’s bats to blast what proved to the the final game-winner in the top of the 10th inning.
As the 1976 Phillies captured the club’s first National League East Division crown, Taylor missed much of the season’s first three months injured, returning for the stretch run. Between games of a doubleheader in Montreal after the Phillies had clinched the division, Allen gave manager Danny Ozark an ultimatum – include Taylor on the postseason roster or Allen wouldn’t play. The skipper forged a compromise, naming Taylor as a coach for the NLCS in which the Phillies were swept out by Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine.
Following that season, Taylor formally retired as a player and became the Phillies first base coach from 1977 through 1979. Over the winter in 1978-79, Taylor managed the Águilas del Zulia club to a spot in the Venezuelan Winter League finals.
During the 1980 and 1981 seasons, Taylor served as a roving infield instructor. He won the first of three career World Series rings as a member of the organization when the Phillies captured the first championship in franchise history in that 1980 season.
Through most of the 1980’s he bounced around the organization, serving as a minor league manager and a roving instructor. Per the SABR bio, his personal life suffered a setback during this period when Taylor went through a divorce from wife Nilda during this period. He then returned to the big club in the role of first base coach with the 1988 and 1989 Phillies.
Taylor moved on to become a coach with the San Francisco Giants and the expansion Florida Marlins during the 1990’s. In 1999, the Marlins brought him back to the big-leagues where he served in the role of first base and infield coach. During this period he earned a second World Series ring when the Marlins captured the 1997 title. He would get a third when the Fish again won the championship in 2003.
In April 2004, Taylor was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame. Following one final season as the Marlins bullpen coach in 2004, Taylor officially and finally retired from baseball. Since that time he has enjoyed his retirement living in Miami, a home for many in the Cuban-American community.
This past August, Taylor attended the Phillies Wall of Fame ceremony at Citizens Bank Park when his friend Abreu was inducted. While in Philly for those Alumni Weekend celebrations, Taylor suffered a series of strokes.
Per a report by Matt Breen in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the 83-year-old Taylor wanted to return to Miami, and was transported from Jefferson Hospital to the airport. The Phillies paid for a team of nurses to accompany him and his second wife, Clara, on a private flight home.
“The Phillies have done great,” Clara said per Breen. “They were wonderful. He’s doing therapy and progressing really slow but hopefully well.” Numerous former Phillies teammates and club officials, including owner John Middleton, stayed in close touch on his return home. “It was overwhelming…He’s aware of everyone who has been calling,” said Clara per Breen.
That caring and concern from the Phillies organization and fan base is a reflection on the decades of good will built up between themselves and Tony Taylor. Here is to hoping that he is able to recover and continue to enjoy life, again returning one day to walk out onto the field in Philadelphia and continue this long-time genuine love affair.
Click on the “date” in order to read the Philography piece. Click on the individual name to view their stats page at Baseball Reference
2.15.2016 – Edith Houghton