Cooperstown Confidential: The all-quirky Philliesby Bruce Markusen
November 18, 2011
THT’s Chris Lund has created a monster. His idea to name an all-quirky team for the Blue Jays has spawned a number of similarly colorful all-star teams for other franchises. Earlier, I came up with a list of quirky Oakland A’s; now I’ll attempt to do the same with the Phillies. In this case, I’ll use 1965 as a cutoff point, since that happened to be the year I was born.
The cast of Phillies characters includes hot dogs, serial pack rats, fireworks experts, playboys, moral philosophers, and a man named “Bake.” So let the quirking begin.
First base: Willie Montanez. As a rookie with the Phillies, this flashy first baseman developed a home run trot that he called “Montanez’ Revenge.” As he approached each base, he would do a stutter step before jumping onto the base. And then, as he neared home plate, Montanez stopped jogging and slowly walked the final few feet. He then stepped squarely on the middle of the plate, punctuating the home run trot, a move that did not gain much favor with opponents.
With the Phillies, Montanez began compiling other hot dog “tendencies.” As Montanez stepped into the batter‘s box, he flipped his bat from end to end, catching it with his hand, as if he were getting set to hit with an oversized baton. He repeated the bat flip when he swung at a pitch and failed to put the ball into play. Montanez also liked to roll his neck—much like Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente—before settling into his extreme crouched batting stance at home plate. And in the field, Montanez pioneered the “snatch catch” several years before Rickey Henderson made the play so popular.
By the mid-1970s, Montanez had established himself as the king of the showboats. The media certainly recognized him as such. “Willie Montanez is such a hot dog that it takes a quart of mustard to cover him,” Dick Young once wrote in The Sporting News.
Second base: Cesar Tovar. With his gap-toothed smile, heavy Spanish accent, and upbeat personality, Tovar became one of the most intriguingly colorful players of the late 1960s and early '70s. Nicknamed Pepi, Tovar would play anywhere his managers asked him to: second base, third base, shortstop, or the outfield. In one game for the Twins, he played all nine positions, matching Bert Campaneris’ feat from three years earlier.
Off the field, Tovar lived life to the fullest—perhaps too fully. According to the hugely entertaining (and hysterical) book written by Mike Shropshire, Seasons in Hell, Tovar had three different wives in three different countries by the time he left the Phillies and joined the Rangers in 1973. One of Tovar’s less scandalous habits exemplified his caring nature. At the end of each season, Tovar would gather up as much equipment as he could and package dozens of bats, balls, and gloves for delivery to his hometown in Caracas. Tovar usually told others that he wanted the equipment for his winter workouts, but in reality, he was sending the equipment to underprivileged children in Caracas.
It’s too bad that Tovar didn’t spend more time in Philadelphia. His Phillies tenure lasted just one season (1973) before he made those Seasons in Hell just a bit more bearable.
Shortstop: Larry Bowa. This was the toughest position to fill on the quirky team. No one stood out as an obvious choice. After careful review, I settled on Bowa, who was not particularly quirky but was an incredibly intense and fiery player who was not afraid to argue with umpires, writers and other teams. Known as a pesky and combative player to opponents, Bowa earned the nickname of “Gnat.“ After his playing days, he authored a book called Bleep.
Third base: Richie Allen. He made our all-quirky A’s team as Dick Allen, but we would be remiss in not including him on our Phillies team as Richie Allen.
Though he arrived with a major on-field splash in 1964, Allen irritated Phillies management with his chronic lateness. He often missed batting practice and pre-game workouts. Gene Mauch, his first manager in Philadelphia, fined Allen several thousand dollars for his repeated late arrivals.
Allen sometimes butted heads with teammates, though he appears to have been on the right side of a celebrated 1965 fight with slugger Frank Thomas. After Thomas repeatedly called teammate Johnny Briggs “boy"—like Allen, Briggs is an African American—Allen told Thomas that such language was unacceptable. As the Phillies took batting practice, Allen and Thomas grappled near the batting cage. The fight culminated in Thomas hitting Allen in the shoulder with his bat, but Allen escaped serious injury.
During the 1967 season, Allen could not avoid a major injury. He tore tendons in his hand, which he claimed resulted from trying to push his stalled car off the road. Allen said that he accidentally put his hand through one of the headlights.
Allen’s frequent spats with teammates and Philadelphia writers, not to mention his occasionally indifferent play on the infield, made him a target of some Phillies fans. Unhappy with his attitude, Philly fans booed him as he stood at his position. Allen sometimes responded by pawing at the Connie Mack Stadium infield dirt with his spikes, drawing the word “BOO” in the stadium infield. Allen’s “letters in the dirt” only reinforced Philadelphians’ hard feelings toward him. Some fans, perhaps fueled by racism, started throwing objects at Allen—ncluding batteries and pieces of garbage—hich prompted the slugger to start wearing his batting helmet in the field. The new headgear led to Allen becoming known as “Crash Helmet.” The new nickname was later shortened to “Crash.”
By 1968, Allen’s displeasure with Philadelphia reached a boiling point. In an attempt to persuade management to trade him, he began to intentionally violate some team rules. In May of 1969, Allen failed to arrive at the ballpark until after a game had started. The late arrival prompted a $1,000 fine from manager Bob Skinner. Allen only compounded the problem later that season by forgetting that the start time of a doubleheader against the Mets had been moved up. Listening to the car radio on his way to the ballpark, Allen learned that he had received a month-long suspension from Skinner. He subsequently threatened to retire if the Phillies did not trade him. The Phillies obliged his request, sending him to the Cardinals as part of the famed Curt Flood trade.
Ironically, Allen is now more popular in Philadelphia than he was during his playing days. An icon throughout much of Pennsylvania, Allen has worked in community relations for the Phillies since the 1990s.
McBride’s real name is Arnold, but I can’t recall any broadcaster calling him by that name. It’s always been “Bake,” a nickname whose origins remain somewhat mysterious. The nickname came to him as a child, and was sometimes expanded to “Shake ‘n Bake,” a chicken-breading product that became popular in the '70s.
At its peak, McBride’s Afro came close to rivaling Oscar Gamble's as the biggest in baseball. In fact, I’d rate McBride second on the all-time Afro list, just ahead of his Phillies teammate, Nino Espinosa.
Long, lean and fast, McBride went through a specific ritual at the plate, as he repeatedly pawed at the ground and made sure to erase any remnants of the batter’s box chalk lines. His swing was not smooth, but uneven. He slapped at the ball awkwardly, trying to punch it into the outfield, but his results were good: seven seasons of .300 or better. Then he let his speed take over. And man, was he ever fun to watch.
Center field:: Lenny Dykstra. This was perhaps the most difficult selection to the all-quirky team, largely because Dykstra has become such a sad caricature in recent years. But during his playing days in the 1990s, there is no doubt that Dykstra was one of the quirkiest of all the Phillies.
With his large chaw of tobacco and his muscular build (which some attributed to steroid use), “Nails” became one of the most recognizable of the 1990s Phillies. His Bowery Boys manner of speaking and his facial twitches only added to his unusual aura. A lover of life in the fast lane, Dykstra sometimes went over the line. In 1991, he was driving drunk when he crashed into a tree, resulting in broken ribs, a fractured collarbone, and a broken cheekbone. Dysktra missed two months because of his lapse in judgment.
Since his playing days, Dykstra has become a sad, perhaps even tragic figure. His health has suffered. He has lost all of his teeth, the result of his tobacco habit, and has seen his weight balloon considerably. Additionally, Dykstra became a huge player on the stock market, building a huge portfolio and becoming a famed financial adviser. But his financial skills ended up being non-existent, as he eventually lost almost all of his investments. In May of this year, Dykstra was indicted on bankruptcy fraud and sentenced to house arrest. He has also been hit with charges of drug possession and grand theft auto.
Dykstra now awaits sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 20.
Right field: Jay Johnstone. After being released by the A’s during the 1973 season, Johnstone found no major league takers—just an offer to play for the Phillies’ top affiliate in Toledo. There, he had a run-in with Jim Bunning, who was now managing thatThere, Triple-A affiliate in old school fashion. During the 1974 season, Bunning ripped two of his slumping hitters, Dane Iorg and Jerry Martin, by comparing their diminishing batting averages to the sinking of the Titanic. The comparison appalled Johnstone, who didn’t like the way his manager was belittling his own players. The next day, Johnstone showed up at the ballpark wearing a full-body wet suit with the words “USS Titanic” scribbled across the front of his chest. Johnstone carried an oar with him, pretending to paddle it across the playing field. Not amused by the stunt, Bunning fined Johnstone.
Johnstone would find a better fit with the parent Phillies, where he was paired with a more lenient and understanding manager. Danny Ozark seemed to appreciate his journeyman outfielder, who would do or say almost anything. “What makes him unusual is that he thinks he’s normal,” Ozark explained to one reporter, “and everyone else is nuts.”
Although Ozark viewed Johnstone as a valuable part-time player and pinch-hitter, Johnstone also tested his patience at times. He sometimes missed signs, did not always run hard to first base on routine plays, and developed a strange habit of throwing the bat at the ball when badly fooled on the pitch.
While with the Phillies, Johnstone began to solidify his reputation as a full-fledged flake. Like a shoeshine boy, he carefully cleaned his spikes before the first pitch of every game, knowing full well that they would become dirty once he stepped into the batter’s box. He wore unusual headgear before and after games, including an oddly shaped helmet that featured the words “Star Patrol.” He also shot off fireworks from his locker. One time Johnstone waited until NBC “Game of the Week” broadcaster Joe Garagiola started to ask questions of Dick Allen during a live interview, and then set off a loud firecracker heard by all on national television.
Given such hijinks, is it any wonder that Johnstone became known as “Moon Man?”
Catcher: Darren Daulton. Known as the clubhouse leader of the 1993 National League champions, Daulton became a recognizable figure because of his sand-surfing good looks, his distinctive mullet, and his outgoing personality. His nickname of “Dutch” remains a bit of a mystery. Daulton himself doesn’t know how he picked it up, only that his Phillies teammates started to call him Dutch and “Bubba,” his alternate moniker.
Though popular in the clubhouse, Daulton has had his share of off-the field troubles, including several bouts with the law. He was charged with spousal abuse by his second wife, arrested several times for driving under the influence, and refused to abide by the legal requirements of a divorce agreement. As a result of the latter infraction, he spent nearly three months in prison.
In recent years, Daulton has gained notoriety for some of his unconventional beliefs. In 2007, he published a book called If Only They Knew, which detailed his beliefs in occultism, reincarnation and numerology. According to Daulton’s philosophy, the universe was created and continues to be maintained by numerical “synchronicities.” Daulton has claimed to have “skippered through time” and experienced “astral travel.” A believer in the theory that Mayan temples were created by a lost civilization, Daulton says that he and other believers will ascend into a new plane of existence at the end of the Mayan calendar, set to take place on Dec. 21, 2012.
Starting pitcher: Bo Belinsky. How could we not include baseball’s leading playboy of the 1960s on our list? Lean and handsome, the left hander with dark features dated several movie stars, including Ann-Margret, Tina Louise (famous for playing Ginger Grant on Gilligan’s Island), Connie Steven, and Mamie Van Doren. In the spring of 1963, Belinsky announced his engagement to Van Doren, but later admitted his relationship with the blonde actress was a regrettable mistake. “I needed her like Custer needed Indians,” an exasperated Belinsky told a reporter.
Belinsky’s love of brand name actresses and the Hollywood lifestyle was fueled by his location in southern California, where he pitched for the Los Angeles Angels. He became a favorite of Hollywood gossip columnists. Even famed Broadway columnist Walter Winchell took time to track Belinsky’s whereabouts; the legendary writer often quoted the talkative left hander in his widely read newspaper column.
Belinsky’s dalliances with Hollywood made for an eventful time during his tenure with the Los Angeles Angels. But the Angels began to lose patience with Belinsky, especially after Bo punched out a 64-year-old writer named Braven Dyer. Belinsky then refused a demotion to Triple-A Hawaii. After the 1964 season, the Angels sent Belinsky to the Phillies. He would despise playing in Philadelphia, quickly developing contempt for the city’s notoriously demanding and hardcore fans. “Philadelphia fans would boo funerals, an Easter egg hunt, a parade of armless war vets, and the Liberty Bell.” It was one of his most memorable quotations, but it only made him a pariah in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
Lefty relief pitcher: Tug McGraw. Long before he joined the Phillies, McGraw made his reputation as one of the game’s funniest and wackiest pitchers. He was extraordinarily popular in New York, but some health concerns convinced the Mets they should trade him to the Phillies as part of a deal that netted them young catcher John Stearns.
Given a clean bill of health, McGraw pitched as well in Philadelphia as he had in New York. He also continued some of his rituals, like slapping his glove on his thigh, which started as in-game greeting to his wife but eventually became a matter of superstition.
He also remained one of the game’s leading quipsters. After earning a good raise from the Philadelphia front office one year, McGraw explained to reporters how he planned to spend the money. “Ninety per cent I’ll spend on good times, women, and Irish whiskey. The other 10 per cent I’ll waste.”
McGraw became a major contributor to the Phillies’ first World Championship season in 1980. McGraw saved two games in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, including the clinching Game Six, when he recorded the season’s final out by striking out Willie Wilson.
Righty relief pitcher: Larry Andersen. ighty Relief Pitcher: Where does one begin with this quotable quipster, who pitched in middle relief for the Phillies before developing a cult following as a color analyst on Philadelphia broadcasts?
As a ballplayer, Andersen became known for his clubhouse pranks and gags. Perhaps his most famous involved sneaking into his manager’s hotel room, where he proceeded to make cherry Jell-O in the bathroom toilet.
Andersen also possessed a remarkable tendency to question everything from language to popular culture. As part of his Phillies broadcasts, Andersen features a segment called “Shallow Thoughts,” where he explores some of his more famous quotations. A modern day philosopher/humorist, Andersen has posed such questions as, “Why do you park on the driveway and drive on the parkway?” Then there’s his famed observation: “Why does sour cream have an expiration date? It’s already sour.”
Andersen continues to live his life according to a simply philosophy. “You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.”
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.