Saturday, January 4, 2014

May 18, 1994: Phillies vs. Montreal Expos

Larry Anderson, left, giving us a
shallow thought on Phillies Photo Day.
The following year, my dad and I raised our commitment to the Phillies another level.

It was on a gloomy day in May 1994 that my dad gave me a get-out-of-school-free card to attend a game for the first and only time. I welcomed any break that came my way because sixth grade was the first of three years that I endured taunting and bullying from my peers on an almost daily basis.

The Phillies, fresh off a National League title and their first World Series appearance in 10 years, were going through hardship as well, and that day’s overcast skies and occasional chilly drizzle amplified their struggles. As the year unfolded, it became increasingly clear that the 1993 season was a flash in the pan. Nearly every player had his career year, and then fell back down to earth. This reality hit the starting rotation particularly hard. Terry Mulholland was traded to the New York Yankees in the offseason, while Curt Schilling, Tommy Greene and Ben Rivera all battled injuries.

Danny Jackson was the only starting pitcher on the top of his game in 1994, and he happened to be on the hill this day. He came into it 5-0 with an ERA well under 3 and was named an All Star that July.

We were also hoping Jackson’s dominance would bring an end to the “Curse of the Blue Hats.” Prior to the season, the Phillies unveiled their new blue hats (to be worn during day games), giving more prominence to the team’s forgotten third color. It turned out it was forgotten for a reason because to this point in the season, the boys in red, white and blue were still looking for their first win in the new hats.

My dad and I got to the game early, and I came armed with a baseball. My good luck with securing autographs the year before at Wilmington Blue Rocks games encouraged me to try at the major league level. I gathered with dozens of other fans in the front row along the first-base line. Greene and veteran relief pitcher Larry Andersen were kind enough to grace fans with their John Hancock. Andersen, who was in his final season in the majors, took the ball from my offering hand and signed it just before he and Greene left the field.

For mostly nostalgic reasons, I regret that I misplaced that ball years ago. Andersen was a big part of that ’93 squad as the setup man for Mitch Williams, and he is still beloved in Philadelphia thanks to his insightful color commentary on the radio during games. I even crossed paths with him again in recent years. He is an amiable person with a wonderfully odd sense of humor. Back in the late ‘90s when he was part of the television broadcast team with Chris Wheeler and the legendary Harry Kalas, my dad and I exchanged anticipatory grins whenever HK would ask Andersen, “LA…do you have a shallow thought for the day?”*

Andersen’s autograph would end up being the highlight of our day. The Montreal Expos scored two runs off Jackson, who was clearly not immune to the curse, in the top of the first inning, and that would be all they needed in an eventual 6-1 win.

Any slim chance Philly had of returning to the playoffs was reduced to zero, along with every other team, that August when the Major League Baseball Players Association went on strike. For the first time in 90 years, baseball had no World Series. My one solace was that due to the strike, the Phillies were the reigning National League champions for two years.

Oh yeah, and those damn blue hats were gone for good.

At the time, I was too young to understand the greed of the players in refusing to accept a salary cap from the owners. I simply felt disheartened that I was cheated out of two months of watching the sport and team I had grown to love.

The owners finally gave in the following March, and baseball resumed. Since then, salaries have grown to ridiculous proportions, and a league-wide drug scandal has rocked the integrity of the game to its core. It almost makes me wish I grew up in another era of the game, but I’m glad that the rowdy “bunch of throwbacks” that first caught my eye in the early ‘90s showed me baseball in what I still believe to be its purest form.

Even if their caps were cursed.
*When I saw Andersen at the 2013 Phillies Fan Photo Day, I politely asked for a shallow thought for old time’s sake. Without missing a beat, he replied, “We all know the speed of light, but what’s the speed of dark?”

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