A four-game sweep by the Cardinals contributed to an epic losing streak by the Phillies.
Sixty years ago, in 1961, the Phillies lost 23 consecutive games _ the longest losing streak by a team since the American League joined the National League to form the majors in 1901.
Before then, two clubs deemed as major-league had longer losing streaks. The Cleveland Spiders of the National League lost 24 in a row in 1899. The Louisville Colonels of the American Association lost 26 straight in 1889.
Managed by Gene Mauch, 35, the 1961 Phillies were not expected to be good. In its preview of the 1961 season, Sports Illustrated listed the Phillies’ weak spots as “pitching and hitting.”
In May, the Phillies traded one of their best pitchers, Turk Farrell, to the Dodgers for outfielder Don Demeter and third baseman Charlie Smith. By the end of June, the Phillies were 22-45 and out of contention.
The first of their 23 consecutive losses came on July 29 against the Giants. In the first inning, with Giants runners on second and third, one out, Mauch ordered an intentional walk to Willie Mays. Orlando Cepeda followed with a grand slam and the Giants won, 4-3. Boxscore
The losing streak was at five when the Phillies went to St. Louis for a four-game weekend series with the Cardinals.
In the Aug. 4 opener, the Phillies trailed by a run in the ninth, but had runners on first and second, none out.
Tony Gonzalez hit a drive to deep right. Joe Cunningham leaped and caught the ball for the first out, but the runner on second, rookie George Williams, failed to tag and didn’t advance. The baserunning lapse prompted Mauch to stage “a helmet-throwing tantrum in the dugout,” according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
In the clubhouse, Mauch “singed the entire team with a post-game lecture,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported.
“It was building up, up, up,” said Mauch, who regretted the outburst.
On Aug. 5, the Cardinals won, 7-0, on a shutout by Curt Simmons, a former Phillie, and two home runs by Bill White. Boxscore
The next day, the Cardinals used the Polish power of Ray Sadecki and Carl Sawatski to win both games of a Sunday doubleheader .
In the opener, Sadecki hit a three-run double and pitched a four-hitter for a 3-1 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore
In the second game, Sawatski, a former Phillie, drove in all three runs in a 3-2 victory. Boxscore
The Cardinals’ sweep stretched the Phillies’ losing streak to nine. “This team doesn’t act like a team that goes out to get beat,” Mauch told the Philadelphia Daily News. “They’re trying.”
That’s a winner
The Phillies had one extra-inning game during the streak and it resulted in their 20th consecutive loss, 7-6 to the Braves on Aug. 17. The Braves won in the 11th on a RBI by Philadelphia native Al Spangler. Boxscore
“The Phillies have had some inept clubs, but nothing to match this,” The Sporting News declared. “It was hard to assess more blame on the pitching than the hitting. Both were failing.”
Three days later, in a Sunday doubleheader at Milwaukee, the Braves won the opener, 5-2, on Warren Spahn’s five-hitter, giving them 10 consecutive wins and extending the Phillies’ losing streak to 23. Boxscore
Relief came in the second game. Clay Dalrymple had three hits, ex-Brave Wes Covington hit a home run and the Phillies prevailed, 7-4. Boxscore
The winning pitcher, John Buzhardt, went the distance and held Eddie Mathews and Joe Torre hitless.
“I had a feeling we were going to win,” Buzhardt told the Philadelphia Daily News. “I said, ‘Get me two runs and I’ll win.’ It’s a good thing they got me seven.”
Buzhardt was the lucky charm the Phillies had been seeking. He wore uniform No. 23, same number as the losing streak, and he was the winning pitcher in the Phillies’ last victory before the streak began.
“The kid probably felt like he was pitching in the seventh game of the World Series,” Mauch said to the Associated Press.
In the victorious Phillies clubhouse, the mood was more consolation than celebration.
“We were so embarrassed by then that we had no elation,” Mauch recalled to Sports Illustrated.
Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News observed, “If you think champagne corks popped or pheasant suddenly appeared out from under glass, think again. They had spare ribs, cheese and crackers, and beer in the clubhouse.”
The Phillies’ charter flight from Milwaukee arrived in Philadelphia at 1:10 a.m., 90 minutes late.
As the plane taxied to the gate, the Phillies saw a crowd of about 200 people waiting for them in a drenching rain.
Peering from his window seat, Phillies pitcher and funnyman Frank Sullivan shouted to his teammates, “They are selling rocks at $1.50 a pail. Leave the plane at five-minute intervals. That way, they can’t get us all with one burst.”
The fans had come to congratulate the team on snapping the losing streak, “and nobody threw anything more dangerous than confetti,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported.
As a band played “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” fans hoisted Mauch on their shoulders and staged an impromptu victory march through the airport.
Mauch told the crowd, “One day, we’ll come home after winning 23 out of 24, and they’ll have to build a new airport.”
Summing up the day, Frank Sullivan dead-panned, “Well, we gained a half-game on first-place Cincinnati.”
The 1961 Phillies lost 19 of 22 games against the champion Reds and finished the season in last place at 47-107.
The Cardinals were 13-9 versus the Phillies. Curt Simmons (4-0, 1.52 ERA) and Bob Gibson (3-0, 0.67) did best against them.
Don Demeter led the Phillies in home runs (20) and RBI (68). Their top hitter was Tony Gonzalez (.277).
John Buzhardt finished with a 6-18 record. Frank Sullivan needed a sense of humor. He was 3-16. Future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts was 1-10.
The Phillies placed last in the league in batting average (.243), on-base percentage (.310) and runs (584). Their staff ERA of 4.61 was worst in the league.