The Phillies’ 10 Greatest Hitters
Mike Schmidt (1972-89)
Articulate, wisely opinionated and immensely talented with both bat and glove, Schmidt matured from an undisciplined hack into an all-around terror, winning three National League MVP awards and helping to bump a moribund Phillies franchise into an era of success it had never seen in its long history to date—even as the notoriously rough Philadelphia fan base engaged in an undeserving love-hate relationship with the man many on the outside were more quick to praise as, arguably, the greatest third baseman in history.
After a wretched rookie experience in which he hit only .196 and struck out 136 times in 367 at-bats, Schmidt quickly turned things around with a tremendous sophomore effort, raising his average nearly 100 points while powering 36 home runs to lead the NL for the first of three straight years. Schmidt was prone to amazing fits of prodigious strength; in 1974, he launched a monster drive at Houston that the Astrodome was too small for—hitting a speaker hanging from the very top of the ceiling and dropping straight down for a single; and in a wild 1976 slugfest at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, he became only the eighth player in the century to hit four homers in a game.
But Schmidt’s averaged wavered throughout his early years, often finishing around a mediocre .250. Making matters worse, in the Phillies’ three straight NLCS appearances from 1976-78, Schmidt was a collective bust—hitting .182 with no homers in 11 games. The hometown fans saw Schmidt as a star choke, and he often took the criticism in humorous stride, once quipping, “Philly is the only city where you experience the thrill of victory one day and the agony of reading about it the next day.”
At the end of the 1970s, Schmidt took his career into overdrive. He hit 45 homers in 1979 (albeit at a .253 clip), but then set career highs the following year with 48 jacks and 121 RBIs to go with an improved .286 average, intensely turning it on down the stretch by hitting his last nine homers of the year during the team’s final 15 games—the very last blast an extra-inning shot that clinched the NL East for the Phillies—and finally rose to the occasion in the playoffs, taking World Series MVP honors as his .381 average, two homers and seven RBIs gave the Phillies their first-ever world title.
In 1981, Schmidt was on pace to obliterate his 1980 numbers, but the players’ strike intervened—lopping off a third of the regular season schedule and limiting his final output to 31 homers and 91 RBIs, making him the first National Leaguer since Bill Nicholson in the 1940s to pace the NL in homers and RBIs over two consecutive years. Further underscoring Schmidt’s 1981 magnificence, he finished the year hitting over .300 for the only time in his career, at .316.
Schmidt tailed off through the 1980s but remained dangerous, winning his final MVP in 1986 at age 37 after leading the NL in homers for the eighth and final time in his career. Despite the grand collection of statistics, despite the World Series ring, despite the 10 Gold Gloves earned with his sharp defense at third, the Phillies boobirds still kept on him. At one point, after finally barking back at the fans through the media, he took the field wearing a Rastafarian wig and sunglasses in a comic attempt not to be recognized.
After his game quickly deteriorated in 1988 and worsened even more in 1989, Schmidt—in the midst of a 2-for-38 slump—called it a career midway through the season, wrapping up a Hall-of-Fame career with 548 lifetime home runs.
Sherry Magee (1904-14)
A vastly talented player with few weaknesses, Magee is one of the deadball era’s most underrated hitters; a strong case could be made that he’s the best player currently not in the Hall of Fame, gamblers and cheats notwithstanding.
The Phillies literally stumbled upon Magee in 1904 when one of their scouts, making a train stop near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, came across a sandlot game and marveled at his talents. A remarkable ascension was completed when, within two days, he was in the Phillies lineup with no previous organized baseball experience. Though he was raw around the edges, the 19-year old put together impressive numbers (.277 average, three homers and 57 RBIs in 95 games) for someone who had never played even a day in the minors or college. A year later in 1905, Magee developed into a star by hitting .299 with 98 RBIs, and showed off his speed a year after that by stealing 55 bases—a modern Phillies record that would hold until Juan Samuel broke it in 1984. In 1907, his importance in the Phillies lineup was plainly evident when he hit .328—a full hundred points higher than the rest of his teammates.
Magee would hit .331 and win the NL batting crown in 1910, a difficult task during the reign of Honus Wagner; he would go on to lead the NL three times in RBIs, twice in slugging percentage and in three different seasons surpassed 10 home runs, the deadball era’s equivalent of 30. He was traded to the Boston Braves a year after they won the NL pennant in 1914—and just before the Phillies won theirs; he would eventually reach the World Series in his final season with a cameo for Cincinnati in the Reds’ 1919 triumph over the half-tainted Chicago White Sox.
Magee contained a gruff personality that occasionally got him in trouble with teammates, coaches and fans—but his worst altercation took place in 1911 when he knocked umpire Bill Finneran out cold during an argument; initially suspended for the rest of the year, Magee—who suffered from epilepsy—later had it reduced to a month after claiming he was in the middle of a seizure when the incident occurred. Ironically, Magee returned to the majors in 1928 as an umpire, working one year before an untimely death the next spring at the age of 44.
Chuck Klein (1928-33, 1936-39, 1940-44)
No ballpark gave its love to a player—and vice versa—more than Philadelphia’s compact Baker Bowl did for Klein, who put together some of the most outrageous batting numbers during baseball’s offensive splurge of the 1920s and early 1930s.
The Phillies acquired the rights to Klein after prevailing in a small bidding war with the New York Yankees, and the left-handed power hitter immediately impressed—hitting .360 with 11 homers in a late-season 1928 debut. It was the beginning of a spectacular six-year run with the Phillies in which he would hit .359 with immense power, leading the NL in home runs four times during that stretch. He set the NL home run season mark in 1929 with 43 (a record that would be obliterated a year later by Hack Wilson’s 56), won the 1932 MVP and, despite becoming only one of three NL players since 1900 to win the triple crown of hitting (leading in home runs, RBIs and average), he lost out on a second straight MVP in 1933 to New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell. Yet his popularity was confirmed when he became the NL’s top vote-getter that season for the inaugural All-Star Game.
Not surprisingly, Klein’s pinnacle campaign came during the so-called “Year of the Hitter” in 1930. He set career highs with a .386 average, 250 hits, 59 doubles and 170 RBIs; scored 158 runs to establish a still-existing modern NL record; smashed 40 homers to become the first to reach the milestone in back-to-back seasons; and his 44 assists playing in right field set another all-time mark yet to be broken. As much as the live ball of the times played a role in Klein’s carnage, so did Baker Bowl, his home field—which ran a mere 280 feet down the right-field line and 300 to right-center. The wall there stood 60 feet high, but the left-handed hitting Klein still dented and overpowered it constantly, hitting .439 at home in 1930 and .395 throughout his career with an average of one RBI per game.
When he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in 1934 for three players and $65,000, Klein’s hitting numbers took a major hit playing in a ballpark with more common dimensions. Klein hit the ball well at Wrigley Field—even with a pesky pain in his leg—but he couldn’t replicate the off-the-chart numbers he produced with the Phillies. Frustrated, the Cubs returned him to the Phillies early in 1936. Back in Philadelphia, Klein felt right at home—and on the road, launching four homers in a July game at Pittsburgh’s spacious Forbes Field (his bid for a fifth was caught at the wall)—but his second tour of duty with the Phillies didn’t recapture the earlier magic as age became a factor. When the Phillies moved out of decaying Baker Bowl for the less bandboxed Shibe Park in 1938, Klein’s productivity took an additional, career-sobering hit. He labored through 1940 and then became a coach for the Phillies through the mid-1940s, occasionally making a pinch-hit cameo—one of which led to his 300th and final career home run in 1941.
Gavvy Cravath (1912-20)
Klein wasn’t the first Phillies slugger to take advantage of Baker Bowl’s tantalizingly short reach to the right-field wall. During the 1910s, no one in the majors hit more homers than Cravath, who belted 116—92 of those at home.
Born as Cliff Cravath, the California native acquired “Gavvy” when a ball he hit during a Pacific Coast League game struck and killed a seagull—which in Spanish translates to “gaviota.” He bounced around the American League to start his major league career but was ultimately rejected in both Boston and Chicago because he was said to be too slow a runner. Returned to the minors, the right-handed hitting Cravath developed an opposite field power stroke playing in a ballpark with a short right-field porch, a specialty that leveraged beautifully to Baker Bowl when the Phillies picked him up in 1912.
After hitting 11 home runs in his first year at Philadelphia, Cravath led the league in homers over each of the next three seasons; his 24 in 1915 were the most in post-1900 modern era baseball until Babe Ruth rewrote the record book in the 1920s. He put together another three-year reign at the top of the home run charts from 1917-19—winning his sixth and last title in 1919 with 12 blasts in a mere 214 at-bats. Cravath’s power was best displayed at home and often directed towards right field; in 1914, every one of his 19 home runs were hit at Baker Bowl.
Once his baseball career ended in 1920, Cravath spent 36 years as a judge in Laguna Beach, California.
Dick Allen (1963-69, 1975-76)
Discordant as he was talented, Allen took his 50-ounce bat to pound away at opponents’ pitches while alienating many around him with a surly demeanor. Introduced into the majors as “Richie”, Allen later said it sounded too much like “a little boy’s name” and had it changed to Dick. Many teammates and front office personnel felt the new name perfectly summed him up.
After setting spring training on fire in 1964, Allen was given an everyday job in the regular season and continued to impress, capturing NL Rookie of the Year honors with a .318 average, 201 hits including 29 homers, 91 RBIs and a league-leading 125 runs scored and 13 triples. He was as awful with the glove as he was great with the bat—committing 41 errors at third base—but the Phillies had to include his bat in the lineup somewhere, so they eventually settled him in at the relatively easy spot of first base.
Over each of his first four years, Allen hit over .300 with at least 25 doubles, 10 triples and 20 homers; in 1966, he smacked 40 homers to become the first Phillie since Klein to reach the barrier. But his baseball life outside the lines was turbulent. Allen, an African-American, engaged in a racially-fueled scuffle with veteran Frank Thomas (who was white) during batting practice in 1965; Thomas, who was said to be the instigator, was immediately released—but Phillies fans took it out on Allen, who became the target of various objects thrown at him and resorted to wearing a batting helmet on the field during home games. He became even more vilified four years later when manager Bob Skinner, tiring of Allen’s increasing AWOL habits, fined him—then resigned when owner Bob Carpenter refused to back him. It all became unbearable for Allen, who requested a trade and got it—being sent to St. Louis in the infamous deal that gave the Phillies Curt Flood, who refused to report and sued baseball, challenging the entrenched reserve clause. Allen was, for the moment, happy, saying: “I’ll play first, third, left. I’ll play anywhere—except Philadelphia.”
After controversial (and short) tenures with the Cardinals, Los Angeles and Chicago with the White Sox—undercutting any argument that the teams, not Allen, were the problem—he returned to Philly in 1975 as a part-timer, with modest results.
Ryan Howard (2004-16)
A monstrous presence with statistics to match, the left-handed hitting slugger made Citizens Bank Park look tinier than it already was, while making every other major league ballpark, big or small, look bandboxed when present—and when healthy, which was a challenge in his later years.
Howard looked ready for the majors when he tagged 62 homers in his final 192 minor league games; he impressed enough in 88 games as a rookie in 2005, collecting 22 homers and being named the NL Rookie of the Year. His follow-up in 2006 was one for the books, punishing opposing pitchers with 58 round-trippers, 149 RBIs and a .313 batting average (all personal bests) to earn him NL MVP honors. He set major league records by reaching his 100th and 200th career home runs in fewer games than anyone else; in each of his first four full seasons, he averaged 50 homers and 143 RBIs. Many baseball pundits believed that Howard should have copped a second MVP in 2008 with a late-season surge to propel the Phillies into the postseason, but he finished a close second to Albert Pujols; while the St. Louis superstar went home for October, Howard powered forward, hitting three homers in the Phillies’ five-game triumph over Tampa Bay in the World Series.
A guy who seldom got cheated at the plate, Howard made no apologies for his strikeout totals, usually among the league’s highest; he twice came within a mere punchout of 200 for a season.
Greg Luzinski (1970-80)
The man well beloved by Philadelphia fans simply as The Bull was, along with Schmidt, brothers in muscle-bound arms for the pennant-contending teams of the 1970s; toward the end of the decade, many would have assumed that he would end up with the better career between the two.
A burly, lumbering slugger, Luzinski evolved simultaneously with Schmidt, growing up in 1972 before breaking out a year later—hitting .285 with 29 homers. Eschewing the all-or-nothing perception based on his bulky frame, power and slow speed, he hit above the .300 mark in three consecutive years (1975-77); the more expected numbers came with three seasons of at least 34 homers and 100 RBIs, topping out in 1977 when he set career marks with a .309 average, 39 homers and 130 RBIs and finished second in the NL MVP vote. And although Phillies fans shook their collective fists at Schmidt for bombing in the team’s three straight NLCS defeats from 1976-78, they couldn’t blame Luzinski—who hit .317 with four homers in 11 games during those series. When the Phillies finally broke through and won the 1980 World Series, Luzinski—who had slumped badly during the regular season—went hitless in nine at-bats with five strikeouts.
Luzinski’s underwhelming 1980 campaign would be his last in Philadelphia; he was sold to the White Sox, where his hitting recovered to a mild extent as a designated hitter. He remains fondly recalled by the sometimes tough-to-please Phillies faithful, and is represented at Citizens Bank Park with his own eatery entitled Bull’s BBQ.
Chase Utley (2003-15)
One half of a dynamic Phillies middle infield (shortstop Jimmy Rollins being the other half), the second baseman from Pasadena was a rightful default choice for All-Star Game voters in the late 2000s as he amassed highly respected totals in all facets of his offensive game.
Throwing right but batting left, Utley hit a grand slam in this third major league at-bat and never looked back. He flowered into a full-time star in 2005, belting 28 home runs and knocking in over 100 runs for the first of four straight seasons. In 2006, Utley collected 203 hits, scored a NL-best 131 runs and stitched together a 35-game hitting streak; a year later, hit a career-high .332; and in 2009, he showed off his effective basestealing skills by swiping 23 bags without once getting caught to set a major league record.
Utley sounded off in the 2008 World Series by smacking a pair of homers in the Phillies’ conquest of Tampa Bay—then memorably sounded off after the clinching win, triumphantly bragging to the home crowd from the victory platform, “World champions, world f**king champions!” Though the Phillies lost their shot at repeating a year later (to the Yankees), it wasn’t because of Utley—who tied a Fall Classic record with five homers.
On the more painful side, Utley didn’t seem to mind taking one for the team—in fact, he seemed to encourage it, getting hit 76 times over a three-year stretch from 2007-09 to lead the NL all three seasons; he tied an all-time mark in 2008 when he was plunked three times in a game. He also secured a reputation to returning the love, as his aggressive slides into second base irked many an opposing team; this all took on nationwide focus in the 2015 NLDS when, following his trade from the Phillies to the Los Angeles Dodgers late that season, he slid in hard and away from second base at the New York Mets’ Ruben Tejada—breaking the shortstop’s leg in the process. As a result, new rules were drawn up to outlaw such takedowns. It was informally called the Chase Utley Rule.
Del Ennis (1946-56)
A model of upscale consistency in Philadelphia through the postwar years, win or lose, the local native was never a league leader in any major offensive category but often and successfully shouldered the burden of the lineup, eight times hitting over 20 homers and six times surpassing 100 RBIs.
Named Rookie of the Year in 1946 by The Sporting News a year before the existing honor was established by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, Ennis rose to prominence and helped muscle the “Whiz Kid” Phillies to their famous 1950 pennant—but misfired in the World Series against the Yankees, collecting only two hits in 14 at-bats with no RBIs. Ennis would eventually be named to three All-Star teams and finish his Phillies tenure with 259 homers and 1,124 RBIs—both figures good enough to list third in the Phillies’ record book. He had his career game in 1955 when he hit three homers and knocked in all seven runs in a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, who two years later would trade for him. By then, Ennis was probably happy to go, as he had become one of the more inexplicable targets of mean-spirited booing from Phillies fans who didn’t know what they were missing until he was gone.
Cy Williams (1918-30)
The left-handed Williams was a dead-pull slugger who, like Cravath before him and Klein afterward, tightly embraced Baker Bowl’s short right-field distances. He curiously also adapted to the conditions of the distinctively different eras he performed in, leading the NL in homers four times over an 11-year stretch that spanned the height of the deadball era to the emerging reign of the live ball.
Nicknamed Cy for his rural looks, Williams joined the Phillies in 1918 two years after winning his first home run crown with 12 for the Cubs. In 1920, he paced the NL with 15 in the same year Babe Ruth set the AL afire with 54; queued into Ruth’s all-out, swing-from-the-heels approach to the game, Williams copped his next home run title in 1923 when he became the league’s first 40-homer man, clubbing 41 (including 15 alone in one month) with a career-high 114 RBIs.
Williams, who never played in a World Series but did perform for 14 managers over his first 14 major league campaigns, is the answer to a trick question among baseball trivia buffs: Who was the first victim of the Williams Shift? More than two decades before Cleveland’s Lou Boudreau stacked the right side of the field with his players to counter Ted Williams’ dead-pull tendencies, the same was done to Cy Williams by the Boston Braves in 1926, the first known instance of the defensive shift used commonly today.
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