Philadelphia’s Golden Age of Baseball

The 1976-83 era Philadelphia Phillies were incredible collections of baseball players. The Phillies had the greatest third baseman of all-time in Mike Schmidt and one of the greatest left-handed starting pitchers of all-time in Steve Carlton. There was the all-out hustle of Pete Rose, the overt power of Greg Luzinski, the sterling defense of Larry Bowa and Garry Maddox, and the lights-out relieving by Tug McGraw. The team made the playoffs in six out of those eight seasons, averaging a .568 winning percentage in that span of time. They reached the World Series twice in a four-year span from 1980-83, winning it once in ’80.

The ’76-83 Phillies, led by Danny Ozark and then by Dallas Green and Pat Corrales, was considered to be the greatest era in Phillies history. Never before had the Phillies even reached the playoffs in two consecutive years, let alone three in a row as they did from ’76-78.

The 2006-10 era Phillies, however, may be Philadelphia’s new golden age of baseball. The team has made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and, despite recent offensive woes, appears poised to make it four in a row for the first time in franchise history. Presently, the Phillies have enjoyed the prime years of the franchise’s best first baseman, second baseman, and shortstop ever in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins.

After winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2005, Howard broke Schmidt’s single-season home run record in ’06, surpassing Michael Jack’s 48 with 56. Howard would go on to accrue at least 45 HR and 136 RBI in this “golden age”. 2006 also saw one of the greatest defensive plays of all-time when Aaron Rowand went face-first into the centerfield fence in an all-out effort to catch a fly ball hit by Xavier Nady, then of the New York Mets. And if not for the punch-less David Bell at third base, the Phillies could have set a record for most home runs by an infield as Howard, Utley, and Rollins combined for 115 long balls.

The Phillies broke a 13-year playoff dry spell when they won the division on the very last day of the season thanks to an epic meltdown by the Mets in 2007. While the dry spell does not compare to that of 1951-75, the ’07 accomplishment meant a lot given how much adversity the Phillies had to overcome, signified by the franchise’s 10,000 loss in mid-July. Reaching the post-season involved playing .592 baseball in the season’s final three months, including wins in 13 of the final 17 games.

In 2008, Cole Hamels‘ pitching ranked among the best ever by a Phillies left-hander (behind Carlton, of course) and Brad Lidge‘s perfect season made baseball history as one of only two relievers ever to go a full season without blowing a save (Eric Gagne being the other). The Phillies reached the post-season and compiled a veritable reel of highlights, from Brett Myers‘ at-bats against C.C. Sabathia and Chad Billingsley to Shane Victorino‘s grand slam (off of Sabathia) to Matt Stairs‘ beautiful swing for a tie-breaking two-run home run off of Jonathan Broxton to Joe Blanton‘s home run in Game 4 of the World Series to Utley’s heads-up throw to home to nail Jason Bartlett. The team broke a 27-year championship dry spell and quickly brought baseball back into vogue in Philadelphia, previously an area dominated by the Eagles. The championship parade brought over two million visitors to Broad Street. Chase Utley spoke for every Phillies fan across the nation with his WFC exclamation.

The Phillies waved goodbye to a clubhouse stalwart in Pat Burrell and welcomed the new baseball bat of Raul Ibanez in 2009. It was the first of many signs the Phillies were not going to be complacent with past achievements. The Phillies took hold of first place at the end of May and never relented. However, Ruben Amaro, successor to Pat Gillick as GM of the Phillies, traded a wealth of prospects to Cleveland for dominant lefty Cliff Lee and also signed free agent Pedro Martinez, one of the best right-handed pitchers ever to play the game. They won the division with relative ease and it turned into the Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez show in the post-season while Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins delivered some key late-inning hits against the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers.

They reached the World Series for the second consecutive year, the first time that has ever been accomplished in Phillies history. While they were dispatched by the New York Yankees in six games, there was no doubt that they had the ability to make it all the way back for the third consecutive year. If the Phillies do so in 2010, they will be the first National League team to make three straight World Series appearances since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals.

During the off-season, the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay, viewed by many as the best pitcher in baseball and at least the best right-handed pitcher in the game. While the cost was Cliff Lee and a swap of prospects, Halladay has justified the transaction thus far. Through 11 starts, he has a 1.99 ERA and has already tossed five complete games, three of which were shut-outs. Of course, one of those shut-outs came last night when he threw baseball’s 20th (and the Phillies’ second) perfect game against the Florida Marlins. He is on pace for 266 innings in 34 starts, which would be the most innings thrown since, well, himself in 2003. And before that, Jack Morris in 1987.

Never before have Phillies fans seen their baseball team so dynamic. The Phillies have been among the best in offense, defense, and base running during this “golden age” and have had some incredible pitching performances to boot.

While the Phillies’ recent offensive woes are frustrating, keep this in perspective. You are watching the greatest group of Phillies ever assembled. This includes the best starting pitcher in the game and the franchise’s best first baseman, second baseman (also the best in the game) and (presently injured) shortstop. And you can make an argument that Jayson Werth belongs in that conversation as well, despite a short track record of success.

The team has been selling out every home game and has gone into the top-five in Major League Baseball in total payroll. The Phillies are so popular (and good) that national broadcasts rushed to cover them, even in spring training. Enjoy this, folks, because it won’t last forever. Don’t get caught up in the frustrations of a two-week offensive slump. This is a truly remarkable Phillies roster poised to once again make history.