Eleven days ago, the Philadelphia Phillies family lost #10. Not only was Darren Daulton the heart and soul of the unforgettable 1993 World Series run, he was probably the best catcher in Phillies franchise history. To commemorate and honor Dutch, I collaborated with fellow Crashburn old-timer Dave Tomar.
Your general impressions of Darren Daulton?
Dave: My impression of Darren Daulton is a function of my experience as a lifelong Phillies fan. I was born in early 1980, so I was a drooling blob when the team won its first World Series. I was there, so it’s etched somewhere in my psyche, but I don’t remember it. What I remember most from my childhood is futility, the season-in/season-out assurance that the Phillies would be mere background noise every summer, and forgotten by autumn.
So what did that mean if you were a diehard fan, if you loved the team but never dared let yourself dream of success? You had to find the personalities and love them, root for them, share their pain at another season ended in vain.
Nobody during that era of futility was more worthy of our love or adulation than Daulton. He came up in 1983 and inherited team leadership when Mike Schmidt retired in 1989. It would take a few summers (and honestly, a bunch of steroids) for Daulton to reach his full potential. He banged out his first All Star season in 1992, a year in which the Phillies lost 92 games and finished 26 out of first. If 162 games is a brutal test of endurance for a player on a losing team, you couldn’t tell by watching Daulton. He led like a superstar on a team of middling to mediocre talent. And he did it through nine knee surgeries. Nine knee surgeries.
If I have only one takeaway from this fact, it’s that Daulton was a straight-up badass.
Adam: Growing up with the Phillies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there wasn’t a whole lot to like. I was too young to watch Mike Schmidt, except at the very end, and my old Phillies baseball cards from that era are dominated by Don Carman, Von Hayes, and Greg Gross. As a catcher in Little League, I wanted to be like Darren Daulton. In truth, I was probably the smallest, fastest kid on the team, so why I was wearing the tools of ignorance I can’t say, but I didn’t exactly do a good Daulton impression with the bat. I looked up to him more than any other Phillie. He was handsome, had great hair, was a born leader, and played my position. Plus I had his Modell’s spring training batting practice jersey. I loved Darren Daulton. To me, he is the Phillies player of the 1990s.Embed from Getty Images
Your view of how he impacted the 1990s teams?
Dave: Of course, for those from our generation, Daulton’s legacy is inextricable from the 1993 season. Macho Row is by no means legendary but it is rightfully beloved. Even if this was a team of juicers and philanderers, they were our juicers and philanderers. And Daulton was their captain, a guy who could play as hard as he could party, both prerequisites for the team that made one of history’s least likely NL Pennant runs.
Daulton was not only the voice of authority in a notoriously wild locker room, but he also had the only face you could put on a billboard. In an era when the Phillies were without a nationally recognizable star, Daulton had the looks, the charisma, and the requisite supermodel wife. I’ll admit, in the 80s, I had a bit of an inferiority complex about my baseball team. The Phillies were second-class, small-market, rarely recognized outside of the 215 area code for anything but the boorishness of our fans. But Daulton was like the popular kid who not only deigned to sit at the scruffy table, but who was actually super nice to all the dorks when he got there.
In 1993, when for a brief and exhilarating moment, the baseball world turned its gaze to Philly, it was as though other fans finally got to see what we saw: one of the game’s premier—and arguably one of its most underrated—backstops.
Adam: One of the amazing things about the 1993 Phillies — who were like a sudden burst of sunlight relative to the terrible Phillies teams that came immediately before and after — is that they didn’t have any star hitters. It made beating the Braves that much better, since they had David Justice, Fred McGriff, et al., but the Phillies that year were just a bunch of role players having great years (and, you know, were on steroids…let’s just leave that be). The lineup wouldn’t have been what it was without Lenny Dykstra or John Kruk, to be sure, but Daulton was the one who brought everything together. He led the starters in homers, RBI, and slugging percentage. Other than Daulton, the only guys with any real power were Dave Hollins, Pete Incaviglia, and Nails.
Beyond that magical 1993 season, Daulton was a rock behind the plate once he took over everyday duties. From 1989 to 1995, which included a strike and Dutch getting hurt, Daulton had a .250/.360/.439 triple slash line with a 119 OPS+. He averaged 15 homers during that timespan, and even stole 37 bases! From 1990 to 1995, Dutch had some pretty impressive tallies in the wRC+ column as well: 116, 85, 156, 132, 140, and 104.
Your take on what Daulton meant to the city?
Dave: Daulton was like our very own celebrity, notably the only real homegrown star in a Phillies organization with a pretty paltry farm system. By the time guys like Kruk, Dykstra and Schilling had joined him in Philly, Daulton was already entrenched in the organization for nearly a decade. 14 seasons and 965 games caught for the Phillies, Daulton was a model of workmanship.
True or not, we fancy ourselves hard workers here in Philly, so there’s little we value more in sports than tenacity. That’s usually the inflection point, the virtue that divides players in Phillies history: those that we love, those that we loathe, and those that we forget.
Daulton has a tight grip on our love, and the right to immortality among Philly fans because, to our collective recollection, there was never a day where he didn’t leave it all on the field.
Where Daulton stands in Phillies history/lore, among his position group or otherwise?
Adam: Dutch was the best catcher we ever had. There’s a strong argument for Carlos Ruiz, of course, and some sentimental acknowledgement for Mike Lieberthal, Bob Boone, and Tim McCarver. If we look at rWAR, Daulton is atop the franchise leaderboard (with Ruiz very close behind). Among all MLB players who spent 50% or more of their time behind the plate since 1901, Daulton is a respectable 55th in rWAR (Chooch is 59th).
Aside from WAR, the eye test and anecdotes from Daulton’s teammates tell you everything you need to know about how important he was to the team. Darren Daulton embodied Philadelphia Phillies baseball in the early 1990s, and it took the force of another charismatic, lovable backstop in Carlos Ruiz for us to even have a discussion about the best catcher in franchise history.
Any specific memories of big moments? Any things you’ve remembered now that you spent a couple minutes on youtube?
Adam: One of the most frustrating things about getting older is the unforgivable march of time and its impact on memory. I still have my 1993 NL championship commemorative coin and my 1993 World Series t-shirt. I remember watching lots of games, and reading the Philadelphia Inquirer, but it’s been almost 25 years. I know I was in Veterans Stadium for more than a few of Daulton’s heroic moments. But my memories have faded quite a bit more than I’d like. On the other hand, we’re lucky to live in a time when we can just go to youtube and find gems like this.
That’s Darren Daulton, at the height of his powers, launching a bomb off Al Leiter in the World Series.
That’s Dutch just casually yanking a clutch double off one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived.
And, of course, this.
That’s the second-best pitcher-catcher hug in franchise history right there.
Any in-person / personal anecdotes?
Dave: Daulton’s death feels personal, probably because he was one of the first players who I knew by name, number, and face. I was only really learning how to pronounce the word baseball when he was drafted. By the time he became the starting catcher, I had a pretty clear understanding that I was born a Phillies fan, but that was about it. By the time he became the team’s de facto leader, I had learned to love the game.
Darren Daulton was not just the most magnetic player on the team, not just its best power hitter, not just owner of its most luxuriant mullet. He was also, for me personally, the first readily identifiable symbol of the game. When I think of my first days as a baseball fan, I was made aware of Mike Schmidt’s greatness, even if I was too young to totally comprehend it for myself. Daulton’s was the first greatness that I had the pleasure of seeing unfold before my young eyes.
That’s something that never leaves you.
Adam: Darren Daulton died at age 55 of an aggressive brain cancer, and he’s not the first Veterans Stadium-era Phillie to succumb to glioblastoma. While there’s no clear evidence of anything, there is some concern and there have been some studies, as you can read about in this Rolling Stone piece and this New York Times article.
The one thing I’d like to close with is a request. I know some Phillies people and some reporters read our site from time to time. There’s probably already been some discussions about this, but I think the right thing to do to honor Darren Daulton is to retire #10. I know there are some pretty high standards for retiring Phillies jersey numbers, but in this case I can’t think of a more fitting tribute. The Wall of Fame isn’t enough for Darren Daulton. Retire #10.