“The Phillies are so ugly that . . .”
The Toronto Sun held a contest before the 1993 World Series to finish that sentence, as our neighbors to the north got set to welcome the most beer-swilling, uncouth and disgusting band of vagabonds ever to grace a major league baseball field.
It was the adventures of that team—the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies—that is well chronicled in the book “Macho Row” by William C. Kashatus.
That sentence could be finished any number of ways, and that team could have been described with any number of Jim Ross cliches—bowling-shoe ugly, tough as a $2 steak, etc. But they were indeed unique in the history of baseball.
The Phillies were a collection of fiends and scoundrels, which is duly noted in the book, set against the backdrop of a worst-to-first team full of castoffs that even their own mothers would not have assembled in most cases.
Lenny Dykstra’s jail time for financial transgressions, as well as accusations ranging from steroid use to gambling, were just part of the puzzle. Darren Daulton spoke to other dimensions, Dave Hollins battled a split personality, Curt Schilling established himself as the greatest alt-righthanded pitcher of all time, and Mitch Williams stared down his own demons while dodging death threats after . . . well, after what some in Philadelphia call “The Unpleasantness.”
Many baseball fans remember all those things about this group of ruffians, including that they were just as likely to drink you under the table as sign your baseball. But one main revelation brought up in this narrative crystalizes the historical importance of this ball club even more.
The book talks extensively about “The Code,” the old-school rules followed by ballplayers, throwing the game back to a bygone era of fierce loyalty to one’s teammates that surpassed the concerns of today’s ballplayer, many of whom are walking CEOs of their own company.
It also mentions the 1993 Phillies’ connection to “Moneyball” focus and longtime Oakland A’s executive Billy Beane, who studied that team extensively. “Macho Row” did not have a superstar player, but it did have a bunch of guys who excelled at getting on base and creating runs, the main tenets of the sabermetric philosophy.
John Kruk’s .430 OBP and Dykstra’s .420 led a group of six Phillies with marks north of .360, something that helped inspire Beane’s later methods in constructing the A’s teams of the early 2000s.
The 1993 Phillies fell short of a world championship, but they were quite possibly the bridge between old-school baseball and the modern game, mixing those elements into one fantastic ethos that created something magical for their city.
It takes one heck of a squad to remain beloved decades later by Philadelphia despite not winning it all, but this bunch didn’t believe in failure, even if their last moments together were viewed as one.
“Macho Row: The 1993 Phillies and Baseball’s Unwritten Code” is available at bookstores and on Amazon Prime.
Matthew Osborne is a former Phillies columnist for The Trentonian newspaper. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.