For­mer Phillies catcher Darren ‘Dutch’ Daulton dies at 55

Cecil Whig - - NATIONAL SPORTS -

PHILADEL­PHIA (TNS) — Darren “Dutch” Daulton, the charis­matic catcher and master of Ma­cho Row, whose tal­ent for con­trol­ling both a pitch­ing staff and a club­house helped the 1993 Phillies win an im­prob­a­ble Na­tional League pen­nant, died Sun­day at 55 af­ter four years with brain cancer.

A three-time all-star, Daulton played 14 sea­sons for the Phillies or­ga­ni­za­tion, which drafted him in 1980. But he will be re­called long­est and most fondly in Philadel­phia for his role as the cleanup hit­ter and locker-room leader of the 1993 Phils.

That wild and wildly pop­u­lar team, with him sup­ply­ing much of its power on and off the field, cap­ti­vated a city that saw in its blue-col­lar grit and grime a re­flec­tion of it­self.

Those Phillies lost to Toronto in a mem­o­rable sixgame World Se­ries. But four years later, Daulton fi­nally got his cham­pi­onship as a mem­ber of the 1997 Florida Mar­lins. Af­ter that sea­son, at only 35 but un­able to catch any­more be­cause of in­juryrav­aged knees, he re­tired.

Per­sis­tent pain se­verely trun­cated his play­ing ca­reer. A bet­ter-than av­er­age de­fen­sive catcher and, in his fi­nal years, a po­tent bat, Daulton played in 100-plus games only five times. He fin­ished with a .245 bat­ting av­er­age, 137 home runs, 588 RBIs and a .357 on-base per­cent­age. His best sea­sons were the three in which he was a Na­tional League all-star, 1992 through 1994.

But what made him more valu­able than those mod­est num­bers might sug­gest were his in­tan­gi­bles, par­tic­u­larly his knack for call­ing games and com­mand­ing re­spect. Pitcher Curt Schilling, who blos­somed when he be­gan throw­ing to Daulton in 1992, fell un­der his spell, fre­quently call­ing his bat­tery mate “the best catcher in base­ball.” Man­ager Jim Fregosi la­beled Daulton the game’s “best leader.”

“If there is ever a prob­lem back there,” Fregosi once said, point­ing to the club­house, “all I’ve got to do is tell Dutch. He’ll take care of it.”

In his 2001 His­tor­i­cal Base­ball Ab­stract, sta­tis­ti­cal guru Bill James ranked Daulton as the 25th best catcher in base­ball his­tory. But there was a stark contrast be­tween that player, one who seemed to have it all to­gether, and the sad and ul­ti­mately tragic fig­ure who emerged in re­tire­ment.

While many saw him as a fu­ture man­ager, Daulton could never cap­i­tal­ize on his base­ball as­sets. In­stead, he was be­set by per­sonal demons. There was a bit­ter di­vorce from the sec­ond of his three wives, oc­ca­sional es­trange­ment from his four chil­dren, car ac­ci­dents, ar- rests on DUI and speed­ing charges, a stint in jail, and bat­tles with ad­dic­tions.

“Anything I did in the past is my fault,” he told Philadel­phia mag­a­zine in 2010. “Not my ex-wife’s fault. Not any of my kids’ faults. Not base­ball. Not the me­dia. I did the dam­age.”

Along the way, per­haps as a cop­ing mech­a­nism, he de­vel­oped ob­ses­sions with such top­ics as spir­i­tu­al­ism, nu­merol­ogy and time travel. The jacket of his 2007 book, “If They Only Knew,” claimed it delved into “is­sues of as­cen­sion, such as di­men­sions and lev­els of con­scious­ness; the Mayan cal­en­dar and De­cem­ber 21, 2012; cre­at­ing one’s own re­al­ity, and more.”

Phillies fans who once idol­ized him be­gan ask­ing the same ques­tion posed by the head­line to the Philadel­phia mag­a­zine pro­file in 2010, the year he won a spot on the team’s Wall of Fame _ “Is Darren Daulton Crazy?” He played in an era when steroids and am­phetamines were om­nipresent in base­ball locker rooms. In a 2009 ra­dio in­ter­view, he ad­mit­ted, with­out getting spe­cific, that he was no in­no­cent by­stander.

“There’s prob­a­bly no one in any sport that has taken more drugs than I have,” he said.

Im­me­di­ately be­fore and af­ter he was di­ag­nosed with brain cancer in 2013, he seemed to re­dis­cover a men­tal equi­lib­rium. It led him to start the Darren Daulton Foun­da­tion, an or­ga­ni­za­tion de­voted to help­ing oth­ers with brain cancer.

Born in 1962 in Arkansas City, Kan., Darren Arthur Daulton was drafted by the Phillies in the 25th round of the 1980 draft.

He rose sur­pris­ingly quick- ly through the mi­nors and was sum­moned to the big leagues in Septem­ber 1983, just as a vet­eran-laden Phillies team was wrap­ping up an NL pen­nant.

In­juries and of­fen­sive strug­gles lim­ited his play­ing time un­til 1989, when new man­ager Nick Leyva in­stalled him as his ev­ery­day catcher. His great­est sea­sons came un­der Fregosi, who upon getting the job in 1991 told his catcher he wanted him to “run the club­house.”

Fregosi “was the best man­ager I’ve ever played for,” Daulton said in 2014. “Our re­la­tion­ship was so spe­cial, and he was the one who taught me to be a leader.”

Daulton was a fa­vorite of the team’s fe­male fans de­spite his be­ing mar­ried to one of the first Hoot­ers women, his mati­nee-idol looks set him apart. Hop­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on that ap­peal, the pro­duc­ers of the TV soap opera Santa Bar­bara gave him a cameo ap­pear­ance in 1993.

Mid­way through the 1994 sea­son, he was hit­ting .300 with 15 home runs, 56 RBIs and a .549 slug­ging per­cent­age when a la­bor dis­pute ended the sea­son pre­ma­turely. He hob­bled through the next two-plus sea­sons be­fore, in July 1997, the Phillies traded him to the con­tend­ing Mar­lins.

“He de­serves to go to a con­tender,” Schilling said at the time. “He’s done so much for this team and this or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

No longer phys­i­cally able to catch, he pinch-hit, played first base and was a key con­trib­u­tor down the stretch for Jim Ley­land’s world-cham­pion Mar­lins. The com­bined sta­tis­tics for his fi­nal sea­son were more than re­spectable, .263 av­er­age, 14 home runs, 63 RBIs, and 68 runs in 395 at-bats.

Out of base­ball, he drifted in and out of trou­ble. His driver’s li­cense was sus­pended af­ter sev­eral speed­ing tick­ets in Florida. In 2001, dur­ing that sus­pen­sion, he was in­volved in an ac­ci­dent and charged with driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence. Two years later came an­other DUI ar­rest.

The fi­nal years of his sec­ond mar­riage, to Ni­cole Garcia, were tu­mul­tuous. He was charged with do­mes­tic abuse and later jailed for vi­o­lat­ing the terms of their di­vorce agree­ment. That’s about the time he dis­cov­ered meta­physics.

In 2013, he was di­ag­nosed with a par­tic­u­larly vir­u­lent form of brain cancer, gli­abas­toma. Surgery to re­move two tu­mors af­fected his speech. Although he would be de­clared “cancer-free” two years later, the dis­ease re­turned with a vengeance last year.

Daulton lived in Florida but re­turned of­ten to Philadel­phia, where his pop­u­lar­ity never waned. Be­fore his bat­tles with cancer, he co­hosted a ra­dio show be­fore Phillies games. His bright smile and en­gag­ing per­son­al­ity seemed to re­mind Phillies fans of good times even if the sec­ond half of his own life could be seen as a des­per­ate strug­gle to find some of his own.

“Some­times I look back at my life, and I see all the base­ball I played, the all-star games, the World Se­ries, how I helped some guys in the club­house, how great my kids are, some of the nice things I’ve done for peo­ple along the way,” Daulton said in that 2010 Philadel­phia mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle, “and I think maybe I’m do­ing OK, that maybe things aren’t so bad, just maybe I’m not so crazy af­ter all.”

TNS PHOTO

Darren Daulton, a for­mer mem­ber of the Philadel­phia Phillies, tosses out the first pitch dur­ing Game 3 of the NLCS be­tween the Phillies and the Los An­ge­les Dodgers in 2009. Daulton passed away Sun­day at age 55.

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