Daulton, 55, led Phillies with grit, de­ter­mi­na­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL -

On the third day of the 1993 sea­son, Dave Hollins went 0 for 5 with four strike­outs.

Hollins, the third base­man for the Philadel­phia Phillies, would play about a thou­sand games in the ma­jor leagues, and that was his worst. He brooded in the Astrodome club­house af­ter the game, even though the Phillies had swept the se­ries.

Hollins kept to him­self on the flight home. Dar­ren Daulton, the veteran catcher and team leader, said noth­ing to him. Be­fore the next game, though, Daulton was wait­ing for Hollins in the club­house.

“He was star­ing me down,” Hollins said on Mon­day, a day af­ter Daulton died of brain can­cer at age 55. “He straight­ened me out, the right way. He had that way about him. I learned a les­son be­cause I had the right guy to teach it to me.”

Six months later, with a chance to win the Na­tional League pen­nant against a pitcher bound for the Hall of Fame, Daulton ripped a go-ahead two-run dou­ble. Hollins launched a two-run home run. The Phillies, who had fin­ished in last place the year be­fore, top­pled Greg Mad­dux and the At­lanta Braves to ad­vance to the World Se­ries.

In the broad­cast booth, mo­ments af­ter Daulton squeezed the fi­nal strike­out in his glove, Harry Kalas found just the right words to de­scribe the team: a “wacky, won­der­ful bunch of throw­backs.” Kalas would call games for two cham­pi­onship teams, in 1980 and 2008, but his fa­vorite ring was from 1993, for a team that did not win the World Se­ries.

Daulton was the heart­beat of that rowdy, iras­ci­ble group, one of those rare col­lec­tions of play­ers who form a deep and last­ing con­nec­tion with their fans de­spite los­ing in the end.

Like the 1982 Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers, the 1984 Chicago Cubs and the 1995 Seat­tle Mariners, those Phillies reached a peak for a fran­chise more used to val­leys.

The Phillies lost the World Se­ries to Toronto in six games. The fi­nal pitch never found Daulton’s glove. Joe Carter, the Blue Jays slug­ger, drove it over the left-field fence to win the ti­tle.

It was an oddly fit­ting end to the Phillies’ story. The Blue Jays, de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons with three Hall of Famers, had far more tal­ent. Clearly, the bet­ter team won. Yet the Phillies crashed and burned in a way that only they could. This was not a group des­tined to sim­ply fade away.

“Af­ter that team, for all of us, base­ball changed for­ever,” starter Curt Schilling said Mon­day. “It’s like that time of your life when you re­al­ize: That was the great­est year of my life. You just know it’s never go­ing to be that way again.”

Schilling went on to have the best ca­reer of any­one from that Phillies team. It was his fourth or­ga­ni­za­tion, and Daulton was the first catcher to get through to him, to make him un­der­stand, he said, “the in­tel­li­gent, sim­pler side of the game.” If a player as se­ri­ous as Daulton be­lieved Schilling was good enough to dom­i­nate, he knew he did not need to com­pli­cate things any more.

That was the only sea­son in a stretch of 23 in which the Phillies made the play­offs. The nine sea­sons be­fore and the 13 af­ter were bar­ren, with­out even many close calls. The play­ers were, in­deed, wacky and won­der­ful — beards and bel­lies, mul­lets and mus­cles. They stayed up late to­gether af­ter games, drink­ing beers in the train­ers’ room, talk­ing base­ball. Throw­backs.

“Guys played the game the right way, and played so hard,” Hollins said. “We weren’t the most tal­ented team in the league, but the city re­sponded to that. They work hard. They don’t like prima don­nas, or guys not hus­tling. They know the game. And Dar­ren, as hard as he played, he was also very ar­tic­u­late. He could speak to the me­dia — and he looked like a Hol­ly­wood star.”

Daulton played his fi­nal game that Oct. 26. It was Game 7 of the World Se­ries, a vic­tory in Mi­ami. He got his cham­pi­onship, and it took ev­ery­thing he had.

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