Daulton, 55, led Phillies with grit, determination
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.