The Philadelphia franchise is one of the oldest in all of baseball. Established in 1883 as the Philadelphia Quakers, they have remained a part of the National League for 131 seasons. The team was often referred to as the “Philadelphias” in their early years, and that was soon shortened to the “Phillies.” The team adopted the nickname officially for the 1890 season. Aside from being one of the oldest teams in all professional sports, the Phillies also have the dubious distinction of having lost more games than any other team in any professional sport (10,462). Only 23 times in the history of baseball has a team finished the season with a win percentage at or below .300 – the Phillies have done it 6 times, including 5 times from 1938-1945! No other team in baseball has played that poorly more than 3 times in their history. They have finished in last place more than twice as many times as they have made it into the playoffs (31-14, respectively), and they own the modern Major League record for most consecutive losses – 23 in 1961. The Phillies were also the last of the 16 teams that comprised the major leagues from 1901-1961 to win a World Series – something they didn’t accomplish until 1980.
But, in spite of their woeful history, there have been some bright spots for the Phillies. World Series champions in 1980 and 2008. Three consecutive division championships from ’76-’78. And, 5 consecutive division championships from 2007-2011. They’ve had 5 different players win 7 MVP awards, 4 different players win 7 Cy Young wards, and 4 Rookie of the Year winners. They have retired 5 players’ jerseys, and there are 10 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who spent their primary careers with the Phillies. I also find it intriguing that a team with so much turmoil, could have in their history 2 of the greatest to ever play their position (LHP & 3B). Well, without further ado, here are, in my opinion, the 5 greatest Philadelphia Phillies of all time:
5. Robin Roberts (’48-’61) – elected to seven consecutive All-Star games, Roberts was the National League’s starting pitcher in five Mid-Summer Classics – tied for the most in the history of the game. He was a workhorse the first half of his career – starting 37+ games seven consecutive years, leading the league in starts six of those years, and complete games five times. In 1950, he became the first Phillies pitcher to win 20 games in a season since 1917 (see #3 below). He went on to 20-win seasons in 6 consecutive years from ’50-’55 – leading the league in wins every year from ’52-’55. He also finished in the top-7 in MVP voting five times from ’50-’55. After he was sold to the Yankees after the ’61 season, the Phillies announced that they would retire his jersey #36 in a ceremony prior to a Spring Training game between the two clubs. Roberts’ jersey was the first one ever retired by the franchise. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976. On the Phillies’ all-time lists, among pitchers with at least 1000 IP, he ranks 2nd in wins (234), 7th in WHIP (1.17), 2nd in strikeouts (1871), 4th in K/BB ratio (2.61), and 10th in ERA+ (114).
4. Ed Delahanty (1888-89; 1891-1901) – one of the best hitters of his era, Delahanty was the first major league player to bat over .400 in three different seasons. To this day, he ranks 5th all-time with his career .346 batting average. In 1896, he hit four home runs in a single game, becoming just the second player in baseball history to accomplish such a feat. But, what makes his feat stand out, is that he is still the only one to ever do so by hitting four inside-the-park home runs. During his years with the Phillies, Delahanty led the league in doubles 4 times, triples once, HR twice, RBI 3 times, stolen bases once, batting once, OBP once, SLG 4 times, and OPS 4 times. He came within .012 batting points of winning the triple crown in 1893, and .013 of the same in 1896. He ranks 2nd on the Phillies’ all-time batting list (.348), 5th in OBP (.414), 10th in SLG (.508), 5th in OPS (.922), 2nd in runs scored (1368), 3rd in hits (2214), 2nd in doubles (442 – surpassed just this past season by Jimmy Rollins), 1st in triples (158), 2nd in RBI (1288), 3rd in stolen bases (411 – also just passed this last year by Rollins), 3rd in OPS+ (153 – including 3 of the top 4 single seasons in Phillies history), and 2nd in runs created (1351). Delahanty was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945. His career was cut short by one of the more mysterious deaths in baseball. In the midst of the 1903 season (just one season after leading the league in batting), he was kicked off of a train for what the conductor described as drunk and disorderly behavior. Delahanty then tried to walk across the International Bridge between Buffalo, NY and Fort Erie, near Niagara Falls. There are various theories and stories about how it happened, but Delahanty fell/dove/was pushed off the bridge, into the river, and swept over the falls. A tragic end to a magnificent career.
3. Grover Cleveland Alexander (1911-1917, 1930) – Old Pete Alexander may have spent more time with the Cubs organization, but his best years were unquestionably in Philadelphia. His rookie season, he led the league in wins, shutouts, and innings pitched, finishing 3rd in MVP voting. He would go on to lead the league in wins 4 more times (4 of the top 7 win totals in Phillies history), ERA 3 times (all 3 of which rank in the top 7 ERA’s in Phillies history), strikeouts 5 times, and WHIP twice (including the best season in Phillies history – 0.842 in 1915), in 7 full seasons with the Phillies (he only pitched in 9 games in 1930, at the age of 43 – his final season in the majors). He won back-to-back-to-back pitching Triple Crowns in 1915, 1916 & 1917. In 1915, Alexander was instrumental in leading the Phillies to their first ever pennant. He ranks 3rd on the Phillies’ all-time ERA list among pitchers with at least 1000 IP (2.18), 3rd in wins (190), 1st in win pct. (.676), 3rd in WHIP (1.075), 6th in K’s (1409), 5th in K/BB ratio (2.51), 1st in shutouts (61), and 1st in ERA+ (140). Alexander was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938. Had he spent more of his career with the Phillies, he likely would be even further up this list. As it is, the 40% of his career he spent in Philadelphia was spectacular.
2. Steve Carlton (’72-’86) – what a difficult decision it was to try and figure out how to rank the top 2 Phillies in history. I don’t think I’ll get much argument from anyone regarding who the top 2 are – but, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone’s split 50/50 on how to rank them. 4 Cy Young awards (first to ever accomplish such a feat), two more top-5 finishes, five top-10 MVP finishes, 10 All-Star games, and one Gold Glove. He won the pitching triple crown in 1972, his first year with the Phillies, which was an amazing feat, considering his 27 wins that season accounted for 46% of his team’s 59 wins that season – an all-time record. He led the league in wins four times, and strikeouts five times – leading to his rank with the second most K’s all-time by a LHP, and the second most wins all-time by a LHP. On the Phillies’ all-time lists, among pitchers with at least 1,000 IP, he ranks 10th in ERA (3.09), 1st in wins (241), 4th in win pct. (.600), 9th in WHIP (1.21), 5th in K/9 (7.38 – including 4 of the top 25 single seasons in Phillies history), 1st in K’s (3031 – including 4 of the top 6 single seasons in Phillies history), 8th in K/BB ratio (2.42), and 7th in ERA+ (120). Carlton was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994 on his first ballot.
1. Mike Schmidt (’72-’89) – back-to-back MVP’s (’80 & ’81), plus a 3rd MVP at the age of 36; 5 more top-10 MVP finishes; 12 All-Star games; 9 consecutive Gold Gloves, and a 10th one also at the age of 36 – all at one of the most difficult positions on the field; 6 Silver Sluggers (an award they didn’t start giving out until 1980, when he was already 30 years old); 1980 NLCS & World Series MVP. Okay, I think that might be just about all the awards he won. As for other achievements, he also led the league in HR eight times, RBI four times, OBP three times, SLG five times, OPS five times, and OPS+ six times. He is, in my opinion, the greatest all around third baseman of all time. There’s a reason he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995 on his first ballot with what was then the 4th highest percentage ever (96.52% – which is still the 7th highest ever). He ranks 5th all-time on the Phillies’ SLG list (.527), 6th in OPS (.908), 1st in runs scored (1506), 1st in hits (2234), 1st in total bases (4404), 1st in HR (548), 1st in RBI (1595), 6th in OPS+ (147 – including the best season in Phillies history, when his was 198 in ’81), and 1st in runs created (1757). Schmidt’s #20 jersey was retired in 1990, the season immediately after he retired.