I can readily admit that back in the lean years of the late 80s and early 90s, I was no fan of Darren Daulton. He always seemed to be a mediocre catcher considering his physical stature, and with his batting average hovering around .200, injuries to his knees and relative lack of power in his early years, that opinion never really changed. Then came the 1992 season, which saw him play 145 games, hit 27 homers, and lead the National League with 109 RBI. He finished 6th in MVP voting, and suddenly my opinion and that of many fans in the city began to change. Even then, no one could have envisioned the magic that would ensue that following season. As we received the shocking news yesterday that Daulton is battling two brain tumors at the young age of 51, it once again reminded me of why this fan, and this city, suddenly fell in love with a player that seemed destined for a forgettable Phillie career during an era of mostly forgettable seasons.
Needless to say, despite the breakout season that Dutch had in 1992, it was the 1993 season that solidified his Philly legend forever. As fans are now witnessing the end of the most successful run in Phillies history this season, which included a second World Series title, it is hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the 1993 campaign. As memorable as the 2008 season was, which of course culminated in a championship, something about that 1993 season, and team, has allowed it to hold a special place in Phillie fans’ hearts, and Dutch embodied that squad more than all of its characters. Much like Rocky Balboa, that Phillie team was the unsophisticated underdog that went up against the class of the NL in the Atlanta Braves, and the reigning world champs in the Toronto Blue Jays, and, despite losing, gained the respect and adoration of a city starving for a winner.
Daulton’s 1993 season was once again stellar for a major league catcher at that time, as he slugged 24 homers and drove in 105 runs. But his value was clearly in the locker room and on the field of play. Dutch was the glue that kept that band of lunatics from ever completely imploding altogether. Consider the personalities on that squad: Curt Schilling, the ace of the rotation who never met a TV camera he didn’t like. Pete Incaviglia, the left field slugger who looked more at home on a softball field and was a wild man off the field as well. Dave Hollins, the maniacal third baseman who seemed like he actually enjoyed diving in front of 90 mph fastballs to get on base. Mitch Williams, the control-challenged reliever who managed to save 43 games, yet would never again save more than 6 in a season after the Joe Carter season-ending dagger. John Kruk, the portly first baseman who, despite a Babe Ruth physique, was the best natural hitter on the team. And of course the Dude, Lenny Dykstra, who approached every game as if it was his last, and played like a man possessed, posting one of the greatest seasons for a leadoff hitter in recent baseball history.
But as tough as all of these players were, they all answered to Dutch. I’ve never seen a player take such a physical beating for a guy who had gone through multiple knee surgeries as Daulton did. Much like Pete Rose in 1980, Dutch was the “straw that stirred the drink” for Macho Row. Is there any question that without Daulton, there is no way that team of renegades topples what in my opinion was the best Braves squad ever assembled (including their World Series team of 1995)? Or takes the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays, with the likes of Paul Molitor, Joe Carter and Ricky Henderson to 6 games in the World Series? The answer is a resounding no, and that’s a testament to the toughness and leadership that Dutch provided to that team. How respected is Daulton? Consider that fact that, when Dutch was traded to the Marlins just a few seasons later, most fans (including myself) were rooting for him to finally get a World Series ring, which he finally did with Jim Leyland‘s squad in 1997, along with former Phillie fan favorites Jim Eisenreich.
Now, as Dutch embarks on the fight of his life at a ridiculously young age, ironically as that Phillies team celebrates it’s 20 year anniversary, we can only root for this underdog to come through and surprise us yet again. It’s been nice to see that Dutch, who could have easily gone down the destructive road taken by his ex-teammate and old buddy Lenny Dykstra (recently released from prison), was very visible on local television and radio the past few seasons, and interacting with a fan base that still respects and appreciates him. His recent induction into the Phillies Wall of Fame in 2010 was well deserved considering his role on that beloved 1993 team. Dutch was truly enjoying this recent Phillies run of success along with we the fans, which was obvious in his public appearances and broadcasts.
As Phillies fans struggle through a mostly disappointing 2013 season, I think we can all agree that the two major characteristics this team is sorely lacking are heart and leadership. Someone to step up and take a teammate by the uniform and convince him to bust it down the line or get his pitches down in the zone. Someone to make the most of the talent they had, not a underachiever who has ten times the natural ability that Dutch did. These are the traits that have endeared players like Darren Daulton to Phillie fans everywhere, and another reason why our prayers and hopes will be riding with Dutch during these, the toughest days of his life.Tags: Curt Schilling, Darren Daulton, Dave Hollins, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Mitch Williams, MLB, Pete Incaviglia, Pete Rose, Philadelphia Phillies