The Good, The Bad
and the Ugly
nolead ends nolead begins Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Philadelphia Phillies History
nolead ends nolead begins By Todd Zolecki
Triumph Books. 226 pp. $14.95
nolead ends nolead begins Straight Talk
From Wild Thing
nolead ends nolead begins By Mitch Williams,
with Darrell Berger
Triumph Books. 194 pp. $14.95
nolead ends nolead begins
Reviewed by Jon Caroulis
Everyone loves a winner. After all, who'd be interested in reading about a team that did nothing but lose? The current Phillies era under Charlie Manuel is probably the best run the Phils have had in their 127-year history. So if you've got a story to tell about the team, now's the time to crank it out.
Former Phillies closer Mitch Williams and Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki offer books that have some predictable patterns but still manage to supply something fresh.
Zolecki, who covered the Phillies for several years for The Inquirer and now does so for MLB.com, touches on the team's "Good" (frankly, there's not a great deal of it except for the mid-'70s club and today's version), the "Bad" (which there is plenty of, but he keeps it to a necessary minimum) and finally, the "Ugly," which has reared its head too often - think 1964 and "Black Friday."
What Zolecki does provide are behind-the-scenes, little-known nuggets that have either been newly unearthed or brought back into the light.
For instance, Ruben Amaro Sr. (the current GM's father) had several conversations with Cincinnati's Chico Ruiz, whose steal of home started the 1964 Phillies' demise. Most storytellers raise the question of how Ruiz could steal home with the great hitter Frank Robinson at bat. Amaro kept asking Ruiz why he stole home. To the end of his life (he died in 1972), Ruiz didn't know why he had done it.
Zolecki also reports on shameful moments, such as Phillies manager Ben Chapman's telling Jackie Robinson to his face that he was "a helluva ballplayer," then following the compliment with a racial epithet.
Zolecki offers "sub-chapters" that provide engaging reads. For instance, in a chapter on numbers, Zolecki calculates that during his divorce proceedings, Pete Rose batted .458.
Like every team history, Zolecki's book includes an "all-time" roster; some of the players are obvious: Mike Schmidt, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Steve Carlton. A few spots are debatable but understandable: Greg Luzinski in left field over Del Ennis or Pat Burrell, Bob Boone as catcher over Darren Daulton or Andy Seminick. Based on numbers, his rightfielder is Bobby Abreu. On this point, can't we move on?
About Williams' book, my chief complaint is that it's too short. The folksy yet insightful prose is reminiscent of Williams' voice on TV and radio. The humor is there, but with observations that even a casual fan can appreciate. What makes him so successful as a broadcaster translates well into prose, although he did have a coauthor, Darrell Berger, a Unitarian Universalist minister in New Jersey and a tour guide at the Yogi Bera Museum who has written a biography of New York Yankees outfielder Roy White.
The book reveals that one of Williams' favorite managers was Don Zimmerman, a tough, no-nonsense type - a bit surprising considering the pitcher's easygoing, fun-loving personality. He also gives Zimmerman props for being one of the smartest managers he played for.
Williams writes candidly about life in the minors and majors - and this is where I wish he had elaborated. When you're a good storyteller, more is usually better. And he does talk about the 1993 Phillies team and the pitch to Toronto's Joe Carter.
Shortly after he gave up that home run, the Phillies traded Williams to Houston. He thinks the team did it because management believed fans would have turned on him. To this day, Williams says that would not have been the case: When he made his first appearance in another uniform, the crowd at Veterans Stadium gave him a standing ovation. Williams, who had been booed in Philadelphia, says that fans there don't boo a person, they boo a performance. Some local athletes never get that, he says.
Williams has been a pitching coach and manager in the independent baseball leagues, and he's upset the Phils never asked him to join the organization after he played. He does concede that he gave up more walks than hits and had one of the strangest windups ever - so it's not surprising the Phils or any other major league organization didn't rush to employ him. If there's one point he downplays a bit, it's the upset stomachs he caused. In too many of his saves, the tying or winning runs got on base. His manager, Jim Fregosi, would leave the dugout for a smoke to calm himself.
If you're a newcomer to the Phillies and their current winning ways, or have suffered through the bad teams, bad trades, and bad play, these books remind us that what a Phillies fan needs most is a sense of humor.