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Former Phillies catcher Darren 'Dutch' Daulton dies at 55

He will be recalled longest and most fondly in Philadelphia for his role as the cleanup hitter and locker-room leader of the 1993 Phillies.

Darren Daulton at spring training in 1994.
Darren Daulton at spring training in 1994.Read moreFile Photograph

Darren "Dutch" Daulton, the charismatic catcher and master of Macho Row, whose talent for controlling both a pitching staff and a clubhouse helped the 1993 Phillies win an improbable National League pennant, died Sunday at age 55 after a four-year battle with brain cancer.

A three-time all-star, Mr. Daulton played 14 seasons for the Phillies organization, which  drafted him in 1980. But he will be recalled longest and most fondly in Philadelphia for his role as the cleanup hitter and locker-room leader of the 1993 Phils.

That wild and wildly popular team, with him supplying much of its power on and off the field, attracted a then-franchise record 3.1 million fans to Veterans Stadium, captivating a city that saw in its blue-collar grit and grime a reflection of itself.

Those Phillies lost to Toronto in a memorable six-game World Series But four years later, Mr. Daulton finally got his championship as a member of the 1997 Florida Marlins. After that season, only 35 but unable to catch anymore because of injury-ravaged knees, he retired.

Persistent pain severely truncated his playing career. A better-than average defensive catcher and, in his final years, a potent bat, Mr. Daulton played in 100-plus games only five times. He finished with a .245 batting average, 137 home runs, 588 RBIs and a .357 on-base percentage. His best seasons were the three in which he was a National League all-star, 1992 through 1994.

But what made him more valuable than those modest numbers might suggest were his intangibles, particularly his knack for calling games and commanding respect. Pitcher Curt Schilling, who blossomed when he began throwing to Mr. Daulton in 1992, fell under his spell, frequently calling his battery mate "the best catcher in baseball." Manager Jim Fregosi labeled Mr. Daulton the game's "best leader."

"If there is ever a problem back there," Fregosi once said, pointing to the clubhouse, "all I've got to do is tell Dutch. He'll take care of it."

In his 2001 Historical Baseball Abstract, statistical guru Bill James ranked Mr. Daulton as the 25th best catcher in baseball history. But there was a stark contrast between that player, one who seemed to have it all together, and the sad and ultimately tragic figure who emerged in retirement.

While many saw him as a future manager, Mr. Daulton could never capitalize on his baseball assets. Instead, he was beset by personal demons. There was a bitter divorce from the second of his three wives, occasional estrangement from his four children, car accidents, arrests on DUI and speeding charges, a stint in jail, and battles with addictions.

"Anything I did in the past is my fault," he told Philadelphia magazine in 2010. "Not my ex-wife's fault. Not any of my kids' faults. Not baseball. Not the media. I did the damage."

Along the way, perhaps as a coping mechanism, he developed obsessions with such bizarre topics as spiritualism, numerology and time travel. The jacket of his 2007 book, If They Only Knew, claimed it delved into "issues of ascension, such as dimensions and levels of consciousness; the Mayan calendar and December 21, 2012; creating one's own reality, and more."

He saw  2012  as particularly relevant.

"I really don't know how to explain it," he told the Daily News in 2003. "But by Dec. 21, 2012, people will have a pretty good idea. It's all about consciousness and love. We have the ability to create whatever we want. We're all made of energy."

Phillies fans who once idolized him began asking the same question posed by the headline to the Philadelphia magazine profile in 2010, the year he won a spot on the team's Wall of Fame — "Is Darren Daulton Crazy?" He played in an era when steroids and  amphetamines were omnipresent in baseball locker rooms. In a 2009 radio interview, he admitted, without getting specific, that he was no innocent bystander.

"There's probably no one in any sport that has taken more drugs than I have," he said.

Immediately before and after he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013, he seemed to rediscover a mental equilibrium. It led him to start the Darren Daulton Foundation, an organization devoted to helping others with brain cancer.

‘Run the clubhouse’

Born in 1962 in Arkansas City, Kan., Darren Arthur Daulton was drafted by the Phillies in the 25th round of the 1980 draft.
He rose surprisingly quickly through the minors and was summoned to the big leagues in September 1983, just as a veteran-laden Phillies team was wrapping up an NL pennant.

"Kid," manager Paul Owens advised him that first day, "there are four or five future Hall of Famers behind those doors. They might act like you're not even there, but don't be discouraged. Just watch them. Observe. Pick up what you can in the month you're here."

That lesson in the unwritten clubhouse code, in yielding authority to the veterans who had earned it, never left him.

"I learned never to open my mouth," he said of  '83. "I never said a word around those guys. It was clear that this was their team."

Injuries and offensive struggles limited his playing time until 1989, when new manager Nick Leyva installed him as his everyday catcher. His greatest seasons came under Fregosi, who upon getting the job in 1991 told his catcher he wanted him to "run the clubhouse."

Fregosi "was the best manager I've ever played for," Mr. Daulton said in 2014. "Our relationship was so special, and he was the one who taught me to be a leader."

Mr. Daulton became the Phillies' authoritative voice whenever something needed to be said publicly or privately. A lefthanded hitter, he finally broke out offensively in 1992 and 1993, two of his three consecutive all-star seasons. A No. 7 or 8 hitter previously, his was a middle-of-the-order bat under Fregosi.

In 1991, a passenger in a car driven by Lenny Dykstra, he was involved in a serious accident after the two departed a Main Line birthday party for teammate John Kruk.

Despite being on a last-place team in '92, he led the NL with 109 RBIs and was top 10 in homers, walks, extra-base hits, OPS and both slugging and on-base percentages. He was awarded his only Silver Slugger that year and finished sixth in the voting for most valuable player. Mr. Daulton drove in another 100 runs in the pennant-winning season that followed but likely was more valuable for the way he handled a makeshift pitching staff that was far from the NL's best.

His studied cool and swaggering self-assurance provided stability on an outspoken and outrageous roster, one that included the steroid-inflated Dykstra, the spotlight-hogging Schilling, the peculiar and befuddling Kruk, the Tourette's-affected Jim Eisenreich and the wildly erratic Mitch Williams.

"He's like E.F. Hutton," reliever Larry Andersen said that season. "When he speaks, everyone listens. He has a presence about him. It's like he's the Godfather, and we're all a bunch of thugs."

Mr. Daulton typically was the first to emerge from the players' training-room hideaway to confront postgame questions. He was the buffer with a media many Phillies distrusted and avoided. He convened team meetings and, in one memorable instance in St. Louis, publicly questioned the guts of pitchers Schilling and Tommy Greene.

"The thing that has made him so important to this team is the respect he gets," Andersen added, "the respect he's earned over his career."

Traded to Florida

Mr. Daulton, who famously described them as "gypsies, tramps and thieves," was in many ways indistinguishable from his teammates. He, too, had a mullet, a frequently dirty uniform, and an attitude. But, a favorite of the team's female fans despite then being married to one of the first Hooters women, his matinee-idol looks set him apart. Hoping to capitalize on that appeal, the producers of the TV soap opera Santa Barbara gave him a cameo appearance in 1993.

Midway through the '94 season, he was hitting .300 with 15 home runs, 56 RBIs and a .549 slugging percentage when a labor dispute ended the season prematurely. He hobbled through the next two-plus seasons before, in July 1997, the Phillies traded him to the contending Marlins.

"He deserves to go to a contender," Schilling said at the time. "He's done so much for this team and this organization."

No longer physically able to catch, he pinch-hit, played first base and was a key contributor down the stretch for Jim Leyland's world-champion Marlins. The combined statistics for his final season were more than respectable, .263 average, 14 home runs, 63 RBIs, and 68 runs in 395 at-bats.

Out of baseball, he drifted in and out of trouble. His driver's license was suspended after several speeding tickets in Florida. In 2001, during that suspension, he was involved in an accident and charged with driving under the influence. Two years later came another DUI arrest.

The final years of his second marriage, to Nicole Garcia, were tumultuous. He was charged with domestic abuse and later jailed for violating the terms of their divorce agreement. That's about the time he discovered metaphysics.

"Nicole thinks I'm crazy," he told ESPN in 2006. "She just doesn't understand metaphysics."

In his later years, he appeared to move away from those obsessions and find peace. But in 2013, he was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of brain cancer, glioblastoma. Surgery to remove two tumors affected his speech. Although he would be declared "cancer-free" two years later, the disease returned with a vengeance last year.

Mr. Daulton lived in Florida but returned often to Philadelphia, where his popularity never waned. Before his battles with cancer, he cohosted a radio show before Phillies games. His bright smile and engaging personality seemed to remind Phillies fans of good times even if the second half of his own life could be seen as a desperate struggle to find some of his own.

"Sometimes I look back at my life, and I see all the baseball I played, the all-star games, the World Series, how I helped some guys in the clubhouse, how great my kids are, some of the nice things I've done for people along the way," Daulton said in that 2010 Philadelphia magazine article, "and I think maybe I'm doing OK, that maybe things aren't so bad, just maybe I'm not so crazy after all."

Mr. Daulton is  survived by his parents, Carol and Dave of Arkansas City, Kansas; one brother, Dave Jr.; of Arkansas City, Kansas; his wife Amanda of Clearwater, Fla.; and his four children Zachary, Summer, Savannah, and Darren Jr. of Clearwater.

Funeral services will be private.  In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Darren Daulton Foundation Foundation, 1339 Chestnut Street, Suite 500, Philadelphia, PA 19107.