The 1993 National League Champion Phillies were a wonderful oasis that unexpectedly appeared amidst the most desolate stretch of Phillies baseball in my lifetime. That club won 97 games during the regular season, plus six more in October; no other Phils team between 1988 and 2000 won more than 78. And while most of us didn’t know it yet, the roster was a saber geek’s dream of high-OBP bats and effective starting pitchers, supported by a deep, versatile bench and—with one painful, deeply consequential exception—effective and well-deployed bullpen.
(That team also prompted the proudest moment of my life as a baseball prognosticator: the previous December, when I sat at a table in my college dining hall and told my two best friends, both huge Mets fans, that the Phillies would win the NL East in 1993. This was mostly braggadocio, but I did see something in that team to suggest they would be vastly improved over 1992’s last place squad.)
With that team celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and the current Phillies carrying the burdens of higher expectations and a much fancier collective pedigree, I thought it would be interesting to look back at how then-GM Lee Thomas put together the least likely of the seven pennant winners in club history. The list below includes 25 players from the ’93 team: the 14 position players who made the most plate appearances and 11 pitchers who threw the most innings.
- Draft picks (6): C Darren Daulton (1980, 25th round), 1B Ricky Jordan (1983, 1st round), 2B Mickey Morandini (1988, 5th round), SS Kevin Stocker (1991, 2nd round), INF Kim Batiste (1987, 3rd round), P Mike Williams (1990, 14th round)
- Rule 5 (2): 3B Dave Hollins, C Todd Pratt
- Trade acquisitions (11): 1B John Kruk, CF Lenny Dykstra, RF Wes Chamberlain, SP Curt Schilling, SP Terry Mulholland, SP Tommy Greene, SP Ben Rivera, RP Mitch Williams, RP Roger Mason, RP Mark Davis, RP David West, SP Danny Jackson
- Free agents (6): 2B Mariano Duncan, LF Pete Incaviglia, LF Milt Thompson, RF Jim Eisenreich, RP Larry Andersen, RP Jose DeLeon
The Phillies hired Thomas as their GM during the 1988 season. He inherited an aging team with a barren minor-league system, and probably the biggest failing of his tenure was that it never got much better. Of the six homegrown players on the ’93 team, only shortstop Kevin Stocker and pitcher Mike Williams were drafted under Thomas. (His best pick came in 1993, when the Phils tapped Scott Rolen in the second round.) He did show some panache in working the Rule 5, snatching Dave Hollins out of the Padres organization in December 1989 and claiming catcher Todd Pratt from the Orioles two years later.
For the most part, Thomas built the ’93 team through trades, assembling his entire rotation and most of the bullpen through swaps. I’m pretty sure the Phils have never had a GM as apt at flat-out embarrassing his trade partners. Consider these major deals, with all WAR (Wins Above Replacement) figures covering the duration of each player’s career after the trade:
- Jun. 18, 1989: Juan Samuel (3.8 WAR) to Mets for Lenny Dykstra (25.3 WAR), Roger McDowell (4.5 WAR) and Tom Edens (-0.2 WAR)
- Jun. 18, 1989: Steve Bedrosian (0.3 WAR) and Rick Parker (-0.2 WAR) to Giants for Terry Mulholland (10.8 WAR), Dennis Cook (7.6 WAR), and Charlie Hayes (8.5 WAR)
- Aug. 3, 1990: Jeff Parrett (2.5 WAR), Jim Vatcher (0.2 WAR) and Victor Rosario (-0.1 WAR) for Tommy Greene (4.8 WAR) and Dale Murphy (-0.4 WAR)
- Apr. 2, 1992: Jason Grimsley (3.6 WAR) to Astros for Curt Schilling (76.9 WAR)
- Nov. 17, 1992: Joel Adamson (0.0 WAR) and Matt Whisenant (0.1 WAR) to Marlins for Danny Jackson (2.9 WAR)
- Dec. 5, 1992: Mike Hartley (1.2 WAR) to Twins for David West (3.2 WAR)
Some of these numbers actually understate the extent to which Thomas pantsed his opposite number. Jackson, for instance, was worth 6.5 WAR in his two seasons with the Phillies; it was only after he left as a free agent following the 1994 season that his value cratered. Murphy similarly gave mildly positive value in his short time with the Phils before a terrible final season in Colorado prompted him to retire.
Again and again, Thomas shipped out name guys who were on the downswing (Bedrock, Samuel, Parrett) for players who’d worn out their welcomes (Dykstra, Schilling) or were languishing in organizations that misunderstood how to maximize their value (Kruk, Greene). You’d think after awhile guys just would have stopped trading with him.
Thomas used free agency to finish things off during the 1992-93 offseason, building outfield platoons with brilliant low-dollar deals for Incaviglia, Thompson and Eisenreich and adding veteran righty setup man Larry Andersen to complement trade pickup David West and closer Mitch Williams.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the 1993 Phillies were unusually lucky: up and down the lineup and pitching staff, players enjoyed career years. (It’s also probably fair to speculate whether some—I’m looking at you, Lenny—enjoyed those great years with artificial assistance.) In the next installment, we’ll look at just how lucky that roster was: how many ’93 Phils reached heights during that season they never again approached.
But that luck followed the Branch Rickey truism as a residue of good design: Thomas put together his roster with remarkable shrewdness, valuing precisely the characteristics that could blow up in tandem: endless grinding of at-bats, exhausting opposing pitchers and enabling access to the gooey centers of opposing bullpens, and power arms that could mow down opposition lineups. Adroitly managed by veteran skipper Jim Fregosi—whose own offensive profile as a player rendered him comfortable with the high-walk, gap-power mashers who populated his lineup—the team came out of nowhere, confounding the league, delighting millions of Philadelphians and ultimately coming heartbreakingly close to the second world title in franchise history. If it wasn't much of a consolation prize, it was well deserved nonetheless when Thomas was named MLB Executive of the Year by The Sporting News.