clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The All-"Wait, That Guy Was a Phillie?" Team

From Benito Santiago to Kenny Lofton, these guys too once doffed their caps in the Opening Day sunshine. Then, most quickly moved on.

I apologize for this reminder about Ty Wigginton
I apologize for this reminder about Ty Wigginton
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

You might have seen the very cool Sporcle quiz on the Phillies' Opening Day lineups from 1991 through this past season. I'm simultaneously proud and ashamed to report that I scored 205 correct out of 217 total answers, with my only particularly embarrassing misses Aaron Rowand (CF, 2006-2007) and John Mayberry Jr (corner OF, 2012-13).

The game provided a mostly fun, slightly painful look back at the last almost quarter century in the life of our favorite franchise. Of course, the last eight or so seasons have seen remarkable stability in the Phillies' lineups, with cornerstone players like Carlos Ruiz (six Opening Day starts in the last seven years), Ryan Howard (eight of last nine), Chase Utley (seven of the last nine), and Jimmy Rollins (14 straight from 2001-14) constants throughout and additional stars like Shane Victorino (six straight from 2007-12), Roy Halladay (three straight from 2010-12) on hand for multiple seasons. Alongside those signature Phillies, though, have been quite a few players well known across baseball but not necessarily for their tenures with the club.

So below is my All-Phillies-Hessians lineup. The eligibility criteria were pretty simple: the player must have made at least one but no more than two Opening Day starts, could not have been drafted or developed by the Phillies, and suited up for at least two other teams. Ideally they should have achieved some level of recognition, if not stardom, with another team, and they shouldn't' be memorable as disastrous disappointments either--call that "the Danny Tartabull rule". The year/s of their Opening Day starts are in parentheses.

C Benito Santiago (1996)

Best known for his howitzer throwing arm, Santiago's nine-team, twenty-year tour of the majors included one season with the Phillies, who brought him in for 1996 after it became clear longtime backstop Darren Daulton's knees would no longer hold up for catching duties. Santiago set career highs by far in his one season as a Phillie with 30 HR and 49 BB, and then quietly moved on after the season as Mike Lieberthal settled in behind the plate for the next ten Opening Day starts.

1B Ty Wigginton (2012)

Brought in to hold the fort for the injured Ryan Howard, Wigginton is mostly memorable for two things: his uncanny resemblance to the popular children's movie character Shrek, and the look of terror in his eyes when a hard-hit ball came his way at third base. I've tried to push out memories of how much he sucked for the Phils two years ago, and how he came to embody for me the painful inability of the front office to make prudent player evaluations. I absolutely refuse to credit the "fact" that he hit 11 homers for the Phillies that season.  Wigginton played for eight teams in his now evidently concluded twelve-season career. He's one of three on this list to have come up through the Mets organization.

2B Wally Backman (1991)

My late high school years probably represented the nadir of my baseball fandom: the Phillies' combination of bad and boring didn't stack up even to my mostly babes- and booze-free version of teenage drama. So I remember Backman much more as a contributor to the mid-‘80s Mets teams than as a guy who wore the laundry I love. He actually stuck around into 1992, but by then had lost his starting job to Mickey Morandini. Backman might be the least journeyman-ish guy on this list, having played for only five teams over his fourteen seasons-the first nine for the Mets.

SS Juan Bell (1993)

I'm cheating a little here, because it's doubtful the average fan would remember Bell and he never really stuck anywhere else. But Dickie Thon and Desi Relaford both stuck around a bit too long to qualify, and Bell was slightly interesting as the embodiment of a problem that, when solved, seemed to assure the unimpeded progress of the '93 Phillies. A waiver-period trade pickup in 1992, the middle infielder had impressed enough to come out of camp as the starter in '93. But he was so awful so quickly that the team put him on waivers in late May, and he was gone to Milwaukee by the start of June. Kim Batiste held the job for about six weeks, until Kevin Stocker came up from the minors to solidify the position and win some Rookie of the Year votes. Bell lingered in the majors through 1995, having passed through five teams in all.

3B Todd Zeile (1996)

In one of the more unwise decisions of the long dark spell between the mid-1980s and 2001, the Phillies chose Gregg Jefferies over Larry Walker as their big free agent addition before the 1995 season. After the former Mets prodigy put in an underwhelming first season with the team, GM Lee Thomas brought in his good friend and former Cardinals teammate Todd Zeile to raise Jefferies' comfort level and man the hot corner until top prospect Scott Rolen was ready. Like '96 teammate Benito Santiago, Zeile did a decent job at the plate, smacking 20 homers with a .789 OPS. His defense wasn't quite up to that level, with his range at third memorably compared to the dimensions of a postage stamp. With Rolen promoted in August, Zeile briefly shifted across the diamond to first (pushing Jefferies to the outfield), then was traded to Baltimore. The Phillies were the fourth of 11 organizations for whom Zeile played over his 16 seasons.

LF Ron Gant (1999-2000)

A borderline superstar talent with the Braves through his first six years in the majors, Gant's career was derailed by a bad ATV accident that sidelined him for the entirety of the 1994 season. He returned from injury as a roving bat for hire, his home run power intact but his speed and defense much reduced. Gant passed through the Reds and Cardinals organizations before a November 1998 trade sent him to the Phillies. He hit 37 homers in a season and a half with the team before moving on to Anaheim in a July 2000 deal. The Phils were the fourth of Gant's eight teams over 17 seasons.

CF Kenny Lofton (2005)

A former perennial all-star and lineup sparkplug for the great Indians teams of the mid/late 1990s that employed Charlie Manuel as hitting coach and later manager, Lofton was 38 by the time he reunited with the newly named Phillies manager in 2005. He turned in one great season for the team, however, putting up a .335/.392/.420 line with 22 steals in 25 tries and forming a highly effective center field platoon with Jason Michaels. The Phillies got younger at the position by trading for Aaron Rowand, and Lofton moved on to the Dodgers. The Phils were the ninth of 11 organizations to employ him over a 17 year career.

RF Dale Murphy (1991-1992)

Along with Gant, he's the only two-time Opening Day starter on this team, and like Gant he's mostly notable for the stardom he enjoyed with the Braves before moving on later in his career. Over the six-year stretch from 1982-87, Murphy was arguably the best player in baseball, with annual all-star appearances and two MVP awards. But he hit the wall after his age-31 season, and three years after his last great campaign he came to the Phillies in a late-summer trade. He was roughly league average through his first year and a half with the Phils, but missed most of the 1992 season. His biggest contribution might have been through personality, and that by contrast; John Kruk famously called the 1992 Phillies "24 morons and a Mormon," referring to Murphy.

SP Sid Fernandez (1996)

Curt Schilling made five out of seven Opening Day starts for the Phillies between 1994 and 2000, and the two years he missed-1996 and 2000-were because of injuries. Andy Ashby, who got the nod in 2000, is ineligible for this team because, one, he originally came up with the Phillies, and two, his miserable performance in 2000 was all too memorable. Fernandez, however, was neither awful nor otherwise very interesting in his short tenure with the team. Signed off the street in mid-1995, he was excellent over 11 starts for the Phils that year with a 3.34 ERA and 11 strikeouts per 9 innings. In 11 more starts the next season, he was almost exactly as good: 3.43 ERA, 11 K/9.  Then he got hurt, and that was pretty much that. Another longtime Mets star, the burly Hawaiian pitched in just one more major league game after leaving the Phillies, a victorious start for the Astros in 1997.