I would like to submit that the 1996 season was the most depressing season in recent Philadelphia Phillies history.
As bad as this season has been, it doesn't hold a candle to '96. After all, we are watching a core that won a World Series in 2008, got to another one in 2009, and made five straight playoff appearances. Those memories, although they grow a bit fainter each day, are still strong.
The Phillies are also officially a big budget team now. Even though it seems hard to imagine this team being competitive in the next two or three years, it is conceivable that, once some of these big salaries are off the books, some key international signings are hopefully made and a couple more draft classes are brought into the farm system, the Phils could be good again soon.
Plus, fans still get to see games at beautiful Citizens Bank Park, one of the crown jewels of Major League Baseball.
In 1996, none of that was true.
The Phillies played at the decrepit Vet, on its very last legs at that point. Their payroll of $30.4 million was 16th in baseball, and although the team won the National League pennant in 1993, the strike of '94 killed the sport for many Phils' fans, leading to a malaise and lack of enthusiasm that was almost stifling for the few of us who actually still deeply cared about the franchise and the sport.
That season, the Phillies finished 67-95, and in last place in the National League East, 29 games out of first. This was their starting lineup:
- Benito Santiago - C
- Gregg Jefferies - 1B
- Mickey Morandini - 2B
- Kevin Stocker - SS
- Todd Zeile - 3B
- Pete Incavaglia - LF
- Ricky Otero - CF
- Jim Eisenreich - RF
Lenny Dykstra was limited to 40 games, while Darren Daulton played just five. Stalwarts like Mark Whiten, Wendell Magee, Kevin Sefcik, Mike Benjamin, David Doster, Desi Relaford and Bobby Estalella littered the injury-filled roster, as only three players (Santiago, Morandini and Zeile) played more than 130 games. The only positives were the camero appearances of Mike Lieberthal, who played 50 games, and late-season call-up Scott Rolen, who played 37 games. And, of course, the presence of young sparkplug Ruben Amaro Jr. made viewing the games all worthwhile.
But if you think that was bad, check out this pitching staff.
- Curt Schillling - SP1
- Mike Williams - SP2
- Terry Mulholland - SP3
- Mike Mimbs - SP4
- Mike Grace - SP5
Rich Hunter made 14 starts that year and, please, raise your hand if you remember any of them, or Rich Hunter, in general. In all, 15 pitchers made starts for the Phils that year, including Sid Fernandez, Russ Springer, Matt Beech, David West, Bobby Munoz, Calvin Maduro, Glenn Dishman, Carlos Crawford and Rafael Quirico.
The bullpen consisted of many of those same names, as well as Toby Borland, Ken Ryan, Steve Frey, Ron Blazier, Jeff Parrett, Dave Leiper, blah blah blah.
Oh, and the Phils' lone All-Star representative that year, Ricky Botallico.
So consider, it's mid-July, you're still reeling from the stink of the strike, and the Phils are the worst team in baseball. They're sending one lonely relief pitcher to the All-Star Game, which for reasons passing understanding is being played IN PHILADELPHIA, AT THE VET.
The Midsummer Classic, being played in Philadelphia for the first time since 1976, would feature just one player from its host city, a relief pitcher, who would likely just see one inning of work. Head, meet toilet.
And yet I watched. I watched the whole thing. And you are correct, I did not have a girlfriend at the time.
Of course, the scene was set right from the start. Bunting lined the cracked edifice of the walls and stands, and the Phils' 1980s video board in center field shown brightly in the glare of network TV. Philadelphia also played home to the stars that weekend, as TV's "Frasier," Kelsey Grammar, sang the National Anthem.
Friends, it just doesn't get any better than that. Sarah McLachlan also sang the Canadian National Anthem, and Joe Carter was booed by the Vet crowd when he was introduced before the game.
So, right off the bat, this baby had "winner" written all over it.
The one positive note was the performance of Dodgers' catcher, and Philly-area native, Mike Piazza, who was named MVP of the game after clubbing a long home run and going 2-for-3 with 2 RBIs. Back in 2011, The Good Phight did a quick recap of Ricky Bottalico's performance, one that you probably missed if you blinked for any reason.
1996 - Ricky Bottalico, rhp: NL 6, AL 0. Bottalico pitched a scoreless 5th inning in front of his hometown. He might have faced the minimum number of batters, but for Ken Caminiti's throwing error on Brady Anderson's grounder. Clearly, the NL manager should have left Chipper Jones in at third, but well, the guy left a lot to be desired. But for being a hometown hero and for preserving the shutout by overcoming his teammates' mistakes without being rattled or showing them up, no better reward than *****!
After that, a lot of National League All-Stars that were not Phillies beat up on the AL team, 6-0. It was about as miserable as an All-Star Game hosted by your favorite team's city and stadium could possibly be.
If you're interested in watching this monstrosity, YouTube has it and, so far, 761 people have watched it. They are likely relatives of the players who played in it. You could be 762.