Every summer, the baseball season comes to a screeching halt so that we may witness a midsummer exhibition match in which the game’s greatest talents—through processes generated by the several thousand frantically spinning hamster wheels at MLB HQ—are pitted against one another to determine which league houses the greater talent.
The Phillies, a team historically void of talent and luck whilst being kicked and punched by fate, have quite often dispatched only a single member of their squad to the All-Star Game as part of the league’s “pity invite” protocol. This is a rule in place so that teams that lack popularity or skill—the Phillies quite often fall into both categories—can feel, for just an evening, that they are part of the national conversation, and fans can feel, for just an evening, that someone on their team is good.
The Phillies aren’t by any means living in the National League’s sewer in 2019, but their first half has been defined by underperformance, poor pitching, and being swept by the Marlins. Bryce Harper has not put up numbers worthy of even an all-star campaign, let alone induction, and the talent assembled around him has either spent too much time slumping or already been buried in the season’s graveyard.
That left us, when the time came, with J.T. Realmuto, a catcher who cost the Phillies their top prospect in a trade with the Marlins. Realmuto, a strong, silent, heavily skilled 28-year-old backstop, has at times looked as brilliant as advertised, possessing a unique ability to crush the will of attempted base stealers. And while everyone seems to know that he is one of the best—if not the bet—catchers in the sport, he hasn’t put up the numbers this season to show that, and his selection as a back-up has been filed away in the very deep historical archives of one-man all-star Phillies contingents.
Realmuto is far from alone. Each decade of Phillies lore has included at least one season in which a single Phillie has been tapped by his overlords to show up in a strange city with a bat (or a ball) in his hands and try to bring pride to the Senior Circuit.
In some cases, they even got to play.
Morrie Arnovich (OF), 1939
Arnovich had made his presence known in the National League in the summer of ‘39, hitting a monstrous .383 in the first half with a .956 OPS. In fact, so well known was his presence that one sportswriter theorized that pitchers on the New York Giants had engaged in the time-honored baseball tradition of trying real hard to hit him in the skull to neutralize him as a threat, not long before his all-star appearance. Arnovich was one of only two guys on the Phillies to play in over 130 games and one of only five to play in over 100. And none of the others could touch him.
But his presence, once on the all-star team, went quite unnoticed, as not only did the opposition fail to honor him with a beaning, but his selection was almost anonymously listed in the papers while the Reds’ seven all-stars stole all of the headlines. Just to drive the point home, the NL’s manager, Gabby Hartnett of the Cubs, didn’t even use Arnovich in the game.
Some people weren’t even impressed by the entire National League. Bob Feller, pitching for the AL, entered the game with a cold arm and a complete lack of respect for the men in the other dugout.
“Feller wasn’t awed by his opposition. ‘After all, the fellows in our league are tougher,’ he exclaimed after the game. ‘I wasn’t expecting to go in so soon so I wasn’t quite loosened up. I really didn’t get going til the last inning.’ He struck put Johnny Mize and Stan Hack to end the game.”
—Lancaster New Era, 12 July 1939
This was the only year of Arnovich’s career in which he’d make the all-star team and receive MVP votes. Naturally, the Phillies traded him to the Reds the following season.
Others from the era: Herschel Martin (1938), Bucky Walters (1937), Pinky Whitney (1936), Jimmy Wilson (1935)
Babe Dahlgren (IF), 1943
It was the first ever All-Star Game in Philadelphia, but anytime Babe Dahlgren went to the bathroom, you would have never even known the city had an NL ball club. They also played the game at night for the first time ever, something that thrilled the party animals and prowling criminals of 1943 Philadelphia. The 31-year-old Dahlgren would make his sole all-star appearance of a 12-year career amid the spectacle of baseball in the dark, having hit .353 in the first half, which made him the third best hitter in the league behind Stan Musial and Billy Herman of the Dodgers.
Already down 5-1 in the sixth inning, Musial crunched a leadoff double and Augie Galan of the Dodgers worked a walk. NL manager Billy Southworth needed a pinch hitter and told Dahlgren his moment of destiny had arrived. Wearing the uniform of the city surrounding them, Dahlgren strode to the plate with a chance to give himself, a utility infielder in his thirties, something to be remembered for. But Dahlgren “promptly poured cold water” on the rally, according to the Inquirer, when he hit the ball directly into a double play.
No matter! At least Dahlgren could look forward to the rest of his storied season—when he would hit .243 in the second half and partake in the classic ‘40s pastime of requesting delays after having his Selective Service number called to go fight in a war.
Others of the era: Richie Ashburn (1948), Ken Raffensberger (1944), Danny Litwhiler (1942), Cy Blanton (1941)
Gene Conley (P), 1959
Conley, against all odds, is the only Phillies player to have to attend the All-Star Game all by his lonesome in the 1950s. And he probably shouldn’t have been there.
No, not because he had gone 0-6 with the Braves the previous season, but also because he had missed all of spring training in 1959 while playing for the Celtics in the NBA, which was why the fed-up Braves had traded him to Philadelphia at the end of March.
So there Conley was, prepared to represent the team and city for which he had been playing for about twelve weeks. At 6’ 8”, Conley was a behemoth and had any of his Phillies teammates actually challenged the exclusivity of his invite to the midsummer classic, he probably could have just snapped off their limbs one by one until they’d agreed to drop the issue—but, fortunately for them, “no other member of the team was a serious candidate” to be an all-star, wrote the Inquirer, so nobody had to get dismembered before Conley left for Los Angeles.
It was a bizarre year for the All-Star Game in general: They played two of them for the first time, and would continue to do so through 1962. Conley played in the one that didn’t take place until August 3—one of only two MLB All-Star Games to ever be played outside of July—and allowed no runs in two innings of work.
Two weeks later, his season was ended when his hand got smashed by a pitch.
Woodie Fryman (P), 1968
By July 7, Fryman knew he had been named to the NL’s all-star squad. But by the time the Phillies starter had lost his fourth straight decision, all that could be said of him by the press was that, hey; he had looked good when they’d picked him.
“Southpaw Woodie Fryman, one of the best in the league through Mid-June, has suddenly lost his effectiveness and enemy batters are banging his pitches with frightening consistency.”
—Philadelphia Inquirer, 9 July 1968
It was true. On June 1, Fryman authored a 12-0 crushing of the Reds—his third nine-inning, shutout performance in a row and fifth of the year. He broke off two more complete games that month, giving up only a combined two runs. Then, he started giving up three or four runs a start, back when numbers like that were enough to make you wonder if a bug had flown in his ear. After June 27, Fryman wouldn’t get a W again until early September.
Fortunately, Fryman attended one of the most uninteresting all-star games of all time. The NL scored the game’s only run in the bottom of the first on a Willie McCovey double play. After that, it was all pitching, or possibly team-wide hangovers, that drove the action.
Despite the focus on pitching, Fryman—a pitcher, you’l recall—didn’t even sniff the mound. But don’t worry. Eight years later, 36-year-old Fryman would get his next, final shot at appearing in an all-star game, this one taking place at The Vet when he was a member of the Expos.
He didn’t pitch in that one, either.
Others of the era: Ray Culp (1963), Art Mahaffey (1961), Tony Taylor (1960), Grant Jackson (1969)
Wayne Twitchell (P), 1973
Twitchell really hit his stride in June 1973, after starting the season as a reliever. From June 1 to June 29, he threw five complete games, including four in a row, giving up a total of four runs combined.
Leading up to his all-star berth in Kansas City on July 24, one of Twitchell’s performances seem to shatter the mind of the immensely shatter-able Don Wilson of the Astros. Wilson struck out on three of Twitchell’s face-high fastballs late in a game and, already unstable, had an absolute meltdown, throwing his bat into his own team’s dugout with enough force that manager Leo Durocher couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. Phillies fans saw an opportunity to throw gasoline on a fire and merrily booed Wilson every time he came out of the dugout, to the point that he decided to break the fourth wall and go after a couple of them sitting in the first row.
“The three pitches [he struck out on] were balls, I guess that’s why he was upset,” the 25-year-old Twitchell told a pair of reporters who had boldly attempted to seek Wilson out after the 5-3 Phillies win. “I was probably throwing 20 percent harder that inning, really airing it out.”
Reds manager Sparky Anderson handpicked Twitchell for the ‘73 NL team because he liked what he saw from the tall righty and because the rules dictated that he had to pick somebody from the Phillies roster. Twitch faced four batters in the All-Star Game, giving up a lead-off double to John Mayberry (playing in place of Dick Allen, who had a hairline fracture in his leg) before setting the next three batters down in order. Telling reporters the game had been “the greatest thrill of his life,” Twitchell defended the Phillies fans who had been giving their home team such a rough go that season (and had so gleefully stirred up the ire of the clearly insane Don Wilson the previous week) by explaining that it wasn’t their fault for being mad at a team that sucked; it was the media’s fault for saying that the team could be good:
“Actually, fans are deceived by the press. Many times from spring training, a sports writer gives a team that doesn’t look great a big buildup. Then when the team gets home and doesn’t produce, the fans are disappointed.”
—Associated Press, 26 July 1973
Twitchell put in his work for the NL and then, as a squad leader in a rifle platoon, he hopped on a bus and was off to Army Reserve camp for two weeks.
Others from the era: Steve Carlton (1972), Rick Wise (1971)
Mike Schmidt (3B), 1983
The tide had turned in Philadelphia. No more was the team sending a single player to rep the maroon and powder blue in the All-Star Game, as the late seventies and early eighties had brought with them an era of sustained success the city had rarely known. The only exception to this was 1983—the year would go all the way to the World Series [EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous edition of this article stated that 1983 was the year the Phillies signed Pete Rose, which is, of course, lunacy. The author was woken in the night and struck with bamboo rods as a sort of penance, but we all know there’s not really a way to forgive someone for such malfeasance. Let us pray to the gods we believe in that the author finds some method of self-correction that allows him to live with himself]—but by July 6, the only player deemed good enough to play among the league’s best was, apparently, Schmidt. It was the first time in 14 years Rose had been left off the roster, and there were rumors Steve Carlton had begged not to go (though the Daily News seemed not to believe this was true).
Hitting .241 at the end of June, Schmidt was having a hard time feeling like an all-star, despite being voted in by the fans. After a doubleheader against the Mets on July 2—in which he did have three hits, including a pair of triples—Schmidt was reported to have gone home and hit off a tee in his garage until 3:30 in the morning. An Inquirer columnist wrote that the Dodgers’ Pedro Guerrero deserved the spot more than Schmidt.
Eddie Miksis, a 14-year major league veteran who was for some reason asked his opinion on the matter, told reporters that he basically (but not literally) had a “masters’ degree” in baseball and he could not grasp why people felt Schmidt was destined to be a hall of famer due to his .260 lifetime BA. “In my day, he’d have trouble staying out of the minors,” Miksis told the Inquirer on July 4.
Nevertheless, Schmidt left his 38-36 Phillies after Independence Day for the league’s All-Star Game. The American League pounded the National League into dust that year, 13-3, at Comiskey Park on the south side of Chicago, breaking an 11-year winning streak for the NL. Schmidt, who went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and an error, blamed inexperience in a new generation of stars.
John Kruk (1B/OF), 1991
It was the nineties, but it wasn’t 1993, so you know what that meant: These Phillies were not going to the playoffs. With a lineup the Inquirer called “human wreckage,” the Phillies face-planted into the all-star break at 25-29, having spent a chunk of the season without their lead-off hitter Lenny Dykstra or Dale Murphy contributing in a meaningful way.
On July 1, Kruk twisted his knee in batting practice, but he still made it to the SkyDome—”the stadium of the future”—in Toronto on July 9. There was a sense of transition around the game at the time, with entertainment elements (people were blown away by the hotel in the SkyDome) and technological advancements forcing retired players to look back on how the sport had changed. Jack Buck interviewed Joe DiMaggio before the game, and tried to imagine what it would have been like for DiMaggio to chase his 56-game hitting streak in age of modern television.
“Can you imagine what it would be like today, trying to set that record?” Buck asked. “They’d have been in the shower with a camera with you, wouldn’t they?”
Technology couldn’t fix a bum knee, however, and Kruk wound up being the only position player manager Lou Piniella didn’t put into the game for the National League. The Phillies’ sole rep got to pick up a bat at one point in the ninth inning, scheduled to pinch hit for Eddie Murray if two batters got on ahead of him, but that was as much of an impact on the NL’s 4-2 loss that Kruk was able to have.
Kruk, naturally, pointed out that there were plenty of other games in which he hadn’t played in his career, so this one didn’t really stand out to him. When asked what he would remember most about the game, Kruk told reporters, “We lost.”
It wasn’t Kruk’s last All-Star Game, and certainly not his most memorable one—and I think we can all agree that his worst game in Toronto was still ahead of him.
Others of the era: Curt Schilling (1998), Curt Schilling (1997), Ricky Bottalico (1996), Lenny Dykstra (1990)
Randy Wolf (P), 2003
It was back to the south side of Chicago in 2003, and Randy Wolf’s 10-4 record and 3.41 ERA were his ticket in.
Wolf’s excitement to be at the game was endearing, as he recorded the Home Run Derby with a handheld camera while standing next to Dusty Baker and his young son. It was the sort of honor, Wolf said, that you never think is going to happen to you, so he was drinking it in.
Some were, of course, not convinced that he belonged there. A poll submitted by the Allentown Morning Call asked fans to select who they felt was an equally (or more) deserving Phillies representative: Jim Thome, Mike Lieberthal, Kevin Millwood (“Forget Wolf, he’s the real ace,” they wrote), and Rheal Cormier. The poll was published next to a very large, bold number “17,” which was there to indicate the number of days until Eagles training camp started. So clearly, people in Philadelphia were excited to watch not only Wolf, but baseball in general.
The game itself had, once again, changed. This was the beginning of the league’s attempt to make the All-Star Game mean something to people beyond being the 17-day countdown mark for the NFL preseason. “This one counts,” FOX advertisements told us leading up to the game, referring to the new rule that the winner of the All-Star Game in July would determine which team got home field advantage in the World Series come October.
But it was Wolf who allowed the game’s first run, a Carlos Delgado RBI single that knocked in Ichiro, before the NL dropped a close one, 7-6. But that wasn’t even the most devastating loss of Wolf’s in the month of July. Months before in May, he had been bewitched by a young woman who had asked him directions in New York’s Grand Central Station. Having failed to get her name or number, it became a national search on Wolf’s behalf to track down this lady and finish what destiny had started (His teammate Ricky Ledee called “The Train Stalker”). But alas, he got nothing from the search beyond a few bizarre emails.
Not long before the 2003 All-Star Game in July, Wolf wound up back in New York, right back to the infamous spot where his path had crossed with fate. Perhaps she would be there once more, waiting for him with a red rose in one hand and the rest of their lives in front of them.
She was not. And he never found her. In fact, Wolf sounded pretty down about the attractiveness level of just about everybody on his train.
“The talent level definitely went down today,” he told Todd Zolecki of the Inquirer.
Take that, everybody on Randy Wolf’s commute!
Others of the era: Jimmy Rollins (2001), Mike Lieberthal (2000)
J.T. Realmuto (C), 2019
And so, we arrive at J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies catcher is a fine choice, and is certainly still one of the best catchers in the National League. I’ll be honest, I don’t feel like I know him very well. I can’t say I can recall what his voice even sounds like. I know he’s a terrific catcher and deserves to be considered among the league’s best, but I just can’t shake the feeling that the Phillies were supposed to have more objectively good players this year and send more than just a single selection from their roster who is only there because of the rules.
But, here we are. Realmuto is the sixth straight Phillies player since 2014 to be the sole representative of the team at the All-Star Game, matching the franchise record. This is the last season of the 2010s, so this decade will be one defined by singular appearances—and not even of the same guy—which feels pretty appropriate. The best thing to do is probably just watch the game, hope Realmuto does something cool, and then throw it all out and wait for a fresh start in the 2020s.
I’ve got a good feeling about this one.
Others of the era: Aaron Nola (2018), Pat Neshek (2017), Odubel Herrera (2016), Jonathan Papelbon (2015), Chase Utley (2014)