Last month, Contributing Editor, Ron Carmean, wrote a very well-received blog about the baseball culture in the USA when he was just a young lad. Well, call it a double play if you want, Ron is still on his game…
THE WHIZ KIDS…A Dying Breed in More Ways Than One
By Ron Carmean
Most, if not all of you, don’t remember Stan Lopata. He played for the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. Of the 13 years he played MLB, the first 11(1948-58) were with the Phillies. Most of his career, he was a back-up catcher. But in one season, 1956, everything came together. He began wearing glasses and changed his batting stance significantly. (That change came after a suggestion from Rogers Hornsby, a Hall of Fame player and arguably the greatest right-handed hitter in the history of baseball.) In that year, Stan played 146 games, batted .267, but with 95 RBIs and 32 home runs –at the time, no right-handed Phillies hitter had ever hit that many in a season. That was one of two seasons he made the NL All-Star team.
He, like many players on the 1950 Phillies, will be remembered as members of the 1950 Whiz Kids –the nickname for the team because 21 of the 31players on the team that year, and 7 of 8 starters, were 29 or younger. Their best players (Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn) made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but in 1950 they were 23 years old.
Everyone who followed baseball KNEW the Brooklyn Dodgers would win the NL pennant and go on to the World Series. But by the beginning of September, the Phillies had a 7 game lead. Then players got injured and Curt Simmons (their second best pitcher) went into the Army (Korea). Their lead dropped to one game –with one game to play. It would be in Brooklyn. A loss would mean a three game play off –beginning in Brooklyn. But Robin Roberts pitched a complete game (10 innings),Dick Sisler hit a 2 run homer in the 10th inning, and in the bottom of the ninth inning a Brooklyn player was thrown out at home plate by Richie Ashburn to Stan Lopata
You need to understand what these men accomplished. From 1918 to 1948, the Phillies had losing seasons in 30 of 31 years. They finished last in the NL 16 times. Eleven times they lost 100+ games in a season. In these years, the losing was so pronounced that as time went by, this baseball team became the first team in United States history, in any sport, to lose 10,000 games.
Against this backdrop, these men and these boys, did something that had been done once in 68 years of Phillies history, and would not be done again for 30 more years. They won the National League pennant.
But where is Stan Lopata? He blocked the plate in the ninth inning of an important game. That’s all? When will Robert Redford or Kevin Kostner play him in another baseball movie? They won’t. That one play was the primary accomplishment Stan Lopata gave to that season. Who will remember that?
I will remember. I know that on June 14, 2013 the Whiz Kids had five players still on the right side of the grass. But on June 15, 2013, the number was down to 4. Stan Lopata had died. The childhood heroes are almost all gone now: Roberts, Ashburn, Ennis, Konstanty, Sisler, etc. I have lived long enough to see almost all of them come and play, and go. Putsy Caballero (who began his MLB career at age 16), Jackie Mayo, Bob Miller, and Curt Simmons are all who remain. And which one of them will become the Last of the Mohicans, excuse me, The Last of the Whiz Kids? Who will be our Chingachgook?
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with James Fenimore Cooper’s writings on American Indians, in particular THAT LAST OF THE MOHICANS, here is Wikipedia’s take on Chingachgook:
“Chingachgook was a fictional character in four of James Fenimore Cooper‘s five Leatherstocking Tales, including The Last of the Mohicans. Chingachgook was a lone Mohican chief and companion of the series’ hero, Natty Bumppo. In The Deerslayer, Chingachgook married Wah-ta-Wah, who bore him a son named Uncas, but died while she was still young. Uncas, who was at his birth “last of the Mohicans”, grew to manhood but was killed in a battle with the Huron warrior Magua. Chingachgook died as an old man in the novel The Pioneers, which makes him the actual “last of the Mohicans,” having outlived his son.”
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