Thursday, October 22, 2009

Philadelphia’s Field of Dreams: 2009 Phillies Like 1929 Athletics

The 1989 movie “Field of Dreams” was about an Iowa farmer, Ray Kinsella, who was supernaturally commanded to build a baseball field on his farm. Once built, the 1919 Chicago White Sox were reincarnated to play on it.

There is a Field of Dreams in Philadelphia – like the movie, this field also has reincarnated a past team - because the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies seem to be a reincarnation of the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics.

They have several things in common.

The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies are the first professional baseball team in Philadelphia to win consecutive league championships since the Athletics accomplished this feat in 1929, 1930 and 1931. The Athletics took the American League pennant during those years – and two consecutive World Series championships in 1929 and 1930.

The similarities between the two do not end there though. They are eerily similar.

Like the ’09 Phillies, the ’29 Athletics featured a slugging first baseman, Jimmie Foxx, who later became a Hall of Famer. In fact, the team had five Hall of Famers – Foxx, catcher Mickey Cochrane, outfielder Al Simmons and pitcher Lefty Grove, as well as the owner/manager, Connie Mack.Both teams featured excellent pitching and defense as well as hitting. Both featured clutch hitting.

The perfect example of this was Game 4 of the 1929 World Series, as told by Sports Illustrated writer and baseball historian, William Nack, in his August 1996 Sports Illustrated story about the ’29 Athletics.Mr. Nack wrote, “By the middle of the seventh inning of Game 4, the Cubs were winning 8-0… Simmons …struck a thunderous home run that bounced on the roof of the pavilion in left, making the score 8-1.”

According to Nack, four successive Athletics got hits, including Philadelphian Jimmie Dykes, and the score was 8-3. Second baseman, Max Bishop, got a single and Dykes scored making it 8-4.Then outfielder “Mule” Haas hit an inside-the-park three run homer making it 8-7. The score was tied after Cochrane walked and scored after singles by Simmons and Foxx.

The next batter was hit by a pitch. This loaded the bases with Dykes coming to bat. He hit a ball off the wall in left field making the score 10-8. The Athletics staff pitched two scoreless innings in the eighth and the ninth and won the game.

The current Phillies roster has played many come from behind games – especially in championship games - including Jimmy Rollins’ double with two outs in Game 4, Monday night.

The current Phillies also resemble another Athletics team in one regard. This team was the first Philadelphia professional baseball club to win back-to-back pennants. The 1910 and 1911 Athletics featured one of the greatest infields of all time.

They were called the “$100,000 infield.” While not much by today’s standards, this was an era when there were no television revenues and a season’s attendance was less than a million.The infielders were Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank “Home Run” Baker.

McInnis played first base; Collins played second, Barry shortstop and Baker third. Collins, a Hall of Famer, had a lifetime batting average of.333 and is considered the greatest second baseman of all time. Baker’s nickname tells it all.

The 2009 Phillies infield of Ryan “Home Run” Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Pedro Feliz is approaching that status, if they have not already achieved it.However, the 2009 Phillies have one distinction that is uniquely their own.

This the first Phillies team ever - in the club’s 126 year history – to win consecutive pennants.Indeed, the Phillies’ history is dismal. They hold the record as having lost the most games of any American professional sports franchise.

The club only appeared twice in the World Series prior to 1980. It was that season – nearly 100 years after being formed – that they won their first World Series championship.

They only appeared twice more in the World Series from 1981 to 2007. They won the National League pennant in their 1983 centennial year – losing to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. They won the National League title again in 1993 - losing to the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series.

Finally, last year they won the 2008 World Series for only the second time in the team’s history. They did so behind two phenomenal pitchers, clutch hits and the greatest infield in the majors.

There is a sequence in “Field of Dreams” where Shoeless Joe Jackson, played by Ray Liotta, turns to Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner and asks: “Is this heaven?”Kinsella/Costner replies, “No, it’s Iowa.”Wednesday night the fans of the 2009 Phillies wondered if this were heaven – to which one can reply:

“No, it’s Philadelphia.”

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