Sunday, July 7, 2013

Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats: Mitch Williams


Don't forget to check out the other articles in the "Forgiving Baseball's Scapegoats" Series: Fred Merkle, Hack Wilson, Johnny Pesky, Ralph Branca , Leon Durham, Donnie Moore and Bill Buckner

The magical season was over. The Phillies' bench was quiet. It was an odd thing for this group who never seemed to shut up. Rounding the bases for the Blue Jays was Paul Molitor. He had played in the league since 1977. He had been a rookie of the year. By the end of his career he would be a seven time All Star playing nearly every infield position and, along with Robin Yount and Jim Gantner, was the beginning middle and end of the history of the Milwaukee franchise. The previous winter he had made the almost impossible decision to leave Milwaukee for the chance to win a World Series. He had shown the world what everyone in Milwaukee had known for years. He was one of the best hitters the game has ever seen. In the bottom of the 5th inning of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series he drove a 1-1 pitch from Terry Mulholland deep into the left field seats and that, everyone was sure, was the nail in the Phillies' coffin.

When the Phillies' big hitters, Daulton, Eisenreich and Thompson, went down in order in the top of the 6th the requiem bells were drowning out the Liberty Bell in the city of brotherly love. As the Top of the 7th started with the bottom of the order coming to the plate and the Phillies down by four runs it was just a matter of formality. Then, as it had all year long, the magic returned. Kevin Stocker opened the inning with a ten pitch at bat, fouling off four pitches and working a walk out of Dave Stewart. Mickey Morandini singled and Stocker, ever the spark plug, took the extra base. Suddenly something was brewing.

Walking up to the plate was the heart of the Phillies. If anyone represented the toughness and passion of this team it was the man they called "Nails" (as in tough as). If Molitor's Home Run was supposed to drive the nails in the coffin, Nails drove them right back out with a three run Home Run to right field. Tie game. Dykstra would not allow this thing to end. Not if he had anything left to say about it. Seven batters later and the Phillies had amazingly batted around and scored five runs in the inning.

Now not only were they still alive, they were only 9 outs away from forcing Game 7. Rickey Henderson, Devon White and Molitor went in order in the 7th and it was just six outs left. Toronto loaded the bases in the 8th but Larry Andersen, yes the Larry Andersen Phillies fans hear every game, got out of the inning without allowing a run and it was only three outs to go for Game 7.

Dave Hollins, Darren Daulton and Jim Eisenreich went down in order in the top of the 9th and now it was time for Phillies fans to follow whatever routine they had followed all year long. Whatever it was, it had gotten them this far. Some crossed their fingers. Some held their breath. Some covered their eyes or paced the floor or sat and prayed and some just couldn't take the stress and left the room altogether getting updates from the braver fans who watched what actually unfolded.

Rickey Henderson stepped in to hit and "Wild Thing " was sure this was the hitter that would win the game. He would need to get ahead of Rickey. It was life and death to fall behind this guy so the first pitch had to be perfect. BALL ONE. It was a small thing but now he was worried. BALL TWO. Now he was sweating. BALL THREE. Now he was screwed. BALL FOUR and Rickey was on board. No one out. The best lineup in a long time all waiting to get a shot. Devon White. Molitor. Carter. Olerud. Alomar. It was a modern day Murderer's Row but all Williams could think of was "Rickey is going to steal".

Williams focused on Devon White but was clearly distracted by Rickey. Four times in White's nine pitch at bat Williams threw over to first. Each time Rickey got back easily. White flew out to deep left-center field. Molitor stepped in. No one could remember anyone hitting this well in a postseason series. He already had 11 hits (2 doubles, 2 triples, 2 Home Runs), 10 runs, 8 RBI , 2 walks and zero strike out. Despite all that, if he failed here this would be the at bat everyone remembered.

Williams was still distracted by Rickey. He threw over to first and Rickey was back easily again. It was fun for Rickey. This was what he loved. He would inch off the base. Get into a low squat. Then wait, motionless, waiting until the pitcher's eyes were on him. Then he would lean slightly. The legs twitched. No one in the stadium knew if he was going or not. Maybe it was getting a better foothold. Maybe it was a lean towards second. Maybe he wanted to see the pitcher's move to get the timing. Only Rickey knew. Williams stared him down then went to the plate. Ball one. Williams was frustrated. Almost as if Rickey could turn a stolen base into a three run Home Run. The pattern repeated. He delivered home again and Molitor fouled it off and the dance started all over again. This time Molitor delivered and drove a single to Center field. Dykstra reached the ball quickly and Henderson held at second.

Now even the Phillies fans with nerves of steel cringed. Joe Carter approached the plate and if the Jays wanted anyone at the plate it was Carter. Big Joe was the heart and soul of this team. He was the leader. The veteran. The clutch hitter. Carter took ball one, then ball two. This was a hitter's count anyone would want. He took strike one then swung through strike two.

The 2-2 pitch,the fifth of the at bat, came in. Williams released. Put everything into the pitch. His glove hand landed on the mound giving him balance. His back leg swung around and he was almost laying on the mound. By the time that foot hit the ground the ball was headed in the opposite direction. It was high. It was moving fast and it was going very very far. Williams didn't wait. He walked off the mound. Head down. He gave one last quick glance over his shoulder just to make sure he wasn't wrong. He was right and as his head dropped again Joe Carter went into orbit. Fireworks burst everywhere in all colors. Carter jumped like a ten year old kid and flew around the bases to be lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates at home plate. It was a shocking, amazing, exciting end to a great series.

Before the ball landed in the Skydome seats Philadelphia was sure that if it were not for Mitch Williams the team would have won the World Series. There are plenty of reasons you can't blame Mitch Williams and here are just a few:

1. Mitch Williams was called the Wild Thing for a reason, really for many reasons. When he followed through on a pitch his body flew one way, his arm went another, his hair flew in a completely other direction and every swing from the opposing batters made the entire city of Philadelphia gasp. At least that is how history has told us we all acted when Wild Thing appeared in a game. The way we understand that season now Williams didn't know where the ball was going when he threw it and every appearance was an adventure. The reality is Williams had a total of 6 blown saves in 49 attempts. He also saved 43 games. That was good enough for 7th in the league.

2. Most of the Phillies didn't hit. While Molitor (.500), Alomar (.480), Tony Fernandez (.333) Pat Borders and Devon White (.292) seemed to be smacking the ball everywhere for the Blue Jays, the Phillies hitters struggled. Of the Phillies regulars only Dykstra (.348), Kruk (.348), Duncan (.345) and Milt Thompson (.294) had regular success against Toronto pitching. The key role players of the Phillies, the ones who got them there (along with Darren Daulton) failed to hit the way they had against the Braves to get Philadelphia to the World Series. Daulton (.217), Eisenreich (.231), Hollins (.261), Rickey Jordan (.200), Incaviglia (.143), Morandini (.200) and Stocker (.211) all failed to hit in the clutch the way they had in the NLCS. The Blue Jays were also much more efficient. The Phillies worked 34 walks out of the Blue Jays but struck out 50 times. The Blue Jays worked 25 walks and struck out only 30 times. The Phillies left 54 runners on base while the Blue Jays left only 39.

3. The entire Phillies pitching staff failed. There is no way to deny Williams had a very poor series but to pin the entire seres loss on one arm is ridiculous. Williams made three appearances, blew two save opportunities, lost two games and saved one. He allowed six earned runs in 2 2/3 innings pitched for a 20.25 ERA. That wasn't the worst of it all. Larry Andersen (12.25 ERA), Tommy Greene (27.00), Danny Jackson (7.20), Terry Mulholland (6.75), Ben Rivera (27.00) and David West (27.00) all had tremendously high ERA's.

4. The Blue Jays had the better team. The 1993 Phillies team is legendary in Philadelphia and provided Phillies fans the first positive baseball memories in ten years. Those memories would need to last for another 10 years as the organization struggled to regain the magic of '93. There is no denying that the Phillies team put it all together to stun everyone. The Blue Jays were built to be the Yankees of the 1990's before the Yankees of the 1990's. Their starting line up was full of All-Stars, MVP's, Cy Young winners, legends and future Hall of Fame members. John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, Tony Fernandez, Joe Carter, Rickey Henderson, Devon White and Paul Molitor were all clicking on all cylinders while Juan Guzman, Dave Stewart, a young Pat Hentgen and Al Leiter were pitching at the top of their game. If the 1994 strike had not interrupted the season there is no telling how long their run would have lasted.

Legendary Phillies outfielder Garry Maddox made his Major League debut for the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday, April 25, 1972. What future Hall of Fame pitcher did he face off against?
Email me your answer or leave your guess in the comments section.


  1. This game brings back bad memories. The main thing I remember is in game 6, I thought the Phils manager ( I have no idea who it was) started to make his pitching changes too early. Every reliever seemed to pitch an inning sooner than normal. I remember saying at the time when he made the first move that the manager just lost the series. Correct me if I'm wrong.

    My answer to the trivia question is Steve Carleton. 1972 was a fantastic year for him. Remember coming home from my honeymoon and he was still winning.


    1. The Phils manager was Jim Fregosi. Similar to Gene Mauch, Fregosi was often accused of over managing games. The problem was that the Phils pitchers were exhausted. The inflated ERAs of most of the staff is a good indication of that.

      Carlton is a great guess. You will have to wait for next week's article to see if you are correct. Carlton went 27-10 for the Phillies in 1972. The team won only 59-97 meaning Carlton won 46 % of the team games. For a great book on the 1972 Phillies check out "Drinking Coffee with A Fork: The Story of Steve Carlton and the 1972 Phillies" by Steve Bucci and Dave Brown.

  2. Do you think they just placed blame on him because of the mullet? :)

    Trivia guess: Juan Marichal?

  3. besides when the jays beat the phils, when was the last time a canadian team won the world series?

    nice post,


    1. There are only two Canadian World Series titles. The Jays won back to back World Series in 1992 (beathing the Braves) and 1993 (beating the Phillies).
      Montreal was the first Canadian team in the majors joining the NL in 1969. They made their first (and only) playoff appearance in 1981. They beat the Phillies in the first round and lost to the Dodgers in the NLCS (this was before regular division series but a mid season strike caused a split season and a Divisional Playoff). They were a competitive team for several years but never made it back to the playoffs.

      Toronto entered the league in 1977 and played in the AL East. They first made the playoffs in 1985 and lost to the Royals (it was the first year the playoffs were best of seven and they blew a 3 games to 1 lead). They nearly made it back in 1987 but collapsed in the last week of the season. They made it to the playoffs again in 1989, losing to the A's in the ALCS and 1991 losing to the Twins in the ALCS. They won it all in 1992 and 1993 and have not been back to the playoffs since.


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