Wednesday, November 25, 2015

No Offense, Philadelphia

Think this Phillies offense needs help? Just be glad you weren't around in 1942.

No Offense, Philadelphia

Raul Ibanez is hitting just .230 this season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Raul Ibanez is hitting just .230 this season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

OK, granted these 2011 Phillies go through stretches where it appears their offensive strategy must have been devised by Thomas Wolfe -- "You Can't Go Home Again". Though we all suspected that without Jayson Werth and with Chase Utley and Domonic Brown banged up, runs were sometimes going to be scarce, this lineup shouldn't be as bad as it frequently looks. And, historically, it really isn't.

Sure, it's tough watching gritty pitching performances by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels wasted because of a lack of run support. But these Phillies have averaged 732 runs a season since 2006 and even in an offensively trying 2011 are scoring 4.3 a game. That ought to be enough support for quality pitchers like Halladay, Lee and Hamels. Remember, Steve Carlton somehow managed to win 27 games with a '72 Phils team that scored just 503 runs that season, an average of only 3.1.

But, when it comes to pathetic offenses, even those '72 Phils can't compare to the 1942 Phillies, a club so anemic they wouldn't have drawn a second-look from Vlad the Impaler.

If the Internet had existed in that first full year of America's involvement in World War II, it would have imploded beneath the collective weight of this city's baseball torment. So bad were the Phillies and A's that they must have come close to inducing civic hari-kari (Harry Caray?). If nothing else, their combined 97-208 record undoubtedly boosted area enlistments. The last-place Phils were a franchise-worst 42-109, while Connie Mack's American League A's, also last, went 55-99. Still, in comparison with the Phillies, those A's were a Murderers Row, crossing home plate 549 times.

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Raul Ibanez batting .230

The '42 Phillies offense -- one of the few times in baseball history when that last word's alternate meaning would have been much more appropriate -- was historically inept. Manager Hans Lobert's team scored 394 runs in 151 games, threatening the sport's all-time record for fewest in a season, set by the 1908 St. Louis Browns with 372. Those Phillies scored an average of 2.6 runs a game. In nearly a third of their contests, they scored one or no runs. They were shut out 16 times and scored only once on 36 other occasions. They were last in the National League in runs, home runs, walks, stolen bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, next-to-last in doubles and batting average. Typically, the gap between runs scored and runs allowed is somewhere in the 100-200 range. For the '42 Phils, who allowed 706 runs, it was an astounding 312.

No Phillie hit 10 home runs, drove in 60 or stole 10 bases. Third baseman Pinky May batted .238 with no homers and 18 RBIs in 115 games. Shortstop Bobby Bragan's numbers for 109 games were .218, 2, 15. Catcher Bennie Warren hit .209 with seven homers and 20 RBIs. The only regular with half-decent production was outfielder Danny Litwhiler, who had nine homers, 56 RBIs and a .271 average.

All of the other unsightly numbers the Phillies compiled that season make sense in context: They finished in eighth place, 62 1/2 games behind the pennant-winning Cardinals, 18 1/2 games in back of the seventh-place Boston Braves. Those Braves, by the way, scored the second fewest runs, though their 515 dwarfed the Phillies total. The Phils drew -- get this -- 230,183 fans to Connie Mack Stadium, an average of 3,111 a game, barely enough to keep the muggers busy.

One of the least surprising statistics about that Phillies season was that its ownership was broke. Owner Gerry Nugent had to borrow money from the league to send his club to spring training -- and apparently there wasn't enough cash to bring the bats along. By season's end, the NL had taken the team away from Nugent, whose previous corporate experience had come as a shoe salesman. The Phils were sold to New York lumber merchant William Cox, whose claims to fame were, in order: he tried to change the team's name to the Blue Jays, an effort that makes far more sense when you consider the debacle of the '42 Phillies; he gambled on baseball; and he was stripped of the team himself after one season.

So, the next time Raul Ibanez grounds out to second with runners in scoring position, remember that things could be a whole lot worse.

Inquirer Sports Columnist
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About this blog
Reporter Frank Fitzpatrick, a 2001 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is covering his eighth Olympic Games and has yet to win a medal in anything except caffeine consumption. He has also been the beat writer for the Phillies, Eagles and Penn State football.

Frank Fitzpatrick Inquirer Sports Columnist
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