I hopped in an Uber Sunday night, right after I’d spent three hours at a radio station complaining about the ills of the world. Drug-addled mothers who leave their babies in motel rooms, affirmative action policies that pit one minority against another, Democrats who are so desperate to win back seats they’re willing to fund the campaigns of anti-abortion candidates.
Three hours wasn’t nearly enough. But I wanted to spend the half hour between the studio and my Delco home with some tranquillity, so I settled into the backseat and buried my face in my recently cracked iPhone. And at exactly 11:10 p.m., I saw it: Darren Daulton had died.
I hadn’t really thought of him in years, even though his rugged square jaw and movie-star looks filled my PG-rated fantasies in the 1990s. I was less a Phillies fan than a Daulton fan back then, enamored of the handsomest fellow (sorry, Cole) ever to wear the uniform.
I like baseball, and I really liked the 1980 and 2008 teams that won the championships, but most of what has happened with the Phillies over the years is a red-and-white blur for me. Unlike football, which is in my blood, baseball is a pleasant diversion that sometimes pays great dividends.
And, yet, I always paid attention to Dutch, mostly because he was Adonis-gorgeous but also because he was a really nice guy. He had the gritty street charm of the Philadelphia ruffian, a Rocky Balboa with Mel Gibson looks. I have no idea what his stats were and barely knew the position he played, but I could definitely pick him out of a crowd. Unlike Lenny Dykstra, who always looked as if he was about to squirt tobacco juice in your eye, Daulton was a gentleman in pinstripes.
The fact that he was Hall-of-Fame good and that he got us a National League championship in 1993 — and almost a World Series title — was beside the point (which is why you will never see me getting a job at ESPN).
All of this was going through my mind in the back of that Uber, along with the fact that Daulton was 55. I’m 55. Death should not be coming for someone who has miles left to travel, and yet it does. It’s a mundane tragedy.
But in Daulton’s case, it’s an achingly familiar one, and, in a way, uniquely Philadelphian. Some deaths touch us more than others, and Dutch’s has that quality. So did the death of Eagle Jerome Brown, one of my favorite players of all time, who was killed 25 years ago this summer in a freak car accident. So did the death of television journalist Jessica Savitch, whose biography, Almost Golden, I was engrossed in last weekend.
My Uber driver, Mark, was a nice fellow, but he was born the year Jerome Brown died, and he was a baby when Daulton took us to the World Series. I told him to google “Reggie White near Jerome Brown” on YouTube so he could see the teary memorial one great player gave to another, but I could tell he wasn’t even clear on who Reggie was.
I shouldn’t be surprised. History is written on water these days and evaporates before it can be written on our hearts. Still, I was a little shocked that a kid who said he “bled green” was shaky on our heroes. We were on more comfortable territory when I mentioned Michael Vick, Allen Iverson, and Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz. I suppose I should cut him a break, but I never saw Chuck Bednarik play, and yet I feel him in my bones. That’s the Philadelphia way.
And so it is with Daulton. For those who can remember the smiles and the exhilaration, the glory and the ignominy, of being in Philadelphia in the high times and the low, he will remain etched in the granite of our memory.
And we Philadelphians of a certain age and a certain time have very long memories.