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The Sad Story of a Summer Long Ago,
This review is from: The 1964 Phillies: The Story of Baseball's Most Memorable Collapse (Paperback)
In this book, John Rossi tells the story of the 1964 Phillies, most famous for being in first place with a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games to play, only to suffer a 10 game losing streak and end up in second place. This Phillies season did more than anything else to define the psyche of the Philadelphia sports fan, who is now conditioned to always expect the worst. I was a 9 year old Phillies fan that summer and have vivid memories of my father, grandfather and uncle enjoying the success of the team, led by manager Gene Mauch, in the days before playoffs when winning the National League pennant meant a trip to the World Series.
Rossi, a history professor at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, does an excellent job of providing the historical context for the season, describing the City of Philadelphia, the Phillies' losing tradition, the management of the team in the lean years after the Whiz Kids of 1950 won the pennant, and the emergence in the early 1960s of the Phillies under Gene Mauch. (However, throughout the book Rossi annoyingly refers to the Phillies' stadium as Shibe Park, when it had been renamed Connie Mack Stadium in 1953 and virtually no one called it by its former name in 1964.)
Rossi then goes through a game by game description of the season, including the fast start, grabbing first place in mid-July and holding on for 73 fateful days. The Phillies were having a magical summer, highlighted by Jim Bunning's perfect game on Father's Day, Johnny Callison's All-Star game winning homer, and Richie Allen's Rookie of the Year season. The author explains how all season long the Phillies really were playing above their heads, with a lineup that on paper was not the equal of the Reds, Giants and Cardinals, all of which were stocked with future Hall of Famers.
The ten game losing streak is then described in excruciating detail, including an analysis of what went wrong. For decades, the common wisdom was that Mauch cost the Phils the pennant by panicking and repeatedly starting Bunning and Chris Short on 2 days rest. This book shows that Mauch's genius was largely responsible for the Phillies 1964 success, and that the 10 game losing streak was an untimely combination of weak offense, uncharacteristically bad defense and an exhausted pitching staff. Once the losing began, the psychological burden on the Phils of failing to fulfill everyone's high expectations just seemed to steamroll the team.
Philadelphia has never fully recovered from 1964. At key times of the Phillies "dynasty" in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, whenever things would start to go wrong the spectre of 1964 would be raised. Some say that the roots of the current attitude of Philadelphia sports fans generally, and in particular Phillies fans, are traceable back to 1964, although rooting for the Phils with their history of losing more games than any team in any professional sport ever may also have something to do with it. Rossi's book brings the 1964 season back to life and with it the opportunity to relive both the summer of magic as well as the crushing collapse.