Let’s begin with a trivia question.
How many Phillies pitchers have ever won a Cy Young Award?
O.K., so you got Steve Carlton (4). Good. Anyone else?
Let me give you another minute…
Give up? How about John Denny in 1983. This is surely one of the Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons of all time.
Let’s talk about John Denny and the ’83 Phils.
In 1982, Steve Carlton won the last of his four career Cy Young Awards. Apparently, his teammate John Denny was paying attention. The ’83 Phils were a very good team, going 90-72 that season. They beat the Dodgers in the N.L.D.S., but lost to the Orioles (remember when the Orioles were good?) in just five games in the World Series. It was Denny’s first season with the Phillies.
Denny had previously won an ERA title pitching for the Cardinals in 1976, so he did have a history of effectiveness prior to coming over to Philadelphia. But 1983 turned out to be the best season in his career. At the age of 30, he posted a record of 19-6 with a 2.37 ERA. The wins were the most in the N.L. His ERA was second best.
He pitched 242 innings, had a WHIP of 1.162, fanned a career high 139 batters, and surrendered only nine home runs all year. His 0.3 home runs per nine innings led the league.
Strangely, he made eight errors, the most of any N.L. pitcher.
Outside of 1983, Denny was one of those pitchers who never enjoyed a great deal of run support in his career. In ’76, for example, his record was just 11-9 in 30 starts despite winning the ERA title. And in 1984, the year after he won his Cy Young, his record was just 7-7 in 22 starts. His ERA in ’84 was 2.45.
In his 13 year career, Denny posted a modest record of 123-108. He managed only seven seasons of 10 or more victories.
While some pitchers are just getting started at about age 30 (Dazzy Vance, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer), others hit a wall. At age 33, just three years after winning his lone Cy Young Award, John Denny retired from baseball.
So who is the only other Phillies pitcher to win a Cy Young Award?
The answer (enjoy an extra one of your favorite beverages tonight on me if you got this one correct) is Steve (Bedrock) Bedrosian in 1987.
Other than to say that this was certainly the single most absurd Cy Young choice in the history of the award, I won’t spend too much time of Steve Bedrosian. He won the award that year because The Save, the single most overrated stat baseball has ever developed, was just coming into vogue back then.
Bedrosian saved 40 games in ’87, the only time in his career that he would lead the league in saves, and the only time he would ever top 30 saves in a season. The Phils were just 80-82 that year, so I guess having saved half of his teams wins impressed a great many voters that year.
But we’re not here to talk about Steve Bedrosian.
The (other) player on the1987 Phils who had one of this team’s Best Forgotten Seasons was Juan Samuel.
Sorry, Mets fans. You can come up from under the table now.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, bringing up Juan Samuel’s name without warning to a Mets fan is akin to a soldier who suffers from PTSD suddenly hearing a car back-firing.
You see, on June 18, 1989 (exactly 21 years ago today), Juan Samuel was traded from the Phils to the Mets for Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell. This obviously qualifies as one of the worst trades in team history. Dykstra became an integral part of the Phillies for the next several years, helping lead them to the 1983 World Series.
Roger McDowell was a competent relief pitcher for the Mets 1986 World Championship team.
Juan Samuel was, uhm, Juan Samuel.
Adding insult to injury, Samuel only played on the Mets for the second half of ’89, posted a horrific .228 / .299. / .300 triple slash, then the Mets traded him away to the Dodgers.
So why am I including him here? Because in 1987, Juan Samuel had one very impressive season. Playing second base that year (in later years he would move to the outfield), he played in 160 games, leading the N.L. in plate appearances (726), at bats (655), and triples (15). He also led the league in extra base hits with 80.
His power numbers represented career highs. He hit 28 home runs and drove in an even 100. He also scored 113 runs and had 35 stolen bases. He had 329 total bases, and made the All-Star team.
He also struck out more times than anyone else in the league (162). The player that Samuel most resembles is a young Alfonso Soriano, when Soriano played for the Yankees.
Samuel was one of those middle infielders who had good range, but who also made quite a few errors. He led all second baseman in put outs with 374, and his range factor of 5.05 was 4th best in the league. But his 18 errors were also the most of any second baseman in the N.L.
He led all second baseman in errors three times in four years, which is why by 1989, he had been moved to the outfield. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much of a feel for that position, either, so the Dodgers moved him back to second for a while in the early ’90’s.
Juan Samuel ended up having a respectable major league career, being named to three All-Star teams, twice leading his league in triples, and stealing almost 4oo bases. He hit over 160 homers and 100 triples, and scored over 100 runs three times.
Just don’t ever say his name in front of a Mets fan without warning, or it could get real ugly.