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50 Years Since the Collapse of 1964

September 27, 2014
Hugh Atkins

Hugh Atkins

It’s the top of the sixth inning in a scoreless game in Philadelphia. Cincinnati has a runner on third with two outs and their cleanup hitter is in the batter’s box. And then the unthinkable happens; the runner on third breaks for home. When the dust settles, the Reds lead 1-0. That would be the final score of the game.

It was September 21, 1964–50 years ago this week. The batter was Frank Robinson and the runner at third was Chico Ruiz. Robinson stepped to the plate with 27 home runs, 87 runs batted in, and a .303 average for the year. The loss should have been insignificant; but the steal of home by Ruiz ignited the biggest collapse in the history of baseball.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

Things were looking great for the Phillies going into the three-game series at Connie Mack Stadium against the Reds. The Phillies were comfortably in first place by six and a half games with just 12 left to play; the Reds and St. Louis Cardinals were tied distantly in second place. Even after Ruiz stole home, the Phillies had a five-and-a-half-game lead over the Reds and led the Cardinals, who were idle that day, by six. Then the slide began.

From an offensive standpoint Dick Allen (known in those days as Richie) and Johnny Callison led the Phillies’ attack in 1964. Allen hit .318 with 29 home runs and 91 RBIs to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Callison hit 31 homers and drove in 104 runs.

Jim Bunning anchored the pitching staff with a 19-8 record, a 2.63 earned run average, 219 strikeouts, and a perfect game against the Mets on April 21.

On September 22, the Reds beat the Phillies 9-2 to narrow the lead to four and a half games; the Cardinals kept pace by beating the New York Mets, but remained five games out with 11 to go.

The Reds completed the sweep on September 23, handing the Phillies their third straight loss and cutting the lead to three and a half games; the Cardinals failed to take advantage, losing to the Mets and remaining five games out. It was shaping up to be a two-team race between the Phillies and the Reds.

The big bats of the Milwaukee Braves came to Philadelphia and continued the Phillies’ misery. On September 24, the Braves handed the Phillies their fourth straight loss, beating Bunning 5-3. The Reds were idle, so the Phillies lost only half a game in the standings and still led by three. But the Cardinals swept a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates to pull within three and a half of the Phils.

On September 25, the Braves beat the Phillies 7-5 in 12 innings to run Philadelphia’s losing streak to five. Meanwhile the Reds swept a doubleheader from the Mets and cut the Phillies’ three-game lead in half. The Reds also gained a half game on the Cardinals, who again beat the Pirates and were now only two and a half games out of first place.

The Phillies lost their sixth straight game on September 26 as they fell to the Braves 6-4. Cincinnati beat the Mets and St. Louis beat the Pirates so the Phillies lead was down to half a game over the Reds and a game and a half over the Cardinals. It would be the Phillies’ last day at the top of the standings.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

September 27, 1964 is a day that lives in infamy for Philadelphia Phillies fans. The Phillies had their ace, Jim Bunning, on the mound and Callison hit three home runs. But Milwaukee out slugged Callison and beat the Phillies 14-8; it was Philadelphia’s seventh straight loss. Meanwhile, the Reds swept a doubleheader from the Mets and the Cardinals shutout the Pirates. In the span of a week, the Phillies had blown a six-and-a-half-game lead. The Reds were in first place by a game, the Phillies were in second, and the Cardinals were a game and a half back in third.

With five games left the Phillies still had time to win the pennant heading into a crucial three-game series with the Cardinals. On September 28, the losing streak reached eight as the Phils lost 5-1. The Cardinals slipped past the Phillies and trailed the idle Reds by only a game.

On September 29, the Cardinals beat Philadelphia 4-2, handing the Phillies their ninth straight loss. The Pirates shutout the Reds 2-0, leaving Cincinnati tied with St. Louis in first place with the Phillies in third place a game and a half back.

On September 30, the Cardinals beat the Phillies 8-5 to complete a series sweep; the Phillies’ losing streak was now at 10. The Pirates shutout the Reds 1-0 in a 16-inning affair, so the Cardinals held a one-game lead over Cincinnati and led Philadelphia by two and a half. Even after a 10-game losing streak, The Phillies still had a shot at finishing the season in a tie with St. Louis. But the Phils needed to win their last two games against the Reds and hope the Cardinals lost their final three games.

On October 1, the Reds finally beat the Pirates and pulled to within a half game of the Cardinals, who like the Phillies, were idle that day. The next day, the misery finally ended as the Phillies beat the Reds 4-3. The Cardinals lost to the Mets 1-0, so Philadelphia was still breathing. They had to win their one remaining game and hope the Mets could keep beating the Cardinals.

On Saturday October 4, for some reason, the Phillies and Reds were idle. The Cardinals did their part to keep hope alive in Cincinnati and Philadelphia as they got trounced 15-5 by the Mets. Going into the last day of the season, the Cardinals and Reds were tied for first, one game ahead of the Phillies. If the Phillies could beat the Reds and the Mets could knock off the Cardinals one more time, there would be a three-way tie for first place.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

The Phillies did their part and beat the Reds 10-0 on a shutout by Bunning. But the Cardinals beat the Mets 11-5 to win the pennant. The collapse was complete.

Anytime a team goes into a losing streak there is plenty of blame to go around, but Richie Allen certainly had nothing to do with the Phillies’ downfall; he hit .429 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in Philadelphia’s final 12 games. Callison hit four homers and drove in 10 runs down the stretch, but he hit just .250 and three of his four home runs came in one game. Jim Bunning was the losing pitcher in three of the 10 straight games the Phillies lost. In those three losses he gave up 24 hits and 15 earned runs in only 12 1/3 innings.

The collapse of 1964 kept the Phillies out of the World Series, which has to still bother Allen and Bunning since they never made it to the Fall Classic. (Callison, who died in 2006, never made it to the World Series, either.)

As the current baseball season comes to a close, Phillies fans should be commemorating the 50th Anniversary of a National League pennant. Instead they likely are remembering the worst collapse in baseball history.

A Brief Aside…

There may be some debate about which team actually suffered the worst collapse in baseball history. There are those who will tell you that both the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox experienced worse collapses in 2011, but that just isn’t so. The Braves led the race for a National League Wildcard spot by four and a half games with 12 games left in the season, which is the point at which things started to roll downhill for the Phillies in 1964. The Red Sox held a four-game lead for the American League Wildcard with 12 games remaining. Besides the fact that the Braves and the Red Sox held smaller leads than did the Phillies at the time of their respective collapses, the Braves and Red Sox were trying to hold onto Wildcard spots; the Phillies collapse cost them the National League pennant and a trip straight to the World Series.

To compare missing out on a Wildcard spot in the postseason to not making the World Series is like saying Albert Pujols, Reggie Jackson, and Mickey Mantle all hit 18 postseason home runs without noting that Mantle hit every one of his homers in the World Series. It just isn’t the same thing. In fact, it’s not even close.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 27, 2014 2:37 pm

    Great post…thanks for sharing.


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