1996 Philadelphia Phillies
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1996 Philadelphia Phillies / Franchise: Philadelphia Phillies / BR Team Page
Managed by Jim Fregosi
History, Comments, Contributions
If the main highlight of your season is the fact that the All-Star Game was played in your home park, you might be a bad baseball team. Such was life for the 1996 Philadelphia Phillies, a nondescript bunch that started the season playing surprisingly competent ball, but quickly plummeted to the depths of the National League. The squad's 67-95 record was the worst in the Senior Circuit, and second-worst in the majors, ahead of only the 53-109 Detroit Tigers.
A disappointing end to what had started out as a promising 1995 season led many to believe the Phillies were ready to enter a rebuilding phase. General manager Lee Thomas obviously disagreed, instead opting to obtain low-priced veteran free agents such as Todd Zeile, Terry Mulholland, Pete Incaviglia, and Benito Santiago. Zeile, Incaviglia, and Santiago figured to add some power to a lineup that saw no player hit more than 11 home runs the previous season. Mulholland was signed to aid a pitching staff riddled with question marks. It was pitching, or lack thereof, that many people felt would be the team's downfall.
As the season got underway, the Phillies were a pleasant surprise, winning 16 of their first 27 games. They would slightly fall off that pace, but the Phils still managed to hover around .500 through the beginning of June. In fact, the team was never more than one game over or under the break-even mark between May 16 and June 5. The pitching staff was led by rookie Mike Grace, who won his first six decisions. After splitting two subpar seasons between the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants, Mulholland seemed rejuvenated in his second stint as a Phillie. Ricky Bottalico excelled after taking over as closer for the departed Heathcliff Slocumb, while Ken Ryan (acquired for Slocumb in a deal with the Boston Red Sox) was masterful setting up. The surprisingly strong work of the pitching staff help offset an offensive attack that stumbled out of the gate, save for quality contributions from Zeile and Jim Eisenreich.
Whatever good feelings emerged from the season's early days disappeared in a June swoon. After reaching the .500 mark for the final time on June 4, the Phillies proceeded to lose 19 of their next 23. An 8-2 stretch immediately afterwards pushed the team's record to 40-49, but 13 losses in the next 14 games locked the Phils in the NL East basement. They would stay there for the remainder of the season. The rebuilding process officially began on July 31 when Mulholland was traded to the Seattle Mariners for minor league shortstop Desi Relaford. After clearing waivers in late August, Zeile and Incaviglia were sent to the Baltimore Orioles for pitching prospects Calvin Maduro and Garrett Stephenson. The rest of the Phillies played out the string attempting to resemble a Major League Baseball team. To their credit, they did manage to go an even 13-13 in September, but by that point, few cared to notice. The team's poor play strained the longtime friendship between GM Thomas and manager Jim Fregosi, with the latter of the two openly complaining about the lack of quality personnel he was being given to manage. To no one's surprise, Fregosi was dismissed the day after the season ended. Thomas, who many thought would also be axed, was retained. After a monthlong search, 37-year-old Terry Francona, who had been Detroit's third base coach, became the club's new manager. Larry Bowa and Hal McRae (who eventually joined Francona's staff as the hitting instructor) had been considered the other top candidates.
In a season that saw 17 different players combine for 23 trips to the disabled list, finding strong individual performances was no easy task. Santiago blasted 30 homers in his only season as a Phillie, becoming the franchise's first player to reach that mark since Mike Schmidt in 1987. A broken foot cut Eisenreich's final season in Philadelphia a month short, but not before he hit .361. Zeile hit 20 homers and knocked in 80 before being traded. Gregg Jefferies hit .292, but missed two months with a thumb injury. Ruben Amaro, Jr. returned to the Phils after being released by the Toronto Blue Jays in May and hit .316. Kevin Stocker struggled to keep his average over .200 for much of the season and spent a month in the minors trying to rediscover his stroke, but a strong finish pushed him up to .254. Scott Rolen, the crown jewel of the farm system, debuted on August 1. He hit .254, but a broken wrist sidelined him for the final three weeks of the season. At that point, Rolen had 130 at-bats, the maximum allowed to retain his rookie status the following season. On a negative note, injuries ended the seasons of Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton almost before they began. After finishing 1995 strongly, Mark Whiten was a huge disappointment, batting .236 with seven homers before being released in June. Incaviglia, who returned to the Phillies after spending a year in Japan, belted 16 home runs, but hit just .234 before being dealt.
For the first time since 1945, no Phillies pitcher won in double figures. Curt Schilling, who missed the first six weeks of the season after offseason shoulder surgery, won nine games and led the league with eight complete games. Mulholland won eight games before being shipped to Seattle. Grace was 7-2 when an elbow injury cost him the remainder of the season and potentially the Rookie of the Year award. Bottalico saved 34 games and was the team's lone All-Star, while Ryan had a 2.43 ERA and eight saves. Ricardo Jordan and Jeff Parrett (yet another player back for a second stint) performed well in limited bullpen duty. Toby Borland had some bouts of inconsistency, but managed to go 7-3 in relief. Those strong performances were overshadowed by injuries and overall ineffectiveness. Tyler Green missed the entire season due to shoulder problems, while a myriad of injuries caused starters Sid Fernandez, Bobby Munoz, and David West to miss the majority of the campaign. Mike Mimbs, after a surprising rooke season, slumped to 3-9 with a 5.53 ERA. Mike Williams, pressed into a full-time starting role, was a disastrous 6-14 with a 5.44 ERA. Russ Springer went 3-10 while splitting time between the rotation and bullpen. Hot prospect Rich Hunter, rushed to the big leagues when there were no other alternatives, went 3-7 with a 6.49 ERA. Of the 54 players who wore a Phillies uniform in 1996, Hunter was one of ten who never played another Major League game beyond that season.
The 1996 season ended with the Philadelphia Phillies beginning the process of rebuilding. The long-term future of the club was unknown. For the short term, it looked as though things were going to get worse before they got better.
Awards and Honors
- All-Star: Ricky Bottalico