Morandini working way back through Phils' system
Mickey Morandini may not have been the biggest star of the 1993 Phillies. He may not have had the most eye-catching statistics. He could have been easily overlooked on a roster overstuffed with outsized characters.
But the quiet, slender second baseman had a knack for coming up big at fork-in-the-road moments for one of the most memorable teams in franchise history, a team celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
There was the game in Los Angeles on the last day of April when he flashed across second base to turn Mike Sharperson's apparent game-winning hit into a double play, stopping Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda in his tracks as he rushed out to celebrate. There was the July 10 grand slam against the Giants in the eighth inning at Veterans Stadium, breaking open what had been a close game.
And, perhaps most crucially, there was clinching Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the heavily-favored Braves. In the first inning, he hit a line drive off the shin of Atlanta starter Greg Maddux. He was retired but Maddux, who won the second of his four straight Cy Young Awards that season, wasn't the same after that. Maddux ended up allowing six runs (five earned) in 5 2/3 innings, with Morandini literally knocking him out of the game with a two-run triple in the bottom of the sixth.
These days, Moranidini is in his third season as a Minor League manager in the Phillies system, his second with the Class A Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws.
"I love it. I love being back in the organization," Morandini said. "I love teaching kids. Even when I wasn't in the organization, I was coaching high school and working with kids. I have three boys, so I've obviously worked with them all my life. It's fun to be part of this organization. It's a good time to be part of this organization."
Morandini played his last big league game while with the Toronto Blue Jays, on Oct. 1, 2000. He was out of professional baseball, except for two stints as a Spring Training guest instructor, until becoming a Minor League manager three years ago. But that was by design.
"I wanted to take time off and relax a little bit and spend time with the kids. They were real young at the time. So I took a few years off and then I got the opportunity to coach high school," the 46-year-old explained. "(Ruben Amaro Jr., then assistant general manager) contacted me fairly early when he took over and asked me if I'd be interested in coming back to the organization and do something in the Minor Leagues at that time. And I wasn't quite ready to be away.
"About three years ago, I knew that I'd been away for a while and time might be running short here. So I gave Ruben a call to see if there were any openings. And there was an opportunity. It worked out good, and I'm glad I made the call."
Morandini smiled when asked for his best memories of that magical '93 season.
"There are a lot of them. Just getting off to the start (17-5 in April) that we got off to. It was just a tremendous year. It was a dream year. You couldn't write a better script for us. To come out of spring with people picking us last and to be in first place from Day 1, that was amazing. It was just a fun year, the funnest year that I had in baseball. And to be able to do it in front of 50,000 or 60,000 screaming Phillies fans? That was great."
Morandini smiled when he talked about the defensive play at Dodger Stadium.
"Watching Tommy Lasorda going ballistic in the dugout. That was a good one. He was walking back and forth," he said with a laugh.
And, of course, Game 6.
"Any time you hit a line drive off a pitcher, that's memorable. But to do it in a big game like that, I'd like to think I took a big part of his game away. I think he was hurting after that and I think it affected him. That was a big part of that game, and I was fortunate he hung a changeup to me there late in the game and I was able to get a big hit for us," Morandini said.
As much as Morandini likes what he's doing now, naturally, he'd like to advance one day.
"I want to work my way up the organization. Hopefully I'll be able to do that," he said. "I want to try and learn as much as I can. There are a lot of great people down here that I can learn from. I've learned a lot about catching from [coordinator] Ernie Whitt. I learned a lot about pitching from [coordinator] Gorman Heimueller and my pitching coaches. So just keep learning as much as I can and hopefully the organization will see me as someone who can take that next step and keep moving up. The plan is to be in the big leagues again."