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Despite falling short, 1964 Phils were beloved

Fifty years is a long time. It changes perspectives and plays tricks with the memory.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, the Phillies flew home from Cincinnati after the final game of the regular season. They received a rousing reception when they landed, an expression of appreciation for a club that far exceeded expectations by winning 92 games and providing a summer of thrills.

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"At the airport, there were lots of people there, cheering us," said Bobby Wine, then the team's 25-year-old shortstop.

It had been quite a season. Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game against the Mets on Father's Day. Johnny Callison homered to win the All-Star Game. The team turned three triple plays. It was widely considered a successful year, even though the Phillies squandered a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to play and missed going to the World Series, which would have been their first since 1950.

That point of view has undergone a radical revision. The team's inability to hold on to a substantial advantage with a handful of games remaining has become the benchmark against which all other September fades are measured. It is even considered by many to be the event that left such an indelible mark on the city's fans that it accounts for their national boo-bird reputation.

Wine, who was also a coach for the 1980 Phils team that won the first World Series in franchise history, noted that the whole sequence was much more low key at the time.

"Every day, we'd come back in the clubhouse and we'd just sit at our lockers and say, 'Well, we'll get 'em tomorrow.' And [manager Gene Mauch] was the same way," Wine said. "Normally, you could hear those shower shoes coming down that narrow hallway from his office, and we could tell what kind of mood he was in. But he would just come by and say, 'We'll get 'em tomorrow.' And that was it. It was real calm. No crazy speeches or yelling or hollering."

After beating the Dodgers in Los Angeles on September 20, the Phillies were 6 1/2 games up on both the Reds and the Cardinals. Philadelphia came home and lost three straight to Cincinnati, slicing its advantage to 3 1/2 over the Reds and five over the Cards. The Milwaukee Braves were next in to Connie Mack Stadium, and they swept the four-game series. Incredibly, in a week, the Phils had gone from a commanding lead to a game out of first place with five left to play.

Everything that had gone right in what was being called "The Year of the Blue Snow" suddenly started going wrong.

"We couldn't get anybody out. We couldn't do anything. We started not getting the guy in, not getting the guy over," Wine said. "Man on third base, less than two outs, a pop fly wouldn't fall in. We didn't turn the double play, and the next guy would get a base hit. It just seemed like all that stuff was happening.

"I honestly don't feel like it was panic. It didn't seem like any panic set in at all. Sure, we all had plans to get that big World Series money. But I don't think it was ever talked about that much. It wasn't brought up the way it is today, with all the [media] coverage. I don't think there was any of that talk. We had the lead. It was just one of those magical years that we thought was going to happen. And then it didn't."

Considering so many things were going awry, Wine doesn't fault Mauch for his decision to pitch Bunning and Chris Short on two days of rest down the stretch.

"A lot of people blame Gene for pitching Bunning and Short, Bunning and Short, Bunning and Short," Wine said. "I didn't get involved in the rotation stuff that much, but Bunning and Short were our two best pitchers. No doubt about it. Trying to win a game, I would have wanted one of those guys on the mound, too.

"We just didn't get it done. We didn't play very well. We missed popups. They plays we were making all year, all of a sudden we weren't making. The double play we got all year didn't happen. But we still thought we were OK, we were fine. It just never happened."

The losing streak climbed to 10 after a sweep in St. Louis. The Phillies were in third place, 2 1/2 out, but still mathematically alive, going into Cincinnati to play the final two games on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

The Phillies beat the Reds on Friday. The Cardinals lost and then dropped another game on Saturday. Going into the final day, St. Louis and Cincinnati were tied for first, with the Phils a game behind.

The Phillies beat the Reds decisively on Sunday. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Mets were leading the Cards, 3-2, going into the bottom of the fifth.

"So we stayed in that old wooden clubhouse in Crosley Field and we listened to the game on the radio. And when the Cardinals went ahead and they won the game, we just kind of all drifted in and got dressed and left," Wine said of St. Louis clinching the division. "We got on the bus and got on the plane and came home."

At that time, Wine had no idea that those games would become an integral part of the Phils' history. Or that the final stretch would be judged so differently now than it was at the time.

"I'm halfway surprised and halfway honored that it's become such a big thing," Wine said. "I was with [second baseman] Tony Taylor recently, and he said, 'You know, there's not many of us left.'

"But those diehard Phillies fans liked that '64 team. They came out and cheered for us even though we lost. That was quite a shock. They were happy about our season."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for

Philadelphia Phillies