Any discussion of the greatest Philadelphia Phillies teams over the 137-season history of the franchise invariably leads almost every fan to examine a handful of specific versions of the ball club.
The two World Series champions of 1980 and 2008 will be in there. So will the 2011 team that set a franchise record with 102 regular season wins, as well as the 1977-78 teams, each of which would register 101 victories.
Some fans will want to talk about the Whiz Kids 1950 National League pennant winners or the 1983 Wheeze Kids NL champions. The 1993 Macho Row group is a favorite of many, as was the 2009 team that became the first Phillies club to win back-to-back National League pennants and reach the World Series in consecutive seasons.
There may even be a few fans who harken back to the ill-fated 1964 Phillies group. Even some who will go all the way back to the very first Phillies team to ever capture an NL pennant and advance to the World Series all the way back in 1915.
However, one team that you will absolutely never hear mentioned is one from even further back. In fact, it is a team from the 19th century, one that played within the first decade of the franchise’ existence, that deserves a place in any such discussion.
The 1892 Philadelphia Phillies played at what was then known as the Philadelphia Baseball Grounds (later Baker Bowl) went 87-66 overall to finish in fourth place in the 12-team National League. That was the first time that the NL used a split-season format. The Phillies finished in third place over the first half, and then came in fifth over the second half of the season.
The overall record left the Phillies a distant 14 1/2 games behind the pennant-winning Boston Beaneaters, winners of the first half. Boston would go on to defeat the second-half winners, the Cleveland Spiders in a five-game World’s Championship Series.
That Phillies team had a winning record against Boston, going 7-6 during their season series. In fact, they finished on the losing side of the ledger against only two opposing clubs, finishing just 4-10 against Cleveland and 5-9 against the Brooklyn Grooms.
The 1892 Phillies were managed by Baseball Hall of Famer Harry Wright, who guided the club to a 636-556 record over parts of 10 seasons between 1884-93.
Delahanty hit .306 and led the Phillies with 21 triples. Thompson batted .305 and led the team with 104 RBIs. Hamilton led the club with a .330 batting average and .423 on-base percentage. He also stole 57 bases to lead a club that ran wild, swiping a total of 216 bags as a group.
Connor, one of the most feared power hitters in those early years of the game, banged out 37 doubles, a dozen home runs, and 60 extra-base hits. It all added up to an .883 OPS, and he led the squad in all of those categories.
There were others who produced as well. Jack Clements was a Philly kid and a left-handed hitting and fielding catcher who was third on the team with eight homers and fourth with 76 RBIs. Lave Cross was a valued utlity man who saw action at six different positions and got into 140 games, finishing fifth on the club with 84 runs scored.
But those Phillies weren’t just about producing offense. Using just seven pitchers all season during an entirely different era than today’s game (obviously), they could shut you down as well.
The ace of the pitching staff was righty Gus Weyhing. Over 59 games, 49 of those starts, the 25-year-old went 35-21 and tossed 469.2 innings with 202 strikeouts and a 2.66 ERA. Tim Keefe was a 35-year-old future Hall of Famer pitching in his 13th of what would be 14 big-league seasons. He won 19 games that year to bring his career total to 332 victories. Fourth starter Duke Esper went 11-6 with a 3.42 ERA over 21 games, 18 of them starts.
The other regular starting pitcher was the youngest player on the roster that season. Just 19-years-old, Wilfred Kid Carsey certainly earned his nickname. As an 18-year-old rookie the previous season he had gone 14-37, leading baseball in losses. But he came back with a vengeance his second time around. Carsey would go 19-16 for those 1892 Phillies, tossing 317.2 innings over 43 games, 36 of them starts. He registered a 3.12 ERA, which would be by far the best of his 10-year big-league career.
Though they finished in fourth place overall, that 1892 Philadelphia Phillies team accumulated a 50.1 cumulative WAR figure. That would stand as the franchise record for more than a century, until those 2011 102-win players would amass their 54.2 WAR mark.
The 29.1 offensive WAR produced in 1892 stood for more than a half-century, broken when the 1963 club – another underrated Phillies team – produced a 30.4 offensive WAR value. Though the game has leaned much more towards offense in modern times, only eight Phillies teams over the balance of club history have surpassed that 29.1 mark.
On the mound, the pitchers produced 21.0 WAR. That would remain the franchise record until Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons, Jim Konstanty and the 1950 Whiz Kids staff came along. Only four Phillies staffs have ever beaten that 21.0 mark. The 2011 staff led by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels hold the record at 36.5 pitching WAR.
So, the next time that you are drawn into a discussion of the greatest Phillies teams of all-time, by all means, mention all of those other great clubs that won World Series crowns, National League pennants, and NL East titles. But don’t forget to bring up the 1892 club, the best Phillies team of the 19th century, one that took the field with five future Hall of Famers wearing the Phillies uniform.