Sisler's shot still rings for Phils fans
Outfielder homered on final day of 1950 season to win pennant
"In the other league, between Brooklyn and Philadelphia, I must take Brooklyn. But then I think of Dick Sisler and those great drives in the old park."There was nothing ever like them. He hits the longest ball I've ever seen."
-- Santiago, "Old Man and the Sea," Ernest Hemingway, 1952 Those are the words that immortalized Dick Sisler, written by Hemingway after seeing Sisler play in Cuba. Sisler was by no means the Barry Bonds of his era. He was a career .276 hitter with 55 career home runs, a number Bonds surpassed by 18 during his best single season. Sisler wasn't even among the esteemed "Whiz Kids" of the 1950s Phillies teams: Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons, Richie Ashburn, and Eddie Waitkus. But in a week when Major League Baseball has crowned a new home run king and fans recall their favorite team's most memorable home runs, the name Dick Sisler should come to mind for Phillies fans. On the final day of the 1950 season, he authored a 10th-inning, three-run shot that lifted the Phillies to their first National League pennant in 35 years. Had they lost to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Phillies would have faced them again in a three-game playoff for the National League title. "They surely would have lost the playoff," said noted baseball historian Rich Westcott, who authored a book on the 30 most memorable home runs of the 20th century. "They were exhausted. They were really down. The home run really picked them up." In 1950, Sisler was enjoying the best season of what would be an eight-year career. He hit .296 that year, with a career-high 13 home runs and 83 RBIs. His numbers that season were better than Ashburn, the future Hall of Famer. So it was fitting, then, that Sisler's hit would define the year. It was also fitting that Sisler's father, Hall of Famer and then-Dodgers employee George Sisler, was at Ebbets Field that day. The Phillies' lead over the Dodgers had dwindled to one game on Oct 1., the final day of the 1950 season. The Whiz Kids had boasted a seven-game lead with 11 to play. But the advantage all but disappeared after they lost five games in a row to limp into the final game. And they were playing on the road. The Dodgers had won the first of the two games, 7-3, at Ebbets Field to pull to within a game. The legendary ballpark held 32,000 but was packed with a standing room-only crowd of 35,000 on the season's final day. Phillies fans made the trip to Brooklyn in droves. Local reports, according to Westcott, speculated that another 30,000 potential spectators had been turned away at the gate. "If they weren't there, they were listening on the radio," Westcott said. Roberts was making his third start in five games. He pitched all 10 innings, as did Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe. Both were going for their 20th win of the season. Asburn looked to be the Phillies' hero after throwing out Cal Abrams at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Dodgers had runners on first and second with none out. Duke Snider singled up the middle to Ashburn, who was playing shallow. Had Abrams held at third, the Dodgers would have had the bases loaded with none out, and Jackie Robinson at the plate.After Abrams was thrown out, Roberts took advantage of the open base at first and intentionally walked Robinson. Roberts got the next two batters to send the 1-1 game to extra innings. The Phillies would only need one more turn. There were two on for Sisler. The inning began with back-to-back singles from Roberts and Waitkus. Ashburn tried to bunt them both over, but the Dodgers got the forceout at third. Dirt flew into Roberts' eye as he slid into third, but he stayed in the game. Sisler found himself behind in the count, 1-2. But Newcombe didn't have a "throw-away" pitch to offer Sisler. He was, for the most part, a straight flamethrower, and there was a good chance Sisler was sitting on fastball. The opposite-field shot gave the Phillies a 4-1 win and the pennant. The Phillies were swept by the Yankees in the 1950 World Series, signaling the remarkably short end to the Whiz Kids' success as a group. They finished five games back of the New York Giants the next season and never really threatened during the decade that followed. This surprised many. The Whiz Kids were so named because they were a group of young talented players that emerged from the Phillies farm system in the late 1940s and almost immediately jelled. They were young, with an average age of about 23, and fun to watch. The 29-year-old Sisler was considered one of the club's veterans. He debuted with the 1946 St. Louis Cardinals world championship team and joined the Phillies in 1948. His career ended in 1953 with little flair, unlike his Hall of Fame father, George. But his home run will forever be ingrained in Phillies lore. Mike Schmidt's home runs deserve some argument. The Hall of Famer's 11th-inning blast to beat the Expos in 1980 ensured the Phillies the division title. The team went on to win the franchise's only World Series title, but it is unlikely that Schmidt's home run propelled it there. Another that got a lot of attention was Schmidt's 500th home run, which longtime Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas cast his vote for as most memorable. "He played his whole career for one team," Kalas said. "You don't see that much anymore. " There were also rumblings for Jim Thome's 400th homer, and few who have forgotten Ryan Howard's upper-deck blast during his seven-RBI game. Certainly those should be candidates. But then you think of Sisler, and that great drive in the old park. There have been none that could top it.
Stephen Fastenau is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.