|Was there a better player for the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1990s than Curt Schilling? Photo: Getty Images|
Who was the best Philadelphia Phillie of the 1970s, Mike Schmidt or Steve Carlton? You can make a nice argument for either, although Schmidt would be a hands down winner for Phillie of the 1980s. There's not even question about that. But have you taken any time to figure out who is the best Phillies player of the 1990s? In a decade that saw only a quick flash of success in terms of wins and losses, with just one winning season taking the team all the way to a heart breaking Game Six of the World Series in 1993, it is mostly slim pickings. While a small handful of players experienced career years in Philadelphia, there is only one player who managed to turn out high quality performances for the majority of the decade.
Schilling's 1993 season put him on the map. A 16-7 record came with a 4.02 ERA but Schilling exploded in the postseason right out of the shoot, striking out the first five Atlanta Braves faced in the 1993 National League Championship Series. He would go on to earn the NLCS MVP award despite not winning a game in the series, and his Game Five performance in the 1993 World Series remains one of the most impressive individual feats in franchise postseason history. I still believe his Game Five, complete game shutout effort on over 140 pitches was actually more impressive than Roy Halladay's 2010 no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, just based on what was riding on the outcome of the game compared to Halladay's postseason debut.
Schilling did hit a lull after the 1993 season with three straight losing seasons (18-23 from 1994-1996) but if you look beyond the wins and losses you see that Schilling was beginning to improve. He was starting to trim down his ERA, WHIP and hits allowed and beginning to strikeout batters more frequently. In 1997 Schilling
Schilling made three All-Star appearances between 1997 and 1999 and was beginning to be recognized as one of the top pitchers in the National League. Unfortunately he was surrounded by a lineup of players that were either highlighted by aging veterans clearly on the decline like Darren Daulton, Mickey Morandini and Jim Eisenreich, free agents failing to live up to any sort of hype such as Gregg Jefferies and Todd Zeile and a supporting cast including Marlon Anderson, Desi Relaford, Rico Brogna, Kevin Jordan, Kevin Sefcik, Bobby Estalella and even a player by the name of Ruben Amaro Jr. There were some bright spots such as Bobby Abreu, Doug Glanville and a young and rising star in Scott Rolen, but Schilling was letting the frustration of playing for a losing team begin to cause problems with management.
Schilling has always been an outspoken character, and many are quick to criticize him for some of his comments. The Phillies struggled to build a winning team around him and by the time the farm system started to produce core players that would eventually build a winning team in Philadelphia, Schilling was already out of town. The Phillies were beginning to improve on the field but were still years away from finding a consistent winning formula. After three consecutive seasons winning at least 15 games for teams with losing records, Schilling was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000. It was there Schilling would be a key piece of a World Series championship team in 2001 and he would later win another with the Boston Red Sox.
Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins made their Phillies debuts in 2000. Chase Utley came three years later and Ryan Howard debuted a year later. If Schilling had stuck through a few more rough seasons, who knows what would have happened. Schilling pitched his final game in 2007 at the age of 40. Of course, the next year that young Phillies nucleus of home grown talent would go on to win the World Series the following season. Schilling never had a young nucleus of this level of talent on his team, unfortunately.
Who could blame Schilling for getting frustrated when he looked around his clubhouse and soaked in the roster of stiffs, aging veteran has-beens and young never-will-be players? When you are the player of a decade for a franchise, it can be frustrating being surrounded by the kind of players Schilling was for as long as he was.
Who are the other options you could consider as the top Phillie of the 1990s? I thought of four players worth exploring, although I do not believe you can make a strong enough case for any of these players ahead of Schilling.
Lenny Dykstra - The center fielder came to Philadelphia in 1989 and saw his career wind down after 40 games in 1996, so Dykstra saw his fair share of time in Phillies pinstripes. Dykstra's impact on the 1993 season, a career year, was worthy of an MVP nod and he attended three All Star Games representing the Phillies. Unfortunately Dykstra's career has been tainted with alleged ties to performance enhancing drugs, including an accusation he accepted steroids after the 1993 season. Dykstra also only played in more than 85 games just twice during his time in Philadelphia.
Darren Daulton - Daulton was certainly a fan favorite in Philadelphia, and he played the majority of the 1990s here before his career wound down. In the 1990s Daulton, the so-called heart and soul of the Phillies, had two seasons of 100+ RBI but Daulton also missed a big chunk of playing time with knee concerns throughout the decade. Daulton hit his stride early in the decade and started to hit his decline after the player's strike in 1994. He did play in three All Star Games and earned a Silver Slugger in 1992.
Daulton is on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
John Kruk - Another favorite, Kruk's time in Philadelphia may not have been as long as you might remember it being. Kruk was traded to Philadelphia in 1989 and he was out of town after the 1994 season, playing one final year of his career with the Chicago White Sox. But while in Philadelphia Kruk piled up the walks and earned three consecutive All Star appearances and hit over .300 in his final three years in town.
Kruk is on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
Scott Rolen - While the previous three noteworthy names played in the beginning half of the decade, home grown Scott Rolen emerged on the scene in the second half of the decade. Rolen made his debut with the Phillies in 1996 and ran away with the National League Rookie of the Year in 1997. While his verbal battles with the organization and manager Larry Bowa left an unfortunate stain on his stint with the Phillies, there would be few who would argue Rolen was among the top players in the organization while he was in Philadelphia. But if you look at just his splits during the 1990s it would be a stretch to make a case for Rolen above Schilling, and perhaps some others on this short list. He did win a Gold Glove in 1998 and played the best defensive third base since Mike Schmidt, but his best years would come later after being traded to St. Louis in the next century.
I have Schilling as the Phillie of the 1990s. Do you agree or do you think someone else is deserving of the distinction? Share your opinions in the comments.