Remembering Darren Daulton, a great Phillie, a great leader

Remembering Darren Daulton, a great Phillie, a great leader

The Florida Marlins had one mission when they assembled for spring training in 1997: Win the World Series.

Nothing else would suffice as the team looked to force its way into the consciousness of fans in the Miami area.
 
The club spent lavishly to acquire top talent and that extended all the way to the manager's office and the hiring of superstar skipper Jim Leyland.
 
At midseason, things were going well enough for the Marlins. They were playing good ball. They were in contention. But, still, something was missing. The Marlins had the talent, that much everyone knew. Too often, however, that talent seemed to exist as a collection of individuals walking down separate paths. What the Marlins were missing was an intangible, the thing that takes good teams and turns them into great teams, a unifying force that would put everyone on the same path and make 25 hearts beat as one.
 
The Marlins needed a leader.
 
They got one of the best in Darren Daulton.
 
"Jim Leyland told me they don’t win the World Series if it wasn't for Dutch," John Kruk said. "He told me when Dutch stepped in that locker room everyone on that team looked at him and said, 'There's our leader.'
 
"He had so much respect from the league that when he went to Florida they knew they were getting a guy you can lean on. I know Jim said it made his job a lot easier."

***

Darren Arthur Daulton died Sunday, way too young at the age of 55, after a courageous four-year battle with brain cancer. He was a beloved Phillie, an All-Star and a champion known for his run production, his toughness, his perseverance, his loyalty and a galvanizing quality that made him one of the great leaders ever to play in this town.
 
OK, so he was also known for his good looks and Tarzan physique. But to those close to him, those who played with him and shared a clubhouse with him, nothing stood taller than the man's ability to lead other men toward a common goal.
 
In that clubhouse, he was everybody's big brother and the 1993 National League championship team was his tour de force.
 
"He held us together, without question," said Kruk, whose brotherly relationship with Daulton was so strong that they often kissed each on the cheek after their playing days. "We had some guys on that team who could go off the deep end, myself included. You need that calming voice to tell you what you want to hear sometimes and then get on your ass other times. When Dutch said something — and it wasn’t every day — it needed to be done and he got it done.
 
"I remember that year we were playing the Cardinals and one of their players said, 'Once we sweep the Phillies, they'll be done. We'll never hear from them again.' We beat them the first two games and Dutch called us all together and said, 'No popping off. No trash talking. Let them do the talking. We'll do the playing.' That was huge for us. We swept the series, and if guys had any doubts about who we're following, that put it to rest right there. It was just one of those moments that you look back on and say, 'Wow, that's something I'll never forget.'
 
"Late in that season things started speeding up a little bit on us and we knew Montreal was great and we knew we had to play great down the stretch to keep them from catching us. Darren was always that calming voice. 'Don’t worry about what they do. Worry about us. Take care of today.' I'll never forget that stuff."
 
Kruk also will never forget the walk-off home run he hit in the 14th inning to beat the Padres one night that season.
 
Daulton was the first one to home plate to congratulate Kruk and a tradition was born.
 
"He kissed me," Kruk deadpanned.
 
"On the lips."
 
Kruk laughed.
 
"Hey, we won," he said with a shrug, "we were happy."

***

Darren Daulton wasn't always a great leader.
 
Oh, the seeds were in there.
 
But it took the pain of embarrassment for them to germinate.
 
The late Jim Fregosi recognized those seeds when he took over as Phillies manager in 1991. During his playing days, Fregosi was one of those old-school tough guys with matinee idol looks, much like Daulton was in his time. Fregosi felt a connection with Daulton and admired the way the player had battled to keep his career alive after eight knee surgeries. But during that season, the old-school manager had grown frustrated with Daulton's inconsistency on the field.
 
On Aug. 13, 1991, in Pittsburgh, Fregosi sent Ricky Jordan to the plate to pinch-hit for Daulton in the seventh inning of a game against the Pirates. Daulton wasn't hitting his weight. Nonetheless, he was embarrassed and furious over the move. He confronted Fregosi in the manager's office after the game.
 
Fregosi let Daulton have it. He told Daulton that if he wanted to stay in games, he had to lead the team. And, oh yeah, stop yanking those silly, long fly balls into foul territory down the right field line. Stay inside the ball. Use the gaps. Produce runs. Lead.
 
Daulton took the verbal beatdown to heart. He showed up to Clearwater in 1992 ready to make the Phillies his team and be the middle-of-the-order run producer that Fregosi thought he could be. He led the NL with 109 RBIs that season.
 
"I remember wanting so bad for him to drive in 100 runs that year because if that doesn't prove to him how good he is …" Kruk said. "I went back to West Virginia after the season, my buddies thought I was nuts, but I said we're going to be really good next year."
 
Mind you, the Phillies were a last-place team in 1992.
 
That's why Kruk's buddies thought he was nuts.
 
But, like a kiss on the lips, Kruk could feel it.
 
"Knowing we now had a guy in the middle of the lineup who can produce runs," Kruk said. "And he was confident …
 
"It was a beautiful thing."
 
Fregosi also saw something during that last-place season.
 
He couldn't wait to tell his son about it.
 
"My dad always believed that you had to have that one guy in the clubhouse that all the players respected and would respond to," said Jim Fregosi Jr., a scout with the Kansas City Royals. "But that guy is hard to find. He has to be a guy who produces and can lead. My dad used to say when you find that guy, you can win.
 
"I remember during the season my dad saying, 'This is my guy that's going to lead this team and he's getting there.' The next year he got there. The 1993 Phillies don't happen if it wasn't for Darren. He was the ultimate clubhouse guy. My dad loved him. He had so much respect for him."
 
You could hear that respect in Jim Fregosi Sr.'s voice. Sometime during the 1993 season, he started referring to Daulton simply as The Catcher.
 
"The Catcher," Fregosi said more than once. "He's special."
 
Years later, Daulton won the respect of Fregosi's successor, Terry Francona.
 
At 37, Francona was only a couple of years older than Daulton when he was hired to manage the Phillies in 1997. By that time Daulton had required a ninth knee surgery and he could no longer squat behind the plate. Daulton was signed for 1997 so he was part of the team. But he had no position and there would be little playing time. Some players might have been a disruption in such a circumstance and with a young team, the Phillies could hardly afford that. But Daulton remained a model of professionalism. Though he was no longer The Catcher, and though most of his boys from the 1993 team had moved on, he was still a leader. He became an ally to the young, new manager and eventually volunteered to play right field after Danny Tartabull went down with a season-ending injury.
 
Francona left Philadelphia after the 2000 season and has gone on to take three teams to the World Series, winning two of them. Daulton still holds a prominent place in Francona's heart.
 
"He was awesome, a terrific leader for a young, inexperienced team," Francona said. "I've always appreciated that."

***

The Florida Marlins were in the thick of the race in July 1997, but team officials knew something was missing.
 
Gary Hughes, then the team's vice president of player personnel, called Jim Fregosi, his old teammate from Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California.
 
"If you want to win, get Darren Daulton over there," Fregosi told his old friend. "He's the guy you want in your clubhouse. He will be your leader."
 
Daulton knew he was going to retire at the end of that season and he was eager to take a stab at winning the World Series ring that had eluded the Phillies in 1993. He approved the trade.
 
After spending his entire career with the Phillies, Daulton slipped gently into a Marlins clubhouse that was filled with accomplished veterans. Daulton kept his eyes and ears open for a couple of weeks, played part time in right field and then finally couldn't keep it in any longer. He brought the team together and talked about how talented a group it was and how it had a chance to do something special. Then, in a torrent of tough love, he chided the team for what he saw as a country club mindset and challenged it to focus, to grind every day, to play together and make something special happen.
 
The Marlins did make something special happen. They won the World Series "by playing with one heartbeat," their tearful manager said after the Game 7 clincher against the Cleveland Indians.
 
That approach started with Darren Daulton and the unity and leadership he brought that team.
 
Daulton swigged champagne in the raucous Marlins clubhouse that night and he got his World Series ring. But he was always a Phillie at heart. And so, against the backdrop of the team's familiar red logo, he announced his retirement at Veterans Stadium that winter and the turnout of folks who worked behind-the-scenes for the club was impressive. Daulton, you see, wasn't just good to the big guys in uniform. He was good to everyone.
 
As time passed, there was talk that Daulton might become manager in 2000. He did some radio and TV work in the area. He did wonderful charity work. He was never too big to mingle with fans, have a cold one and sign some autographs.
 
And every August, he got the biggest cheers of all on Alumni Weekend.
 
He was everybody's big brother.

Best of MLB: Indians get walk-off win over Red Sox on error

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Best of MLB: Indians get walk-off win over Red Sox on error

CLEVELAND -- Brandon Guyer scored when first baseman Brock Holt threw away Roberto Perez's bunt in the 10th inning, lifting the Cleveland Indians over the Boston Red Sox 5-4 on Monday night in a matchup of first-place teams.

After Guyer's leadoff double against Brandon Workman (0-1), Holt fielded the bunted ball and tried to throw out Guyer at third. Guyer slid into the bag as the throw skipped past third baseman Rafael Devers, then got to his feet and raced across home plate. Teammates ran onto the field and doused Perez with water and white powder.

Perez also had a three-run homer in the second inning.

Cody Allen (1-6) allowed Christian Vazquez's leadoff single in the 10th, but retired the next three hitters. The inning ended when shortstop Francisco Lindor ran down Mookie Betts' popup in center field with his back to home plate.

Cleveland relief ace Andrew Miller left in the seventh inning after aggravating the patellar tendinitis in his right knee. Miller recently returned after over two weeks on the disabled list with the knee injury (see full recap).  

Albers gives Mariners win over former team
ATLANTA -- Andrew Albers worked into the sixth inning for his second straight win since coming up from the minors, leading the Seattle Mariners to a 6-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.

Albers (2-0) also had the first hit and RBI of his career -- in his first big league at-bat.

The 31-year-old left-hander beat his former organization, having spent most of the season at the Braves' Triple-A club. He went 12-3 but never got a call to the big leagues.

Instead, Albers was dealt to the Mariners for cash on Aug. 11. He was called up by Seattle to make a start four days later, working six strong innings in a 3-1 win over Baltimore.

Now, after going just over four years between major league victories, Albers has two wins in less than a week.

Mike Foltynewicz (10-9) has lost four of his last five starts for Atlanta (see full recap).

Pollock’s 2-run blast lifts D-backs over Mets
NEW YORK -- A.J. Pollock hit a two-run homer in the 10th inning and the Arizona Diamondbacks snapped a three-game skid with a 3-2 victory over the New York Mets on Monday night.

J.D. Martinez had an RBI single and left fielder David Peralta threw out the potential go-ahead run at the plate for the Diamondbacks, who began the day with a 2 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee for the second NL wild card. They are 4-0 against the Mets this season and have won nine of 10 meetings over the last two years.

Pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco walked to start the 10th. One out later, Pollock sent a 94 mph fastball from Eric Goeddel (0-1) over the center-field fence to put the Diamondbacks back in front after they squandered a 1-0 lead in the seventh.

Fernando Rodney gave up a leadoff homer to Michael Conforto before getting three outs for his 28th save in 33 tries.

Jimmie Sherfy (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth for his first major league win (see full recap)

Bruce Bochy on Hector Neris: 'He's an idiot'

Bruce Bochy on Hector Neris: 'He's an idiot'

The Giants don't seem to be too fond of Hector Neris.

The Phillies on Sunday were clinging to a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning when Hector Neris entered the game. The reliever inherited runners on first and second with two outs and Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey at the plate.

On a first-pitch fastball, Neris plunked Posey, who called out the Phillies' closer afterward.

"I'm pretty certain he hit me on purpose and it's just a shame because I wanted to compete in that at-bat," Posey said. "I guess he didn't feel he could get me out.
 
"It was a big spot. It would have been fun to hit."

In that situation, purposely hitting a batter makes little sense, as it advances the potential game-tying run into scoring position and puts the go-ahead run on base. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged just that, while Neris denied any intention behind the hit by pitch. Despite the bases-loaded jam, Neris struck out Pablo Sandoval to escape before closing out the 5-2 win with a scoreless ninth inning.

Things didn't end there, though.

A day later, Giants manager Bruce Bochy had something to say about Neris.

"It wasn't just a little inside. The same guy … I'll say it, he's an idiot," Bochy said Monday before the Giants' series opener against the Brewers. "He showed it in Philadelphia when he was having words with (Eduardo) Nunez. I think that caused the radar to be up a little bit on what happened there."

The incident with Nunez in which Bochy refers to apparently happened during the Phillies' 9-7 win over the Giants on June 4 at Citizens Bank Park. According to CSNBayArea.com's Alex Pavlovic, Neris appeared to blow a kiss at Nunez after a ninth-inning strikeout. Following a game-ending punchout of Brandon Belt, it looks like Neris glances over at the Giants' dugout before catcher Cameron Rupp stops him.

None of the above explains why Neris would feel any intent to hit Posey in such a tight spot more than 2½ months later.

"You never know for sure, but it certainly didn't look good, did it?" Bochy said.

"It wasn't a glancing blow — it was at his ribs, on the backside of the ribs. So, no, I'm not surprised [Posey was upset]. I would have been upset, too.

"Anyway, that's behind us."

For now. 

While the Phillies and Giants don't play again this season, baseball players sure have great memories.