25 Biggest 'Underdogs' in Philadelphia Phillies History
Being a professional athlete isn't easy.
Even those that fans and pundits tend to dub the "worst" of them are playing a professional sport, baseball in this case, for a reason. You have to have a natural talent, an incredible work ethic, and all of the right "tools," and it often seems as though the greatest of them have the perfect balance of all of those things.
But not all professional athletes make it look easy. There is a certain group of players that tend to lean a little closer to the "incredible work ethic" category and borrow from new one—"luck." The odds are stacked against them and when they make it to the show, it is the type of guy that forced you to think, "Man, you can't help but feel happy for him."
We call those guys the "underdogs."
They don't always put up the most eye-popping numbers, and they certainly aren't the flashiest. These are the types of players that usually get the somewhat off-putting terms—"gritty" and "grinder," for example.
But what would the sport be without them? The fans love to get behind an underdog and they make a great story. Here are some of the most recognizable "underdogs" in Philadelphia Phillies' history.
*Note: All statistics are numbers acquired during the player's tenure with the Phillies, unless otherwise stated.
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25. Kevin Stocker
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
The Line: .262 / .347 / .350, 14 HR
Is Kevin Stocker not one of the "grittiest" looking players you've ever seen?
I'm not sure whether or not that is actually a compliment or an insult, but it isn't easy for guys like Stocker to make the MLB regardless. The Phillies drafted Stocker in the second round of the 1991 draft, and he never quite lived up to that potential.
Instead of calling it quits, however, Stocker turned himself into a nice little player. He never really had one outstanding tool, but he played average defense and tried not to hurt you with the bat, and for a lot of teams, that is a valuable shortstop.
He cranked out an eight year career, five of which were spent with the Phillies before they dealt him to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in exchange for Bobby Abreu.
24. Bruce Ruffin
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The Line: 42-58, 4.16 ERA
Bruce Ruffin pitched for the Phillies in an era where it wasn't exactly popular to pitch for the Phillies, so his record doesn't exactly do him any justice. If anything, I give him credit for his versatility and simply finding his way to the MLB.
The Phillies, who drafted Ruffin just a few picks ahead of one Randy Johnson, had taken Trey McCall, one of the biggest draft busts in team history, in the first round of the 1985 draft, so they needed at least one pick to pay off.
Ruffin did just that, logging innings in the starting rotation in some years, splitting time between the rotation and bullpen in others, and even serving primarily as a reliever in another.
He spent six seasons with the Phillies before they dealt him to the Milwaukee Brewers for Dale Sveum, and in total, enjoyed a 12-year career.
23. Willie Jones
The Line: .258 / .343 / .413, 180 HR
Willie Jones as a slow footed third baseman with a slightly below average glove and the uncanny ability to bore you offensively. Not the type of guy you'd expect to have a long career in the MLB, right?
Well guess again. Jones was a big part of the 1950 Phillies' "Whiz Kids," and after that storybook season, his career on the way up.
He would go on to spend 13 season with the Phillies, plus four additional ones as a member of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Redlegs.
22. Aaron Rowand
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The Line: .290 / .353 / .479, 39 HR
During his days with the Chicago White Sox, Aaron Rowand was quite the center fielder, but he had some big shoes to fill coming into Philadelphia: He had to replace Jim Thome.
Of course, no player comes into a situation publicly admitting that. Instead, we get all of the boring cliches about how they need to play their own game, but I'm sure in the back of Rowand's mind, he knew.
Thome was a fan-favorite and an annual threat for the MVP Award, when healthy. Thome was labeled the face of the franchise, and now, he was gone. Rowand was a great player, but not on Thome's level.
Once he stepped into center field, however, he seemed to captivate the city. He had some of the best offensive years of his career and his defensive style of play made him a vastly popular player in the city of Philadelphia.
21. Ozzie Virgil
The Line: .246 / .319 / .422, 46 HR
The Phillies were apparently fond of taking catchers in the sixth round of the draft. In 1969, they had drafted Bob Boone, and a few years later, in 1976, it was Ozzie Virgil.
In fact, they shared a lot of the same traits, though on a much smaller scale. Virgil was a solid defensive backstop with little offensive firepower, but managed to turn himself into a reliable catcher with the ability to hold his own at the plate.
An underrated player in his own right, the Phillies would eventually deal him to the Atlanta Braves for a couple of familiar names: Steve Bedrosian and Milt Thompson.
20. Bob Boone
The Line: .259 / .325 / .370, 65 HR
When the Phillies drafted Bob Boone in the sixth round of the 1969 draft, he had potential, but he was going to be a project. He was a good defensive catcher with a limited upside at the plate.
He would make his debut a couple of years later in 1972, and not long after, the Phillies knew that selecting him in the '69 draft was about to pay off.
As it turns out, Boone was a great defensive catcher—probably the best the Phillies have ever had, and he could more than hold his own at the plate. But it was his defensive game, from blocking pitches to handling pitchers, that helped him to a 10 year career with the Phillies and 19 year career in the MLB.
19. Charles Hudson
The Line: 32-42, 3.98 ERA
Quality pitchers are hard to find, especially when you're looking for them in the 12th round of the amateur draft, but that's exactly where the Phillies found former right-handed pitcher Charles Hudson.
The Phillies made Hudson the 305th pick in the draft and sent him to their rookie team. He was impressive in a couple of minor league seasons and eventually got the call to pitch for the MLB club, where he served as both a solid starter and reliever.
The Phillies traded him to the New York Yankees prior to the 1987 season, and he would go on to have his best season there.
18. Vance Worley
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The Line: 12-5, 2.93 ERA (active)
It may be a little early to put Vance Worley on this list, but I think his story fits perfectly into this "underdogs" conversation.
The Phillies liked Worley so much that they drafted him twice. They drafted him in the 20th round of the 2005 draft out of high school, but couldn't get him to sign away from his commitment to California State University (Long Beach.) Three years later, the Phillies drafted him again, this time in the third round, and so his MLB career began.
He was never a top prospect. Always a guy that some scouts liked, but never a guy that was at the top of many lists. You would have never thought he had a chance at being one of the Phillies' biggest contributors at the outset of the 2011 campaign.
He was bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation, and between Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Joe Blanton, there was a lot of award power in that starting rotation and no room for a guy that some scouts considered to be a below average prospect.
Try telling that to Worley. When Oswalt and Blanton went down with injuries, he pitched himself into the starting rotation, and when Blanton returned at the end of the 2011 season, he did so in the bullpen.
Moving into 2012, Worley didn't have to battle for a spot. He had already won that battle when the Phillies parted ways with Oswalt.
17. Todd Frohwirth
T.G. Higgins/Getty Images
The Line: 3-3, 3.95 ERA, 72 G
It often seems as though it is harder for college relievers to find their way to the MLB, especially when they are taken in the 13th round of the draft, but former Phillies' reliever Todd Frohwirth made it happen.
Taken with the 335th pick of the 1984 draft, Frohwirth threw up some impressive minor league numbers to earn consideration for a spot on the MLB club. With that being said, however, his Phillies' career didn't last long.
He did, however, have two phenomenal seasons with the Baltimore Orioles in the early 1990s after he had been granted free agency by the Phillies.
16. Mickey Morandini
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The Line: .267 / .334 / .360, 20 HR
As a side note, I always enjoyed listening to Dan Baker introduce Mickey Morandini before each at-bat. Now, on to the good stuff.
The Phillies drafted Morandini in the fifth round of the 1988 draft and his chances of making the MLB weren't great. He was a very good defender, but his offensive ability was certainly limited, and there was no guarantee that he would hit at the MLB level.
In hindsight, he never really did, posting an OPS of .694 with the Phillies in nine seasons with the Phillies.
But he was a slick defender. Standing at five-foot-eleven, he had solid range and soft hands, earning him the nickname of the "Dandy Little Glove Man" during his playing days.
After an 11-year playing career, Morandini returned to the Phillies as a minor league manager.
15. Nick Punto
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The (Career) Line: .249 / .325 / .328, 14 HR (active)
In all fairness, there never really was much of a reason to believe in Nick Punto, as harsh as that may sound.
The Phillies made him a 21st round draft pick out of high school and he never did much hitting in the minor leagues. He was a solid defender, but not exceptional. Even so, that carried him all the way to the MLB by 2001, where he played in just four games.
He added nine more the next season.
By 2003, he was serving as a player on the Phillies' bench primarily, earning the occasional start, but that would be his last year with the club. The Phillies sent him to the Minnesota Twins as part of the package that landed them Eric Milton.
In hindsight, I'm stunned that Punto has had such a long career. 2012 will be his 12th season, and he has made a name for himself by being a gritty, sure-handed defender. There is definitely value in that.
14. Granny Hamner
The Line: .263 / .305 / .385, 103 HR
Not many guys can say they got to play in the MLB at 17-years-old, but Granny Hamner could. Grabbing a drink at the bar was still years in the future when he made his debut in 1944, but I think Hamner liked that tradeoff.
A couple of seasons later, he would be the everyday shortstop (he literally played every game) for one of the greatest Phillies' teams of all-time: the 1950 "Whiz Kids."
You have to have real chops to make in the MLB at age 17, but Hamner hung around a lot longer than that. He turned his work ethic into a 17 year career—16 of them with the Phillies.
13. Roy Halladay
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The Line: 43-16, 2.34 ERA (active)
Roy Halladay doesn't often come off as the "underdog" type, but think about it for a second.
Here is a guy that was drafted in the first round of the 1995 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. He was one of the best prospects in their system, making it all the way to the MLB before crashing and burning—well, at least temporarily.
Halladay made 13 starts and 19 appearances in 2000, posting an ERA of 10.64 before the Jays had seen enough. They sent him all the way to A-ball the following season. It certainly looked like he was going to be a bust.
That's not the way fate would have it though, as Halladay learned from the late pitching coach Mel Queen and begin his rise back to the MLB.
Now, he is one of, if not the, greatest pitchers in the game.
12. Richie Ashburn
The Line: .311 / .394 / .388, 22 HR
In hindsight, you may not consider Richie Ashburn an "underdog," but I'm giving him a different look this time. Can you imagine being in the stands as he made his MLB debut and thinking, "This guy is a future Hall of Famer.?" Me neither.
Just think about it. Ashburn was from a small town called Tilden in Nebraska. He had no power. He made a name for himself by grinding out every at-bat, playing technically sound baseball on both sides of the ball, and never operating at less than 100%.
Given some of the numbers that his counterparts were putting up, I would have never given him a shot at the Hall of Fame on day one, and yet, the Veterans Committee finally came to see he belonged in 1995.
11. John Kruk
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The Line: .309 / .400 / .461, 62 HR
Not giving John Kruk a legitimate chance at being a great MLB player was probably the popular decision, especially when he was playing left field.
Kruk would grow out of being a professional athlete and in to being a "baseball player." He became one of the first Phillies to rock the mullet and beer gut, and his loose, fun personality made him a favorite among both fans and players.
Even more so, he was a very good hitter, as his slash line shows. He wasn't your prototypical first baseman, with very little power, but Kruk was a contact machine and big part of the Phillies' lineup.
10. Ryan Madson
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
The Line: 47-30, 3.59 ERA, 491 G
When the Phillies selected Ryan Madson with the 254th overall pick in the 1998 draft, he was still a starting pitcher. he went through the minor leagues that way and had some success, but not much.
By the time he had reached the MLB, the jig was up. He had a great fastball, but the big, looping curveball just wasn't getting the job done. The Phillies had given up on Madson as a starting pitcher, but now, the bullpen experiment would begin.
It was a long project with no guarantees. Madson ditched the curveball and developed his change-up, which would become one of the best in baseball.
His flawless arm speed turned him into one of baseball's best relievers, and now, after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, the battle begins again for Madson.
9. Larry Bowa
The Line: .264 / .301 / .324, 14 HR
Anyone who's greatest asset to the game was being a pest on the baseball diamond is an underdog in my book, and Larry Bowa was so good at being a pest that he earned the nickname of "Gnat."
Offense was certainly never the name of Bowa's game, but the fiery shortstop had soft hadns and a strong arm, turning himself into one of the greatest defenders the organization had ever seen.
That helped him become a mainstay at the MLB level. Bowa enjoyed a 16-season career—12 of which were spent with the Phillies.
8. Lenny Dykstra
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The Line: .289 / .388 / .422, 51 HR
For a long time, the greatest baseball tool Lenny Dykstra had shown was "spunk." He was a 13th round selection by the New York Mets, and while he showed flashes of the skill-set that would make him a great player in the future, he was reduced to being a platoon player in New York.
That all changed when the Phillies acquired him and gave him a chance to play everyday, letting the beast out of the cage.
Dykstra's brash, hard-nosed style of defense helped him earn more than enough respect from the fans, and he just added to that by mashing the cover off of the ball in his prime. He led the Phillies' offense to the World Series in 1993, and even though he may have gone off the deep end in retirement, it's hard to deny that he was one of the greatest Phillies of all-time.
7. Jim Eisenreich
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Line: .324 / .381 / .453, 24 HR
Jim Eisenreich certainly wasn't the best of players, but he always seemed to make the most of his opportunity, and his blue collar, hard-nosed style of play fit perfectly with the Phillies, perhaps helping him to some of the best years of his career.
But it never came easy for Eisenreich. He was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, making his playing career all the more difficult. The diagnosis would force him to miss several years of time during his career and ultimately forced him into an early retirement.
That didn't stop Eisenreich from becoming one of the most popular Phillies' of all-time, however.
6. Darren Daulton
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The Line: .245 / .357 / .427, 134 HR
Guys drafted in the 25th round aren't usually given a fair shake to make the MLB, and even fewer go on to have an impact on an organization like Darren Daulton did, but I guess that is what makes "Dutch" one of a kind.
Daulton was drafted out high school in Arkansas as the 628th overall pick in the draft back in 1980. Despite being such a low pick, he spent just over two seasons in the minors before making his MLB debut in 1983.
By 1985, he was a mainstay with the club, and soon after, the Phillies' starting catcher. He was the clubhouse leader and field general—the heart and soul of that beloved 1993 Phillies' club that made a run at the World Series.
5. Shane Victorino
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The Line: .282 / .347 / .443, 80 HR
The road to the MLB has been a long one for Shane Victorino.
Originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was taken in the Rule 5 Draft by the San Diego Padres, but they shipped him back. A year later, it was the Phillies who drafted him in the Rule 5 Draft, but he couldn't stick with them either, so they offered him back to the Dodgers.
Luckily for the Phillies, the Dodgers declined to take him back, so the Phillies retained the rights to his contract and sent him to Triple-A.
A few years later, he is one of the best all-around center fielders in the game. Just goes to show that hard work and perseverance actually do pay off.
4. Jayson Werth
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The Line: .282 / .380 / .506, 95 HR
When Jayson Werth joined the Phillies in 2007, the odds were certainly stacked against him.
Originally a first round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles as a catcher, Werth dealt with injuries and inconsistency before being dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays. He didn't do much better north of the border, and the Jays sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he enjoyed something akin to a breakout season in 2004.
But when he had to have surgery on his wrist the next year, it certainly looked as though Werth was done, or at the very least, like he was never going to live up to the potential that made him a first round pick.
The Phillies took a chance on him as a platoon player, but under the watchful eye of Charlie Manuel, it wasn't long before he had run Geoff Jenkins out of a job. He became one of the best hitters in the Phillies' lineup before leaving to sign that mammoth deal with the Washington Nationals.
3. Curt Simmons
The Line: 115-110, 3.66 ERA
Curt Simmons' story always seems to sound more like a high school baseball player's fantasy than a real life event, but this is how it actually happened.
The Phillies, as a team, were struggling to fill the seats in 1947. As a promotional event, the MLB club decided to take on some of the state of Pennsylvania's top high school talent in an exhibition game.
The starter for the high school All-Stars was none other than Simmons, and he almost beat the Phillies.
Well they had seen all they needed to. The Phillies signed Simmons to a professional contract and the 18-year-old left-handed pitcher was pitching in the MLB that same year.
By 1950, he was one of the best players on the club, serving as the starting rotation's second hit from a dynamic one-two punch that also featured Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.
From high school to the MLB, he would go on to enjoy a career that lasted two decades, 13 seasons in which he pitched for the Phillies.
2. Ryne Sandberg
The (Career) Line: .285 / .344 / .452, 282 HR
I know. I can hear it already. Ryne Sandberg barely even wore the Phillies uniform. So I cheated a little bit, but I couldn't bring myself to get over just how much of an underdog Sandberg was. I mean, think about it.
The Phillies drafted him in the 20th round—with the 511th overall pick—of the 1978 draft out of North Central High School in Spokane, Washington. Outside of the 1980 season at Double-A Reading, his minor league numbers weren't all that impressive.
When the Phillies called the Chicago Cubs about Ivan de Jesus, the Cubs wanted Larry Bowa and a "throw-in" player. Of course, that throw-in was eventually Sandberg, and the rest is history.
Sandberg would go on to become one of the greatest second basemen to ever play the game, and he is currently a member of the Hall of Fame.
1. Carlos Ruiz
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The Line: .266 / .356 / .394, 37 HR
It seems like Carlos Ruiz has been an underdog for a long time.
The Phillies signed him as an amateur free agent in 1998, but he wasn't the catcher Phillies' fans have come to know and love. He was a second baseman, and I don't know about you, but I find myself giggling like a school girl picturing the five-foot-ten, 205 lbs. Ruiz standing at second base for some reason.
Needless to say, he wasn't really second base material. He couldn't hit much and didn't have the range or agility to play second base. A lot of players would close the book on such an uphill career, but not Chooch.
The Phillies moved him behind the plate and I think it is safe to say that he has adapted nicely. The underdog Ruiz has transformed himself from a non-prospect infielder to one of the best defensive catchers in the game.
The "Underdog" Story
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If I knew everything, I'd be a rich man, so have at it Phillies' fans.
Agree or disagree with the "underdogs" on this list?
Who did I miss?
Make sure to let me know in the comments section!