Philadelphia is an impatient city. If the subway isn’t five minutes early, it’s late. A ten-minute traffic jam on the Schuylkill seems like eternity. When it comes to our sports teams, forget it. A few bad games and its panic time.
There are only a select few players who have escaped the impatience of Philly fans. Former Phillies catcher and Wall-of-Famer Darren “Dutch” Daulton was one of them. He was – and still is – a fan favorite and considered one of the best Phillies to ever wear the uniform despite playing nearly 600 games before his breakthrough year in 1992.
Dutch’s career was plagued by injuries, perhaps none more career-threatening than the broken facial bone that caused him to struggle with double-vision after the infamous drunken-driving car crash with his teammate Lenny Dykstra during the 1991 season. He struggled both at bat and behind the plate, playing in only 89 games and hitting below the Mendoza line that season. And after the season, he underwent a third knee surgery. At the time Daulton was a 30-year-old veteran with just a couple decent years and a lot of injuries.
Then something changed.
In 1992, Daulton came to spring training later than everyone else, a plan set by the team to help him recover from the knee surgery. Once healthy, he finally put his injuries behind him and had the career year he – and Phillies fans – waited nearly nine seasons for. He finished the ’92 season with 27 homers and 109 runs batted in, which led the National League. Daulton also finished in the top-10 in nearly every offensive category. This earned Daulton the Silver Slugger Award and his first of three all-star appearances.
His breakout season not only turned his career around but helped solidify him as the Phils’ clubhouse leader during their World Series run in 1993 – a critical role on a team full of hot-headed, unique characters. No matter how tough you are or how big your biceps are, keeping the likes of Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams and Lenny “Nails” Dysktra in line is no easy feat.
In the book “More Than Beards, Bellies and Biceps: The Story of the 1993 Phillies” by Bob Gordon and Tom Burgoyne, manager Jim Fregosi said Daulton became a leader during the 1992 season, thanks in part to his improvements offensively, but also thanks to his ability to work with a number of odd personalities.
“I remember an instance in early ’92 when I pinch hit for Dutch in Pittsburgh. I sent up Ricky Jordan, and I could see the steam coming out of Dutch’s ears when he came back to the dugout,” Fregosi said in the book. Fregosi told him off, saying he had to accept his decision if he were to be a team leader. Most of all, he had to work to get better.
“He was at the batting cage with Dennis Menke and me early the next day, and really, he went to work,” Fregosi continued.
The final numbers in 1992: .270/.385/.524, 27 HR, 109 RBI, 32 2B, 5 3B, 88 BB, 103 K.
The fact that Daulton was coming off of his best year yet and continued that success into 1993 gave him the credibility needed to lead the guys deemed “Macho Row.” If he was still hitting .196 and barely knocking in 40 runs as the cleanup hitter, you think they would’ve listened? Not a chance.
Daulton was able to do what not many players could in this city. Despite not winning a title and taking far too long to hit his potential, he became a legend. Nearly 25 years later and you still see No. 10 jerseys in the stands at Citizens Bank Park.
He was the soul and the backbone of a team that captured the city’s heart.
It all started in 1992.