For Philadelphia the end finally came in Milwaukee. On Sunday, Aug. 20, 1961, after 23 days and 23 straight losses, Johnny Buzhardt, No. 23 and the last Phillie pitcher to have won a game, beat the Braves 7-4 to break the longest losing streak in modern baseball history. "I don't remember much about the game," says Buzhardt, who now works as a production manager for Eastman Kodak in Prosperity, S.C. "But I do remember arriving at the Philadelphia airport that night. There was a downpour, but two or three thousand people greeted us." Gene Mauch, who managed the '61 Phillies, recalls an airport throng of 5,000 and being carried by jubilant fans.
According to Allen Lewis, who covered the team for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the crowd was closer to two or three hundred, but Buzhardt and Mauch are entitled to their embellishments, just as the 1988 Baltimore Orioles will be 27 years from now. "The thing I remember about coming home that night is a remark made by pitcher Frank Sullivan, who was a very funny guy," says Lewis, who now fives in Clearwater, Fla. "He looked out the window of the airplane, saw all the people and said, 'Get off the plane in twos and threes so they can't get us all with one burst. They're selling rocks at a buck a pail.' "
Those Phillies, like the current Orioles, weren't expected to be contenders, either for a pennant or for baseball immortality. They included in their number 34-year-old pitcher Robin Roberts, but mostly they were a collection of promising youngsters like Johnny Callison, Don Demeter, Tony Gonzalez, Tony Taylor, Ruben Amaro, Art Mahaffey, Chris Short, Dallas Green and Jack Baldschun.
They had lost 10 in a row early in the season, but that was only a taste of what was to come. On July 29 at Connie Mack Stadium, Orlando Cepeda hit the first grand slam of his career to give the San Francisco Giants a 4-3 win. After that the Phils were swept by Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Chicago. Mauch, who was known to bat a hole through his office door after a defeat, was unusually patient throughout the streak. After the 19th loss, in Chicago, he tried something novel. As Baldschun, who's now a lumber salesman in Green Bay, recalls, "We went to Milwaukee that night and Gene told us, 'It's a $100 fine if I catch any of you in your room before 4:30 in the morning.' So we all went out for nice, long dinners or to the movies, and then to some bar. Only, the taverns closed around two. When I got back to the hotel, there was half the team in the lobby, trying to sleep."
Mauch's reverse curfew nearly worked. Later that day against the Braves, the Phillies took a 6-4 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but Joe Adcock hit a two-run homer to tie the score. In the 11th, the Braves loaded the bases with none out on two walks and an error. Baldschun struck out Henry Aaron, but then Al Spangler singled in the winning run.
Milwaukee beat the Phils twice more before extending their losing streak to 23 games, behind Warren Spahn in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader.
Philadelphia's win in the nightcap was surprisingly easy. Former Brave Wes Covington homered off losing pitcher Carlton Willey. Taylor and Bobby Malkmus each drove in two runs for the Phillies. Even Buzhardt had an RBI.
Philadelphia didn't have much of an on-field celebration. "We were so embarrassed by then that we had no elation," says Mauch, who recently resigned as skipper of the California Angels. The victory turned out to be the first of four in a row for the Phillies, and even though they ended up losing 107 games that year, they played nearly .500 ball after the losing streak. It may be some consolation to the current Orioles that the Phillies went 81-80 in '62, finished in the first division in '63 and led the National League by six games with 10 to play in '64 before they went into another, equally famous, losing streak.
Baldschun, for one, doesn't want the '88 Orioles to break the '61 Phillies' record. "I wouldn't wish that on anyone," he says.
A required night on the town almost helped the Phils avert loss No. 20 in Milwaukee.