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Original Issue

A Flying Start

The wild and crazy Phillies have gotten the jump on the rest of the National League East

Philadelphia Phillie pitcher curt schilling has a warning for a visitor entering the Phillie clubhouse: "Be careful, the animals are out of their cages." Bare-chested first baseman John Kruk is posing like a bodybuilder. The bullpen closer, Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams, is eating a brick-sized burrito at 9:30 a.m. with a shirtsleeve pulled tightly over his head. (Don't ask.) Reliever Larry Andersen greets the visitor with a belch that sounds like a chain saw and then offers these words of wisdom: "If the world is insane and I'm insane, then I'm normal. If this team is insane and I'm insane, then I'm normal."

No, Larry, you're not normal. Neither are Krukie, Mikey, Bubba, Dude and the rest of the Phillies. Theirs is the wildest, funniest, crudest clubhouse in the big leagues, inhabited by a long-haired, unshaven group of recalcitrants, renegades and rejects. "You can't get on this club without a letter from a psychiatrist," says Schilling. "We're 25 B horror movies—we all have a dark side. But when those lights go on, we go out and play."

Do they ever. Through Sunday the Phillies had the best record (18-6) in the majors and a 4½-game lead in the National League East. Their start has been both impressive and improbable. In winning five of seven games last week, they had two amazing, game-saving defensive plays and one miraculous comeback. Says Andersen, "It's a team of destiny, of fate."

And talent. Philadelphia has a rotation of five hard throwers (Terry Mulholland, Schilling, Danny Jackson, Tommy Greene and Ben Rivera), an explosive offense featuring the best 3-4-5 hitters in the division (Kruk, third baseman Dave Hollins and catcher Darren Daulton), and 25 guys who play hard—or Kruk will kill them.

In recent years other teams have killed the Phils, who finished last in the East in 1992 with a 70-92 record. In fact, over the last nine years, since the Phillies' last National League championship season, in '83, they have been 98 games under .500. Philadelphia is the only franchise in the league that hasn't finished .500 or better in at least one season since '87.

The main reason for the turnaround is simple. For the first time in a long time, Philadelphia is healthy. Injuries—particularly to Daulton and centerfielder Lenny Dykstra—have eaten away at the Phils the last few years. A secondary reason is that over the winter, the front office improved the team's depth by trading for Jackson (2-0), who is throwing better than he has in four years, and signing four free agents: Andersen and outfielders Jim Eisenreich, Pete Incaviglia and Milt Thompson.

None of those four signees were wanted by their old teams—or by many others, for that matter. But the Phillies are a team of castoffs and misfits. "We're throw-backs—guys that the other teams threw back," says Incaviglia. Since being named general manager on June 21, 1988, Lee Thomas has traded for Kruk, Dykstra, outfielder Wes Chamberlain, shortstop Juan Bell and pitchers Schilling, Mulholland, Greene, Rivera, Jackson, Williams, David West and Mark Davis. For those 12, the Phillies gave up only eight players now in the majors, none of whom are major contributors.

"Everyone on this team has struggled at some point in his career, and none of us has lost sight of that," says Andersen. "Everyone will do whatever it takes to win. They say we're crazy, the Barbarians of the Northeast, but once the game starts, we have no fear."

But they do have good cheer. Whereas most major league clubhouses clear out immediately after a game, many of the Phillies hang out in the locker room after games—day or night, home or away—relaxing and talking baseball. On April 21 at Veterans Stadium, the game was called because of rain at 8:30 p.m. At midnight a few Phils were still in the clubhouse. "That's the only place you get to know people," says Kruk.

What exactly do they talk about? Well, there was the April 26 game against the San Francisco Giants in Philadelphia. The Phillies fell behind 8-0 but came back to win 9-8, even though their pitchers issued 14 walks. When the winning run scored in the 10th, the temperature was 35°, the wind was howling, and there were maybe 500 people left in the seats. But the Phillies didn't quit.

Then there was the April 29 game in San Diego. The Phillies led 5-3 in the eighth. With two outs and the bases loaded, Padre catcher Bob Geren hit a blast to left center off West. But Thompson reached above the fence to take away a grand slam and save the victory for Philadelphia. Says Thompson, "I thought after the play, We have to be destined to win this year."

Destiny showed up the next night in Los Angeles. The Phillies took a 7-5 lead into the ninth, thanks to Daulton's two-run homer in the eighth. Williams, however, suddenly found himself in an impossible jam: bases loaded, none out and one run already in. Mike Sharperson of the Dodgers hit a bullet that seemed headed for centerfield and a certain Dodger win. But second baseman Mickey Morandini made a diving catch and stepped on second for a double play. Brett Butler then grounded out to end the game.

"I didn't get anyone out, and we won," an incredulous Williams said. "I did everything I could to lose, and we won. I didn't close the door, I had it spinning. Emotionally, you can't beat our team." Mulholland shook his head and said, "Watching Mitch save a game is like watching a stunt pilot land a jet airliner. He does a few loop-the-loops just to entertain the passengers."

The actual pilot of these Phillies is 51-year-old Jim Fregosi, who deserves credit for not restraining the Phillies' diverse personalities and thus for not restraining their play on the field. He even plays cards with them. Here are seven of Fregosi's wilder jokers:

Krukie. "A baseball player in a plumber's body," says Andersen. "He's John Goodman Jr. He's the Babe. He's King Ralph." Kruk, 32, is 5'10", weighs 214 pounds and doesn't care that he's overweight. He doesn't care what he says or what others say about him. On newly acquired pitcher Mark Davis: "He'll have fun, or we'll kill him." On Williams: "He's screwed up, and when I say he's screwed up, he's screwed up. If I ever have a heart attack, I'm sending him the medical bills." On June 3, 1989, the Padres shipped Kruk and infielder Randy Ready to Philadelphia for Chris James. It was a terrible trade for San Diego. Kruk has batted .309 as a Phillie, including .323 last year, to raise his career average to .298. As of Sunday he was hitting .342 with five homers and 16 RBIs.

Wild Thing. Williams has WILD THING and a cartoon Tasmanian Devil tattooed on his right shoulder, although it should be on his left side because of the havoc caused by that arm. The Chicago Cubs, who had grown tired of his wildness, traded him to Philadelphia on April 7, 1991, for relievers Chuck McElroy and Bob Scanlan.

He has saved 69 games for the Phillies since then, despite nightly high-wire acts that cause internal damage to his teammates and, especially, Fregosi. "Mitch doesn't have ulcers," says Fregosi. "He's just a carrier."

Mikey. That's Hollins, and that moniker is not just a nickname. It's his alter ego. "Most of the day he's Dave Hollins," says Williams, "but about an hour before game time, he becomes Mikey, the most intense man on the face of the earth. He scares me. We've learned to just get out of his way." Says Incaviglia, "He'd cut his finger off to win a game."

Hollins recently bought a dog. "Can you imagine that?" Kruk says. "Dog's got no chance. One 0 for 4, and it's dead." But according to Hollins, the dog is safe. "He even made it through our last home stand," says Hollins, who made three errors in one game during that stand.

There won't be many Ofers or bad fielding nights this year for Hollins, 26, who has established himself as one of the best third basemen in baseball. The Padres left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft in December 1989, and Philadelphia paid San Diego $50,000 for him- quite a bargain for a player who last season hit 27 home runs and drove in 93 runs. As of Sunday he led the Phillies with 18 RBIs.

Bubba. That is Daulton, who is also called Dutch. Whatever else you call him, call him what he is: the best catcher in the game. Last season Daulton, 31, became the fourth catcher in history to lead his league in RBIs (109), and he became the third catcher to hit 20 homers, drive in 100 runs and steal 10 bases in a season.

He suffered a variety of injuries in the infamous May 1991 car accident that nearly killed him and driver Dykstra. But Daulton emerged last year as a standout player, as well as the Phillies' coleader, along with Kruk. "He's the electric fence that surrounds the team," says Schilling. "Cross the team boundaries, and he'll shock you." Says Andersen of Daulton, "We're the thugs; he's the Godfather."

In Philadelphia even the Godfather isn't sacrosanct. Lynne Daulton, Darren's wife, a former Playmate, is a spokesperson for the restaurant chain Hooters, and she hosts a nationally syndicated TV show called The Hooters Movie of the Week. After she threw out the first ball before the Phillie-Cub game on April 16 at Wrigley Field, the Daultons kissed at home plate. Kruk didn't get a chance to see the touching moment. "If I had," he said, "I would have vomited."

Schilling. No nickname. But he does have a dog named Slider. "I can't throw one," he says, "so I bought one." Schilling claims to know "everything there is to know about World War II" and may be the first man in the world to compare Nazi Field Marshall Erwin Rommel with A's field general Tony La Russa. "Rommel was a lot like La Russa," says Schilling. "Well respected by both sides, always hiding something up their sleeves."

Teammates on the Baltimore Orioles and Cue Houston Astros, Schilling's last two teams, didn't know quite what to make of him. He had a great arm and terrific stuff, but he couldn't get anyone out. So the Astros—in one of the worst trades of the decade—sent Schilling to the Phillies for pitcher Jason Grimsley on April 2, 1992. This spring Grimsley refused an assignment to the minor leagues, left the Astros and signed a Triple A contract with the Cleveland Indians. Schilling, in the meantime, has established himself, at the age of 26, as one of the best pitchers in the league. He went 14-11 with a 2.35 ERA last year, and through Sunday he was 4-1 with a 2.54 this year.

Grandpa. That's Andersen, 40. "Larry is a consultant for the young guys," Schilling says. "We all want to be as screwed up as him. He leads us on a path to stupidness every day."

Andersen is the funniest player in the major leagues. For WPHL-TV in Philadelphia, Andersen has taped three segments called "Shallow Thoughts, by Larry Andersen"—a takeoff on Saturday Night Live's "Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handey." In each segment Andersen is sitting in a field, near a tranquil lake, staring into space. In one, he says, "If a visiting player hits a home run, why do they call it a home run?"

But Andersen isn't just funny. At the end of last week, he had a 1.93 ERA in 11 games this season.

Dude. That's Dykstra, who calls everyone Dude. He's the best leadoff hitter in the league, the catalyst who makes Philadelphia go. "He does everything headfirst," says Fregosi. From the start of the 1991 season through last week, the Phillies were 94-77 when Dykstra played, 72-105 when he didn't. He was acquired from the Mets in 1989 in a deal for Juan Samuel—another lopsided trade.

Dykstra has mellowed since the car accident, but he says, with some pride, "I started it all here." He was the original wild man for the Phillies, and now he's surrounded by them.

These madmen have Philadelphia excited and the rest of the NL East worried. In a time when fan interest in baseball is supposedly down, the Phillies are a fresh, unpredictable team, injecting new life into the game. "We've got all the degenerates from around the league," says Andersen. "With 25 degenerates, we might generate something."

Maybe even a division title. And that's something only insane people thought possible before this season.



Thompson saved a Phillie two by taking a grand slam from the Padres.



The aptly nicknamed Wild Thing can lose his balance both on the mound and off the field.



Here's a welcome twist for the Phillies: Jackson may be returning to his All-Star form.



The grumpy Hollins (15) and the lumpy Kruk are just two Phils who have given offense.



[See caption above.]



Incaviglia is one of three newcomers who have revamped the Philadelphia outfield.