19to21: October 31, 2008
A Comparison of Two Philadelphia Phillies: Hall of Famer Robin Roberts and World Series MVP Cole Hamels
19 to 21
No, that’s not how many Phillies pitchers have failed to live up to their promises, it’s Baseball...Then and Now
News Item: September 30, 1926 – Robin Roberts is born in Springfield, Illinois
On June 17, 1948, the Phillies called up their best minor league pitcher from the Wilmington Blue Rocks, where he was tearing it up, having gone 9-1 and averaging almost 12 strikeouts a game since the start of the season. After a quick train trip the next day from Hagerstown, Maryland, where the Blue Rocks were playing, to Philadelphia, he checked in at the Bellevue-Stratford and then reported to manager Ben Chapman at Shibe Park. Chapman asked if he could pitch that very night. Answering in the affirmative, the 21 year-old rookie went to the Phillies’ locker room there to see veteran hurler Nick Strincevich clearing out his locker. Strincevich never returned to the majors, bequeathing his jersey to the young right-hander. And so began the major league career of number 36, Robin Evan Roberts.
Although Robbie lost that first game 2-0 to the Pirates, he would hang around a lot longer than Strincevich, pitching 19 years in the major leagues, 14 of them with the Phillies, and winning 286 games prior to his induction in the baseball Hall of Fame in 1976. He was, discounting Grover Cleveland Alexander, who pre-dated farm systems and who the Phillies drafted for $500 from Syracuse anyway, at that time the best pitcher ever developed by the Philadelphia Phillies. There have been some other notable hurlers to come up through the organization over the years; Curt Simmons, Chris Short, Rick Wise, Dick Ruthven, and especially Fergie Jenkins come to mind, but Robbie was the best. And, for the next 60 years, he was still the best, partly because he was a great pitcher, and partly because a lot of pheenoms phlopped… everyone from Tom Qualters, Dave Downs, Marty Bystrom, Scott Munninghoff, Tony Ghelfi and Pat Coombs to Brad Brink, Mike Mimbs, Mat Beech, Tyler Green, Mike Grace, Carlton Loewer and Brad Baisley. The list is, in fact, far too long to bear repeating. Besides, it no longer matters very much.
After 60 years, another young Phillies pitcher stands on the edge of greatness that Robin Roberts rode to Cooperstown. His name is Colbert Richard Hamels, and he was named MVP of both the 2008 National League Championship Series and the 2008 World Series some two months before his 25th birthday. (If there had been an MVP for the NLDS, he might have gotten that as well, either Hamels or Shane Victorino.) These honors seemed to come as a shock to the national media who, largely unfamiliar with the Phillies, didn’t seem to have a clue as to just how good this stylish young left-hander with the killer change up could be. Here’s a clue… he’s good, he’s very, very good, as, at the very least, the Brewers, Dodgers and Rays all found out (4-0 with a 1.80 ERA for his five starts good.) Maybe his forthcoming greatness has been masked somewhat by injuries since the Phillies drafted him with the 17th pick in the first round of 2002, but, to those who have followed closely, there has never been any doubt that Cole Hamels, if healthy, was destined to be a great pitcher.
In reality, the Phillies were lucky to get him at the 17th spot. The only reason he lasted that long was because he had broken his pitching arm in a non-baseball accident while he was still in high school. Still, even during his first professional season, 2003, he was destined for Cooperstown. Don’t believe it? Perhaps you’ve forgotten what happened at Doubleday Field on June 16, 2003 in that year’s annual Hall of Fame game. The Phillies were playing – you got it – Tampa Bay in that tiny, quaint bandbox ballpark right down the street from the Hall. A park so little that it makes Citizen’s Park look like the Grand Canyon (the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.) The Phillies brought up their number one draft choice from the previous year, brought him all the way up from the Single A Lakewood Blue Claws, to face a major league lineup that included Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli. And here’s what happened, as reported on the Hall of Fame website…
Phillies\' farmhand fans nine to down Devil Rays, 7-5 -- June 16, 2003
The Philadelphia Phillies relied on the arm of minor-league lefty Cole Hamels, and the Phillies\' bats provided just enough muscle, to down the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, skippered by Lou Piniella, in their Hall of Fame Game debut, 7-5. Hamels fanned nine batters in five innings of relief. Although the win was credited to Frank Brooks, Hamels dominance allowed the Philadelphia bats time to rally for the win. Home runs from Pat Burrell and Nick Punto in the seventh and eighth innings accounted for the winning runs in the contest, as Philadelphia held Tampa Bay scoreless in the final two innings. The two teams combined to strikeout a Hall of Fame Game record 25 times.
Despite a series of injuries, some baseball-related, some inherited, some accidental, that kept him in the minors longer than his talent might have suggested, Hamels would dominate minor league hitters in an off-and-on career from 2003 to 2006, never giving up a home run to a left-handed batter and striking out 276 in 201 innings. He was, remarkably enough, as good as Robin Roberts as a minor leaguer…
Year W-L IP H W K ERA
1948 9-1 96 55 27 121 2.06
03-06 14-4 201 117 74 276 1.44
What finally convinced the Phillies that Hamels was healthy enough to hold his own in the majors were the three starts – the only three starts he ever made in Triple A – with Scranton/Wilkes Barre in 2006.
Year W-L IP H W K ERA
2006 2-0 23 10 1 36 0.39
Thus, on May 12, 2006, Cole Hamels made his major league debut against the Cincinnati Reds. Like Robbie, he didn’t get the win that day, although in this case it was because Ryan Madson vultured the W in an 8-4 victory after Hamels left the game. Still five innings, one hit, no runs, five walks and seven Ks (including future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr., who looked absolutely lost against the change up) was a pretty good start.
Like just about every other young pitcher from Christy Mathewson to Walter Johnson to Lefty Grove to Robin Roberts (Grover Cleveland Alexander being one exception), Hamels has had his ups and downs during his first three years. Nonetheless, the record he authored prior to his coming out party in the 2008 post season matches up pretty well against… Robin Roberts.
Year Age W L IP H BB K ERA ERA+
1948 21 7 9 147 148 61 84 3.19 124
1949 22 15 15 227 229 75 95 3.69 107
1950 23 20 11 304 282 77 146 3.02 135
TOTAL 42 35 678 659 213 325 3.28
Year Age W L IP H BB K ERA ERA+
2006 22 9 8 132 117 48 145 4.08 115
2007 23 15 5 183 163 43 177 3.39 136
2008 24 14 10 227 193 53 196 3.09 142
TOTAL 38 23 543 473 144 518 3.43
Although Robbie would build his reputation as a power control pitcher, the classic drop-and-drive pitcher, Hamels’ first three years show him to be an even better control pitcher, although of a different sort. Whereas Roberts lived and died with a fast ball that had tremendous natural movement thanks to his wrist action, Hamels’ best pitch is his signature change, along with an improving curve and a fast ball that consistently gets into the low 90s.
After this year, Hamels’ post season resume looks pretty good, too. Winning two series openers, a clincher and becoming one of the very few starting pitchers to win four games in a single post season gives him a pretty good start on a Schilling-esque career. You can’t really compare Hamels’ postseason to Roberts’, since Robbie only pitched in two games in the 1950 World Series (although the Phillies releasing him after the 1961 season when he was only 35 ultimately cost him a chance at another Series, since it also cost the Phillies the 1964 NL pennant, due to a lack of starting pitching), but he did have a 1.64 ERA in those 11 innings. Fittingly enough, the first pitch of game four of the 2008 World Series was thrown out by the man who now quire rightly deserves the title of “Mr. Phillie,” Robin Roberts. (Check out the Hall of Fame website for the latest picture of the living Hall of Famers… and see who’s sitting right up front, proudly displaying a Phillies cap.)
Now maybe Cole Hamels won’t go on to become Robin Roberts. He has a long way to go, and a varied injury history, although he did throw 262 innings total in 2008 without breaking down. (Such are the wonders of chiropractic?) But, there is no doubt as to his pitching ability and his maturity (if you heard any of his interviews during the Series, you know that’s true, although some of that maturity may have come from the sage advice of one Jamie Moyer). And, there’s one other thing. Cole Hamels wears number 35. If he turns out to be one digit down from Robbie, the Phillies and their fans will be more than satisfied.
-- John Shiffert