Not gonna claim to be a big fan.
Not gonna claim to have any special connection with the guy.
But, like most who have any feelings toward the Phillies and are old enough to remember that magical, lightning-in-a-bottle 1993 season that proved to be an oasis in a multi-decades long abyss, yours truly did have some positive vibes when it came to Darren Daulton.
Obviously, still do.
So, as we ease out of the mourning stage to his cancer-related death earlier this week at the age of 55, just thought it would be nice to share a nice thought or two about the three-time all-star catcher.
Thanks to a previous career as a sports writer, was privy to “experiencing” the personalities of professional athletes perhaps a little more often and a little more in detail than most, and Daulton certainly qualified as one.
Thing is, he was what he showed – especially in his latter years. The Macho Row stuff ... meh. Not really what he was. Just a stand-up guy. Decent. Solid. Normal. In popular vernacular, or bromance lingo, a dude you'd like to hang out and have a beer with. Pretty much a perfect description of him.
For me, the “connection” was a tad different. We shared a history of bad wheels. Knees that never quite held up. Fortunately for him, he was good enough, talented enough and determined enough to overcome them to perform at a pretty high level ... and, to me, that was extremely admirable.
Oddly enough, the best year of his career was cut short by a broken shoulder, not a knee injury. That was 1994, as he tried to carry the club back to the postseason following the previous campaign's run to the World Series. In 69 games, he hit .300, got on base at a .380 clip and had a slugging percentage of .549.
At age 32, in the prime of his career, Daulton was on pace for career highs in home runs, RBIs and runs scored – obliterating marks he posted the prior two seasons, had he played in the same amount of games.
In 1992, the numbers were 27, 109 and 80 ... in 147 games.
In 1993, they were 24, 105 and 90 ... in 145 games.
In 1994, 15, 56 and 43 ... in 69 games.
Frankly, he never returned to form following that fracture. Just became a bit player.
Truth be told, he was not a great player in historical terms. Despite arguments to the contrary, his career mirrors his eventual replacement and non-fan favorite Mike Lieberthal's in hard-to-believe fashion.
Dutch's 162-game averages were 19 homers, 82 RBIs and 71 runs scored.
Lieby's were 20, 82 and 71.
The difference? Daulton was a leader – by example and by mouth.
Looking back, one memory as a “fan” stands out for me. The '93 Phillies had been unstoppable, sparking daily rundowns in newsprint and over airwaves as to how poorly they could play the rest of the way and still win 100 games – and, of course, cruise into in the playoffs.
Then a funny thing started to happen. St. Louis got hot. The Cardinals began closing on the Phillies, setting up a showdown series at Veterans Stadium the three days following my 27th birthday in late July.
Me, my wife at the time, her mom, her brother and his wife made the trip to South Philly for the middle game. Had seats way up there in left-center field. Second deck.
Wouldn't you know it, the Cards jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first. Things, not just that night, but for the entire season, started to take a more tense turn. Then Daulton stepped to the plate in the bottom of the third against Bob Tewksbury. Bases loaded.
Tie game ... and Daulton later added a two-run double. St. Louis never recovered. Not then, or the rest of the season.
The Phillies didn't reach the century mark that year. But they did win 97, and the National League Eastern Division crown, ultimately holding off Montreal (94 wins) while St. Louis (87) slipped down to third place.
Thanks for that memory, and for being a solid guy. Philly was better for “experiencing” you.