The 1950 Whiz Kids: Young and Hungry

By Doug Koztoski

True, the 1980 team won the first World Series crown in Philadelphia Phillies’ history, and the ballclub captured their only other Fall Classic in 2008. Those teams deserve their “props,” but the 1950 pennant-winning squad will also always have a special place in the hearts of hardcore Phillies’ fans.

Before 1950, the Phillies had only made one World Series appearance: 1915, a loss to a Boston Red Sox team so deep in pitching that 18-game winner Babe Ruth, a rookie, did not toss a pitch in the entire five games.

A great representation of the 1950 Phillies was a team panorama produced by the Philadelphia Bulletin. This is available for $100 and up.

A great representation of the 1950 Phillies was a team panorama produced by the Philadelphia Bulletin. This is available for $100 and up.

In 1949, the Phillies looked – with above-average optimism – for their first winning campaign since 1932. During the 1948 season, the team added manager Eddie Sawyer and the ballclub either already employed or promoted several young players to their roster, namely outfielders Richie Ashburn and Del Ennis and pitchers Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons – those players and others in their mid-20s or younger who would later earn them the “Whiz Kids” nickname.

The Phils came through somewhat for “The City of Brotherly Love” in 1949, as the team had a winning record, finishing in third place, 16 games behind the pennant-winning Brooklyn Dodgers. That ’49 Dodger team sported a roster of several strong hitters, including Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, “Duke” Snider, “Pee Wee” Reese, Carl Furillo and Gil Hodges, plus Preacher Roe and Don Newcombe presented impressive pitching.

For the 1950 Phillies Opening Day lineup, Robin Roberts took the mound against Newcombe – and beat the defending National League champs. Those moundsmen returned at a pivotal point later in the season to battle again.

The “Fightin’ Phillies” of 1950, as they were also known, eased into the season and reached their peak in August, winning 20 games.

By September 20, Philadelphia led the league by 7½ games over Brooklyn. But with a few Phillies snafus, including injuries, their lead withered to a single game with one to play – against the Dodgers, at Brooklyn’s Ebbet’s Field. No pressure.

BowmanwaitkusNo pholding for Philly
Roberts and Newcombe, both with 19 wins, paired off. The Phillies were no match for the Dodgers’ sluggers in overall stats for the year, but they did have a pair of .300 hitters in Ashburn and Ennis, the latter the NL’s RBI leader. Plus, Philly had ace reliever Jim Konstanty, a seasoned veteran who, with 16 wins and 22 saves, would notch the NL MVP award.

With the score 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Roberts allowed a walk, a single and then Snider singled up the middle. Ashburn scooped up the hit in center field and fired to catcher Stan Lopata, who that inning had replaced Andy Seminick on defense. Lopata applied the tag in time and prevented Cal Abrams from scoring. Extra innings soon followed.

Dick Sisler’s three-run homer in the top of the 10th gave Philly a comfortable lead. Roberts returned to the mound in the bottom of the frame and sealed the victory. The Phillies had captured the pennant for the first time since World War I.

The predominately young Philadelphia team went on to battle the Yankees in some close, low-scoring World Series games, but came away winless. The Yanks had earned what would eventually be their second of a record five straight Series titles.

For an in-depth look at the entire season when the Phillies surprised the baseball world and made it to their second Fall Classic, check out the highly-acclaimed book, The Whiz Kids and the 1950 Pennant (1996, Temple University Press), co-authored by Robin Roberts and C. Paul Rogers III.

R423HeintzelmanLimited selection to start
With the “modern era” of mainstream baseball card production in only its third year in 1950, the choices for pasteboards resembled the thin red pinstripes on the Phillies uniforms. The Philadelphia-based Bowman Card Co., putting out a set under that name since 1948, took care of their hometown teams, the Athletics and Phillies.

Nineteen Phillies appear in the 252-card painted portrait set. Where usually an issue’s last series is the toughest to find, in this case the first 72 cards did the trick, including five Phils: Eddie Waitkus (#30), Ennis (#31), Roberts (#32), Willie “Puddin’ Head” Jones (#67) and Curt Simmons (#68).

Roberts would eventually earn a Baseball Hall of Fame plaque, as would Ashburn, heightening the Whiz Kids’ legacy, but at least the Ashburn card is easier to find in the 1950 set (#84).

Collecting Roberts cards for about 25 years, Roy H. Wilkinson sits atop the PSA Set Registry for the hurler’s Basic collection.

Wilkinson, a Philadelphia native, used to listen to Philly games on the radio as a kid “and thought Roberts was a great pitcher.” But the collector was born a couple years after 1950. “But as a Phillies fan, I am a fan of the Whiz Kids.” One of his favorite Roberts cards? The 1950 Bowman because it shows him in a full body pose, like he just delivered a pitch.

AshburnAnother 1950 card choice, often overlooked, are the tiny R423s, which came out in 13-card strips in vending and gumball machines. While the individual cards, slightly smaller than an average postage stamp, include Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Stan Musial and other superstars from various eras, a handful of 1950 Phils also show up: Ashburn, Ennis, Konstanty and Ken Heintzelman.

Unless one wants to count some small Philadelphia newspaper-related issues, after the Bowmans and R423s, the 1950 Phillies “season of” card choices largely vanish in a flash, like a late-breaking slider from the strike zone.

One Philly newspaper piece worth highlighting focuses on a panoramic shot of the entire team (about 36-by-10 inches) put out by the Philadelphia Bulletin. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder and hatless, the roster of uniformed roustabouts stares back at us, except for Ashburn, who looks to his right, maybe thinking about another of his signature drag bunts or taking an extra base on a ball in the gap once the game begins shortly after the photo-op. A nice example of the team picture can bring $100 and up.

Programs and ticket stubs from the 1950 Philadelphia-based World Series games attract solid interest. Some Excellent condition Series programs featuring a small group image of a few Whiz Kids, in a black-and-white photo on the cover, recently sold in the $45 to $60 range. Raw ticket stubs in EX went for $100 each.

If you want to stretch the 1950 Phillies into the 1951 card issues, Bowman takes the lead once again, but the Berk Ross set does the team proud with double-digit representation, as well. The 1951 Topps Blue backs also have some of the Fightin’ Phils.

Topps team photos from 1951 make a top bet, where the Phillies can be found with or without the year 1950 on the front. Expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars for a slabbed mid-grade sample of these team images.

Like putting one of his pitches right where he wanted it, perhaps Roberts summed up the Whiz Kids’ year best at the end of his book, underscoring the point that it was the only pennant-winning ballclub he and many of his teammates ever experienced: “For us, 1950 was truly a season to remember. It was a special time and a special team and holds great memories.” Several baseball fans feel that connection, too, and their collecting of Whiz Kids items will help preserve those warm memories for decades to come.

Doug Koztoski welcomes comments and questions related to this article at dkoz3000@gmail.com.

Related Posts:

Leave a Reply