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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Macho Row: The 1993 Phillies and Baseball's Unwritten Code- A Review

Although they lost the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays in dramatic fashion, the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies were one of the most iconic teams in baseball history. With a roster comprised of long-haired, grubby outcasts, they captivated the country once they started winning and proved they were no joke. However, they were not built to last and were gone as quickly as they arrived (The Phillies wouldn’t have another winning season until 2001) —with many of their key players never approaching the same level of effectiveness during the remainder of their careers. William C. Kashatus’ Macho Row: The 1993 Phillies and Baseball’s Unwritten Code (University of Nebraska Press, 2017) takes an in depth look at this motley crew and how they impacted the baseball scene for one fleeting season.

Kashatus uses six players as lenses to tell the story of the 1993 Phillies. These include Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk, Dave Hollins, Pete Incaviglia and Mitch Williams. Their commonality, and what led to the greatness of that team, was that they were all castoffs who converged to all enjoy the best season of their careers. Led by Daulton, the only homegrown Philadelphia product (he toiled in the organization for over a decade before becoming a star), they were a rough and tumble lot who embraced their identity as dirt bags that turned baseball on its ear.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Phillies succeeded despite significant drama. Dykstra, the best player on the team credits his huge numbers that year to starting a regimen of steroids. A number of other players on the squad were eventually outed, or at the very least, suspected of doing the same. Pitcher Curt Schilling is described as sometimes showing up his teammates, especially Williams, whose high wire act as the closer was so nerve-wracking that his teammate was often seen holding covering his eyes with a towel and holding his head until the final out was recorded. It was all able to work with the steady leadership of Daulton, the longest-tenured and most-respected veteran who was not afraid of exerting his will when needed.

Part of what makes this team so fascinating in retrospect is that they ended up not being all that likeable. In addition to the steroid use and brash behavior on the field, there was boorish behavior off it. Kruk enjoyed giving off the appearance of being an uneducated lout, even though that was the opposite of reality. Dykstra had a mega-sized ego and rarely let anyone forget it. Hollins could be so moody that he gained the nickname of Mikey to reflect how much he could transform his personality.

While Macho Row is well written there are some components that could have made it an even more enjoyable read. Additional perspective from the coaching staff, front office and their opponents would have provided valuable context. There is some sprinkled in but not enough when presenting the retelling of an entire season. Additionally, more detail about what was going on around the Phillies that year (other standout teams, players, etc) would have been welcome.

Kashatus gives a “where are they now” glimpse for the six players he focused on. Sadly, the bad has often outweighed the good with this group. Not only did they all see their careers take a dive after the magical 1993 season, they experienced personal difficulty as well. Daulton has experienced major health issue; Dykstra went to jail; Williams was fired from an announcing job after allegedly ordering a pitcher to intentionally hit a batter during a youth baseball game he was coaching.

While not without its faults, Macho Row is an easy read and throws the curtain back for a closer look at one of baseball’s most memorable teams. They are also an easily identifiable jumping off point when baseball transitioned to the steroid era and are thus an intriguing cautionary tale. Baseball fans will enjoy finding out what made them tick and how they changed the game forever.

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