Chico Ruiz Steals Home to Start Phillies Skid – September 21, 1964
If you’re from Philly and you’re over 60, then you probably know that Chico Ruiz stole home and started the Phillies epic 10-game losing streak in 1964.
And if you’re from Philly and you have not yet celebrated your 60th big one, you’ve still probably heard about this, because your Mom and Dad, and your Grandma and Grandpa, and all your aunts and uncles still talk about it, because even though it happened 50 years ago, they still haven’t totally gotten over it.
20,067 watched it happen on a Monday night at Connie Mack Stadium in North Philadelphia. There was a radio broadcast, but the game was not televised. Most Phillies’ fans (myself included) didn’t even know what happened until they read about it in the paper the next day. And when we learned about it, it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Sure, it’s not every day of the week that your team loses a game because some rookie no-name steals home, but at the time, nobody considered it to be any kind of horrible, ominous event.
The Phillies were in first place, 6.5 games ahead of the Cardinals and the Reds, who were tied for second. So when they lost to Cincinnati that night, the Phillies were still leading the National League by 5.5 games – Nothing to get excited about. They were still well on their way to winning their first pennant in 14 years. (By the way, When you’re a 14 year-old kid, as I was, that’s a lifetime.)
So they lost a game. Big deal.
The stealing-home-plate thing didn’t really become a thing until after the Phillies blew their next nine games, and the pennant as well. It was only then, that the sportswriters, and fans, and later bloggers, began to deconstruct the 1964 Phillies fiasco.
Even though the losing streak lasted 10 games, The Phillies actually fell out of first place on September 27, after the Milwaukee Braves beat them 14-8; their seventh straight loss. On that same day, the Reds took a double header from the Mets and went a full game ahead of the Phillies. The Cardinals, who went on to win the National League Pennant and the World Series that year, were still lurking in third place, but were only a game and half behind the Reds.
With only five games left, and the pennant within their grasp, the Reds decided to join the choke-fest and went 1-4 the rest of the way. The Phillies finally won their last two games, against the Reds no less, but it was two little too late.
The Cardinals couldn’t have picked a better time to get hot. Just while the Phillies were tanking, they won eight straight (including a three game sweep of the hapless Phils). But at the very end, even St. Louis tried to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The final weekend of the season began on Friday, October 2. the Cards led the Reds by a game, and the shell shocked Phillies by 2.5 games. Just to tie, the Phillies had to win their remaining two games with the Reds, and, they needed the Mets to sweep a three-game set against the Cards, in St. Louis. The Mets at that point were sporting a record of 51 wins against 108 losses. They were 41 games out of first place.
So just to make sure that we’d still be talking about it a half century later, The Mets won the first two games in the series with the Cardinals, and the Phillies won the first of two games with the Reds. With a 161 games down and one to go, St. Louis and Cincinnati were tied with records of 92-69, and Philadelphia was a game back at 91-70. If the Mets beat the Cardinls and the Phillies beat the Reds, it would have forced a three-way tie.
One last gasp
On that Sunday afternoon, the last day of the baseball season, I was at Franklin Field watching the lousy Eagles beat the even worse Steelers, 21-7. Everybody at the football game was following the baseball games on their transistor radios.
The Phillies cruised past the Reds, 10-0, and lowly Mets made it interesting. They scored two in the top of the fifth inning to take a 3-2 lead, and all the Eagles fans roared. Then in the bottom of the fifth, the Eagles fans groaned when the Cardinals scored three. The Mets scored another run in the top of the sixth and were only down by a run, but St. Louis put up three in the bottom the sixth, and put a lid on our hopes and dreams with three more runs in the eighth.
Then of course, the postmortem of the Phillies debacle began, and it continued ad nauseam. By the following Wednesday, around the time when the Cardinals were taking the opener of the Series from the Yankees, the words “Chico Ruiz” started making their nasty descent into the collective consciousness of Philadelphia.
Seven and half years later “veteran utility infielder” Chico Ruiz was killed when he drove his car off Interstate 5 in California, and hit a sign pole. The AP report of Ruiz’s death failed to mention that night in Philadelphia, when he was dancing around third base in the top of the sixth – two outs – the game tied 0-0 – Frank Robinson, one of the most prolific RBI guys in the Majors was batting.
In Philadelphia we remember what happened.