Darren Daulton recalled as good leader
When former Phillies president Bill Giles was putting together ideas for the team’s 1993 National League championship rings, he wanted Darren Daulton’s input on their final construction.
When Daulton came to Giles’ office, there were two rings in front of him and Giles asked which one he liked better. Daulton, the leader of that lovable group of throwbacks picked and chose things from each ring and told Giles to put them together to make the one ring which players and executives from that team wear today.
It wasn’t enough that Daulton was the 100-RBI clean-up hitter on one of the most beloved Phillies teams ever. It wasn’t enough that he was the glue which held the team together and the gears which made that machine run. But in the end, he also designed their championship rings.
Former Phillies general manager Ed Wade smiled as he recounted that story Monday evening at Bowman Field in Williamsport. He discussed what Daulton meant to both the Phillies and the city of Philadelphia the day after brain cancer claimed the former catcher’s life at just 55.
Wade said he was more sad than shocked when he heard of Daulton’s passing late Sunday night. He had been informed by the Phillies a week ago that this was possible in the near future for Daulton, who was diagnosed with brain cancer four years ago.
“We were all aware of what he was going through,” said Wade, who is working in the Phillies’ front office as a special assistant in baseball operations. “It’s a big loss for everybody. It literally seemed like Darren was in the prime of his life when this all first occurred. To see what he’s gone through the last several years, on one hand it’s sad. One the other hand it was what he’s about, trying to fight and make things better even when it was an uphill climb.”
Following all Daulton’s former teammates and coaches who spoke in remembrance of him Monday, Wade said Daulton was as genuine a person as you’d find. And it was because he was so genuine that he was listened to so intently by his teammates.
It was that genuine nature which allowed former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi to trust Daulton with running the clubhouse in the early to mid-90s. As assistant to the general manager and then assistant general manager in the 90s, Wade had a front-row seat for how Daulton guided the basement-dweller Phillies into a pennant-winning team in just a year.
“This was a guy who showed up every day prepared to overcome whatever physical malady he may be going through at that particular time. They knew it wasn’t phony,” Wade said. “They knew he was going to hold them as accountable as he held himself. He had the charisma, the good looks, and all that kind of stuff. But when it came down to it, the guy was just a grinder and the other guys respected it. They respected it when he hugged them and gave them a kiss. They respected him when he read the riot act to them whether it was behind closed doors or 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate in a critical situation. They just knew it was genuine. It was designed to be in that player’s best interest, the best interest of the club, and the best interest of everybody else who was part of the process. It was all about doing the right thing.”
His leadership traits were something noticeable to players who weren’t even in the Phillies’ clubhouse every day. Williamsport Crosscutters manager Pat Borders played against Daulton in the 1993 World Series when his Toronto Blue Jays beat the Phillies in six games to win their second consecutive World Series.
Through that series and through often encounters during spring training in Florida, Borders could clearly see how Daulton led his team.
“What he did bring to the table in my mind was really good, strong leadership,” Borders said Monday. “His leadership, his drive, his intensity, it didn’t look like he took off any plays or any pitches. He looked like a good teammate that would have your back. That’s someone that you could start your team around.”
It was for those same reasons, Wade said, that Daulton was so beloved in Philadelphia. On a team full of blue collar players, Daulton was relateable to everyone who walked through the turnstiles at Veterans Stadium.
He didn’t make excuses for his bad knees and the nine surgeries which ravaged them. Instead, he found a way to get his name in the lineup 147 times during the 1993 season where he hit 24 home runs, drove in 105 runs, walked 117 times, and finished seventh in the National League MVP voting.
He played, bad knees and all, and he was beloved because of it.
“Big media markets are tough. It’s tough to play in Boston, it’s tough to play in New York. But Philly’s the toughest place to play because of the passion of the fans,” Wade said. “They knew that the guy behind the plate was one of them, whether he was born in Kansas or not. But they knew that Darren Daulton was a Philly guy and he was bringing that Philadelphia work ethic.”
When the end of Daulton’s career came in 1997, Giles, general manager Lee Thomas and Fregosi got together and worked out a trade which sent Daulton to the Florida Marlins for outfielder Billy McMillon. For them, the idea of trading Daulton to a team which was on the verge of making its first postseason run was a reward for everything he had given the Phillies since being drafted in the 25th round of the 1980 draft.
Daulton went to south Florida and provided the same thing as he did for the 1993 Phillies. He took a team which was full of talent but lacked the glue to bring it all together and made it a World Series-winning team. At 35, Daulton hit clean-up for the Marlins in Game 7 of the World Series when they defeated the Cleveland Indians to capture the franchise’s first championship. Daulton never played Major League Baseball again following that game.
For Wade, putting Daulton in position to win a World Series was a fitting ending to a career which led Daulton to be inducted to the Phillies’ Wall of Fame in 2010.
“When Lee Thomas made the deal, I think everybody applauded it and saluted it,” Wade said. “It was sort of a poorly kept secret that it was going to be his final year. I think Bill Giles and Lee Thomas and Jim Fregosi got together and said we’ve got a chance to do something special for somebody who was done something special for us. So when the deal was made, it was for all the right reasons. I think the majority of people, whether it’s the fans or teammates or others recognized what the organization was trying to do to give him the type of sendoff he deserved after all those years.”