The 1950 Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, which surprisingly won the National League pennant but lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series, gained the nickname the “Whiz Kids” from Newspaper Enterprise Association sports editor Harry Grayson (1894-1968) during spring training in Clearwater, Florida. The team had a roster dominated by young players, including future Baseball Hall of Famers Robin Roberts (1926-2010) on the mound and Richie Ashburn (1927-97) patrolling center field.
Owner and club president Bob Carpenter (1915-1990) built the young team through signing bonuses, and the investment paid off in 1950. Manager Eddie Sawyer (1910-97) managed the Phillies to a 81-73 record in 1949, the first winning season since 1932, and set the stage for success the following year. In 1950, Roberts (20 wins, 11 losses) and Curt Simmons (b. 1929 ) (17 wins, 8 losses) led the starters, and reliever Jim Konstanty (1917-76) pitched a then-record seventy-four games in relief. Konstanty won 16 games, saved 22, and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Right fielder Del Ennis (1925-96) led the team with a .311 batting average, 31 home runs, and 126 runs batted in. Ashburn batted .303. Catcher Andy Seminick (1920-2004) had 24 home runs, while third baseman Willie “Puddin’ Head” Jones (1925-1983) hit 25. Other key players included shortstop Granville “Granny” Hamner (1927-93), first baseman Eddie Waitkus (1919-72), and left fielder Dick Sisler (1920-98).
The Phillies opened the 1950 season with a 9-1 defeat of the Brooklyn Dodgers, defending league champions, with Roberts earning the win. The early success did not last, as the team had a .500 record and was mired in sixth place at the end of April. The season soon turned around, however, as the Phillies reached third place, half a game behind Brooklyn and St. Louis, on June 1. For the remainder of the season, the Whiz Kids were in first place at the beginning of each month and opened up a seven-game lead with eleven games left. The team then lost eight of the next ten games before facing the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field in the season finale. The Whiz Kids won the clincher 4-1 in extra innings, avoiding a best-of-three playoff. Sisler bashed a three-run home run in the top of the tenth inning, and Roberts pitched a complete game.
The magic, however, ran out in the World Series. Konstanty started for the first time that season in Game 1, losing 1-0 to the Yankees. Roberts lost Game 2, 2-1 on a tenth-inning home run by Joe DiMaggio (1914-99). Game 3, started by Simmons, resulted in another one-run loss, 3-2. The “Whiz Kids” then lost Game 4 5-2, swept by the Yankees in that team’s second of five straight world championships between 1949 and 1953.
The 1950 season raised hopes for a continuing string of Phillies titles. The following year, however, the team fell to fifth place, and it had only two more winning seasons the rest of the decade. Seminick and Sisler were traded to Cincinnati following the 1951 season. Carpenter fired Sawyer in June 1952 but rehired him in 1958. Other members of the Whiz Kids either were sold or traded, and by the end of the decade only Ashburn, Roberts, and Simmons remained on the team. By 1958, the Phillies fell to last place and remained there until expansion in 1962. The Whiz Kids, however, continued to remain in the hearts of Phillies fans.
Karen Guenther is Professor of History at Mansfield University and author of Sports in Pennsylvania, published by the Pennsylvania Historical Association.
Copyright 2017, Rutgers University
Roberts, Robin, and C. Paul Rogers III. The Whiz Kids and the 1950 Pennant. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
Westcott, Rich. A Century of Philadelphia Sports. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001.