By: Matt Alberston, Historical Columnist
Sunday, the Phillies lost beloved Phillies alumnus Darren Daulton to his ongoing fight with brain cancer. Daulton was 55 years old.
Darren "Dutch" Daulton was a 25th round selection by the Phillies in the 1980 draft out of Arkansas City High School. What the Phillies got was a hard-nosed, blue-collar kid who would stop at nothing to succeed as a professional baseball player. Additionally, he carried a record as a proven winner from adolescence through high school. He was an all-state wrestler, heralded as a possible Division I football defensive back, and a three year starting catcher in high school. Athletics came easily to Daulton. He was, according to his high school baseball coach Mike West, a true five tool player who could field, run, throw, hit, and hit for power.
The scouting report also showed that Daulton could handle a pitching staff. His father taught him that it was imperative that a catcher know each of his pitchers and how to handle them in every situation. West recalled a situation when a pitcher tried to be too fine and Daulton confronted the pitcher and chewed him out. West told historian Bill Kashatus that "Darren made people step up. He always gave his very best whenever he stepped on to the field, and he wouldn't tolerate anything less from his teammates. To find someone that young with that kind of passion, selflessness, work ethic, and integrity was truly exceptional."
Daulton's ultimate goal was to become a major league baseball player. Kashatus noted a conversation Daulton had with a high school teacher, who felt that Daulton could easily succeed academically in college if he only applied more time to his high school studies more than to baseball. When asked about what he'd do when baseball probably wouldn't work out as a fruitful career, Daulton respectfully disagreed on three occasions, stating bluntly (yet respectfully) that he was going to be a player in the majors.
All said, the Phillies got more bang for their buck by drafting Daulton in the 25th round, behind the likes of fellow 1980 Phillies catcher draftees Henry Powell (1st), Doug Maggio (3rd), and Jerome Kovar (10th) – none of whom advanced further than Single A. Daulton carried little promise but continued to advance through the minors, earning call ups to the Phillies in 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1987, and playing in 140 games over those four seasons. He batted .209 in that stretch with 15 home runs and 45 RBI – not exactly a dominating resume.
Despite his meager offensive display in the majors between 1983 and 1987, Daulton did learn how to be a true professional and leader from a few greats like Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt. Baseball historian William Kashatus detailed a few examples in his 2017 book Macho Row: The 1993 Phillies and Baseball's Unwritten Code. "Lefty showed me how to prepare myself, how to stay in top physical shape. Daulton said of Carlton, "He also taught me about good food and wine by taking me and some of the younger guys out to nice restaurants when we were on the road." He explained that Schmidt was also a grinder. "Schmitty taught me that you have to work at this game to survive in it…he spent a lot of time in the [batting] cages working on his swing…He was always there to encourage us, to share his knowledge…I tried to emulate that kind of leadership later in my career when I saw younger guys coming up." Daulton also suffered a debilitating knee injury in 1987 and suffered a short 1988 season after he punched a clubhouse wall and broke his hand.
Entering his age 27 season in 1989, he and was finally penciled in as the club's starting backstop, after an organizational cleansing saw the departure of All-Star catcher Lance Parrish. In his first full season in the majors, Daulton underwhelmed with a .201 batting average. By 1990, his average increased to .268, and he caught Terry Mulholland's no-hitter. But another setback struck Daulton in May 1991, when he and teammate Lenny Dykstra were nearly killed in a car accident; Daulton suffered a fractured eye socket and scratched cornea and was shut down for the year after the All-Star break. The aging catcher returned motivated in 1992, batting .270 with 27 home runs and 109 RBI in his first All-Star year.
Daulton was the last remaining vestige on the roster who played for the 1983 NL champion Phillies. He happened to be the bridge in terms of both chronology and leadership from the Schmidt and Carlton led Phillies teams and arguably the most unlikely and entertaining team in recent memory.
Dutch was the unquestioned leader of a motley group of players who were picked to finish last in the NL East, just as they had in 1992. The team had a unique chemistry that lasted throughout the season before, during, and after games. Larry Bowa explained in Bob Gordon and Tom Brgoyne's 1993 Phillies biography More than Beards, Bellies and Biceps that "The personalities on that team didn't dwell on negatives…They didn't have the talent of our 1980 club…they had a different kind of air about them – those guys were Hall of Famers. That '93 team was like the Rocky story. They were a blue-collar, hard-working group with no limits." After a poor showing against St. Louis in July, Daulton called a team meeting and encouraged his teammates to stick together no matter what. Larry Anderson recalled that Dutch addressed the team, explaining that they would either win the pennant together or lose it together, it would not be the fault of one or two men. The team persevered down the stretch and gelled behind Daulton, Dykstra, and Kruk. Their blue collar, never-say-die attitude brought them to the brink of a World Series title.
Daulton was eventually traded to the Florida Marlins midway through the 1997 season. Once again, Dutch's leadership helped a young, inexperienced club persevere. Manager Jim Leyland later expressed that the Marlins would not have beaten a very good Cleveland team had they not acquired Daulton that year. He started in five of the series' seven games, once as a designated hitter and four times at first base. In his 18 at-bats, Daulton's slash line was .389/.455/.667 with one home run, two doubles, and two RBI in the World Series. Former 1993 Phillies teammate Jim Eisenreich also won a ring with the Marlins that year.
Daulton retired after being granted free agency following the 1997 season. Over 14 major league seasons, Daulton slashed .245/.357/.427 and hit 137 home runs while driving in 588 runs. He accumulated 22.9 WAR.
In July 2013, Daulton had two tumors removed from his brain. It was announced that he suffered from a brain cancer known as gioblastoma. In 2015, he announced on Twitter that an MRI scan revealed that he was cancer free. During this time, Daulton founded the Darren Daulton Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to those with brain cancer and tumors. The foundation raises funds through golf outings, Phillies games, private parties, and signings.
The Phillies and the Darren Daulton Foundation will host a community night on September 17, 2017 at 1:35pm against the Oakland Athletics. Seating is located in the Pavilioin, sections 206-2011, and are $33 per ticket. Tickets to the game can be purchased through the following link (Darren Daulton Foundation at Citizens Bank Park). Proceeds will benefit the Darren Daulton Foundation.