Image Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Ghosts of Phillies Past: Cliff Lee and Joe Cowley


The Phillies’ season has mercifully come to a close.  I’m not going to lie to you: This wasn’t the franchise’s best season.

On the other hand, things could have been – and often have been – worse for the Phillies.  Seasons like 2013 used to be viewed as the norm in Philadelphia.  So let’s take another trip down memory lane and compare another one of the team’s current players to a not-so-great player from the past.

Featured Phillie of the Month: Cliff Lee

While September was mostly an exercise of limping to the finish line, there was one player who ended the season at the top of his game.  Cliff Lee has long been known for his impeccable control, but he somehow managed to take it to another level this past month.

He finished the month with 54 strikeouts and only one walk.  Those kinds of numbers are almost unseen in major league baseball.  In fact, Lee is the first player since 1916 to strike out that many while walking one or less.

It was a splendid finish to an excellent season for Lee.  There is an argument about just how good Lee’s 2012 season was, but in 2013, he showed that he absolutely should still be considered as one of the top pitchers in baseball.

Ghost of Phillies Past: Joe Cowley

During his brief tenure with the Phillies, Joe Cowley didn’t quite demonstrate that same level of control.

Cowley was considered a rising star in 1986.  He showed flashes of brilliance that season, highlighted by a no-hitter in the month of September.  The Phillies traded for Cowley prior to the 1987 offseason, and they thought they were getting a solid addition to their starting rotation.

Cowley had experienced some problems with wildness, but it wasn’t unheard of for a young pitcher to improve his control as his career progressed.  Unfortunately for the Phillies, Cowley didn’t improve.  Instead, the problem got much worse.

In his first start of the season, he walked four batters in 2/3 of an inning.  He followed that up with a one-inning, five walk outing.  Cowley lasted two more starts and one more relief appearance before the team announced that he was going on the disabled list.

Cowley apparently suffered from “Steve Blass Disease” where he was no longer mentally able to throw a strike.  Sadly, he was never able to recover, and 1987 was his last year in professional baseball.  A once promising major league career had been cut short.

Final Take

The Phillies pitching might have had its share of problems this season, but Cliff Lee certainly wasn’t one of them.  In fact, if the team had supported him a little better, he might even be in the Cy Young Award conversation.

Let’s just hope that he never loses his ability to throw strikes like Cowley once did.  Thankfully, I’d say there’s very little chance of that happening.

Tags: Cliff Lee Ghosts Of Phillies Past Joe Cowley Philadelphia Phillies