By Colin Salt
In 1950,the Philadelphia Phillies won the National League pennant on the strength of a talented, largely young roster. The youth and skill of their players caused them to be nicknamed the "Whiz Kids". The youngest team in the NL, it included future Hall of Famers Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn, both only 23 at the time. They got crushed by the Yankees in the World Series, but it still ranked as one of the best performances by that team to date. Especially because they'd spent decades in the basement.
Thirty-three years later, the Phillies also won the National League pennant. They also lost in the World Series, this time to the Cal Ripken/Eddie Murray Baltimore Orioles. Interestingly, they and the 1950 team had almost the same number of regular season wins-91 in 1950 and 90 in 1983. But the composition of the team could not be more different, and so was its history. The 80s team had been a consistent contender and had won its first championship three years prior. The context of the game was also different. There was expansion, divisional play that made it easier for a "weaker" team to win in the postseason, and, most importantly, free agency.
The Phillies were now a group of aging veterans. But instead of just trying to cushion the fall with prospects and accepting a period of losing, they grabbed even more aging veterans, largely through free agency. This team had the oldest position players and second-oldest pitchers in baseball. It featured such figures as a 42 year old Pete Rose, a 39 year old Joe Morgan, and a 41 year old Tony Perez. All were veterans of the Cincinatti Reds dynasty, a dynasty which ironically crumbled at the moment free player movement arrived. Authors who remembered the Whiz Kids nickname played on it in 1983 and called the team the "Wheeze Kids."
The Phillies were not the first and not the last team to try and grab a bunch of big names. Occasionally it succeeded, such as with the 2001 Diamondbacks and 2019 Nationals. More often, it was an expensive failure. The early Diamondbacks lucked into two ultra-talented pitchers in Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. It was them and not their lineup of position players in their thirties that led them to a trophy. The early Rays tried a similar strategy, going for "names" like Jose Canseco, Fred McGriff, and Greg Vaughn. They utterly failed.
In my sports simulation games, I've found myself attracted to the Wheeze Kids model of team building. This sports alternate history is frequently ahistorical. Some of the players come from a time period before free agency and/or are those who wouldn't leave their OTL team at that time. But that's the joy of simulations-you can change what you want.
As for why I stuff my teams full of aged superstars, I'd have to say the reason is curiosity. Putting a bunch of prime superstars on one team, as I mentioned in my previous article on "bad" champions, is anticlimactic-you know they'll be good. But taking a group of post-prime superstars is another story. Seeing how much gas they have in the tank is fascinating.
It's also realistic in multiple ways. After all, many clubs in a win-now state of mind have tried to grab as many veterans as they could, and sports alternate history is dominated by moving different "names" to different teams. So, perhaps subconsciously, I'm going "let's see how your team of [Player X], [Player Y], and [Player Z] would really do."