Phillies great Daulton passes away at 55 after cancer battle
By Paul Hagen
On the night of Aug. 13, 1991, at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, with the bases loaded and one out and the Phillies down by a run, manager Jim Fregosi made the understandable decision to pinch-hit for .183-hitting catcher Darren Daulton.
Understandable, that is, to everybody but Daulton. Even though he was 29 years old and batting .221 for his career at the time, he was hopping mad.
"After the game, he came in my office and he was upset," Fregosi recalled years later. "So I said, 'Well, if you do the job, I wouldn't have to pinch-hit for you.' I said, 'I think there are things you have not done and you could be a much better player than you are.' And I said, 'If you want to do something about it, meet [hitting coach] Denis Menke and me at 2 o'clock in the batting cage tomorrow and we'll start working on what you have to do.' And he was all for it."
The following season, Daulton hit 27 homers, led the National League with 109 RBIs, made the All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger Award and finished sixth in the NL Most Valuable Player Award voting.
Daulton always believed he could overcome any obstacle. It was that sort of determination that allowed the 25th-round Draft choice out of tiny Cowley County (Kan.) Community College to become one of the most respected players of his era. Daulton was the unquestioned leader of the Phils' 1993 NL champions. Traded to the Marlins before the 1997 Deadline, his clubhouse presence was credited for helping the Fish win the World Series that year.
"Darren starred for one of the most memorable Phillies' teams ever in 1993," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "With leadership and toughness, he personified the city that he represented for nearly his entire 14-year Major League career. In his final game, Darren batted cleanup for the Marlins' team that won the 1997 World Series championship."
It wasn't until after Daulton was discovered to have glioblastoma, a highly malignant form of brain cancer, that he encountered a setback he couldn't overcome through sheer willpower and stubborn refusal to give in. He had surgery to remove two tumors in July 2013. Daulton died Sunday at the age of 55.
While there were multiple facets to his personality, Daulton is primarily remembered as the sheriff of the rambunctious '93 Phils team that went from worst to first despite -- or maybe because of -- a roster overflowing with colorful characters and unique personalities.
"He was just a natural leader. He always knew whether to maybe knock you down a peg or build you up," said right-hander Mike Grace, a teammate and close friend. "If you were struggling mentally or you weren't confident, it wasn't like, 'Snap out of it.' It was like a hand on your shoulder. Just that presence where he knew exactly the right thing to say.
"And it was always about the whole group and the team. It wasn't about him. So that was really special about him. Everyone was focused on their own individual thing, which I think is natural. But it was more proof that he knew he belonged. So he was never worried about [himself]. He cared more about the team than his own individual performance."
Curt Schilling was then just developing into the dominant pitcher he would become.
"I never played with someone who had more of a clubhouse presence than he did," the right-hander said of Daulton. "I played with some other guys who did that. Never anyone who did it as well as him. He knew what to say, exactly when to say it.
"Let's be honest. I was a young player when I went to Philadelphia and he wasn't. We didn't hang out. But when the sabermetricians get mad about chemistry and they talk about [how inconsequential] it is, Darren was the guy who made me realize it was real."
First baseman John Kruk related an example of his ability to command a room full of big contracts and bigger egos.
"We were getting ready to play a big series against the Cardinals," Kruk said. "We had heard -- I don't know if it's true, but I think it is -- that Tom Pagnozzi had said, 'Once we go into Philly and sweep these guys, we'll never hear from them again.'
"It was a four-game series. I remember after we beat them the first three games of the series, we came in and [Daulton] said, 'Boys, don't pop off. Let them do the talking. You see where it's getting them. Let our performance on the field do our talking for us.'
"It would have been easy for one of us to say something. But that's the thing. When he spoke, we listened. No one said anything. No one popped off. And we ended up completing the sweep the next day. I kind of had a feeling all along, but that's when I knew this was going to be something special because we have a guy taking the reins and doing all the right things and making us follow in doing the right things as far as what we say and do."
By that time, Daulton's contributions on the field matched his influence off it. He made the NL All-Star team three times in four years from 1992-95. But injuries began to take their toll.
In 1994, Daulton was hitting .300 with 15 homers and 56 RBIs in June when a foul tip broke his right clavicle. He missed the remainder of the season ... but not until after he finished the game.
Why baseball is sometimes secondary....but Darren was a hero in my eyes!!!! #legendaryleader... we love you !!! Dutch
Daulton was never as consistently productive after he returned. The following season, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee when he slipped on the wet artificial turf while rounding second base at Veterans Stadium. It was the latest in a series of knee injuries that required multiple surgeries.
Teammates marveled at Daulton's toughness, the extraordinary lengths he had to go through to get himself ready to play every day.
"He'd come into the clubhouse at 12 or 12:30 or 1, and he'd go right to [trainer Jeff Cooper] and he'd prepare himself and prepare his body to get ready," recalled former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., then a reserve outfielder. "Then he'd go out there and play. He always ran hard to first base. He always played the game right. He always played with a great deal of respect for the game. So just knowing what kind of pain he was in every day -- every day -- and playing through that kind of epitomized what he was all about."
Deeply saddened to hear about the loss of Darren Daulton today! You will be missed my friend, always enjoyed your presence at the ballpark
Daulton also had a softer side. Amaro was traded to the Indians after the 1993 season, then returned to the organization three years later. Daulton took him under his wing, often entertaining him and his then-wife Virginia.
"He would take us out to Morton's after almost every home game," Amaro said. "It was crazy. We'd have lobster and wine. It was how Darren did things. Really grandiosely. And he would never let me take my wallet out. Ever. So finally -- and I don't know how smart this was -- I called ahead. I gave them my credit card and told them to put a 25-percent tip on it. So we get the bill three weeks later and it was like $700. And Virginia said, 'Don't you ever do that again!'" Amaro said that with a laugh.
Daulton was also generous with local charities, especially those involving the homeless. He was on the first board of the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness and sponsored a golf tournament that funded a number of providers for the entire year. When Resources for Human Development launched "One Step Away," Daulton was a fixture at the annual event.
I know Dad's favorite Phils team was the wonderfully wacky group of grinders in '93. Daulton was the heart/soul of that squad. #RIPDutch
RHD communications director Kevin Roberts once asked him why the cause meant so much to him.
"I was a kid from Arkansas City, Kansas," Daulton explained. "When I made the big leagues, it was the first time I was in a big city, and I thought: 'I'm going to live downtown, in the city where I play.' I'd come home late at night from the ballpark, and it was the first time I ever saw a homeless person. I'd be driving home, and see someone sleeping on the street, curled up on a heating grate. And it just broke my heart."
Noted Roberts: "I think it says something about 'Dutch' that when something mattered to him, he never thought, 'Well, someone else will figure that out.' He thought, 'OK, how can I fix this?' He was an amazing advocate for us."
So sad. My all time favorite. Why I chose #10 jersey. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones. https://t.co/3BnS91rTuE
Even after his diagnosis, Daulton continued to work tirelessly with the Darren Daulton Foundation, hosting golf tournaments and other charitable events.
Daulton was added to the Phillies Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park in 2010. It's a fitting legacy, providing the memory of a fearless leader who had a unique ability to raise everybody around him.
"Another thing that really sticks out was his sense of humor. He loved to laugh. Just his laugh itself. I can always hear it ringing in my ears," Grace said. "He got knocked around so much in his personal life that he never lost perspective. He was grounded. He always hung onto those Kansas roots."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.