SABR

Eddie Sawyer

This article was written by Ralph Berger.

In 1883, the Worcester Ruby Legs became the Philadelphia Quakers (the Phillies). From then until 1980, there were no World Series titles for the Phillies. They won just two National League pennants, in 1915 and in 1950, when a quiet, scholarly man named Eddie Sawyer led the club called the Whiz Kids.

Edwin Milby Sawyer was born on September 10, 1910, in Westerly, Rhode Island, to Robert and Isabelle Sawyer. Westerly, as its name indicates, is in the western part of Rhode Island, founded by John Babcock in 1669. The nearby Pawcatuck River flows by fine beaches to which thousands of tourists flock every summer. Eddie’s father was a stonecutter. He had two siblings, Mildred and Robert.

Sawyer was a four-sport star in high school. After graduating with just $20 in his pocket, he entered Ithaca College. Ithaca gave him credit to attend, but he had to work his way through – in the midst of the Great Depression – by tending furnaces, sweeping out gyms, and being a short-order cook at fraternity houses. He earned a bachelor’s degree and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. In addition to pitching and playing outfield, he was a star halfback on the football team. He then enrolled at Cornell University, where he earned a master’s degree in biology.1

In 1934, Paul Krichell, the New York Yankees scout, signed Sawyer, who was playing in a summer college league in Malone, New York. Sawyer’s first stop in professional baseball was at Norfolk in the Piedmont League. He helped lead the Tars to the pennant by hitting .361, with 143 hits in 102 games. The outfielder followed with two more .300-plus seasons at Binghamton in the New York-Pennsylvania League.

Sawyer reached the Yankees’ Pacific Coast League affiliate, the Oakland Oaks, in 1937 – but that was as far as he would go in his playing career. He was never a fast runner, and a severe shoulder injury, sustained diving for a ball, greatly hampered his chances of making it to the majors. That winter Sawyer decided to give up baseball. He began teaching at Ithaca College and was intent on earning a Ph.D.

When 1938 rolled around, the Yankees were short of minor-league outfielders. Despite his ailing shoulder, Sawyer gave himself one more shot as a player. Before he left that season, he told his wife, Polly, that if he did not hit over .300 he would quit baseball.2 He batted .299 at Binghamton despite his bad shoulder – and though he did not quit, he started his transition. Sawyer was destined to become a manager.

His first assignment was at Amsterdam, New York, in the Class-C Canadian-American League, in 1939. Still playing full-time, he led the Rugmakers to a first-place finish. Though they lost in the playoff finals, they were champions the next year after coming in third during the regular season. Sawyer remained a player-manager in Norfolk (1941) and Binghamton (1942-43) before retiring as a player. In the offseasons, he returned to Ithaca as an assistant coach in football, baseball, and basketball. He was also a professor of physical education and biology.

In 1944 Sawyer left the Yanks and joined the Phillies organization. Bob Carpenter of the DuPonts had taken over as president and owner of the Phillies in 1943. The club had finished in the second division for 11 consecutive years. The farm system was in disarray, with but a few talented players. Carpenter realized that rebuilding was going to take time and money. He hired Herb Pennock as general manager. Both Carpenter and Pennock agreed that the best way to go was to strengthen the farm system. One of their major moves was not a player but a manager. They hired 33-year-old Sawyer, the part-time college professor.3

Sawyer and Pennock had become friendly in the 1940s, when Sawyer was playing and managing in the Yankees farm system and Pennock was farm director for the Boston Red Sox. Every minor league in which Sawyer managed also had a Red Sox farm team. Sawyer was about to join Boston when he picked up the papers one morning and found that Pennock was no longer there – he was now the general manager of the Phillies. This left him up in the air a bit. A few days later, though, Pennock told Sawyer, “Don’t worry, I’ve got a job for you no matter.”4

At first Sawyer had no idea where he was going. All he knew was that he was now in a National League organization. The Phillies didn’t know either. They did not have a Triple-A affiliate at the time, because they did not have enough players. The first club Carpenter’s Phils bought (in 1943) was Utica, New York, in the Class-A Eastern League. The team did not even have a fitting nickname; in 1943, they were still known as the Braves, a vestige of past affiliation with the Boston NL franchise. Sawyer as manager eventually named them the Blue Sox.5

Of the Phillies’ “Five Year Plan,” Sawyer said, “We did things pretty fast. Our scouts signed a lot of good young players. Of course we rushed them to the major leagues pretty quickly, but we made sure we they had a good foundation. The Carpenters knew what it took to build a good organization and they relied heavily on Herb Pennock. He knew how to build a farm system and develop it. Within a few years we had a bunch of teams in the minor leagues.”6

Sawyer managed at Utica through 1947. “The Whiz Kids actually started in Utica, New York, but were not known as the Whiz Kids then,” Sawyer once said. “We had players such as Richie Ashburn, Putsy Caballero, and Granny Hamner. In 1945, I had nine first-year men in a real tough league, and we won the pennant [though they lost in the first round of the playoffs]. We had an excellent team in 1945. We made very few mistakes because we tried to take care of that in morning and afternoon workouts. The games were played at night.”7

As a manager, Sawyer was a laid-back, avuncular type who showed great patience with his players. For example, he told Granny Hamner, “You’re my shortstop this season even if you boot a dozen a game. And I am going to sock the first fan that rides you."8

He also showed his shrewd eye for talent with Richie Ashburn. When Ashburn reported to Utica in1945, he was a catcher. Sawyer took one look at Richie’s speed and converted him to the outfield. Ashburn was so fast that on bunts as a catcher he would beat the runner down the first-base line as he backed up the first baseman – even with his catching gear on. Sawyer felt that as a catcher, Ashburn’s arm was not strong enough and that his speed would diminish from the constant crouching.9

The Phillies did not have many good Class-A players, and that was their top farm club. They did not have a Triple-A franchise until 1948, and that was a working agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After winning the Eastern League championship with Utica in 1947, Sawyer became manager of the Maple Leafs. He continued to develop his future Whiz Kids, along with older players such as Jim Konstanty who would contribute greatly to the 1950 pennant.

In January 1948 Sawyer’s friendship with Herb Pennock came to a tragic end when Pennock died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Sawyer had been conversing with the GM not more than 15 minutes earlier.10

That July the Phillies fired manager Ben Chapman and replaced him with Sawyer.

In an unusual move after taking over, Sawyer retained all three of Chapman’s coaches, Dusty Cooke, Benny Bengough, and Cy Perkins. He said, “All three were ex-Yankee ballplayers and I knew them all well. We got along well and rather than go out and get other people, I just kept them all. They knew the major leagues better than I did. [Interim manager] Dusty Cooke was one of Ben Chapman’s best friends, but we got along great. I think they all knew the team had to make a change.”11

Eddie was a perfect fit for a team with young players who showed the talent to make a solid ball club – Granny Hamner, Willie Jones, Del Ennis, Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, Bubba Church, and others. In 1950 his patience would pay off.

The Phillies wound up in sixth place in 1948. During the offseason they traded Harry “The Hat” Walker to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Bill “Swish” Nicholson. The thinking was that Richie Ashburn was coming in to his own and there was not room for both him and Walker. Nicholson also added power to the lineup, while Walker was primarily a singles hitter.12 The pennant-winning roster was taking further shape under Sawyer.

The team started to come to life under Sawyer in 1949, though a near-tragedy marred the season. In Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel on June 14, a deranged woman named Ruth Steinhagen shot first baseman Eddie Waitkus. Waitkus survived, but would not play again until the next year. Yet while Sawyer had his hands full after the shooting, he kept the team together.

Roberts summed up how the team kept its composure. He said, “In baseball we have to play every day. We didn’t have much of a chance to dwell on events, even traumatic ones, because there was always another ballgame to play.” Sawyer, with his patience and understanding, kept the young team on its toes. They took both games of a doubleheader against the Cubs on the day after Waitkus was shot. The next day, still in Chicago, the Phillies trailed 3-0 after seven innings but rallied for four runs in the eighth to win, 4-3. Sawyer allowed reliever Jim Konstanty to bat for himself with the go-ahead run on third. Konstanty responded with a single to score the winning run.

By showing his confidence in the team’s resilience, Sawyer kept the Phillies from dwelling on the shock and focused their minds on baseball.13 With a late surge the team finished the season with an 81-73 record, in third place, albeit quite a distance from first and second. Sawyer, continuing his even-keeled style of managing, was sowing the seeds for the 1950 season.

Staff ace Robin Roberts said of Sawyer. “Although I did not realize it at the time, the hiring of Eddie Sawyer was a real turning point for the Phillies and for me personally. Under Eddie, the Phillies would race to the 1950 pennant and I would develop into a twenty-game winner.”

Roberts continued, “Eddie had a hands-off leadership style that I did not grow to appreciate until much later in my baseball career. We knew who was boss but he did not flaunt his authority or force himself on us. We had very few meetings, and Eddie had very few conversations with individual players. When he did talk to a player it was in private and had a purpose. Usually to correct a mistake.”

“… Sawyer wanted to keep the game simple and did not have pregame meetings to go over the hitters and how to pitch to them. He encouraged pitchers to pitch from their strengths. The catchers called the ballgames. The players played the game on their own.”14

Roberts concluded that “Sawyer‘s leadership had a lot to do with our camaraderie – he did not panic or show frustration when the team did not do well.”15

Sawyer had the sense to leave well enough alone, as seen when he told pitching coach George Earnshaw and other coaches not to change the herky-jerky, across-the-body motion of lefty Curt Simmons. He said to Curt, “You go right back to pitching the way you pitched in Egypt, Pennsylvania.” He also handled different personalities well. Jim Konstanty, a family man who didn’t smoke or drink, wasn’t “one of the boys.” He was difficult and not well-liked. Yet Sawyer said, “He was doing all right and I avoided him.” Richie Ashburn echoed this, saying, “He didn’t bother the people that played hard. He never said a word to those guys because he didn’t think he had to.”16

While Eddie Sawyer had a laissez-faire approach to managing a team, he had a surprising side too, as Ashburn and others remembered. Sawyer could get physical when it was needed. Ashburn said, “He was a brilliant, scholarly man but he could also be very tough.”17

Another time Sawyer had to break his style and clamp down on the players. They were not eating properly, and some had gone to the beach and gotten sunburned. Eddie laid down the law and had the players come to him for their meal money and saw to it that there were no more sunburns. Still, he allowed them to play the game mostly on their own intuition and abilities.

The Phillies of 1949 were a surprise team. The fans were becoming optimistic. Sawyer told the players at season’s end, “We are going to win it all in 1950. Come back next year ready to win.”18

When the 1950 season opened, the Phillies broke out their new red-striped uniforms. Sawyer said, “I actually designed the pinstriped uniforms. I thought the old uniforms were terrible looking … and Bob Carpenter agreed to change them. I worked for Wilson Sporting Goods and so I told them that I wanted pinstripe uniforms like the Yankees, only in red. I thought that the Yankee blue pinstripes were good looking uniforms.

“But Wilson did not want to make them … for anybody but the Yankees. So even though I was with Wilson, I told them I have a lot of good friends at MacGregor. They’ll make them for us any way we want. So Wilson decided to make them for us.”19

The club moved in and out of first place several times in 1950, but on July 25, they took two from the Cubs and moved into the lead for good. With three weeks left in the season the Phillies had built a 6½-game lead. Then bad things started to happen. Gene Kelly, the voice of the Phillies, used to say, “Whoa Nelly” – but now it was “Woe.” Number-two starter Curt Simmons, who had blossomed into a 17-game winner, was lost to the Army. Then Bubba Church, Bob Miller, Andy Seminick, and Dick Sisler were hurt. The seemingly comfortable lead had melted to one game over the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Phillies were playing the Dodgers at Ebbets Field on the last day of the regular season. If the Phils lost, there would have to be a best-of-three playoff.

Eddie Sawyer picked Robin Roberts, who had only two days’ rest, to start for Philadelphia. The Dodgers went with their ace, Don Newcombe. Roberts seemed to pitch his best against Newcombe and Sawyer felt confident about using him. In fact, Roberts had started on only two days’ rest seven times already that season.20 The game was a classic. Roberts bore down in the ninth inning and – with the help of Ashburn, who threw out Cal Abrams at the plate – survived a Brooklyn threat. He then retired the Dodgers in order in the 10th after Dick Sisler’s three-run homer gave the Phillies a 4-1 lead.

After the game several of the Dodgers (including losing pitcher Newcombe) came to the Phils’ clubhouse to congratulate them. “The Dodgers and we respected each other,” Sawyer said. “We played them a lot and they were all tough games. They appreciated us and we appreciated them. They were good hard competitors.”21 Some 30,000 fans jammed Thirtieth Street Railroad station in Philadelphia to welcome home the first pennant by a Phillies team in 35 years.

Sawyer’s Whiz Kids and Casey Stengel’s New York Yankees squared off in the World Series. The Phillies’ opening-game starter was a matter of debate. Roberts would have had to go on short rest yet again; Simmons, while on furlough from the Army, was only a spectator and batting-practice pitcher. The newspapers speculated that three-game winner Ken Heintzelman could get the call, since soft-tossing lefties had done well against the Yankees that year. Yet to the surprise of many, Sawyer picked the Phillies’ ace reliever, Jim Konstanty.

“I was looking for somebody different,” Eddie said. “Back in 1929, Connie Mack started Howard Ehmke in the World Series versus the Cubs. (Ehmke) couldn’t throw hard and struck out 13. So this was what I was thinking of. Konstanty would be something different for the Yankees to look at. We had to stop the Yankees’ left-handed bats, Berra, Bobby Brown, and Mize. Those guys were pretty good hitters. Konstanty had pitched seven innings a lot of times in Toronto, pitching the short games in a doubleheader. So I figured he could start it and go as far as he can and then I would bring in somebody else.”22

Jim did pitch great ball, but Vic Raschi was slightly better, and the Yankees won the first game, 1-0. The rest of the Series followed the first game almost to a T. In Game Two, Robin Roberts lost in the 10th inning when Joe DiMaggio lined a pitch into the upper deck at Connie Mack Stadium, giving the Yankees a 2-1 victory and a 2-0 edge. The Phillies’ bats were silent and Sawyer could do little about it. No World Series had fewer runs scored than the 1950 edition. The Yankees swept the Series. The sporting Phillies manager “vaulted from the dugout and was one of the first to reach the yelling, laughing Yanks to congratulate them.”23

Sawyer edged Stengel in the voting for baseball’s Manager of the Year. The news came as a surprise to Eddie; he said, “It was farthest from my thoughts.”24 Joe Reichler of the Associated Press wrote, “Players regard Sawyer as more than a mere manager. He’s father confessor, friendly advisor, coach, and psychologist to every Phil.”25

Sawyer and the Phillies were optimistic about the 1951 season. However, the team slumped to fifth place with a 73-81 record. Sawyer got a small measure of revenge against the Yankees as manager of the National League All-Star team, which defeated Casey Stengel’s AL squad 8-3.

In 1952 Sawyer clamped down in spring training. As a sportswriter put it, “No wives, no automobiles, no golf, no gambling, no swimming and a strict curfew is the order of the day in camp.”26 The “austerity program” didn’t pay off, though – the Phillies had a 28-35 record when Sawyer was replaced by Steve O’Neill. Sawyer said the move had been “on the fire for some time. It almost happened last winter. Had the club been winning this year it would not have happened at this time, but probably would have happened next year anyway. … [The club] isn’t winning because it isn’t hitting.”27

Sawyer was retained on the Phillies payroll in an advisory capacity, evaluating the farm systems and personnel of other teams. Although there were rumors after the 1952 season that he might manage the Pittsburgh Pirates, Eddie said at the end of the year that he was “through with baseball for good.”28 He then became a salesman for a golf-ball manufacturer in the Philadelphia area.29

Sawyer was out of baseball until 1958. Amid reports that he was looking to come back, he rejoined the Phillies, replacing Mayo Smith as manager in July. General manager Roy Hamey said, “He had a good record and knows the National League.”30

Eddie said, “I told them I expect them to put out 100 percent. And if they don’t, I made it very clear to them that they wouldn’t be here long.” Revealing why he came back, he added, “Baseball gets in your blood. There’s more to working than just making money. What good is all the money in the world if you don’t enjoy yourself?”31

The enjoyment didn’t last, unfortunately. In 1959 the club finished dead last with a 64-90 record. Sawyer resigned one game into the 1960 season, issuing the famous quote, “I am 49 years old and want to live to be 50.” With that, the Gene Mauch era began in Philadelphia.

Sawyer rejoined the Phillies as a scout in December 1962,32 serving through the 1966 season. In June 1968 news came that he would join the Kansas City Royals as a full-time scout in 1969.33 He was instrumental in the expansion draft, helping to form a team that became the most successful of the four new franchises that year.

Sawyer continued to work as a special-assignment scout for the Royals. On January 1, 1974, he retired from baseball. He lived in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. He was elected to various sports Halls of Fame: Pennsylvania; Maryland; Virginia; Rhode Island; Binghamton, New York; and Ithaca College.

On October 14, 1980, Sawyer threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Veterans Stadium as the Phillies faced the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. It was the Phillies’ first pennant since the Whiz Kids, and at last they brought home the championship.

Eddie Sawyer died on September 22, 1997, at the age of 87 in Phoenixville from a combination of respiratory problems and kidney failure. He donated his body to the Pennsylvania Medical Society for research.34 Sawyer was survived by his wife, Pauline (known to all as Polly), two daughters, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

The loss of Sawyer came not two weeks after the passing of Richie Ashburn. Although it wasn’t front-page news in Philly, the Inquirer and the Daily News did carry substantial obituaries for the Whiz Kids’ skipper. As the Daily News put it, “He could tell the greatest, rich-in-detail stories one moment, then speak volumes soon afterward merely by fixing someone with a purposeful stare.”35

Mental approach was the key to Sawyer’s success. This was a key reason in the switch from “defeatist” blue-trimmed uniforms to solid red for the 1950 season.36 “Let’s get a real fighting color,” he said. “Of course, it isn’t the uniforms that win for us, but there is a lot to the psychology of color. And when they say a guy ‘sees red,’ believe me they have something.”37

After the Whiz Kids won their pennant, he said, “Build up a fellow’s confidence and you build up his ability. Knock him all the time, his confidence disappears and the battle is lost.”38

Despite his other honors, you won’t find Eddie Sawyer in Cooperstown. His lifetime managing record in the majors of 390-423 (.480) isn’t in any “Top Ten” either. Yet for one season, he led a young team that brought some happiness and glory to a city that had been bereft for a long time.



Sources

Clayton, Skip, and Jeff Moeller. 50 Phabulous Phillies (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing Inc., 2000).

Johnson, Lloyd, and Miles Wolff (editors). The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, 1997).

Roberts, Robin, with C. Paul Rogers III. The Whiz Kids and the 1950 Pennant (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996).

Roberts, Robin, with C. Paul Rogers III. My Life in Baseball (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2003).

Westcott, Richard. A Century of Philadelphia Sports (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001).

 

Notes

1 Robin Roberts, with C. Paul Rogers III, The Whiz Kids and the 1950 Pennant (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996), 122.

2 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 123.

3 Skip Clayton and Jeff Moeller, 50 Phabulous Phillies (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing Inc., 2000), 170-172.

4 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 30, 31.

5 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 31.

6 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 32.

7 Clayton, 170-2.

8 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 38.

9 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 107-110.

10 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 63.

11 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 129.

12 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 149.

13 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 178.

14 Robin Roberts with C. Paul Rogers III, My Life in Baseball (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2003), 49-50.

15 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 273-4.

16 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 199-200, 277, 139.

17 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 123.

18 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 193.

19 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 217.

20 Jack Hand, “Heintzelman Touted as Series Starter for Phillies in Opening Game,” Associated Press, October 3, 1950.

21 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 335.

22 Roberts, The Whiz Kids, 339-40.

23 Gayle Talbot, “Yanks Take Series in Four Straight,” Associated Press, October 8, 1950.

24 “'Manager of Year’ Choice Surprises Eddie Sawyer,” Associated Press, November 8, 1950.

25 Joe Reichler. “Eddie Sawyer Is ‘Manager of Year,’” Associated Press, November 7, 1950.

26 Ralph Roden, “Sawyer’s Plan for Phillies Is Paying Off,” Associated Press, March 20, 1952.

27 “Eddie Sawyer Resigns as Manager – Remains In Phil Organization,” United Press, June 28, 1952.

28 “Eddie Sawyer Says He’s Thru With Baseball,” Chicago Tribune, December 31, 1952.

29 “Eddie Sawyer Demands All-Out Effort of Phillies,” United Press International, July 29, 1958.

30 “Phillies Fire Smith; Name Sawyer Manager,” Associated Press, July 23, 1958.

31 Ibid.

32 “Sawyer Hired as Phils Scout,” Hartford Courant, December 23, 1962.

33 “Sawyer to Scout,” United Press International, June 29, 1968.

34 Bill Lee, The Baseball Necrology (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2003), 350.

35 “Manager of Whiz Kids Dies at 87,” Philadelphia Daily News, September 23, 1997.

36 “Phils Add Color To Uniforms,” United Press, February 19, 1950.

37 J.G. Taylor Spink. “Sawyer Made Phillies ‘See Red.’” Miami News, September 7, 1950. Note that the team was called the “Fightin’ Phils” at least as early as 1943.

38 “'Manager of Year’ Choice Surprises Eddie Sawyer.”

Individual Memberships start at just $45/year

Become A Member Today

When you join SABR you are making a statement of support for baseball history. You are joining a worldwide community of people who love to read about, talk about and write about baseball.