Darren Daulton, RIP: Not so crazy after all those years

Darren Daulton (right) congratulates Curt Schilling after Schlling's 1993 World Series shutout in Game Five.

Darren Daulton (right) congratulates Curt Schilling after Schlling’s 1993 World Series shutout in Game Five.

When reviewing William C. Kashatus’s Macho Row: The 1993 Phillies and Baseball’s Unwritten Code, Darren Daulton figured large in both the book and the review. And, indeed, Kashatus himself respected Daulton just enough to make the catcher for those Philthy Phillies—who died Sunday at 55, after a four-year battle with glioblastoma, an insidious brain cancer—the book’s lead chapter.

Daulton was one of the six 1993 Phillies to whom the “Macho Row” sobriquet was applied, as much about their attitudes as their common location in the Phillies’ clubhouse. He was also the only member of that swaggering but ill-fated pennant winner to be a Phillies lifer to that point, and he was clearly one of the team leaders if not the main man.

Daulton was both physically and mentally tough, a “man’s man.” His chiseled physique and movie-star good looks made him the envy of male fans and an object of desire for females. When he spoke, teammates, coaches, and the manager listened. Most of the time, however, he chose to do his talking behind the plate or up at bat.

He was the only one of the six Macho Rowers to have the full if “begrudging” (Kashatus’s word) respect of the writers covering those Phillies, and in turn he became the Row’s shield from them. Whenever Daulton faced the press at his locker, whether the Phillies won or lost, the other five ducked into the showers or the trainers’ room.

Accountability in hand with compassion, courage, and sympathy were what Daulton learned from his mother, Kashatus revealed, adding that Daulton’s father taught him how to apply those to baseball.

It may have been why Daulton could confront Phillies president Bill Giles over signing free agent catcher/bopper Lance Parrish, in 1987, in a collusion-breaking win-now bid—while Daulton was clearly the Phillies’ catcher of the future, even if a knee injury nearly killed his career in its infancy—and earn Giles’s respect.

As he awaited his time, the young Daulton learned conditioning and (don’t laugh) fun from fading Steve Carlton (Daulton told Kashatus of a food fight Carlton picked for a laugh at a restaurant one night) and field work from Mike Schmidt. In 1989 Daulton’s time arrived, in the middle of a Phillies rebuild that included Schmidt retiring in May when his deteriorating performance became fully intolerable.

He’d become a three-time All-Star in Philadelphia; he had a reputation as a genuine and non-overbearing clubhouse leader and as a generous soul away from the ballpark, whether blowing young or return players to lavish dinners or involving himself in charities and work on behalf of the homeless.

The catcher who looked six parts film idol and half a dozen parts Mr. America even had a dry wit in the most broiling on-field heat. As Curt Schilling laboured for that Game Five shutout against the Blue Jays in the 1993 Series, he felt fatigued by the seventh. “Darren Daulton came out to the mound,” Schilling told Thomas Boswell, “and said, ‘We may have to use some mirrors’.”

Daulton became a World Series winner at last after he was dealt to the Marlins for their first Series run in 1997. Marlins manager Jim Leyland credited him with creating “a winning chemistry” enabling them to go the distance. After that triumph, his knees no longer able to take even a fraction of the punishment he continued incurring, Daulton retired.

After the Phillies’s ‘ 93 Series ended with Joe Carter’s three-run homer off Mitch Williams in Game Six, which came after the Wild Thing shook off Daulton’s sign for a breaking ball, Daulton faced two quiet disasters.

The watchword of the Macho Row was loyalty, but Dykstra and non-Rower Curt Schilling broke it when they ripped Williams—a Rower who never shrank from his responsibility for the fateful pitch (I wanted to throw it up and away . . . the slide step altered my delivery and I ended up rushing the pitch, Williams said post mortem)—over the World Series loss.

Daulton with Mitch Williams (left rear), watching 1993 highlights at Citizens Bank Park on the 20th anniversary of that ill-fated pennant season.

Daulton with Mitch Williams (left rear), watching 1993 highlights at Citizens Bank Park on the 20th anniversary of that ill-fated pennant season.

Daulton probably cringed while staying out of that feud, which ended when Williams was traded over the winter. But he also faced the end of his first marriage. “I had no idea that moving every six months would be as stressful as it was,” the first and former Mrs. Daulton told a radio audience, before adding a little too tellingly, “and I had no idea that every girl would want my husband.”

This normally laid-back Kansan—who once broke out of his type to warn Williams against complaining about not being brought in to close a game by threatening to rip his arm off—probably had no idea that life without baseball would be as stressful as it became for him despite his conversion to Christianity after his playing career ended.

One moment Daulton seemed embarrassed by his Macho Row days; the next, he seemed bent on reliving them in certain sad ways. He was jailed twice for drunk driving and arrested once for domestic violence following an argument with his second wife. A year later, Daulton was sent to jail for two years and rehab for two and a half months, after he disobeyed a condition of his second divorce.

But two years later, he met his third wife, a former golfer, though they wouldn’t marry until 2013, when he received his original cancer diagnosis.

Some have speculated that alcohol, plus an alleged dabbling in actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances in his playing days (nothing ever proven on him), as his notorious teammate Lenny Dykstra had done, plus the assortment of painkillers he took fighting one after another knee injury, had a mental impact upon Daulton as well.

He became a sad laughingstock in 2008 when he began making public remarks about quantum physics, metaphysics, the occult, and the fifth dimension that sounded past merely supernatural to the nether regions of Cloud Cuckoo Land. But he also took on a semblance of normalcy when he became a Phillies pre- and post-game analyst for Comcast Sports Network and on ESPN’s Philadelphia satellite station.

Daulton became almost as popular with listeners and viewers as he was when he played for the Phillies. Then came the glioblastoma diagnosis, the pronouncement that he was cancer free in early 2015, and the over-aggressive return of the malignancy. Before it killed him, it brought Daulton back to the humility and accountability he struggled to regain after his playing days.

“Anything I did in the past,” he said after he was diagnosed, “is my fault. Not my ex-wives’ fault, not any of my kids’ faults, not baseball, not the media—me, my fault—I did the damage.”

Daulton and his third wife, Amanda, on their 2013 wedding day---right after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma.

Daulton and his third wife, Amanda, on their 2013 wedding day—right after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma.

Daulton actually began that process a few years earlier, when he told an interviewer, “I feel if I told you all the drugs I’ve ever taken that would reflect on someone else. I can assure you, there’s probably no one in any sport that has taken more drugs that I have. And I think people still respect me. It’s not what goes in, it’s what comes out.” It was as close as he could bring himself to a public admission that the past medications might have done something to his programming for long enough.

Daulton also fostered loyalty among the Row and other teammates, whether or not they necessarily deserved it. When Dykstra was imprisoned for bankruptcy fraud in 2012, Daulton wrote the judge who sentenced him:

I believe I know what he is capable of doing when times are good, as well as when they are difficult. Obviously, there are two extremes that the dude has lived through. We all experience the extremes, some more than others.

Your honor, tonight I pray that God provides you the wisdom to judge my friend and provide him the opportunity to make amends with himself and the people that love him.

Upon the news of Daulton’s death, Dykstra posted an emotional video of himself thanking his fallen teammate, saying the letter was something he’d never forget because it gave him hope.

“Sometimes I look back at my life,” Daulton told Philadelphia magazine seven years ago, “and I see all the baseball I played, the All-Star games, the World Series, how I helped some guys in the clubhouse, how great my kids are, some of the nice things I’ve done for people along the way, and I think maybe I’m doing okay, maybe things aren’t so bad, just maybe I’m not so crazy after all.”

“We were all nuts,” John Kruk has said of the Philthy Phillies. One of them just did it a little more quietly than others.

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