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Daulton earned respect

Posted by Eric Fisher On August 7

Fisher column logo2When people die, others “pay their respects.”

Perhaps that phrase has never been more appropriate than it is for Darren Daulton, whose death from brain cancer Sunday at age 55 has sparked an outpouring of respect from former teammates, coaches and fans.

But the tidal wave of respect and admiration for Daulton came long before his death. During his playing career, which included 14 seasons with the Phillies, Daulton was widely praised for his toughness, perseverance and leadership.

Daulton was a man’s man and a lady’s man. His popularity among female fans was certainly enhanced by his handsome features and long, flowing hair. But his rugged good looks were accompanied by a rugged style as Daulton battled through a series of knee injuries to become a star.

Daulton’s path to stardom was a long and winding road. He was drafted by the Phillies in the 25th round in 1980, which didn’t put him on anyone’s radar as a future star.

If knee injuries weren’t threatening to derail his career, his struggles at the plate were. After appearing in two games when called up to the majors in September of 1983, Daulton waited two more years before returning to the big leagues. His averages during his first four abbreviated seasons (not counting 1983) – never playing more than 58 games – were .204, .225, .194 and .208. To put it mildly, Daulton didn’t appear destined for stardom.

He finally was anointed the starting catcher in 1989. Daulton responded by batting .201. He rebounded to bat .268 in 1990, but he dropped to .196 the following season, with his playing time reduced by serious injuries suffered during a car crash in May.

Daulton was a passenger in a car driven by teammate Lenny Dykstra, who was driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, when they veered off a windy road in Radnor Township and crashed into two trees around 1 a.m. on the way home from a party for teammate John Kruk. Neither was wearing a seat belt. Dykstra suffered a broken collarbone, three fractured ribs and a fractured right cheek bone. Daulton fractured the orbital bone around his left eye and a scratched cornea in his left eye.

As he turned 30, Daulton’s future was uncertain. But he hit 27 home runs, 32 doubles and led the National League with 109 RBI in 1992, making the All-Star team for the first time and finishing sixth in the MVP voting even though the Phillies finished in last place in the NL East. For an encore, Daulton hit 24 home runs and 35 doubles while driving in 105 runs in 1993, once again making the All-Star team and finishing seventh in the MVP balloting.

But the 1993 season isn’t remembered for Daulton’s numbers. It’s remembered because the Phillies won the NL East, going from worst to first, and reached the World Series.

The way the 1993 season is remembered is appropriate because Daulton didn’t care much about statistics. He cared about winning.

To summarize all of the accounts of the 1993 season by his teammates and media, the Phillies wouldn’t have come close to reaching the World Series without Daulton’s leadership. A similar sentiment was expressed about Daulton, who was traded to the Marlins in July, by many Marlins players after they won the 1997 World Series.

On Monday, the day after Daulton’s death, former teammate Milt Thompson described Daulton as the glue that held a team of misfits together. The 1993 team included many strong personalities, including Dykstra, Kruk, Mitch Williams and Curt Schilling, but Daulton kept the team pointed in the right direction. Former pitcher Tommy Greene, also a teammate on the 1993 team, spoke about how Daulton was able to get the best out of his teammates.

Daulton led by example, but, when necessary, would “get in people’s faces,” according to Thompson. “Darren wouldn’t let us fail,” said Thompson, adding that Daulton was unselfish and wouldn’t let anyone else be selfish.

There’s no “I” in team, and there isn’t an “I” in Darren Daulton, either. But there is an “I” in impact, influence and inspiration, three words that certainly apply to Daulton.

His work ethic made Daulton an example for his teammates and incredibly popular among fans. His battle through injuries and offensive struggles during the first portion of his career gave Daulton’s story a “Rocky” quality, with his grit and determination meshing perfectly with Philadelphia’s blue collar mentality.

Fans and teammates knew Daulton would give maximum effort every game, although most fans were unaware of the hours Daulton would spend in the training room before and after games in order to be able to crouch behind the plate for nine innings.

Daulton was also a stand-up guy. Many of his teammates on the 1993 team hid from the media in off-limits areas after games, but Daulton was always there – win or lose – to answer questions.

Daulton has been described by some players and media members as the best team leader they’ve ever seen. He played with the passion of another No. 10, Phillies coach Larry Bowa, who became a good friend. He was a good friend to many people, with Greene saying Monday that Daulton “saved my life” by helping him through troubled times and reintroducing him to his current wife.

Daulton wasn’t a saint. He was arrested for driving under the influence, spent time in jail and had difficulties in family relationships, leading to two divorces. He admitted to drug use and received a lot of publicity for his unconventional beliefs regarding spiritualism, metaphysics and time travel.

But fans didn’t need a reminder that Daulton was flawed. He didn’t arrive in Philadelphia as a heralded star. He struggled with serious knee injuries and problems at the plate, not to mention the serious injuries from the 1991 car accident. But he possessed the character to overcome those obstacles and, through sheer hard work and determination, characteristics which also served Daulton well during his four-year battle with brain cancer, become a star.

Although Daulton hit home runs during the 1993 and ’97 World Series, there isn’t a signature moment that defines his career. Daulton became a star for the totality of his career rather than one signature moment.

Daulton became a star through his work ethic, demeanor and leadership. Teammates loved him. Coaches and managers loved him. And fans loved him.

Darren Daulton died as he lived, an inspirational figure who earned the respect of those around him.

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2 Responses

  1. Emily Says:

    What a beautiful tribute, Eric.

    Posted on August 7th, 2017 at 2:23 pm

  2. Eric Fisher Says:

    Thank you, Emily.

    Posted on August 7th, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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