Phillies dress the part, but they come to play Form as successful as style colorful


TORONTO -- Forget about the bluster and blubber. It's time to talk about home runs instead of haircuts, fastballs instead of the fast lane, screwballs instead of . . . well, screwballs.

For the Philadelphia Phillies, a.k.a. The Gang, The Wild Bunch and the Broad Street Bellies, it's been a fun ride to the World Series. But the time has come for appearance to give way to ability, for substance to replace image.

Enough of the fun, on to the games.

Despite what you may have heard or read, with one nameless but recognizable exception, the Phillies are not fat. And regardless of what you've been led to believe, Wild Thing is singular, not plural.

If one player epitomizes the Phillies, it is first baseman John Kruk. He fits the image off the field -- and does the job on the field. There are no pretensions. What you see is what you get.

Kruk sometimes gives the impression that he's not exactly sure what he's doing in the major leagues, so he might as well enjoy himself and have a good time. He does, and he makes no apologies.

He may not look the part, but he's the kind of hitter who can stand at the plate and foul off a pitcher's best pitches and then deliver a run-scoring hit. He did just that in his first two at-bats last night.

"I'm not a slob," said the first baseman, who was the media darling before the World Series got under way. "I've got [a lot of] hair and a beard. So?

"Hey, that's American society, a lot of people look like us," said Kruk. "Not on a baseball field, but you go in any American city . . . well, Canadian too, because we're playing here aren't we . . . and you'll find people like us."

Both on and off the field, the Phillies look and act like wild and crazy guys. When the Phillies were clinching the National League Championship Series last week, if it hadn't been for spandex Kruk would've played half of Game 6 with his right buttocks exposed.

A ripped uniform might typify the Phillies, who in truth aren't a picture of sartorial splendor, but you can't say this team operates without a clue. It actually is about as disciplined an offensive lineup as there is in baseball. How else do you explain three of the first five hitters having the patience to walk over 100 times?

You might have a better idea of their waistline, or hair length, but the fact of the matter is that the Phillies scored more runs this year (877) than any National League team since the 1962 San Francisco Giants. They may be the easiest team at which to poke fun, but the Phillies are far from a joke.

And it certainly doesn't affect, or bother, them that they are more noted for image than they are for victories.

"Nah, not really," catcher Darren Daulton said when asked if it bothered him that the Phillies got more attention for their image than their talent. "It's been that way all year."

Daulton has acknowledged this is the zaniest team he's played on, and he's recognized as the team's conformist, but doesn't consider himself an outcast. "I feel very much a part of this team," he said.

"I'm probably like the zoo keeper in our clubhouse. Somebody has to stay in control and keep these guys in their cages."

Daulton credits manager Jim Fregosi, who as a player would have fit perfectly on this team, with keeping the Phillies on an even keel. "He's really one of us," said Daulton. "He plays cards with us, he drinks beer with us, he talks shop with us.

"But there is a fine line. He is definitely calling the shots. He is in command of the ship. He mixes well with his players and communicates with his players.

"There are no rules -- just show up and play hard. Most managers have rules and it's tough for all 25 guys to agree with them and then you have problems. We don't have any rules."

Fregosi himself is a throwback to another era, and his team reflects as much. The St. Louis Cardinals' Gas House Gang would've loved these guys -- and so does Fregosi.

"I love watching these guys," said Fregosi, who did just that from the dugout while his team celebrated winning the NLCS last Wednesday night. "They come to the park every day ready to play. And they play hard.

HTC "I've gotten so much enjoyment just watching them play this year. They may be different, but they know how to get the job done."

And the longer the Philadelphia Phillies play, the more people are beginning to realize they may look like a bunch of runaway renegades, but they are a very good baseball team, last night's ** result notwithstanding.

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