Darren Daulton is one of the most unique athletes in Philadelphia sports history. Sorry, was. That’s not going to be easy to write, and it should never get any easier for fans to see.
Daulton passed away late Sunday after succumbing to a four-year battle with brain cancer. He was 55.
Daulton was drafted in 1980 in the 25th round and made his Phillies debut during the 1983 World Series season, playing just two games. By the time the ‘93 season came around, Dutch — everyone called him Dutch — was one of the most beloved players in town, helping lead that rag-tag group of Phillies to the National League pennant. In his final season in the majors, Daulton was traded mid-year to the Florida Marlins, where he helped the Fish win the 1997 World Series.
Dutch went out a champion.
“Darren was a true leader of men. The Phillies would not have gone to the 1993 World Series without his leadership,” said Phillies Chairman Emeritus Bill Giles, in a release sent out Sunday night by the team. “In addition to being an outstanding clubhouse leader, he was also a fighter. He battled through five knee operations to become an All-Star. I really enjoyed watching him for 14 years in uniform. Darren was a super human being. His teammates loved him, I loved him like he was one of my own. In fact, he called me ‘Uncle Bill.’”
“All of us at the Phillies are saddened to hear of Darren’s passing. From the day that we drafted him until today, he constantly earned our respect and admiration as both a player and person,” said Phillies Chairman David Montgomery, via the team. “Darren was the face of our franchise in the early 1990’s. Jim Fregosi asked so much of him as catcher, clean-up hitter and team leader. He responded to all three challenges.
“One of my toughest decisions as team president was to approve his trade to the Marlins in July of 1997. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Amanda, his parents, his brother and his four children. Dutch was truly ‘one of a kind’ and we will dearly miss him.”
In all, Daulton played 1,183 games in his MLB career, including postseason, and while we remember the highlights and All-Star seasons the most, for many of us, Dutch was the face of some really bad Phillies teams.
I remember going to Sunday games at a two-thirds empty Veterans Stadium as a kid, and the place would go wild for Daulton, despite his batting average hovering around .200. I could never understand it when I was young — why were people so excited to see Daulton hit when he was so bad at it? — until I got a little older and realized who was cheering the loudest whenever he got up to bat:
The ladies. Daulton was surely batting 1.000 with them.
His flowing hair, chiseled physique and million dollar smile endeared him to the fans as much as his hard-nosed style behind the dish. His value to the Phillies went well beyond his modest numbers, both with the fans, and with his teammates in the clubhouse. Yet despite his musclebound frame, Daulton wasn’t always the bastion of health as a player, as his knees constantly gave out on him. The quote above attributed to Giles mentioned five knee surgeries, but Dutch actually had nine knee surgeries. Nine.
He was a strong-armed, All-Star defensive catcher who annually ranked among league leaders in throwing out base runners. Darren became known for his intensity on the field and outstanding leadership in the clubhouse. His mental toughness as a catcher was unmatched; he continued to play for years despite nine knee surgeries.
During his career, Darren’s combination of leadership, work ethic, and playing skills made him a standout throughout the league.
That’s directly from Daulton nearly 10 years ago. Well, it was actually from me, in a way. Ten years ago I was a graphic designer and budding podcaster, working on the public relations and marketing side of sports media more than covering the teams. I had just started out on my own after a decade working in college athletics and was looking to sustain a living doing design work while kickstarting my career in punditry.
Daulton, back in 2008, was looking to get back into the Philly spotlight after taking, shall-we-say, a different path for a few years. He had moved down to Florida after his playing days, and he was nowhere near the mainstay in Philadelphia he’s (he’d) become, hosting a radio show on 97.5 The Fanatic and being a regular at the ballpark before his spat with cancer.
In late 2007, Daulton was about as far away from Philly as one could get. He published a book titled “If They Only Knew,” which discussed his views on the world of metaphysics and astral planes. He talked about ascension, dimensional travel and the importance of the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world in 2012.
“There is more to our life than only what we can see, feel and touch,” the book description reads.
Cool. Cool cool cool.
A 2006 Sports Illustrated article on Daulton is somehow missing from the internet today, but this excerpt still lives:
Home alone in Tampa, Daulton spends much of his spare time typing up his mystical musings. The notes read like they were dictated by the True Believers who hitched a ride with Comet Hale-Bopp. “Reality is created and guarded by numeric patterns that overlap and awaken human consciousness, like a giant matrix or hologram,” writes the .245 lifetime hitter. “They are created by sacred geometry — numbers, the language of the universe, codes of awakening — such as 11:11, which represent twin strands of DNA about to return to balance. Eleven equals BALANCE.”
Daulton wasn’t shying away from his past, either. He talked about how he had been thrown in jail “five or six times,” and how his wife “blames everything on drugs and drinking But I don’t take drugs and I’m not a drunk. Nicole just doesn’t understand metaphysics.”
That was, until he was trying to get back into the game by teaching kids how to play baseball.
The talk of astral planes was a non-starter and so, after I designed Daulton’s 2008 baseball camp brochure, I had the pleasure of interviewing him for my podcast to help him promote the camp and talk about his time in the game. There was only one rule during the interview: Talk about his life, his career and his retirement, but don’t go into other planes of existence.
Daulton was told the same thing — parents won’t send their kids to your camp if they think you’re crazy — so we had a wonderfully pleasant conversation about everything else and while all I wanted to talk to him about was ascension, I kept my word. During the interview, Dutch invited me to come down to camp and to hang out at a Phillies game with him. I got paid a few hundred bucks to design and print Darren Daulton’s camp brochure and he wanted to hang out with me at a game. Cool.
And then Deadspin happened.
Former Deadspin editor and wrecker of worlds A.J. Daulerio was (is) a noted Phillies fan, so he took an interest in what Dutch had to say about his interdimensional travels. He took even more of an interest when Dutch wouldn’t talk about it.
Daulton’s inexperienced PR team, who also hold a monetary stake in the the camp, is trying to keep Darren’s promotional interviews as baseball-centric as possible. According to some media outlets who’ve already dealt with them, there is a legitimate “Can’t Talk To Darren List” of people who, regardless of large an audience they bring, won’t be considered safe interviews because, well, they’d most likely ask about Darren’s unique viewpoints on all things otherwordly and his sketchy personal life, considering that’s kept him in the news in the last two years. (Ed. Note: He’s being modest, but Mr. Daulerio is on this list.)
But his new PR team is smart enough to know that that side of Darren Daulton is not going to be the one that wheedles Little League parents into plopping down $700 for an week-long overnight camp.
Long story longer, Daulton’s PR people thought I planted the story at Deadspin because it promoted my podcast. They cut me out — no camp trip, no Phillies game with Dutch — and there was definitely some bad blood between me and the people who handled his career. There might still be.
For the record, I didn’t plant the story to promote my podcast, but I may have complained about it to Daulerio, who was clearly on the “no fly” list for interviews, himself. We were both pretty burnt when Daulton went in studio to promote his camp with Mike Missanelli and talked all about his astral travels. I learned a valuable lesson that day, just starting out on my own in media: Never say yes to an interview if the only rule is you can’t ask about metaphysics.
Daulton never had any qualms about giving Mikey Miss the goods, by the way. In 2009, Daulton told Missanelli, “there’s probably no one in any sport that has taken more drugs than I have.”
If I told you all the drugs that I’ve taken, Mike, you would open that up as a can of worms (laughing). I don’t feel that you or anyone else needs to know anything that I’ve ever done to respect me. No disrespect, that’s just the way I am. 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.
None of this, mind you, is to disparage the man’s legacy. It’s more to help explain it. Daulton is one of the most unique characters in the history of baseball — not hyperbolic in the least — and, but for a few days trying to make some money promoting a baseball camp down the Jersey Shore, he never, ever shied away from who he was.
He lived his life how he lived it, and he fought like hell to inspire people whenever he could.
Two weeks ago I spoke with John Kruk and asked about that ‘93 team, to see if they were as crazy then as many of them — Dutch, Nails, Schill, Wild Thing — seem now. Kruk said, simply, “we were all nuts,” and he meant it in the most endearing way possible.
That’s how I’m going to remember Daulton. He was the backstop for some of the best and worst Phillies teams in history. He was known for both his intensity and his laid back nature. He was his own man, faults and all.
His fight with cancer was front and center the last four years, and Philadelphia fans pulled for him more during this fight than ever before. When word spread of his health taking a turn a few days ago, a good journalist would have pre-written an obit, to get something up as soon as we could. But I didn’t, in part because I thought he’d beat it again, and in part because I wasn’t sure how to put his life into perspective for people.
Darren Daulton wasn’t just a beloved Phillies catcher with a career .245 batting average. He was a wild and crazy guy, in the most endearing way possible.