Five years after his death, Darren Daulton is inspiring cancer patients the way he did the 1993 Phillies

Matt Breen
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Darren Daulton at Veterans Stadium early in his career. (Akira Suwa/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA — Tommy Greene made 30 starts for the 1993 Phillies, taking the ball almost every fifth day as a workhorse pitcher for the National League champions.

It was the most starts of his eight-year career, but not every night was perfect. There were games when his command was wavering or his breaking ball was not sharp or his pitches just didn’t have the same bite. Those outings, Greene said, are inevitable over the course of a long season.

And whenever they happened, it would not take long for Johnny Podres to leave the dugout and head to the mound.

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“He was the most positive guy on the planet,” Greene said of the team’s pitching coach. “He would say ‘Hey, man, you’re throwing the ball great. You have great stuff today. Let’s get settled down and take a deep breath.’”

Podres returned to the dugout, leaving Greene alone on the mound with Darren Daulton. The pitcher looked at his catcher, both of them wondering what game the coach was watching.

“We’d laugh,” Greene said. “He would say, ‘Trust me. Follow me. We might have to use some smoke and mirrors here.’ He was good at knowing what you had that day. It was easy to trust Dutch.”

It has been five years since Daulton — the heartbeat of the wacky, wonderful bunch of throwbacks who went from worst to first in 1993 — died from brain cancer. He led the Phils that summer in home runs and RBIs as a power-hitting catcher. But it was away from the batter’s box where Daulton cemented his legacy.

He overcame nagging knee injuries to play 147 games that season, rallied his teammates every day in the clubhouse, held late-night meetings in the trainer’s room that have almost grown into myths, and made the pitchers believe in themselves even when their arms said otherwise.

It’s hard to believe, Greene said, that Saturday marks five years since his death. And yet Daulton is still inspiring others the way he did his teammates.

The foundation Daulton launched in 2013 after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma gave out more than $250,000 last year in grants to assist those suffering from malignant brain tumors. The money is meant to ease the burden of a devastating disease by perhaps paying a bill each month for a patient or helping cover other costs.

The Darren Daulton Foundation helps handle their health insurance premiums, the rising costs of prescriptions, and even rent and utilities, while providing the emotional support that Daulton showed Greene after the pitching coach returned to the dugout.

‘It can happen to anyone’

Todd Frank figured the pain he had in his left knee and his trouble walking was the result of years of running. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, ran marathons all over the world, and went to Botswana when he was 45 with the Peace Corps. He thought for three months that the discomfort must be from torn ligaments or arthritis.

But then in July 2020, Frank could not hold anything in his left hand or walk up steps. His wife, Ellen, rushed him to the emergency room at Lankenau Hospital. They were told 40 minutes later that Frank had Stage 4 glioblastoma. Doctors were able to remove 90% of the tumor, but the radiation therapy left Frank, now 73, paralyzed on the left side of his body.

“It can happen to anyone,” said Ellen Frank. “Here’s a man who was very, very fit and active and totally cognitively brilliant. He became severely disabled.”

Grants from the Daulton Foundation have helped the Franks counter rising prescription costs. Kevin Judy — the neurosurgeon at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital who operated on Frank and is on the foundation’s board — has provided hope.

When Judy told Ellen Frank that it was Stage 4, she started rattling off the people she knew had died from glioblastoma like John McCain, Ted Kennedy, and Beau Biden. Patients with glioblastoma are usually given just months to live.

“He looked at me and said, ‘What about the people who you haven’t read about who are still here?’ That really gave me some hope,” she said. “It’s a really tough disease because you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out that anything that doesn’t belong in your brain has to be removed and that your brain controls every single thing.

“Many things have occurred from keeping the cancer from recurring and we wouldn’t have been able to get the services that were needed if the Daulton Foundation wasn’t able to be so supportive in a very strategic, tactical way.”

Frank, who his wife said was 71 when the tumor was discovered but looked like he was 58 and in great shape, is now using a wheelchair outside their home and uses a walker inside. The Franks did not know about Daulton’s playing career; they learned about him after a social worker recommended the foundation. And now they’re showing the same character.

“My husband, and I know I am biased, is one of the most courageous people,” Ellen Frank said. “He was willing to do whatever it took to save his life. His courage makes me motivated to not let the little unimportant things get the best. But the worst part of this is someone realizing that they’re not who they were before. Denial is not so bad if it helps you cope. And I think people who get through this almost all have some amount of denial. It would take you over the breadth of this.

“You have to put your energy on the things that bring you joy. You have to put that energy into not feeling ‘Why did this happen to us?’ You have to put that energy into ‘What can we do? Can we go to Curtis and hear a recital? Can we go to the Barnes? Can we go have a cup of cappuccino outside?’ ”

Clubhouse leader

Phillies manager Jim Fregosi, Greene said, had the “easiest job on the planet” during 1993 as his players knew how to police their own clubhouse. And it wasn’t just Daulton.

“[John] Kruk was one of those guys,” said Greene, who along with many of his 1993 teammates is one of the foundation’s ambassadors. “Mariano Duncan, a guy you don’t hear a lot about, was one of those guys. He played the game the right way and wanted you to play the way he did and care about it the way he did. Danny Jackson, another one of those guys. It was easy to fall in line and do the right thing when you have guys who have been there and done that.”

The Phillies — “everyone labeled us gypsies, tramps, and thieves,” Greene said — were known for their mullets and an attitude described by Greene as “If we don’t beat you on the field, we’re going to beat you in the parking lot.” It was a hardened mindset they needed to win the pennant, but the clubhouse leader wasn’t afraid to show his teammates affection.

“At Darren’s funeral, John Kruk so eloquently stated that in the ‘90s, Darren was the first person to introduce the word ‘love’ into a clubhouse,” said Brett Datto, who was Daulton’s lawyer for 25 years and is now the foundation’s president. “At that point in time, that word was kind of a taboo in a men’s clubhouse. But they embraced it and knew who Darren was and how he wasn’t shy to give a teammate a kiss. He was just that warm, lovable, openhearted guy.”

Daulton was tough and strong — “You should have seen the things he had to go through each day just to get on the field,” Greene said — but his teammates also knew he loved them. And that’s the attitude of the foundation (which uses Daulton’s rallying cry of “Right on, fight on,” as its motto) as it aids patients in their fight against glioblastoma while supporting them the way Daulton did in the clubhouse.

“Darren had a heart of gold,” Datto said. “He never said ‘No’ to a photograph or autograph. He would stop and chat with someone about their life and what was going on. It was never, ever about Darren. It was always about the other person.”

Keeping the faith

Dana DiCaprio managed to find her way home in October 2008 from a retreat in Maryland despite passing out earlier that morning and losing her sense of direction on the drive home. She told her parents when she arrived home that she had a good weekend but had to go to the bathroom.

DiCaprio vomited, went to her bedroom, and called an ambulance.

The doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital told DiCaprio’s mother that Dana had Stage 4 glioblastoma and 15 months to live. But her mother didn’t tell her. DiCaprio received two years of chemotherapy and underwent a month of radiation treatment, unaware that she was beating the odds until her mother finally told her of the original prognosis.

Instead of 15 months, DiCaprio has lived for nearly 15 years after being diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer. She had a noncancerous Stage 2 tumor in 2006, and her doctors said it helped her survive the second tumor that she said came with a vengeance.

“I don’t want to say I’m done, but I’m stable,” said DiCaprio, who sees a neuro-oncologist every six months. “It can always come back whenever it wants. It can just pop back up because it’s the most aggressive.”

DiCaprio, 52, grew up in Audubon, Pa., and went to Bishop Kenrick High School but did not know much about Daulton except that “everyone thought he was hot” when the Phillies went to the World Series. But the help of his foundation — which has assisted her in paying her health insurance and rent — has floored her.

“I was so grateful to them,” DiCaprio said. " I just kept saying, ‘You guys are so wonderful.’ I’m so happy. This stretched my faith. I’m much more faithful now. I always had these three things: a positive attitude, a sense of humor, and most importantly, faith. You have to have faith. I had it already, but now it’s been doubled.”

Remembering Dutch

The Phillies clinched the 1993 division title in Pittsburgh with five games remaining and celebrated for hours in the clubhouse at Three Rivers Stadium. It was euphoric, Greene said. A year earlier, they had lost 92 games and finished 26 games out of first place. But now they were four wins away from the World Series.

Greene started the second game of the playoff series against Atlanta but didn’t get through the third inning. He allowed seven runs on seven hits and lost his first game at home all season. The Braves, who had traded Greene to the Phils three years earlier, smothered him. It was one of those nights.

“The biggest thing was just getting an opportunity on that stage to correct some things and be part of the positives,” Greene said. “Everyone wants to do well, but somebody has to be the goat sometimes. To get another chance to do well was a huge moment for me.”

Six days later, Greene had his chance when he was back on the mound at Veterans Stadium with Daulton behind the plate. There was no magic fix or secret game plan. Daulton just let Greene pitch and the right-hander gave the Phillies seven strong innings to outduel Greg Maddux as they clinched the pennant by beating the Braves, 6-3. The pitcher trusted his catcher and followed him.

“His spirit, and the way we’re representing, is him,” Greene said. “We work through him. I still draw off of him. I know what he would want me to do. I still treat him as my leader on the field. When I do things for the foundation, it’s a representation of him.”

— The Daulton Foundation will hold its signature fund-raising events with a celebrity bartending function on Oct. 9 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Live! Casino in South Philly and a golf outing on Oct. 10 at Huntingdon Valley Country Club. Many of Daulton’s 1993 teammates and other Phillies alumni are expected to attend. More information is available at https://www.darrendaultonfoundation.org/