30 October 2008

During a 27-year championship drought you forget how to experience this. I don't believe it happened. I am accustomed to feeling a combination of hope, frustration, remorse, and bitterness at this time of year, following a Fall Classic with two other teams involved, followed by a Spring of the Philly symphony of if, if, if, if, if.

I started rooting for the Phillies in the late 70s.. mostly '78. That club had such a strong combination of hitters and pitchers, Hall of Famers like Schmidt and Carlton, a solid bullpen and top fielding, that I became accustomed to that level of play. After losing to the Dodgers in the NLCS in consecutive years, then-owner Ruly Carpenter outbid the rest of the league in the free agent market and signed Charlie Hustle, Hall of Famer Pete Rose, who represented the more reliable World Series winning model in Cinci. His annual salary was a record $800,000. We had a 5th Grade video project where students were picked to answer the question, "Should Pete Rose make more than the President?" I said that multiple teams were bidding for Rose, and many people wanted to be president, so the laws of supply and demand applied. Of course that idea was pushed aside for the statements on cue "The President should make more because he makes important decisions, etc..." and so my years of disenchantment with school began.

Then there was '80 and Tugger et al and I never was so excited to be a Phils fan as then, right before adolescence.

After the '81 strike season Carpenter wanted to sell the team, and the buyer turned out to be team VP Bill Giles fronting for a group of investors that included Dave Montgomery. Giles initially wanted to meddle with player personnel and his longstanding feelings about certain players became apparent. I remember being in school on Nov 20, 1981 when OF Lonnie Smith was traded to the Cardinals for C Bo Diaz, concurrent with the Phils giving up on C Bob Boone on the grounds that he couldn't throw out runners. There was an immediate sense of doom and melancholy, knowing that two important players had been lost and that great team was being taken apart. The following years Smith hit .307 with 120 runs and 68 stolen bases and was the runner up for the MVP. Boone went on to success with the Angels which included league-leading effectiveness throwing out runners. Then that January, Philly icon Larry Bowa was traded away for the Cubs' shortstop Ivan DeJesus, who had just hit .194 for the Cubs with a .233 slugging percentage, and the Phillies wanted to make the deal so bad they threw one of their AAA prospects in, the Oklahoma 89ers SS Ryne Sandberg who had batted .296 in the American Association at age 21. DeJesus went on to slug .313, .336, and .306 in his three years as a Phil and Sandberg won 9 Gold Gloves, Rookie of the Year, MVP the following year, enshrined in Cooperstown, one of the best ever..

The following year, the Phils traded away a SS prospect that had slugged .499 in AAA ball, Julio Franco, in a six-player deal that brought in Von Hayes, a solid player for many years. I remember looking at pictures of Sandberg and Franco in my yearbooks and then having to watch them star for other teams. After the Rose-Morgan '83 World Series team came The Steve Jeltz Era which was in full force by the mid-eighties, when spring training hype would turn to disappointment year after year, coupled with the Sixers trading Moses Malone in '86 for Jeff Ruland and then the top pick in the draft for power forward Roy Hinson, even thought they already had Charles Barkley at power forward. When Barkley left town I stopped watching basketball, and I didn't watch any football, including the Super Bowl, for some 10 years until Limbaugh started ribbing McNabb and I was dating an attractive Eagles fan. It became clear that the Phils were being run poorly, the emphasis was being placed on marketing and the silent partners behind Giles were guided by profit motive, while Steinbrenner was asserting himself increasingly as a megalomaniac who would spend anything to win in NY.

The minor league system was awful, too, as high school outfielder/bust Jeff Jackson became so emblematic of its decline that they were afraid to pick high school athletes for many years afterwards. By '92, they went outside the organization to grab Mike Arbuckle from the Braves, who were oozing prospects, to direct the minors. As a Baseball America subscriber for much of the 90's, I can say that the Phils usually didn't have a lot of players on the Top 100 list but after time the system turned out today's nucleus. Ryan Howard was a low draft pick, Utley a 1st rounder without the great athleticism that draws attention, Rollins and Rolen were both picked in the 2nd round out of high school. Myers and Hamels were the utilization of top picks and Pat Burrell, the top pick his year, came to represent the Phils consolation for being too stubborn to sign J.D. Drew, who got the same exact contract after a year-long holdout.

Rolen was ran out of town after false reports of lucrative offers and unfair smears by the management. Thus began the David Bell era, which included waiting way too long for Utley to start his MLB career to keep Bell, the light-hitting brown nose, in the lineup and eventually trading Placido Polanco because they didn't want to bench Bell. Feliz came through tonight but they still haven't replaced Rolen. Likewise, Howard resorted to having his agent say 'play me or trade me' and thanks to an off-year by Jim Thome, the Phils turned to Howard when Gillick came to town and ate half of Thome's contract for Aaron Rowand. My good vibes about Gillick can be found here, and I'm afraid that even though Arbuckle and Ruben Amaro, Jr. are smart guys, I prefer GMs like Gillick who come from outside the culture of the Phils organization. That post even includes my impomptu poem in the comments section:

Every baseball winter in Philly is the winter of our discontent,
Made glorious summer by deluded public relations copy
And all the promises of glorious autumns
In the masochistic accumulations buried...

Ed Wade was the GM for quite a while, and like most Phils fans I'm not an Ed Wade fan. The best thing Wade could do for the team was get hired by the Astros and give the Phils Brad Lidge. Gillick got Lidge knowing that Wade was a PR man through and through and would pay a premium for a bunch of Phils prospects, Michael Bourn and Mike Constanzo, who weren't any good but had been hyped up so much that Wade began to believe his own BS. The Wade era consisted of a lot of hype and missed opportunities while Wade and manager Larry Bowa both talked endlessly about how great they each were and their selfishness was, as Rolen stated on the way out, "a cancer." When Wade finally canned Bowa he realized that the PR coup of bringing Bowa in to manage had blown up in his face, because the fans sided with Bowa over him. Then he interviewed nine managerial prospects in a high-publicity fashion, including Jim Leyland who never really was under consideration because of the possibility he might quit and rip management. Managers who quit forfeit their contract while managers that get fired get paid the remainder, and when the Phils wanted Jim Fregosi out they started to undermine him hoping he would quit and he held out til he was fired, upon which he gave a press conference beaming with the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders. Managers who do quit, in deference to the organization, like Tony Pena and Leyland are treated worse because of the fear that they can't be controlled by money.

All this bitterness on a championship night seems odd but that's what being a Philles fan means. I knew, though, going into this post-season that they had the bats and the bullpen to go all the way, but this was the Phillies, and I had become accustomed to dashed hopes. I even was much less fatalist about the situation than most after the Mets signed Johan Santana, because fans place much too much stake in the off-season acquisition of proven players. I hope they can tie up Howard, Hamels, Werth, Victorino, and Madson to multi-year deals. I hope they give Lou Marson a shot to catch soon, Jason Donald a chance to help out somewhere, and work in young pitchers like JA Happ and Carlos Carrasco.

But for tonight: Yo Philly!!!