RIP Philadelphia Phillies (1883-2012)
When you root for Philly sports teams, the sky is always falling. I was raised on malaise – sizzling seats at the Vet in dead August with Scott Rolen (and his creaky back) needing a HoverRound to field his position at third base. When the Phillies began their tremendous, unlikely run of success six years ago, I went nuts with everyone else. It was as if we all had to learn to celebrate together. Such is the life of a region starved for championships.
The joy of those moments was undeniable. Even 2007, the year before they won the Series, felt surreal. Jon Lieber, Wes Helms, Tad Iguchi, and Aaron Rowand all played for that team. I still can’t believe we won the division with those fucking guys. It cost about $200 to get into the stadium for the first taste of Philly playoff baseball in my adult life, and you’re damn right I went. The clinical sweep at the hands of the Rockies was just a footnote. We had won something.
Then the World Series happened in 2008, and, in true Philly fashion, we had to wait through a (two day) rain delay to watch our boys fulfill their destiny. That team didn’t have Halladay or Cliff Lee, just a young Cole Hamels, his massive balls, and a bunch of guys who could hit. They had just the right mix of lumberjacks (Matt Stairs) and borderline trannies (Kyle Kendrick). For one beautiful fall, it all came together.
Since then, we’ve gorged on big acquisitions and gaudy records. As fans, we’ve gotten a bit spoiled, perhaps. When things start going bad, we just wait for the next ace to come into the rotation, or the next all-time great infield trio to rise from the minors. It’s not unreasonable to say that the Phillies had one of the game’s greatest-ever first base/second base/shortstop troikas come into their prime all at once on the same squad. Collectively, maybe none of them make the Hall of Fame (though I think J-Roll should and will if he keeps playing), but together it’s hard to find many teams that can top that level of talent in one generation.
All of this is to say that we’ve witnessed a great era of baseball for the last six years (and really more, counting the Thome/Abreu teams that just missed the playoffs a few times). Now that things are looking down for the first time in quite a while, I see too many fans resorting to the old Philly sports habit of crippling codependency. One season of last place and you’re all ready to jump off the Ben Franklin in hysteria? Where were you for the nineties?
Most people like to talk about all of the ways this Phillies mini-dynasty will fall to bits over the next few years, and how we’re all going to be rooting for a bunch of losers again. That’s stupid. The empirical evidence doesn’t support it. Did we learn nothing from our taste of success?
In 2012, the Phillies will have spent $174,538,938. That is the second most in the entire league. It is also more than the Astros, Athletics, and Padres spent on their rosters… combined. Fans fill the stadium every night, even this year with things going in the tank a bit. Spending money in sports doesn’t always translate to wins (see: Mets, New York), but it’s a hell of an advantage going in.
I know that as Phillies fans we are all expecting some Cinderella shit, here. Chase Utley will turn back into Marlon Anderson, Ryan Howard to Travis Lee, and Charlie Manuel will turn into a pumpkin. It’s how it has to go because it’s how it always goes, or at least so we think. Success breeds success, though. The Yankees and Red Sox both outspend the rest of the league almost every year, and they make the playoffs almost every year.
Money really is a formula for success in sports, as long as your team isn’t run by slobbering morons (see: Knicks/Isaiah Thomas). I know this might seem like a foreign concept, but our Phillies can actually buy their way out of mistakes, these days. They are already spending the second highest amount in baseball on player payroll, and if they bust the luxury tax line for a few years they can go even higher.
Hamels might be gone, and so might Pence or Chooch or whoever else. It’s not going to be the same team. The Red Sox were winning with Derek Lowe, Pedro, Manny, and Kevin Millar nine years ago. They’re not winning with those guys now. They aren’t winning with anybody now, actually. Bad example. They do usually sustain success, though, and their down years tend to be better than a lot of teams “up” years.
That’s what I see from the Phillies. Maybe it will be Justin Upton this winter, or Bryce Harper in five, but they will refill the ranks and reload for another run. There’s been a pretty good thing going in Philly between the ownership and the fans the last few years, and I don’t think either side is anxious to see it end. If we go out and keep filling up the ballpark and buying the shirts, they’ll keep going out and buying us great players to watch (or offering new contracts to the great players we already have).
You can cry all you want about Doc getting old and Howard swinging at every curveball in the Delaware Valley, but the team itself will be fine as long as our little convention holds. There has to be some comfort in knowing that even if our beloved team is getting beat up this year, they’ll spend everything they can to fill the holes for next year, right? I choose to believe that this era of Phillies greatness is not over – it’s just taking a year off. Next year, when we trot out a lineup with some fresh new stars and some healthier old friends, we’ll be back to ring-chasing again.Tags: baseball, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, Division Champions, Jimmy Rollins, Kevin Millar, manny ramirez, MLB, National League, National League East, NL east, Pedro Martinez, phillies, Red Sox, Ryan Howard, Scott Rolen, WFC, World Series, Yankees