It’s over. What started in February with the eternal hope of spring and the unequalled exuberance of a winning team loaded with talent on a mission to win a championship… has ended. Much as we tend to embrace our Phillies heroes and ride that bandwagon with them in good times we as fans also critique (and even boo them) in bad times. Sounds like the reaction of family – always wanting you to do better than your best, completely biased and never settling for anything but achieving that ultimate goal. In 1980 and 2008 the Phillies fans shared in their team’s championship celebrations and we have spent all the time in-between riding those waves so that the mostly public journey is collectively as one. Family.
We as a family watched “our boys” lose in the 2010 NLCS just one year after they’d fallen a game short in the 2009 World Series. We’ve watched the roller-coaster events since that rag-tag bunch of Phillies claimed their first division title since 1993 and in that same 2007 season we watched “our boys” get swept right out of the NLDS. Five years of consecutive division titles with two World Series appearances, three NLCS berths, one championship and two early exists in the NLDS round. It hurts not because the Phillies failed to win but because we lost games that we should have won. The 2007 Phillies were better than the Colorado Rockies. The 2009 Phillies were just as good as the New York Yankees and the 2010 Phillies were a better overall team than the San Francisco Giants. Two of those teams went on to be World Champions while the third lost in the World Series. Even if the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals parlay their wildcard berth into their second championship in 6 seasons (also the last NL team to win 100 games in their 2006 championship season), it will sting painfully for Phillies fans everywhere. We lost the deciding game because we could not score a single run. 1-0. Cardinals win.
This season was supposed to be the culmination of a modern burgeoning dynasty. Five straight divisional titles put Philadelphia on par with the Atlanta Braves (1991-2006) while getting back to the World Series again might have put us in league with the New York Yankees (1996-2001 or 1976-1981) and Oakland A’s (1972-1974 champions). This 2011 team won 102 games (a franchise record) but will now be compared to the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116 wins but no title) rather than the closest thing to a modern dynasty (2004 & 2007 champion Boston Red Sox). That second World Championship over four seasons might have vaulted these Phillies into history. While they already are the most successful group of Phillies in history (473 wins over 5 seasons improving from 89 wins in 2007 to 102 in 2011) and Charlie Manuel became the “winningest” manager in Phillies history (reaching 645 to surpass Gene Mauch with the 102nd win on the final day of the regular season) they boast just one championship.
Any championship should be celebrated and cherished (the Phillies have just 2 overall in 130 seasons) the history of this franchise has not traditionally been dominantly victorious. World Series appearances in 1915, 1950 and 1993 resulted in losses – all losses to dominant teams of the time (Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays) as well as 1983 against the Baltimore Orioles. That was last century. This century marked a baseball Renaissance in Philadelphia and the rise of the Phillies as one of the sterling organizations in Major League Baseball. Proud. Profitable. Permeating the landscape as Phillies gear is seen at visiting ballparks in addition to the fervent hometown fans which pack Citizens Bank Park (200+ consecutive sellouts). Playoff contenders every season and proud their accomplishments.
However, this season the team had one goal (and a huge payroll), focused on winning a World Championship. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence were all brought in for that very reason. It is only one day after living and dying with every pitch thrown, every inning with a goose egg on the scoreboard and culminating horribly with Ryan Howard crumpled on the field after making the final out amid the St. Louis Cardinals celebrating in our ballpark. This is how the season ends for 29 of 30 teams but this hurts more because we should have won.
Most Phillies fans will spend the offseason distracting themselves with the Eagles and Flyers while occasionally having an eye toward baseball’s Hot Stove season. General Manager Ruben Amaro will have the offseason of his career trying to decide what to do with this team. Does he spend even more money to make one more run at a 2012 championship or cut his losses and begin rebuilding for a new generation of Phillies stars? Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are not going anywhere thanks to huge contracts but decisions must be made on Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Roy Oswalt (career-threatening back issues and a $16M option), Placido Polanco (hernia and back issues) and Carlos Ruiz. Conventional wisdom would indicate bringing everyone back for one more season – hoping that Ruiz and Polanco and Oswalt and Ibanez don’t break down – but consideration would have to be offered to the sheer cost of buying one more round for these veterans.
Maybe Amaro would be best served to dump expensive veterans and infuse this team with an injection of youth and exuberance – but with the upper levels of the minor league system bereft of major league-ready talent (due to the flurry of deadline deals for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Joe Blanton and Hunter Pence), that plan is more likely for 2013 rather than 2012. Even the coaching staff is in question. Will Charlie Manuel retire or honor the final year of his contract? Will Pete Mackanin be offered the Boston Red Sox job? What about Ryne Sandberg? Sam Perlozzo may want to head off to greener pastures so Sandberg would take over should any of these veterans leave but the same cannot be said for the Phillies minor league players. Despite making the playoffs, most of the AAA roster is simply not ready to jump to the Majors, which creates a quandary for the fate of the organization.
Jimmy Rollins will seek a 5-year deal while the Phillies may not offer their veteran (soon-to-be 33-year-old) shortstop more than 3 years (@$40 M). Look to the Yankees and Derek Jeter for guidance on that issue. Minor league options such as Freddy Galvis are still a year or two away from being ready for prime time while Michael Martinez and Wilson Valdez remain very valuable role players. Raul Ibanez will turn 40 years old and has served out his 3 year Phillies contract (signed in 2009) but without getting that elusive championship. Advice from the Philadelphia Eagles would indicate that it is better to cut a veteran player loose one year early than one year late. Domonic Brown seems the likely replacement but has proven erratic on the major league level and would benefit from another year of seasoning. Same dilemma applies to Carlos Ruiz who has seen catching prospects traded in two separate deals. How long will Ruiz, Brian Schneider and Erik Kratz (average age 33) hold up behind the plate?
Ross Gload will go as should Ben Francisco but is John Mayberry, Jr. an everyday player or should Scott Podsednik and Brandon Moss get a shot? Is Brad Lidge worth another season or is he the price we pay to try and retain the services of Ryan Madson? What about bloated contracts for aging underperformers like Joe Blanton, Jose Contreras and Roy Oswalt? Can Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes step up for an entire season or will the bullpen need a massive overhaul? Is Kyle Kendrick still a better option than Justin DeFratus or Michael Schwimmer? How long do we keep the Baby Aces hidden in the low minors before we have to rely on them? This is how Amaro earns his salary while we spend our winter second-guessing him – but like any successful business a balance must be struck between those with promise and those who have proven productive. Experience vs. potential. Past vs. future.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org