Death is not something to be taken lightly, nor is a mere form of entertainment to be too closely compared to a serious issue. However, we as fans do have an emotional, vested interest in the fate of our team. When spending 7 months of time and effort to see the organization invest $175 million dollars into a baseball team and following that team every year, having the season end prematurely can mirror the stages of loss.
We spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage of loss more or less intensely. The five stages do not necessarily occur in order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance.
Many of us are not afforded the luxury of time required to achieve this final stage of grief. Speaking for myself, I was expecting that the 102-win season would result in continued postseason success and ultimately a 2011 World Series title to pair with the 2008 trophy and complete a 31-year culmination of turning a 10,000 loss franchise into a championship organization.
Our response as a fanbase began when the NL Division Series against the Cardinals went to a fifth game. Most of us knew that the Phillies were the superior team. They boasted better pitching, better hitters up and down the lineup and better defense – three elements of a championship team – but this championship team was having trouble scoring runs and fielding a healthy lineup. Hunter Pence and Placido Polanco were struggling through sports hernias while Carlos Ruiz, Roy Oswalt and Chase Utley were all suffering from injuries earlier in the season and lingering side effects.
Anyone who endures a 162-game season plus postseason will show effects of wear and tear but the whole point of that long season is to separate the true contenders from pretenders. Likewise, it means that in the postseason, the best team doesn’t always win. Teams get hot or go into slumps and sometimes the wildcard team that won just 90 games can overcome the 102-win division champion by simply outplaying them three out of five games. Throughout each stage, a common thread of hope emerges. As long as there is life, there is hope. Reciprocally, so long as there is hope, there is life.
In grand, terrible spectacle, the Phillies season ended with Ryan Howard crumpled along the first baseline, the visiting St. Louis Cardinals celebrating on our home turf at Citizens Bank Park and a stunned crowd of nearly 50,000 Phillies faithful mired in silence. Right up until that very last pitch, we had hope. We had faith. Our Phillies were just making it dramatic, taking a 1-0 game into the bottom of the ninth. We trusted that Ryan Howard would redeem his 2010 strikeout where he was caught looking only to witness the San Francisco Giants celebrate their NLCS victory in Philadelphia.
This year was different than 2007, 2009 and 2010 as this team was a team of destiny, determined to complete their task of “World Series or Bust.” Well… they did… after 102 wins, a huge payroll, Four Aces, Chase Utley’s two-month extended Spring Training, Raul Ibanez Last Hurrah, Trading Deadline deal for Hunter Pence, four different closers, Charlie Manuel’s record-setting managerial record and 200+ home sellouts… the fans fell silent and hope was lost. It ended with one pitch. Our world would never be the same as it had been just moments before.
Denial is the first stage, followed by Anger then some form of Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. In whatever order, for however long it takes, we will work through these stages and then focus on 2012. There is always next season. Even the cursed Chicago Cubs fans know that much… though the Mayans are not so certain of seasons past 2012…
What will be the Phillies fate in 2012? Fans are angry and inconsolable watching St. Louis and Milwaukee play for the NLCS as we know the Phillies were supposed to be a better team. Anger and Frustration can either be used positively to effect change or negatively to wallow in sadness.
There seem to be two general schools of thought regarding 2012. One is to completely blow up the team, dismantle the $175 million payroll, dump the veterans and commit to a youth movement – much as had been done over the 2005 and 2006 seasons to create this collection of Phillies. Veterans such as Bobby Abreu and Randy Wolf were sacrificed so that Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels could take their place next to Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins. Brett Myers and Carlos Ruiz would be joined by Pedro Feliz, Brad Lidge, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth who were hungry for second chances at a championship run.
The second theory regarding 2012 is to hold it together for one more year and try to squeeze out one more chance to win now before reloading. Five division championships, two World Series berths, three NLCS appearances and one World Championship are a lot from any five-year run in the modern Major Leagues. 473 regular season wins (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) are proud accomplishments. Two World Championships in 28 years is a far cry from 130 total seasons with over 10,000 losses but we knew we could be better.
The players knew it, the manager knew it and the front office knew that this collection of Phillies should have had a second title or maybe a threepeat… if we’d just done a little better. .. if we’d played a little better… scored another couple runs… Bargaining…
The healthy thing to do in time is to look ahead to 2012. In 2010 the Phillies boasted a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds AND the second postseason no-hitter in baseball history but still needed recovery after losing the NLCS – knowing that 2011 would be another dominant campaign. Same went for 2009 when we took the Yankees to Game 6 of the World Series or 2007 when the young Phillies were stunned and swept in the NLDS by Colorado. Hope springs eternal in the promise of a new season.
Eventually depression evolves into a more functional form of dealing with what we feel because moving on is the only thing we can do – lest we be stuck eternally in depression over what is already lost. Acceptance.
Perhaps the most cathartic move would be to re-invent this Phillies team for 2012 and exorcise the ghosts of lost opportunity? Only eight players remain from the 2008 championship team (7 from the 2007 team who won the first of 5 straight NL East flags) so much of the roster overhaul has already occurred. The real quandary comes down to which elements of the core group of players should remain, who might need to go and what sort of replacement role players might be more complimentary. As in life, the only constant in the business of baseball is change. The game remains the same despite some evolution but the faces of the players and team composition are always fluid.
That and more next time…
RELATED ARTICLE: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/10/08/epic-phail/
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