PHILADELPHIA (Special to TSD AfterDark) In 1955, the Philadelphia Athletics, who won five World Series in the City of Brotherly Love, left the Delaware Valley for Kansas City for a thirteen-year stretch, before moving to Oakland, California before the 1968 season. They were my dad’s team. I heard many stories about his beloved A’s like Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Lefty Grove. He was heartbroken when they moved, and simply by default, he switched his allegiance to the National League cellar dwelling Phillies. Sure, he kept his eye on the Oakland A’s during their 1970s heyday, but 2,900 miles more than constitutes a long distance relationship…so, it would now have to be the Phillies.
Yep. The Phillies.
Let’s rewind for a second back to the 1960s. I was born in November of 1963, which means I missed the 23 consecutive losses the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies strung together in their dismal 107-loss season. The team was at least competitive for a spell after that. But, with my first summer on the planet being 1964, being competitive didn’t seem to matter. If you’re a Phillies fan, 1964 was the mother of all bad omens. No point in even rehashing that historic collapse. By the late 60s and early 1970s, the Phillies were once again, terrible. Despite Hall of Famer, Steve Carlton’s miraculous achievement during an otherwise horrific 1972 season, there wasn’t much to crow about. Still, that was right about the time when my pedestrian interest in baseball, transformed into being pretty damn serious about the game. I actually looked forward to 1973. The Phillies were terrible then too.
In 1974, two things happened. Third baseman Mike Schmidt, who was coming off one of the worst rookie seasons in history, morphed into one of the best players in the game, winning his first of eight homerun titles. The other pendulum swing came via a trade after the previous season, when a fiery second baseman from the Pittsburgh Pirates named Dave Cash was obtained for pitcher Ken Brett. Cash was only in Philly for three seasons, 1974-76, but was an All-Star all three years. His “Yes We Can” battle cry lit a fire under the underachieving Phils, and a paradigm shift in the NL East was underway. The team was building for the future, primarily with talent from within the organization. Shortstop, Larry Bowa, outfielder, Greg Luzinski, and catcher, Bob Boone, along with the homegrown Schmidt, quickly formed a nucleus for the next several years. It was the team’s “first” dynasty, if you enjoy throwing around the word dynasty with reckless abandon. Admittedly, it was a good run. From 1976 to 1983, the team made six post-season appearances, which included two World Series nods, and one championship. It was a good time to be a kid and young adult. Ah, but nothing lasts forever, or two decades for that matter. With the exception of an improbable Dykstra-Schilling-Daulton-Kruk 1993 season, the Phillies were pretty lousy from the mid 1980s, until the early 2000s.
Overall, these were bad teams, but unquestionably with some solid talent — as Von Hayes, Juan Samuel, Glenn Wilson, Bob Dernier, Marlon Anderson, Mike Lieberthal, Scott Rolen, and Bobby Abreu come to mind. Though each had varying degrees of success, none of these players would really pan out as part of a new dynasty — that would have to wait.
With at least a few of those teams, you thought you had a chance to make some noise. And that potential noise came before the wild card was a part of baseball, which of course now gives the mediocre an actual shot at October baseball. Despite some terrible pitching and fielding, the Phillies could at least score runs, in what seemed then to be the “dark years.”
We all know how things turned out during the “second” dynasty, again built largely around homegrown talent – Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz. Throw in a Rule 5 guy named Shane Victorino, and you can say the Phillies pretty much did it the old-fashioned way — they grew it. I can recall that very short window when then new Phillies General Manager, Ruben Amaro Jr. was the toast of the town. Remember the Four Aces of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Hamels? And that vaunted offense? Well, the truth is that vaunted offense had been on the decline since 2009, but no one seemed to notice, or mind, or care. The replenishing of the system was terribly mismanaged because no one saw the team aging on a nightly basis. The mindset was, “they’ll rebound.” But they didn’t.
And now we’re left with this. 2015. In my forty plus years of watching Phillies baseball, I’ve seen some woeful teams — seriously, bad. Teams that make you appreciate the good ones. We can look back and laugh at names like Tony Longmire and Gary Redus and Jeff Juden and Steve Jeltz and Kevin “Freekin’” Sefcik, because we were ultimately rewarded with players like the aforementioned Utley, Howard, and Hamels in their primes, and a championship hoisted high in the air.
Fast-forward just four seasons from the 2007-2011 run of excellence, and you’re left with what is arguably the most pathetic team in modern Phillies history. Even the worst of teams from years past could score runs. They could even put together mini win streaks. This team has nothing. It’s bad all-around. Terrible offense. Dreadful defense. The bullpen, which has supposed to be the one bright spot, has been C level at best, and with the exception of Hamels,
embarrassing starting pitching. And there’s no fire. Bad teams know when they’ve got an uphill climb going into a season. The Phillies certainly knew it was going to be a tough year, but nothing like this. What’s the one difference from all those terrible teams from years past? It all seems to be OK. Nobody seems to care. Hey fellas, get mad, kick over water coolers, start a fight. Do something! The cold hard fact is…ownership didn’t learn from history. They didn’t realize the team got old after the 1983 season then either. They didn’t plan ahead. Save the 1993 anomaly, it took two decades to restore hope in this franchise. That should never happen twice. Every team is going to have bad years because of injuries, off seasons, even bad luck. But there’s no excuse to not plan ahead. Not in today’s game. Not with millions of dollars on the line in one of the great sports cities in America. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am when I say, “The Philadelphia Phillies are YEARS away from being relevant again.”
And it’s all because of bad planning.