Aug 21, 2013, 10:15 AM EDT
This is about the Philadelphia Phillies, but let’s start with the Chiefs. I have always been fascinated by the Kansas City Chiefs of the 1970s. You probably know that the Chiefs of the late 1960s and early 1970s were among the best teams in football. They played in Super Bowl I, and they won Super Bowl IV. In 1971, they went 10-3-1 and lost the game I believe was the greatest ever played — a 27-24 playoff overtime loss to Miami on Christmas Day. For most of those incredible years, they featured SEVEN Hall of Famers: Quarterback Len Dawson, dominant defensive tackles Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp, brilliant linebackers Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell, cornerback Emmitt Thomas and kicker Jan Stenerud. I have long believed receiver Otis Taylor also should be in the Hall of Fame. Their coach, Hank Stram, is a Pro Football Hall of Famer. We are talking about an all-time team.
But as the 1970s progressed, the players got old. And the Chiefs just, well, they just watched the players get old. The year after the Christmas Day game, the Chiefs went 8-6 with 37-year-old Len Dawson at quarterback and aging players everywhere. In 1973, they were 7-5-2 with the same aging players — they still had enough class to hold their own but not enough youth or energy or exuberance to more than hold their own. In 1974, the Chiefs imploded. They went 5-9 with most of the same players, Hank Stram was shoved out, and the Chiefs would have losing records for 12 of the next 15 years, making the playoffs only once, and becoming such a non-factor that there was serious talk of moving the team out of town.
This comes to mind because in 2010, the Philadelphia Phillies had to make a decision. The Phillies were an amazing team. They had won the World Series in 2008, lost the World Series to the Yankees in 2009 and lost in NLCS to San Francisco in 2010. They were on a spectacular high, and the city was alive with baseball, and the atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park was fantastic, and the core of players — Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and so on — were Philadelphia icons. It was a magical time.
But you know — you could see the cracks. They weren’t hard to see. I have little doubt that general manager Ruben Amaro — for all the heat he has taken in Philadelphia lately — saw the cracks. Look:
- Howard had turned 30, he’s the type of player who doesn’t age well, and his production had dropped significantly.
- Utley had turned 31, he missed about 50 games with injury, his power numbers had dwindled.
- Rollins had turned 31 and his offensive production was way down from his MVP season.
- Victorino was about to turn 30.
- Werth, coming off a career year, was a free agent and about to leave.
These were impossible to miss signs. And Amaro, manager Charlie Manuel, ownership, the fans of Philadelphia, everybody had a decision to make: What do you do? Do you break things up now, when things are so good? Do you begin the process of rebuilding when the team is at its height? OR do you double down, add a few big money pieces, hold on tight and hope that the ride will last for a while longer? It’s one of the great questions in sports.
The Phillies, as we know, did not just double down. They tripled down. They quadrupled down. They signed Ryan Howard to a huge extension that would not even kick in for two years, an extension that made absolutely no sense when it was signed and made progressively less sense every single day that passed. But they were committed. Utley was already signed. Rollins was already signed. They signed Cliff Lee to a huge contract, thus securing what many of us called the greatest four-man rotation of the generation — Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. They brought back everybody except Werth — eventually replacing him with Hunter Pence — which meant that their starting team had nothing but 30-somethings. No player under 30 got 300 at-bats for the 2011 Phillies.
And … they were awesome. The pitching staff was so absurdly good, it almost didn’t matter how many runs they scored. Halladay finished second in the Cy Young voting. Lee finished third. Hamels finished fifth. In games when the Phillies scored three or more runs, the 2011 Phillies won EIGHTY PERCENT of the time. That made up 90 of their 102 wins. Yes, the team finished seventh in runs scored. Yes, Utley got hurt again, and Howard’s decline continued, but the season was glorious. Well, the regular season. Then it was the playoffs, and the Phillies lost to the Cardinals in five games — losing the last game 1-0 when Chris Carpenter out dueled Roy Halladay. Howard also got hurt running to first. And it was the beginning of the end.
Amaro had to see this. Manuel had to see this. But what was there to do? The Phillies had to double down again — they were too far in to fold now. They signed Jim Thome. They signed Jonathan Papelbon. They signed Juan Pierre. They signed Chad Qualls. At this point, it was like Amaro was jamming his fingers underneath the window, trying to keep it from closing. There was some vague talk about getting younger — start prospect Dom Brown was about ready, young Vance Worley had shown some moxie as a 23-year-old pitcher, but that was basically window dressing. They were old (or “experienced”). They were declining (or “accomplished”). Amaro knew all about the holes in the boat. He believed it had enough strength and experience to make it to shore one more time. He really had no choice but to believe it. He had made his bet.
The boat didn’t make it to shore. Halladay collapsed. Howard caved in. Utley got hurt again. Victorino at 31 wasn’t the same player. Like those early 1970s Chiefs, the team had enough class to break even — they finished 81-81. But the ride was over. This year, the Phillies came in as a bloated and ancient team of the past. They have tried to get younger. The lineup now has players in their 20s, the rotation too. But the team is 15-games under .500, in fourth place, and manager Charlie Manuel was fired.
Manuel talked with CSN Philly’s Leslie Gudel and in his folksy way said that he knew the Phillies were doomed the last two years and seemed to blame the Phillies for not adding pieces. I can’t blame him for feeling that way — I mean the guy just got fired and I’m sure he’s hurting — but I kind of think he’s talking out of pain. I suspect he believed. I think they all believed. That’s the human equation. The Phillies could have played it differently when they were the best team in the National League. They could have gotten rid of Howard, traded Utley or Rollins or both, gotten a lot younger, not signed all those old players to patch the holes, taken a step or two back in order to take a step or two forward (and heard the screams and boos that come with such maneuvers). They chose to ride it out. It was the human thing to do. And it led to where it always leads.
Apr 19, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
With his playing career likely over, Dontrelle Willis is now considering becoming a pitching coach.
Apr 19, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Mike Trout attached his name to an ignominious feat on Saturday against the Tigers.
Apr 19, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Orioles third baseman Manny Machado continues to make progress from knee surgery. He played five innings at third base and took four at-bats today in an extended spring training game.
Apr 19, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Nationals manager Matt Williams decided to pull Bryce Harper from today’s game after he didn’t hustle on a comebacker to the pitcher.
Apr 19, 2014, 4:28 PM EDT
Ike Davis will bat sixth in his Pirates debut this evening against the Brewers.
Apr 19, 2014, 3:31 PM EDT
Yankees closer David Robertson is on track to be activated Tuesday.
Apr 19, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT
Cole Hamels is on track to face the Dodgers next Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Apr 19, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT
The Reds are hoping that Sean Marshall’s shoulder issues are behind him.
Apr 19, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
I’m warning you, this is pretty scary stuff.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
Denard Span had no issues during a brief minor league rehab assignment.
Apr 19, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT
Cesar Cabral was ejected after hitting three batters Friday against the Rays. And then his night got worse.
Apr 19, 2014, 10:10 AM EDT
Adjustments to each rule could be made soon.
Apr 19, 2014, 9:21 AM EDT
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols is closing in on a milestone.
Apr 19, 2014, 8:58 AM EDT
They needed extra innings to do it, but the Diamondbacks snapped a six-game losing streak last night and finally got a win against the Dodgers.
Apr 19, 2014, 3:24 AM EDT
Can’t someone please write these things down so we can all keep track?
Apr 19, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT
One of baseball’s older cliches came true on Friday night thanks to Martin Maldonado.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:55 PM EDT
The Blue Jays get a shortstop back, but lose their designated hitter.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Jeff Samardzija unselfishly wants to get paid. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Apr 18, 2014, 10:50 PM EDT
Giancarlo Stanton does Giancarlo Stanton things.
Apr 18, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
After consistent battles with his control, Donnie Veal ran out of chances with the White Sox.
- Bryce Harper pulled from Saturday’s game for not hustling 38
- Report: MLB likely to adjust rules for plays at home and transfer catches 14
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 17
- Giancarlo Stanton sends the Marlins to victory with a walk-off grand slam 22
- Jason Bartlett will retire after 10 years in the big leagues 11
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists (248)
- “They Don’t Know Henry” (167)
- Doug Glanville’s story about being racially profiled at his own home (125)
- There is still a racial divide in baseball (112)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (96)