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.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
The Blue Jays added an outfield bench bat, picking up John Mayberry, Jr. from the Phillies on Sunday.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
The Brewers tried but ultimately failed to acquire David Price from the Rays in July because they refused to part with pitcher Jimmy Nelson.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
Bryce Harper entered August with numbers far below expectations. He’ll enter September with much better-looking stats thanks to a decent showing in August, including a spectacular finish on Sunday.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:35 PM EDT
Aroldis Chapman has had a great season, as usual, but he could do something no pitcher has done since the implementation of pitch-tracking technology in 2006.
Aug 31, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
Is it really a good thing if one’s team is one of only two teams in the last 113 years to have four relatively old players accrue a significant amount of playing time?
Aug 31, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT
The Yankees picked up Chaz Roe on the cheap from the Marlins on Sunday, just ahead of the waiver deadline.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Adam Dunn is ready to call it a career, he told the media on Sunday after he was traded from the White Sox to the Athletics.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Kolten Wong hit his head on the ground pursuing a ball hit by Chris Valaika in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game against the Cubs. He was helped off the field, and he’ll undergo testing after the game.
Aug 31, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Rusney Castillo made his debut in MLB-affiliated ball on Sunday afternoon with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, singling through the left side of the infield in his first of two plate appearances and striking out looking in his second.
Aug 31, 2014, 4:17 PM EDT
Watch as Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista leaves the yard for the fifth time in five games Sunday afternoon against the Yankees …
Aug 31, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
Derek Jeter’s retirement tour continued Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre in Toronto, where the Blue Jays presented him a $10,000 check for his Turn 2 Foundation and this really cool trip …
Aug 31, 2014, 2:33 PM EDT
Hyun-Jin Ryu is back in the Dodgers’ starting rotation after missing a little over two weeks with a strained glute and Juan Uribe is back at third base after sitting out 15 days with a strained hamstring.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT
The National League Central-leading Brewers just made a pretty significant upgrade to their bullpen. From Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com comes word that Milwaukee has acquired right-handed reliever Jonathan Broxton in a waiver trade with the Reds.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT
Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera had to leave the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader against the White Sox after struggling to make it down the first base line on a fourth-inning groundout. He’s been battling a right ankle injury for several weeks, and it seems only to be getting worse.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
The A’s announced Sunday morning that they have acquired veteran designated hitter Adam Dunn from the White Sox for minor league reliever Nolan Sanburn.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is sitting out a second consecutive game after injuring his left ankle on a slide into home plate Friday night …
Aug 31, 2014, 10:53 AM EDT
Jay Bruce finished 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Saturday’s loss to the Pirates and is now batting .217/.292/.369 with 130 strikeouts in 114 total games this season. He’s sporting a career-worst .661 OPS and it looks like he’ll finish with fewer than 20 home runs for the first time since breaking into the major leagues in 2008.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
White Sox veteran slugger Adam Dunn appears willing to waive his no-trade clause and join a contending team for his first taste of postseason baseball …
Aug 31, 2014, 9:34 AM EDT
Check out Alexi Amarista guiding the Padres to their third consecutive extra-innings walkoff victory with an RBI single to shallow left-center field Saturday night against the visiting Dodgers …
Aug 31, 2014, 8:58 AM EDT
This weekend has been a nightmare for the A’s. They headed into Anaheim on Thursday for the start of a four-game series with the goal of recapturing the lead in the American League West standings, but runs have been difficult to come by and now the Angels enter play Sunday looking for the sweep.
- Reds trade setup man Jonathan Broxton to the Brewers 14
- Miguel Cabrera sits Sunday with nagging ankle injury 11
- A’s acquire veteran slugger Adam Dunn from the White Sox 53
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 18
- Orioles acquire Kelly Johnson from the Red Sox 15
- Orioles acquire Alejandro De Aza from the White Sox 6
- Bryce Harper is 15th player in MLB history to reach 50 career homers before age-22 season 31
- The Dodgers took the shift to the extreme last night 51
- Forgiveness for Pete Rose? Not in this lifetime (146)
- Albert Pujols plays the “you never played the game!” card (104)
- Great Moments in Drug Testing and Punishment: The NFL Edition (101)
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights (75)