Up next in our season review series is the Philadelphia Phillies. No team fell further faster than the Phillies did to start the season. They made a run late, but the hole was too deep. This guest post comes to us via the Senior Editor of That Ball’s Outta Here.
Author: Justin Klugh
I’ve got this shirt they were throwing at us on Opening Day in 2009. “NL CHAMPS” it informs any onlookers. Then it gives them a Phillies logo to enjoy, as well as a gallery of corporate logos to let you know why the shirt even exists in the first place.
The thing about the shirt is, I can wear it whenever I want. There’s no law stopping me from wearing it in public, today for example, in a weird, sort of pseudo-protest, and maybe if I was especially mentally detached, I would pretend that the Phillies were the NL CHAMPS. Maybe I’d take joy in the prospect of people who weren’t familiar with baseball assuming that the shirt were true.
Sadly, as the years have passed, the lettering has faded and armpits are filling with holes. Like the team itself, the culture of the shirt has gone from crisp and new and aesthetically pleasing to old and used and covered in pit stains. It doesn’t elicit the hope it once did; instead, it turns you toward the past, and asks you to remember.
2012 was the ‘fading t-shirt giveaway’ of contemporary Phillies seasons, reminding us that even the keenest of glory can become torn and yellowed in time. The core of this once-offensive juggernaut–Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard–have failed to remain immune to the passage of time. Their bones creak a little louder, their knees bend a little slower, and their stints on the DL have chewed more up more of the past few seasons than I can recall, thanks to a curtain of tears drawn across my memory. Productive, certainly; J-Roll is still one of the league’s slickest shortstops, Utley’s power after his return was consistent, and even Howard banged out enough RBI for optimistic hypothetical assessments to be made about what he could have done with a full season.
But no one showed the effects of time more than Roy Halladay, whose never looked more Roy Halladay-ish in his life. Passable, effective, and at times a bit stifling, even at his best he didn’t seem to have that extra cut, slice, and sink that made him the best hurler in the league. He couldn’t even claim the Cliff Lee Defense and point out that nobody was scoring for him; while Lee was throwing ten shut out innings in a single game, Halladay was surrendering six-run leads to the Braves. It was gross.
Bright spots in 2012 were habitually extinguished. The opening day second baseman was a frantic injection of youth in Freddy Galvis, a 22-year-old out-maker who swallowed bad hops like a wolf on a handicapped bunny farm. Sadly, his out-making status continued when he would reach the plate, and before he injured his vertebrate/was suspended 50 games for failing a drug test, it was curious to see if he could hit Major League pitching.
Fortunately, Chooch was there to give us a .325/.394/.540, that, boy, would have been nice during any one of the past three seasons but whatever. But hey, he looked great, he inspired the team, but sadly, the people filling in, and who were “the team,” were not talented enough to be inspired by Chooch. Guys like Michael Martinez and Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix need a little more than “a good example” to play key roles on a playoff team. Even Juan Pierre got in on the act, and after spending all spring listening to people say they’d rather have Scott Podsednik on the team. Pierre showed how much a 34-year-old speedster without a correctly-working throwing arm and reduced speed could contribute. And it was a respectable amount, actually. Thanks, Juan.
July meant more good news, which is to say, the beginning of good news. Cole Hamels, who everyone assumed would leave us in a cloud of money, actually decided to stay for the better part of a decade and signed a six-year extension. Whatever Ruben Amaro told him about still contending for years to come, he believed him. I just wish he’d tell me a speech like that. And then give me millions of dollars.
We fell onto the trade deadline, having getting over rumors that fan favorites would soon be gone. Cole stayed! So everyone will stay! How could they leave? WE HAVE COLE. And then it happened, as Shane Victorino was packaged up and sent to L.A., Hunter Pence took the same flight but got off in S.F., and eventually, Joe Blanton was able to find a “ride” on the back of an L.A.-bound pig truck.
Our farm system was flushed with an infusion of talent, while our Major League outfield suffered from John Mayberry Syndrome, a condition with the single symptom of John Mayberry being your centerfielder. Also, Nate Schierholtz was here now, and Dom Brown could get his big chance, again. Also, did you hear about this Darin Ruf kid, on pace to grab the Double-A Eastern League Triple Crown [He fell just short]? Let’s get him up here so we can get a head start on our impossible expectations. Also let’s just go ahead and move him from first base to left field while nobody’s looking because Ryan Howard is signed through 2037.
Barring that brief period in September when the Pirates were flaming out and we attempted to step over their charred bodies into a Wild Card spot, the intensity and fun of the Phillies remained absent for quite some time in 2012. We spent a lot of time uttering, “Who are these people?” and “When did baseball get so hard to watch?” It was new and awful. And yet somehow our stadium attendance was still the highest in MLB. Which is presented without comment.
Full seasons for starters will go a long way in 2013, though what’s going to happen with Roy Halladay remains a mystery to everyone except himself and the staircase that he is currently running. The bullpen is our youngest facet, featuring names like B.J. Rosenberg and Jeremy Horst and Jake Diekman. There are a lot of moving parts, save Papelbon, pun intended, but that’s what will make Spring Training all the more curious. The Phillies have a solid, amorphously assembled collective of talent, which under the proper guidance could be shaped into the model they would like. Leaders like Utley and Howard need to stay healthy and not be weirdly secretive about it, and Rollins needs to make some of his patented cocksure statements prior to the season, not after the Nationals have already ruined it.
There are also holes to fill–solifidying the bullpen is important, but who isn’t doing that most offseasons? What we really need are a center fielder and a third base man. The team has a history of forking up cash for aging pros, meaning Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton haven’t been ruled out. But common sense-lifers are thinking more about Angel Pagan, or even this Victorino fellow out of L.A. Third base seems to be an even more crowded decision, but not with contenders–with confusion. Chase Utley was going to take over but then he wasn’t and Galvis can’t do it apparently and I don’t have a full year of Kevin Frandsen in me so this one’s just going to have to play out and end well while I close my eyes and scream.
So the world seems different now, as our playoffs have no Phillies in them and our shirts begin to lie to us. Our golden age of Philadelphia baseball did include a World Series win, but the fact of the matter is, no one was really ready for the Phillies to fall as hard as they did on .500. The saddest part was, they didn’t have to; not the dominating war machine of 2011, certainly, but with all hands on deck, this is a team that could have and will be in the thick of it come April.
I mean for god’s sakes. They’re giving us dishonest shirts.
For more on the Phillies, or simply to read more from Justin, make sure to bookmark TBOH and visit often.