Breaking Balls: The Phillies’ bumpy slide from first to worst


Neither slathered on face paint nor rally caps can help rescue the Philadelphia Phillies’ from their rapid decline.

With all the major cities in the U.S. and the world that I have visited, strangely, I have never wound up in Philadelphia. Maybe it’s because I don’t really know anyone there, or I just happened to not have any work take me there, or maybe it’s because I don’t like being stabbed.

Philadelphia, or “Philly” as the kids call it, is one of the largest cities in the country and certainly has significant historical importance. One of my favorite TV shows takes place there (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). One of my best friends is from there (though he doesn’t ever really go back there – I guess he doesn’t like getting stabbed either). I drove near Philly once on the way to D.C. and it seemed harmless enough.

In the world of sports, Philly is known to have fans that are truly fanatical – who aren’t just die-hard, they’re die-hard-with-a-vengeance. The city’s baseball team is the Phillies – which is just about the worst team name ever (besides the offensive ones like the racist-themed Redskins or the sexually charged Yankees). This might explain why Philly fans are so angry all the time. They’re like the boy who gets dressed by his colorblind mom who is made fun of at school and turns to a life of drinking, eating unhealthy food and stabbing people.

For the last few years the Phillies have given the people something to be even more fanatical about. After a decade of mediocre and poor results year after year, the Phillies rose to the top of the heap and won the World Series and have been a World Series contender as well.

Until this year. This last week, the Phillies lost their 60th game with almost two months left to play in the season. They lost 60 games all last season. They are currently in last place in their division, 20 games out of first place. To quote people inaccurately quoting the Bible: “Oh, how the mighty have fallen!”

It seems odd that a team that was so dominant just last year could fall apart in that short a time. But this is baseball, and there’s a lot of moving parts that can (and did) break down. An unfortunate confluence of injuries, mismanagement and plain old bad luck have conspired against the team this year and possibly longer.

A lot of the big names who have been part of the team’s recent success are still on this year’s disappointing team. And the team has one of the highest payrolls in the league, so it looks like a championship-caliber team, but somehow this version is just different.

It’s like when you’re dating a girl for a while and everything’s going great and you move in together. Then you start paying for everything because you’re the man and that’s what you do and it’s expensive and driving you to the brink of bankruptcy, but you are so in love that it’s totally worth it. Then she cheats on you because you’ve “grown apart” – not so far apart that she’ll pay her cell phone bill, but far enough that she regularly has to “work late” which you later find out is code for make-out sessions that last hours when you have spent the last six months trying to savor each month’s one allocated sexual encounter.

Okay, the Phillies thing isn’t really like that. But there are some similarities. Sort of. Maybe some of that finance stuff. I don’t know. I think my point was something about things looking similar to prior good times, but actually being quite dreadful.

This aging, injured and underperforming trio is bilking the Phillies for $45 million this season …

And I think that’s where the Phillies find themselves. The league is getting smarter, and the front office for Philly just doesn’t quite seem up to the task. Granted they made some really nice trades over the last few years, stealing top-level talent from the Astros when Houston’s general manager was former Phillies’ GM Ed Wade. But Wade is gone from Houston, so that won’t work anymore. And the Phillies’ current management has been throwing around terrible contracts like they’re getting kickbacks.

In the offseason, they signed shortstop Jimmy Rollins to a $33 million contract. I’m all for a team giving a player an extra year or some extra dough to reward them for past performance. However, Rollins’ new contract is ridiculous and he has spent the majority of the year proving that exactly.

The team also signed former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year $50 million contract. Yikes. They way overpaid for him. And to make matters worse, if the team had just waited a few days before signing him, they wouldn’t have lost their first-round draft pick to the Red Sox. That is just stupidity. Especially if you consider that draft picks help the farm system and the Phillies have one of the worst farm systems in baseball.

Then, in the middle of this season, the team signed ace pitcher Cole Hamels to $100 kajillion (or thereabouts). Wow! That’s great! Now you finally have an ace pitcher to go with the two other ace pitchers on your team – Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee – and the three of them combined only cost you $300 kajillion (or thereabouts). They spend more on those three pitchers than a third of the league spends on their whole teams.

… while the remaining three aces financial futures are so bright, they have to wear shades.

And if we’re talking about terrible contracts, we have to bring up the Ryan Howard contract. It is quite possibly the worst contract in baseball. It was an extension he signed with the team at the peak of his value with no hometown discount and two years before any extension was needed. How could that possibly go wrong?!? Well, like most heavyset ball players, his skills diminished quickly and in the last play of last season he blew out his Achilles tendon. This was before the contract extension actually started.

Sure, no one can predict an injury. But the real crime of the contract is that he was being rewarded for having a lot of RBIs (runs batted in). So, in essence, he was being rewarded for having the ability to have runners on base in front of him when he was batting. Sorry, like levitation, teleportation, French hygiene and making a woman happy, this is an ability that does not actually exist.

In the real world, when a relationship gets this messed up, it’s time for one of the “participants” to pull the plug and put an end to the whole thing. But neither ever has the guts to do it, because there’s always the hope that those prior good times can be once more and the pain of today is tolerated in hopes that pleasure will soon wash it all away. However, and I don’t think I need a spoiler alert here, it never really works out that way.

There isn’t yet the outrage at team management that it actually deserves. Maybe Philly fans are just so stunned by it all and the excuses of injuries and bad luck are keeping them distracted from the fact that she was clearly cheating on me. Sorry, some wounds take longer to heal than others. But, come on, she didn’t even show remorse. What kind of cyborg can be living with a guy who is paying all her bills and catering to her every whim and then be off banging some bozo? And what kind of loser would allow that to happen for more than zero seconds?

To quote again people inaccurately quoting the Bible: “There are none so blind as those who will not see!” Denial is not just a river in Egypt, Phillies’ fans.

But there is hope for Philly. Back in 1993, the Phillies went from worst to first and that was when there were more teams in each division and dinosaurs roamed the Earth. (The problem I have with showing my extensive baseball knowledge like this is I might show my age, so now I’ll talk about even older stuff to throw you off the scent like Rollie Fingers’ classic ’70s ’stache or Ted Williams missing years of baseball to be fighter pilot in two wars or the arrival of overhand pitching to the sport.)

Anyway, this funk could just be a temporary thing for the Phillies if the front office can get their poop together and catch up with the rest of the league. But until then, there’s always the Eagles.

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