Friday, October 9, 2009


The regular season is officially over and your Philadelphia Phillies have achieved the glorious: *threepeat!* National League East Champions 2007-2009 excelsior. It's a special kind of bittersweet. Gone now are the hot summer days of lazy afternoon games, the illusion that "this will go on forever", a masquerade that baseball plays well, too well say its detractors. That early July feeling when baseball stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction, that chanellable naivate from when the Phils still wore baby blue and maroon. That feeling that every team has a chance and so you'd better get well aquainted with the intricacies of every one, and you have all the time in the world to do it. October baseball is an entirely different animal. It's cinematic. The first world series I can properly rememer is the '89 Series between the Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants. I remember alot of games from earlier than that, but all Phillies games, hence no post-season. Anyway, the '89 Series is famous for the earthquake that took place before Game 3 and delayed play for ten days. It also housed such super-stars of the time as Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Will Clark, Ricky Henderson, and Kevin Mitchell. The 1993 season was my favorite until 2008. In 1993, the Phillies went to the World Series and lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, in dramatic fashion. I loved that team so much, and beating the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS was genuinely sublime. In Game 6 of the World Series, Phillies closer Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams gave up a Series ending walk-off home run to Joe Carter. I silently got up from the living room couch, walked down to my basement bedroom and went to bed with tears on my cheeks, though I'd relive it many times through the "Whatever It Takes, Dude!" Yearbook Video. The next year the Phils were back to their losing ways, and the infamous baseball strike disillusioned me right out of the game. Unlike Darren Daulton, I retired from baseball. I was in high school by that point, and I pretty much hated sports in general. It was dumb, but organized sports seemed diametrically opposed to the image I had of myself.

I got broken back into the sporting world by the Amazing Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76er's of the late nineties and especially the 2001 team that lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. A.I. did things that were eye-popping and inspiring, seeming to tread upon invisible oxygen blocks and win games on his lonesome. From there the next, vital step was easy. The modern era of Phillies baseball started in 2001 with the addition of fan favorite and 1980 World Series Champion Larry Bowa as skipper, Jimmy Rollins first full season as the Phillies shortstop, and Pat Burrell's second year as a Phil and his first in left field. Some would-be crucial Phillies like Mike Lieberthal, Bobby Abreu, and even Randy Wolf had been around for a few years, but the great team we have today sprang up around J-Roll and Pat the Bat over the next half decade. After a disappointing 2002, the Phillies got a tune up with the trade of unpopular third baseman Scotty Rolen to the St. Louis Cardinals for sharp second baseman Placido Polanco, and to replace Rolen's "power" the Phils signed home run superstar free agent Jim Thome, previously of the Cleaveland Indians. This uncharacteristic huge signing, along with the promise of a new ballpark next season, and a particularly terrific series of Topps baseball cards got me fully back into the Great American Passtime. I saw Thome hit one out in person that last season at the Vet. It was awesome, when he'd come up they'd play the theme from the Superman movies. It gave you the idea that we might just be able to win for real, and for extended periods of time, and that we had something special that others did not have. Still, with all the improvement, the 2003 Phillies would finish in third place, well behind the long reigning Atlanta Braves and the second place Florida Marlins. Taking off from Philadelphia airport on my way to Clearwater Florida for spring break, I watched the Vet implode as I ascended above the clouds.

The 2004 lineup looked much the same with a much improved David Bell brooding at third base, and center fielder Marlon Byrd suffering a sophomore slump, but the bullpen, the bane of many a Phillies team, got some significant components. Rookie Ryan Madson pitched 52 games, won 9 and had a 2.34 ERA, and renowned hot-head Billy Wagner was a soild closer. Meanwhile, when Polanco went on the DL, we were introduced to another key offensive and defensive force of nature in young Chase Utley, who had played 43 games the year before and 93 in 2004. Utley performed so well upon his call up that Polanco was relegated to a platoon with the rookie. And Ryan Howard hit 2 home runs in 19 games, but had the big corn fed road block of Jim Thome in his way at first base. The Phils finished ten games above five hundred, same as the year before, but managed to place second behind the Braves.

2005 featured Chase Utley as the full-time second baseman as we traded Polanco to the Detroit Tigers for set-up man Ugueth Urbina, who ended up in jail for attempted murder with a machete and fire, but Chase was great. We added veteran Kenny Lofton in center field who hit .335 and briefly saw rule five aquisition from the San Diego Padres, Shane Victorino, in 24 games. The bullpen was strong and Billy Wagner saved 38, but the biggest renovation by far was the addition of Cleaveland Indians hitting coach Charlie Manuel as skipper, replacing Larry Bowa. While I was pretty heated as I saw the Phils improving every year, Uncle Charlie would become the lynchpin of the modern Phillies, and in 2005 we finished in second place once again, fourteen games above 500 now, and my man Ryan Howard won the National League Rookie of the Year in 88 games for a broke-thumbed Thome.

In 2006 the Phillies traded Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox for the piece that would complete their outfield, hard-nosed dirtball Aaron Rowan. Shane Victorino played 153 games, the majority in right field for Bobby Abreu, and Abraham Nunez was a utility infielder and David Bell's primary platoon mate at third base. Carlos Ruiz caught 27 games as Mike Lieberthal aged poorly, and a young Cole Hamels made a splash with nine wins and 132 innings. Now a pretty good team, the Phillies still struggled to get over the hump, with young players and a shaky pitching staff, they finished in second place behind the now-hated New York Mets and only eight games above five hundred, but Ryan Howard followed up his ROY campaign by winning the NL Most Valuble Player Award.

2007 was the year everything came together. The pitching staff was greatly solidified with the addition of Jamie Moyer and rookie Kyle Kendrick, and Cole Hamels had a break out season, going winning fifteen while losing only five and had a 3.39 ERA. Brett Myers moved to and excelled at the closer role, and was on the mound when the Phillies clinched their first National League East Title since 1993 on the last day of the season, edging out the dispicable New York Mets. Shane Victorino took over full time in right field when we traded long time Phillie Bobby Abreu to the New York Yankees, and Carlos Ruiz became the starting catcher (with Chris Coste and Sal Fasano as the case dictated) after Mike Leiberthal went with Randy Wolf to the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent. The only true offensive deficit on the team was Abraham Nunez at third base, who played above average in the field, but was anemic at the plate. Jayson Werth played 94 games as the all purpose back up outfielder and J.A. Happ pitched and lost one game. We finished twelve games above five hundred and for the first time in fourteen years I felt the electric love that is post season baseball, only to have the Phils cough it up in three to a mutant Colorado Rockies team. The second longest-tunred Phillie Jimmy Rollins had an absolutely unblievable season and won the NL Most Valuble Player and Charlie Manuel's work was recognized with the NL Magaer of the Year Award.

Did somebody say 2008!?! Version 1.0 of the greatest Phils team since 1980 or maybe ever is Jimmy "J-Roll" Rollins at shortstop, Shane "the Flyin' Hawaiian" Victorino in center field, Chase Utley at second base, Ryan "Soul Pole" Howard at first base, Pat "the Bat" Burrell in left field, Jayson Werth in right field, new addition Pedro Feliz at third base, and Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz doing the catching. Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, Kyle Kendrick, and trade deadline aquisition Joe Blanton were the rotation as Adam Eaton was one of the all-time flops. GM Pat Gillick, who along with his prodecessor Ed Wade had crafted this fine baseball machine added the finishing touch by trading speedster Michael Bourn to the Houston Astros for closer Brad "Lights Out" Lidge, who did not blow a single save oppurtunity in 2008 in 41 regular season attempts. Along with notables like Greg Dobbs, Eric Bruntlett, Matt Stairs, and Geoff Jenkins off the bench, Charlie Manuel led these heroes of ours to a 92-70 record and their second straight NL East Title, past the Milwaukee Brewers in the Division Series, past the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Championship Series, and past the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, with Cole Hamels winning the NLCS and World Series MVP Award.

Harry Kalas definitely said it best, "The Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 Champions of Baseball!" He said it with alot of class, the best voice in the game, he was the epitome of what a Phillies fan could be. But Chase Utley said it in a way we could all understand. "World Fucking Champs!" We Phillies have two World Championships to the New York Yankees twenty-six. They've been the World Champs twenty-six times, but they've never been World Fucking Champs, and anybody's who's been World Fucking Champs knows there ain't nothin' better.

Version 2.0 is very similar, the only dude missing on the field is my mom's favorite Philly, Pat Burrell, who was not resigned after a long term deal ended in 2008. Ruben Amaro made a splash as GM after Pat Gillick's departure by signing veteran left fielder Raul Ibanez. The move was met with many a raised eyebrow, but Pat the Bat absoultely floundered as Tampa Bay's new designated hitter while Ibanez posted carreer numbers, particularly in the first half of the season while J-Roll battled a mega-slump. Off the field, Harry Kalas passed away in our nations capitol early in the season, giving the Phillies all the more motivation to win it again. Brad Lidge was also not "lights out" anymore, leading the league in blown saves (11) and consecutive losses (8), but the team is so good that they managed to win one more game than the previous year, led by Ryan Howard, Ibanez, and Jayson Werth, who posted amazing numbers in his first year alone in right field, as well as Amaro smoothy pick-ups 2008 AL Cy Young Winner Cliff Lee and a man who needs no introduction, simply known as Pedro. To a true-believer like myself, this was no big surprise, but take it for granted I do not. We won our thrid straight NL East Title and once again face the Colorado Rockies in the first round, payback series! With the (metaphorical) guardian angel of Harry the K looking down on us (or out from us in an internalized memory of a great voice and fan), I do nothing but believe. As our boys practice and concentrate and eye up that tiger, I believe. Not in god or heaven or fairness or sports; I believe in the World Fucking Champs.

No comments: