Oct 05, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Again, the Major League Baseball post-season is here, a month full of too-late start times, unnecessary off days, bone-chilling temperatures and other annoyances that have cluttered an otherwise special occasion.
It’s an intriguing cast of characters, too. There’s Texas and Cincinnati, back after long absences from October. The Rangers have emerged from bankruptcy and actually know how to pitch, while the Reds have a wonderful young cast – but its fans are skeptical that they’ll stay in a modest market like Cincy.
Minnesota is here, again, the Twins having moved outdoors to Target Field and perhaps due to cash in after a decade of good behavior and better baseball. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, flourishes in sad obscurity and, yes, there’s the Yankees around to try and spoil everyone else’s fun.
My sense, though, is that all of them are playing for second place, and that it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than the Philadelphia Phillies on top at the end – which makes sense, because they’re poised for entrenchment as baseball’s latest dynasty.
Yes, a baseball dynasty in a city that grew very, very used to seeing meaningless games from May onward for decades. True, Connie Mack’s Athletics had great spurts (1905 to ’14, 1929 to ’31), but then Mack sold off his stars and it turned ugly at Shibe Park until the move to Kansas City.
The Phillies stayed, and for a long time that wasn’t a positive. Try 35 years between pennants from Pete Alexander’s time in 1915 to the Whiz Kids, then another 30 years before the aging Michael Jack Schmidt Phils, in their 98th try, finally won it all over Kansas City.
Even the good times carried dark clouds, from the utter disintegration in September 1964 that Gene Mauch never got over to the playoff misses of the late ’70s to the 1993 World Series and that time Joe Carter met Mitch Williams.
Then the karma changed late in the first decade of the new millennium. Part of it was getting the heck out of soulless, concrete turf-infected Veterans Stadium. Part of it was a front office smart and patient enough to nurture supreme talents like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino through its system. Just like the Yankees in the mid-90s, really.
All that was needed was a single moment of good karma to strike. Again, the Yankee analogy fits, for just as the pinstripes’ resurgence in 1996 had some help along the way (think Jeffrey Maier), Philly’s emergence as a dominant power required some amount of fortune.
Go back to 2007. The Mets, who had won the NL East the year before, were about to repeat in the division, up by seven games on the Phillies with 17 to play. With house money, Philly charged – and the Mets, echoing what happened to Philly in ’64, threw it all away. Neither franchise has been the same.
A miniature version of that script emerged in ’08, only this time the Phillies used that as a springboard to win the World Series over the upstart Rays. Another pennant followed last October, and we could have three straight in 2010, something not done in the National League since the World War II-era Cardinals from 1942-44.
Just consider how many great teams the NL has seen in those six-plus decades, from the Boys of Summer Brooklyn Dodgers to the L.A. versions of the ’60s and ’70s to the Big Red Machine to the Braves that dominated much of the 1990s. There’s a lot of back-to-back pennants in those annals, but never a three-peat – until possibly now.
So why the dynasty talk? Well, the core players – Utley, Howard, Hamels, Rollins and Victorino – won’t be out of their respective primes for a while. Just as importantly, the Phillies franchise is getting boatloads of revenue from sellouts at Citizens Bank Park and lucrative TV contracts, so it can afford to sign most of them, plus go after the future free-agent bonanzas. Witness how Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt ended up in red.
This is a new and heady experience for the jaded (to put it mildly) Philadelphia sports fan. Name the sport, and they’re used to disappointment – the Flyers just missing out on the Stanley Cup in six straight finals, the Eagles losing two Super Bowls 24 years apart, the Sixers fading into irrelevance. As you may have heard, they’re also used to booing at the first sign of trouble, a reputation that’s proved impossible to shake.
What to do, then, if those Phillies back up those sky-high expectations and celebrate again around Election Day? They might actually raise a sustained cheer. That would sound different.