DAVE MONTGOMERY traced it back to 2002, and that is still true. Free agents David Bell and Jim Thome began the sea change that Cole Hamels rode like a Black's Beach wave Wednesday, signing on to be a Phillie through the 2018 season for a mere $144 million.
But the guy whose locker sits to the left of Hamels had something to do with it as well, something that should never be overlooked as Roy Halladay approaches the final guaranteed season of the 3-year, $60 million contract extension he signed before the 2010 season.
At the time, the contract made the Phillies' ownership group so jittery that it traded away beloved postseason hero Cliff Lee on the same day for three second-tier prospects. That, too, should not be overlooked when measuring meaning to Wednesday's organizational landmark. Had he been willing to play anywhere, Halladay could have made in excess of $10 million more over the length of his current deal and could have commanded additional years in places like Boston or New York. You need only look at the dough since dealt out to Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, not to mention the elongated and slightly discounted rate Lee signed upon his return, or the new deal announced for Hamels.
And so, as Halladay sat in front of his locker before Wednesday's 7-6 victory over the Brewers and told an assemblage of media that he was "excited" about the 6-year deal his teammate obtained, it seemed a reasonable thing to ask. Did his willingness to sign for less money and less years than he could have obtained elsewhere precipitate this, allowing the core of a staff that led this team to 102 regular-season victories a year ago to remain intact for at least another season beyond this one, and maybe two?
"I think for me it was definitely I had to chance to come somewhere where I wanted to be with a chance to win," Halladay said. "They basically set the guidelines and that's where we went. But I don't know. I think they would have found a way to do this regardless. This is a type of organization where they're committed to winning and they're going to find a way to do those things. Regardless of what I did or what Cliff did, they were going to find a way to get this done."
Well, there was certainly a lot of that sort of talk Wednesday. Hamels once again conjured up Tony Gwynn playing his entire career in San Diego, spoke again of the risk the organization took drafting him just 2 years after serious elbow surgery. He spoke sincerely about the ovation he received Saturday, as fans acknowledged the possibility of a trade-deadline deal and his last start wearing the Phillies uniform.
And he said "winning" more times in a rambling press conference than Charlie Sheen has said over a lifetime.
He also gushed about pitching with "two of the best pitchers in baseball.
"And when we get rolling, I feel like we have confidence that no one can stop us."
Even his wife, Heidi, attending with the couple's two young sons, sounded relieved that they were staying, dispelling several "baseball insider" reports that she was pushing him toward Hollywood in order to further her career.
"I think that's so funny that's the misperception of me as a person," she said. "Because I'm about as Southern as it gets. If I made my choice and it's not my home of Branson, Missouri, it's here in Philly. This is my home. My life. I used to live in LA, and as great as some of the things are there . . . "
They don't sell out 254 consecutive regular-season games . . . and counting. They don't have an ownership group that has been together since before Hamels' birth. The Dodgers currently have new ownership with deep pockets, but it wasn't so long ago that Rupert Murdoch owned them.
The Phillies' ownership group doesn't just have deep pockets. It has deep memories. Montgomery referred to the struggles of the 1990s in discussing the Hamels announcement and its ramifications, even implied that exceeding the luxury-tax threshold next season was a foregone conclusion.
Which is good news for those who feared keeping their homegrown lefty meant jettisoning the one who nearly pitched them to a second world championship in 2009. Halladay was asked if he thought the Phillies could afford all three of their elite starters.
"I don't see why not,'' he said. "From talks that I've had with [general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.], I don't see why we can't keep a lot of our team together. We have great fans, we draw great. It's different than a lot of teams. I think we can afford to carry some guys.
"I just haven't gotten a feeling that we have to do anything different. If that were a concern, some of those things would have been addressed before we signed Cole.''
Meaning, Halladay would have been spoken to. The Phillies owed him at least that.
They also owe him maximum effort for as long as he wears their uniform, even if it means maximum dollars. Maybe he's right, maybe the reality was that Hamels was always going to be a Phillie forever.
But we should never overlook his role in that reality.