Like all Phillies fans, I fell into a state of depression this past week after we were swept by the Marlins and crushed by the hated Mets on Tuesday and Thursday nights. We had fallen 13 games out of first place, as of Friday, and eight games behind the second wild-card team.
All around the city, people were saying that it was time to break up the team and become sellers in an effort to jump start the rebuilding process. Trade Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, Cliff Lee, even Chase Utley and Ryan Howard!
All this talk drove me deeper into depression, because like all of us, I never imagined that possibly the greatest era in Phillies history would end so soon. Sure the Four Aces were down to three, and Howard and Utley were injured, but we still had the best Big Three in baseball, Vance Worley and Joe Blanton were fine as fourth and fifth starters, and the addition of Jonathan Papelbon gave us the best closer this side of Mariano Rivera.
Then it all fell apart! So, in my mourning, I was tortured by two questions:
1) If it is over, was the 2007-11 era the best in our history?
2) Is it the right time to wave the white flag and give up on this year and on this team?
Yes, though it may end up being heartbreakingly short, this is the best era of Phillies baseball. It brought us one championship, two World Series trips, five straight playoff appearances, one incredible 102-win season, a breathtaking comeback from seven games back with 17 to play to catch those Mets, an incredible record-breaking streak of sellout crowds and an overall record of 473-337 over the previous five seasons.
This truly has been the halcyon period for baseball in the City of Brotherly Love. Only the Phils' run from 1976-83 comes close, with a championship and two trips to the Series, but it didn't quite have that feeling of greatness or generate the same level of fan frenzy and excitement.
But if 2007-11 is to be declared the best, it must have an asterisk for what might have been. Once we assembled the greatest starting pitching rotation of all time, we never made it back to the World Series. When we lost to the Giants in 2010 and the Cardinals last year, we just knew we were the better team. The best team in the NL, maybe in baseball, had failed to live up to our expectations and nothing is sadder than to think of what might have been. So that asterisk is richly deserved.
The very fact that expectations were so high and so unrealized is why my answer to the second question is no. It's just too soon to say goodbye. We fans get to feel that our key players are part of our family. We exult in their successes and despair in their failures. Though free agency has made this bond between fan and player much more tenuous, we have been lucky to have had Utley, Howard, Victorino, Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco as part of our lives for a lot of years, and we are just getting to know Lee, Papelbon, Worley, Doc Halladay and Hunter Pence.
So don't break us up. Can we make the playoffs this year? Not likely, but remember the Mets did it in 1973, despite being 48-60 at one point. Remember the winning streaks the Rays and Cardinals put together last year to just barely make it. Remember the total collapse by the Red Sox and Braves to allow them to get in. When Doc comes back, Cliff hits his stride and Cole keeps being an All-Star, we are capable of getting red hot, too. So no white flags, Ruben Amaro Jr. and David Montgomery. No fire sales!
There is a second reason we shouldn't break up this team. It's called next year. This team, if left intact, can win next year and should! Does anyone think that Cliff and Doc won't return to form next year? Chase has looked so good since his return that there is every reason to hope he will play a full season (against the Marlins, he showed terrific speed in almost beating out a slow ground ball).
Regardless of how much Ryan plays this year, it is reasonable to expect him to be the old, 30-plus home run, 100-RBI Ryan of old. I have told you that I'm a White Sox fan in the AL. Last year, after spending a lot of money to sign Adam Dunn, they finished a disappointing 79-83. They were supposed to be terrible this year. Sports Illustrated predicted they would lose 95 games this season and there were calls for them to break up the team.
Their sagacious owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, refused to deal Jake Peavy, Dunn, John Danks or Gavin Floyd and the Sox are in first place. The Sox are a good team, but their players, at the top of their game, are even better. It can happen to us, and will if one big if happens — if Cole Hamels re-signs with us.
Pay him whatever it takes, Ruben! We'll even pay a little more for tickets. We've gotten to like Cole a whole lot. When he came to the Phils, his California ways were a little strange to us, but over time we have come to love his free spirit, confidence and great smile. He and his terrific wife, Heidi, have become a great part of our community, doing wonderful things with their foundation. So Cole, don't go to LA. It's too soon for us to say goodbye (tell Heidi she can pursue her acting career in New York and the Acela can get her there in an hour). If you, Doc and Cliff stay together we can win in 2013 and 2014, too, and who knows, maybe, just maybe, in 2012 as well! n
Contact Ed Rendell at firstname.lastname@example.org.