Tag Archives: Roy Halladay

Cliff Lee, The Phillies, and The Night I Realized Twitter was The Place To Be for Breaking News

For much of the fall months, I have devoted this space solely to the Eagles — Either mini-think-pieces, analytical posts, Cody Parkey kickoff contests, trolling national writers who thought Chip Kelly had any interest in the Florida job, and haikus. Mix in a post or two about Penn State, and that has essentially comprised the entire blog.

Today, we are going to go down a different route because tonight marks the four-year anniversary of one of my favorite baseball memories.

Favorite baseball memory on December 13? Is that even possible? 

Yep, it sure is, and it has nothing to do with a perfect game, walk-off home run, or World Series moment.

Rather, it marks the four-year anniversary of Cliff Lee — my favorite baseball player of all-time — spurning the Yankees (and Rangers) to re-sign with the Phillies in free agency after having been surprisingly traded by the Phillies one year earlier.

Furthermore, it was the key moment in an intersection of sports and social media for me, as it was that night when I realized that Twitter was truly the best source for breaking news.

To appreciate how significant of a moment this was though, you first have to understand how unlikely it was.

After giving them fits in the playoffs in back-to-back Octobers, the Yankees were far and away considered the favorites to land the most prized free agent on the market. They needed an ace to team up with C.C. Sabathia, and it was no secret that Lee was the apple of Brian Cashman’s eye as the winter meetings went down the previous week.

The Rangers — Lee’s team for the second half of the 2010 season — were also thought to be trying their hardest to not let Lee get away, but few thought they would be able to go toe-to-toe with the Evil Empire. Some Phillies fans — myself included — held out hope that a Philadelphia reunion was possible, but we also knew the reality of the situation.

The Phillies had dished out some massive contracts in the previous years and already had a rotation featuring Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. Even if there was some mutual interest, they financially couldn’t match what the Yankees would offer.

It seemed like a near forgone conclusion that Lee would soon call the Bronx home, and many were surprised that a deal wasn’t completed the previous week.

On Monday, December 13, 2010, things started to heat up when Jon Heyman reported early in the day that a “mystery team” might be in on the Lee sweepstakes.

The use of the term “mystery team” is normally pretty hollow, thrown around by agents to reporters to drum up more interest in their client, but Heyman might have been onto something here.

Heyman initially did not provide a ton of context, but later in the day, Jayson Stark took a stab that the mystery team might actually be the Phillies.

At this point in time, I did not even possess a Twitter account. I was one of the folks who was fascinated by the site enough to search for things but hadn’t yet joined and started tweeting on my own for whatever reason.

I began reading about Stark and Heyman’s tweets from my Facebook feed though and quickly texted some of my friends who I often talked baseball with.

It was my Finals Week in school, and with no exams until Wednesday, I had a lot of time to spend on the Internet between studying, and nothing had me more excited than the idea that my favorite player might come home again.

A few of them knew what I did. Others had not yet heard. This was no doubt moving quickly though, and as the afternoon transitioned to early evening, I must have typed “Cliff Lee’ into whatever the Twitter search bar looked like in December 2010 a good 100 times looking for any legitimate updates that existed.

Stark seemed to be picking up steam.

Heyman jumped in again, this time with a bit less vagueness.

At this point, any additional studying that night was a distant thought. I was locked into this, eagerly searching for news on Twitter every second.

One of my friends responded to a text at one point as the night got deeper with:

Where the hell are you finding this stuff? 

“Twitter, dude, we gotta be on Twitter. This is where it’s going to go down,” I answered.

Nothing was official yet, but as the night wore on, reports came out that the Yankees and Rangers had been informed Lee would not be going to either club. The context clues were all there.

“Dude, holy shit. He’s coming back. This is really happening. He’s coming back.” 

Bam.

A few hours later, SportsCenter came on the air with “Cliff Lee is a Phillie again,” but the news had already dropped on Twitter earlier.

An Associated Press article published in the wee morning hours may have summarized things most succinctly in terms of what Lee’s decision represented for the sport:

This was a rare instance in which the Yankees’ financial might failed to land a player they wanted.

The baseball world was turned upside-down. Now embattled Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro was praised for getting his man. I have pointed out before, that for as much as some folks may currently hate Amaro, they certainly loved him on that epic December night.

From a baseball standpoint, the move hasn’t completely worked out as envisioned. The Phillies have only been to the playoffs once in Lee’s four seasons, and after three fantastic individual years, Lee suffered through an injury-plagued 2014 campaign that saw his season come to an end on July 31st as he reached for his elbow and walked off the mound in Washington D.C.

At the time, it looked like it could be a career-threatening injury. Thankfully, that does not appear to be the case and Lee should hopefully be ready for spring training, but I wrote at the time about how it was a classic example of how cruel and unfair baseball is.

Derek Jeter received a well-deserved farewell tour. One of the best big game pitchers of this generation possibly got a random Thursday night with hardly anyone watching.

Like most big contracts, the final years normally result in some buyer’s remorse, and that will likely be the case with Lee should effects of the elbow injury decrease his trade value.

What a night though. What a night for the Phillies, for baseball, for social media, and for myself, whose favorite player told the Yankees no and came back.

Not to completely internalize something that wasn’t about me, but I think about how Twitter has been a big part of my early career and my life over the past four years, and the origins trace back to that night.

I have turned Internet friends into real friends through that website and was once even invited to a wedding by someone who I had first met on Twitter.

Baseball stories first broke on Twitter prior to that night, and bigger ones have gone down since, but nothing was more meaningful to me than the one that night.

Nowadays I’m not too excited to be on the site when news breaks concerning the Phillies. The demolition of a once great roster could happen at any moment, and the first shoe already dropped this week with the trade of long-term shortstop Jimmy Rollins. For things to get better, all of it needs to happen, and at some point it will likely involve Cliff Lee.

Regardless of when and how it happens though, I wouldn’t trade what transpired four years ago tonight for anything.

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Cliff Lee Got Hurt and Everything Sucks

Everyone who would potentially care about Cliff Lee getting hurt already knows that Cliff Lee got hurt last night. I realize that I’m not telling you anything groundbreaking here.

When I introduced this blog, I made it a point to say that despite my previous experience covering sports it wouldn’t be branded as up to the minute sports news.

One of the advantages to operating it how I currently am is that it affords me the luxury of time when I want to reflect on something or maybe go deeper on a topic rather than spitting out a short, immediate take.

I find that when teams go as south as the Phillies have gone, one begins to identify better with individual players on the club than the entity itself. The final result might not matter a whole lot in those situations, but the players you care about still do.

Sometimes things get so bad where a late July game turns into background music while multi-tasking, almost an afterthought until something awful catches your eyes and ears.

When a frustrated and distraught Lee pointed to his elbow and removed himself from a baseball game last night in the third inning, my first thought wasn’t ‘There goes Cliff Lee’s trade value and the Phillies’ August plans.’ Instead it was ‘There goes Cliff Lee, I wonder if I will ever see my favorite pitcher again.’

That approach might be considered overly sensitive by some. When I covered Penn State football, a few people who were known to dislike my coverage thought I was too soft. They wanted a whipping boy every time a game was lost, and while I’m all for holding people accountable and believe I did that, demanding weekly firings wasn’t my style.

On another level, watching the injury unfold made me think about Ryan Howard’s controversial “Want to trade places?” line from a week ago.

Upon first hearing this, most people would probably utter some variation of “HELL YEAH!” When I slow down and think more about it though, it’s a difficult question for only being four words long.

It’s complicated to ponder for me because I point back to what happened less than 24 hours ago. At age 35, Lee’s elbow may have stopped him from doing what he does best. Certainly they are well compensated, but returning to Howard’s question, I’m not sure how I feel about a primary career ending before age 40. Average Joe’s may never have that financial security but also don’t see some of their best attributes erode so quickly.

I don’t have the answers; I just find it interesting to discuss.

What I do know is that if last night was the end for Lee, he deserved better. It is becoming increasingly likely that one of the greatest playoff pitchers of this generation will never see another October.

I don’t want this to completely go the route of eulogizing Lee’s career. He insisted after the game that he simply re-injured the flexor pronator muscle that cost him two months of the season.

Ruben Amaro said earlier this afternoon that there is no evidence of ligament damage. On the opposite side of that good news, he mentioned that Lee would likely see Dr. James Andrews at some point. A visit to Andrews doesn’t mean a pitcher is on track for major surgery, but the name Amaro uttered might be the scariest three words when it comes to sports injuries.

Hopefully this is indeed just a strain and Lee, who averaged 6.5 WAR a season and a 2.89 ERA between 2008-2013, comes back next April good as new, but one has to be realistic.

Think back to Roy Halladay in 2012 and 2013. If one of the hardest working and best-conditioned pitchers the game has ever seen cannot overcome a shoulder injury, that doesn’t leave a ton of hope for others, Combine that example with the Tommy John epidemic sweeping baseball, and it becomes easy to understand the pessimism.

I have been told by people over the years who would know that Lee is kind of a dick to deal with. Every time I hear it, I proceed with a combination of ignorance is bliss and ‘Alright, maybe he is a dick, but he’s our dick’ mindset. Never in any sort of trouble, I had no reason not to love him.

Even though you learn quickly that athletes have plenty of flaws, actually hearing evidence of them and seeing one of your heroes reduced to a mortal can be tough to come to grips with.

Lee earned better, but unfortunately this movie has plenty of previous editions. For as much press and fanfare as Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter’s yearlong farewell tours have received the past two years, there are tons of players every year who aren’t afforded the opportunity to go out on their own due to injury or ineffectiveness, and in some cases both.

Baseball isn’t fair, and last night shortly before 8 p.m. eastern time was another sad reminder of that cold, hard truth.

Lee didn’t need or merit a Rivera or Jeter retirement party, but he deserved far more than walking off the mound yelling “Fuck” on a random Thursday night in Washington D.C with many Phillies fans not even watching.

The baseball gods show no mercy, and last night, they came for Lee’s elbow, zapping him of a once golden arm. What a cruel game sometimes, man.

I want to say this isn’t goodbye, Cliff. It’s see you later, hopefully with a few more memories and a well-deserved standing ovation next spring at Citizens Bank Park, but unfortunately I lost my innocence when it comes to knowing the career trajectory of a baseball player a long time ago.

Right now, it is hard to believe that aforementioned wish with much conviction.

Jim Johnson Died Five Years Ago Today and I Cried a Lot

Truth be told, I cannot explain exactly why I’m writing this post.

Even after it was finished and ready to go, I had a couple second thoughts before hitting publish. I didn’t want it to seem like I was using the anniversary of someone’s death as a way to generate clicks on a blog.

I don’t have any type of cool anecdote about Jim Johnson. There is a hat of mine autographed by some players and coaches during a few trips to Lehigh for training camp back in the day.

Eagles Hat Blog Post

The Eagles former defensive coordinator unfortunately isn’t one of the signatures. Never once met the man.

I think, however, I’m doing this because despite never crossing paths with the guy, I loved Jim Johnson and never properly said goodbye.

Everyone knew Johnson’s battle with cancer had taken a turn for the worse, but it felt like the end came so quickly.

On the day Johnson passed away, I had been off the grid for about 12 hours from early in the morning until around 8 p.m. I was working as a camp counselor the summer before heading off to college, and it coincidentally happened to be the one day of the entire camp season that I had to work late, unable to check my phone or access the Internet.

Anyone who knows me now would wonder how I was able to do that, but it was the case back then. As I was walking to my car, a lifeguard stopped me and delivered the news. I can’t recall exactly what I said in response, but I got in the car and immediately turned on sports radio hoping it somehow wasn’t true.

But sadly it was. The defending World Series champion Phillies were 24 hours away from pulling off a blockbuster trade with rumors about Roy Halladay running rampant, and sure enough, WIP was discussing Johnson’s life and Eagles tenure, hosts and callers as distraught as I was about to become.

Before I could pull out of the parking lot, tears had already begun dripping down my face. They got heavier as the drive continued. At one point, I had to slam on my breaks to avoid running through a red light that I barely noticed.

Loved by players and fans, respected universally by colleagues,  and deeply feared by opponents — Legend. For 10 years, he would appear on your television screen on Sundays, and you knew everything would be relatively okay. No longer seeing that gray hair tucked under an Eagles hat and headset on the sidelines wasn’t going to be the same.

I was supposed to see my then-girlfriend upon getting home from work but still trying to compose myself, I told her that I needed a little while. ‘Jim Johnson died,’ I texted (or something very similar along those lines)

I don’t think she knew who Jim Johnson was, but rather than completely blowing it off, she kinda pretended to care, so that was cool.

Still home and wiping my eyes after delivering the news to my dad, I logged onto Facebook and posted a pretty generic RIP status. One of my best friends who I always texted during Eagles games sent me a message that said something along the lines of ‘For someone who loved him so much, I’m kinda disappointed you didn’t come up with anything deeper.’

I tried again, but still shaken, this was the best I could do, unable to really put into words what it meant to me.

Jim Johnson Facebook

I was sad and mad — Sad that cancer had stopped the 68-year old from doing what he loved and what he was best at too soon, sad that in what turned out to be his final game six months earlier, his ‘bend but don’t break defense’ had broken late in the fourth quarter. With the Eagles clinging to a 25-24 lead and 10 minutes to go, Arizona marched 72 yards while eating up 7:52 of game time.

The drive ended in a touchdown. The Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. Johnson never got to coach another game, and the Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since.

Most of all, I was sad that for all his hard work and all of the terrific defenses he oversaw, Johnson never got to hoist a Lombardi trophy.

Even in a lot of the Eagles playoff losses during Johnson’s reign, a collapse like that was so rare. A week earlier, his unit held the defending Super Bowl champion Giants to three field goals in an upset victory.

In a span of three years, he twice stifled Michael Vick during the prime of his Atlanta Falcons career, limiting him to a 53.2 completion percentage and a combined 406 passing yards, 56 rushing yards, yards, zero touchdowns, and three interceptions over two playoff games.

I don’t watch the Steelers on a week-to-week basis to fully appreciate Dick LeBeau, but I’ve never seen a defensive coordinator call a game and confuse opponents the way Johnson consistently did.

Going back to that Facebook status though, perhaps it wasn’t so bad. I’ve always said that coordinators need players to make their schemes truly go, but as guys came and went through the years, Johnson never lost a step.

According to an ESPN article published a week after his passing, Johnson’s defenses between 2000 and 2008 ranked second in sacks, third down efficiency, and red zone percentage.

Here’s a chart that further shows how good he was and the significant drop-off after he was gone.

Year Points Allowed Average Per Game League Rank Made Playoffs Playoff Victory
1999 357 22.3 22nd No No
2000 245 15.3 4th Yes Yes
2001 208 13 2nd Yes Yes
2002 241 15.1 2nd Yes Yes
2003 287 17.9 7th Yes Yes
2004 260 16.3 2nd Yes Yes
2005 388 24.3 27th No No
2006 328 20.5 15th Yes Yes
2007 300 18.8 9th No No
2008 289 18.1 4th Yes Yes
2009 337 21.1 19th Yes No
2010 377 23.6 21st Yes No
2011 328 20.5 10th No No
2012 444 27.8 29th No No
2013 382 23.9 17th Yes No

Sean McDermott initially had the challenge of being the guy to replace “the guy,” and he was decent but deemed not good enough at the time. So thinking he was closer to a Super Bowl than he actually was, Andy Reid fired him after two years.

Then, Andy Reid Andy Reid’d harder than he had ever Andy Reid’d before, replacing McDermott with Juan Castillo. A passionate worker and teacher but never having coached defense in the NFL before, it was an unmitigated disaster,

The missed tackles, the blown coverage assignments, the lack of effort, all of it would have had Johnson rolling in his grave had he saw what had become of his once proud defense.

Despite the still somewhat ugly numbers in that chart, things stabilized in 2013 when Chip Kelly brought in Billy Davis to run the show.

Davis took a group of scheme misfits and castoffs from other places and made a defense out of it. For the first time in a long time, things are looking kinda up on that side of the ball.

When someone like Johnson no longer has his job, the typical attitude is that the team looking to fill his role has to find an exact replica, “The Next  Jim Johnson” if you will. But that’s impossible. The reason he was so good is the exact same reason he is so irreplaceable.

Since Johnson has been gone, the game has changed a decent amount. Offenses are faster and more innovative with spread formations and wide open schemes. Still, it’s unlikely the final couple years of the Reid era would have gotten as ugly as they did had Johnson still been by his side.

The Eagles current head coach is one of the leaders of that innovation charge, but for as much as I love him, for as much as any intelligent Eagles fan loves him, part of the city has always identified with a dominant defense, and that’s a big reason Johnson was so beloved.

I mentioned earlier that I don’t have any special anecdote, but I thought this one from Reuben Frank of CSN Philly was pretty good. A few days before the 2005 Super Bowl, Frank casually asks Johnson if he’s enjoying Jacksonville and he responds bluntly with “I’ve got Tom Brady on Sunday.”

The man just ate, slept, and breathed football.

He died at the same time my situation was beginning to change and looking back, I think that’s maybe what contributed to the initial sadness. I was a month away from going to college and preparing to leave a good amount of my life behind.

It sucks because you know things will never be exactly the same, but you try to solider on because what else are you going to do?

The Eagles in time have begun picking up the pieces and appear primed to make another Super Bowl run behind rising star Nick Foles over the next few seasons.

Crying over Johnson five years later won’t bring him back or make the defense as dominant as it once was, but it will help preserve memories of a great run under a brilliant coordinator. Certain people are worth occasionally crying over. Certain people worth crying over who you’ve never met? Now that’s a bit more complex, but he was one of those folks for me.

I’ll watch the Eagles practice at Lincoln Financial Field today and at some point look skyward and tear up for a split second thinking about the legend who provided so many childhood memories.

I attempted to express some of this five years ago tonight and came up pretty empty, so now, I’m trying again.

I miss you so much, Jim Johnson, and I hope you’re having fun designing blitz packages in heaven right now.

A Conversation with a AAA Tow Truck Driver from Exactly Three Years Ago

For as much as baseball fans enjoy waxing poetic about how unpredictable the sport can be, many will also concede that if one attends enough games, you’ve just about seen it all.

Maybe now and then you’re blessed with a no-hitter or some hot shot prospect making his debut, but things start to blend together for the most part.

At least I thought that was the case on July 22nd, 2011 — three years ago today. In a rather predictable regular season, it was one of the most ordinary Phillies games I have ever attended. until it suddenly wasn’t. In the blink of an eye on a scorching mid-summer night, things changed drastically, producing one of the most memorable conversations I have ever been a part of.

On the three-year anniversary of this event, I have decided to transcribe and reflect upon what happened that night.

As I alluded to earlier, the big detail that I recall from the early portion of this day is how painstakingly hot it was. I was working as a camp counselor at the time and spent practically all of the workday outside. Thermometers eclipsed triple digits. Heat warnings ran rampant on the east coast, and several temperature records were broken.

To show that I’m not making any of this up, here’s a douchey tweet about it.

Phillies Game Tweet

I was heading to the game with my friend Steve and one of his friends. Steve and I were high school friends, and we had kept in touch through our first two years of college. Steve was driving; remember this detail for later.

The Phillies were in the midst of a historic regular season, and Citizens Bank Park was the place to be on summer nights, but on this particular Friday evening, 45,383 folks were just trying to avoid falling victim to heat exhaustion and dehydration.

The ESPN box score records the first pitch temperature as 98 degrees. Usual ballpark favorites like cheesesteaks and crab fries only made you more thirsty, and if you didn’t have a bottle of water within arm’s reach at all times, you were doing it wrong.

The game itself was about as cut and dry as you could get for the 2011 Phillies. Cole Hamels, the only player whose performance has not dipped from three years ago, tossed eight dominant innings, only allowing one run. Chase Utley had two hits as an aging but still kinda formidable lineup produced three runs. Ryan Madson retired three straight Padres in the ninth, and everyone joined Harry Kalas in singing “High Hopes.”

The game lasted less than two and a half hours, but five minutes into the return trip, it became clear that we wouldn’t be getting home anytime soon. Steve’s car had all the signs of a vehicle about to break down — Overheated engine, unable to go faster than 40 mph, steering wheel about to lock.

Here is an Internet picture of I-95 in Philadelphia. This was not our exact location, but it will do to convey what we had to pull off.

I 95

The car on the far left might as well have been us. We figured we had less than a minute to get across four lanes of oncoming traffic and reach the safety of a shoulder. Steve obviously had the hard part of operating a car on its last leg. I was sitting in the back left seat behind him, so my job essentially was to verify that it was clear for him to switch lanes without getting smashed.

I’m normally a somewhat upbeat person, but as we proceeded through this 30-second challenge, I think I said to myself once or twice ‘We’re gonna die.’ 

Thankfully we didn’t die. Steve made it. A similar thing had happened to me with a different friend two years prior at an Eagles game, but having already experienced it once made it no less scary.

We tried the typical let the engine cool down and start up the car 10 minutes later strategy. No dice. Steve called for a AAA driver to tow the car and also get us close enough to home where someone could pick us up.

Forty minutes later, the tow truck came lumbering down I-95. The sun had long since set, but temperatures still hovered in the 80’s, and we were just excited to feel some air conditioning again.

Our driver was a hulking man with a shaved head wearing a T-shirt that looked like it could burst at the seams. He said his name was “Chris” as we boarded the car. It wasn’t a real friendly introduction but certainly not standoffish either.

The best way I can describe Chris is to say that while you might not be best friends with him, he was the type of guy you want to like you because if shit goes down, he could probably take out two or three people at once without much effort. You want Chris on your side.

Chris noticed the three of us wearing Phillies shirts, and this is where things got interesting.

“You kids coming from the game?” he asked. Typically I’m pretty shy in these situations, but for some reason I was the one to answer.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“They win?” Chris asked.

“Yep, 3-1.”

“Good shit. Hamels look good?”

“He did. Ten strikeouts over eight innings. Looked real sharp.”

“Nice. I was trying to watch before my shift. Looked like he was pitching a decent game.”

I kinda gave a casual head nod. At this point, Chris had been driving for a few minutes, and I figured the rest of the ride would pretty much feature silence.

Chris had other ideas though. Soon after, he asked if we had been alive for the 1993 season. Had I been a few years older, that World Series loss to the Blue Jays would have been my first sense of sports pain and not the Flyers getting swept by Detroit in the 1997 Stanley Cup finals, but we explained to him that while we remember watching, we were too young to really understand the magnitude of it at the time.

Take it away, Chris.

Phillies man, they’ll break your heart, man. I remember in 93, I was pumping gas in North Philly. We had a little TV set up outside there. I saw Mitchie-Poo give up the home run. It crushed my soul, man. I didn’t watch another game for 10 years after that. 

We transitioned to talking about the then current Phillies. Hunter Pence was the name on everyone’s mind with the trade deadline a week away and the team in need of a corner outfield upgrade, but Chris had other ideas.

I think if we trade for a guy like Coghlan, could be a real sweet move. Guy like that would pop 15-20 home runs in this bandbox of a park. 

Chris Coghlan was in the midst of a -.5 WAR season with the Marlins. The most home runs he has ever hit in a year is nine. At the time of this conversation, he was actually in Triple-A, trying to work out of a rough patch. Aside from sharing a first name, I’m not sure what could have possibly attracted Chris to the idea of trading for Coghlan, but he was passionate about it.

Last but certainly not least came one of the greatest lines I have ever witnessed. The topic shifted to Ryan Howard who was slashing a pedestrian .245/.341/.448 with 18 home runs. Three years later, the Phillies would yearn for anything close to these numbers.

Chris was ready.

Howard’s gotta shoot up a little bit, man. Not enough to get caught, just a little bit. Look guys, I’m 36-years old, I’m in the best shape of my life. I bench 350 every day. Pay me 20 million. I’ll pop a few pills and hit 30 home runs for ’em. Pay me 20 million. 

By now, we were less than a minute away from where Chris would be dropping us off, and perhaps that was a good thing because other than to all laugh together along with Chris, we had no good response ready for something like that.

Here is another tweet to show this actually happened and that I haven’t just drawn the whole thing up in my wildest imagination.

Phillies Game Tweet 2

I highly doubt Chris remembers this conversation as vividly as I do. Hell, he probably doesn’t remember it at all, and that’s okay.

One of the beauties of baseball is that it can hold friendships together as life begins to change and sometimes — even if it only lasts 25 minutes — introduce new people from different walks of the world into your life.

Chris’ opinions weren’t necessarily informed, but they were the perfect combination of humorous and outlandish to make us forget that we had previously been stranded on the side of I-95 without a way of getting home during one of the hottest of summer nights.

Rock on, Chris.

Despite one-bloody-nil, Roy Halladay’s arm falling off, Charlie Manuel being fired, and the ongoing malaise of the last two and a half years, I hope you’re still watching ball — and entertaining some college kids after their car breaks down on a major interstate.

It is Time for Ruben Amaro to Act Like a GM Instead of a Fan

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat:

Ruben Amaro is not as bad of a general manager as you think he is.

Sports may be a “show me/what have you done for me lately?” business, but in order to evaluate the job performance of the Phillies GM since he inherited the gig in November 2008 fairly and in a non-scorching take manner, we need to look at the big picture and remember 2009-2011.

It may feel like eons ago now, but Amaro once turned a 92-win team into a 93-win team. He then followed that up overseeing a squad that won 97 games before topping out with 102 victories in 2011.

Appreciate that number for a second while allowing the next paragraph to sink in.

Since then, no team in Major League Baseball has finished the regular season with more than 98 wins. The last National League club other than those 2011 Phillies to reach the 100-win mark goes all the way back to the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals.

During the aforementioned time frame, there was no shortage of good moves made by Amaro. Even though he was a drag on the lineup by the time his contract expired after 2011, replacing Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez proved to be the right call. The Cliff Lee trade in July 2009 was highway robbery.

By not giving into J.P. Ricciardi’s outrageous asking price for Roy Halladay, Amaro essentially got the Blue Jays GM fired at the end of the season. Two months later, he got his man anyway. Not one player moved in either of those deals has gone on to have any type of successful MLB career.

While they weren’t the slam dunk trades that Lee and Halladay were, he essentially got Ed Wade fired for the Roy Oswalt and the Hunter Pence deals too.

Trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners on the day Halladay was acquired proved to be a disaster, but Amaro had way more hits than misses during that three-year span.

Travel back to December 14, 2010 when Lee spurned the Yankees and came back to Philadelphia. I guarantee that I could go back and find a ton of tweets from everyone talking about what a great job Amaro was doing as a general manager.

I’m not going to do that because it’s a waste of everyone’s time. I’m not the baseball Twitter police, and this is a blog post, not some in-depth investigative piece, but if you can honestly tell me that you never believed Amaro was a good GM between 2009 and 2011, reach out to me. I’ll take your word for it, but I’ll also be incredibly surprised.

The problem obviously is despite the increase in regular season wins each year, the Phillies never hoisted the World Series trophy again. Those 2009, 2010, and 2011 squads were not without their flaws, but they were certainly capable of winning 11 games in October.

I often wonder how differently Amaro might be perceived had they won again. If Cole Hamels was his typical self against the Yankees, if Ryan Howard lifted the bat off his shoulder when facing Brian Wilson, if Cliff Lee — one of the greatest big-game pitchers of this generation — had just protected a 4-0 lead against the Cardinals. The trophy case would be more crowded, and Amaro would have one to call his own.

In many ways, the odds were stacked against Amaro to sustain the success of 2008. The Phillies were on top of the baseball world, and aside from the 1998-2000 Yankees and 1992-1993 Blue Jays, teams don’t repeat. Furthermore, Amaro had inherited the keys from one of the best ever in Pat Gillick.

The architect behind the aforementioned Blue Jays repeat, he always left a team better than he found it, and teams always got worse once he decided to move on. Even though he’s now 76 years old, I’m honestly surprised no struggling club has tried to lure him with a lucrative offer to work his magic one more time.

What Amaro did during his first three years was impressive, but as the final result got worse each year, a troubling theme sticks out.

Just about all of the good decisions were big-name moves. When handed a very good team, Amaro has no trouble adding another piece come late July, but when the foundation begins to leak as it did in 2012 and 2013, he doesn’t know how to fix it.

It’s kinda like a driver who knows how to operate the vehicle but is awful with directions. He can fly down I-95 no problem, but once he gets off at the exit for Center City and has to navigate downtown Philadelphia streets, he’s lost and just praying the GPS gets him to his destination.

More to the headline, he begins behaving like a nostalgic fan instead of remembering that his actual job is to make smart baseball decisions that might annoy your 2008 apologists who believe everyone is above reproach because they delivered a championship a half decade ago.

When the tables are turned and Amaro is the seller, he’s either getting fleeced with the July 2012 Hunter Pence trade to the Giants, curling up into a ball and doing nothing last summer, and last but certainly not least, doubling down on old players who are now a shell of their former selves, but Amaro remembers the good ole days and dammit, he’s not loosening his grip no matter how hard the game pulls.

Not all of these individual moves are bad ones. Chase Utley is still sabermetrically one of the best players in the game. The contract extension handed to him last July looks alright.

A lot of Phillies fans have this confirmation bias at work whenever Amaro does anything. It goes something like:

I think Ruben Amaro sucks, and I can rattle off past decisions he’s made that sucked, so I’m going to look for any reason possible to say this particular move sucks because I think Ruben Amaro sucks. 

That’s not the case. Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett — while certainly playing into the old narrative — have been very good signings.

The real issue is that Amaro has inspired no confidence that he has a any type of long-term vision and is simply trying to catch lightning in a bottle as the lid gets tighter and tighter.

A spontaneous go with the flow and let the chips fall where they may lifestyle can be fun, but when running a sports franchise, you need a blueprint.

As the crowds at Citizens Bank Park get smaller and the calls for his head get louder, it’s somewhat understandable from a human nature standpoint that Amaro doesn’t want to undergo a full rebuilding process considering his contract only runs through the 2015 season.

That reasoning is good enough in late May. No one blows it up 47 games into a season, however that won’t be good enough come late July.

Between now and then, the Phillies ownership needs to approach Amaro with a loaded yet valid question:

WHAT’S YOUR PLAN? 

If Amaro presents a realistic strategy, he should be given ownership’s blessing and promised that his job is secure through the length of his deal.

A franchise cannot be completely turned around in a year, but there will be signs to determine whether or not progress is being made when evaluating Amaro’s future.

I’m not paid a hefty salary to come up with a plan, and I haven’t really begun studying prospects that I would want back in trades, but let’s start with Cliff Lee — one of my favorite athletes of all time. If this injury is just a minor blip and Lee is back and effective, he’s the type of player who could bring you back a couple of guys that go on to be future franchise cornerstones.

Jonathan Papelbon is pitching well enough that a contending team would be willing to overlook the salary and give a decent return. Jimmy Rollins — if willing to waive his no-trade clause — is having a good enough season to fetch something back. The list goes on with similar players like this.

The one wildcard here is Utley. CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury has a solid piece on just that topic today where he advocates for pulling the trigger if the right offer comes along. Salisbury, in my opinion, is the best on the Phillies beat, and 10 months ago, I would have completely agreed with him, but now I’m not so sure. Even at age 35, Utley looks like a guy you could rebuild a team around.

Either way, the worst thing that can possibly happen in two months is a repeat of last year where Amaro sits on his hands and does nothing — Another year of prolonging the inevitable as the wheels spin but the car remains stuck in mud.

If ownership is convinced that he has no plan after speaking with him, then it’s time for them to move on rather than accepting the status quo.

Amaro has shown in the past that he can be a competent general manager.

Quite simply, it is time for Ruben Amaro to do his job, and if he won’t, it is time for the Phillies to find someone else who will.

Cole Hamels is on the Mound Tonight and I am Hella Hella Pumped

One of the longest tenured and most polarizing athletes in Philadelphia sports makes his season debut tonight. If a five-year pattern holds up, it will likely be a complete disaster, and I cannot wait.

I really mean that. I love baseball, but if tonight’s Phillies-Dodgers game featured any other starting pitcher for the away team, it would be well below the NHL playoffs and the NFL schedule release show on my priority list. The return of Cole Hamels has bumped it up.

Watching the Phillie pitcher get lit up during his opening start is a spring ritual for Phillies fans. Unfortunately the annual tradition was delayed just a few weeks this year due to some shoulder tendinitis.

Now, before you close this tab without reading another paragraph, I’m not trying to troll you nor am I a Cole Hamels hater. He just historically has real rough outings in his opening start dating back to 2009. Here’s the pitching lines to prove my point and to make your eyes bleed a little:

Rockies 09: 3.2 IP, 11 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 17.18 ERA, — L, 10-3

Nationals ’10: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 3.60 ERA — W, 8-4

Mets ’11: 2.2 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 20.25 ERA — L, 7-1

Marlins ’12: 5.1 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 5.06 ERA — L, 6-2

Braves ’13: 5 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 9.00 ERA — L, 7-5

I’m excited for tonight because Cole Hamels can’t go on to have his typical very good season without some sort of first start. I’m excited for tonight because I remember fondly when this trend wasn’t yet a thing nearly eight years ago.

On May 12, 2006, a 22-year old lefty from San Diego, California with Hollywood looks and a nasty changeup went into Great American Ballpark and shut down a Cincinnati Reds team that entered the contest 11 games over .500. Five shutout innings, only one hit, seven strikeouts in his Major League debut.

I knew watching on that Friday night that he was something special and I would likely still be talking about him 95 months later.

Here’s a list of active MLB starting pitchers who are still with the same team dating back to that memorable night:

Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain

Jered Weaver missed the cut by two weeks, Jon Lester by a month. Adam Wainwright was with the Cardinals but as a reliever.

That’s a pretty impressive trio right there to join. The three of them combine for 13 All-Star games, two Cy Young awards, two perfect games, two no-hitters, and two World Series rings.

Pitchers just don’t last nine seasons in the majors on the same club without doing something incredibly right, and with his current contract, Hamels has a chance to be in the same place for at least 14 years.

On that memorable May night, you knew that if the Phillies ever caught the Mets and Braves in the NL East, Hamels would be a part of it. Seventeen months later, that happened, and it was a Hamels gem that gave the Phillies their first lead all season in the division after 160 games.

A year later, he put the city on a parade float. The fact that someone seven months younger than the city’s championship drought was the driving force behind a World Series title is almost unfathomable.

The landscape began to change as 2008 turned to 2009. Hamels initially didn’t handle success well and showed up to spring training behind schedule and unprepared for the title defense season. While he didn’t miss a start, it was the worst year of his career.

If we break things down with sabermetrics, it honestly wasn’t that bad. His .317 BABIP was 22 points higher than any other professional season. Still, a hanging curveball to Andy Pettite essentially handed the Yankees the 2009 World Series.

The Phillies were two-wins away from back-to–back titles, and if Cole Hamels was Cole Hamels, they get it. A lot of fans — myself included — held this against him.

In 2007 and 2008, Hamels days were something to look forward to because he was so much better than Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, Adam Eaton, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and anyone else who made a start. If you had tickets to a game and anyone else was scheduled to pitch, you were a little upset.

I was lucky enough to see him work in person a few times during those two years including June 2, 2007 when he made Barry Bonds flail at a ninth-inning changeup on the way to a complete game. If I ever have kids and they like baseball, I will tell them about that early summer night when 45,000 fans of a team two games below. 500 stood and went wild as a budding ace struck out one of the game’s greatest hitters ever.

Hamels represented hope that gone were the days of Andy Ashby, Robert Person, Omar Daal, Jon Lieber, or some other in-over-their-head pitcher trying to play ace and anchor a rotation. Things were about to be very different.

After delivering on that hope though, things got way, way different. Cliff Lee arrived, then Roy Halladay, then both of them. Hamels stabilized into a very good, consistent pitcher but sort of faded into the background, occasionally hearing boos at Citizens Bank Park after a rough start.

I knew some people who were big 2008 apologists. They believed anyone on that World Series winning team was immune to criticism. I hated that thought process. It was so lazy and complacent, but I also knew forever holding that 2009 debacle against someone who brought you a championship wasn’t exactly fair.

I don’t even love Roy Halladay as much as most Phillies fans love Roy Halladay, but I loved Roy Halladay because he’s Roy Halladay. I love Cliff Lee because he told the Yankees to take 150 million and shove it, instead choosing to come back to Philadelphia.

While the same amount of love might not exist, there’s something Hamels has on them. He’s ours. Lee and Halladay were hired guns from Cleveland and Toronto brought in to keep a good thing going. Hamels was here before they arrived and will be here long after they’re both gone.

There was a brief time though where that wasn’t a slam dunk. Slated to become a free agent at the end of 2012, the Phillies had to either work out a long-term deal or trade him for prospects before the deadline. They couldn’t risk losing him that winter and getting nothing back. The ball was more or less in his court, but the desire to be courted by multiple MLB teams as the prize of a free agent class is tempting. No one was certain how it would play out.

On July 21, 2012, it suddenly dawned on me that I might be watching his final start as a Phillie. I choose the word “suddenly” because my Phillies watching had slacked a bit that summer.

If you’ve ever met me, you know that there’s a 5-6 year stretch where if you name a date, I can tell you what happened in that particular game right away, but they were having a pretty pedestrian season and Penn State football was two days away from being hit with unprecedented sanctions.

It was going to be a long week, and the Phillies had been far from the top of my priority list, but I made sure to watch every pitch of that Saturday afternoon start.

Don’t go Cole, I said to my TV as he walked off the mound to a standing ovation after 7.2 innings. Normally 10 hits and five runs allowed doesn’t earn you that, but despite the occasional rocky relationship, fans knew it could be their final chance to a World Series hero in red pinstripes at home.

Less than a week later, he and the Phillies agreed on the richest contract in team history. Phew. Whether that deal was a good baseball move still needs to play out over time, but when it was inked, I celebrated because that’s what you do when your homegrown ace decides this is the place he wants to be.

He was here before things started to get good and saw things get bad again after five straight NL East championships. While this all happened, off the field he grew from a laid-back kid to a husband with children including an adopted Ethiopian baby. His wife runs a successful charity foundation with a global impact.

If the Phillies can snap out of this downward spiral and right the ship over the next few seasons, he’ll be a huge reason why, just like back in 2007.

This city has taken too many good athletes for granted over the years only to become aware of it long after they had either left town or left the game entirely. While it’s not always perfect, I don’t want to realize in 2024 that I did that with this one.

That’s why I’m excited as all hell for Cole Hamels to be back on the mound tonight, and you should be too.