Baseball was in a state of flux back then. Expansion and the wild card loomed. Interleague play would follow. All the old traditions were being rethought. Everything was on the table, including a truly radical thought:
Moving the Phillies into the American League East.
Inside the executive offices at Veterans Stadium, there was some support for the idea. The proponents pointed out that it would mean multiple annual visits from the Yankees and Red Sox, teams certain to draw well. Geographical realignment would cut down on travel costs and allow for more games to be televised in prime time locally. And that all made sense in a bloodless, CPA sort of way.
Of course, it also would have meant flushing more than 100 years of National League history and accepting the designated hitter. But those concerns are often swept aside when the glittery prospect of quick dollars is dangled in front of management types.
In the end, they stayed put. And the view from this stool is that it's a good thing for Phillies fans. Which is where Steinbrenner comes in.
As was duly noted in the various remembrances, The Boss was a fierce and ruthless competitor. And he didn't mind spending whatever it took to achieve his goals. If you played in the Yankees' division, you either stepped up to try to match him (Red Sox) or became a second-class citizen (Orioles).
Now, the Phillies weren't very good back then. They claimed an onerous lease handcuffed them financially. The farm system was a wasteland and attendance was relatively paltry. The lack of paying customers kept revenue down, which kept spending on player development and the payroll down. And the cycle continued, feeding on itself.
In those days, too, the Phillies seemed more like a tea-on-the-terrace operation that found getting its manicured hands dirty distasteful rather than the sort of operation that would do whatever it took to compete with the big boys.
As a result, it's a lot easier to envision them becoming homecoming opponents for the AL East powerhouses than having the ability - or the will - to spend what it would have taken to keep up.
That's just a guess. What we do know, though, is that except for the lightning-in-a-bottle 1993 season, they weren't able to keep up with National League teams that weren't as bare-knuckled as the teams in the Bronx and Boston.
Maybe it wouldn't have mattered. Maybe the arrival of Citizens Bank Park would have been a catalyst regardless and the Phillies would be sitting on three straight division titles anyway. Maybe they'd have added another world championship to their ledger anyway.
But Oriole Park at Camden Yards is still one of the very best places to watch a baseball game. That hasn't helped Baltimore much.
No, it says here that the Phillies were wise to resist the temptation of a short-term cash windfall. That deciding not to go head-to-head against Steinbrenner in the American League East was the smartest move they never made.
Around the bases
OBLIGATORY STRASBURG NOTE OF THE WEEK:
The Washington Post reports that Major League Baseball sold 78,000 Stephen Strasburg jerseys in June, more than those of any other player. And that led to the unprecedented step of making his gear available at the All-Star FanFest even though the rookie, who made his big-league debut in June, wasn't an All-Star.
--Shooting from the lip: Asked about Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox lefthander Jon Lester didn't sugarcoat it this week. "I'd have a better chance of being struck by lightning than me and him having a pizza together. You can take that for what it's worth," he said. He wouldn't elaborate on what his issues with Ramirez are.
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER:
The Astros open the second half 17 games under .500. And while general manager Ed Wade called that "disappointing," the onetime Phillies GM doesn't fault first-year manager Brad Mills, the former Phillies coach.
"His level of preparation, in-game strategy and communication with the players, to me, has been absolutely admirable," Wade told the Houston Chronicle.
Mills was flattered, but said: "The measuring stick is always wins and losses. It always is."
NO FREE LUNCH:
Beginning next season, for the first time ever, the Cardinals will not offer a single game on over-the-air television. All games will be available only on Fox Sports Midwest. St. Louis had been airing about 20 games on free TV.
The Indians enter the second half hoping to avoid losing 100 games. "Sometimes you're the bug, sometimes you're the windshield," manager Manny Acta noted.
THE BRAVES WAY:
The trade of shortstop Yunel Escobar to Toronto was just the latest example that it's Bobby Cox' way or the highway in Atlanta. "He's a talented guy, but we just needed to make some adjustments on our ballclub," said general manager Frank Wren.
Loose translation: As much potential as Escobar might have, everybody was sick of watching him not hustle. And rather than take a chance of having that rub off on anybody else, he had to go.
ANDY'S BOOK CLUB:
The Cubs become world champions for the first time in 102 years this fall, at least in the imagination of former big-league outfielder Andy Van Slyke. "The Curse: Cubs Win! Cubs Win! . . . Or Do They?" was launched in Chicago this week. "I figured Cubs fans needed some hope in their world," Van Slyke explained.
Phair and Phoul
FOUR WITH A BULLET:
The Phillies are the fourth most popular team in baseball, according to a recent Harris poll of adults who follow MLB. That's up from seventh a year ago and trails only the Yankees, Red Sox and Braves. The Marlins (29th) were the least favorite, finishing behind the Astros (28th) and Nationals (27th).
Since the survey was limited to the United States, the Toronto Blue Jays get a pass.
Super-agent Scott Boras had this to say about Phillies manager Charlie Manuel during the All-Star break. "He's a baseball genius when it comes to dealing with players and growing players," he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Look at the players who have played their best under him."
BREAKING IT DOWN I:
At the All-Star break, the Phillies were three games over .500 (20-17) in games started by Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels . . . and FOUR games over (27-23) when anybody else starts.
Possible explanation: Halladay hasn't gotten much run support and 47-year-old Jamie Moyer has far exceeded all expectations.
BREAKING IT DOWN II:
The ageless Moyer gave up nine runs in one-plus inning against the Red Sox on June 11, six in the sixth against Atlanta on July 7, five in the first against Florida on April 17 and five in the third against Houston on the April 10.
In the first half, then, he allowed 25 of his 54 earned runs (46.3 percent) in just four of his 107 2/3 innings pitched (3.7 percent). That's pretty incredible.
Or, to put it another way, without those four innings, Moyer's ERA going into last night would have been 2.08 instead of 4.51. Thanks to Chris Zonca for pointing this out.
SPINNING THE RUMOR MILL:
According to the Tacoma News Tribune, the Phillies "looked hard" at Mariners third baseman Jose Lopez before the All-Star break.
Former Phillies second baseman and Wall of Fame member Juan Samuel has led the Orioles to a 14-20 record since taking over for Dave Trembley (15-39) as manager. The O's have won 10 of their last 17. But every indication is that he'll be replaced soon by former Yankees and Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter.
"If that is the decision that is going to be made, there are a lot of positive things for me to take out of this experience," Samuel said. "I have enjoyed it very, very much."