Unlike the nation, the Phillies get it done

Risky deals such as the Hunter Pence trade come with a big possible reward for the Phillies. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Risky deals such as the Hunter Pence trade come with a big possible reward for the Phillies. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 03, 2011

As politicians waged their debt-ceiling cage match over America's battered finances this weekend, weary Philadelphians got their very own stimulus package from Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Amaro's gift, as fans know, came in the form of a pair of cleats - snatched so quickly from the feet of former Astro Hunter Pence, in fact, that they had to be spray-painted red for Pence to take the field as a Phillie at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.

In purely baseball terms, the trade-deadline treat added a potent outfielder and offensive weapon to the winningest team in the majors as it aims for another postseason run.

But what made this truly remarkable had little, if anything, to do with baseball.

It was a Santa Claus moment, one of the many the Phils have delivered nearly nonstop since winning the World Series in the depths of the global financial crisis in 2008.

If there were any doubts, the Pence deal dispelled them: The Phillies have become the gift that keeps on giving, in an age when get has been hard to get.

On the field and off, the city's baseball team has managed what few bosses, elected officials, and even handsomely paid financial wizards have. They have made big things happen in an economy in which take, can't, and wait are the words favored by lesser leaders with bigger-sounding titles.

When the Phillies rolled down Broad Street for their first championship parade in decades, on a sunny Oct. 31, 2008, the stock market was convulsing, bailout frenzy was building, and economic panic was abundant.

Since then, high unemployment has reigned, and national pride has waned.

Corporations have gone bankrupt. Executives have pocketed bonuses for creating profit through layoffs. Hopes and finances of ordinary Americans of all ages have starched up like straitjackets.

And yet the ball club that in 2007 was mocked for becoming the first major-league team to notch 10,000 losses, the club that belongs to a humble city with no claim to Hollywood or Wall Street fame, has rained joy on its locals with an against-the-odds dealmaking savvy that has prevailed as others have flailed.

Since the market crashed, the front office has landed Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco, Roy Oswalt, and Pence. Even Cliff Lee hopped aboard for less than he would have made in the Land of Ruth.

What boss or bigwig do you know who could have pulled that off in this economy? What governor? What cantankerous congressman who can't fix the tax code but asks please please please reelect him because he's so fabulous?

"Obviously, they're doing something right," said Robert Deegan, a Mayfair postal worker who held his son on his shoulders as crowds celebrated at Frankford and Cottman Avenues the night the Phillies won in '08. He told The Inquirer that night that it was as if a monkey had been lifted off the city's back.

The last three years have proved him right.

"They're selling out games left and right," Deegan, 48, said when reached earlier this week, to his surprise, for an interview. "That's how it should go."

He is a boisterous fan and father of three who coaches softball and basketball when he's not delivering mail. He tunes in every night there's a game - even when at the Shore with baseball-obsessed relatives. He famously has conversations with the TV when he's upset.

According to his wife, Mary, these three years of Phils dominance have brought a change in tone when her husband trash-talks the TV.

"The yelling," she said with a chuckle, "has quieted."

To say the Phillies have pulled off a big feat in these trying economic times is an understatement.

Teams from the all-powerful Empire State (the Mets) and Texas (the Astros) have ditched payroll and players the way financially stressed companies have coped with an impotent game plan: wiping their best, brightest, and costliest talent off the books.

Just as teams have struggled, so have the Deegans and many others. Several close relatives are unemployed after being laid off. And Robert Deegan's once-reliable overtime summer hours have been slashed as the U.S. Postal Service struggles with its own formidable woes.

Mary Deegan has taken on extra hours at one of her two part-time jobs to help cover expenses. One daughter starts at Temple University this fall as a freshman, and their two other children are at schools with tuition, too.

So even though Robert Deegan, the fan, is happy to have a winning team, Robert Deegan, the dad, knows better than to get too carried away. This is, after all, real life.

Isn't it the Cleveland Indians, he asked, who are having a hard time selling tickets to games this year?

"It could happen to Philadelphia, too," he warned, with a wisdom that could apply to anyone in this economy, himself included. "We don't have a crystal ball as to what could happen."

For now, though, dig it.

Contact staff writer Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2431, mpanaritis@phillynews.com, or on Twitter, @panaritism.

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