Inside the Phillies: Age is not among problems facing the Phillies

Derek Jeter , 37, batted .331 after a stint on the injured list last season. SETH WENIG / AP
Derek Jeter , 37, batted .331 after a stint on the injured list last season. SETH WENIG / AP
Posted: April 22, 2012

The perception is that the Phillies are getting too old to be good any more.

It is a misperception.

That's a point that Shane Victorino tried to make recently when the subject of stealing bases was raised. The abridged version of Victorino's argument was that people look at the Texas Rangers as this young, exciting team, but they are only slightly younger than the Phillies.

It's a valid point.

The average age of the Rangers' nine most-used position players this season, including designated hitter Michael Young, is 30.2, according to BaseballReference.com. By comparison, the average age of the Phillies' eight most-used position players is 31.5.

The New York Yankees are older than both the Phillies and Rangers with their nine regulars averaging 32.7 years of age. A lot of people still think the Yankees have a pretty good chance of winning the American League East, even though all the other teams in their division are younger.

It's not unusual for a struggling team or player to be labeled as too old.

One of the most memorable news conferences I ever witnessed came two games into the Eagles' 2008 season. Safety Brian Dawkins, 34 at the time, sat at the podium inside the auditorium at the NovaCare Complex and spent at least 15 minutes fielding questions about his age.

He was coming off a poor performance in a game the Eagles lost to the Dallas Cowboys and a lot of people were wondering if he had lost the step it took to remain an elite defensive back in a league with world-class sprinters playing wide receiver.

"This is not the first time I've given up a couple of plays, it won't be the last time," Dawkins said. "I know everyone has their opinions and they can have their opinions. I know the facts. And the fact is, I can play this game."

As a lifelong Eagle at the time, Dawkins also understood the perception and wanted no pity.

"No, man, this is Philadelphia!" he said. "Do you actually know where we are, in the city of Philadelphia?"

The rant went on and gained steam before Dawkins finally walked off the stage.

By the end of the season, he had been selected to his seventh Pro Bowl and it was earned. He had forced six fumbles and recorded three sacks for the third-best defense in the NFL on a team that eventually lost in the NFC championship game.

Like Dawkins, the Phillies have some older players. Two of them are Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. They do not appear to be too old.

You can argue that age has caught up to third baseman Placido Polanco, who is 36, but he played hurt a year ago and he deserves more than two weeks to emerge from what is surely not the first slump of his career.

Carlos Ruiz is 33. He's not too old.

Jimmy Rollins is 33. Not too old.

The problem with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley is not age. It is their health. We can find players of all ages on the disabled list.

There is some sentiment that even when Howard and Utley return the Phillies' offense will struggle. That's a premise built by some on the fact that the Phillies' offense went south in the previous two postseasons.

Baseball history is filled with story lines about great offensive teams being shut down by better pitching. It's what the Phillies did to the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. The Rangers did the same thing to the Yankees two years ago and then had it done to them by the same San Francisco Giants'staff that shut down the Phillies in the NLCS.

Maybe Howard and Utley will not be the same players when they return from their injuries, but nobody knows for sure.

Alex Rodriguez opened the 2009 season on the disabled list and missed his team's first 28 games because of a labrum tear in his right hip, then proceeded to hit .189 through his first 16 games, with the last of those games in that stretch coming against the Phillies.

A-Rod looked lost, he looked hurt, and he looked old.

He was 33 at the time, the same age Utley is now. Rodriguez hit six home runs and drove in 18 runs that postseason for a Yankees team that beat the Phillies in the World Series.

A year ago, a 37-year-old Derek Jeter went to the disabled list in mid-June with a calf injury. He was hitting .260 and showing no signs of having any gap or home run power.

He looked lost, he looked hurt, and he looked old.

Jeter returned from the disabled list and hit .331 the remainder of the season. Through his first 13 games this year, Jeter was hitting .373 with four doubles and four home runs.

You could argue that Utley and Howard do not have the same pedigree as A-Rod and Jeter, but you cannot argue that all four of them are proven winners with a dogged determination to succeed.

The Phillies have had some problems through these first two weeks of the season. They are not hitting in clutch situations and there is a tremendous lack of power. Neither thing has anything to do with the advanced age of the team.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover

at bbrookover@phillynews.com or on Twitter @brookob.

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