It was a remarkable run for the Phillies and for their followers, and there were times, as the team constructed a 257-game sellout streak that was finally broken last August, when it seemed possible it would stretch even longer if the team could somehow manage the transition from then to now.
The Phils didn't escape that rundown with time, however, and the home portion of this season has closed out with plenty of good seats still available. When 28,826 showed up for a game against Washington on Sept. 3, the opening of the school-night portion of the schedule, it was the first time fewer than 30,000 had attended since the third game of the 2008 season, a stretch of 470 home games. For those who rattled around the echoing Vet not that long ago, those numbers just seem silly.
But it happened, and it happened to the Phillies of all teams, an organization that historically hid its infrequent successes beneath a blanket of familiar failures. Even counting 2012, the Phils had 10 straight seasons without a losing record. In the 50 years preceding that, they had a total of 18.
The heady run was a marriage of increased revenue from the new ballpark, the blossoming of a core of homegrown infield stars, and a leadership shift that replaced manager Larry Bowa with Charlie Manuel and general manager Ed Wade with Pat Gillick. It is possible that with more money, and the better players who became obtainable, Bowa and Wade would have enjoyed success too, but probably not for as long.
In other cities, perhaps, a baseball team that put on this kind of a show would get a standing ovation and then be allowed to attempt its rebuilding with patient if not fervent support. That might be the case here as well, if only the team would get on with the rebuilding.
When the Phillies return after their cold winter, they still plan to have Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins on the field. Absent a better option at catcher, they will likely re-sign Carlos Ruiz. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee will be in the starting rotation, as they should be, and it is even-money the Phils will attempt to make another wager on the diminishing reliability of Roy Halladay.
It would be a lot easier to feel warm and nostalgic about the greatest era in Phillies baseball if it would just end already. As it is, this has the feel of a rock band that hangs around after the platinum albums are only a memory and the remaining members of the original lineup are all dying their hair and wearing hearing aids.
The only memorable transition brought about so far by the 2013 season - and the discarding of Michael and Delmon Young doesn't qualify - was the dismissal of Manuel, the folksy figurehead who treated his players like men and stayed out of the way. That worked until the team tired of fighting the fight during the middle of this season and packed it in on him.
When the Phils won the first game after the all-star break, they were one game over .500 and could legitimately talk about being buyers at the trade deadline and making one more run at it. At that singular moment of optimism, however, the team went dead south, with emphasis on the dead part. Howard had been on the disabled list for a few weeks by then, and the difficulty of winning without his presence in the batting order became a rock the team didn't feel like lifting any longer. They won four of their next 23 games and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. - seeing guys who weren't taking extra hitting, weren't running out balls, weren't focused on the routine professionalism of the game - replaced Manuel with Ryne Sandberg.
The most troubling aspect of that dreadful stretch was the leadership void in the clubhouse in the absence of Howard. Utley and Rollins are not vocal - Utley is barely verbal - and there was no one to protect Manuel's back after he spent nearly nine seasons protecting theirs. That's not a good sign for the future, particularly since Howard's right knee is still chronically bad and he is likely to spend some part of every season running wind sprints in Clearwater.
Maybe Sandberg, who will almost certainly retain the job, can pick up that slack. He's a bit of a monotone, but there is an edge to him the team needs to emulate. The team is 18-16 under Sandberg, despite some amazingly haphazard lineups. That might not sound like much, but it works out to 86 wins over a whole season, which, in case you hadn't noticed, would have been an improvement.
So send them up the tunnel with a few last cheers when the home season concludes and take a look at the banners in center field where there didn't used to be as many. It's been a proud time, even if it had to eventually come to an end.
Now comes the winter and there is no guarantee when the next spring will arrive.
Contact Bob Ford at email@example.com.