Meetings won't help this bunch of Phillies

Posted: June 05, 2014

WASHINGTON - Kids, one thing you will learn in life, if you haven't already learned it, is that meetings rarely beget solutions, only more meetings. Thus, when your favorite baseball team starts holding them, it is usually a good time to begin investigating other sources of emotional fulfillment.

Yesterday, when the doors to the visitor's clubhouse at Nationals Park were closed to the media, it was supposedly a thing, the same kind of thing as the radio interview in which Larry Bowa said the Phillies weren't playing like major leaguers, the kind of thing that carries folks with blogs and Twitter accounts and deadlines through news cycles, the kind of thing that adds an element of story to what would otherwise be another day spent chronicling the meaningless existence of a baseball team headed nowhere.

Boy, oh boy, did ol' Bowa rip the fellas a new one! Wonder how they'll respond? Heard skipper sat 'em all down for a meeting yesterday! Even closed the doors! Really laid into 'em, I hear! I tell ya, that's just what these fellas need, some of that piss an' vinegar!

But it's really hard to push that kind of narrative given how empty it is. The truth of the matter is that this organization has been in full-blown meeting mode for more than a calendar year now. The truth is that the Phillies have not looked anything like a big-league team for well over 2 years. The truth is that even if there was some reason to believe in the efficacy of this latest attempt to suck blood from a stone, the Phillies dutifully obliterated it once they left the meeting and stepped onto the baseball field, committing two errors, scoring zero runs, and, all in all, looking exactly like the baseball team that they swore in the meeting they could not continue to be.

Nobody should fault manager Ryne Sandberg or bench coach Bowa for utilizing every tool at their disposal in an attempt to shake the team of the general dead-assery that has plagued it as of late. Meetings, fielding drills, motivational sayings - hell, build a ropes course in centerfield and do trust falls off the batter's eye. The unfortunate reality is that all of these things do little more than offer the coaches and players the psychological comfort of the illusion of control.

When Marlon Byrd says in a solemn tone that the veterans need to do a better job of leading the young guys, when Sandberg says that all the Phillies need is a hot streak to climb back into contention, they are not blowing smoke. The season is too long, the individual investment too great, for a player or coach to acknowledge what is clear to any objective party who has spent part of the last couple of months watching this baseball team.

When it's all said and done, the players and coaches will probably realize that they realized it well before yesterday, because many of these players and coaches know what it feels like to play for a postseason contender.

Some of those players and coaches have seen the best baseball that this city has offered, and, yeah, there's a little bit of sadness when you consider it from that perspective, when you watch Carlos Ruiz trying in vain to coax a quality start out of a 25-year-old who barely received a big-league invite to spring training, when you see Jayson Werth taking a wide turn at first base with those long, familiar strides en route to a two-run double off that aforementioned 25-year-old. Cliff Lee is on the disabled list and Ryan Howard is OPSing .728 and Roy Halladay is fishing and coaching and tweeting, for crying out loud, and nothing is as it was just a few short years ago, and the only thing left to do is close the doors and elevate the gravity and point to the trade deadlines that loom in the distance.

"By the time July hits, we need to be within four games . . . and playing well at the same time," Byrd said. "Ruben [Amaro, the general manager] has to do his job, and we make his job easier if we win. If we don't, it makes his job very tough, so we need to be that team where he's convinced we're going to make this run."

And if you are looking for some sliver of hope for the future to be gleaned from the wreckage of these last couple of weeks, it probably lies in the above sentiment. At this point, it is close to impossible for anybody to construct an argument that the Phillies are a team worth saving - even Amaro, who in the offseason labeled himself "bullish" on the roster he had assembled; who for 3 straight years has failed to build a bullpen that doesn't suck the life force out of all who do not avert their eyes.

If you think it looks bad on television, think about how it looks to the people who paid $180 million for a 6-month groan.

The worst thing about this season is that it did not happen last season, and the Phillies did not attempt to parlay Chase Utley, or Ruiz, or Lee, into something useful for the future, thereby tacking on another year to what was already going to be a 3- or 4-year wallow.

The good thing is that it is happening now, and the only people that don't know it are the guys on the field, and if that ignorance offers them some modicum of comfort, well, who can begrudge that? Because this thing is much bigger than them.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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