Phillies seem to be in denial

Posted: July 03, 2014

THE YEAR was 1996. The first full season after baseball's debilitating strike. The Philadelphia Phillies, the last full 162-game season National League champions, sent out a roster of well-regarded thirtysomethings - some holdovers from '93, some not.

It was hoped that Benito Santiago, Gregg Jefferies and Todd Zeile would refresh the team that had stumbled in the two previous seasons pockmarked by a baseball strike, a team that still included Darren Daulton and Lenny Dykstra, and Kevin Stocker, Mickey Morandini, Jim Eisenreich and Pete Incaviglia as well.

They lost 95 games.

A season later some touted, homegrown talent replaced some of those imports. Twenty-two-year-old Scott Rolen took his spot at third, 25-year-old Mike Lieberthal became the everyday catcher. Wayne Gomes, the fourth overall pick of the 1993 draft, and shortstop Desi Relaford, picked in the fourth round of the 1991 draft, got their first taste of big-league ball.

A 22-year-old September call-up named Bobby Estalella created enough buzz as his backup that some even thought Lieberthal's days as a Phillie were numbered.

They lost 94 games.

It went on like this into the next millennium, Terry Francona replacing Jim Fregosi, Larry Bowa replacing Francona, Charlie Manuel replacing Bowa after a series of promising but unfulfilling seasons.

The rewrite about that era is to say that the Phillies struggled while their farm system matured, but there was a stream of well-regarded talent from below throughout those years. The rewrite conveniently overlooks some of the missteps made then, and conveniently overlooks the huge impact imported players like Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Greg Dobbs, Eric Bruntlett, Geoff Jenkins, Brad Lidge and several others had in finally pushing this team onto Broad Street for that long-awaited parade.

Which brings us, again, to the current state of this team, and the recent words spoken by its president and its general manager, who was a player on some of those late '90s teams. They will continue to try to salvage this veteran-laden team as long as enough people come to see it play, David Montgomery said, and Ruben Amaro Jr. followed that up with this musical-sounding mantra on Tuesday:

"We're looking for some offense, we're looking for some younger players, we're looking for some things that can help us short-term and long-term."

Both missives were read by some as misdirection, that uttering "rebuild" around Citizens Bank Park would yield the same result as "Fire" in a crowded movie theater. I see it as the exact opposite. Turning a blind eye to the red-alert writing all over that pretty building's outfield walls doesn't just threaten to send us out onto Darien and Pattison in droves. It threatens to destroy the goodwill this organization painstakingly built since those dire days of the mid- and late-1990s, when players not only didn't want to come here - they didn't want to stay here.

So let me offer my own jingo: Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end. And then they did, a 12-year run of 80 or more victories, almost a decade's worth of meaningful September baseball, highlighted by those five divisional titles, two pennants and an oh-so-rare World Series championship. A perfect game. A postseason no-hitter, the second ever. Cliff Lee mastering the Yankees. Jonathan Broxton and Jimmy Rollins. And on and on until . . .

Nothing. No runs, no hits, lots of errors. Bad decisions, bad losses, bad baseball. The only people who don't seem to understand that the Phillies should already be deep in the throes of a rebuilding stage are, well, the Phillies president and his general manager.

If you believe them.

I do, and that's what really scares me. The key to fixing any problem is identifying the problem, but what if you are the problem? What if it's your decisions, your trades, your overpaid contracts that are in the way of any chance of "retooling" while maintaining a competitive team?

There are so many, but the miss that keeps taking is their big swing on Dom Brown. If he was the player they projected him to be, no costly trade for Hunter Pence would have been made. If they had recognized sooner that he was not that player, or even a rightfielder, they may have chosen to hold onto Pence, even re-up him.

Betting on Brown was that big swing and miss. And with no outfield prospect on the immediate or even distant horizon, and power-hitting outfielders the most sought-after entity among scouts today, it's hard to imagine anything but bad baseball here in the near and distant future. As bad even as those days back in the late '90s.

The one difference, and it's a huge one, is that the park now is much prettier. And the people who work it are pretty nice. And on a smooth, summer night, it's still a pretty nice destination.

I just wish they would just say that. And start the overdue process of identifying, and fixing, their problems.

More Phillies: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is back on the team's radar.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon


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