Get ready for bad old days again, Phillies fans

Suffering is nothing new for the Phillies or fans who came of age before the last decade of success. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff
Suffering is nothing new for the Phillies or fans who came of age before the last decade of success. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff
Posted: July 19, 2014

This is all beginning to feel familiar, isn't it? If you're of a certain age and have followed the Phillies long enough, it should. If it isn't, take a seat, my young and once-innocent friends, and listen for a little while. You'll have a better understanding of what you're in for. Promise.

Let's say you're 19, 20, maybe even as old as 25. The Phillies you've known went 10 years, from 2003 through 2012, without a losing season. They won five division titles, two National League pennants, a World Series. They had stars and star power and high expectations that they frequently met or exceeded. They turned Citizens Bank Park into the place to be on a summer night in this city.

Those Phillies were not the Phillies that the generations before yours knew. This year's are: 42-53, dead last in the National League East as their post-all-star-break schedule begins Friday in Atlanta, a 72-win pace following a 73-win season last year.

A roster dismantling is inevitable and necessary, and the rebuilding process promises to be long and painful. Once, everyone was accustomed to such fallow periods from this franchise. But the team's recent run of success has, in some quarters, fostered the illusion that the Phillies should be able to refuel their plane while still flying it. Philadelphia, after all, is the largest single-team market in Major League Baseball. Can't the Phillies sign enough players to make themselves competitive again? Can't they spend their way out of this mess?

Actually, they probably can't. The environment has changed since 2011, when MLB and the players union reached their latest collective bargaining agreement. Big-market teams can't outspend small-market teams as easily anymore, not in free agency and not in the draft. Teams aren't as likely to allow up-and-coming talent to reach free agency. They're smarter. They see players with potential and they lock them up to long-term contracts, sometimes at below-market value - just what the Phillies did with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley earlier in their careers.

No, the Phillies will have to regenerate themselves from within. The problem is that their failure to do so has already contributed to, if not caused, this plunge. So unless general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. decides to trade the franchise's most valuable commodity - Cole Hamels - one year after committing six years and $144 million to him, and unless the Phillies scouting department improves its batting average, it's going to feel as if everyone stepped into a time machine.

Let's go back just one generation. To be a Phillies fan from the mid-1980s through the late 1990s was to learn to appreciate the odd, the offbeat, and the small moments of genuine fun and decent baseball amid a decade-and-a-half of what was mostly misery. There was a winning season in 1986 and that enchanted summer of 1993, and the rest of that era was spent groping through darkness.

It's funny now, the anecdotes and episodes that remain in the memory from that time: the ill-conceived TV commercial/"Rambo" parody featuring rightfielder Glenn "Glennbo" Wilson; the Sil Campusano single that kept Doug Drabek from throwing a no-hitter in front of a sparse crowd at cavernous Veterans Stadium; the pride that people tried to muster when the likes of Kevin Gross, Tyler Green, Lance Parrish, and Heathcliff Slocumb were representing the team in the All-Star Game.

Every summer was a succession of stopgap veterans and prospects who didn't pan out: Sid Fernandez, Fernando Valenzuela, Pat Combs, Ron Jones, Chris James, Dave Gallagher, Dickie Thon, Bobby Munoz, Mike Maddux, Mike Grace, Mike Mimbs, Mike Williams. So many Mikes.

In some ways, though, everyone today has it worse. That previous generation, if nothing else, had Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn to savor every night - their good humor, their rascally banter, their innate understanding of when to speak and when to let the game speak for them. This one has Matt Stairs, the words spilling out of him as if he were a livestock auctioneer, and Jamie Moyer, whose analysis features all the levity of a lecture on 19th-century British industrialism. And with the rise of sabermetrics and advanced statistics, with the economic realities of 21st-century professional baseball, the hard-core Phillies fan will be as frustrated as the casual one, because anyone who immerses himself or herself in the minutia of the sport saw this collapse coming and understands how long the recovery - if there is to be one - might take.

So, to those younger Phillies followers who grew up on the excellence of Utley and Roy Halladay, the dynamism of Rollins and Ryan Howard, the sight of Brad Lidge hitting his knees and wrapping his arms around Carlos Ruiz, just understand something: You might not remember it. You might not have been alive for it. But it's true: The Phillies have been here before. This is your baseball team now, too. Get used to it.


Home Not So Sweet

The Phillies' home-field advantage, so strong during their successful run from 2007 to 2011, has finally collapsed this season. Here is a look at their home record at Citizens Bank Park since it opened in 2004:

Year      Home Record   Overall Record      NL East

2004      42-39               86-76               Second

2005      46-35               88-74               Second

2006      41-40               85-77               Second

2007      47-34               89-73               First

2008      48-33               92-70               First

2009      45-36               93-69               First

2010      54-30               97-65               First

2011      52-29               102-60            First

2012      40-41               81-81               Third

2013      43-38               73-89               Fourth

2014      19-29               42-53               Fifth


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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