Do the Eagles Want to Win as Much as the Phillies?
By now, all of Joe Banner’s comments from last week’s invitation-only press briefing have been deconstructed and analyzed. We have laughed at his delirious proclamation that the Steelers aren’t any more successful than the Eagles, since they haven’t reached the playoffs as often as the home team. We have hoped he was serious when he declared the team wouldn’t make any excuses if it didn’t win the Super Bowl in 2011. And we have dreamed of the big-name acquisitions the team might make in free agency this off-season—if there is free agency this off-season.
It was, as it always is whenever Banner opens his mouth, interesting. Not because the Eagles’ president is a sparkling orator, rather because it’s always worthwhile to hear how the organization differs in its approach than do the Phillies.
The Phils’ 2010 season fizzled in the NLCS against San Francisco, the local baseball equivalent of the Birds’ ’02 fold against Tampa Bay, since waiting for each local team—had it won—was a decided underdog (Oakland Raiders, Texas Rangers). It was a great year (but not great enough) that included the acquisition of Roy Oswalt and the return to form of Cole Hamels. And though fans would have groused some had the Phillies stayed pat over the winter, it would have been hard to fault the franchise’s inactivity, given the huge payroll increase it had stomached in previous year, thanks to the additions of Oswalt and Roy Halladay.
Instead of talking about near-misses and what-ifs, the Phillies acted by stunning baseball by winning the Cliff Lee sweepstakes and creating the majors’ best pitching rotation—on paper, anyway. If the Phils don’t win it all this season, it’s not the fault of the check writers, who are on the hook for about $165 million. Nope, this one is clearly on the players, who must deliver on the field, and the manager, who has to keep his team focused on winning and not the surrounding circus. If the team doesn’t win, nobody can blame David Montgomery, Ruben Amaro or the old-money silent ownership bloc. After trying to convince us last year that the decision to trade Lee in the wake of the Halladay trade was to replenish the farm system (right!), they have done their jobs.
Contrast that with the many times over the past decade the Eagles operated with a safe salary cap cushion, choosing to pass on players who could have helped the team in the name of saving a few million dollars. Instead of taking a chance on someone capable of bringing a championship, the Eagles stuck to their business model of cutting loose veterans and focusing on younger, often less-expensive, players. No Wharton graduate would dismiss that philosophy, since it creates a stable labor expense. Fans, however, are waiting for the chance to congratulate the Eagles’ management on doing everything possible to bring home a championship.
Fans awoke Sunday morning to see an above-the-fold headline trumpeting shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ assertion that the Phils will win 100 games. Monday, manager Charlie Manuel was reported to have said he has no problem with Rollins’ prediction. Nobody in the front office seemed to mind, either. There is a huge positive vibe around the Phillies team, for good reason. Nothing is guaranteed in February, but Rollins’ sense of confidence is what fans want to hear, not the ridiculous statements of an executive trying to convince himself that making the playoffs a lot of times is better than winning multiple Super Bowls.
A few years back, it was possible—and necessary—to ridicule the Phillies’ ownership group for its unwillingness to spend what it takes to win. Those days have ended, and we now laud the fat wallets who run the team for understanding the correlation between spending and winning, or at least creating the sense of a commitment to success. For the first time in a long time, the Phils have it right. This season will be about players’ meeting expectations established by an aggressive management group. Fans can’t help but rejoice in that condition.
Meanwhile, Banner and owner Jeffrey Lurie can’t stop creating problems for themselves. The Eagles are not as successful as the Steelers. Saying so is asinine and insulting. And no matter how often you declare your team is dedicated to the mission of winning a championship, your actions ultimately determine whether you have any credibility in that regard. Over the past decade-plus, the Eagles have failed repeatedly to make the necessary moves and financial commitments to produce a team capable of winning the title. They have made a lot of money and a lot of playoff appearances, but when the people across the street have done more, it’s tough to convince fans you have a similar desire for success.
Banner can keep talking, but it’s time for the Eagles to act. If they don’t, they’ll fall further behind the Phillies in fan approval. That may not matter to the franchise, so long as the season-ticket waiting list swells and jerseys keep jumping off the shelves, but then at least admit it. Don’t try to tell people that winning is the only thing, when it clearly isn’t. The Phillies have finally realized that and have set the area up for a season to remember.
It comes down to how much you want to win, not how much you want to talk.
When Jimmy Rollins talks, there’s a sense the Phillies aim to back it up.
When Joe Banner talks, fans expect more of the same.
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