The Phillies Have An Attitude Problem
Given that some people read what they want to read—not what is written—let’s be clear about something. I bleed Phillies red. They are my favorite hometown team. Up to this point, they have been the best team in baseball, and, if you had to put money on who will be the World Series champions, a smart person has to pick the Fightin’ Phils. However, while there would be nothing better than another parade down Broad Street, there are some issues that need to be raised—issues which, if not immediately addressed, could potentially derail the team in its postseason quest.
The Philadelphia Phillies have more losses than any other professional sports team—more than 10,000. They won their first World Series in 1980 (after 97 years), and returned three years later, losing to Baltimore. After that, however, a drought began, as they only made the playoffs once over the next 23 years—even with the wildcard playoff spot introduced in 1994.
But starting in 2007, things changed. The ownership, finally admitting that the Phillies weren’t a “small-market” team—of the four largest American cities, Philadelphia is the only one that does not share two teams—jettisoned the dead weight and opened the checkbook. They brought in a nucleus that focused on one thing: winning a world championship. And that’s exactly what they did in 2008.
To ownership’s immense credit, they weren’t content, later acquiring Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt, who, along with Cole Hamels, comprise the best pitching rotation in baseball history—the “Four Aces.”
As a result, 2011 has been billed, correctly, as a “win it all or the season’s a failure” effort.
The Phils are on hallowed ground, at least in Philadelphia, given that they have won five straight division titles. However impressive, that does not make for a “dynasty,” as some describe these Phils. To be a dynasty, you have to win championships, not division titles or pennants. Just ask the Atlanta Braves, who won their division 14 consecutive times but only earned one World Series ring.
Repeating as champion is extremely difficult, but those who do so earn dynasty status (New York Yankees, New England Patriots). In the Phils’ case, let’s not put the cart before the horse. Despite the team’s immense talent, and painful as it is to speculate, this team might be lucky just to make it to the World Series, let alone bring home a championship.
Sure, just floating that scenario makes me Public Enemy Number One, but it’s also a real possibility. While anything can happen, and their pitching staff is dominant enough to keep the team in every game, these Phillies have a deeper problem. And it’s one that, while on display more prominently during the recent eight-game losing streak, has dogged this team since that Championship three years ago.
Some players have a major attitude problem. And skipper Charlie Manuel, whose brusque take-no-prisoners approach is refreshing, has nonetheless let the problem fester. Just like a parent should not be a child’s best friend (as respect and discipline break down), Manuel has become too much of a “player’s manager.”
During this losing stretch, ex-Phil Jayson Werth declared, “ … right now, they’re playing games that essentially don’t mean anything … I don’t think they’ll have a problem turning it on once the postseason comes.”
This from the guy who made an art of standing at home plate admiring his hits, most famously during the 2009 playoffs as he watched one that was definitely going out of the ballpark.
Except that it didn’t.
His excuse? “I didn’t think that’s where it was going to land.”
One would think that a multi-millionaire playing a boyhood game would actually do his job (i.e., run), which is what all young baseball players are taught to do. But that’s the exception anymore.
Jimmy Rollins isn’t much better, as he does the same thing all too often. Even Chase Utley, who is more reliable than most, has been slow to leave the batter’s box after some well-hit balls recently (that weren’t home runs). And we’ll see if Ryan Howard chooses to swing the bat this year with the season on the line.
But back-up catcher Brian Schneider (carrying a weighty .177 average) took the cake this week when he hit a ball toward first and decided not to move from home plate because he assumed it to be foul. The umpire, of course, correctly ruled it fair. Schneider was out before even dropping the bat.
And let’s not forget Cole Hamels’s gem after losing to Houston (the worst team in baseball) near the beginning of the slide. “Their motivation was a little bit more than I guess what we had,” he said. “I guess that’s where they are beating us. They are motivated, and we are not taking it as serious.”
This is the same Hamels who humiliated Utley on national TV during a playoff game against the Dodgers after his second baseman made an error. And because Hamels was busy showing up Utley, he failed to do his job, promptly serving up a home run to the next batter. Has Hamels “grown up” since that outburst? We’ll see, but one thing is certain. That attitude, which fans overlook so long as the team is winning, will get you run out of this town when things go south.
Compare those examples to Pete Rose—the former Phillie who never let up, who once scored from first (on a single!), and who so famously caught catcher Bob Boone’s drop in the dugout during the World Series. Quite simply, Charlie Hustle showed his team how to play the game—and how to win a world championship. His energy was infectious, and you just knew with Rose leading the team, the Phils would not be denied that magical year.
Likewise, the Yanks’ Derek Jeter is that type of player. Unlike Hamels, Jeter never has to “turn it on” and get “serious,” because he never turns it off. Not in the playoffs, and not when his team is up by 10 games. He never tires of losing and plays with more intensity than ever. That’s why he has five World Series rings.
But there is no Pete Rose-type leader on this team, no Derek Jeter to kick butt in the clubhouse when a teammate dogs it. As a result, these Phils, in marked contrast to 2008, too often exhibit a bad attitude which becomes highly contagious. It’s easy to get pumped up after a home run, but real character comes when teams rise to the occasion during the tough times. And that isn’t happening right now.
You can make plenty of excuses for the Phils’ slide: injuries, clinching the division, regulars not playing. None means anything in the postseason. Here’s the reality: The hungrier teams usually win. Those that run out every hit, chase every foul, aggressively swing, and scrap every play are much more successful. And, contrary to Werth’s assessment, those things cannot be turned on just because the playoffs start.
And sure, we keep hearing about the 2000 Yankees who went through a bad late-season stretch but won the World Series anyway. One word: Stop! They are the Yankees. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are a living, breathing dynasty. You would need a decade of World Championships to even mention the Phillies and Yankees in the same breath. That example is not a historical marker, but an attempt to rationalize what many fans already know but don’t want to admit. This team has a flaw, and it’s attitudinal, not one of talent.
Charlie Manuel should have nipped it in the bud, benching any player who lacked hustle. The message would have been clear: It’s unacceptable not to play to the best of your ability, regardless of the team’s performance. If he had, the team most likely would be heading into the playoffs with a full head of steam rather than limping along, relying entirely too much on Lee and Halladay to stop the bleeding.
Actions have consequences. If the offending players don’t see the error of their ways, the team’s post-season chances will be diminished. Hopefully the players who give everything—Halladay, Lee, Pence, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino—will carry the day and inspire their lackluster teammates to get their head in the game.
Otherwise, the season will be one big strikeout—and Broad Street may be parade-less for quite some time.