Ruben Amaro Jr. Is the Worst Executive in Sports
IN THE WINTER OF 1991, Phillies general manager Lee Thomas sent an aging outfielder named Von Hayes packing for California. Hayes had been one of the few bright spots for the dismal succession of losing teams trotted out in Philadelphia after their last-gasp 1983 World Series run. The lanky outfielder had himself been part of a blockbuster 1982 trade with the Cleveland Indians — the famed “5 for 1” deal in which the Phillies sent (among other pieces) infielder Julio Franco to the Tribe. Franco went on to have one of the more interesting careers in baseball history — interesting in a would-you-look-at-that, Jamie Moyer kind of way, not in a first-ballot hall of famer kind of way. After a fairly standard trajectory that included roughly a 7-year peak as a star player and then the inevitable decline, Franco went on to play forever, racking up over 2,500 hits by grinding it out until he was 48, retiring after 2007 and spending approximately eight nanoseconds on the Hall of Fame ballot. As has been the case with most of the trades made in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies, our heroes got the short end of the original Von Hayes deal.
In return for Hayes, the Phillies got a former first-rounder in Kyle Abbott, a right-handed pitcher who had been selected ninth in the 1989 amateur player draft by the then-California Angels. Abbott had blown through the low minors, but had seemed to lose his ability to miss bats during two seasons in Double- and Triple-A. Still, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske described Abbott at the time as the Angels’ top pitching prospect. The Phillies also received a throw-in — a 26-year-old outfielder who had just finished batting .326 for the Edmonton Trappers of the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. While neither of these players ended up having particularly illustrious careers, this was not at all a bad return for a clearly washed-up Hayes. Abbott of course had that historically terrible 1992, where he compiled an unsightly record of 1-14 that he earned with a 5.13 ERA. Abbott was back with the Angels by 1996 and out of baseball by 1997, having compiled a neatly symmetrical career WAR of 0.0. That 26-year-old outfielder never amounted to much more than a glorified pinch-hitter. He certainly looked like a ballplayer, and he had the lineage: His father played for years in the majors, perhaps most famously for the ill-fated ’64 Phillies. The Phillies gave him a long look as a starter in 1992, and he flopped, batting .219 with 7 home runs, which even in the twilight of the pre-steroids era was not very good at all.
Yet with the exception of a brief, two-year mid-’90s exile in Cleveland, Ruben Amaro Jr. has been with us ever since. Amaro had a long history with the Phillies — he was covered at length as an amateur prospect at Penn Charter High, and served as a batboy for the 1980 Phillies. And what Amaro lacked in elite talent, he apparently made up for off the field. Amaro was no God-fearing bumpkin drafted out of some cracked-earth Texas high school — he was a Stanford graduate with a BA in Human Biology. Baseball has a long tradition of seeing its best field managers and executives drawn from the ranks of lesser ballplayers. Unlike most star players, who are involved in the thick of the action in nearly every game, guys like Amaro spend a lot of time on the bench shooting the shit with the coaching staff. Observing. Learning. This is why so many of the game’s celebrated managers — Whitey Herzog, Casey Stengel, Terry Francona — spent part or most of their careers as bench players or worse. Future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, for instance, topped out at 123 plate appearances for the 1970 A’s, hitting .198. Our own, beloved Charlie Manuel — known for his abiding love of pinstriped runners crossing home plate — had his best season for the ’69 Twins, smashing two homers and terrorizing the American League with a .207 batting average.
Baseball is a game played by a lot of overgrown children, and while it demands immense psychological fortitude, it does not exactly require you to be a genius. Guys like Amaro stand out. If you’re one of these players, you can often extend your playing career simply because people like having you around. There is no other sensible explanation for why Ruben Amaro Jr. was brought back to play baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1996. Amazingly, that was his one genuinely productive season as a major-league ballplayer, hitting .316 as the fifth outfielder and posting an OPS+ of 120 (or 20 percent better than league average). That small-sample miracle was quickly forgotten, as Amaro declined precipitously in 1997 and 1998. Rather than schlepping around the minors or independent leagues when his days in The Show were over, Amaro immediately stepped into a front office role, as Assistant General Manager. That was the end of Ruben Amaro Jr. the player, and the beginning of Ruben Amaro Jr., the Worst Executive in Professional Sports. It is the story of how the Phillies, improbably, ended up on the losing side of a trade in which no one acquired anyone of value.
2. The Concrete Mausoleum
Alien invasion? Nope, just The Vet getting its just desserts.
AMARO WAS BROUGHT INTO a baseball operation that prized loyalty above all else. The Phillies as an organization have an exceptionally long memory, and don’t enjoy being slighted. This is why nearly 20 years ago after a draft pick named J.D. Drew refused to sign with them, the team still basically will not touch players represented by his agent, Scott Boras. Phillies loyalty means sticking by the old-school guys even when most other teams have moved on to advanced analytics.
That’s why the Glory Years teams were built the old-fashioned way, with scouting and grit and luck, and were run at the time, as they are now, by a general manager who probably should never have been given the job and who was continuously years behind his counterparts in creative thinking. The Ed Wade story for a time gave hope to every baseball nut in America who believed they could get a job as an unpaid deliverer of coffee and climb the ladder all the way to the top. Wade began his career in 1977 as an intern in the Phillies’ PR shop, and bounced around until the Phillies made him Assistant General Manager — sorry, that’s Assistant to the General Manager, in 1989. When the team finally canned Lee Thomas in 1997, they apparently decided to give the job to the nearest warm body, which happened to be Ed Wade. It was Wade, who decided to jump Amaro straight from bench player to decision-making executive.
The franchise Wade inherited was godawful, with a mess that extended far beyond the replacement level castoff crew on the playing field. The Phillies had been run like a shell corporation since the mid-’80s, with a particular lack of investment in scouting overseas talent. The 1998 team was notable indeed for the near-total absence of international players on the roster. The only Latin American ballplayers on that team — Bobby Abreu and Yorkis Perez — were acquired from other organizations. Forget about Asia — that ship hadn’t even left the harbor. That’s because the team only got serious about international scouting when they hired Mike Arbuckle to right the team’s draft-and-development operation in 1992. Arbuckle was responsible for turning the Braves from a laughingstock into a powerhouse during his tenure as scouting director in the 1980s, but it took him a few years to start drafting quality players in Philly. Arbuckle’s first few efforts were wretched, with the team betting big on busts like Carlton Loewer, Wayne Gomes, Reggie Taylor and Dave Coggin in the first round, none of whom contributed significantly to the Phillies. By 1998, six years after Arbuckle was hired, the Phillies really only had ’93 second round pick Scott Rolen to show for it. All of the other key contributors on that team, like Curt Schilling and Abreu, were acquired through (it must be admitted, very successful) trades.
The problem wasn’t just the product on the field, it was the field itself. The Phillies played their games in the sports equivalent of a nuisance property. Veterans Stadium was one of those massive infrastructure projects that seemed like a bad idea almost the second the concrete had set in 1971. A mammoth, brutalist structure with no views of the landscape or the city, the Vet was a more appropriate venue for public executions than it was for baseball, and by the early ‘90s, it looked like Mickey Rourke — prematurely aged in a way that made you wonder what you ever saw in it in the first place. Part of the problem was not just the structure itself but the industry-wide move away from venues that can host multiple sports. The breaking point came in 1992, when the Baltimore Orioles opened the breathtaking Camden Yards, a charming, baseball-only stadium that completely revolutionized how baseball teams conceptualized the ideal park. And the second you set foot in Camden Yards — just 90 minutes south of Philly and thus accessible to casual fans — you realized immediately just how many things about Veterans Stadium were awful. Camden Yards was smaller and more intimate, with gourmet food options beyond the Aramark slop served at the Vet, and perhaps most importantly, luxury boxes for the leisure classes to throw lavish parties while not really watching the game at all. It featured idiosyncratic dimensions, inviting views of the city and between-innings diversions that might mitigate the boredom of people who find baseball tedious. Camden Yards was the kind of place casual fans would enjoy hanging out for a few hours; the Vet, needless to say, was not.
By the late ’90s, the Vet wasn’t just a problem for fans who wanted a better experience. The stadium’s Walmart-quality artificial turf was wreaking havoc on star third baseman Rolen’s knees, and diminishing free agent interest in playing in Philadelphia at all. The lack of modern facilities turned off players who were getting accustomed to five-star amenities in the locker room. The Phillies really only managed to sign one high-profile free agent after their fluke run to the World Series in 1993 — first baseman Gregg Jefferies. Jefferies was exactly the sort of player that the mid-’90s Phillies loved to mistake for the solution. An average ballplayer who had one great season in 1993, Jefferies signed with the Phillies and proceeded to lose whatever Cardinals magic he had in St. Louis. Apart from Jefferies, free agents pretty much either didn’t pick up the phone, or did so when they had absolutely no other options other than retirement or riding buses between Mobile and Quad Cities.
That was the Phillies in 1998: A bad team with bad management in a bad stadium in a city that pretty much no longer cared one way or the other.
3. The Glory Years
As you can see, Glory Years stalwart Jayson Werth’s facial hair has grown with his stature.
THE STORY OF HOW the Phillies turned that wretched situation into sustained success is one that included Ruben Amaro Jr. He was, unquestionably, there in the room when the Phillies built the Glory Years teams that won five straight division titles and a world championship from 2007 to 2011. That era began in 2001, when a young Phillies team led by energetic young shortstop Jimmy Rollins stayed in contention all summer only to fade late and finish second to an endless series of Braves division winners. Is it any surprise that this run began with a lopsided trade? In mid-2000, ace Curt Schilling, who had racked up two 300-strikeout campaigns (more impressive for the fact that they came in the midst of a steroid-fueled offensive bonanza), talked his way out of the hopeless situation in Philly. In return, the Phillies obtained four players from the Arizona Diamondbacks — first baseman Travis Lee and pitchers Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa and Vicente Padilla. For a couple of years, it looked like an even trade — Daal stormed to a 6-0 start for the ’01 team, Lee swatted 20 homers, and Padilla had consecutive 14-win seasons in 2002 and 2000. But Schilling won 45 games and struck out 607 batters for the 2001-2002 Diamondbacks, bringing Arizona a world championship before decamping for Boston and winning a ring for them too.
The thing that really turned the Phillies around, though, was a change in their stadium situation. In 2001, the team, city and state finally agreed to build a new park in the South Philly sports complex rather than downtown as many had hoped. While the location disappointed new urbanists who wanted the stadium within walking distance of the downtown office tower archipelago, it immediately breathed new life into the franchise. With the stadium slated to open in 2004, the team genuinely opened the checkbooks for the first time since the ’80s, signing free agent first baseman and future Hall of Famer Jim Thome to a 6-year, $85 million contract prior to the 2003 season. Thome clubbed 47 homers in the Vet’s last season, and although the team disappointed, things were finally looking up. They continued to look up, although not really be up, until very late in the 2007 season.
In 2004 and 2005, the Phillies underachieved, despite an impressive homegrown core of star players including Pat Burrell, Brett Myers and Jimmy Rollins. The team contended, but always fell a few games short of the playoffs. Even in the prologue to the ’08 Championship, Wade and Amaro evinced some worrying tendencies. Wade, inexplicably, seemed to concentrate his midseason energy on acquiring middling relievers for the stretch run. Nothing encapsulates the Wade era better than his June 2005 trade for Tigers reliever Ugueth Urbina. At the time the Phillies were just a game and a half out of first place, and had a lights-out closer by the name of Billy Wagner, who would later depart Philly under predictably acrimonious circumstances. The set-up crew, though, was pretty wretched. It’s not that a spare reliever would have been unwelcome, but rather that there were other parts of the team that could have used reinforcing first. The weakest link on that roster was actually the third baseman, a veteran by the name of David Bell, a former teammate of Thome’s who was signed almost entirely to convince his slugging counterpart to sign on the dotted line. The price for Urbina was Placido Polanco, an infielder who was in the process of being displaced at second by Chase Utley. Polanco would go on to rack up an astonishing 19.1 wins above replacement in Detroit. When the Phillies brought him back as a free agent in 2010, he played third base, a position where he had excelled earlier in his career and clearly could have handled all along. Urbina promptly turned into a pumpkin and put up a 4.13 ERA in 56 appearances. That winter he was arrested for trying to murder some farm workers with a machete in Venezuela, spent years in prison and never played major league baseball again.
It is safe to say the Tigers got the better end of that deal.
Yet several fateful things happened in ’05 that would augur well for the future of the franchise. First, Thome got hurt, which cleared the way for prodigious minor-league slugger Ryan Howard to take over at first base. Howard was called up in July 2005 and proceeded to obliterate the National League, socking 22 home runs in just 348 at-bats to take home the Rookie of the Year award. The team also finally turned over the second base job to 26-year-old Utley, who had impressed in part-time duty in 2004. All Utley did was swat 28 home runs and play unexpectedly stellar defense, immediately turning himself into the best second baseman in baseball by a country mile.
Probably the most important thing to happen in 2005, though, was that during the offseason the Phillies finally fired Ed Wade after eight seasons, and hired the legendary Pat Gillick to replace him. Gillick was the architect of the early-’90s Blue Jays powerhouse that won two championships, as well as the late ’90s Orioles juggernaut that was derailed by an overzealous fan, and the 116-win 2001 Mariners. In short, everywhere Gillick went, he won. As far as situations to inherit go, Gillick’s was pretty sweet. The 2006 Phillies featured a once-in-a-lifetime group of under-30 stars assembled through a non-stop string of draft successes, and sported one of the most feared offensive units in the game.
We should also not lose sight of the fact that Gillick did some incredibly dumb things straight away, things that history has forgiven because 2008. First, Gillick gave Abreu to the Yankees midway through the ’06 season. Abreu was in the midst of yet another boringly stellar campaign, compiling a 118 OPS+. He would finish 7th in the MVP race for the 2007 Yankees and remains one of the most underappreciated players in Phillies history. The rationale for this trade was unclear at the time, as the Phillies were not at the time really aware that they had a surplus of all-star right-fielders and received nothing of value in return for Abreu. Gillick also bestowed a 3-year $24.5 million contract on a washed-up starting pitcher named Adam Eaton, and traded away young pitching prospects Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez to the White Sox for the bloated corpse of pitcher Freddy Garcia. Gonzalez has since won 84 games for the A’s and Nationals, and should be haunting the Phillies for several more seasons.
However, Gillick made several genius decisions that helped bring a championship to Philly. Jayson Werth was a former first-round pick of the Blue Jays who had washed out of the Los Angeles Dodgers system and missed all of 2006 following a major wrist injury. Gillick signed him for less than a million dollars and watched him blossom into a five-category threat in right field. Werth was later joined in the outfield by one of the stranger acquisitions in Phillies history, Hawaii native Shane Victorino. Vic was actually nabbed by Wade in something called the Rule 5 Draft, one of those odd baseball institutions like the infield fly rule that is extremely difficult to explain to normal people. Basically once a year teams get to draft players who are left off of other teams’ 40-man rosters. Those players must spend the whole year in the majors, or else they have to be offered back to the original club for a small fee. Victorino was actually selected by the Padres in the 2002 Rule 5 draft, and then returned to the Dodgers. Weirdly, he was then taken again in the 2004 Rule 5, by the Phillies. He didn’t stick in The Show, and so the Phillies offered him back to L.A., who said no thank you. Victorino replaced Abreu in right when he was traded to the Yankees, and immediately became a fan favorite, with his wheels-to-the-wall style of play. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the Glory Years Phillies terrorized the Dodgers in the playoffs with these two L.A. castoffs.
Gillick also brought two key additions to the pitching staff. First, he acquired Mariners lefthander Jamie Moyer, a veteran soft-tosser who somehow won 269 games, for the 2006 stretch run. While that pennant race ended like all the others had from 2001 to 2006 — with the team falling just short — Moyer would stick around. He was pretty terrible for the division-winning 2007 team, winning 14 games despite an ERA north of 5, but he had one last good season for the ’08 World Champs, winning 16 games with a 3.71 ERA. This meant the team finally had another serviceable pitcher to join young lefthander Cole Hamels, who won 15 games in his first full season in 2007 and was the heart and soul of the pitching staff on the ’08 team, and Brett Myers, a starter with frontline stuff who never quite lived up to his hype but who gave the Phillies several solid years. Gillick also scooped up Astros closer Brad Lidge, one of those relievers who puts up video-game strikeout numbers but who was considered damaged goods because of his meltdown in the 2005 postseason, when he gave up a walk-off home run to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the NLCS. The Astros went on to make it to the World Series, but Lidge pitched poorly and took the loss in Game 4 as Houston was swept by the White Sox. The Phillies sent Houston premium talent in return, including future all-star Michael Bourn, but that is one trade no one in Philadelphia is ever going to complain about: Lidge saved 41 games for the ’08 champs, striking out 92 in 69.1 innings of work.
With those moves, the 2008 championship team was more or less complete, but Gillick and Amaro’s fingerprints were all over some important members of the supporting cast too, including set-up relievers Chad Durbin and J.C. Romero, mid-season trade acquisition Joe Blanton, and utility players Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs. Gillick and Amaro had managed to do what had eluded Wade for years — assemble a competent supporting cast around the Phillies’ core. While the ’08 Phillies were not exactly a juggernaut, they slugged their way to their second straight division title. Once you’re in the expanded baseball playoffs, anything can happen. You remember the rest — Vic’s grand slam against CC Sabathia in the Division Series, the humiliation of Dodgers’ closer Jonathan Broxton in the NLCS, the Matt Stairs pinch homer in Game 6 that resulted in the greatest post-game interview of all-time, and the anticlimactic victory in weather-delayed Game 5 against Tampa Bay, the shock champions of the American League. Brad Lidge on his knees. Pandemonium across the city. The parade down Broad Street. World F***ing Champions.
And then Gillick retired, and Harry Kalas died, and things have never really been the same since.
4. What Happened Next
You’re looking at the best player on the 2015 Phillies so far.
THAT WRETCHED TED CRUZ of a baseball team you see out there every night — the one with Aaron Harang as the early season staff ace and a Rule 5 nobody named Odubel Herrera manning center field and an actual roster spot for Jeff Francoeur and a black hole of an offense and the backlit landing strip leading to Gate 100 Losses — is the product of what happened next.
Ruben Amaro Jr. was not the only contender to replace Pat Gillick. Indeed, Mike Arbuckle had been waiting patiently in the wings since the 1990s for this very opportunity, and when he was passed over for Amaro, he decamped for Kansas City, where he helped build last year’s AL Champions from the ground up, precisely as he had in Atlanta and Philadelphia. Since Arbuckle left, the Phillies have not graduated a single impact player to the major leagues.
Ruben Amaro inherited a championship squad in 2008, one that had largely been built from within by his predecessors. It was probably then that he made the key mistake of his term as General Manager, which was to keep the core of the ’08 champions together as long as possible. Remember: Loyalty. This is how you get former PR interns running your franchise when other teams are hiring the best minds in the country. This is why it might indeed be a really good idea to be a batboy for the Phillies — they never forget. This basic philosophical error led to the calamity for which Amaro will always be remembered, the signing of first baseman Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million extension two years before he became a free agent. That deal seemed to most analysts like a bad idea at the time, but in fairness no one necessarily thought it would become the worst contract, dollars for wins, in the history of professional sports. In the first four years of that extension, Howard has been worth a grand total of -1.8 wins above replacement according to Baseball Reference. This means the team will ultimately spend $135 million (don’t forget the coming buyout of 2017) paying a player who reduced their likelihood of winning baseball games every time he set foot on the field. For the sake of comparison, even Barry Zito returned 3 WAR for the Giants over the course of his 7-year, $126 million fiasco of a contract.
The epic disaster of Amaro’s reign has been detailed before and requires no rehearsal here. The short story is that Amaro made a series of increasingly unwise signings and acquisitions, moves that were generally greeted with contempt by writers and other executives. During this time, Amaro made it clear to reporters, fans and rival GMs that he did not understand, much less care about, the analytics revolution that had swept through nearly every front office in the game during the 2000s. While Amaro helped put together the greatest regular season Phillies team of all time in 2011, he did so at the expense of the team’s flexibility, farm system and future, and when it unraveled, it unraveled quickly. The through-line you can trace from the Von Hayes deal to the present day is a litany of bad front office practices — undervaluing prospects and advanced metrics, signing the wrong players for too much money and most damagingly of all, believing that baseball players never get old and injured. Amaro has revealed conclusively that he genuinely does not understand the mixture of dumb luck and drafting savvy that actually built the 2008 team. He has proven that while he may have been in the room when they drafted Hamels and Utley and heisted Victorino from the Dodgers, there was never any process behind the good fortune. Or if there was, it was either not a very good one or it was Mike Arbuckle’s process along. If anything, 2008 taught them that another miracle is always right around the corner, no matter how many Ugueth Urbinas, David Bells, Adam Eatons and Ryan Howards are in the way.
Howard rupturing his Achilles in Game 5 of their 2011 NLDS loss to the Cardinals was the sound of the team’s luck running out. It was obvious to informed observers by sometime in the listless summer of 2012 that the Phillies needed not just a rebuild, but new chiefs who understood the intricacies of player valuation and management that were being refined by competing franchises in smaller markets. Yet somehow, Ruben Amaro has been allowed to linger, like a B-movie horror ghost who can only be released from purgatory once its killer has been unmasked. Ju-Amaro: The Grudge. Many people assumed that Amaro would be cut loose once his primary skill — writing oversized checks to 30-something baseball players — was no longer needed. Instead, the mastermind of disaster has been entrusted with rebuilding the team from the ground up. Imagine if the Americans had decided to keep Paul Bremer on in Iraq after he managed to turn the country into a simmering hotbed of angry and unemployed jihadists.
The early returns on that decision are not great. Amaro’s M.O. over the past year has been to sit on his remaining assets and wait until teams get desperate enough to meet his terms. Other teams have decried these tactics loudly and repeatedly. The idea that Ruben Amaro is delusional could in theory be a ploy by rival GMs to bring down the price of his players. This is something you might believe if the rumors were emanating from one or two sources. Instead, his competition has been complaining to any reporter who will listen that Ruben Amaro wants other teams both to pick up the tab on his remaining contracts and also to ship the cream of their minor-league crops to Philadelphia, and to be thankful for the opportunity to do so. Amaro made, finally, a pair of well regarded trades earlier this winter when he shipped shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers and left-fielder Marlon Byrd to the Reds. But you’ll forgive Phillies fans if their reaction to these minor triumphs has been a sarcastic slow-clap. The player that could really help set these Phillies on the road to another era of contention is still on the team. His name is Cole Hamels and he is the greatest Phillies lefthander since Steve Carlton. He also should be playing elsewhere.
The problem is not that these players are still on the team. Cole Hamels is still a great pitcher. In some ways, Amaro has managed not to do anything directly disastrous in several years. The underlying issue is that by not making the trades, your assets get old or injured and lose whatever value they had left. In the offseason following the 2013 campaign, Amaro could probably have returned something of value for lefthanded pitcher Cliff Lee, who was signed to a much-ballyhooed contract prior to 2011 and had three sensational seasons for the team from 2011-2013. Instead he asked other teams to pay Lee’s contract and cough up top prospects, and he got laughed at. His attitude was that Cliff Lee would continue to be Cliff Lee, and that other teams would want this timeless avatar of a human being so badly that they would capitulate and pay his ransom. The other scenario — that Cliff Lee would get hurt, the Phillies would pay all of his salary and also get absolutely nothing in return — never seems to have been seriously considered in the Phillies’ front office. And then, predictably, Lee blew out his arm last summer and is unlikely ever to throw another pitch in the major leagues. The total return the Phillies will get for Cliff Lee — nothing — surely is worse than whatever they could have gotten for him when the getting was still good.
There is no other explanation for why Cole Hamels is still on the Phillies. Either Amaro is making the same bet with a very similar hand with Hamels, or else ownership has told him he can’t both trade Hamels and also pay some of his contract. Like Lee, Hamels is a finesse lefty with pinpoint control and a record of near-perfect health that might lead you to believe he can pitch forever. One can only hope that there is a little birdie whispering into Amaro’s ear about how Hamels missed a month with arm problems just last year, has over 1,800 major-league innings on his arm and could be one pitch away from being a $96 million albatross. Hamels is the kind of player you hang onto if you think you’re going to be winning sometime soon, rather than the kind of player you bet on when the only victory in sight is maybe edging past the Vegas over-under wins line of 68. After all, the Phillies just watched two incredible athletes — Lee and ace Roy Halladay — who pitched for years without incident — blow up irretrievably one after the other. While it may feel distasteful to both ship the magnificent Hamels out of town and also pay part of his salary, this is a no-brainer. The Phillies can’t sneeze without blowing a pile of Comcast Dollars off a desk. What they lack is young talent, and Hamels is the only way to get a lot of it quickly. And the longer they wait, the more likely it is that Hamels will get hurt.
Faced with reporters pressing this logic, Amaro went on one of his patented up-is-down, the-sky-is-purple tirades. Asked whether he had learned any lessons from the Cliff Lee debacle, Amaro responded, “I don’t see what lessons could be learned.” Not content with mere embarrassment, Amaro broke out a jar of humiliation sauce and poured it all over himself:
“We have a guy who was actually hurt last year. We don’t have a player who’s hurt in Cole. … There’s no lesson learned from Lee’s situation because it’s a totally different situation. One guy is hurt. The other guy is completely healthy. … All pitchers can get hurt. All players can get hurt. It can happen any time. That has nothing to do with the way we go about our business, [by] planning for a player to get hurt. That doesn’t make any sense.”
One hardly knows where to begin with this, other than to note that Amaro’s Stanford degree was definitely not in Logic. Despite his recent tirade against fans who “don’t understand the process,” it has been clear for a very long time that it is actually Amaro who doesn’t understand the game or the processes that build winning baseball teams. While it is comforting that Amaro perhaps finally understands that players get hurt all the time, it is mind-boggling that the relative strength of the franchise does not enter into these calculations. Throwing up your hands and saying, “Well pitchers get hurt all the time, so who’s to say what we should or shouldn’t do?” is like a professional poker player who doesn’t know what seat position is. Hint: the Phillies are currently sitting 7 seats to the left of the dealer, have a lousy hand, and need to fold.
And wouldn’t you know it — Hamels had a rocky start to the season that has not helped his value at all. He is still on the Phillies, and the Phillies are putrid, their recent and improbable winning streak notwithstanding. The fans have lost patience and are starting to stay away, and the most depressing part is that the team has still not genuinely embarked on what is likely to be a multi-year rebuilding process.
5. Groundhog Day
EVERYONE ELSE FROM THE Von Hayes deal has moved on. Hayes is managing in the Mexican League. Kyle Abbott has turned into this guy, who is some kind of baseball coach and “theology addict”:
You know what? Kyle Abbott looks happy. That’s more than you can say for anyone associated with the Philadelphia Phillies right now. The team is currently cursed to live the same lousy season over and over and again, an endless nightmare of lifeless baseball, bad decision making and goodwill squandering with no end in sight.
Like most Phillies fans, I am long past wondering what needs to happen for Amaro to get fired. At this point it would be less surprising if Germanwings brought the reanimated corpse of Andreas Lubitz back as a pilot than it would be to see Ruben Amaro allowed to grope and misquote his way through another miserable offseason. Unfortunately, our outrage and $1.50 will get us a Diet Coke. There’s nothing to do but picture the future — a halcyon-tinted vision of a magical, far-away press conference: Flashing bulbs, the Phillies logo framing a human being not named Ruben Amaro Jr. being introduced as the new general manager of the Phillies. The people spontaneously rejoice. Yuenglings for everyone. Roast pork sandwiches fall from the sky. A crab fries swimming pool. Lenny Dykstra is rehabilitated. J.D. Drew is signed as a bench coach. Roger Goodell takes the 2005 trophy away from the cheating Patriots and presents it to Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid, who has learned how to tell time. Cory Lidle comes back from the grave and says nice things about Philadelphia. Michael Irvin gets a standing (no pun intended) ovation. A member of the Philadelphia 76ers is allowed to stick around long enough to finish an apartment lease.
It’s going to be a great day. In the meantime, today’s starting pitcher is Sean O’Sullivan, and the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies is still — criminally, inexplicably and indefinitely — Ruben Amaro Jr.
David Faris is an associate professor of political science at Roosevelt University. He is a frequent contributor to the Philadelphia City Paper, and his work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, NPR.org, and the Christian Science Monitor among others. You can reach him on Twitter @davidmfaris, or at [email protected].