After publishing my Most Despicable Team last month, friends and family contacted me and educated me on the negative power of hateful thoughts. After a strict regimen of herbal therapy, aquatic yoga, and other somatic practices, I have emerged re-born and prepared to project a more POSITIVE form of thought into the Universe. Below, please find my Most Beloved Team from 2007. Please post yours in the comments section.
I've established the flexible ground rule that I/you can name former Phillies, but with the caveat that they cannot really be identified primarily as a Phillie. For instance, I have selected Jim Thome, but not Bobby Abreu for that exact reason.
Catcher: Jason Kendall
I really don't have any reason to select him, other than the fact that he recovered from one of the more gruesome on-field injuries in the history of professional sports to be a starting catcher again. Even if he's a starting catcher who can't really hit at all.
First Base: Albert Pujols
He flat-out kills the Phillies, but whatever. He's achieved what was once thought impossible: the Pretty Right-Handed Swing. By nearly all accounts a terrific person, who also has an ongoing feud with Tony LaRussa, which is definitely a point in his favor.
Second Base: B.J. Upton
Another prize from the formidable 2002 Draft, Upton is the latest sad example of the Rays' inability to extract winning performances from the elite talent they seem to draft and "develop" year in and year out. He's too good for this franchise.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez
Yes, he plays for the Marlins, but not to be in awe of what he's accomplished already at the plate is tantamount to Hating America. He can't play shortstop worth a lick, so he's destined for the outfield, which he will be able to handle. Hopefully the starting left fielder for the defending NL West Champion Portland Explorers in April 2011, and thus out of our hair.
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez
As strange as it is to categorize possibly the greatest player of his generation as an underdog, the title fits A-Rod. For a player who plays hard, performs admirably, is by all accounts a good teammate, there's a mountain of shit piled on top of the guy that he does not deserve. Look, maybe these Yankee teams would have won something in October if they didn't have Broken Down Kevin Brown starting Game Sevens for them. Blaming your best player isn't exclusively a Philadelphia trait, it seems.
Left Field: Adam Dunn
A polarizing player who delights stat heads with his overwhelming Three True Outcome-itis, and appalls traditionalists with his tendency to strike out and hit for low batting averages, this Major League Bombardier's stunning power and ability to draw walks more than balances out his strikeouts and bad defense. Constantly oppressed by small minds who don't understand him.
Center Field: Curtis Granderson
A terrific hitter, fabulous center fielder, and probably one of the smartest, most erudite people in the game today. I'm a big fan.
Right Field: Brian Giles
He's had two careers -- one as a five-tool monster in Pittsburgh, and another as a solid OBP expert in San Diego. And undoubtedly one of the wackiest personalities in the game. A good sense of humor goes a long way.
Designated Hitter: Jim Thome
I'm stretching my ground rules here a bit, but I think my undying admiration for him justifies an exception. Probably underrated for his great seasons on some exceptional Cleveland Indians ballclubs that were overshadowed by the likes of Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle, I hope Thome hits 600 homers and forces his way into the Hall of Fame. Scores high on the character scale, one of the nicest and most accomodating people in the game. It says something when Philadelphia fans give you a standing ovation in your first game back with a new team, although it probably helps that his replacement had won the MVP award the year before.
Starting Pitcher A: Greg Maddux
As much as I loathe John Smoltz, I admire Maddux. No matter how much of the Braves' exhaust the Phillies have choked on for most of the last two decades, I've always liked Maddux, who has been the consumate professional. While his stuff has always been very good, he augmented his natural ability with his intelligence and game planning in a way that was always fascinating. When Maddux beat you, you tipped your hat to one of the best. Depending how this Roger Clemens steroids mess shakes out, he may be remembered as the best pitcher since World War II.
Starting Pitcher B: Tim Wakefield
I always admire people who do things differently and are successful. Wakefield might be the last of the knuckleballers, which is pretty sad in my opinion.
Starting Pitcher C: C.C. Sabathia
I also admire people who don't really look like athletes but nonetheless succeed. He's been around forever but is still just 27, hopefully his body holds up and he can win 300 games (he's at 100 already).
Relief Pitcher A: Mariano Rivera
Not that he needs anyone else to sing his praises, but the fact that he's riding one pitch to Cooperstown is pretty remarkable. Also a decent human being who does lots of charity work.
Relief Pitcher B: Pat Neshek
A nerd athlete. He blogs and doesn't pontificate unlike certain former Phillies pitchers. Here's to you, Pat.
Manager: Manny Acta
A bright man who sees the folly in lots of the game's "received wisdom," i.e., bunting runners over early in games, etc. He took a Nationals team that was supposed to challenge the 1962 Mets record of 120 losses and made them fairly respectable.