It's feel-good time here in Philadelphia. The Phillies are in the World Series for the sixth time ever and the first time since 1993. Redemption for Mitch Williams and 25 years of city-wide sports futility is in reach.
So, naturally, I'm in a forgiving mood. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that most of the writers here don't have the highest impressions of the men who run the Phillies. I'm as guilty of that as anyone. I've written about the child abuse I'm inflicting on my son who is becoming a Phillies fan, about the dream world in which management admits they have no clue so they sell the team, and about the golden age that management could be squandering if they don't somehow win with all-time Phillies greats Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, and Chase Utley on the team (not to mention Cole Hamels). I've been relentlessly critical of management.
Well, here's where, at least for now, I take it all back. To you, Phillies management, congratulations and thank you. Getting to the World Series is one step from the goal that every team has when the year starts. Twenty-eight teams will be looking in and will be envious of the Phillies.
In particular, here's my list of apologies and retractions:
Bill Giles: I've always thought you were more interested in putting a fun product on the field than a winning one. You seemed to embody the grit-over-talent, effort-over-production ethos of the Philadelphia fan and owner. And while that may still be true, your tireless effort to get a new stadium for the Phillies has paid off. Citizens Bank Park, even though located in the middle of a parking lot in the middle of an industrial zone, is a gem. And the fans have come out in droves to see the team in the new park. Every team that built a new park said that it would lead to more revenue, which would lead to more spending, which would lead to a winning team, which would lead to a World Series. For the Phillies, that's come true, and you are to thank for that.
Dave Montgomery: The ownership group has been criticized for spending like a small market team even though the Philadelphia area is the fourth largest market in the country. But, with the new stadium, the ownership group has opened up the purse strings. The team now spends just under $100M on players. And while that's hardly breaking the bank in the land of MLB payrolls, much more money is being spent than before, and the team is reaping the benefits. (Keep this in mind this off-season with all the arbitration-eligible players the Phillies have combined with the team's impending free agent needs!)
Ed Wade: This team, in large part, is your team. You always resisted trading away young stars at the trading deadline, and now the team is made up of those young stars in the prime of their careers. Five of the starting eight -- Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz -- were all homegrown products of your time as GM. On the pitching side, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Ryan Madson were part of your drafts and have been key parts of the run in 2008. The team is also reaping the benefits of your luck when the Dodgers didn't take Rule 5'er Shane Victorino back when you left him for dead. We even have you to thank for our dominant closer this year. Your weakness for low-OBP speedsters and middle relievers got the best of you as, in your first big move as GM of the Astros, you traded Brad Lidge to the Phillies for Michael Bourn and Geoff Geary. If only you had a clue how to complement front-line talent with league-average talent instead of the replacement level talent that you so loved, this World Series run might have been under your watch.
Pat Gillick: But instead, it's under Pat Gillick's watch. You showed incredible stupidity early on, signing Adam Eaton to 3 year, $24M contract. His performance this year and last was the difference between the Phillies just barely eeking into the playoffs thanks to the Mets collapsing and the Phillies winning a few more games and making it in easily. You looked like Ed Wade's replacement-level-loving clone when, in one of your first moves, you signed Abraham Nunez for two years and $3M. And you looked like a hoodwinked fool when you traded Bobby Abreu for the equivalent of a bag of baseballs. But, you showed much more wisdom than foolishness in much of the rest of what you did. You chose correctly in trading Jim Thome to give Ryan Howard playing time. You chose correctly in not re-signing Billy Wagner and Aaron Rowand. You made very good, if almost under-the-radar, mid-season acquisitions in Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton, and Matt Stairs. You robbed Ed Wade for the best closer in Phillies history. And, probably most importantly, you were able to make up for Ed Wade's flaw by complementing the homegrown stars on the team with added-value players, such as Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs, Eric Bruntlett, JC Romero, and Chad Durbin. This was the key difference from the Wade years to the Gillick years, and is the key reason that stars like Utley, Rollins, Howard, Hamels, and Burrell are playing at the end of October rather than sitting at home watching others play.
Mike Arbuckle: I've never really had much negative to say about you other than lumping you in with the rest of the Phillies management. But you are chiefly responsible for the homegrown talent on the field right now. The team is doing what it's doing because you saw the future in Burrell, Utley, Howard, Rollins, Hamels, Madson, and Myers. I'm no expert on other teams' homegrown talent, but I'd venture a guess that most other teams would love to have half as much success as you've had in having such incredible star-level talent on the field with all of them being brought up through the team's farm system.
Charlie Manuel: There's no doubt about it, you make foolish in-game decisions sometimes. But so do all managers, and I've been pretty reluctant to make general criticisms of you based on those decisions. Rather, what we're seeing now is something that I've praised about you all along. You know how to keep a team even-keel and bring out the best in players. Whatever you do out of the spotlight of the media's glare, you do well. The team has a good approach to hitting, gets the most out of its pitchers, and tears up the basepaths. You let others, like Davey Lopes and Milt Thompson, do their job. And you get the players to do theirs to the best of their ability. Clubhouse distractions are almost non-existent with your team. Not much else can be asked of a manger.
Of course, this missive does not mean there will be no criticisms ever again or that evaluations of the past are all positive. But, on this day, the day after the team won the 2008 NL pennant, these men deserve praise that they have often been denied on these pages. Job well done!