In 1988, the Baltimore Orioles started out with an 0-21 record. They staggered and stumbled through a 107 loss season in which they were outscored by 239 runs. They were one of the worst teams I have ever seen. They played in aged and homely Memorial Stadium -- Camden Yards was still on the drawing board.
It was awful. I was there for some of it. I listened to more than my fair share of games, with the attractions being pretty much just Jon Miller and Cal Ripken, Jr.
The next year, 1989, the worst-to-nearly first Orioles took it to the last week of the season, barely losing the AL East to the Toronto Blue Jays. The team adopted the "Why Not?!" mantra as the season rolled along, and they outperformed their Pythag right up to the end. That "Why Not?!" video is a time capsule of awesome, by the way.
I think the Phillies should look to the "Why Not?!" Orioles as they prepare for 2015. No, they shouldn't sign Rick Schu, though that would be fun. No, they shouldn't bank on luck to help them win close games. The Phillies approach to "Why Not?!" should be more like Risky Business. Recall:
"WTF gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future."
Yes. I want the 2015 Phillies to be based on a 1983 Tom Cruise romantic comedy.
We all know the team is going to be bad. That is really not a secret. What is the harm in trying some really crazy stuff?
If I were to bet on a team that would take the prospect of a really horrible season that would turn that around and use that as an opportunity to try some funky new things, I would probably pick the Phillies last. They. Do. Not. Innovate. They are old-school, east coast business where "Casual Friday" is sneered at.
If there was ever a time for west coast, garage-style innovation, though, this is it. The Phillies are the Third World. We have no telephone poles or wires. If we put them up, people would cut them down and scavenge them for scrap and buy heroin. It might be the only way to get through 2015 as a fan. Don't build the legacy, first-world telephone landline system, Phillies. Build the next thing. Skip a generation of legacy stuff.
The Phillies should hire baseball's version of Chip Kelly, and unleash him on Major League Baseball. Maybe not as GM or Manager, but he should be in the room, lurking. Plotting. Cackling at the new evil idea that he has devised to blow minds.
The obvious stuff is easy. This is the moment to go all-in on defensive shifting. Use the bullpen based on leverage rather than traditional roles. Move away from traditional batting order roles and optimize the lineup. Platoon like madmen. Make Ben Revere bunt at least 25% of the time.
Try every hare-brained, crazy SABR idea ever proposed in a newsletter mimeographed by grubby fat fingers in a maternal basement.
Break unwritten "rules". Steal signs. Cork bats. Cheat. Just win, baby. Try EVERYTHING.
Find a modern day Charles Finley. Hire cheerleaders. Let fans bring in real signs. Encourage demonstrative home run trots a la the infamous Dom Brown one at Lehigh Valley against the Braves affiliate. Put Franzke and LA on TV, too. Give George Will the vapors. Every week.
What have you got to lose, except your reputation for having a hidebound dedication to tradition? It's not like this team is going to the playoffs. Make it a laboratory for crazy stuff. Reinvent what "Phillies baseball" means. HAVE FUN.
Maybe nothing will work. Maybe something will. But playing the same somnambulant, losing baseball for another year won't get people to talk about the team, other than to drink poison and bitch. Put something fresh out there, and they might come to check it out.