"Oh, right; they got Kendrick and Hellickson accepted the QO," we'll say as we watch the Red Sox sign some foreign prospect who can hit a baseball 500 feet with a tire.
Kendrick will play his role on this team's slow climb to somewhere, but also interesting is who will be on the plane headed in the other direction to L.A.: Short-time infielder Darnell Sweeney and long-time misguided outfield experiment Darin Ruf, a man who served as one of the Phillies' first reminders of the new era that nothing is anything until it's something.
Technically, these are all experiments. The Phillies are monitoring the progress of all of their players at a given time in order to note just how, you know, good they are at baseball. In some cases the results do not tell them the same thing that they tell us. I’ll bet knowing the players personally and not merely as gross characterizations born from assumptions and inside jokes on the internet plays a role in that.
Regardless, this Darin Ruf chronicle has been unfolding for some time.
2012: A quiet young man in Reading, PA raises the spirits of a downtrodden fan base watching the Phillies miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006 by chasing the Eastern League Triple Crown and being named the MVP. His first big league hit is a home run off Ross Detweiler of the Nationals, forging the infamous Ruf/Detweiler Rivalry that fueled the fires of hatred between the two teams for a generation.
2013: With one tear of his left meniscus, Ryan Howard gave Ruf the starting chance that people waiting to get their haircut demanded he get since the previous season. He split time between first base and the outfield and led all of baseball in home runs for the month of August, with nine. By the end of the season, even GM Ruben Amaro finished running the numbers and felt he may have developed a theory on why Ruf had not had much success being jammed into left field as a power-hitting first baseman.
"Because he's not really a natural outfielder. He can probably go out there and do some things."
This year also saw the beginning of Mike Schmidt's warm affinity for Ruf, as Schmidt served as a guest instructor at spring training and admired Ruf (and Domonic Brown) "from afar." Eventually, in the third or fourth go-around of the "This is Darin Ruf's Last Chance" narrative, Schmidt would step in and actually offer Ruf some advice... this was around 2015, when he told him to move his hands back in his stance. Anyways. It didn't help. But Schmidt remained one of the most vocal advocates for Ruf, using his role as "weekend home game TV broadcaster" to laud Ruf's potential.
2014: There are many jobs on a baseball team, but still, nobody could find one for Ruf. During an 11-0 loss to the Nationals, the Phillies let him play third base for some reason. This moment will be buried until millions of other barely register-able moments in baseball history. But to be fair, it was tough for Ruf to make a dent while competing with some of the most iconic names in Phillies history at the time.
Since his return, Ruf has struggled to find consistent playing time because of the resurgence of outfielder Grady Sizemore along with continued production from center fielder Ben Revere and right fielder Marlon Byrd.
Ruben Amaro was back from more number-crunching regarding Ruf in the outfield and updated people on his progress.
"Ruf is not a rightfielder," the GM said. "I think he can fill in for us. I think he can fill in in certain areas, but I can’t sit here and tell you that he’s an everyday player for us. He’s going to have to fight for a job in some way, shape or form."
Ruf did catch the final out of the Phillies' first-ever combined no-hitter which featured four hurlers - none of whom would still be on the team less than two seasons later.
2015: At a time when power, something Ruf can theoretically provide, was in great demand in the Phillies offense, the team still couldn’t find a job for him. And it was the theoretical nature of Ruf's power that was making things difficult - he hit four home runs from April to the end of July.
Then he hit five in August, and six in September, but something about Ruf finally turning it on when the team was 13 games under .500 and 14.5 GB the division lead didn't do much to inspire the team or the city. We'd just gotten our own Wahlburgers. We were busy.
2016: The Phillies decided they were doing it - they were going to make this Howard/Ruf platoon work at first base. After years of wondering why they weren't doing it already, something about each hitter's abilities to hit effectively from only one side of the plate made combining them into a single ball player make more sense.
But then, a minor leaguer’s bat caught fire - this time, Tommy Joseph - and the Phillies wanted to give him a chance. To do that, they needed to move somebody out of the way, and that somebody was Darin Ruf. By May 13, the platoon experiment was over. After hitting .206 in April, Ruf had gone 2-for-23 in May. It was time.
Joseph got his chance, Ruf disappeared until September (when he was promoted back up as rosters expanded and hit .308 with 3 HR), and everyone moved on with their lives.
Despite being referred to as "this young man" by Schmidt and others over the years, Ruf is now thirty years old. He, like the rest of us, is undoubtedly starting each day by looking in the mirror and whispering "Who is this old man staring back at me?" Only now, that mirror will be in Los Angeles.
Look, he seems like a nice
young adult man, and I don't doubt he gave it his all. The Phillies being unsure of what exactly to do with him isn't his fault, nor was the stack of Ryan Howard paperwork blocking him at first base, and playing in the outfield was probably far less fun than a bunch of snarky bloggers racing to be the first to .gif his gaffes made it seem.
He became a Double-A folk legend at a time when the Phillies had been through a period of having a lot of good players. Even the upcoming prospects were celebrities before they got here - I'm sure we all remember the standing ovation that preceded Domonic Brown's first MLB at-bat. We weren't used to the team being a revolving door for warm bodies or prospects who didn't work out, because this was the Phillies, and guys weren't struggling, they were just working through the first act of their underdog story. And to be fair, Ruf hit really, really well in Reading in 2012.
But, it's over. I would not have expected to have seen Ruf for at least parts of four straight seasons, but hey, I didn't write this plot. The Phillies wanted to suss out any narrative potential Ruf had and, while the timing may not have been great, they got there. One briefly thrilling, at-times polarizing figure in the Phillies rebuild has been swapped out and we have undoubtedly learned our lesson about over-hyping prospects.
Now, what's the deal with this tire-swinging kid I keep hearing out. I'm no baseball expert, but if Klentak and company don't sign him they should all be fired immediately.