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The Homestretch: Messages from spring trainings of the Phillies' past

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If we listen carefully to the wind, we may hear echoes from the past. Or, just the regular background screams of this city.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

homestretch

Welcome to The Homestretch, that fun two week period when we know the players are down there in Florida, but we can't really see them yet. We'll keep you going with a series of posts as we all sprint that last 90 feet to baseball season.

***

Tracing the Phillies' arrival at Clearwater through the years shows something uncharacteristic of the franchise: sun-shiny, butterfly-farting optimism. Everyone from the fans to the players are excited at what lies ahead for one of the worst overall teams in sports history.

The local press will try to overwhelm us with breakdowns, analysis, and profiles, but this isn't the first year of recorded history from the Grapefruit League. Walk with me, why don't you, into the archives of Phillies spring lore, where the dead dreams of tomorrow are first dreamed.

1915

"This is not a sixth place ball club."

--Phillies manager Pat Moran

And they weren't. The 1915 Phillies won 90 games while in the rest of the city, Russian spies were being thwarted in Kensington and rich men were kicking babies across Moyamensing Avenue.

It all kicked off one magical spring, when Pat Moran, a former backup catcher and the first manager with no big league experience to take a team to the World Series, began a tradition of making bold statements during the preseason that Jimmy Rollins would continue a 92 years later.

Last year, the Phillies recognized the centennial of Moran's crew going close to all the way. There were even accurately recreated Phillies sweaters of the period for sale for $850, which, adjusted for inflation, would have the same buying power as almost $20,000 in 1915.

1950

"After that last ballgame against the Dodgers, Eddie got us all in the clubhouse and said, 'We are going to win it all in 1950. Come back next year ready to win."

Richie Ashburn

"We were coming, boy oh boy, we were coming."

Maje McDonnell

--The Whiz Kids and the 1950 Pennant, by Robin Roberts and C. Paul Rogers III

The Whiz Kids knew a reckoning was coming. This wasn't a press conference with a grinning player popping off about a rival to the giggling media. This was a group of men meeting behind closed doors to plot the demise of their enemies.

Winter broke and the team headed to Clearwater. Finishing third in the Grapefruit League, manager Eddie Sawyer went over the rest of the league team by team, did some quick math, and determined that the Phillies should win their division by ten games. He wrote it down on a piece of paper that he didn't find until many months later in his desk while searching for a cigar.

"It turns out I was only eight games off."

Eddie Sawyer

1964

Gene Mauch, ever the trickster, tried to keep his new starter, Jim Bunning, a secret. During spring training, he only let him pitch against American League teams in order to keep their regular season opponents in the dark. Finally, he let Bunning start against the Pirates near the end of the preseason, and Bunning promptly gave up 11 runs in three and two thirds.

But this, too, was a layer of Mauch's madness, telling Bunning to just use the game to stay primed for the season without actually showing Pittsburgh anything from his actual arsenal. "To hell with the game," he muttered in Bunning's ear. And Bunning went on to have the league's best BB/9 (1.5) and SO/W (4.76) and was named to the All-Star team. Mauch strikes again.

1972

"When you go to spring training, everybody feels like, 'Hey, we're going to win the World Series. I mean, that's the way it is."

"We just felt that we were going to go out there and do the best we can and see what happens. But it didn't work out too good that year."

--Don Money, via Steve Carlton and the 1972 Phillies by Bruce Morgan

We all know Don is on the money here. Obviously, a whole winter of stuff happening between us and the last time we witnessed baseball has traditionally left us with a naive sense positivity. Even just prior to a season that would go down as one of the worst ever in sports history, the Phillies were daydreaming about proving everybody wrong. Which they did, in being far worse than anyone could have imagined.

So it makes sense that only two years later, the Phillies returned to Clearwater to start another season and Money's Law - the universal truth that everybody comes to training camp believing, regardless of the situation, that there exists between them and the World Series a walkable path - was proven very wrong. Dead wrong. Very, very dead and wrong.

1974

"Coming into spring training 1974, few people had reason to feel good about the team. The front office tried its best to spur interest, create hope, but nobody - not the fans, not the players, not the media - was buying it."

--The Fall of the 1977 Phillies: How a baseball team's collapse sunk a city's spirit, by Mitchell Nathanson

Sometimes, in baseball, you just have to eat some shit.

1993

1993

We all know how the '93 Phillies season ended, but less discussed is how it began: with the players arriving in Clearwater, chased by the howling demons of the season before. "The 1992 season, it was unanimously felt, was a nightmare that was best forgotten," says another passage in Rich Westcott and Alan Kravetz's Phillies '93: An Incredible Season. The Phillies were having a hard time selling 1992 yearbooks with "A Nightmare That was Best Forgotten" in bright red letters on the cover above a shrugging cartoon Phanatic.

This was the famous spring training in which John Kruk saw Jim Eisenreich holding a bow and arrow near his locker for some reason and started calling him "Jeffrey Dahmer." So you can see why they went all the way to the World Series.

2006

At the dawn of the 2006 preseason, Jimmy Rollins wasn't done with 2005, having finished the season on an eyebrow-raising hit streak.

"There's not another human being in sight. Not one. Just Jimmy Rollins, a batting tee, 100 baseballs ... and the ghost of Joe DiMaggio."

--Jayson Stark

"Please don't break my record," begged DiMaggio's ghost. "I'm already terrified that these new modern stats are going to find stumble onto some formula that proves I was holding the bat wrong the whole time."

Rollins ripped an offering from the pitching machine into right center.

"You don't understand what the afterlife is like! Sitting up on a cloud, watching your accomplishments fade... I know people think of me as 'immortal' but every time some hot young stud pops up I have a panic attack! Which reminds, is there any way I could get you to break Mike Trout's legs? I'll tell you some sexy Marilyn Monroe stories."

Nearby, Rollins' phone buzzed. He considered answering it, but returned his focus to the next pitch, which he returned as a screaming line drive.

"And ghost panic attacks are the worst," DiMaggio continued. "I don't think I had any as a human so I was completely unprepared. Since you're not breathing air as a ghost, it's the core of your very being that starts to convulse, and you cannot imagine how disturbing that is... like somebody flicking the universe on and off."

Rollins patted the sweat from his forehead and got back in the box.

"Oh god, you can't even hear me, can you?" DiMaggio realized. "The spirits let me come here but they're not letting you hear me! Curse those evil, conniving spirits, I should have never traded them my soul for this!"

"Oh, I can hear you," Rollins replied, smashing a home run over the wall.

2007

Remember Jon Lieber's truck? Hell. I barely remember Jon Lieber.

2008

"To Hamels, it was an insult."

'It's part of the game when you are in my situation,' he said. 'You don't have any say. You just have to take it. I just want to see some generosity and understanding. about what I'm going out there every five days to do. I just want fair compensation, not the world and the moon.'

--Phillies Confidential: The Untold Inside Story of the 2008 Championship Season, by Gary Matthews and Scott Lauber

I could drop Jimmy's quoted response to Carlos Beltran, after Beltran tried to turn Jimmy's "team to beat" line from 2007 around on him. We'd all smile and nod and think about how much simpler life was eight years ago, before the Mets and Phillies switched places and the Zika Virus was a concern.

Instead, let's enjoy this open bit of Cole Hamels complaining. A 24-year-old Hamels asking for more money (He wanted $750,000 and the Phillies settled on $500,000) seems exactly like the kind of thing that people who complain about Cole Hamels would complain about. The tent poles of their argument are usually that radio interview in 2009 when Hamels said he couldn't wait for the World Series to be over, and that the team didn't like him enough to score for him. You'd think that they would have jumped on this, because obviously playing for Philadelphia fans is a really special honor that people should do for free.

"Here, let me explain to you how baseball works," Philadelphia said to the professional baseball player.

2011

"The signing of Luis Castillo to a minor league contract this week, days after he'd been released by the Mets, was just one more indication that the Phillies don't expect Utley to be able to return for weeks, if not months."

--Jayson Stark, 2011

PHILLIES NEWS BULLETIN:

"Philadelphia: We are taking Chase Utley away from you just as baseball season begins. Something is wrong with his knees. Are they eating the rest of his legs? Maybe. The point is, our back-up plan is a weak-hitting, weak-fielding cast-off from our most hated rival who is best known for ruining everything. Thanks."

The gathering dread of what felt like Chase Utley's annual battle with knee injuries was always a nice little spring-ruiner, made all the more maddening by the fact that, of course, it was the last thing Utley wanted to talk about. I remember one reporter being like, "I tried to ask Chase Utley about his knees but he just sprinted away from me, I guess that was an answer in and of itself."