We’ve all been scarred by the Phillies.
Some of us have been hurt by a bad trade. Some by a free agent that wasn’t signed. Some by a free agent that was. Some were hurt by an in-game decision that cost the Phils a game, a postseason victory, heck, even a possible World Series title. Decisions are a part of life and, in every aspect of life, bad decisions and/or bad luck is going to happen.
And when you’ve been around as long as the Phillies have, you’re going to have plenty of moments to sift through.
So while we wait for real baseball to begin (if it ever does), I was thinking about all the different things that happened in Phils history that I would change if I could. We also discussed the topic on the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, which you can hear below.
Here is my list of the 10 moments in Phillies history I would change, and how I would change it.
10. Trading Scott Rolen
I know not many of you like Scott Rolen and I get it. He became pretty unlikeable by the time he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in July of 2002 for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith and Mike Timlin. He clashed with manager Larry Bowa and was vocal about not wanting to play for a team that didn’t want to spend any money. When he and the team were negotiating a contract extension, he wanted a clause included that the Phillies would be near the top of league payrolls every year. At the time, this seemed unreasonable until you realize that the Phils were a notoriously cheap organization, never willing to pay top dollar for players. An unnamed teammate once called him a “clubhouse cancer.”
Phillies fans, not known as the most patient group on earth, took to booing the former NL Rookie of the Year in his final season amidst the controversy, and he returned the favor by refusing to come out for a curtain call, telling reporters later, “Maybe we’re even.” Rolen later considered signing an extension, but got mad when the Phils wouldn’t include the payroll “poison pill,” and got even angrier when the Phils revealed they had offered him a 10-year, $140 million deal.
But what if Phils manager Larry Bowa and Rolen had been able to get along? What if Dallas Green didn’t criticize him in the media? And what if the Phillies really were committed to paying players and having a payroll commiserate with the fact they played in a major market? In the post-Jim Thome era, Scott Rolen probably would have been a much happier player and, in the end, the Phils might have been able to enjoy the prime of Rolen’s career and maybe even make the playoffs once or twice during his late 20s/early 30s. Sure, maybe they don’t sign Thome if they have Rolen under contract, but then Ryan Howard begins his career sooner.
9. Not Signing J.D. Drew
Look, here’s the simple solution. Pay J.D. Drew what he wanted, or don’t draft him.
We all know J.D. Drew wanted more money than any other draft pick in history, at a time when there were no restrictions on how much a draft pick could get. He wanted to be paid like a seasoned Major Leaguer and, clearly, the Phillies were not going to meet his demands. But they thought they would win a staring contest between Drew and his agent, Scott Boras.
Was Drew asking for too much money? At the time, probably, but someone was going to pay it. We just knew it wasn’t going to be the Phillies. Boras said Drew asked for $7.5 million and the Phils never offered more than $3 million while the Phils said Drew wanted as much as $11 million and they offered as much as $6 million. Whatever was true, the Phils miscalculated and wasted the No. 2 overall pick in the draft in the hopes Drew would cave, but he didn’t. Instead, the Cardinals got him the next season for $7 million.
Who else could the Phillies have taken? Troy Glaus went third, Vernon Wells was taken fifth, Michael Cuddyer was pick No. 9 followed by John Garland at 10 and the best of the bunch, Lance Berkman, was taken at No. 16. All were former All Stars.
Drew wasn’t the superstar he was perceived to be, but he was a solid player who would have helped the Phillies be far more competitive than they were in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
8. Chico Ruiz Steals Home
When Cincinnati’s Chico Ruiz stole home in September of 1964, the Phillies had a 6 1⁄2 game lead in the National League with 12 to play. They were going to the World Series. The team had already printed out the tickets. It was happening. But then, in the 6th inning of a 0-0 game against the Reds, the Cincinnati catcher stood on third base with the immortal Frank Robinson at the plate and, with two strikes, broke for home. It was such a boneheaded play that Ruiz surprised everyone in the stadium, and no one more than pitcher Art Mahaffey, who threw wildly to home to allow Ruiz to score. The Reds went on to win the game, which triggered a 10-game losing streak that cost the 1964 Phillies the pennant.
What if Mahaffey’s throw is on target? Does that prevent the nightmare of 1964 from happening?
7. Trading Ryne Sandberg
This one doesn’t require much explanation. The Phillies traded a Hall of Fame second baseman for Ivan DeJesus. If they don’t make that deal, it’s possible they make the playoffs once or twice more in the mid-to-late 1980s.
6. Not Trading For Randy Johnson
Former first baseman-turned-Phillies broadcaster John Kruk has told the tale a number of times now. The Phils had a chance to land Randy Johnson at the 1993 trade deadline but didn’t want to give up catcher Mike Lieberthal and starter Tyler Green to do it.
Johnson is not only the best left-handed pitcher the game has ever seen (sorry Steve Carlton), but he would have certainly made the Phillies a more formidable, perhaps even unbeatable opponent, in the ‘93 World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Imagine starting Game 1 with Johnson, Game 2 with an unconscious Curt Schilling, Game 3 with Terry Mulholland and Game 4 with Tommy Greene. Danny Jackson becomes a bullpen pitcher and you have, in Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers in history leading your rotation.
By the way, here were Randy Johnson’s three starts against the Blue Jays in the regular season:
- April 6 (home) - 8 IP, 11 K, 2 BB, 7 H, 1 ER
- August 20 (@ Toronto) - 9 IP (CG), 11 K, 1 BB, 3 H, 1 ER
- August 26 (home) - 8 IP, 8 K, 1 BB, 9 H, 3 ER
So in three starts against the vaunted Blue Jays lineup, he pitched 25 innings, had a 30/4 K/BB ratio, and an ERA of 2.25.
5. Not Drafting Frank Thomas
Frank Thomas played almost his whole career with the team that drafted him, the Chicago White Sox, and boy are they happy they did. The Hall of Famer hit 521 career home runs, had a .301 career batting average, won back-to-back MVP Awards and is considered one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history.
Thomas was selected with the No. 7 pick in the 1989 MLB draft. The Phillies picked fourth that year. They chose high school outfielder Jeff Jackson. He never made it past AA ball.
4. The Trade of Cliff Lee
What would have happened if Ruben Amaro Jr. decided not to trade Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners at the same time they acquired Roy Halladay after the 2009 season? A second year of a Super Rotation, that’s what. They were still a dominant offense in 2010, scoring the second-most runs in the National League. Here was the Phillies rotation that season could have been if they had not traded Lee for peanuts:
- Roy Halladay - 21-10, 2.44 ERA, 250.2 IP, 6.2 fWAR
- Cliff Lee (with Mariners & Rangers) - 12-9, 3.18 ERA, 212.1 IP, 7.3 fWAR
- Cole Hamels - 12-11, 3.06 ERA, 208.2 IP, 3.6 fWAR
- Roy Oswalt - 7-1, 1.74 ERA, 82.2 IP (12 starts), 1.9 fWAR
- Joe Blanton - 9-6, 4.82 ERA, 175.2 IP, 1.8 fWAR
Instead of having to deal with 19 Jamie Moyer starts in which he had an ERA of 4.84 or 31 starts from Kyle Kendrick and his 4.73 ERA, the Phils could have had another full season of peak Cliff Lee.
Yes, if you look at the numbers above, Cliff Lee was technically more valuable than Halladay, the guy who threw a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter in the same season. Lee was unstoppable in the playoffs that year, too. In the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays he pitched two starts, one a complete game, with a 1.13 ERA. In the ALCS against the New York Yankees, he made one start, an eight-inning, two-hit, scoreless outing in which he struck out 13 batters and walked just one.
The World Series was a bit of a different story. In Game 1 against the San Francisco Giants, he got lit up and allowed six earned runs (seven total) in less than five innings, but bounced back and pitched very well in a Game 5, 3-1 loss. Had the Phils had Lee in the rotation against San Francisco in the NLCS, do they lose that series? It’s possible, as it was the bats who let them down in that series. But missing out on a second Super Rotation season is still something that hurts me to my very core.
3. Trading Ferguson Jenkins
Some people will say the Cliff Lee trade was worse, some will say the Ryne Sandberg deal was the most heinous. But trading away Ferguson Jenkins, a Hall of Fame pitcher who would win 284 games in his career, took home the Cy Young Award in 1971 and was runner-up in 1967 and ‘74, was the worst of all.
Jenkins was part of a five-player trade with the Cubs that brought right-handed pitchers Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl. Now, Jackson had a decent two and a half seasons with the Phillies, his last in the Majors, with a 2.95 ERA in 104 career starts for the Phils, but his career was done by 1968. Jenkins pitched from 1965-1983 and could have teamed up with Jim Bunning in the 1960s and then Steve Carlton in the 1970s to propel the Phils to even more championships. If Jenkins is on the Phillies, do the 1976-78 teams win one of the NLCS match-ups? Do they win the division in ‘79? Do they accelerate their window and win a division crown in the early ‘70s?
We’ll never know.
2. Bringing in Mitch Williams in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series
When the 8th inning of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series began, middle reliever Roger Mason was on the mound and he was dealing. He had retired six straight Blue Jays hitters in two crisp innings of work and was entering his third inning against the heart of the Toronto order. The Phillies held a 6-5 lead. Mason faced Joe Carter, a right-on-right match-up, and retired him on a lazy fly ball to left. Manager Jim Fregosi decided to go with left-hander David West against lefty hitter John Olerud.
On paper, the move made sense. Lefty on lefty, Mason pitching longer than he had in any outing during the season, you could see why Fregosi did what he did. But even Sean McDonough remarked that “it had to be tempting to leave Roger Mason in the game, give the struggles in the Phillies bullpen” that series.
West walked Olerud, which brought Larry Andersen into the game. Andersen struggled but got out of the inning unscathed. However, that left The Wild Thing, who along with Andersen had been responsible for the 8th inning implosion in Game 4’s 15-14 loss, to mop things up.
In today’s game, it’s likely a manager like A.J. Hinch would have let Mason continue to pitch. Or, given Williams’ struggles, would have gone with Game 7 starter Tommy Greene in the 9th inning instead of Mitch. There wasn’t an easy decision to make there, but every Phillies fan watching knew things would end badly when Mitch came in for that 9th inning.
I don’t know if leaving Mason in longer would have worked, or if using Greene would have stopped the bleeding. Heck, Bobby Thigpen would have been worth trying. But that situation called for a manager to throw the book away, not continue on as he had all season despite the obvious headwinds blowing in his face. I’d like to go back and try something else.
1. Not Removing Greg Luzinski on Black Friday
The 1977 Phillies really were a tremendous baseball team.
The 101-win Phils were better than the Los Angeles Dodgers that season, and may have even been better than the New York Yankees, who they would have played in the Fall Classic that year. They were on the doorstep of taking a 2-1 series lead after making Burt Hooten cry with a 5-3 lead, two outs and nobody on in the 9th.
But baseball goes out of its way to hurt you sometimes.
Phillies closer Gene Garber quickly got two outs when little man Vic Davalillo drag-bunted for a base hit on an 0-2 count. OK, still no big deal. Then, things got crazy. The following hitter, Many Mota, again on an 0-2 pitch, hit a fly ball to the left field wall that LF Greg Luzinski misjudged slightly. Normally, Jerry Martin would have been in the game as a defensive replacement for The Bull, but Danny Ozark decided to leave Luzinski in the game in case the game went into extra innings. As a result, Luzinski couldn’t get there in time and trapped the ball against the wall for a double.
It really was a good effort by Luzinski, but he should have never been out there. But here’s the play that doesn’t get talked a lot, but had a HUGE impact on the inning. Luzinski made a quick and accurate throw back into the infield that 2B Ted Sizemore somehow wasn’t able to handle. Sizemore would later say the ball hit a seam that separated the Vet’s awful Astroturf from the dirt cutout around second base. Whatever happened, the ball got away from Sizemore, which allowed Davalillo to score and sent Mota to third.
Without that error, the Dodgers DO NOT WIN THIS GAME. With the score now 5-4, Davey Lopes hit a screaming line drive to third that Mike Schmidt couldn’t handle. The shot deflected off Schmidt to Larry Bowa, who somehow grabbed the ball out of the air with his bare hand and fired a laser to first base. The umpire called Lopes safe. Ladies and gentlemen… Davey Lopes was NOT safe. The score was tied at 5 on the blown call, but the game was still not over.
Garber then tried to pick Lopes off first, but threw the ball wildly, sending Lopes to second. Bill Russell then singled to center to score Lopes, giving the Dodgers a 6-5 lead. The scars this game left on Phillies fans of that generation are still felt today any time the Phillies have a slim lead in the late innings of a big game.
If Luzinski had been properly replaced at the start of the inning, as had been done all season long, the Phils take a 2-1 series lead with two chances to close things out. Hey, maybe the Dodgers take the next two games anyway. Time travel is funny like that. But if there was one moment most Phils fans would go back and change, it would be this one.