With spring training upon us, fresh contracts for J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius, and a collective sigh of relief now that Brandon Workman has signed somewhere else, let’s have a conversation about the 2021 Philadelphia Phillies.
A question I have found myself asking is: who is the leader of this team? I’ve pondered this since the signing of Bryce Harper in 2019. While Bryce is certainly a leader, he is not the only one who assumes the role. In baseball, there shouldn’t just be a singular leader on a team, there should be a balance of leadership between multiple players. It is only then that a team can be prosperous.
The good news is that after some thought, I truly believe the Phils have some solid leaders on their 2021 squad who each fulfill their own unique role to achieve this balance.
Without further ado, here they are and the reasons why:
- The team does better when he’s in the lineup...
...and this isn’t just my opinion. This is rooted in actual fact. In 2020, the Phillies were 6-13 when Rhys Hoskins wasn’t in the lineup. When Rhys is hitting dingers, it just seems like all is right with the world again. Simply put: when Rhys is producing, the team is producing.
- Led players’ meeting in August 2020
Back in August 2020, the Phillies chose not to play in their game vs. the Washington Nationals in solidarity with other professional sports teams in order to call attention to racial injustice in America. According to John Clark, Rhys was allegedly one of the players who weighed in on the decision not to play and partook in a team discussion regarding the subject.
Rhys said, “I’ve heard people ask, ‘Well, what do the players want?’ Obviously change, right? We’re hoping for change and we know that some of these issues that are going on in the country are rather big issues, but even if there’s baby steps toward changing those issues, that feels like a win.”
It’s crucial to the Black Lives Matter movement that more white athletes recognize their privilege and use the platforms they possess to initiate change. Rhys being one of the players to lead this discussion speaks volumes because more white athletes need to actively work to diminish racism in sports by being vocal in their support of black athletes and the causes that affect them.
Rhys is one of our own, and I’ve always believed having homegrown talent on your team is not only special but necessary. Drafted by the Phils in the fifth round in 2014, Rhys came out swinging (from a South Philly basement) when he made his debut on August 10, 2017, breaking multiple records for a rookie. He became the fastest major league player to hit nine, ten, and 11 homeruns (doing so in only 18 games), and tied a Phillies record by hitting a homerun in five consecutive games. That’s our #1 homerun boy!
- Positive energy
Rhys brings about a positive energy to the Phillies’ clubhouse. He is almost always smiling and seems to be friendly with everyone on the team, having a special handshake or routine following homeruns, wins, etc. Things are sure to get rough during a 162-game season, so having a smiling face in between road trips is important, and I believe Rhys is that guy.
- Community presence
Philanthropic work is essential in a team leader, and over the course of his Phillies’ career, Rhys has been involved in an abundance of charitable efforts. He has been involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), as detailed in this article in The Philadelphia Inquirer. In an Instagram post from Nov. 2020, he partnered with Vitafusion and WhyHunger, packing bags in an effort to fight hunger due to lack of affordability and accessibility. Because of Rhys’ work off the field, he was a nominee for the Roberto Clemente award in 2018 and 2019.
- Cute dog
This doesn’t really contribute to his leadership skills per se, but Rookie Hoskins is probably the cutest dog I’ve ever seen. He also comforted Rhys over the winter while he healed from his Tommy John surgery, so I had to recognize him. You’re the goodest boy, Rookie!
- Teammates love him
It is no secret: the Phillies love J.T. Realmuto. This love is mostly demonstrated by Bryce Harper, who was advocating for Realmuto’s re-signing months in advance. During summer camp last year, Harper donned a J.T. shirsey and exclaimed “sign him!” after J.T. hit a homer. Following the conclusion of the 2020 season, Harper said in a press conference, “J.T. Realmuto needs to be our catcher next year—plain and simple. He’s the best catcher in baseball, he’s the best hitting catcher in baseball. Our guys love to throw to him if that’s Wheeler, if that’s Nola, if that’s anybody.”
Aaron Nola corroborated Harper’s statement, saying “I don’t make the decisions really, but I know we all want him around,” which is a heavy statement coming from the soft-spoken Nola. Based on this evidence, it’s safe to assume that J.T. is a great all-around teammate and athlete, one that every baseball team would love to have in their clubhouse.
- Great work ethic
It has been said that J.T. has a great work ethic, which is something you want everyone—particularly the leaders on your team—to have. Manager Joe Girardi was quoted in The Philadelphia Inquirer calling J.T. “a little bit of a freak of nature.” Girardi claimed this characterization was due to the fact that he’s such a great athlete, and “you don’t necessarily see such great athletes in the catcher position.” Girardi went on to say that it’s a pleasure to coach such a gifted player, “He’s a special commodity that we have and I just look forward to watching him work the next five years because it’s fun to watch.”
- The coaching staff and organization love him
Overall, the entire process of the J.T. re-signing and Feb. 1 press conference showed how much the Phillies’ coaching staff and organization love and admire him. President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski, GM Sam Fuld, and Girardi had nothing but praise for their catcher. Shortly after Dombrowski’s hire, he met with J.T. to have lunch and expressed how much the team would like to have him back. Dombrowski followed through, and now J.T. is here to stay.
“We talked about our confidence in J.T. being able to be a really productive catcher for a long time, and that’s just not like a hunch. That’s based on what we’ve seen from J.T. on a day-to-day basis,” Fuld told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I mean, it’s commitment. What you guys see between the lines is incredible stuff. But what you see outside the lines is, I would say, just as impressive.” It really would not have made sense for J.T. to land anywhere else. He was still the perfect match for the Phillies in the end.
J.T. is the best catcher in baseball, and this isn’t biased or an exaggeration; He quite literally takes the number one spot of every “top catchers in baseball right now” list because of his stellar defense and offensive capability. He is the gold standard for catchers in baseball at the moment, one that other players around the league want to emulate. And guess what? He’s all ours for the next five years (yes, I love being able to say that after months of uncertainty and doubt.)
- The face of the franchise
Since his signing on February 28, 2019, the Phillies’ marketing team has embraced Bryce Harper as a face of the franchise. His face and jersey have become synonymous with the team, and it makes sense since he will be a Phillie through 2031 (that doesn’t even sound like a real year.) But bringing in a player like Bryce was a sign that a new era of Phillies baseball was upon us.
There’s no doubt that Bryce is incredibly passionate about baseball, the Phillies, and winning. This type of attitude was something the team was missing since the glory days of 2007-2011, so when the former MVP and six-time All-Star signed, the fanbase was psyched. There was a sense of excitement surrounding the Phillies again, and it was the closest Red October had felt in years. Unfortunately, the Phillies have been unable to make it there since the signing, but the team has been more interesting to watch and I believe playoff baseball is on the horizon (hopefully I don’t regret saying this.)
His passion for the team also extends to Phillies’ prospects. Bryce was ecstatic when the team drafted Bryson Stott in 2019, and in 2020, all four Phillies’ draft picks received phone calls from Bryce welcoming them to the organization. He is invested in and genuinely cares about the future of the Phillies.
- Knows how to get the fanbase riled up
Phillies fans embraced Bryce from the moment he was signed. Fans both young and old went out and promptly bought his jersey and enjoyed every minute he pandered to the fanbase. They cheered and roared when he made his Phillies debut, despite his anticlimatic first at-bat: a groundout to first base. They welcomed his bows to the crowd in right field and adored his Phillie Phanatic-inspired cleats. Having a player who knows how to get the fans engaged in and enthusiastic about the game is paramount, and nobody is better at that than Bryce Harper.
In addition to knowing how to get the fanbase excited, Bryce also knows how to get the team motivated. Whether this be hyping the team up by celebrating when he gets on base (as demonstrated above), from the dugout, or in right field; Bryce’s energy is contagious and allows the team to feel like they can reach new heights.
- Veteran presence
Every clubhouse needs a veteran presence, and for the Phils, Andrew McCutchen is that guy. Over his 12-year MLB career, Cutch has played on four teams and is a former NL MVP. He has loads of experience that are invaluable to a baseball team. I am sure I speak for most Phils fans when I say that I hope he is a Phillie for the rest of his career.
- Morale booster
Cutch has an exceptional personality that shines both on and off the field. He is able to naturally bring a smile to his teammates, coaches, and fans' faces, and he knows how to elicit some laughs. Most notably, he’s known for his alter ego “Uncle Larry,” which has delighted Phils and baseball fans alike through a series of skits he has posted on his Twitter.
- Vocal about social justice issues
McCutchen has become a leader not only for the Phillies but for MLB through his social justice work. Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, McCutchen did not want sympathy, he wanted change. While he decided to kneel for the national anthem, he also instituted a league-wide socially-distanced racial unity demonstration that first occurred in the season-opening game between the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals.
Both teams held a long, black tapestry as a recording of Morgan Freeman reading aloud a speech written by Cutch and his wife Maria played over the loudspeaker. “In order to achieve effective change and create a new canvas of optimism, empathy must lead the charge,” the McCutchens wrote. “This moment signifies our charge. Our brotherhood. Our unity. Equality and unity cannot be until there is empathy.”
- Informative videos
McCutchen has also released a series of informative videos about the Negro Leagues. The series began in 2020 in celebration of the Negro Leagues’ centennial. Cutch has always had an interest in the league, and quite frankly, sports fans should know more about black history in baseball beyond just Jackie Robinson. Cutch is doing his part to bring attention to the history of the Negro Leagues and recognition of its players. Baseball needs more players like Andrew McCutchen, and the Phillies are sincerely lucky to have a leader like him on their team.