Like many Phillies fans, I usually take the arrival of pitchers and catchers to Clearwater as a sign that Spring isn’t too far away. February and March often bring unpleasant weather but reading reports from the Spring Training compound serve as a reassurance that warmer days will soon be upon us.
Maybe the groundhog was on to something when he saw his shadow last month, because this year, we won’t have Spring Training to remind us that Winter won’t last forever. Pitchers and catchers - or at least those on the 40-man roster - are unable to report to camp. There are no Grapefruit League games on the horizon. And while I believe we will eventually get a 2022 Major League Baseball season; I can’t say with any degree of confidence when it will begin.
I’m no expert on labor relations, but it seems clear to me that 90% of the blame lies with the owners, and that’s probably far too generous. There are a few people out there who seem to believe (or are being financially compensated to act like it) that the owners are actually in bad shape, and a bunch of teams are losing money. I’m sure they could indeed provide an accounting that indicates that the team is operating at a deficit. Would that accounting be anywhere close to an accurate representation of the team’s actual finances? Of course not.
The best thing about a statement like this is that owners do everything possible to make sure that no one actually sees their books, which if they were losing a lot of money, they would be very happy to. You just have to believe that billionaires own teams out of passion. https://t.co/LbEMokIEIG— Zito (@_Zeets) February 25, 2022
I don’t care if the players - or at least some of them - make a lot of money. They’re the ones we’re paying to see, not the owners, and the “millionaires vs. billionaires” argument doesn’t hold up when you notice that one of the main points of debate is the treatment of the decidedly not rich minor leaguers.
No, it isn't. Only 31.4% of MLBPA members earn more than a million. 28.2% are minor leaguers on the 40-man roster earning $40,500.— Daniel R. Epstein (@depstein1983) February 26, 2022
Walker Buehler just happens to be one of the millionaires (bc he's great and he earned it). His career net worth is 0,002% of the average owner's. https://t.co/8QyDZcDFQq
Memories from 1995
The last time we had a labor conflict-delayed season was 1995. The players strike which started the year prior ended on March 28, resulting in an abbreviated 144-game season that began on April 26th.
Some readers may remember that the Phillies got off to a good start to the season - they were in first place on July 3rd - but that good start didn’t include Opening Day. People who have watched the Phillies the past two years would find the script familiar: The team established an early lead, but the starter wasn’t able to pitch deep into the game. The bullpen slowly but surely allows the lead to dwindle, culminating in a blown save in the ninth inning.
On Opening Day 1995, the Phillies went up 5-0 over the St. Louis Cardinals. With Curt Schilling on the mound, that normally would have been enough run support. But due to the abbreviated preparation time to the season, starting pitchers were neither sharp nor stretched out at this point.
Due to a pitch count, Schilling was forced to leave the game after allowing three runs in five innings. (In 2022, that’s almost considered a quality start). Manager Jim Fregosi was forced to turn things over to his bullpen, right-hander Toby Borland specifically. If Borland’s name invokes memories of Hoby Milner, that’s appropriate, since both of them had really bad performances on Opening Day. Borland allowed two runs in 0.2 innings, the key blow being a home run by Brian Jordan.
Happy 52nd bday Toby Borland! From 1994-96 with the Phillies, his first 3 seasons, Borland was 9-6 with a 3.66 ERA. Pitched 90.2 relief innings in 96. Gave up 5 runs & 7 walks in 3.1ip with Red Sox in 1997. Out of MLB 1999 & 2000, pitched with Marlins 2002-04. pic.twitter.com/RGSf9WAsqF— Scott F (@TheFrizz87) May 29, 2021
Despite Borland’s efforts, the Phillies had a one-run lead heading into the ninth. and Fregosi asked Norm Charlton to close it out. Charlton had been an All-Star closer for the Reds earlier in his career but sat out the entire 1994 season with an injury.
Considering he had just sat out an entire season, with an abbreviated Spring Training to prepare, it was understandable that Charlton might not be at his best. But for some reason, Fregosi decided that asking him to close out a one-run game on the road was a good way to welcome him back to action.
How did that work out? Charlton faced four batters and didn’t retire any of them before Scott Cooper drove home the tying and winning runs with a single into right field. Phillies lose. Boo.
If you want to watch footage of this carnage, here you go:
If you’d like to see the moment when Fregosi realized that his decision to go to Charlton cost his team the game, it comes at 3:01:59. That is the look of a manager who has already accepted the loss.
Borland continued to struggle throughout the first half of the season, but after a stint in the minors, he actually became a solid setup man for the team, and even earned six saves. Charlton didn’t have a similar rebound in him, as he was released by the team in July.
What was Toby Borland the last Phillies player to ever do? I realize this is a bit “Three people who have never been in my kitchen” open-ended, but if you know the answer, you’ll know you know. (Does that make sense?)
Featured baseball card
Here’s Borland’s 1995 Fleer card:
I am not a fan of this design at all. I’m not sure what they were going for with the negative background, but it didn’t work. It’s a shame because Borland’s delivery looks really good on a baseball card.
The lockout might prove especially devastating for the Phillies, at least as far as fan support goes. If the Sixers continue to look as strong as they have in the early part of the James Harden era, most of the area’s sports fans will be adequately distracted if the lockout stretches past April. I can’t predict whether or not the Sixers will win the title this year, but based on how deadly their offense looks lately, I think they’re definitely capable of it.
By the time a potential championship celebration is over, the Eagles will be getting ready to start training camp. Unless the Phillies look like legit contenders, that’s the time when many people stop paying attention to baseball.
The only way to get the fans back might be to go on a free agent spending spree once the lockout ends, and for the team to actually win games and put themselves in contention. Therefore, I strongly suggest they do both of those things.