“All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” – W.C. Fields
This quote not withstanding, it wasn’t all that long ago that NO ONE wanted to play in Philadelphia.
The franchise, founded in 1883, was closing in (and has since surpassed) 10,000 losses. It had but one world championship to its name (1980), and not even a sniff of a pennant since 1993.
Hardly a winning tradition.
Not only that, but some of the players themselves didn’t even think the management cared about winning. Hard to blame them when team president Bill Giles said the Phillies—which play in the fourth largest TV market—were a “small market team."
So, Scott Rolen forced his way out of town to the “Baseball Heaven” of St. Louis.
Curt Schilling wiggled his way out, too.
J.D. Drew sat out an entire season just to re-enter the draft so he wouldn’t have to play for the Phillies.
In Veteran’s Stadium, they had a run-down, multi-purpose doughnut with a carpeted-concrete playing surface, and rats that were bigger than the cats.
In essence, it was a dump. Ah, but it was our dump!
Then, in 2002, things started to change.
Jim Thome signed as a free agent with the Phillies after the team, the city—and the fans—put on the full court press to woo him.
With him in town, excitement started to build as fans began to look toward the opening of their new ballpark.
And on April 3, 2004, on a chilly, raining afternoon, the Phillies opened their brand new ballpark.
But with the new stadium, and a core of young talent—Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins—the Phillies began to put together the building blocks of a competitive team.
Over time, with the increased revenue from the new ballpark, the Phillies began to spend money.
Then, before and during the 2007 season, they signed free agents like Jayson Werth, and Adam Eaton. Made shrewd waiver wire pickups like Greg Dobbs and J.C. Romero. Made trades for big names like Freddie Garcia.
And made Chase Utley very, very rich, signing him to an $85 million extension.
Then at the trade deadline, Philadelphia found themselves only three games out. For a change, the team was a buyer and not a seller.
They added Tadahito Iguchi to fill in for an injured Utley. They added Kyle Lohse to shore up its rotation.
Granted, not all of these moves panned out (see Garcia, Freddie), but it seemed to mark a philosophical shift in Phillies’ management.
We can actually win here.
That year, aided by a historic collapse by the New York Mets, the Phillies overcame a 6.5-game deficit to clinch its first division title since 1993.
A quick three-and-out at the hands of the Colorado Rockies left a bad taste in the team’s mouth, and fired up the organization for a run at the title the next year.
That off-season, they brought in So Taguchi, Jeff Jenkins, Chad Durbin and Pedro Feliz.
At the deadline, they got Joe Blanton.
After the deadline, they got Scott Eyre and Matt Stairs.
And in October of 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies won only its second World Series title in 125 years.
Fast forward to last year’s trading deadline, and the Phillies are in the running for two of the top pitchers in the game: Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
Toronto wanted too much for Halladay, so the Phillies traded for Lee, who ended up helping lead the Phillies to its second consecutive National League pennant.
But the Phillies eventually got their man, as the team traded for Halladay this past offseason before signing him to an extension—saying he wanted to come to Philadelphia all along, wishing it was him on the mound instead of Cliff Lee during the World Series against the Yankees.
Ironically, Lee—who was traded to Seattle in the offseason before getting traded again to Texas last week—has stated he never wanted to leave Philadelphia.
It took more than a century of primarily bad baseball, but suddenly Philadelphia is a desirable place to play—and get paid, as Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125-million contract extension will demonstrate.
In fact, the Phillies payroll has increased five-fold over the last decade, from $27.3 million in 1999 to an estimated $143 million this year.
But when Citizens Bank Park has had 90 consecutive sellouts, you can afford to be a little more loose with your payroll.
Which leads us to today, where the Phillies once again got the best available pitcher at the trading deadline in the form of Houston’s Roy Oswalt.
The two-time defending NL champs will now throw a potent 1-2-3 at the top of their rotation of Roy Halladay (perfect game this season, 2003 AL Cy Young winner), Roy Oswalt (2005 NLCS MVP), and Cole Hamels (2008 NLCS & World Series MVP).
It used to be that only the Yankees were the ones that swooped in at the deadline and during the offseason to get the big names.
Growing up in Philadelphia, you hate anything that’s good for New York. Anything .
Having a father whose childhood was marred by the 1964 Phillies’ collapse, I’ve heard countless times the cynicism of “don’t worry, they’ll blow it.”
Now, it’s Philly making the moves.
Now, it’s the Phillies spending the money.
With little more than 48 hours left before the trading deadline, the Phillies have served notice that they will not let Atlanta take the division without a fight.
Because they’re the Philadelphia Phillies.
And that’s how they roll. (Now.)
Statistics from Baseball-Reference.com and Philly.com