Thursday, July 20, 2006

We Hardly Knew Them

An era of sorts seems increasingly likely to be ending soon with the approach of the July 31 trade deadline.

A host of veterans including Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Rheal Cormier, David Dellucci, Arthur Rhodes, Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber, and Aaron Fultz among others have all been the subject of trade rumors lately. The prominence of Phillies on the list of players attracting interest hardly comes as a surprise given the pre-season prediction that the Phillies were a competitive team except for their pitching. Of all the names, Abreu’s has been on the list the longest, at least since last Winter. Whatever complaints we have about Bobby, he remains a premier player. Were it not for his huge salary, Abreu would unquestionably be the number one target of several contending teams.

One or more of the above players should be joined on the road out of town a few months later by Mike Lieberthal, David Bell and some of those whose contracts are expiring and do not figure to be renewed.

With their expected departures the Phillies will be looking to rebuild around Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Shane Victorino, Aaron Rowand (if he doesn’t return to Chicago) and a few minor leaguers such as Scott Mathieson. Bret Myers may or may not figure in that mix by the time next April rolls around.

Phillies’ fans tend to believe this team is always rebuilding, but the truth is what they have been doing is perpetually retooling, tinkering with the addition of a veteran here or there along with the influx of youngsters, hoping they could find the right mix. They came close once, but never grabbed a post-season spot.

Lieberthal has the longest tenure here of anyone, twelve years. Abreu was acquired nine seasons ago from Houston. Burrell was the club’s first round draft pick six years ago. And yet, can we honestly say we ever knew them?

None ever moved permanently to Philadelphia or, for that matter, ever seemed to embrace the city. Every October, they all packed their bags and headed for warmer climates and continents. Except for Liberthal, they never even did local television spots, one of the traditional ways of becoming an icon in the community, and in his case he was teamed with Jeremy Roenick of the more popular Flyers. They clearly never rode flatbed trucks up or down Broad Street, thereby etching their images indelibly into the collective minds of the city. There was no Fred Shero in the locker room reminding them they would walk together forever if they won it all.

In this era their transient status in Philadelphia is hardly unique to this team or city. I suspect only California- and Florida-based teams have much of a chance of enticing their players to become year-round citizens. Instead, they were here for what feels like a relatively brief time, like shooting stars, and then disappeared.


RickSchuBlues said...

We can only hope they disappear. The more days which go by without a single move increases my skepticism that Gillick actually believes this team has a chance.

But disappear they should. That's what happens to players who don't win. We'll see their paunches and bald heads when the Phillies hold a ceremony for the closing of BankWorldOne Stadium in 2035, and hope to forget about them before and after. A guy like Pete Incaviglia or a Danny Jackson can play here only a couple of years and be far more remembered and embraced than long-time players like Mike Lieberthal or Pat Burrell. Association is everything. I'll remember both of them as decent players, but moreover as losers.

Dick Richards said...

Mostly we get to know people by knowing what they care about. I think the guys you mentioned do care about winning, but they sure don't let us in on it, and a lot of what they say doesn't sound like it. I'm really tired of, "I only made one mistake," or "I only had one bad inning," or "We're just going bad now."

It appears that there is no player on this team that takes everyone by the throat and says, "Get after it! No excuses. Do it or shut up!"

John Kruk said something a few weeks ago that really stopped me cold. He was asked his reaction to Philly fans when he played here and he said that he liked being held accountable. I don't believe that the players you mentioned like being held or holding themselves accountable.

Tom G said...

Good points Tom. I think part of the reason for it is also the fact that rarely do any of those players talk to the media at length after a game, particularly Burrell.

Tom Goodman said...

Adversarial relationships with the media are hardly unique to this generation of athletes. What has changed are the sheer volume of media outlets, the instantaneity of news and information dissemination and the 24/7 presence of cameras, microsphones and other devices.

All of this scrutiny comes with the territory but I doubt most ballplayers think about such things as they are coming up through the ranks. Some, like a Jimmy Rollins, seem to take it all in stride and enjoy the give-and-take. Others, like Pat Burrell, appear to arrive on the scene with a chip on their shoulders and a scowl on their faces.

My advice to Burrell would be this: when you are 37 years old, Pat, you can retire without any financial worries and pursue whatever interests you have without further public scrutiny. Indeed, Pat, chances are most people and nearly all Philadelphians will have long forgotten about you before that day arrives.