CD's Connect the Dots... Ifs and Buts

Any long time viewer of Monday Night Football would remember the wonderful originals, announcers Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith. Dandy Don had an innate ability to play off of Cosell's shrill moaning with humorous responses. One in particular was very interesting.... whenever Howard would begin ranting about "if this" or "but for that," Meredith would remind him of the phrase, "When Ifs and Buts become candies and nuts, we'll all have a nice Christmas."

With a well deserved day off for our favorite Fighten's, the Phillies, this writer thought it might be a good time to examine the "Ifs and Buts" of the 2003 season to this point. At best, it may prove a fascinating study in the saying "be careful what you ask for, you just might get it," and at worst, a nice diversion from the frayed nerves that the Phillies put their fans through this past week.

Let us begin way back at last years trading deadline, one weekend, late in July, 2002. Rumors were rampant that the Phils and Reds were about to pull the trigger on a Scott Rolen trade to Cincinnati. In return the Phils would receive hot third base prospect Brandon Larson and relief pitcher Scott Williamson. The deal was so close to done that Phillie GM Ed Wade was preparing his announcement. Suddenly, at the last minute, Reds ownership vetoed the trade and Wade was forced, almost hat in hand, to go back to the St. Louis Cardinals, his other "suitor".

Word filters fast in the baseball world and Cardinal GM Walt Jocketty knew he had Wade over the proverbial "barrel". What once was an offer of third sacker Placido Polanco, and young pitchers Bud Smith and Jim Journals, instead found Journals pulled from the trade, and veteran reliever Mike Timlin tossed in. That Wade was not "overjoyed" with this swap was quite evident in the look on his face as he announced the deal.

A Rolen for Polanco deal looked terribly one sided and the Phils seemingly much preferred the hot hitting youngster, Larson from the Reds. If the original deal for Larson and Williamson had gone through, we would have had no need to pursue third baseman David Bell in the off season, as Larson would have been given every opportunity to prove this trade worthy of merit. That Larson has failed to hit with the Reds makes one wonder if he would have been any more successful with the Phils…problematic at best.

But, given Bell's abysmal performance, maybe Larson would have been a better fit. But, if the Reds deal goes through, we not only don't get Bell, but we lose out on sterling second baseman, Placido Polanco, a deserving candidate for MVP of the Phillies for the first 110 games of the season.

Certainly, but for Polanco, the Phils might not be a leg up on the Wild Card race in the NL. And if Bell doesn't join the Phillies, perhaps slugger Jim Thome doesn't join the men in red. He has commented on more than one occasion that getting Bell was a wonderful precursor to the pursuit of him. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity.

So, in concluding this initial dot to dot, IF we make the original trade for Larson, a trade that many fans, yours truly included, clamored for, then we have Larson BUT certainly no Polanco and Bell, and probably no Thome. As mentioned...be careful what you ask for!

Now fast forward to the off season pursuit of one Tom Glavine, erstwhile ace lefty of the Atlanta Braves. Make no mistake about it, the Phillies interest in Glavine as the final piece of the Bell-Thome-Glavine triangle was quite apparent. Even tickets to a Flyers hockey game for the rabid hockey fan Glavine, were considered as part of the wooing process. And Glavine nearly bit at the Phillies most generous offer. In fact, topics of "Glavine is a Phillie," filled the Internet chat rooms and Phillie web sites. Then Glavine got a case of buyer's remorse and decided being pals with the veteran Mets was preferable to babysitting the kiddy corps of the Phils pitching staff. Bad move for Glavine, great luck for the Phils.

IF Glavine had stayed the course and signed with the Phils, then the Kevin Millwood trade would have never happened and the Christmas present from the Braves would have been Glavine instead of Millwood. BUT, since it is quite obvious that Millwood is not only a younger and more talented pitcher at this point in their careers, then the Phils were the proverbial winners in this "Pitcher, Pitcher, Who's Got the Pitcher" game of Eastern rivals. Again, a case of "be careful what you ask for, you just might get it"!

Now, lets examine the Phils regular season through 110 games. It is quite fair to say that this season has not exactly gone as planned. Oh, there were some givens that have taken place. It was a given that Bobby Abreu and Thome would hit...and they have. It was a given that Millwood and Randy Wolf would pitch well.... and they have. It was a given that Marlon Byrd would have a successful rookie season...and he has, though he took the windy road to get there. These, then, were the givens that have come forth as everyone predicted they would.

What were NOT expected were the incredible performances of lefty reliever Rheal Cormier, and the utterly forgettable performance of Pat Burrell. In fact, Cormier was such a question mark that many felt he should have been released in April. Coming off of two forgettable years, he was thought to be a burden on the Phils staff, which would be better served if he were gone.

Cormier's first appearance in Florida did nothing to assuage these feelings as he was battered by the Marlins. Then a strange thing happened...Cormier became almost unhittable. Under the yeoman like work of pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, Cormier has become the ace of the bullpen. IF the Phils had listened to the cry of the masses, they would be without one of the most valuable players on their team. BUT for the encouragement of Kerrigan and dedication to improve by Cormier, it is safe to say that the Phils and Cormier would be the losers. Need we say it again...."be careful what you ask for"!

Finally, we come to the frustrating case of one Patrick Burrell, erstwhile slugging young left fielder of the Philadelphia Phillies. Now, Burrell seemingly had it all...talent, good looks, a winning personality, and a brand new 50 million dollar long-term contract. And with these came the expectations that he would at least match and probably exceed his wonderful performance of last year when he hit 37 home runs. There was even mild speculation that 50 home runs was not out of reach for the talented Burrell if he remained healthy. Oh, and he has remained healthy enough physically, but mentally…well, that my friends, may be an entirely different story.

IF the Phillies knew, IF the baseball world knew the struggles that the unfortunate Burrell would endure this season, would they have picked the Phils to win the NL East? Not a chance. IF the Phils crystal ball could only have told them of this seemingly endless story, then the Phils might have been better prepared for this eventuality. BUT, how could they? No one, BUT no one, thought this would happen. Pat Burrell has, throughout his baseball life, been a living and breathing-hitting machine...until now. IF the Phils could have known, would they have offered him such long-term security? And IF Burrell had known what he knows now, would he have accepted? After all, with rank comes responsibility, and one can only guess what inner demons occupy his mind, an almost awaited consequence with the increased expectation level.

And yet, IF Burrell is hitting as he was expected, one can fantasize at the fun Phillie fans would be having, as their heroes would literally be dancing around the bases in procession. A producing lineup of Byrd, Polanco, Thome, Burrell, Abreu and Lieberthal makes one pause to wonder. Ah, if only it were so…

This writer ends this edition with a tease to revitalize your spirits after tough losses to the Reds and Padres this past week. IF Phillie fandom knew before the season began what they know now of the struggles of Burrell, not to mention Mesa and Duckworth, would they, could they, have dreamed that their Phillies would be leading the Wild Card chase with a 62-49 record?

Probably not.... to expect all the Ifs and BUTs to become candies and nuts, would have been far too much to ask for at Christmas.

Columnist's Note: Suggestions, questions and comments welcome. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD


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