The beacon of light could be in a myriad of forms…an unexpected event such as a key play by a reserve. I'm thinking Tomas Perez or Ricky Ledee. Or a clutch-pitching performance by Vicente Padilla or Brett Myers. How about a scintillating defensive play by Jimmy Rollins or Marlon Byrd. Or a thunderous performance by more season playoff pros like Jim Thome or Kevin Millwood. Whatever form it takes, the beacon of light must shine quickly, as our team is taking on water, and the rugged cliffs and sharp rocks approach ever closer.
Professional baseball teams are small individual communities. For over seven months of the year the players virtually live together, often spending more time with teammates than family. They learn to play and battle together, withstand petty jealousies, rivalries and inane frustrations. When the seas are calm and victories never seem further than a day away, it is simple to get along, play for the team and feast in each others successes. This is the easy part.
Yet the true mettle of a team is how they handle the choppy waters. When the seas get fierce and the waves are high, it is easier to think about everyman for himself than it it's to worry about a man overboard. This is the quandary that our Phillies now face. For nearly five months the skies were sunny, the coast was clear, and the destination appeared certain.
However, a mid August gale in the form of a long and windy roadtrip, has suddenly cast doubt on the homeward bound ship. Nightfall is fast approaching and the Phils are much in want of a beacon of light for a safe passage back home. It is in these moments that the beacon of light is much needed.
When faced with an uncertain future, it is often wise to seek out the past as a potential guide to future events. If this be the case, a look at Phillies past history does not always provide welcome relief. And truth be told, often the beacon of light had been shrouded in the fog, and a Phillie ship would be found lost at sea. Yet there are enough cases where the beacon shone brightly and the Good Ship Philadelphia found its way home to post season glory and riches.
Lets examine a few of the more recent successful Phillies teams, and how they fared when the skies got dark, and the only potential friendly face was a beacon of light breaking through the distant darkness. Perhaps no team in Phillies history was more in want of a beacon of light than the doomed team of potential destiny, the 1964 club.
Undoubtedly, no team ever faced such a more rapidly changing barometer than our fallen heroes of ‘64. For 150 games the course was akin to an amusement park ride, so sure and swift was the destination. Yet with more fury than a sudden hurricane, the rising crest of a white-capped wave threatened to suddenly sink what appeared an unsinkable vessel. Captain Gene Mauch turned to his trusted seamen, Jim Bunning and Chris Short. Certainly they would provide the beacon of light that would guide the 25-crew members home.
Sadly, they could provide no light, and though able-bodied seamen like Johnny Callison and Richie Allen offered flickers of hope, the ship sunk at the end. In the words of one of its more heroic seamen, second officer, Cookie Rojas, "it was like swimming a long river and then you drown five feet from shore." That no beacon of light could be provided for the crew of the ‘64 Phillies is still a source of consternation and sorrow for many fans to this very day.
Yet on a more uplifting note, the crew of the 1980 Phillies found their beacon of light in the unlikeliest of places, their very own farm system. This team, unlike their ‘64 brothers, had battled high tides and shifting winds all season. As it neared conclusion, this team was gasping for a compass.... and a beacon of light. Fortunately, the compass was easier to find for this team was composed of a veritable Who's Who of the Hall of Fame players. Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Pete Rose provided an unswerving compass to direct the way home, and they will all grace the Halls of Cooperstown someday.
Though the compass was seaworthy, the 1980 team likely would have met the same fate as their ‘64 brethren, if not for a pitcher named Marty Bystrom. He, more than any other player, provided the 1980 Phillies team with the beacon of light that would guarantee safe passage to the shores...and an eventual World Series Championship.
Bystrom boarded ship just as the crew appeared mutinous and Captain Dallas Green was threatening a plank walking if the ship continued to veer off course. To the tune of a 5-0 record...yes, 5 wins in 5 starts! Bystrom was the beacon of light that helped the ship sail comfortably past the Expos, Astros and Royals and into the docks of a million man march down Broad Street.
This victory celebration was unmatched in its enthusiasm and joy, and is one of the reasons Captain Bowa hopes for the beacon of light to shine on his 2003 crew. This captain was an integral part of the 1980 crew, and he felt the unbridled enthusiasm of a city unabashedly and deliriously in love with its Phillies.
So, as the crew is commanded to put on its life vests and prepare for continued storm warnings, the players on the crows nest search incessantly for that beacon of light.
Perhaps it will begin to shine in Montreal.... or in New York. If not, then ---beacon come quickly - as the Red Sox, Braves and Marlins promise no respite from the chilling winds and raging waters. Beacon come quickly - be it Thome or Lieby, Wolfie or Utley. Beacon shine brightly - be it Ricky or Plucky, Jimmy or Ducky. For if the beacon tarries too long, or worse, reluctant to shine at all, the fate of the 2003 Phillies have potential to match the unhappy fate of its fallen heroes of storms past.
Better yet - shine brightly beacon - and help guide our crew home safely... to a welcome celebration and victory parade, down Broad Street once again.
Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to email@example.com and I will respond! CD