As the season went on, our patience – and eventually, that of Joe Kerrigan and Larry Bowa – evaporated and it was a downward spiral from there. Before we knew it, Mesa was attacking furniture and pushing a reporter.
Mesa's meltdown caused us to live with an ineffective closer for part of the season and no true closer for the rest of the season.
2. Pat Burrell - This kid will rebound. Don't be surprised to see him go on a true tear in 2004 and make pitchers pay for the season that he had in 2003. The best medicine for Burrell would be to get away from baseball for a couple months and not think about the game or attempt to analyze what went wrong. His problems were purely mental and were probably brought on by trying to keep pace with Jim Thome. After all, the two were supposed to be the twenty-first century version of Schmidt and Luzinski.
Slumps happen and Burrell did his best to snap out of his. Still, it hurt the Phillies a lot. You have to believe that if he would have hit just .260 and hit "only" 30 or 35 homeruns, the Phillies would have been much better off. It also hurt the Phillies to have Ricky Ledee having to start on so many occasions. That's nothing against Ledee, but he is best when he is coming off the bench to help the Phillies in the late innings.
3. Tyler Houston - With what we know of Tyler Houston's clubhouse presence, you can't figure that he was a good role model for the likes of Pat Burrell and perhaps, others. In retrospect, the Phillies should have heeded warnings that they got from other clubs and stayed away from Houston. On the upside, this guy was the quintessential pinch hitter. His ability to come off the bench and help bordered on amazing. It was off the field that his skills deteriorated.
When the Phillies did sign Houston, they should have simply honored the deal. Cutting him loose when they did only created a split in the ranks and further hurt their bench. Any "corruption damage" that Houston had done, was already done. With Ledee playing more than anyone figured, the bench needed someone to help anchor things. While Houston may not have been happy with his playing time, to his credit, he was keeping it behind closed doors. As it turned out, he would have gotten more time with the injury to Placido Polanco. Bowa and the Phillies should have swallowed their pride and kept the guy around to help over the final six weeks.
4. Larry Bowa - Okay, so Bowa has toned down his personality. His eruption in Montreal was completely justified and probably should have come sooner. Still, this guy is getting to players and might make it tough for the Phillies to get free agents to want to sign with them. Even back to his playing days, Bowa had an arrogance about him. That arrogance was part of what got him through his playing days and helped him to compensate for a lack of true, raw talent. Yes, the players are too touchy and a lot of Bowa's criticisms of them were right on the mark. Part of being a good manager, whether it's a baseball manager, or the manager of another type of workplace, is knowing your people. Bowa needs to learn those all too popular people skills and apply them.
Larry Bowa should not be fired. He made some major mistakes and on the whole, probably had as bad of a season as Pat Burrell; Yes, managers slump and have bad seasons too. The Phillies do need to realize Bowa's shortcomings and his leash should have gotten at least a little shorter. The personalities of these players are not the same as those of the 1980 Phillies and the Dallas Green approach doesn't always work.
5. Marlon Byrd's early season slump - Don't get me wrong, this kid was amazing. The way he turned around his season was nothing short of remarkable and the fact that he hit over .300 in his rookie season is impressive. It is even more impressive when you consider that he really started hitting after putting up a .161 average through the early part of the season. In May, fans would have been happy to see Marlon pull his average up to the .250 mark, but he went well beyond that.
With all that being said, Marlon's early season slump hurt the Phillies. The fact that Burrell was slumping took some of the pressure and spotlight off of Byrd's slump. The kid would have likely been run out of town if not for Burrell. If Byrd had hit even .250 early on, the Phillies might have picked up a game or two here and there early on and might have been in better shape entering the final ten days of the season. People talk about games late in the year being more important, but with a few extra early season wins, the Phillies might still be playing. A win is a win and the ones that you get in April and May don't count any less than the ones you get in August and September.
6. Fundamentals and the lack thereof - Little things like moving the runner were lost on our 2003 Phillies. Key positions where a good player like Jimmy Rollins couldn't get a bunt down hurt this team. There were far too many miscues that major league teams shouldn't be making.
Included in this were things like bad pitch selection. Phillies pitchers lacked that killer instinct to step on a batter's throat when they got two strikes on them and they gave in with less than their best stuff, trying to get them to chase pitches. Usually, it was the Phillies who wound up chasing those pitches when they were hit. Phillies pitchers need to learn to trust their stuff and put hitters away when they have the chance.
Also included here is the lack of stolen bases and the disappearance of the hit and run. Marlon Byrd, Jimmy Rollins and Bobby Abreu are all capable of at least 30 steals a piece. Let's hope that the Phillies turn them loose in 2004 and let them run. The Phillies also hurt themselves standing around waiting for the three-run homeruns from the likes of Thome and Burrell. When the Phillies did employ the hit and run, they did it well. Like the stolen base, that needs to become a weapon in 2004.
7. Injuries - Nobody can predict them and they're nobody's fault. David Bell tried to play through an early season injury and it probably cost him. It hurt him at the plate and it kept him out of action longer than it might have had he just admitted the problem early on. Then, when Placido Polanco and Terry Adams went down, it magnified the Phillies problems. The bench was already in disarray covering for slumping players and there was no way to cover both the slumps and the injuries. The starting lineups listed Tomas Perez and Ricky Ledee all too ofter. Again, that's not an indictment of either player, but they are best when they're playing the role of the bench dog.
The fact that Turk Wendell was also nagged by some injuries also hurt. Wendell did a nice job, but arm is like an old car that you hope keeps going. You're sure that it's going to die soon, but you hope it gets you to work and home without any problems. Wendell was an asset to this team, but he is certainly a risk and his better days are behind him.
8. Bullpen overuse - Early in the season, the Phillies bullpen was the pride of the team. They constantly got better and better and made it look all too easy. Too much of a good thing can hurt you though and such was the case with the bullpen. The arms wore down and any little weakness was exposed.
By late in the season, it became a craps shoot on who to go to and when, with the exception of Rheal Cormier. Too bad our favorite Canadian couldn't give us three innings of relief every day. Phillies starters need to become more of the inning eating variety. This goes back to putting away hitters when they've got the chance. The two or three pitches that a pitcher saves toying with a hitter can come in handy later in the game. The 2004 bullpen will likely have a much different look than this year's version, so get ready to learn some new faces and names.
9. Play against bad teams - How huge does that series in Milwaukee look now? You know the one where the Phillies were swept right out of town. We're not even going to talk about the Pirates and the Reds. In three key series in the second half of the season, the Phillies went 2-7 against Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Turn that into 6-3 or even 5-4 and things look much brighter. The Phillies played to the level of their competition. Heck, they would have been better playing Atlanta all season long.
10. Inactivity at the trade deadline - If I hear Ed Wade talk one more time about how the team went out and acquired an all-star reliever prior to the trade deadline, I'm going to nominate him to become a political spin doctor for one of the myriad of candidates running in the California recall election. Truth is they got a guy in Mike Williams who was an all-star simply because each team must be represented and Williams was picked over the likes of Brian Giles and Jason Kendall because they needed pitching more than they did another position player on the NL squad.
The Phillies should have been much more active and aggressive prior to the deadline. It would have sent a much better message to the players. Even signing a guy like Todd Zeile would have been something. It's no coincidence that the Cubs and Marlins, two teams that stayed active in the trade market, are playing in the post-season and the Phillies and Astros aren't. The Phillies and Astros sat idly by and did nothing of note, while the Cubs and Marlins added key pieces to the puzzle.
To make things worse, the Phillies not only let the July 31st deadline pass, they let the August 31st waiver deadline pass, too. Talk about not learning a lesson.
So, there you have it. The autopsy is done and we know what killed the patient. As in most autopsies, we find that some of these things could have been prevented. We also find that others were congenital defects that we could do nothing about. We only hope that the death of our beloved 2003 Phillies leads to a better life for the Phillies teams of the future.