I have read that as a young boy, you were a huge fan of that club and even attended a few games. My friend, although I grew up on the opposite coast, 3000 miles from Philadelphia, no tiny boy loved that team more than I did. Oh, I faintly recall the 23 game losing streak in '61, and the 1962 team did wet my appetite with a plus .500 record. And I do remember reading about the barbeque ribs incident in Houston in late 1963 that probably cemented Gene Mauch's image for all time, not to mention cementing a surprising fourth place finish for our beloved Phils.
But it was 1964 that truly opened my eyes to the wonderment that is Philadelphia Phillies baseball. Gosh, how I loved that team; from Jim Bunning to Rick Wise. Oh, how I spent far too much of my summer vacation reading every thing I could get my hands on which might bring me closer to that magical season. And when my dad took me to my first game on July 4...Phillies versus San Francisco Giants, and the Phils won to take over first place, my love was finalized.
Yes, Dave, I was hooked forever. I am sure these memories are shared by you. I have heard how you too loved that team and are still a fan of the club, and not just the chief managing general partner. So, with this as a background, please allow me a sense of informality as I speak to you from the heart about a very pressing concern of mine.
First, you need to understand that I am on your side. Hey, I picked the Phils to win the division despite protests from almost every reader who emailed me. They all felt that I was being overly optimistic and that the Phils had the look of a fourth place club. Unfortunately, it appears we both were wrong because at this point the Phils have a decidedly last place look about them. And therein lies the problem.
Dave, the Philadelphia fan base, your Philadelphia fan base, is frankly fed up with the product on the field. Not only are they playing poorly while losing, but they have that worst of all tags...a team that is not only bad, but boring. If you haven't noticed, they also have two ways of showing this displeasure. The ones that bother to show up boo the product on the field while the other half speak loudest of all...with their feet. They stay away in droves.
By my count, this team is looking at a loss of almost 1 million fans this year and at an average of $50 dollars a pop, that is a cool $50 million dollars. Now, granted, I am still out here on the Left Coast but it doesn't take a graduate of Wharton College to know that this is a lot of lost revenue even for wealthy people. Not only that but the credibility you had built up over the past three years is just about gone, and this time it may not return if you lose it completely.
You see, Dave, for many years Phillie phanatics had this idea that it was more about making money than winning for you and your mysterious private partners. But with a $95 million dollar payroll and the addition of such heavyweights as Jim Thome, Kevin Millwood and Billy Wagner over the past three years that is no longer the case.
No, now the problem is no longer about money but about the ability to spend that money wisely and it is here that I hope to capture your undivided attention. I am the first to admit that everything in life has a shelf life and that patience is a virtue. But seven years does certainly seem like a long shelf life for an employee who has yet to deliver even one playoff birth despite talent that would seem to justify at least that much.
Yes, you knew it would get to this, my friend. I am talking about your trusted General Manager, Ed Wade. I know this pains you to think about removing him as he not only has shown loyalty and honesty to a fault, but has also often taken the hit for decisions that may or may not have ultimately been his to make. Still, this is a success driven business and in this area Ed Wade has been sadly lacking.
Far be it from me to speak of Wade without acknowledging his successes. Certainly a case can be made that his superb knowledge of the waiver rule helped the Phils pull off a major heist of the Pittsburgh Pirates back in the early 90's. Remember how his understanding of this rule allowed the Phils to claim minor league hot shots Wes Chamberlain, Tony Longmire and Julio Peguro from the Pirates when they attempted a wink and nod move to keep them off the September roster without losing them completely.
This was a truly remarkable move, as Chamberlain and Longmire at the time were considered major plums and Peguro was no slouch either. In fact, Chamberlain played a major role in helping the the 1993 Phils to the World Series and Longmire was high regarded enough to also be placed on the World Series roster. There is little doubt that these playeres were added due to the thorough understanding of the rules by Wade in his former position.
Some day Bobby Abreu will be recognized as not only the greatest right fielder in Phillie history but may rank as one of it's greatest players. His acquisition is a direct result of the prodding from Wade to then GM Lee Thomas, who made the trade. Wade certainly deserves the credit for this move, and he did make a few other trades that should be acknowledged as strong ones.
His deal of Mickey Morandini for Doug Glanville was a solid one, and the Millwood for catcher Johnny Estrada trade looked like absolute genius at the time. He has also had the ability to bring in top free agents like Thome, David Bell and John Lieber when he has been equipped with money to spend. Nevertheless, on the whole, his resume leaves much to be desired and the problem is that he seems to be a man with almost zero credibility now.
Even his ability to make trades has been compromised by the perception that if you wait him out long enough you will be able to fleece him of top minor league talent. In fact, just this week the Los Angeles Dodgers were crowing about how they will wait to make an offer on Placido Polanco as they are convinced Wade is in no hurry to trade him due to the injury to Jim Thome. May I be so bold as to ask what one situation has to do with the other?
This is just the latest in the very public sentiment being formed by opposing teams that deal with the Phillies. Wait him out until the last possible moment and you are guarenteed to come out smelling like a rose when dealing with Wade. Actually Wade is the epitomy of the Peter Priciple, a very popular book in the 1980's that theorized that in business an employee would rise to the highest level of his incompetency. This appears to have been the case with Wade.
He was a very talented underling for a long time, a guy who did much of the behind the scenes work to help make the Phillie office machine work smoothly. Unfortunately the same can not be said for his performance in the much more visible role as Phillie GM. Under his watch, arguably the organization is in worse shape that when he took over in late 1997.
To be sure, the major league club looks like an old and underperforming group whose window of oppurtunity has probably closed forever. Worse still, the minor league system is in shambles as Wade has not only traded at least a dozen prospects in search of "major league ready" help, but no team has lost more top draft picks either as compensation for the signing of free agents or due to a hold the line philosophy when it came to signing bonuses.
Fair enough, the J.D. Drew fiasco fell at Wade's feet and he was probably not to blame for the loss of this top talent, but under the Wade Watch such top level prospects as Jason Cooper, Lance Niekro, Tommy Whiteman and Jordan Parraz were allowed to slip away to other organizations.
Worse still has been his philosophy of protecting older talent like Kevin Jordan and Rob Ducey at the expense of young talent like Derrick Turnbow and Miguel Ascencio. Both young hurlers were needlessly lost to other organizations in the Rule 5 Draft because Wade felt that since they were still a few years away from making a major league roster they weren't worth protecting. This in my mind is penny wise and pound foolish. With Turnbow ready to be an ace closer there would be no need for a $9 million hurler like Wagner, and with Niekro prepared to make his major league mark at first or third base, the need for a Thome or Bell would have been minimal.
Okay, some may call this nitpicking, but isn't this the job of a visionary GM? And if the everyday Phillie fan can see these things why are they so difficult for a GM to understand. No less an authority than Baseball America was hyping Turbow and Ascencio as the top Rule 5 prospects available weeks before the December drafts of those players. If BA could see the talent in these hurlers why did Wade feel it was more imperative that we protect such lesser lights as Felix Martinez and the aforementioned Jordan and Ducey?
The answer seems clearly engrained in his philosophy. Let's face it, every man has a comfort zone and Wade's deep and trusted belief system tells him that only "major league ready" talent is worth having. He has admitted this on countless occasions and it has also showed in the trades he has made during his seven years as GM. Have you heard of a low minor league outfielder named Brad Correll? Probably not as his future is limited.
Yet, he would be a great trivia question to any Phillie phanatic as he is the ONLY minor league player in the Phillie organization who was acquired in a trade. One player in a system that contracts over 200 players. Incredible number to be sure, but true enough.
Of course, I would never make criticisms unless I could offer solutions, and it appears to me that you have one right in your own back yard. Yes, that's right...a Philadelphia native, who loves the Phillies almost as much as you and I do. Now he may not remember 1964 but I am sure he bled Phillie red on Black Friday, the day in 1977 when the Phillies lost a pennant in the most unbelievable 10 minutes any Phillie fan ever suffered. No doubt, he suffered as we did on that day.
His name is Gerry Hunsiker, and his resume is a solid one. You may have heard of him as he orchestrated a slew of moves last year to put the Houston Astros into a powerful position to not only make but possibly win the 2004 World Series. Yes, that Hunsiker, who signed Jeff Kent, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte as free agents and made the daring trade for Carlos Beltran.
Under Hunsiker's watch the Astros also consistently had a strong fram system and a franchise that was well run and well respected. Even better still, Hunsiker is well regarded in the GM community and would help the Phils deal from a position of strength when approaching other teams about deals. And deals must be in the cards...and soon!
Dave, if you act soon you can still salvage the season. Oh, probably not the 2005 season, but the '06 campaign might be salvaged with a new GM in place quickly. For one thing, the new GM will have to decide what to do with current manager, Charlie Manuel, a man who certainly seems a fish out of water in the more strategic oceans of the National League. To be honest, I saw this happening and was an outspoken advocate of bringing Jim Leyland on board.
It appears to me that Leyland made the fatal mistake of looking at this Phillie roster not with rose colored glasses but with clear and unencumbered honesty. He probably mentioned in the interview that this Phillie team needed some changes and that the parts didn't quite fit the whole. He may have mentioned that Pat Burrell and Jim Thome might not be the best fit in the middle of the order due to their penchant for strike outs and lack of speed.
He probably commented that under his watch, shortstop Jimmy Rollins would cease to lead off and Bobby Abreu would bat wherever he felt Abreu would most help the team. He might have mentioned that the Phils seemed a pitcher short, a step slow, and a run manufacturing nightmare. He possibly said they struck out too much, ran too little and wasted the talent they did have.
For this honesty he was passed over for Manuel, who no doubt told Wade what he wanted to hear. Unfortunately, it appears Leyand was correct in his assessment of the club, much to the chagrin of everyone involved. That's all water under the bridge now, but Hunsiker isn't. Oh, I know there are rumors that the Astros made him sign a form stating that he wouldn't take another GM job for a year, but what court would stop a man from gainful employment, and this was probably only a ploy to make Hunsiker squirm a bit.
I have no doubt that your charm, and a few hundred thousand dollars in cash, would be more than enough to convince Astro ownership to free Hunsiker to take over in PhillieLand. Once on board, he must be allowed to make whatever moves he deems necessary to get the paying customers back to Citizens Bank Park. If it means replacing some of your trusted favorites like Dallas Green and Ruben Amaro, well that is the price to be paid for the mistakes of the past half dozen years.
Certainly, Hunsiker would bring a Rolodex file of his people with him, and if the Astro model was built by people from this file, so much the better. Houston is an organization that never needed $95 million dollars to succeed, and this alone should convince you that here is a move worth making.
Dave, in many ways, the three of us are Phillie soul brothers. We all grew up loving the Phils. You and I had our youth defined by the trevails of 1964 and Gerry Hunsiker no doubt suffered with the frustrations of the near misses of the 1970's. All of us remember where we were when the Phils won their World Series in 1980. My friend, this seems a no brainer to me. The upside is much too large to ignore, the time much to short to put off.
The next move is yours my friend and an anxious and impatient populace of Phillie phandom awaits it expectantly. The past can't be changed but the future can be altered. But only if you act and act now. As always, the advice is free and comes from an ally. Here is hoping you take some time to consider it.
Cookie Rojas, Bobby Wine and Ruben Amaro forever....your pal, CD
Columnist's Note: Please send all questions or comments to email@example.com and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast