Mr. Hamels, Meet Mr. Bystrom

In 1980, a 22 year old rookie named Marty Bystrom made history by winning his first five starts and helped the Phillies to the post-season. In 2005, the Phillies have another 22 year old who would love the chance to do the same thing for a Phillies team that could definitely use some help.

The 1980 Phillies came into September needing some help. The Phillies started the month at 68-60 and General Manager Paul Owens held a September 1st clubhouse meeting to declare that "the last month is Ruly Carpenter's (team president) and mine." Meaning that if things didn't go the way they wanted, changes would be coming swiftly. With Owens' rant coming not long after Dallas Green's tirade in the clubhouse at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the players had been appropriately warned.

One of the September call-ups was 22 year old Marty Bystrom. The right-hander had been signed as an amateur free agent late in 1976 and had gone 43-28 with a 3.44 ERA in four minor league seasons. He had moved swiftly through the ranks, pitching two seasons in A ball and two more at the AAA level.

The Phillies beat the Giants on September 1st and went on to win three more games before spiraling into a three-game losing skid. It was unclear whether the team was truly listening or bought into any of the clubhouse meetings.

For Marty Bystrom, there wasn't time to worry about too much. He was in a tough situation, but truly wasn't being relied on for too much. After all, he was young and he was a rookie. How much could he really provide for a club filled with veterans who were in the heat of a pennant race? Bystrom made his major league debut with a perfect inning against the Dodgers on September 7th. Three days later, he made his first start, throwing a complete game shutout against the Mets. From there, came wins against St.Louis, another against the Mets and two wins against the Cubs. When the month was over, Bystrom had been a key component of the Phillies' September of 1980. He was undefeated, going 5-0 and posting a 1.50 ERA in six games (five were starts). He threw a complete game and showed amazing poise on the mound, walking just nine in 36 innings of work, while striking out 21. The Phillies wound up winning the division by one game over the Montreal Expos thanks to a heroic final weekend that had the Phils playing three games at Olympic Stadium and winning the first two to clinch the season title. 

The Phillies headed to the playoffs and there was Marty Bystrom standing tall as part of the Phillies rotation. Although things didn't go well for Bystrom in his start against the Houston Astros in the NLCS, he rebounded with 5.1 innings of strong pitching against the Royals in the World Series. 

While Bystrom went on to have decent seasons following 1980, he finished his career after six seasons having slightly more success than the Phillies had predicted for him. Of course, when you factor in 1980, they had gotten more from his right arm than they had ever hoped. When all was said and done, Bystrom had pitched for the Phillies and Yankees, compiling a major league record of 29-26 with a career 4.26 ERA.

Fast forward 25 years and Philadelphia again has a struggling club looking for someone to lead them into the postseason. Ryan Howard has arrived from Scranton and has provided some spark, most recently beating the Dodgers with a tenth inning homerun. Still, the issue isn't really the offense, it's finding another starter to join the rotation. Rumors fly about proposed deals between the Phillies and other clubs. Names like Barry Zito, Mark Redman and Kip Wells have been thrown around as potential additions to a somewhat sketchy starting rotation. The Phillies also wonder if they have the answer right in their own organization.

With Gavin Floyd struggling at AAA, he doesn't appear ready to help. That leaves Cole Hamels. While originally holding the position that Hamels wouldn't be ready for the majors this season, GM Ed Wade has backed off. "I'm not ruling any possibility out in regards to Cole," Wade told the <i>Philadelphia Inquirer</i>.

You have to wonder if perhaps, Hamels could do for this club what Marty Bystrom did 25 years ago. Hamels is 22, just as Bystrom was in 1980. One difference is that Hamels is in his third minor league season while Bystrom had four seasons under his belt. The difference is bigger than that though, since Hamels' career has been constantly interrupted by injuries. After his first three seasons in the minors, Bystrom had pitched 644 innings in the minors. At this point, Hamels stands at 152 innings of work. Bystrom had also thrown 172 innings at the AAA level, while Hamels has yet to see AAA and has just 19 innings at AA.

Perhaps the biggest concern is Hamels himself. When he came to training camp with the big league club in 2004, he admits that he overthrew and hurt his arm. He compounded the problem by not telling anybody about the injury, causing him to miss a chunk of time during the season. The concern is that he may do the same sort of thing if he were to join the Phillies this September, especially if there is a pennant race going on. It's ironic that his performance in spring training and the subsequent injury, has been a big part in what has made this decision much tougher. Had he not gotten hurt, Hamels would be much closer to pitching in the majors without having to be rushed into the situation.

Over the next 11 days, the Phillies will need to decide on a course of action and whether they will pursue a deal for another starter. Such a deal could easily cost the Phillies a top prospect, perhaps even Ryan Howard. The other option is to remember 1980 and what a young, 22 year old starter was able to do for a team that needed a shot in the arm on their way toward a division title.

Marty Bystrom's minor league stats prior to 1980

Year / Team W L ERA G IP H R ER BB KO
1977 Spartanburg (A) 13 11 3.38 27 184.0 199 83 69 49 99
1978 Peninsula (A) 15 7 2.83 26 197.0 170 71 62 46 159
1979 Oklahoma City (AAA) 9 5 4.08 26 172.0 174 102 78 69 108
1980 Oklahoma City (AAA) 6 5 3.66 14 91.0 89 49 37 27 68
Career 43 28 3.44 93 644.0 632 305 246 191 434

Cole Hamels' career minor league stats (through July 19, 2005)

Year / Team W L ERA G IP H R ER BB KO
2003 Lakewood (A) 6 1 0.84 13 74.2 32 8 7 25 115
2003 Clearwater (A) 0 2 2.73 5 26.1 29 9 8 14 32
2004 Clearwater (A) 1 0 1.12 4 16.0 10 2 2 4 24
2005 Clearwater (A) 2 0 2.25 3 16.0 7 5 4 7 18
2005 Reading (AA) 2 0 2.37 3 19.0 10 6 5 12 19
Career 11 3 1.54 28 152.0 88 30 26 62 208

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