He also hired such outstanding baseball men as Gordon Lackey, Ruben Amaro, Sr. and P.J. Forbes while greatly increasing the Latin America and Australian presence of such outstanding scouts as Sal Artiaga, Sal Agostinelli and Kevin Hooker. He allowed respected scouting and minor league director Mike Arbuckle to do his job and as a result the system has produced such talent as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Pat Burrell, Gavin Floyd, Ryan Madson and Jason Michaels under his watch.
He also will be remembered as the man who orchestrated the ill-fated deals of super stars Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling, hired Larry Bowa when many felt it was a bad move, failed to sign college superstar J.D. Drew, and oversaw the loss of more than a handful of top tier draft picks through a series of miscalculations, poor judgment or just plain bad luck. Wade was also a major catalyst in an attendance drop of over 600,000 paying customers in 2005, a number that equates to a cool $25 million in lost revenues for an organization that has always paid particular attention to the bottom line.
On the whole, history will record Wade's baseball tenure as mixed, average at best, below average at worst. Still, for the greater part of eight years, his character and personality was never put into question. Outsiders had always been led to believe that much like mild mannered Clark Kent, respected newsman for a metropolitan newspaper, Wade was a bespectacled nice guy who seemed almost too even tempered for his own good.
Ah, but here is where perception was like the shadow on Lincoln's tree while reality may have been more like the tee itself. Stories are beginning to surface of a man with far more temper than was often seen, and a general manager prone to verbal outbursts. These stories must cast into serious question the qualifications that allowed him to continue for so long, as well as a management team that seemed far too permissive when it came to the care taking of this franchise.
It has now come to light, as reported by many of the very Phillie beat writers who covered Wade and the team on a daily basis, of a general manager who threw chairs, was prone to outlandishly childish verbal barrages and even confronted such players as standout reliever Billy Wagner for having the audacity to question management moves to the press.
Apparently Wade viewed the press as more enemy than friend, and made it clear that access to the team and its resources could be determined solely by how it treated the team through its use of the written word. Even more alarming is the portrayal of Wade as a smug, self important character [same word, different meaning] who used his power to alienate players, coaches agents and writers alike.
If true, one readily understands why super agent, Scott Boras, would routinely steer his clients away from the baseball crazed city of Philadelphia. Players like Drew, Millwood, Carlos Beltran and even collegiate All-American Mark Texiera were represented by Boras and made it clear they were unwilling to sign long term deals with the Phils under the Wade Watch.
If true, one can readily understand why despite overwhelming odds in their favor, the Phils were unable to reacquire star hurler, Curt Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite everything but a personal plea from Schilling, Wade fiddled while D'backs GM Jerry Colangelo burned, and Schilling was finally left to accept an offer from the Boston Red Sox, a deal that led to Red Sox riches and Phillie rags. It now appears that it was Wade who made a deal impossible due to his anger at Schilling, an anger that is now beginning to surface in the murky waters of sharks and opportunists.
Make no mistake, Wade has made himself an easy target with his petty comments at his final press conference. A man is often judged by the performance he gives during his final stage appearance, and in this regard, Wade failed miserably. Instead of handling the situation with class and dignity, Wade took the occasion to blame his demise on reporters and phans who made his job untenable and appeared the perfect victim.
He took the moment to fire criticisms at several respected Philadelphia sports writers and seemed to imply that it was them, rather than his track record of no playoff births in eight years, that had caused him to lose his job. This is, to be quite candid, absurd. Wade kept his job as long as he did because he was blessed to work for a boss, Managing General Partner Dave Montgomery, who would prefer tooth decay to firing a trusted friend and employee. While this may speak well of Montgomery the man, it does not speak well of Montgomery the caretaker of a valuable and treasured item, a baseball team loved and honored by millions of Philadelphia Phillie phanatics.
Far be it from me to write this column easily. Truth be told, I have often questioned Wade's baseball knowledge but never have felt the need to question his character. I have always presented Wade in the best possible light where character was concerned, and, frankly, never had reason to do otherwise. Oh, there were often rumors of Wade's famous temper but Philadelphia had more than enough rumors to keep any baseball phan content, it did not seem that this was an area that needed addressing.
Now, along with a myriad of other unresolved matters, the Wade Watch may continue even after he has departed the scene for if some of these rumors are true the long term ramifications may be painful indeed. For example, if as reported, Wade did scream at Wagner on more than one occasion for the reliever's propensity for honesty over discretion, how damaging will this be when Wagner must choose to ink his name on a Phillie three year deal or test free agency. Only Wagner knows for sure, and at this point, he is not saying.
The pros and cons of a Billy Wagner return can be debated for days, and both sides have their valid arguments but this much is known. Relievers may truly grow on trees but the best of the best only grow on selected vines, and it says here that Wagner's vine is a rare one indeed. The Phils may have to bite hard on a three-year deal for probably 27 million to keep him, and the no trade deal may also be hard to stomach, but if Wagner walks, the Phils will have to overpay to keep Ugueth Urbina, and that may cause more long term indigestion than Wagner's deal.
Equally disquieting is the thought that Wade's private tantrums might have made Philadelphia seem like a place the most coveted free agents would choose to avoid. Certainly this has seemed the case with Boras, the man Phillie phans love to loathe. In fact, there has been no more vocal critic of Boras than this writer, but the reality of the situation is this...Boras represents some of baseball's best and brightest, and also is agent for young Phillie pitching standout, Ryan Madson, and at some point a truce might well benefit both parties.
It would seem to behoove the Phils to bring in a GM who at least has a working relationship with the difficult Boras instead of a "my way or the highway" attitude that appears to have been Wade's mode of operation. Boras is tough enough to deal with on a good day, on a Wade day he probably would continue to be impossible to bargain with.
With this in mind, and with the assumption that my "dream" candidate, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, will eventually make peace with the Sox and come to terms on another deal, who should the Phils bring in to clean up the mess that Wade evidently made. As I have been touting since he left Houston last Fall, my choice remains Gerry Hunsicker, a man with Philadelphia roots and a resume nearly as impressive as Epstein's.
If you wish to know how well Hunsicker can build a team, take a look at the playoff version of this year's Houston Astros. Almost that complete team was structured under the Hunsicker watch, and it remains to this day a work of art. Consider for a moment the fact that Houston has always been a mid-market team salary wise during the Hunsicker regime. Also consider that Houston has never been a glamour team, but more of a blue collar club, much like the city of Philadelphia believes it is.
Also consider for a moment the fact that Hunsicker grew up a Phillies phan and has always secretly hoped of guiding this franchise. Perhaps it is just me, but I for one like the idea of a talented guy having passion for running my favorite team. A man with skill and passion for a team is much more likely to insure that this team will have success and maintain it.
Hunsicker also has an impressive rolodex file of trusted employees and baseball people and scouts who respect and listen to him. After all, it was Hunsicker who convinced Hall of Fame pitcher Roger Clemens to leave the Yankees for Houston, and also did the same with fellow hurler, Andy Pettitte. It was also Hunsicker who made the daring in-season deals for super star players like Randy Johnson and Carlos Beltran, both resulting in Astro playoff births.
The name Beltran should not easily be dismissed as he is represented by the very same reviled agent Scott Boras who has been such a pain in the neck to Phillies phanatics since the J.D. Drew fiasco. It says much that Hunsicker felt quite comfortable bringing in a Boras client, albeit one that ultimately left for the New York Mets. It also speaks volumes about Hunsicker's sense of self that it was he who walked away from the very lucrative Astro job after nine years due to what he felt was excessive interference from owner Drayton McLane.
It seems safe to say that this would not be the case in Philadelphia. Not only would Monty not be the hands on owner that McLane always has been, but as a Managing General Partner who is currently on a bit of a hot seat himself, it would be in his best interests to hire Hunsicker and then leave him alone to weave his magic. Rumors, and there is that word again but stronger this time, abound that former Managing General Partner Bill Giles regrets turning over the day to day reins to Montgomery and might just encourage the silent partners to oust Monty if things don't turn around fairly quickly.
It is also worth noting that despite reports that link Hunsicker and Montgomery as very good friends from the past, the reality is that it is none other than Bill Giles who has known and respected Hunsicker for years from both near and far. There is still the story tossed around in local Philadelphia schools that when Giles spoke at a local school last winter, he not so jokingly mentioned to the teacher and students that Hunsicker would eventually replace Wade as Phillie GM. The truth of the story probably will never be verified but it was floating around town since January of 2005.
Let us presuppose that when Fall leaves turn to Winter snow, Hunsicker has been christened as the Phillie GM. Just what can we look for from him, both in the immediate future and in the years to come based on his track record. For one thing, he knows and respects Billy Wagner very much and would probably attempt to get involved in the negotiations if he feels it is in the best interest of the team to do so. It should be noted that it was Hunsicker who traded Wagner to the Phils in the first place, though again the reports were that it was a McLane decision and not the GM who pulled the trigger on the deal.
Still, that trade speaks volumes about Hunsicker's respect for a solid farm system. For the talented Wagner, he was able to coax Wade out of three of the Phillies' better young arms, major leaguer Brandon Duckworth, and mega prospects, Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio. While Duckworth appears caught with his wheels strictly in neutral, both Buchholz and Astacio rank among the Astros better long-term hurlers. This is a deal that could pay off for years with the ‘stros.
Also among the prospects developed during the Hunsicker watch are Chris Burke, Willy Taveras, Chad Qualls, Brandon Backe, Morgan Ensberg, Brad Lidge and Jason Lane. This is an impressive list of players, and shows the understanding that Hunsicker has about a strong farm system. He has also shown a wise eye for dealing for that one missing piece as his past acquisitions of Johnson and Beltran well attest.
There is one more aspect to the Hunsicker story that should be mentioned. At this writing, the ‘stros were but one win from the World Series, an event that will be the first ever for the franchise if they make it. Should they garner that one final win, you can bet that Hunsicker's name will become a common theme during the series as there can be little doubt that he was the architect of this club. It might behoove the Phils to act fairly quickly before A] Hunsicker's price tag rises accordingly or B] he begins to receive uncommon interest amongst the half dozen other clubs that might be interested in his services.
Assuming Hunsicker gets the job, and it is better than even money that he does, what other decisions will he need to make and fairly quickly. He will need to decide how valuable starting pitcher Vicente Padilla is to the future of this team as there has been talk of allowing him to become a free agent in December. At first glance this might appear to be a smart business decision, but it is certainly not a good baseball decision. Padilla was still throwing as high as 96 MPH on occasion in September and would be grabbed immediately if put on the open market.
Frankly, it would not benefit the Phils to see a team like Atlanta or the Mets sign Padilla while the Phils get nothing in return. It would seem to make better sense to either keep Padilla or use him in conjunction with another player to pry a top talent in trade from another club. The same applies to David Bell, who might have value as a player in the last season of his contract. There has been talk of moving Bell to Kansas City, where he could be united with his father, manager Buddy Bell.
No Hunsicker decision would be a bigger one that the choice to either keep or trade slugger and Philadelphia hero, Jim Thome. Either way, this will be a gut wrenching decision, but it should be noted that Hunsicker did not bring Thome in so will have no personal attachment to him, unlike Wade. It was Thome who made the former GM a folk hero of sorts for a season when he joined the Phils, after being impressively courted by Wade for almost a month. Hunsicker has no memories of this and would be less inclined to favor sentimentality over good baseball sense.
There is talk of keeping Thome and moving super rookie slugger, Ryan Howard, back to the outfield, where they felt he failed miserably last winter. If Howard should leave first base for the outfield, this would entail moving Pat Burrell to right field and possibly cause a trade of Bobby Abreu to another club. Again, the Hunsicker connection is interesting, as he was in the Houston organization when Abreu was coming up and is quite familiar with him. It seems almost ludicrous to think of the Phils without Abreu in the lineup, but this is the type of move that Hunsicker has excelled at in his former job with Houston.
The fact is that if Abreu must be moved, and there is nothing that says he must be, it seems safe to say that Philadelphia is in better hands with Hunsicker making the move than Wade. Still, it seems more reasonable to me to consider moving Thome back to the American League and a comfortable role as a designated hitter. There are several teams that could use his services, from Boston to New York, Anaheim to Baltimore, Toronto to Chicago. This is the avenue that seems to make the most sense.
Other Hunsicker decisions would entail bringing in some of his own people while maintaining a sense of stability within the organization, at least for a season. Still, he has been in Philadelphia for a year now as an observer, and it seems reasonable to assume that he has been talking to his baseball people as well as making mental notes on his own. While the short-term future of such Phillie organization stalwarts like Dallas Green, John Vukovich, Mike Arbuckle and Ruben Amaro, Jr. appears safe, it would be surprising if they were around for the long haul.
No doubt Hunsicker would eventually surround himself with the people he most trusts and knows, and they are not likely to include the Dallas Green's or John Vukovich's of the world. Ironically, they are two of the people Monty has chosen to advise him in the selection process. It does seem likely that should they recommend Hunsicker, they will be eventually be recommending their own removal, another added twist to this story!
In any event, the shores of the Atlantic are not the only place where The City of Brotherly Love is likely to see water in the coming days. With the Wade accusations picking up steam, and GM stories involving people like Hunsicker and current New York Yankee GM, Brian Cashman, likely to dominate the local baseball news throughout the rest of the month, expect the waters to get dimmer rather than clearer for the time being.
Indeed, any Phillie phan daring to enter the tide pools of separating fact from fiction over the next few weeks is likely to find the answers only while...Wade-ing into murky waters.
Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to email@example.com and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast