Be it the 23 game losing streak in 1961, the pennant won that became a pennant lost in 1964, Black Friday in 1977 or the Joe Carter home run in 1993, the Phillie phan has suffered inordinately but has always come back for more. Yet, if the public outcry over the most recent misstep by the team is any indication, the club has now become almost a national joke, a team that seems to embarrass itself more with every indecision that they make.
For those unawares, and that number is shrinking fast, the team is now facing its latest controversy over an ill-advised decision to pitch ace Brett Myers in a game against the Boston Red Sox last Saturday after a well-publicized and equally well-viewed physical attack on his wife, Kim, during an argument on the late night streets on Boston a few evenings earlier. By most accounts, both had been drinking but this in no way mitigates the behavior of Myers, who not only was a champion boxer in high school but must have missed the lesson in kindergarten class that officially forbids a man striking a woman.
Of course, this action was bad enough, enough that the police had to arrest Myers and enough that eye witnesses said that Myers not only hit his wife twice in the face, but grabbed her by the hair and dragged her. Yet, as bad as the action was, the immediate reaction, both by the Phillies and Myers himself was even more reprehensible. Far from criticizing Myers over the public embarrassment he had caused to the organization and to men in general over this incredible sign of weakness, the team not only came to his defense but announced that he would pitch on Saturday because as GM Pat Gillick stated, "Brett is our best pitcher." As if this mattered at the moment, even to the most diehard of Phillie true believers?
Still, an expectant populace waited for a repentant Myers to do the right thing and offer a genuine apology not only to his wife but to a public that has witnessed far too much of this childish and boorish behavior over the years from the very athletes they so often hold to higher standards of conduct. Of course, this was not to come. Instead, Myers said he was sorry that this had become public as if everything would have been copasetic if this issue had never seen the light of day. Truth be told, Myers came across as unfeeling and arrogant. And still, not a word of sympathy for poor Kim Myers, the actual victim in this whole mess.
No, instead true to the form that always follows the athletes code of conduct...this "us against the world" mentality, Myer's teammates stated their support for him as if that was the correct thing to do at the moment. Far be it from a truly brave Phillie player to publicly condemn this action as something that was not only cowardly but wrong. With these words, it appears that not only Kim Myers suffered a black eye in the incident, but the entire Philadelphia Phillie organization took a hit as well.
What followed made the story even more unbelieable. An entire weekend passed before the team finally decided to do the right thing and issue a statement decrying the incident and promising to take proper action to insure that this does not happen again. With it came the accompanying announcement that Myers would be taking a leave of absence from the team until after the All-Star break in order to work things out at home with his wife.
Not so coincidentally, this only came after the team was flooded with phone calls and e-mails from an angry public as well as protests from such well-respected Women's Activists groups like Women Against Abuse and Women in Transition. They not only threatened protests outside the stadium but vowed to encourage local Philadelphians to hit the Phils in the only place they ever seem to understand pain...in the pocketbook.
Sadly, this is the view an increasingly skeptical fanbase has of team president Dave Montgomery and his up to now band of Teflonic Silent owners, as a group of men who care only about one thing, making money. Most local residents feel that Monty and the Teflonics don't really care about winning, or spending the necessary money to make the team a winner. Rather they care only about keeping the team competitive enough to keep the coffers turning and their bank accounts growing.
This latest misadventure only served to further confirm what many suspect about the organization, that it is sadly out of touch with what the modern baseball fan wants in its professional team. Pride and dignity, two words that seem to have been lost to the club since that unfortunate day back in 1981 when then owner Ruly Carpenter sold the club to it's present ownership group.
Now it has been replaced with not only an atmosphere of losing, both at the major and minor league level, but even worse, an atmosphere of off the field behaviors that are not only embarrassing but against all codes of civil conduct. Who can forget last year when Phillie outfielder Jason Michaels punched an off duty police officer in a drunken stupor that nearly cost the team the services of Philadelphia's finest at Citizens Bank Park? Only the trading of Michaels kept this incident from continuing into the 2007 season.
Was it that long ago that young phenom Cole Hamels broke his hand, his pitching hand no less, in an off the field bar encounter that most witnesses insist Hamels started? Now the Myers incident, which not only threatens to tear apart the very structure of this organization but could ruin the very credibility of new GM Pat Gillick almost before he has had a chance to blow up this team and start again at the beginning.
Remember, it was Gillick who issued the first pronouncements that Myers would pitch on Saturday, less than 24 hours after the incident occurred. When real leadership was needed the most, Gillick came across as nothing more than what many have believed him to be, a yes man to Monty and his Teflonics. I have not been one of those and have defended him vigorously up to this point. I am still prepared to see what happens next but must admit that when Gillick put the team's winning interests over what was best for the organization, not to mention Mrs. Myers, my faith in Gillick was damaged a bit.
True leadership comes at the most inopportune times and when Gillick had the chance to take a stand and say that Myers would not be pitching again until the entire episode was resolved, he whiffed. It would be ironic indeed that if for all the wondrous things he has accomplished in his illustrious career with Toronto, Seattle and Baltimore, things that will one day place him in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Gillick were remembered lastly for what he didn't do rather than what he did do while in Philadelphia.
Of course, this current situation begs for the question, "What next?" How can the Phils explicate themselves from this seeming quicksand that they now find themselves in, much of it self inflicted agony? First and foremost, they must somehow find a way to get Myers to understand the gravity of what he did and to prove once and for all that he not only understands but will repent. A heartfelt and public apology would be a nice beginning, lawyer legalize notwithstanding. We are not talking about lawyer language here, but two human beings, and an organization whose credibility now hangs in the balance.
After the apology, Gillick will have to think long and hard about the future of Mr. Myers as it pertains to the team and organization. Far be it from me to suggest that there is no hope for forgiveness on the part of not only the team but the paying public, but it is here that Gillick's best instincts, the one's that have served him so well in the past will have to be put to the test. If he feels the team cannot move forward with Myers as the "ace" of a very young and impressionable pitching staff he will have to be traded, regardless of the discount rate he is likely to receive in return. Yes, the situation is THAT serious.
Next in line would be a thorough and complete review of this oft repeated but sadly out of date, "Phillie Way" of doing things. For all the fanfare of this pronouncement, the simple reality is that the "Phillie Way" of doing things just is not working, unless you consider one playoff berth in 23 years to be an outstanding accomplishment. I certainly don't and I am quite sure I speak for more than a few former Phillie phanatics.
Once this review is done, the team must be cleansed of any players who cannot begin to show accountability not only for their performance on the field but off it. This team will not win until or unless responsibility and accountability become bywords for the franchise and not just try-words for a group that seems more than willing to blame others for every bad break and misadventure they receive.
Of course, it begins at the top and ownership must at long last make an honest commitment to the paying customer that they will provide a first rate and professional product, both on the field and off. At the managerial level, it seems apparent to almost everyone connected with the club that Manager Charlie Manuel, while a wonderful human being, is ill-suited for the job and must be replaced and soon. His recent spats with shortstop Jimmy Rollins and pitcher Cory Lidle further served to clarify what many have known for awhile...that he has lost this team and will not get it back.
Although he continues to insist that he is too old and not interested in returning to the dugout, it seems imperative that Gillick revisit his idea of turning the managerial reigns over to former Phillie skipper, Dallas Green, on an interim basis. As was mentioned here previously, the appointment of Green would not be made to salvage the season, a season that is clearly beyond salvaging. No, rather Green should be entrusted with salvaging a franchise, and sorting out the wheat from the chafe so when a permanent manager is hired for 2007 he can be reasonably comfortable that the group he has been hired to manage will all be on the same page...the new and rewritten Phillie page.
On the field, the team must continue it's recent pattern of letting youngsters learn as they play at the big league level. This season is irreparably gone. Let's face it, what Phillie phan really even cares much for this group right now, a team that seems as disinterested as it does ready to be dissolved. If the team must lose, better to lose with the likes of Scott Mathieson, Chris Roberson, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Gavin Floyd and Chris Coste. If the team must struggle, better to struggle with the likes of Aaron Rowand, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Ryan Madson and Geoff Geary.
This is not to say that players like Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, and Tom Gordon can not be part of a revitalized and vibrant rebirth of winning baseball in Philadelphia, only that they will have to show that this is what they want. As some of the most successful and highest paid of the Phillie players, they will have to step front and center into the Accountability and Responsibility Stage and show by their actions and performance that they can lead as well as follow. If not, they must be moved, even if it becomes a $.50 on the dollar return.
Allow me to close with this not so encouraging report. Nothing in the Phillies history since Montgomery and his group became owners would lead me to believe these changes can or will take place. This is not the first crisis that this organization has suffered under this leadership and that report card grades up to this point are not promising. Far from a forward thinking organization, the Phillies always seem to be in a reactive mode rather than in a proactive one. My best instincts tell me that this latest crisis will end in much the same way, with dust pushed under the carpet until said dust settles and another muddy shoe is allowed into the room.
This whole continuing soap opera somehow makes me very sad. I look back to my first baseball game as a youngster, and the excitement I felt when my dad took me to Candlestick Park to see the San Francisco Giants and the visiting team, a club called the Philadelphia Phillies. It was in 1964 and the Phils were a hot team then, with wondrously bright red and white uniforms and a team that seemed such an underdog that I immediately claimed them as my own. The next day's brand new package of baseball cards merely reconfirmed my feelings...two Phillies out of a pack of five cards!
Of course, nothing in my young life prepared me for what was to transpire during those awful ten days in late September, when a National League pennant literally flew out the window without so much as a whimpering good bye. Still, I have followed this team faithfully through the years and have even been fortunate enough to write about them, seeming good fortune indeed.
Now, as I see my team in crisis once again, as I view the Phils not with rose-colored glasses but from the perspective of a baseball nation that is literally laughing at the misdeeds of my team, I can't help but think back to that July 4 day in 1964 and wonder if I should not have taken the path of my father and all the other 30,000 baseball fans that day and accepted the Giants as my team.
This latest misadventure has forced me to question my loyalties to the Phillies. While continuing to reexamine my choice in teams I do remain hopeful that the energy will be recovered to once again state with exuberance my pride in the franchise. Still, at the moment I can think of only two words, words that seem to have escaped an entire organization when they were needed the most..."I'm sorry."
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