CD's Connect the Dots:Playing for Immortality

In sport, there rarely occurs a fleeting and magical moment which begins to define a team, a moment in time when everything changes forever. No longer is the team playing to win a game, a division or a series. They are playing for something so much larger, so much more important, that it defines the moment. That moment has occurred for the 2009 Phillies. They are now...playing for immortality.

For the Phillies, that magical moment came in Game Four of the recently concluded League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It occurred when things appeared the bleakest; two outs, bottom of the ninth, Phils trailing 4-3. A loss squares the series at two with the Dodgers and guarantees a trip back to Southern California to avenge last years loss to the Phils. A loss completely changes the momentum of the series, one that has up to this moment swayed back and forth like a pendulum perched perfectly on the top of and old and valued wall clock.

Yet for shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the pendulum may swing patiently back and forth but when the clock strikes midnight, he expects the Phillies to be the only team standing. The moment was perfect for him to perform his heroic theatrics and as his two out double against 98 MPH fastballer Jonathan Broxton nestled snugly into the green outer grasses of Citizens Bank Park, everything that people thought they knew about this team changed forever.

No longer could the 2008-09 Philadelphia Phillies be viewed as a probable footnote in the long and storied history of the National League, as well as the national pastime itself. No longer should last season's improbable march to the baseball mountain top be considered a case of beginners luck, partly truth and partly fiction. The story has begun to take on a whole new set of relevance and to listen to the Phillies talk, they understand where they are right now, and where they may end up should they achieve a second straight World Series victory.

Oh, make no mistake about it. For the moment to truly rank as historic, for this team to take its place among the greatest teams of the past 40 years, it must win the World Series against the vaunted New York Yankees. Just getting there, although an incredible accomplishment, will not be enough to place themselves among the pantheon of great franchises like the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds and the 1998-2000 New York Yankees. Getting there has made them admired, winning there will make them historic. And immortalized.

Winning the 2009 World Series will also play an important part in the futures of Mssrs. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and possibly even Manager Charlie Manuel. Back-to-back World Series triumphs will almost assuredly gain Rollins, Utley and Howard an eventual berth in baseball's hallowed ground, the Hall of Fame. And while Manuel has a few games left to win before his name can be considered, he will have taken a major leap forward in having his name mentioned in the same breath as managers like Joe Torre, Tony Larussa, Tommy Lasorda and Earl Weaver.

Yes, these are heady times for the Philadelphia Phillies, a truly Golden Era for some of baseball's most loyal and formerly frustrated phans. And it is not too early to discuss this potentially historic event since any discussion of it later would involve looking through the windows of a rear view mirror.

Better to discuss it now and understand what this team truly stands on the precipice of achieving. Leave it to Philadelphia's very own adopted son, Benjamin Franklin, to capture the moment succinctly. The esteemed Mr. Franklin once observed that "if you would not be forgotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing." As the Phils continue to do things worth writing about, baseball wags everywhere are beginning to take notice and write about it accordingly.

So, without further ado, and with as little fanfare as is humanly possible given the moment, lets examine these claims and see just how relevant they are and just how likely they are to occur. The claim of the uniqueness of the Phillie two year journey to this point can no longer be denied. Rollins took care of that with his "just give me one moment in time" double that virtually assured his club another place in baseball's Fall Classic.

To this point, the Phils have now played five different opponents over the course of the past two playoff and series runs. Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay last season and so far, Colorado and the Dodgers again in 2009. Five very talented teams, and in none of them were the Phils considered overwhelming favorites. In fact, strong cases were made in defense of the opponents, from the dominance of CC Sabathia with the Brewers to the dominance of the American League with the Rays, from the second half momentum of the Rockies to the revenge factor with the Dodgers.

Yet, in all five series, not only did the Phillies prevail every time, but still have not lost more than one game in each series. This is an amazing statistic, one that is likely to be viewed with even greater admiration with the test of time. Baseball is a game of momentum to be sure, but is also a game where any contest can turn on a single event, either a clutch hit, umpires call or the sheer dominance of a particular pitcher or hitter on any particular day.

However, the reality is that they still have not suffered as much as a single back-to-back loss in the entire two year cycle of the playoffs. Nor as many as two losses in any series. It gets even more impressive. Not once has the team even trailed in any of the five series, not once.

The worst situation they have found themselves in was tied after two games with the Rays, Rockies and Dodgers. Their 18-5 cumulative record to this point ranks with the greatest winning percentages of all time and it is worth noting that they have won 16 of their last 20 playoff contests, a staggering .800 winning percentage.

Even more impressive is that they have been winning through the efforts of so many different character performers, almost as if changing the leading actors of a Broadway play on a nightly basis. Contemplate this for one moment. Begin to name the players who have performed nightly deeds worth of a standout Broadway production. Lets name just a few. Last year it was Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton, Geoff Jenkins, Pat Burrell, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, JC Romero and Jamie Moyer.

This year it is Ryan Howard, Chad Durbin, Pedro Martinez, Cliff Lee, Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, Chan Ho Park, Scott Eyre, Jayson Werth, Pedro Feliz, J.A. Happ and Raul Ibanez. Twenty three entirely different players have contributed over the course of two seasons. Staggering contributions from so many different players and in so many different circumstances.

Of course, this the epitome of the team concept, and while the Phils certainly have their dominant individual performers [think Howard, Lee and Utley] they are a unique brand of what truly constitutes a historic group, a deep and sound roster from top to bottom. And, as the list of '08 and '09 names suggest, interchangeable and without a noticeable drop in performance. Probably historic. Possibly immortal. Time will tell.

Make no mistake, for this team to truly be ranked as one of the immortal teams of the era [1970-present] they will need to take care of some as yet unfinished business, and that is the winning the 2009 World Series. And it will take on much added flair should their opponent be the storied New York Yankees, they of 39 World Series berths and an astounding 26 World Series triumphs. Oh, a victory over the Los Angeles Angels would have in no way diminish the Phillie accomplishment, but a victory over the vaunted Yankees will guarantee the Phils a place in the history books.

After all, these are the Yankees of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Of CC Sabathia and Mark Texiera and Johnny Damon. And the ghosts of Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle. Not to mention an over $200 million dollar player payroll. The Yankees are built to win, and win often. They are expected to capture the -09 crown and have been since last winter when they shelled out over $350 million in long term deals for Sabathia, Texiera and pitcher A.J. Burnett. Anything less than a World Series championship will be considered failure in the Bronx so a victory by the Phillies would not only be significant, but unexpected. Of this is history recorded. And immortality.

As for the future Hall of Fame status of Rollins, Utley, Howard and Manuel, lets examine the evidence for inclusion. Of course, the Phils already have on their roster one certifiable Hall of Famer in hurler Pedro Martinez. His status is secure and nothing he does in this series will dissuade or convince future voters of his eventual berth in the Hall.

However, for long time Phillie stalwarts like Rollins, Utley and Howard, this is their opportunity to insure that their names will one day join Martinez at Cooperstown. It might take awhile and probably none of the players will be first time ballot winners, but another World Series title will eventually get them in. Here's write the history books and nothing succeeds like success. Individual success is good but team success makes for greatness. All three players have achieved more than their share of individual success. Team success will push them over the top, and into the Hall of Fame.

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins is the unquestioned leader of the squad and his challenge in 2007 that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East still reverberates as the Philadelphia version of the Battle Cry of the Union. Players almost to a man still attest to that cry as the moment when the Phightins' went from pretenders to contenders, and ultimately from contenders to champions. Rollins will always be remembered for that moment in the spring of '07.

Yet, he will be remembered for oh so much more than that. At 31 years of age, Jimmy Rollins has been a dynamo shortstop in Philadelphia for nine seasons [2001-2009.] It is no mere coincidence that the winning began in 2001, exactly when Rollins arrived. Simply put, he is the epitome of the winning athlete, doing whatever it takes to succeed.

His individual accomplishments are impressive enough. Over the course of nine full seasons, Rollins has scored 940 runs, accumulated over 1600 hits, stolen 323 bases, hit 146 home runs from the leadoff spot, and knocked in over 600 runs. During this period he has averaged .273 and fielded his position as well as any shortstop in baseball. His resume includes three All-Star berths, two Gold Gloves and even a 2007 Most Valuable Player award. He is easily the greatest shortstop in Phillie history and one of the best shortstops of his era.

Simply put, another World Series victory will one day get him into the Hall of Fame, not only for his individual brilliance, but for his ability to lift a team to heights it never imagined it could attain. Jimmy Rollins is playing for baseball immortality.

Second baseman Chase Utley is widely considered one of the greatest offensive second sackers of all time. Soon to turn 31 years of age, his career got a later start than did Rollins, but has thus far been no less impressive. Since becoming a regular in 2005, Utley has averaged .300 with 146 home runs [nearly 30 a year] and knocked in 507 runs while scoring over 550 runs himself. He has also, through sheer hard work and perseverance, turned himself into a very solid defensive players despite the critics who said this could never happen.

If Rollins is the soul of the Phillies, then Utley is surely its heart. Hard nosed, determined and rock solid, Chase Utley epitomizes everything that this current group of players stand for. His numbers are impressive enough but it seems probable that he has 5 solid seasons left and career numbers of over 300 home runs, 1000 runs scored, and 1000 runs produced are certainly Hall of Fame worthy for a second baseman. It is the winning that will push Utley over the top with the voters, and, as with Rollins, two consecutive World Series titles cannot be ignored. Win in '09 and Utley eventually gets into the Hall of Fame.

Ryan Howard's resume becomes more impressive on an almost weekly basis. The Phillie slugger, who will not turn 30 till November, has accumulated some quite interesting statistics since he joined the Phils for good in the summer of 2005. To wit, 220 home runs in only 4.5 seasons of action. This averages out to about 49 home runs a season! As a non steroid player in a steroid tainted era. Again, staggering.

Add to this the fact that those 220 home runs have come in a mere 713 games, and during that period he has knocked in 635 runs and averaged a respectable .279. He has also participated in two All-Star games and been voted the National League MVP in 2006. His four year home run totals of 58, 47, 48 and 45 rank among the greatest four year totals of any player in baseball history not connected to the steroid scandals.

Yet, Ryan Howard has that rare ability to further transform himself to a higher level in the post season and he is now being mentioned with the likes of Lou Gehrig and Reggie Jackson for his October exploits. With a World Series yet to be played, Howard has already accomplished a portfolio full of playoff prizes. In 26 games played, the slugger has knocked in 24 runs while hitting six home runs, most of them quite clutch in nature.

His career highlights include a 2005 Rookie of Year Award, a 2006 NL Most Valuable Player Award as well as a silver slugger title and the recent MVP of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. Strong endorsements indeed.

And,as with Rollins and Utley, it is not far fetched to imagine five or six more superior seasons on the horizon for Ryan Howard, albeit not necessarily all in a Phillie uniform. The consensus is that he will undoubtedly test the free agent market when his contract is fulfilled following the 2011 campaign and he may wish to finish his career as a designated hitter in the American League.

Should Howard average 40 home runs a season for the next five or six seasons, not far fetched at all given his work ethic, he will have numbers comparable to former Pirate slugger, Willie Stargell, who parlayed one World Championship into a Hall of Fame entrance. Two series titles will cement a Howard berth.

The case for Manager Charlie Manuel is a more problematical one, but no less compelling. His star took much longer to shine and might take a few more light years to truly illuminate but another World Championship in 2009 will go a long way towards eventually placing the Phillie skipper in the rarefied atmosphere of the Hall.

A close look at his career reveals a manager who been highly successful, albeit not with the longevity of a Bobby Cox, Jim Leyland, Joe Torre or Tony Larussa. Manuel's managerial career involves a bit under eight seasons and has included four division titles, two league championships, and two World Series berths. In no full season has Manuel ever finished lower than second place, either with Cleveland or the Phillies.

His career record to this point is 648-541, a winning percentage of about 543, but should improve given the Phillies recent success. At 65 years of age, it seems conceivable that he will choose to manage for perhaps five more seasons, and might accumulate another 430 or so victories, which would give him over 1000 for his career.

While these numbers are impressive, they will be unlikely to sway voters when it comes time to select the Phillie manager for inclusion into the Hall of Fame. But two World Series titles back to back might be enough, especially given the impressive fashion in which it would have been done. Winning six consecutive playoff series. Defeating future Hall of Famer Joe Torre two seasons in a row. Becoming the first manager in the post free agency period to skipper a National League team to two consecutive World Series victories. And, perhaps, defeating the New York Yankees as his crowning achievement. Heady accomplishments indeed.

To be sure, Charlie Manuel will need to steer the Goodship Chollypop on a course of continued success during the next few years, and perhaps another World Series berth to cement his induction. But make no mistake, he is currently riding a wave that might someday take him ashore and into the baseball Hall of Fame...should he win in 2009.

The famed mystery novelist Agatha Christie once mused that "one doesn't recognize in one's life the really important moments, not until it's too late." Fortunately for thousands of Philadelphia Phillie phans in particular and millions of baseball fans in general, this is not the case with this years season, and this seasons possible repeat champions. It might well become a season and team for the ages, and it is best that everyone recognize it right now.

No longer can this team, in this season, be viewed as an anomaly of sorts, a team that parlayed good fortune with good baseball to make a late championship charge. Careful rumination says differently. Jimmy Rollins game winning double changed everything about this team and this season and its potential context into future baseball history books.

The eventual outcome is as yet unanswered, with the team to be played as yet undecided. But what answers are known and what future now decided is this. The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies are no longer playing for pride, money or fame. They are no longer playing for title, glory or riches. They are now playing for something much less tangible and much longer lasting. They are in quest of history and are now...playing for immortality.

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast

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