Saturday, October 15, 2005

Rejoice Not

It's not usually good to see someone lose a job.

Not even Ed Wade, the now-former Phillies' GM, if you're the type of Phillies fan who thought the man to be a symbol of the ineptness of one of the worst franchises in the history of baseball. If you're the type of fan who longed for someone to boo out of town long after you helped show onetime Eagles head coach Joe Kuharich the gate in the late 1960's. If you're the type of fan who helped banish Dodger pitcher Burt Hooton to the dank showers of then then relatively new Vet in the NLCS in 1977, by booing him off the mound.

Or if you're the type of fan who enjoyed the glory days of the Ruly Carpenter period of enlightenment (1975-1983) only to suffer with the know-nothingness of the post-Ruly Carpenter, Bill Giles-driven era of 1984 to the present, but who isn't, per se, a boo bird.

To Ed Wade's detriment, he had the Phillies' GM's job for 8 years, had a slightly sub-.500 record, the team never made the playoffs during his watch and he traded Curt Schiling and Scott Rolen in bad deals to good teams for guys whose names you remember about as well as the kids who were second-string on your 5-6 high school football team during your sophomore year. Also on your watch, the team built a beautiful new park with dimensions more fit for a beer league slow-pitch softball team than a team that was supposedly built on pitching.

To the team's credit, at the end of the Ed Wade era, they upped their payroll into the upper echelons of Major League Baseball (I think that they had the sixth largest payroll in 2005) and built that new ballpark. They also finished with a flourish, have some bright young stars, and finished well despite having a starting pitching staff more cast out of Major League, the movie than Major League, the real-life team. They won 88 games, finish 2 behind Atlanta and 1 out of the wild card -- and the guy gets fired.

Don't get too giddy, even if you don't like Ed Wade and you thought his firing was long overdue. The firing is as transparent as the iffy ability of the Phillies' ownership, and I'll tell you why.

1. Ed Wade is a sacrificial lamb today. The team had its best record in about 12 years, and the guy gets canned. He built a pretty good team, one with young stars, has some decent prospects coming up (Shane Victorino, for one). Yes, the farm system is bleak, and someone has to be held accountable. The bad stuff all sticks to Ed Wade; some should stick to his draft architect, Mike Arbuckle.

2. If Ed Wade should have been fired, he should have been fired right at the time the team was leaving the Vet and moving to Citizens Bank Park. Then, the fans would have had a momentum Trifecta -- new park, Jim Thome and a new GM. That would have made the fans so giddy that they would have bought every seat in the park for several years running, and, then, Wade would have been fired on merit.

3. Or he should have been fired last year, when his own personal Trifecta around the time of the opening of Citizens Bank Park proved to be a dud. Jim Thome (who hit about .200 with men on base in 2004, beset with recurring injuries) turned out not to be a thoroughbred who could run in the Triple Crown, but a somewhat lame (if powerful) horse. Someone (perhaps overly active pitching coach Joe Kerrigan) addled Kevin Millwood, who has pitched brilliantly in Cleveland. And David Bell proved to be even more lame than Thome. That's at three strikes, and then Wade rightfully should have been let go.

4. Instead, because Phillies managing partner Dave Montgomery is a loyal guy, he kept Wade on. The enmity of the Phillies' fans grew, and the "once burned, twice shy" adage kept popping into fans' heads. Okay, he fired Larry Bowa, and if Philies' fans were mad about that, they have to look at themselves and admit that this particular bit of pique was misplaced. True, the team has some sensitive types, but quotes from many scouts in the national publications stated that the Phillies would play better once Bowa was out of there. Even if he was our grouch, he didn't translate well in the clubhouse. There is old school and new school, and Bowa is old reform school. That type just stopped playing well almost everywhere. Score one for Wade, zero for the Phillies fans on that front.

But then he hired Charlie Manuel, a known friend of Jim Thome, at the expense of Jim Leyland. The Jim Leyland who managed the Pirates to the playoffs, the Marlins to a World Championship and the Rockies to the playoffs. A Jim Leyland who once burned out but who was seeking a resurgence like Dick Vermeil did with the St. Louis Rams. And what did Ed Wade do?

He made the wrong choice. The Phillies fans gasped. How many more mistakes could Ed Wade make? Be permitted to make?

5. The big issue this year was that despite the exciting season, attendance at CSB dropped from 3.25 million to 2.65 million. That's a lot of $6.25 beers and cheesesteaks at Tony Luke's not sold. That's a lot of Build-a-Phanatics not made. That's a lot of dough that desperately could have been used to sign Billy Wagner this off-season, who, if the Phillies don't re-sign him, puts the Phillies approximately 10 wins down and gives whoever signs him, such as the Mets (Mike Franscesa of WFAN in NYC thinks this is a match made in heaven) at least 10 more wins. Which puts the Mets in the playoff hunt next year, if this happens, and the Phillies with even more of a dwindling gate.

Make no mistake -- what would you rather have -- Billy Wagner as your closer with Ed Wade as the GM or a recycled 40 year-old Jose Mesa as your closer with Gerry Hunsicker as your GM while Wagner is closing for the Mets? Because that's what the choice might end up being.

Still, the biggest resounding cry from the fans was Ed Wade, and that's a shame. Ed Wade didn't deserve the vilification he got, which was vicious at times. He did deserve criticism, sometimes considerable criticism, but I think that there's someone else who deserves more. Rather, some other people.

Who may those people be? The Phillies ownership, starting with their fountainhead, Dave Montgomery, the team's president, and running all the way through to the wealthy and in this case anonymous Philadelphians who own the team but never say "boo" publicly. This group has all of the passion of the gentry who golf clap about the best new gladiola strain revealed before a luncheon of tea sandwiches and sherry at the monthly meeting of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society. As the team has foundered during their twenty-year tenure, they have put no face on the team the way Comcast has done with the Flyers and 76ers, and the way Jeffrey Lurie has with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Put simply, it is they who deserve the lion's share of the criticism, and it is they who are both the source of the problem and the solution.

Their past history certainly isn't a predictor of future success. The cons are the awful performance of the team through the 1993 season and the bad performance in the mid-late 90's up until a few years ago. The cons are that they seldom have shown a sense of urgency to do what it takes to get over the top and make a consistent, meaningful challenge to the Atlanta Braves' supremacy in the division (not to mention the Marlins two World Championships in the past eight years -- an expansion team for crying out loud). The cons are the drafting blunders (remember Jeff Jackson, heralded as the next Willie Mays, after having played only about a 20-game season his junior year in HS in Chicago?), the inconsistency of the farm system, paltry moves recently at trading deadlines and of course the fiascoes involving Scott Rolen and then Curt Schilling.

The pros are that they did build the new ballpark, that they have a trio of exciting young players, that this season they cobbled together a starting pitching staff to make a serious run at a playoff spot and that they've spent money (if not altogether wisely) most recently on playoffs. But that doesn't mean for a second that they won't revert to prior form, especially if attendance could drop another several hundred thousand this season, if Wagner goes somewhere else, if they can't meaningfully resolve the Ryan Howard/Jim Thome dilemma at first base, if they somehow return all of Mike Lieberthal, David Bell, Pat Burrrell and Bobby Abreu to the starting lineup (the latter two put up fine numbers, but the public perception is that they have about as much "oomph" as the Temple University football team), if they can't add a good starting pitcher.

So the writers can write all they want that former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker is the answer or that yes, Brian Cashman, the Yankees GM, could solve a lot of the Phillies' ills. But what they must remember is that even if Cashman were to come to Philadelphia -- or the BoSox Theo Epstein, whose contract is up -- they still are stuck with the same ownership that has brought you a sometimes dreadful and at best inconsistent product over the past 20 years.

And what Cashman or Epstein would realize when he gets here (and my assumption is that neither would come unless he could ascertain for certain that the commitment to winning is real) is that they won't have the financial commitment of George Steinbrenner or John Henry -- or their passion for winning -- in this ownership group. Which means no matter how good they are (and their owners' spending boatloads of cash can cover up a lot of ills the same way a very talented lineup can make a manager of average ability look like a genius), they might not get to show it if the overall revenue base is in decline.

Sure, the team needs a new GM. It needed one four years ago.

But it won't establish a meaningful standard of excellence -- the way their neighbors, the Philadelphia Eagles have -- until they get new ownership.

Philadelphia Phillies' fans have suffered enough.

It is time for the current ownership to sell the team to someone with the fire in his belly to turn it into a perennial winner.

Because getting a new GM is only a band-aid.

A serious, big band-aid.

But a transparent band-aid at that.

And once the Phillies' fans realize that jettisoning Ed Wade doesn't turn out to be the palliative this club needs to cure its ills, they'll be even madder (both at themselves for being duped again and at the ownership) than they are now.

And that won't be a pretty sight.

Especially when they're not coming to the ballpark.


Anonymous said...

Hey, how's that Charlie Manuel analysis working out for you now?

eastofohio2 said...

Hindsight is always 20/20. I will say this, looking at how Ed Wade has managed to wreck the Houston Astros - somebody in the Phillies organization took a look at the big picture in 2005 and realized this was as good as it was ever gonna get with Ed at the helm. He may have drafted some talented players, but had he stuck around, I'd bet money some of them would be playing for other teams right now. He would have traded them for has-beens that HE thought were the answer to winning right now. Nobody saw Gillick coming at that point, so I can understand the consternation. And as for Charlie - NYY hired Torre in 96 and the same things were being said. WTF, mostly, and his track record gave people reason to say so.

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