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Friday, September 21, 2007

Stunned, in Philadelphia, at least

How many were somewhat shocked when the reeling Houston Astros named Ed Wade, former GM of the Phillies, as their new GM? The Philadelphia sports columnists apparently were, because they're not shy, especially in the Daily News. Their silence is deafening, either because they're too excited about the Phillies third-straight dalliance with the playoffs (we'll start calling the boundary that prevents them from getting in the "Manuel Line" if they don't break through this year) or they're too concerned about the Philadelphia Eagles' 0-2 start against 2 teams most thought they would have beaten going into the season. Yes, the Philadelphia papers reported the news, but that's all they did.

Meanwhile, here's the take from Houston, which, naturally, is strongly linking Wade to the harvesting of guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Which means that Houston fans could get giddy over the inking of Wade, who arguably helped create the best nucleus of players anywhere in baseball. Yes, in a few magical years, the Astros should be contending for the World Series. It's that simple, right?

Not so fast. Houston fans, remember this: Wade was excoriated in Philadelphia, and during his eight-year tenure the Phillies didn't make the playoffs. At one time at the end of his tenure, Wade said that he thought that all went well except for the fact that they didn't make the playoffs. Huh? Wasn't that what he was supposed to be there for? Having been a Philadelphia sports fan and observer for over four decades, I can safely say that his departure was met with about as much enthusiasm as any since the days that Eagles' fans booed Joe Kuharich out of the City of Brotherly Love. In the late 1960's.

There were a few reasons for this, all of them professional. Wade didn't help his cause when he came across like a needing-to-be-rescued basset hound before the media. More than that, though, he never pulled the trigger on a big move before the trading deadline or did a lot to help his team in the off-season. He drafted J.D. Drew after Scott Boras (and I'm not taking sides here) told Wade that the Phillies shouldn't draft the former Florida State star because he didn't want to go to Philadelphia -- that left the Phillies without a key #1 pick at a time when they were rebuilding. The Phillies lost out there (even if Drew is more the next Fred Lynn than the next Manny Ramirez). He let Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen go in plum awful trades that yielded next to nothing for the Phillies. While his drafts did yield guys like Utley and Howard, the Phillies have one of the worst farm systems in baseball and perenially did under his watch. Utley and Howard more are testimony to the notion that every now and then any organization can come up with gems rather than evidence that Wade's crew accomplished these feats year in and year out (they didn't). Moreover, the Phillies during his tenure failed, for the most part, to develop pitching depth at significant levels. Yes, Wade gets a kudo for drafting Cole Hamels, but other than Hamels the drafts were pretty lean.

The articles about Wade's hiring basically have said that Wade has his baseball roots in Houston and is returning to them, and that his hiring is proof about what a small world baseball really is. But it's a mistaken world, too, if the Astros actually believe that Wade is the best candidate out there. Eight years in Philadelphia with no playoff appearances are hard to dispute, and it's also hard to give Wade credit for the Phillies' performance of the past two seasons (since he's been gone). And, while Charlie Manuel has done a decent job skippering the ship, Wade did pass on Jim Leyland (who wanted the job) when he hired Manuel, and all Leyland did was solve Detroit's riddle and lead them to their first World Series appearance in 22 years. Overall, his was not a legacy that suggests he'll succeed in Houston. Ed Wade had a very good shot in his eight years at Philadelphia, and his tenure just doesn't measure up.

Why do so many coaches and front-office people get recycled? Jim Fregosi managed the Angels and then managed the Phillies in the early 90's, struck lightning with the '93 team, and overall fizzled. Somehow, he surfaced several years later in Toronto, didn't do well, and then, after that, was rumored to be a candidate for the Giants' job at a time when it wasn't clear when the ownership was sold on Felipe Alou. That, too, was puzzling. There are always up-and-coming candidates. Someone gave a young Tony LaRussa his first chance, and he turned into a Hall of Fame manager. Same with Joe McCarthy years ago. Why recycle people who haven't done it?

Somewhere, out there, an assistant GM who will build champions got passed over and has to be scratching his head. It may be Ruben Amaro, Jr., who is an Assistant GM with the Phillies and who might be Pat Gillick's successor in the Soft Pretzel Capital of the World once the incumbent, Pat Gillick, steps down (Amaro, a Wade protege, was happy for his former boss, who is godfather to one of Amaro's kids). It may be an Assistant GM in Arizona, Colorado, Milwaukee, New York, Cleveland or Los Angeles, denied his (or her) first shot.

Sorry, Houston, but you still have a problem, and the hiring of Ed Wade won't solve it.

Just ask the millions of Philadelphia fans who are happy that he is gone.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Phillies have the exact same record as the Tigers - with half the pitching.

4:03 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Maybe, but the AL is a (much) tougher league.

8:31 PM  

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