When things go wrong for sports franchises in the City of Philadelphia, one can look up above the Sports Complex in South Philadelphia and see the vultures circling. Five years ago, Jimmy Rollins commented on the front running nature of the Philadelphia sports fan, the media, in fact, the psyche of the entire city:
“When you’re doing good, they’re on your side. When you’re doing bad, they’re completely against you.”
The vicious cycle forms with an extended period of performance below expectations from a team. Fans want answers. Readership of local sports pages increases, callers opine on the talk radio airwaves, ranting against this or that. The sports media, hungry to give you more of the answers you crave, begin poking and prying around the edges of players, managers, and executives who, already frustrated at the sorry state of affairs themselves, feed quotes and news fodder back into the machine. You read the quotes, grow more frustrated, the losing continues, and back around the circle we go. Before long, blood is in the air, and the vultures begin to circle.
In baseball, as in most things in life, nothing lasts forever. That, in a nutshell, is the essence of what you have watched and learned as Phillies fans over the past season and a half. The universal facts of life say all good things must come to an end, that even the greatest summers will fade into the dark of winter, and beauty wanes over time. There is no context in which a team, person, or entity can betray the sands of time indefinitely. Whether in sports, business, or life in general, the distance from the “top of the world” to “back to earth” is not as far as one might think.
But, in baseball, the slow withering of what was once greatness follows you and haunts you as a fan for nearly six whole months. A crappy baseball team will be with you from the time where the warmth of spring scarcely is in the air, through the time when you’re down at the shore, until the time when the chill comes back in the air once again. Often times, it feels like you can’t escape a losing baseball team, as they follow you to every graduation party, wedding, in the car, at the backyard barbeque, and on vacation.
And, for the majority of that period for the fan of a team in the throes of crappiness, there is absolutely no respite. One hundred sixty two games is a long row to hoe. Even if you do have a team you’re following intently through the NHL or NBA playoffs, those seasons are long over by the time July comes around. Even the most die-hard NFL fans have difficulty stretching any high that came from their team’s May draft selections all the way through to the start of training camps. But, if you root for an underachieving team in any of the three other professional sports, there is always a distraction for you. Your football team is a heaping pile of junk already in October? Here’s some World Series and the start of the NHL and NBA seasons to make you feel better. Ugh, the Flyers are limping towards missing the playoffs again in March? Spring Training baseball, right there to pick you up!
At the end of the day, what you’ve seen with the Phillies this year is not the result of a clueless general manager that needs to be canned. It’s the result of the nature of decision making with incomplete information for which the failure rate is exceedingly high. Take a moment, look around the league. If you’re going to throw around the nickname “Ruin Tomorrow, Jr.”, then what would you call White Sox GM Kenny Williams? Angels GM Jerry Dipoto? Countless other GMs have failed at nearly the same rate as Ruben Amaro, Jr. Are his failings really that unique?
Hey, remember Mike Arbuckle, the former Phillies Director of Scouting that was spurned the GM promotion that went to Amaro? Remember that he went on to Kansas City? The Royals won anything lately?
So, accept it: at best, it’s an inexact science. That doesn’t mean you do not have the right to be critical, but, it does mean that some level of failure is to be expected. Even in the business world, for every iPhone launch, there’s also an Apple Newtown.
It’s certainly not the fault of the winningest manager in the 100-plus year history of the franchise either. There is no combination or permutation of a lineup card or some startlingly effective strategy that is going to turn a roster of below average players into a winning baseball team. Over the course of 162 games, maybe with a tweak here and a pinch there, a manager can help a team win a few games they would otherwise lose. One might believe a manager could swing a record plus or minus five games with their own decision making. But, to believe anything more than that is farcical.
And, it’s not the fault of an overly familial, mediocrity-accepting ownership group. If you’ve learned anything in the past five seasons of baseball, it’s that success is king in Philadelphia. If you win, they will come… with their wallets and credit cards a-plenty. For a time, you could stick red pinstripes on nearly anything in the Delaware Valley and sell it for high margin. Make no mistake, the ownership group wants to win, for as much reason as more winning means more money. There is a lucrative Phillies local television deal at stake in the coming years. Do you think they want to be a losing team while that is negotiated?
In the end, maybe you realize it or maybe you don’t: the only thing many Phillies fans have done in the recent downtimes is prove Jimmy Rollins exactly right. It takes a strong stomach to be a baseball fan. If you’ve followed the Phillies long enough, you should certainly know that. If you go mouthing off to Mike Missanelli with every Phillies loss, well, maybe you don’t have the intestinal fortitude to withstand the ups and downs of the game. If you feel the need to get off the bandwagon at this point, by all means, the door is always open. So, go ahead: be passionate, be emotional about your team.
But, if you say you’re here for the long haul, I would advise you in the plainest and simplest terms: be a fan and shut up!