2010 Phillies â€“ One of the Greatest Teams We Will Never See?
Spring training is almost here and living right outside of Philadelphia I can tell you that most Phillies fans are up in arms about dealing away Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners. It is not that there is unhappiness with Roy Halladay, it is just that the fans wanted Halladay AND Lee. Does it sound like a spoiled fan base? Possibly, but I view it as an opportunity that the Phillies let slip away of having the best rotation in baseball, one through three, with Halladay, Lee, and Cole Hamels. I cannot really blame the fans; if they were to face the Yankees again in the World Series they would probably win each game Halladay pitched and lose the rest like in 2009. They are essentially switching Halladay for Lee, thus I do not necessarily see a different outcome. The vibe in the city is that the Phils will make the playoffs and represent the National League once again in the Fall Classic but keeping Lee that final year before he would become a free agent could have meant the kind of season that some organizations only dream of.
I am a fan of the game first and have a rather unbiased view despite where I live. What disappoints me the most is not that with Lee the Phillies would more than likely be a clear World Champion favorite, but they let a chance slip away that for one year they could have been among those mythical teams that call themselves all-time greats. There is a difference between being a champion and an all time great in any sport. An all-time great team does not just deliver a world title, but dominance and legendary players whose names you remember whether they are Hall of Famers or not.
For that one year, though, those players become part of history and sports lore. My sports recollections started around 1980 when I was seven and there have been a few teams in each sport that have left their mark with me. I have limited hockey knowledge but I know the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers with Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Grant Fuhr were an all-time great team. The 1985 Chicago Bears in football who combined dominance, intimidation and showmanship maybe in a way that will never be seen again and the last I can remember in basketball were the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc and Dennis Rodman. I will be the first to admit that I have not followed the NBA or NHL in years so if either of these leagues is still in existence I may have overlooked a more recent team.
Looking back on the history of baseball I was trying to think of the last team that could be called an all-time great. The first team to come to mind is the legendary 1927 Yankees, who may be the best known team in any sport, whether the greatest team of all- time moniker is warranted or not. So I looked up the greatest teams of all time on the baseball-almanac.com web site and found the following:
1. 1927 Yankees
2. 1939 Yankees
3. 1907 Cubs
4. 1932 Yankees
5. 1902 Pirates
6. 1910 Athletics
7. 1905 Giants
8. 1998 Yankees
9. 1906 Cubs
10. 1929 Athletics
Take away the 1998 Yankees and there has not been a truly all-time great team since the 1939 Yankeesâ€¦.more than 70 years ago.
Baseball-almanac also provided a list for a more recent era from 1961 to 2005.
1. 1998 Yankees
2. 1970 Orioles
3. 1976 Reds
4. 1995 Indians
5. 1969 Orioles
6. 1975 Reds
7. 1984 Tigers
8. 1961 Yankees
9. 1986 Mets
10. 1966 Orioles
Now in that 45-year period more than half of the teams listed were from the 1960s and 70s and aside from the 1998 Yankees you have the 1995 Indians (and they did not even win the World Series that year) as your most recent notable teams. The point being that as time has gone on there have been fewer teams that you can point to as legendary and even less if you take New York out of the equation. I do not see any of the teams today being added to either list any time soon, and here is why. Before the reserve clause, which tied players to their teams for life, was struck down in December of 1975 there was not the roster turnover that you see today, which allowed a team with a solid core to keep it together.
This point is backed by the fact that of the nineteen different teams on the two lists, fifteen of them were from 1975 and earlier. The Phillies decision makers were presented with a unique chance in assembling a â€œsuper team,â€ which are rarely seen anymore due to all the moving parts teams face with free agency, the impact of arbitration and payroll ceilings. Believe what you want and whether the reasoning was to replenish their farm system or to keep within a pre-determined budget, the Phils let Cliff Lee and a shot on Mount Rushmore next to the 1927 Yankees get away.
One thing about great competitors is that they push one another. You know that Lee and Halladay would have spent the 2010 season basically saying to one another, â€œoh yeah, watch thisâ€ each time they went to toe the slab. Each may have found another level of greatness that baseball will not see now.
If you look at the team itself everything was in place; you have the â€œgrinderâ€ and a second baseman in Chase Utley who could be among the all-time greatest at his position, the â€œthumperâ€ in Ryan Howard who is among the best first basemen in the league, the â€œtrash talkerâ€ in Jimmy Rollins whose boasts, that tend to come to fruition, have turned the N..Y Mets into the scared guy facing the corner at the end of â€œThe Blair Witch Project.â€
Toss in players who had stellar 2009 seasons such as Jayson Werth (36 HRs/99 RBIs), Raul Ibanez (34 HRs/93 RBIs), a top-of-the-lineup hitter batting seventh in Shane Victorino (.292 BA/25 SBs) and an above-average defensive catcher in Carlos Ruiz who turns into Johnny Bench when the leaves change each fall with a playoff batting average of over .300 the last three post seasonsâ€¦oh and they just signed Placido Polanco to play third base and he hit .285 last year with 72 RBIs. Their offense should be called “The Broad Street Lumber Company” because these guys can swing it.
Now, factor in that they would have had one of the top right-handers in the majors with Halladay, a lefty in Lee who looked like he was from another planet in the post season and a number-three starter in Cole Hamels who is still trying to tap his potential and gave everyone a little taste of it in the 2008 World Series Championship run. A powder keg of an offense and lock down pitching; if that does not sound like a recipe for a team for the ages I do not know what is.
I realize that the underlying theme here is based on conjecture, numerous what ifs and scenarios that an injury or poor season by a key player could make moot. It is a shame, though, that this is a baseball question that will never be answered. You wonder what an organization would pay for a chance to be legendary and place themselves in the record books. If you are a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies you at least know the price is not another $9 million for Cliff Lee.