From the Sidelines
by Clark Groome
Top 10 lists have been journalists’ end-of-the-year staples since well before David Letterman made them a nightly event. This year Philadelphia professional sports had a number of significant candidates for such a list.
One story, not on the list that follows but deserving mention, is the closing of the Spectrum. This building, home to the ‘76ers and Flyers for three decades, was a sports temple as well as host to countless other events. Its departure marks the end of an era.
Much of the 2010 pro sports year took place in that fabled building’s shadow. Let’s go:
10 – Allen Iverson joins Turkish basketball squad – This is as sad as it is significant. Over the years, many outstanding pro athletes have not known when to hang ‘em up. Brett Favre may be the most publicized current example. Former ‘76er Allen Iverson, one of the greatest players of his generation, had a couple of rocky years in the NBA following a superb decade in Philadelphia. When no phone calls came from NBA teams this year, Iverson signed with the Turkish team Besiktas.
9 – Pat Gillick elected to Baseball Hall of Fame – After serving as the Baltimore Orioles’, Toronto Blue Jays’ and Seattle Mariners’ general manager, Gillick joined the Phillies as GM in 2006. Wherever he has worked, the team has won. Gillick’s clubs have all been in the playoffs. Two of them (the 1992/1993 Blue Jays; the 2008 Phillies) won the World Series. When his election to Cooperstown was announced earlier this month, he was widely touted as the best general manager of his era.
8 – The Phillies sign Roy Oswalt – In the early part of the 2010 season, Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro had concerns about the pitching, starting and relief. When Jamie Moyer went down with a season-ending elbow injury, Amaro quietly did what he always seems to do at mid-season: he signed the best available pitcher. This year it was the Houston Astros’ Roy Oswalt. After being added to the lineup, the team had a terrific August and September, ending the year with the most wins in the Major Leagues. Oswalt’s 7-1 record with a 1.74 ERA was a big part of the reason.
7 – The Philadelphia Union’s debut – More kids play soccer than any other team sport. For all its popularity, it has had a hard time catching on as a professional sport. The Philadelphia area has always been a hotbed of soccer enthusiasts. Earlier attempts to bring pro soccer to the Delaware Valley hadn’t worked. The Philadelphia Union’s debut this past season and the opening of its state-of-the-art PPL Park in Chester make things look very good for soccer in Philly. With four of its 13 games at PPL sold out (the first two home games were at Lincoln Financial Field), the team averaged 19,200 a game, more than the 18,500 capacity of its Chester home. Although its inaugural season was not a winning one – its record was 8-15-7 – it was an artistic and financial success and bodes well for the team and for Major League Soccer in Philadelphia.
6 – Roy Halladay pitches playoff no-hitter – Halladay’s 2010 achievements can be summed up in the number two: two no-hitters in one season and the second playoff no-hitter in baseball history. The first of his two 2010 no-hitters was a perfect game we’ll feature two places forward. The second-ever playoff no-hitter came on Oct. 6 in game one of the series against the Cincinnati Reds. The only batter to reach first base got there on a walk in the fifth inning. The only other post-season no-hitter was Yankee Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers on Oct. 8, 1956.
5 – The NFL and NHL crackdown on hits to the head – After almost a century of athletes bragging about having their bells rung and going back into the game, it became apparent that head injuries were nothing to take lightly. Athletes experienced serious post-career after-effects that were attributed to repeated blows to the head. Active players found it more difficult to return after a concussion. Many lost significant time; others had their careers ended. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that the people who run the NFL and the NHL, the leagues that have had the most head injuries, began to crackdown on those who inflict head injuries on opponents. While this is not a story specific to Philadelphia – although many local players have experienced head injuries – it’s a development that is having an immediate impact on football and hockey and may cut down on head injuries and their long-term consequences.
4 – Roy Halladay pitches perfect game – May 29, 2010. Miami, Florida. Twenty-seven Florida Marlins came to the plate. Not one of them reached first base. It was the 20th perfect game in Major League history. It was the highlight of a season in which Halladay sported a record of 21-10, pitched nine complete games, and had a 2.44 ERA over the league-leading 250.2 innings he pitched. He also won his second Cy Young Award (the first was with Toronto in 2003).
3 – The Eagles quarterback drama – Andy Reid, in one of his many disingenuous quarterback statements this year, vowed late last winter that Donovan McNabb was his guy and that number 5 would be leading the Philadelphia Eagles in the upcoming season. Just a few weeks later, on April 5, McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins. Long-term backup Kevin Kolb was anointed the team’s offensive leader. Kolb retained that role until he was injured in the season opener. Michael Vick replaced him. Kolb returned when Vick was injured. After both were healthy, Reid proclaimed, on a Monday, that Kolb was his guy. The next day, the very next day, he recanted and said that Vick would start that week. Vick’s been the quarterback ever since. In fairness to Reid, Vick has proven to be brilliant, no more so than in the remarkable come-from-behind victory against the New York Giants two Sundays ago. He’s a strong candidate to be the league’s MVP.
2 – Cliff Lee Returns – Most fans never understood why Cliff Lee had to go when the Phillies traded for Roy Halladay. When it was announced earlier this month that Lee was coming back, the city went wild. This was the most unexpected, most popular and noisiest event of the year. Its significance goes far beyond its immediate appeal. With Lee in the rotation that includes Cy Young Award-winner Roy Halladay, 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels and two-time, 20-game winner Roy Oswalt, the Phils have the best rotation in baseball. There are no guarantees, of course, but this re-signing puts the Phils in a great position to make another run to the World Series.
1 – The Flyers run to the Stanley Cup finals – Some will say Michael Vick is the top story of 2010. Others will focus on Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay. Good choices all. In my eye, however, it was the unexpected and torturous run that the Flyers made at the end of the 2009-2010 regular season and through all four rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Winning a spot in the playoffs in a shootout on the last game of the season (against the hated and also contending New York Rangers), the Flyers surprised everybody by doing in the rival New Jersey Devils in round one, coming back from a 0-3 game deficit against the Boston Bruins (something that had only been done three times before in any sport) in round two, and defeating the Montreal Canadiens (who had eliminated the two Stanley Cup favorites, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Senators) in the conference finals to earn the right to take on the Chicago Black Hawks for the Cup. They did this while facing numerous injuries, an uncertain goalie situation, and the grueling eight-week grind this toughest-of-all-sports championships takes to play out. While making their run, they captivated the city. Although it ended in Chicago’s favor, this amazing run – unexpected and breathtaking – gets my vote as the number one Philadelphia professional sports story of 2010.
Those are my picks. What are yours? Let the discussion begin.
To contact Clark Groome, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org