by Clark Groome
Baseball seasons have unique personalities. The season that ended Sunday was no exception.
Teams expected to do well – Atlanta, for instance – didn’t live up to expectations. Others of which little was expected – the Kansas City Royals, for example – did better than predicted.
Those unexpected twists and turns aren’t the result of inadequate pre-season analysis but rather of the nature of the game: a hellishly long season affected by injuries, weird weather and some players’ unexpected hot performances or out-of-character busts.
For the Phillies, however, 2014 was just about as expected. The pre-season prognosticators may not have figured on pitcher Cliff Lee’s season-ending injury or weak-armed center fielder Ben Revere competing for the National League’s batting crown.
The bullpen, thanks to the addition of Ken Giles and the generally sound work of Justin De Fratus and Jake Diekman, was the April question mark that got a better-than-expected grade at season’s end. Jonathan Papelbon, as toxic a presence as he reportedly is, had a fine season on the mound if not with his attitude.
Three of the Phillies’ core players – shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley and catcher Carlos Ruiz – had decent seasons. First baseman Ryan Howard, however, had a pretty good season at the plate but was often an embarrassment on defense.
Clearly there is a lot of work to be done if the Phillies are to return to the quality team (and fan draw) they were from 2006 to 2011. Everyone knows that. Everyone, it would seem, but the man who counts the most: General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who for most of the season said that all that was needed for that return to glory was a tweak here and there.
When the season ended with the exact same 73-89 record as last season some were glad they weren’t a game better because they felt that a one-game improvement would have indicated “progress” from the year before. It wouldn’t, of course, and in fairness Amaro has sounded more realistic over the last few weeks.
The season did have its highlights. Rollins became the team’s all-time hits leader, passing Mike Schmidt. Cole Hamels teamed with relievers Diekman, Giles and Papelbon to pitch the team’s first combined no-hitter.
And there were lowlights: Hamels, despite having what may just have been his best season ever, got paltry run support, ending with a misleading 9-9 record. Left field was a mess.
The season that heads in to the playoffs this year was about more than the home team.
Baseball, if not at the Major League level, captured the country’s imagination and hearts when the Little League World Series featured two breathtakingly exciting and classy teams: Philly’s Taney Dragons and Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West. Who can forget the pure joy these kids brought to the game.
For Philadelphia fans it was just what the doctor ordered, an antidote to the disappointing season playing out at Citizens Bank Park.
And, of course, there was The Captain’s last year. New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, a first ballot Hall of Famer who may be the most respected position player to retire since Baltimore’s Cal Ripkin Jr. hung ‘em up in 2001, retired after an incredible career. He announced that this would be his last year.
Everywhere he went he was honored. During his 20 years as a Yankee there hasn’t been a whiff of scandal. He apparently is as classy off the field as on.
His career came to a fairy tale end last week. First, in his last game at Yankee Stadium, he hit the game-winning single. Then in Boston (the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry may just be the most intense in all of sport) his last at bat was a hit – and the Boston fans cheered.