by Clark Groome
In the glow of the Philadelphia Phillies signing right fielder Bryce Harper to a 13-year, no-trade, no opt-outs, $330 million contract, it would be good to reflect on some history.
On Dec. 5, 1978, the Phillies signed free agent Pete Rose to the largest payday in baseball history. He was to be paid the unheard-of sum of $800,000. The Phillies team he joined had won three consecutive Eastern Division championships but never made it any further than the playoffs’ first round.
Rose was going to seal the deal. His presence, his bat and his no-holds-barred approach to the game were thought to be “the final piece,” the key to the team’s reaching and winning the World Series.
The first year he was in red pinstripes the Phils finished fourth in their division. Lots of folk in the city were really disappointed, angry even. “They spent all that money on the guy and they lost ground. Harrumph.”
The next year they did realize the dream by defeating the Kansas City Royals, 4 games to 2, to win the franchise’s first World Series title.
When the team signed the great Jim Thome in 2003 it wasn’t to win anything on the field of the new ballpark, then under construction, but rather to convince the fans that the team was serious about winning.
In 2009 they signed pitcher Cliff Lee then traded him so they could “afford” Roy Halladay. Realizing they could afford both, they resigned Lee the following year creating a pitching rotation that came to be known as “The Four Aces”: Lee, Halliday, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. They had good seasons but didn’t play in or win a World Series after they’d won it all in 2008 and lost to the Yankees in 2009.
So, why the history lesson?
It is important to remember that it takes a team to win in baseball. Winning is not the result of great individual performances but of tying those individual skills and efforts into a team effort.
Take, for example, the 1993 Phillies. In 1992 the team had finished dead last in its division. The 1993 team, as scraggly and entertaining a group as ever there was, went wire to wire in first place and got to that infamous Mitch Williams pitch to Joe Carter in the bottom of the ninth inning in the World Series’ sixth game.
The next year they were back in form. Somehow the 1993 team had just clicked.
This is not meant to cast a wet blanket on the Bryce Harper signing. Not at all. His signing, along with the addition of four other All Stars – outfielder Andrew McCutchen, shortstop Jean Segura, catcher J.T. Realmuto and reliever David Robertson – gives the team a genuine, realistic shot at being an impressive, winning ballclub for many years to come. It behooves us, however, to be patient. It may take some time for this group to gel into the kind of team that, like the Phillies from 2007 to 2011, can be reliably dominant.
Patience is hard for me and I’m sure for many others, but in the case of the 2019 Phillies it likely will be worth it.
And, of course, we could always be surprised and jammed in at the parade on Broad Street late in October. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s certainly a time to be optimistic. We have a team in town that’s clearly worthy of our attention and players who all seem to fit into the class traditions that make the Phils unique.
Opening day is March 28. That day looks to be the opening day of what may well be the beginning of the Phils’ next great era.