Break out a 6-pack of your favorite malted beverage and celebrate, for the Philadelphia Phillies, in losing last night to the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 10 - 2, have breached the 10,000 loss barrier.
I can't believe it's only 10,000 is my first reaction. My second reaction is to look back at some of the many players who came through here and to lose myself in the nostalgia of the Lance Parrish era or the exciting work Dickie Thon turned in at SS.
In honor of the Phillies 10,000th loss, I've compiled a Phillies lineup consisting of players that I feel best represents the mediocre existence of the Phightin' Phils from the last 30 years. Some could argue that some of these players actually had good statistical careers. I say bollocks to the numbers....these guys were either representative of incompetent management, pumped up expectations, and/or just plain sucked.
We will go around the horn:
C: Mike Lieberthal (1994 - 2006). Some will not agree with including Lieberthal in a lineup of mediocrity, but if you watched Lieby play, you would nod knowingly. Lieberthal had some real good offensive years (particularly 1999 and 2000), and a gold glove (1999), but was never a true leader on the teams he played. Some pitchers (Schilling early in Lieby's career and Jon Lieber later) would not pitch to Lieberthal, opting in most cases for a more experienced backup.
Lieberthal is not considered a good handler of pitchers, despite his lengthy stint behind the dish for the Phils. This is more than likely due to his laid back California demeanor. After his landmark 1999 season, he never came close to putting together an offensive and defensive year quite like that one, despite the fact he was awarded a lengthy and pricey contact extension after that year. Never a real patient hitter, he never seemed to adjust to how pitchers were approaching him after the big contract extension he got in he seemed to be the poster boy for complaceny on some of those Phils teams in the early 2000s. Lieberthal was essentially a cornerstone player for 12 years (he was part time in his 13th year) while he was with this franchise, and they did not get to the post season once.
1B: Travis Lee (2000 - 2002). I could have put a number of guys here, but I chose Travis Lee. Despite coming into the league with excellent advanced notices (he was the 2nd overall pick in the 1996 MLB draft), he never lived up to his potential in the majors. In his 2+ years with the Phillies, Lee hit a very mediocre .259 and hit a paltry 34 home runs. Worse than his poor statistics, Lee was a stiff looking ballplayer who also looked like he'd rather be somewhere else than playing baseball. His demeanor made it seem as if he swigged a valium smoothy before each game. If the Phils should have made someone take greenies, it probably should have been Lee.
He came to the Phillies in the ill-fated Curt Schilling deal in the middle of the 2000 season. You must recall this little gem of a trade: Phils ace Curt Schilling was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Vicente Padilla, and the enigmatic Lee. This was the trade that signalled the front office's complete lack of desire in building a winner despite having Schilling and a young Scott Rolen. When Schilling called the team out over their frugality and questioned their willingness to win, the front office took it personally and the team chose to trade Schilling and get what they could rather than risk embarassment of Schilling not re-signing with the Phils when his time came. Schilling went on to win 2 World Series rings (Arizona 2001 and Boston 2004) and has won 20 games three times since leaving the Phils.
2B: Tommy Herr (1989 - 1990) This was the most creative Phillies management could get: A used up 2B from nearby Lancaster, PA, with a less than stellar attitude. Herr was part of the Cardinals good ole boy network brought in by Lee Thomas when he first came to Philadelphia. This good ole boy network included Manager Nick Leyva, who had consecutive sub-.500 seasons before being fired, and one monumentally bad last place finish in 1989. Herr hit .287 with 2 HRs and 37 RBI in 1989, but according to noted author John Kruk in his book "I Ain't an Athlete, Lady....", Herr was not an exemplary veteran leader:
"Larry Bowa, who had been my manager in San Diego and was now the Phillies
third base coach, talked to me. He said 'Man, just be yourself. Have
fun. We've got a bunch of deadasses here, but don't let them bring you
down. Just go out and have fun. Play your game. And don't
worry about the bullshit that goes on here, because you're going to see some
stuff you've never seen before. Guys pouting and not caring if we win or
lose as long as they get a couple hits'. "
"He was right. Later that year we called a kid up from the
minors. And Tommy Herr, who was the second baseman at the time, goes over
to him and says, 'Grab a bucket and start bailing'. Like, welcome to a
sinking ship. I couldn't believe that attitude. "
I don't care what Herr did with the Cardinals. Hearing this little ditty ruined my impression of him as a ballplayer and the story about the piss poor attitude with the team beautifully illustrates the malaise around the franchise in the late 80s.
SS: Steve Jeltz (1983 - 1989). Steve Jeltz makes this list purely on his own "accomplishments" and not by proximity to some other horrible event in Phillies history. Nicknamed "The Jet", he had to have been in the top 10 players in the league when it came to his trademark jheri curls. Unfortunately, his game was not as good as his hair. He was the only switch hitter I've ever seen to hit equally bad from each side of the plate. Jeltz hit a paltry .219 when he became the Phillies full-time SS in 1986. It didn't really get much better: .232 in 1987, and a brutal .187 in 1988. In 1989, he shared the SS position with Dickie Thon and showed some nice versatility in playing 2B, 3B, and some outfield. He hit a career high .243 and was shipped to the Kansas City Royals for a pitcher named Jose DeJesus.
3B: David Bell (2003 - 2005). Bell signed as a free agent before the 2003 season, with the thought that he'd be a good complementary player in a lineup featuring Jim Thome, Jimmy Rollins, and Pat Burrell. Bell was hurt most of 2003 and had a decent 2004, with a .291 average and 18 homers. In 2005, Bell formed 1/2 of the blackhole of the bottom of the Phillies lineup (Lieberthal was the other half of the blackhole), hitting .248 with 10 HRs. He was 2nd in the NL that year in grounding into DPs with 24.
Worse than his crappy play was Bell's crappy contract, which scared off any potential trade suitors in addition to making him an expensive player to waive. As a result, the Phillies kept David Bell and instead traded Placido Polanco, a versatile player capable of playing all infield positions, for a reliever we'll discuss a little later. Bell got worse and worse during 2005 and Polanco has hit over .300 and played a key part in the Detroit Tigers run to the pennant last year. Polanco was also just voted in as a starter in the AL All-star game. This was a situation where the Phillies should have paid Bell to go away or trade him and pay his contract and install Polanco at 3B. Having Polanco at third today would have headed off the bad free agent signing of Wes Helms this past offseason.
CF: Jeff Stone (1983 - 1987). Jeff Stone is probably one of the fastest men ever to play for the Phillies. When he was in the minor leagues, he stole bases by the bushelful. He was considered a jewel of the at-the-time barren Phillies minor league system. Stone batted .362 and stole 27 bases his rookie season in 1984. But for some reason, he could never crack the starting lineup for the Phillies, even during some of the really dark years of the middle 80s. For years, Jeff Stone seemed the punch line to a joke as his intelligence was indirectly questioned. As I was looking for some info. on Stone on the internet, I found a blog called "The Phillies Chronicles" that linked to a story on Jeff Stone by a publication called thepitch.com. The story, published in 2004, recounts Stone's career and it makes you feel bad for the oft-lampooned Stone. You get the sense that he suffered from anxiety issues during his playing career and was just beaten down by critical managers like John Felske and Frank Robinson.
I think Stone does bear some responsibility for his failings in baseball, but what the Jeff Stone story illustrates is the Phillies' inability to nurture their own talent over the years (especially those years in the middle to late 80s).
LF: Ron Gant (1999-2000). Gant wasn't a Phillie for very long and had a pretty good career before coming to the Phillies in 1999. The reason he makes this list is because this is who the Phillies management was passing off to the fans as a legitimate power threat. Keep in mind that this was dead in the middle of the steroid era where eveyone was either 'roided up or corking their bat (or both...ahem, Sammy Sosa) and here is Ed Wade pawning off a used up Ron Gant on his fanbase like a flea market vendor selling a used jock strap. Gant hit 17 home runs in his only full year with the Phils.
RF: Von Hayes (1983-1990). Ole "541" himself. The Phillies obtained Hayes in a deal with the Indians in the offseason before 1983 season that cost the Phils 5 players; notably popular 2B Manny Trillo and Julio Franco, who is still playing for the Mets today and was an All-Star caliber SS in the American League in the 80s.
The alleged "Next Ted Williams" was not so much a complete bust as a ballplayer as he was the product of unrealistically high expectations by Phillies management. While some in the sabermetric era will try to sugarcoat Hayes' lifetime numbers and make them out to better than they were, if you watched him play, you know better. He was a good athlete but didn't always seem interested. He had a lackadaisical air about him that made him seem more like a glider than a lunch pail guy. I also remember that he was (inexplicably) a big hit with the ladies back in the day. For those of us that remember those bad Phillie teams from the mid-to-late 80s, Hayes epitomized the blaise attitude of the Phillies teams of that era.
SP Kyle Abbott (1992, 1995). The list of Phillies starters that could be considered for Team Mediocrity is long and distinguished: Floyd Youmans, Bruce Ruffin, Kevin Gross, and Mark Leiter all come to mind. I settled on Abbott for the connection to Von Hayes and a current member of the Phillies' front office.
Abbott was obtained by the Phillies from the Anaheim Angels (or whatever they're called this week) along with Ruben Amaro, Jr. in exchange for Von "541" Hayes. Just reading about that trade makes me throw up a little. Amaro had a middling career as a guy who yo-yo'd between the minors and the Phils bench and continues in his assistant GM role with the Phils (nepotism lives...don't forget his father was a long time member of the organization) and will probably be the GM of the Phils one day even though no one knows if he can do the job or not.
Kyle Abbott was inserted into the starting rotation for the 1992 Phillies and promptly posted a stunning 1 - 14 record with a 5.13 ERA. This guy was the 9th pick of the 1989 draft....the fact that we got him for Von Hayes should have told us something.
RP Ugueth Urbina (2005). I won't list his statistics here or even mention what they were. Just the surreal set of happenstances around Urbina warrant his spot on this team.
Ugueth Urbina was obtained from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Placido Polanco. Earlier, when writing about David Bell, I chronicle how Polanco has hit well over .300 for the Tigers, was MVP of the ALCS, and was in his first all-star game this year. Needless to say, losing Polanco is a blow the Phils feel to this day.
Urbina, on the other hand, pitched OK for the Phils in the half season they had him. During the offseason between 2005 and 2006, Urbina was arrested for attempted murder as he was eventually convicted of attacking 5 farm workers with a machete and attempting to pour gas on them on his property in Venezuela. Other charges that got tacked on (in addition to attempted murder) included deprivation of liberty and "taking justice into your own hands", which I guess are illegal in Venezuela (which is run by a dictator). Urbina was sentenced to 14 years in the slammer, making him the only pitcher to now need to know how to avoid the high hard one, rather than deliver the high hard one (I'll be here all week. Enjoy the Veal).
I'm sorry, but when the guy you trade away turns into an all-star and the guy you get in return gets convicted of attempted murder, I'd have to say that was a trade that just didn't work out and frankly, typifies the intersection of poor management and bad luck that we, as Phillies fans, contend with on a yearly basis.
Well, that's my lineup. Any number of other guys could have been plugged into this list. For example, I refrained from using guys like Scott Rolen, because when the big mama's boy was here, he was a good ballplayer....he just didn't like it here. Another example is Lance Parrish....he hated us, we hated him....it was pretty much a mutual understanding.
My sincere hope as a fan is that it does not take another 10,000 losses for one World Series championship.