As another Met-free postseason begins, this Met fan since birth will again reluctantly be admiring the Phillies.
To this writer, over the last few years, there has not really been another team in the game which both conjures up memories of the great Met teams of the 1980s, and also is an organization which has done just about everything right recently.
The 1984-1988 Mets just reached the postseason twice and only won it all once, but they were excellent year-in and year-out. They won 90 or more games for five straight years, and had there been a wild card, they would have been in the playoffs all five years.
Those Mets were extremely solid, had homegrown stars as well as great players brought in by trade, had a knack of getting fine play out of players who did not do as well elsewhere, and were able to overcome injuries and still perform at a very high level year after year.
Their manager knew how to use his players; they always seemed to be in position to maximize their abilities, whether it was the fantastic second base platoon, the use of four outfielders, the very deep bullpen, or the excellent role players on the bench.
Toughness? Even when they missed the postseason, no one ever questioned the toughness of that team–even first base coach Bill Robinson insitgated a fight with Pirate pitcher Rick Rhoden.
While the Phillies are not the overtly violent fighters and lawbreakers those Mets were, they certainly do bring back some memories of how a team that maintains a high level of play over several years conducts itself.
Yes, Chase Utley leans into pitches and slides really hard into second base. How many Met fans can honestly say that he and Victorino would not be among our very favorites were they wearing the orange and blue? Yes, Utley’s slide into Tejada was questionable, but that’s baseball at the highest level and how it is played by tough, winning teams. Do Phillie players spew laughably hollow tough talk after games as David Wright did in the clubhouse to reporters after Utley’s slide? Doubtful.
Acquiring Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt–three of the game’s best and most sought-after pitchers–in a period of roughly a year is just plain amazing. While the Phils have become one of the game’s highest spenders, they still spend nowhere near as much as the post-George Yankees, who know quite well that unless they outspend the Red Sox by 30-40%–and the Rays by maybe 200%–that they stand little chance of making the postseason. And a look at the game’s biggest spenders generally puts the Phils in fourth place–right behind the Cubs, and right ahead of the Mets and the Tigers. And about five spots ahead of the Mariners. Which all goes to show, with the exception of Tampa, that while it is true that annual contention is generally mostly the province of the big spenders, the Mets’ sorry results with all of their often-injured hugely expensive players points out that there is definitely a lot more to winning than simply having one of the game’s top 10 budgets.
Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Hamels were all drafted by the Phils. Trades brought Halladay, Oswalt, and Lidge. Victorino came via the Rule 5 draft. And Ibanez and Werth were signed as free agents. Pretty similar to the 1980s Mets, isn’t it all? A healthy combo of homegrown talent, great trades, and other pickups along the way.
The hatred of the Phils by a segment of Met fandom is understandable, as for four straight years they have left us in the dust, creating a run better than at any other time in the team’s century-plus history, with the possible exception of the great teams from 1976-1983. Should the Phils win it all this year, they will unquestionably have to be considered among the very best teams of the last 30 years.
Is the hatred reasonable, or is it just jealousy? This is hard to judge. This writer was reared by a wonderful father who grew up a Brooklyn Dodger fan–and as the Dodgers lost to the Yankees in the World Series again and again in the 1940s and 1950s (six out of seven matchups!) Yankee hatred can be understood.
Do Met fans hate the Phils for being dirty showoffs or just for winning?
Is Utley’s play really that dirty, or is he simply like Jackie Robinson, Pete Rose or Lenny Dykstra–a player who will use every reasonable opportunity to gain an advantage on his opposition?
Is Victorino a showboat on the level of Jose Reyes? And if he is, is it different to be this way when your team wins every year?
This writer thought that the constant curtain calls and multiple major fights in 1986 were thrilling and made that team even more memorable–but they all occured in the context of season-long domination of the rest of the league.
The feeling here is that the Phils really are not all that bad of a group. Hating their success is one thing, but hating Utley for playing hard when one worships the violent teams that the 1980s Mets undoubtedly were seems a tad hypocritical. In the same vein, calling out Victorino for his showboating when many seem to enjoy the same from Jose–when our team basically gets worse every year–also seems kind of odd.
The Phils simply are an outstandingly constructed team, whose players have both the talent and the undeniable desire to win which the 1986 Mets had. Their manager does not bunt constantly; he even lets the lower-placed hitters swing away in an admirably aggressive style. Their front office does not acquire huge stars by bludgeoning the league with money; they make shrewd trades. And then they fill in their holes with second-tier free agents.
This writer would truly prefer to have seen the Mets follow the promise of 2006 with a few more playoff appearances rather than the four-year run of incredibly expensive failures which we have all seen. But the fact of the matter is that these Phils overcome adversity and injuries, they play aggressively, and they just keep on winning. Their front office keeps making great acquisitions, and their manager uses the team’s talent in a way that maximizes their chances to win.
In other words, they are absolutely and positively everything we wish the Mets were over the last four years. And weren’t close to being.
Here’s hoping the Wilpons take a look at what the Phils have done in this period and try to learn something.