Turning Away From The Trainwreck





GORDONVILLE — May 25, 2014.

That was the day that the president used the occasion of Memorial Day weekend to visit troops in Afghanistan, California was memorializing the victims of a shooting rampage two days earlier and Pope Francis visited the Holy Land and talked about … peace in the region.

It was also the day that Sofia had a play date about 45 minutes from our house. Not too far to say no, but too far to go home just to come back 2½ hours later.

My wife and I decided to use the occasion to explore the thriving metropolis of Harleysville (Montgomery County).

Not feeling much like the Vikings of yore, we wound up at a joint called the Harleysville Hotel, which is a pub/sports bar that I suppose is hoping on Friday and Saturday nights.

We sat down at a table that, literally, had a TV screen right above us.

There was no choice but to look at it.

And the Phillies game was on.

I told my wife that this was the first time I had bothered to lay eyes on the Phils this season. Surprised, she asked why.

I answered her question with a question: why should I?

While I rarely win an argument – especially when your wife is lawyer – she accepted my rationale.

It was already predetermined that the 2014 season was going to be like a B-level action-adventure flick with the well-worn plot twists, mandatory car chases, gratuitous violence and predictable ending.

It’s the kind of movie that permeates the cable dial, and the kind that I click right through in a desperate attempt to stimulate the few remaining brain cells I have left.

The 2014 Phillies, by design, were pretty much the same way. They entered the season needing everything to go absolutely perfect to maybe linger in the conversation for a wild card berth.

Instead, nothing has gone right.

And I say goodbye and good riddance.

On May 25, the villain of this horror movie was Josh Beckett of the Dodgers. From the few early-game pitches I watched, while also checking out the more enthusiastically played college softball game on another screen, I muttered that the feeble Phillies were not going to touch him.

As the burger and fries arrived, I paid more attention to the stubborn ketchup bottle than to the Phillies.

It wasn’t until I got home later and was scouring the Internet for sports information as I prepared for the pending PhillyPhanatics.com Blog Talk Radio show that I saw Beckett had actually no-hit the Phillies.

I was neither mortified nor embarrassed to be Philly-born and bred.

I was simply bemused.

And in the months since, I have looked back on that day with regret.

Had we not walked into the Harleysville Hotel, a place with more television screens than patrons, I would be able to say that I made it through the current season without watching a pitch.

Instead, there is a caveat: I have not watched a pitch by conscious choice, and the only time I did by happenstance was the same day when they were humbled into a state of hitlessness in a season that has seen a once powerful offensive team come up as futile as the pope’s pleas for peace.


It’s not like I am some sort of sports seer – like some Vegas oddsmaker with the soul of Nostradamus – to know that the Phillies were not going to be worth the time and effort.

I was just objective enough to not be like a subjective kid in a Phillies’ cap.

And it’s not like I dislike baseball.

The Phillies were my first favorite team in 1970. I learned to read the sports agate page by comparing their record against that of the National League West cellar-dwelling San Diego Padres. I watched repeated showings of highlights on the 1950 World Series during rain delays until the slow and steady rise by the middle of the “Me” decade culminated with a highlight to wash away being swept by the Yankees as the high-water mark.

In 1980, and in heart-stopping fashion, they won it all.

I never really mustered the same enthusiasm for the Phillies, or baseball, after the moment when Tug McGraw fanned Willie Wilson with Philly’s finest walking behind the backstop with police dogs on leashes.

It was like finally getting to kiss your high school crush at graduation, and checking it off the bucket list.

Baseball was probably No. 4 on my list – football slowly overtook hockey, with basketball a semi-distant third – but anyone who knows me knows that there pretty much is no No. 5.

No golf. No tennis. No soccer. No NASCAR. No Boxing.

Just the big four – including baseball, and I’m not wired to do anything other than to root, root, root for the home team.

Yes, I still cringed when Jim Fregosi pulled Roger Mason for a worn-out Mitch Williams. From my sixth sense, I knew the Joe Carter homer was coming, just like I knew this disastrous season was on the horizon before the first story about a non-roster invitee coming off Tommy John surgery ran in the antiques known as newspapers on the day when pitchers and catchers reported back in February.

I still played fantasy baseball in a carry-over league, building a team that was ready to dominate before the strike of 1994 caused the league to fold.

I still went to Cooperstown a few years later and considered it the hallowed ground that it is, even without Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson enshrined.

And I’ll talk baseball – arguing matters like whether the 1977, 1980 or 2008 Phillies were the best in franchise history (I got 1977) and what 25 guys would make the roster of the All-Jewish Team – without hesitation.

Heck, my favorite all-time board game remains Strat-O-Matic Baseball.

I enjoyed the window of opportunity being reopened in the first decade of the new century, one that saw a World Series title in 2008 and a loss to the Yankees in the 2009 World Series before the slow and steady decline to where we are now began.

It now seems that my 7-year-old Sofia, who I will have seen bat more times this year in her coach-pitch softball league (I was an assistant to the assistant coach) than Ryan Howard or Chase Utley until the ends of their careers, will also be watching highlights of a World Series loss (circa 2009) to the dang Yanks two decades from now.

The difference is that she probably won’t care.

And if she does, it won’t be from my influence.


If I had a final straw on the back of a camel under the care of a chiropractor, it was the trade deadline that just passed with nary a move by overmatched GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

It is true confession time, folks.

I may not have been subjecting myself to the pitch-by-pitch torture of games – although maybe I would if I suffered from insomnia – but I have been following the Phillies fairly closely.

I check the boxscores, and team stats, every morning after a game. I read whatever I can about the progress – or lack thereof – of the few farmhands that, through attrition, they sell to the unwashed masses as prospects.

And I was getting psyched for the possibilities of the trade deadline.

Understanding that baseball is not like other sports, where being brutal does not guarantee a chance for a short wait before retooling through the draft or farm system (even if the stink in the barn is fumigated by the arrival of imports from other organizations), it was clear a push onto the reset button was vital.

They may have even become worth watching, dare I say it, if only for the sake of morbid curiosity.

It came and went with nothing.

A hollow feeling, to say the least.

I had the MLB Network on the tube for more than two hours – after clicking through some “B” movies – and they didn’t even mentioned the word “Phillies” until a half-hour after the deadline pass.

And when they did, it was with a passing chuckle and shrug.

A recent potentate, your Phillies have plummeted that far off the radar screen.

Bottom line: This organization can’t get out its own way if it tried.

The farm system is in shambles, both in terms of finding talent and cultivating what bit of it remains. Everywhere you look, you see once-heralded homegrown players – Maikel Franco, Freddie Galvis, Roman Quinn Jesse Biddle, etc. – backsliding.

And they can’t even make a trade, if only for the sake of doing it to make themselves relevant (with the Eagles about to render them completely irrelevant), while in “seller” mode.

Amaro can’t be trusted to rebuild. And his boss, Dave Montgomery, is best-suited to be in his office deciding what date would best to give away Harry Kalas bobblehead dolls.

But the real issue, the core of the matter, is not about either one of the non-dynamic duo who get pushed out in front of television cameras to bemoan bad luck of injuries.


I recently came across a poll that asked which Philadelphia team you’d buy if money were no object.

My answer, after careful consideration, was the Phillies.

Even though they are No. 4 on my list.

Even though baseball, compared to the other three major sports, brings up the rear here in Gordonville.

Even though I haven’t watched a pitch – by choice – this season, and certainly don’t plan to with the sounds of pads popping at Eagles’ training camp.


Better question than about my blind eye to their B-movie script and Bollywood ending.

The other three teams are in better hands. They may make mistakes, but the goal is to win, not just exist in a state of suspended animation.

My purchase of the Phillies would be done as a public service. Personally, I am good with the Phillies, overall. Numerous division titles, five pennants and two World Series titles since I dared to care at age 5.

But what about everyone out there who still cares? They are the ones being slapped in the face while being asked to present their mortgage papers to bring their families to a game.

You could say the Phillies’ high payroll is proof that the mystical ownership group lurking in the shadows cares about winning, but it was more caring about the windfall of a window of opportunity opening by happenstance – and in spite of a dunce for a manager – a few years back.

They developed man-crushes on the nucleus of the team, sticking themselves with onerous contracts and not realizing they needed to make pragmatic moves before standing in quicksand and yelling “help” at the 2014 trading deadline while the rest of the league laughs.

Without going to Google, can you name one of the Phillies’ owners?

I can’t.

And until one steps out of the shadows and takes charge, I am not watching.

Not even at the Harleysville Hotel.

This column first appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com

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