The Phillies won the World Series in 2008. Five days later, player personnel savant Mike Arbuckle quit. They haven’t recovered yet.
The Eagles won the Super Bowl after the 2017 season. As they enter the 2019 season, they might lose player personnel savant Joe Douglas, who interviewed Sunday to be the Jets’ general manager. Eleven years removed, we could see history repeat itself.
The similarities exist more in the men than in the franchises. Arbuckle, 68, and Douglas, 42, could be father and son -- beefy, balding, patient, paternal. Big, warm hands; big, warm hearts.
Both Arbuckle, the former Phillies assistant general manager, and Douglas, the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel, built their bona fides as evaluators, sharpening their eyes to spot the best emerging and established talent. They served in the shadows but gave voice to temperance, reason, logic, and humanity. They acted with the most “emotional intelligence” (currently Jeffrey Lurie’s favorite phrase) of anyone in their organization.
Arbuckle, in his 16 seasons with the Phillies, acquired Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz -- the core of the 2008 champions.
Arbuckle, more than anyone, insisted that those players be left in the minors to develop and ripen. Arbuckle, more than anyone, insisted they not be traded. And how was he repaid?
Arbuckle began the Phillies’ minor-league rebuilding in 1992, when Ruben Amaro Jr. was still trying to make it as a player. Amaro became an assistant general manager in 1998. Amaro got the GM job five days after the 2008 Series win, when Pat Gillick stepped down. Arbuckle resigned.
He took a job as a front-office adviser in Kansas City, his home. Seven years later, the Royals won the 2015 World Series. The Phillies won 63 games in 2015. They were the worst team in baseball.
Of course, the situations aren’t identical. Arbuckle left because he wanted to go. If Douglas leaves he’ll do so because he’ll have an offer he can’t refuse.
Team sources (and Douglas) told me that Douglas and his family love their life in Philly. Like Arbuckle, he loves the fact that he doesn’t have to deal with ownership, or the press, or the coaching staff.
He also likes winning, and he knows that the winning should continue in Philadelphia for a long time. The Eagles are built around quarterback Carson Wentz, right tackle Lane Johnson, and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Winning might never happen for the Jets. But every man has his price.
Assume Douglas earns what other top evaluators earn -- somewhere north of $750,000. What would it take for him to parachute into the madness? A quarter-million-dollar raise? Half a mil? Would it be worth it for the Eagles to match it? Maybe -- if Eagles GM Howie Roseman (executive vice president of football operations, actually) can stomach having his top scout making almost as much as he makes.
Which raises another ticklish issue.
After he was hired in May 2016, Douglas saved Roseman ... but then, Roseman and Lurie have largely created Joe Douglas. They credit him and his department endlessly. It is a strange, symbiotic relationship: a slim, numbers-driven negotiator complemented by a laconic, burly football guy. Either would be less without the other.
The biggest difference lies in the organizational structure. The Eagles’ situation is better.
When the Phillies promoted Amaro, they were handing the reins to a man who had never driven. However, he was supported by Marti Wolever, hired as scouting director in 1992, along with Arbuckle, and longtime minor-leagues director Steve Norowyta, Arbuckle’s right-hand man. Gillick floated in and out as a front-office adviser.
They were sure they would build a sustainable dynasty.
If the Eagles lose Douglas they will not only still have Roseman, who is entering his ninth season as GM, but also Andy Weidl, the director of player personnel, who arrived with Douglas in 2016.
Both were groomed by the Ravens’ Ozzie Newsome. The Eagles also added Colts whiz Anthony Berry as VP of player personnel, in February. Berry is a former Harvard cornerback with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in computer science.
Like the Phillies, the Eagles might be sure they have built a sustainable dynasty. The Eagles might be right. The team certainly was a mess when Douglas and Weidl arrived in May 2016.
But they went to work and things quickly got better. By the end of the 2017 season the Birds had added receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith, defensive ends Chris Long and Derek Barnett, running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, and, in what seemed an insignificant move at the time, rookie linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Patriots, who cut him. He has since played in 44 games.
Oh yes: also, Nick Foles.
Like Arbuckle, Douglas and Co. haven’t hit on every draft pick and every free agent. Like Arbuckle, Douglas will freely admit his mistakes. In fact, like Arbuckle, Douglas is eager to talk about the game and his players -- but he prefers that your pen is capped and your recorder is in your pocket.
Douglas attended Eagles practice Monday, which means, if nothing else, he’s still in the nest.
Maybe he’ll stay. Maybe he recognizes the instability of the Jets franchise, which hasn’t seen the playoffs in eight years. Maybe he can see the flaws and flightiness of head coach Adam Gase, with whom he formed a friendship in their year together in Chicago in 2015. Maybe Douglas just realizes that he cannot salvage that den of dysfunction.
The Phillies were generally rudderless during much of Arbuckle’s tenure, too. He wasn’t perfect, but he was principled and he was professional and he was consistent. For 16 years, through senseless austerity and byzantine ballpark negotiations and ill-conceived free-agency pursuits, Arbuckle remained the steadiest beacon of sense and wisdom. Just like Douglas.
So, yes, the Jets need Douglas. And there might be nothing the Eagles can do to keep him.