As we wait for the Phillies to make their first big offseason move, let's discuss the one thing that creates the greatest buzz at any baseball game.
That, of course, is the home run.
Since Babe Ruth started swatting baseballs out of the ballpark in New York, the long ball has been the thing that most fascinates the average baseball fan. The most casual of Phillies fans can recite the name of the team's all-time home run leader (Mike Schmidt), but good luck trying to find the person who can tell you the team's all-time leader in triples.
After the 1994 strike wiped out the World Series, it was the long-ball battle between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire that eventually rekindled interest, and no one cared until years later that it was all substance-aided.
Remember the "chicks dig the long ball" advertising campaign? The best of the commercials was filmed at Veterans Stadium with a jealous Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine watching McGwire take batting practice, which was quite the show.
What's interesting from both a baseball and a Phillies perspective is that the home run has reached a crossroads.
The San Francisco Giants just won the World Series after hitting 103 home runs, the lowest total in the majors during the regular season. The last team to make the World Series after hitting the fewest home runs in baseball was the 1987 St. Louis Cardinals. They hit 94. The last team to win it with the fewest home runs was the 1982 Cardinals, who hit 67, which was six fewer than Barry Bonds hit for the Giants in 2001, when his substance-aided achievement likely soiled the record books forever.
Thanks in large part to drug testing, home runs have significantly declined from the turn of the century until today. The average team total for home runs in 2000 was 190. Last season, it was 164, which was up from a 21-year low of 152 the year before. Fifty home runs is again a unique achievement reserved only for the greatest of power hitters.
Despite the overall trend, the Phillies are still in search of a power surge for the 2013 season. Manager Charlie Manuel digs the long ball, too, and who can blame him?
There is no denying that the start of the Phillies' five straight division titles under Manuel was triggered by big bats. From 2006, the year before the Phillies won their first National League East title, through 2010, the team averaged 206.6 home runs per season and finished in the top eight in baseball every year.
The Phillies have ranked 18th in home runs each of the last two seasons, hitting 153 in 2011 and 158 in 2012.
As recently as 2009, when they led the National League in home runs with 224 and returned to the World Series for the second straight year, they had four players with at least 30 home runs. That list featured Ryan Howard (45), Jayson Werth (36), Raul Ibanez (34), and Chase Utley (31). Last season, Jimmy Rollins led the team with 23 and Hunter Pence was second with 17 despite playing the last two months of the season with the Giants.
It's understandable that Manuel and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. want more power in the middle of their batting order, and they will have it if Howard and Utley are each around for 150 games in 2013. If Darin Ruf proves to be the power hitter it looks as if he can be, and the Phillies add a bat like free-agent B.J. Upton, they will have at least five guys capable of hitting 20 home runs or more and perhaps three players capable of hitting 30 or more. Add free-agent third baseman Kevin Youkilis, and the potential for six guys with 20 or more home runs exists. The number could rise to seven if Domonic Brown ever lives up to the power potential he showed when he hit 22 home runs between the minors and big leagues in 2010.
Would that make the Phillies considerably better?
The answer is yes, but only if their three best starting pitchers - Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay - perform up to expectations. It would also help tremendously if they had a high-on-base-percentage guy who does not strike out much batting first or second in the order.
Much was made about the Giants' low home run total, but there are two things to consider. They play in a big ballpark, and they have won two of the last three World Series with great pitching, which is the model Amaro put into place when he added Halladay and Lee to the mix.
Regardless of how many home runs a team hits, it so often seems to be great arms that ultimately make a difference.
And, by the way, Eddie Delahanty is the Phillies' all-time triples leader with 157.
Here's a look at the Phillies' team home run totals since 2000.
YR TOTAL RANK
2000 144 29th
2001 164 21st
2002 165 15th
2003 166 15th
2004 215 6th
2005 167 15th
2006 216 4th
2007 213 2d
2008 214 2d
2009 224 T-2d
2010 166 9th
2011 153 18th
2012 158 18th
- Bob BrookoverEndText