NASHVILLE - Twenty years have passed since Lee Thomas pulled off one of the greatest roster overhauls in Phillies history.
With a shoestring budget and a barren farm system, Thomas made six offseason additions - four free-agent signings and two trades - that helped trigger the Phillies' transformation from a last-place team in 1992 to National League champions in 1993.
It started with a November expansion-draft trade for lefthander Danny Jackson that sent Joel Adamson and Matt Whisenant to the Florida Marlins, and concluded with a mid-January free-agent signing of outfielder Jim Eisenreich for $675,000. In between, the former Phillies general manager signed Pete Incaviglia for $1.05 million, Milt Thompson for $1.475 million, and Larry Andersen for $700,000. He also acquired David West from Minnesota for Mike Hartley.
The three pitchers went a combined 21-17 with three saves and a 3.42 ERA and the three position players batted a combined .285 with 35 home runs and 179 RBIs as part of manager Jim Fregosi's corner outfield platoons. All six additions cost just under $7 million for that season, which was a baseball bargain even two decades ago.
The Phillies' entire payroll that year was $26.8 million, which was less than Greg Maddux and Barry Bonds received in free-agent deals from Atlanta and San Francisco that offseason.
Only three of the impact players from that roster - Darren Daulton, Mickey Morandini, and Kevin Stocker - came from the farm system, so given the team's resources in terms of money and homegrown talent, it was amazing that Thomas built the Phillies into a World Series team, even if it lasted only one year.
Current general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who joined the Phillies as a player in a 1991 Thomas trade involving Von Hayes, would love for this offseason to be as prosperous as that one.
After an extended absence from the game, Thomas returned as a special assistant to Baltimore general manager Dan Duquette this year and helped shape a young Orioles team into a playoff squad for the first time since 1997.
"It was the best year of my baseball life since 1993," Thomas said at last week's winter meetings at the Opryland Hotel here.
Thomas is 76 and will turn 77 in less than two months. Neither he nor centerfielder Lenny Dykstra, the biggest star on the 1993 Phillies, attended a 2003 tribute to the team at Veterans Stadium. Thomas was angry at the way he was fired by team president David Montgomery, and has declined all invitations to return to Philadelphia for any sort of ceremony.
"I've been invited back a lot, and if I don't go soon, they might stop inviting me," he said. "I probably would go if they invited me again. Philadelphia was good to me. I had 10 years there and 10 years is a long time to be a GM in one place. We didn't have great success, but we got to that World Series and I enjoyed my stay there. I loved working for Bill Giles."
Thomas often thinks about the 1993 team. He also has a special place for Dykstra, who last week received a 61/2-month federal prison sentence on theft charges in an attempt to hide assets from bankruptcy creditors.
"It breaks my heart to see what's happening to him," Thomas said. "I know he did some things he shouldn't have done, but I really feel for him. I would think if he gets some sort of break that he would come back and do the right thing."
Thomas believes Dykstra's ultracompetitive personality triggered the all-star centerfielder's downfall.
"I wished he had come to me," Thomas said. "I felt like I helped him when he was with the Phillies. We had a great rapport. When the light came on, he was always ready to play, and I think some of his competitiveness got him into trouble. He wanted to be the best in baseball, tennis, golf . . . and I think he wanted to show he could make the most money outside of the baseball world."
Dykstra's recent sentence was more lenient than many expected.
"I guess he got a break," Thomas said. "I think that's the best thing that happened to him in the last few years. I've got to believe the judge who set that sentence has to believe he can come out and get himself rehabilitated."
If and when Dykstra gets out of prison, Thomas has some advice for a player he loved and would love to see again.
"I would say you owe it to yourself and your family to make yourself into the person you can be," he said. "I think you can survive in this world and you're a smart guy, so do the right thing and don't take any shortcuts. Prove to people that Lenny Dykstra can do things without getting into trouble.
"When you get yourself to a point where you're comfortable in life, relax and enjoy it. He was pretty comfortable before all this happened, but he wanted to make his mark on everything and sometimes that isn't good, which I guess he found out. But I think he deserves another chance."