WITH ALL of the ups and mostly downs so far this season, there has been a torrent of discussion in town about the Phillies' future and whether we should raise the white flag and trade Chase Utley, Domonic Brown or even Cliff Lee. Like many others, I often complain about how much I miss the baseball of my youth, before free agency, when players could spend their entire career with one team. The fans thought of them as old friends and they almost became part of our lives. Many folks my age decry the fact that almost no one plays his entire career with one team. We complain that most players seem to have no loyalty to the fans or the city, and that today's owners have no emotional connection to the players.
During my years as mayor and governor, I got to know many CEOs, and almost all of them told me that there is no place for emotion in business. The perfect example of this was when the international conglomerate that owns Budweiser purchased Rolling Rock, which was brewed in Latrobe, Pa., and had boasted that it used water from the Laurel Highlands.
The company disclosed that it really wanted only the Rolling Rock name and intended to close the brewery and consolidate it with its brewery in New Jersey. That would save them money and increase their profit margin. I put together a package of incentives to enhance their profit margin at Latrobe and reminded them that most workers at Latrobe were in their 50s and 60s and had worked for the company for decades. If the company pulled out of Latrobe, most of those employees would never find gainful employment again.
Company officials told me that was not their problem and their profit would still be greater brewing in New Jersey. I blew up and told them that if they tried to keep the words "brewed in the Laurel Highlands" on their label, I would sue. I angrily added that they were making a big mistake as, compared with the water from the Highlands, Jersey water tastes like excrement, and slammed down the phone.
Many people remind us that baseball is a business, and that means the bottom line must control all decisions. I strongly disagree. Baseball is a game, first and foremost, and there has to be a place for emotion. Call me old-fashioned, but I would really like to see Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard retire having worn only Phillies pinstripes. And I also believe that, purely from a standpoint of what's best for the team, it's too soon to say goodbye. Why? For these reasons:
1. We will score more runs. There are some indications that we finally might be starting to hit. Domonic Brown is becoming the offensive force we always hoped he would be, and is on pace to hit 35 home runs; Ben Revere has increased his average by almost 80 points and is starting to look like the player who hit .294 with the Twins; Erik Kratz is proving he can provide some much needed, timely power; and Michael and Delmon Young are both good career hitters and, based on their history, there's good reason to believe they'll start hitting soon.
2. Our pitching is in good shape. Cliff Lee is amazing, and I would only trade him for Matt Harvey based on age alone (and besides, let's remember he chose us and deserves to finish as a Phillie). If Cole Hamels keeps pitching as he has, he has to start winning more games over the next 4 months; Kyle Kendrick and Jonathan Pettibone have been revelations and give us a very solid middle of the rotation; John Lannan will be back as a capable fifth starter soon enough; and our relief pitching looks as if it is finally rounding into shape, with Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes starting to heat up, Mike Adams returning from the DL, and Jonathan Papelbon looking like a lock-down closer.
3. The Braves and Nationals have serious flaws. Can the Braves win it all with three-eighths of their everyday lineup - Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla and Justin Upton - hitting under .200? The Nationals lineup is not overly strong, and their defense and relief pitching are at times shoddy. Amazingly, Stephen Strasburg has looked like a mere mortal in some outings, and Gio Gonzalez has been getting roughed up.
4. We have played terribly these first 2 months and yet, entering the weekend, we were only a game behind the second-place Nats and 6 1/2 behind the Braves.
5. We wouldn't get anywhere close to value for Utley because of his injury history, and the idea of trading Brown is ludicrous, given his age and his potential (regardless of the front office's frustration over his bumpy road to stardom).
As we enter June with two-thirds of the season still ahead of us, let's stay the course. It ain't over by a longshot and our gang deserves a shot to turn it around. Besides, if old man Tim Duncan and the supposedly over the hill San Antonio Spurs can do it, so can we!!