Who needs Ben Simmons and Carson Wentz?
Within a year of each other, those traitors forced their way out of town, thumbs in mouths, feelings hurt, leaving their teammates, teams, and fans stranded in a town nobody seemed to want to play in. And then Philly landed three of the biggest names in sports: Sixers guard James Harden last month, and, in within two days of each other, Phillies sluggers Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos.
Castellanos, late Friday agreed to five years and $100 million. Schwarbs came aboard Wednesday for four seasons and $79 million. The Beard, a deadline deal for Simmons and throw-ins Feb. 10, plans to opt-in to his $47.5 million option for next season.
They want to be here, and it’s easy to see why. This city is built for broad shoulders and strong characters. Wimps need not apply ... or remain.
What it takes
“You have to have the fortitude and confidence to take that criticism on the chin and go out there and improve. Sometimes it’s going to be unwarranted. Sometimes it’s going to be ridiculous. You have to have the confidence and capacity to go out and do your job.
“It always depends on who the guy is.”
This was the best part of Jason Kelce’s answer to a question concerning Simmons, his unprecedented holdout, and his eventual trade. Simmons’ discontent mirrored Wentz’s, who forced a trade after the Eagles’ 2020 season.
Those trades fueled an endless narrative: Top athletes don’t want to play for Philadelphia teams because of the Philadelphia market’s critical fan base and press coverage.
That narrative is hogwash. In order, professional athletes want to play for: 1) The most money; then 2) A winner.
Cash and competitiveness aside, all things being equal, yes, San Diego might appear more appealing to your typical 20-something millionaire than South Philly. Nobody’s pretending that the Delaware Valley offers the sort of comforts and distractions athletes can find in Hollywood or South Beach.
But the reality is, when the teams are good, Philly’s as good a place as any. That’s been true ever since players have enjoyed the freedom to choose.
Kelce’s presence proves it. So does the arrival of Simmons’ replacement, and the arrival of two big new bats, and the arrival of a sack-master.
Harden, the best basketball player available, forced his way out of New York City and chose Philadelphia, with echoes of Cliff Lee. The most productive pass rusher available, edge rusher Haason Reddick, agreed Monday to return to the 2-1-5. Two days later, free-agent slugger Schwarber picked the Phillies, and Castellanos landed Friday. They’re just the most recent examples.
But ... Philly repels stars?
Show me the money
This kind of feels like the argument that not everyone from Philly throws snowballs at Santa, but it’s a little bit different. Nobody’s claiming that Philly’s a destination city. It’s a town with challenges and benefits, where moderately confident and accountable athletes can thrive if they try hard to realize their potential.
In other words, not guys like Wentz and Simmons.
Lately, thanks to people like Kelce, Bryce Harper, and Claude Giroux, we’ve witnessed a dizzying contrast in cowardice and fortitude. Wentz and Simmons whined their way out of town while playing for competent franchises. Meanwhile, Giroux, MVP of the All-Star Game, is crying in his pillow every night at the prospect of being traded from the worst edition of the Flyers in franchise history.
Giroux gets it. He’s not the only one.
Harper got $330 million in 2019, weathered two years of unfulfilled expectations, then delivered an MVP trophy in his third season. Zack Wheeler landed in 2020, pitched OK in the season of COVID, then finished runner-up in the Cy Young race in 2021. J.T. Realmuto was baseball’s top all-around catcher when the Phillies gave him stupid money in 2021.
They weren’t the first baseball players to choose Philly in the Twitter era, either.
Roy Halladay signed a three-year contract extension as soon as the Phillies traded for him in the winter of 2009, then won the Cy Young in 2010. In the winter of 2010, Cliff Lee signed a five-year megadeal that put two aces atop a staff that won a franchise-record 102 games in 2011. Like Harden, Lee shunned the Big Apple for Brotherly Love.
Giroux played his 1,000th game as a Flyer on Thursday, and that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t chosen to stay for eight more years by signing an extension in 2013. The Flyers have always been attractive. Two days apart, in the summer of 2015, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek chose to stay with the All-Star they called “G.” Kevin Hayes signed a seven-year free-agent deal in 2019. Last week, Rasmus Ristolainen forsook free agency and agreed to five more years to be the No. 1 bully.
Did all of these athletes choosing Philly result in championship parades? No. But that’s not the point. Every one of these players, from Doc to Harp to The Beard, had choices.
All chose Philadelphia.
Those choices did result in one unforgettable celebration.
The Eagles and Kelce never would have enjoyed their march up Broad Street after the 2017 season if, before the 2016 season, Fletcher Cox hadn’t signed on for six more years and Malcolm Jenkins hadn’t signed on for five.
Think about it. Who would have caught the first touchdown pass of Super Bowl LII if Alshon Jeffery had been too scared to sign with the Eagles?
And who would have thrown it to him if Nick Foles had been scared to come home?
Like Kelce said, Philadelphia ain’t for everybody.
But Philly’s special.