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Why Phillies Management Got It Right
- Updated: March 7, 2013
Every year the Pittsburgh Pirates throw their fans a party where they can get player autographs and interact with coaches and members of team management. It’s a unique opportunity for the fans to get up close and personal with their favorite Buccos and show their support. They call this annual gala, “Pirate Fest.”
While attending class at Waynesburg University, the opportunity to attend this event came up. Towards the end of the evening, the Pirates held a Q&A session with fans that included then general manager Dave Littlefield and team owner Kevin McClatchy.
One fan asked Littlefield what plans he had for the upcoming off-season. This question came just days after Carlos Delgado had signed what would be his last major contract with the New York Mets.
Littlefield responded by saying, “Well, that Delgado fellow would have been nice.” He would go on to say that while the team would have loved to pursue Delgado, it would handicap them from filling other pressing needs on the club.
At that moment, a friend turned to me and stressed that while it might run his team dry, signing a player like Delgado at that time would have sparked his interest. It would also put more fans in the empty seats at beautiful PNC Park.
The fact was, and still is to a degree, that while Pittsburgh struggled with revenue, they were also not willing to make a statement and do everything they could for the fans, the city and, most importantly, to win.
When you look at where the Phillies stand right now, you observe that the window of opportunity is closing. The core of the team is getting older. The manager might depart after this season and the farm system has been left a little sparse.
However, with five division titles and one World Series championship to their credit, Phillies fans should ask themselves the following question:
If you could go back to October 2007, and team management said that they would do everything, EVERYTHING, in order to win a championship, what would you say?
The answer is simple: DO IT. Do whatever it takes. Go get Roy Halladay. Go get Roy Oswalt. Pay whatever it costs to bring Cliff Lee back. Go get Hunter Pence. Pay Cole Hamels. To hear one’s team is in the mix as one of the favorites to land the coveted player on the market. That generates buzz, it generates excitement within the fan base.
Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick could recognize talent in a way similar to the “Moneyball” theory championed by Billy Bean of Oakland. He was able get tremendous value out of players for less money. He signed Jayson Werth for the league minimum to round out the bench, and he turned into an All-Star right fielder. Gillick, along with manager Charlie Manuel, saw something in Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz blossomed into one of the best hitting and defensive catchers in the game.
All of this, coupled with the core of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels got the team its first playoff berth in 14 seasons. They won the World Series the very next season. And with that comes national attention, from both the fans and the media.
The team capitalized on merchandising and ticket sales, as well as advertising and concessions at the ballpark. This allotted them the financial flexibility to pursue top talent and use their farm system to better their major league product.
Now, does spending big bucks and mortgaging the future for the here and now a risky move? Absolutely. Does it guarantee a World Series, or even a winning season? Never. What it does do, though, is show the league and the city that they’re serious about winning. That they want to win, no matter what it takes. An energizing feeling for a fan base so starved for world title.
When this “Golden Age” of Phillies’ baseball comes to an end, they may not win another World Series. But this team of executives, coaches and players will be forever tied to winning, and raising the bar for excellence in the City of Brotherly Love.