When you duck away from the charity of writing analysis you believe is insightful, you gain a new appreciation for the water in which you once bathed. With my head in the tub for long enough, I’ve began to notice something odd: The Philadelphia Phillies are on a whole new level.
These aren’t your father’s Phils. Heck, they’re not even your great-grandfather’s Phils. I don’t think Chuck Klein ever envisioned this type of popularity.
In a short glance of time, the Phillies swept through the Mets and cleaned up the dregs of the National League Central division, coasting into the All Star break with fat tummies. And Charlie Manuel only expanded those belts, giving Jayson Werth a pat on the back with an all star label and placing fan-rewarded Shane Victorino into his starting lineup. Watching last night’s All Star Game, I found myself applauding so much that I couldn’t feel my hands anymore.
It felt odd rooting for so many individuals on an all star team. It felt like the great swindle of 1993, the greater swindle of 1994 and the greatest swindle of 1995, when even Heathcliff Slocumb and Tyler Green hitched a ride on the all star wagon. This time, however, the spots were deserved. (You could make cases for Victorino, Werth and Ryan Howard, since you should factor in some of the 2008 ledger — or else we should have two all star games again, shouldn’t we?) These boys suddenly became the face of the National League, seen in the boyish crew melon of Howard, the pranking eccentricity of Victorino, the steady nerves of Werth, the wise adulation of Raul Ibanez and the stoic manliness of Chase Utley. Oh, and let’s not forget Manuel, the wrinkle-faced, white-haired teddy bear with a mouth the size of Lake Dinty Moore.
Take Stan Musial kissing fingers in a convertible, or Carl Crawford robbing a home run, or any one of the 7,100 camera cuts of Albert Pujols. To me, the lasting picture of the All Star Game festivities was Manuel, clad in a clean, black two-piece suit and tie at the media day conference, handing reporters the same business he’d hand reporters before a Phillies playoff game. To Manuel, this wasn’t simply a break from real baseball, nor was it a chance to let loose in a casual black button-down. This whole all star business was Charlie Manuel’s big moment — his opportunity to tell the world, “Look. I got here by winnin’! I earned this here!”
Far beyond 2008, the Phillies have extinguished the ghosts and turned to the business of winning in 2009. But being an all star manager isn’t simply a perk, it’s a testament to your efforts at work. It means you were good, real good. Manuel sure earned that managerial spot, just as the Phillies earned all the attention they gained during all star weekend. Your world champions — and not just that, but your still first place Phillies. Not only did they win last year, but they’re looking purty good this year.
The dust mites that flew far enough from Saint Louis found a veritable amusement park Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. There, newly signed Phillies pitcher Pedro Martinez greeted the media with honesty and guffaws. Reporters bounced every question imaginable at the three-time Cy Young winner, and he swatted his answers back to them without an ounce of transparency. Martinez is the real deal, and no matter how much you could loathe him in blue and orange, you love him now. You have to — he gave us everything we wanted.
More than that, though, Martinez gave the Phillies that amusement park. It’s the type of scene reserved for the pantheon players (in baseball immortality and immorality): Clemens, Bonds, McGwire. Those guys. Sure, Martinez may not have that one thing in common, but he’s definitely in that competitive level. He’s beyond the game. And like a big-market, big-name, big-city, big-bullswat team, the Phillies grinned wide as they lapped up the pantheon pitcher. Even if he doesn’t throw a pitch at Citizens Bank Park, he hammered my point home.
Two very different men sat at skirted tables and spoke to reporters within 48 hours. One a huckling West Virginian, a former ball-blaster in Japan. The other a smooth-talking Dominican, a Hall of Fame pitcher if he ended it now. They couldn’t be farther apart in what they were given, and in what they took. And yet both men spoke with dead seriousness about their intentions: To win baseball games. Manuel for his National League all stars. Martinez for his Philadelphia Phillies.
And both men each wore a clean, black two-piece suit and tie.
These scenes both represented bookends to a break filled with appreciation for the past. The great team of the National League had their time, parading out their stars, lauding Stan the Man and giving their new Hall of Fame player a chance to catch the president’s pitch. It seemed oddly fitting, then, that the new great team of the National League was stealing the headlines on either side of the show.
I can’t help but feel amazed that the Phillies are suddenly bubbling with popularity. This is the same team that stirred in the bowels of the National League for not just years, but decades. Heck, over a century. And while we can’t tell if this will all last too long, living in that moment feels all the more special.
So if you’ll excuse me, time to go back underwater.
Tim Malcolm is the former everyday writer of Phillies Nation. He’ll post again when his head comes above water. Until then, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.