It is now common knowledge that Ruben Amaro Jr. was engaged in negotiations to essentially turn Joe Blanton into Bobby Abreu, then turn Abreu into AJ Burnett. I have a soft-spot for Blanton: the big Kentuckian was perfectly serviceable during the 2008 championship run and, like Cole Hamels, did not register a loss in the postseason that year.
Blanton is affable and epitomizes the imperfections of Philadelphia that fans can relate to. Is Blanton the biggest or strongest pitcher? No. Is he the fastest to the plate or does he have the best repertoire? No. But what Blanton does posses is an intangible likability and projects an image of a workman who packs his lunch. As a fan, it would have hurt to see Blanton, a member of said championship team, gone.
Then it hit me: they’re almost all gone already.
41 players wore white with red pinstripes in the 2008 season. Of those 41, only Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, and Blanton remain. Eight players are the last link to our World Championship team only three seasons later.
It is surprising but hardly jarring information. Most moves made the team more competitive, while other players who only had cups of coffee with the Phillies like Mike Cervanek or Brad Harman were never expected to stay. Some were rented mercenaries, acquired only to add some punch to keep us in the playoff hunt like Rudy Seanez or Matt Stairs. Most of the exits made sense: Pat Burrell was ready to move on, Adam Eaton was released, and Seanez retired. Some stayed around one more season to help us get back to the World Series before they left like Chad Durbin and Scott Eyre.
I think to an extent, it becomes difficult to separate the fan aspect from the human aspect of baseball. Blanton was such a gigantic part of leading the Phils into and through the playoffs that it would be heartbreaking to see him traded. But as a fanatic of the Phillies, I know heading into the season, the Phillies prospects for a World Series win may increase with somebody else taking the ball every fifth day. It is something we struggle with when talking about players like Howard, who have meant so much and share such an identity with the team, but whose contracts make even the average fan do a double take. And conversely, that’s what made it so gut-wrenching during the Rollins negotiations to hear him say he loved Philadelphia but imply that he might not be back.
To be honest, that’s the best part about being a fan. Reconciling business with loyalty, juxtaposing who helps you win the most with who gave you the best memories. That push and pull? That’s what I love about writing about baseball and the Phillies.
To the 33 members of the Phillies 2008 championship squad who are no longer on the team? Thanks. But I’d also like to move forward. This is quite possibly the most talented Phillies team out of the last six years. Their pitching is the best 1-2-3 in all of baseball. They have the best bench they’ve had in the last six seasons. Utley is healthy. This may be Victorino’s last year as a Phillie. Worse yet, it may be Hamels’s last year, too.
There will be a day when there are no longer any members of the 2008 championship team in the Phillies clubhouse, a day when Charlie and Rich aren’t calling shots, and a day when Ruben is no longer the GM. But we have eight guys who know what it takes to win a championship in Philadelphia, four (Jose Contreras, Jonathan Papelbon, Juan Pierre, and Scott Podsednik) who have won elsewhere, and 13+ more who are ready to do anything to win it. With the eternal optimism of Spring, I say “Play Ball”.