Well, 2017 is just about finished. And since the dawn of a new year allows us to reflect on what happened in the last 12 months, I wanted to take some space to go over just what did happen, at least as it concerns our Philadelphia Phillies.
It was a weird year. We wanted great things, and we got some great things, but we also got a lot of really terrible and sad things. We were repeatedly stung by loss, and not on the field so much as in our hearts, deep and even cutting through to our childhoods.
We believe that days of greater hope are upon us, and we’ll once again chill of goosebumps as the spring flowers blossom. Still the road to this point hasn’t been easy. It’s tried our patience. It’s tested our ability to even care. But 2017, different from years past, wasn’t about sustaining blows in the box score; instead, it was about seeing the good in little things and remembering the great things of the past.
Here are some of the little, the great, and the everything about being a Phillies fan in 2017.
I still can’t believe Roy Halladay is gone.
It’s not the gone of being retired, of not being around us every fifth day. That was a guy we saw erode – however quickly – into a guy who was perfectly happy to say “Okay, I can’t do this anymore. Time to go.” And that I accepted perfectly well. He was happy. He was ready for the next thing. Thanks, Roy, you did us proud.
But this is the gone of seeing this guy, who by the way was just seven years older than me, against some “Rest in Peace” banner. It still makes no sense. He was on camera talking about spring training yesterday, wasn’t he? He’s on Twitter talking about his kid’s baseball team, right? The hell is this about him being gone?
When he fatally crashed his plane in the Gulf of Mexico it was a Tuesday in early November. That’s not when legends go. Legends go slowly in the winter, and that’s understood. Not in the late-afternoon over multiple tweets, and certainly not in the way I found out, over some email from the Phillies saying their thoughts were with his family. Come on, no way. Not Roy Halladay.
It’s not going to make sense at the home opener when they bow their heads. Carlos Santana hit against him. Cesar Hernandez played alongside him. They do this for much older figures. He was never even sick! Don’t tell me we’re getting a commemorative pin, or that the team will wear a patch that says “DOC.” It won’t register.
Roy Halladay is gone. He won’t be there. I don’t understand it.
The funny stoicism of ‘Dutch’ Daulton.
Darren endured four years of pain in his battle against brain cancer, and he died on Aug. 6. During his battle he kept resurfacing to lend his voice to radio or make a triumphant appearance at the ballpark. He stuck by his Phillies through it all.
My favorite Darren Daulton memory, post playing career, was his reaction to Jimmy Rollins’ game-winning double in game four of the 2009 NLCS. You may remember that then-Comcast SportsNet showed the studio reaction, and Daulton’s was one small little blip of a phrase: “Got it.”
As Ricky Bottalico yelped and Michael Barkann put on his best homer cap, Daulton literally just said “Got it” because he knew right away that ball was shooting into the gap and winning the game. One second of video, recorded 12 years after Daulton retired from playing baseball, reveals everything we need to know about his relationship to the game. Darren Daulton knew baseball better than we could ever hope to know.
We could use that right now: just another cool guy who knows the score and keeps it all in check.
Then there’s the fire of Dallas Green.
It’s really amazing who we lost in 2017. Halladay. Daulton. Ruben Amaro Sr., a crucial figure in the development of the modern-day Phillies organization. Jim Bunning, one of the few Phillies hall of famers, its greatest pitching asset between Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton. And Dallas Green, a mighty post who pushed the franchise to its first greatest moment, then epitomized the parental leadership style the Phils would employ over the following decades, died in March.
Dallas was the last of a breed – men who believed players were this and can be molded to do that. Most men like Dallas failed, but that’s because most men weren’t Dallas. At once fiery, and moments later comforting, the former manager and later adviser couldn’t have been duplicated. Former enemies and friends alike mourned following news of Green’s death, culminating in the kind of wake reserved only for titans of the family tree.
Green was exactly that. The Phillies, more than arguably any baseball franchise, have been described as a big family. Former players, coaches and personalities always found their way back with the organization. What Green believed seemed to pour into everyone he touched, from Larry Bowa to Mike Schmidt to David Montgomery, and it helped define the organization’s last 45 years.
Something new is here.
I’m not just talking about new players or even a coaching staff.
The passing of organizational notables like Halladay, Daulton and Amaro Sr., and a titan like Green, underscores a bigger narrative that took shape in 2017.
Go back to the Andy MacPhail press conference in June 2015, three days after Ryne Sandberg exited stage left and the Phils hit a new modern low. There was MacPhail in the middle, bookended by Pat Gillick and John Middleton. Gillick faded from the public eye soon after, and at Matt Klentak’s press conference it was MacPhail and Middleton at the dais.
Soon we got Middleton talking about getting his trophy back, and in November 2016 he was named control person of the Phillies. Or, more succinctly, Middleton is the owner.
And 2017 was all about seeing the John Middleton era really take shape. MacPhail and Klentak engineered a youth movement where failed veterans (Michael Saunders) were cut quickly and without fanfare. At the end of the season, good guy and relatively older-school skipper Pete Mackanin was ushered out, and in came newer-school Gabe Kapler, the kind of guy we never thought the Phillies would employ as manager.
The Phils are now created in the image not of Klentak, but of Middleton. Like the owner, Kapler is bold and outspoken. Like the owner, the organization has no truck for the past. What matters is the damn trophy.
And so Larry Bowa moves to some adviser role. Mickey Morandini can shake hands with fans. You’ll even hear less of Larry Andersen in 2018, though that is apparently more his doing.
The point is this: These aren’t your dad’s, mom’s, granddad’s or grandmom’s Phillies. These are John Middleton’s Phillies.
The month of Rhys.
18 home runs. 48 runs batted in. And just 212 plate appearances.
Though he slowed down late in 2017, Rhys Hoskins put on a display the likes we haven’t seen since Ryan Howard’s early days. From Aug. 14 to Sept. 14 he hit all of those 18 homers, while walking as many times as he struck out (23). You could bet on a Hoskins homer, and you’d often be correct.
We hope Hoskins will come back in 2018 with a fury, showing to be the kind of transcendent power hitter we long to have back at home. He should at least be pretty good.
But even if he isn’t, at least we had that month.
It’s not important that I got on television while standing behind Gregg Murphy. No, what’s important is that on this day, the Phils were down 11-5 and put up a heckuva fight in the ninth.
Andres Blanco singled. Freddy Galvis singled him home. Then Odubel Herrera, back from an injury that stalled his unstoppable second half, worked a full count, fouled a bunch of pitches off, then singled Galvis home. And then Hoskins came up and nearly put the ball over the fence. He didn’t and the Phils lost 11-7.
But on this day the Phils were fighting, and the Mets and their fans were just a little worried. For the first time in years I felt excitement and possibility.
And that evening they called up J.P. Crawford.
Look, J.P. Crawford hit just .214 with the Phillies in 2017. We know. But the defense is solid and plays over the entire infield. He gets on base (16 walks to 22 strikeouts). Most of all, he’s already being sold to Phils fans this offseason. He’s the future of the franchise, and he feels like it.
We got pretty good seasons from Aaron Altherr (.856 OPS) and Nick Williams (.811 OPS). Jorge Alfaro (.874 OPS) showed promise at the plate.
Down on the farm Scott Kingery had an exceptional season (.889 OPS), while Sixto Sanchez captured our imaginations during the midsummer slog. The Phillies should not and probably will not let those guys go this year. In fact, both should be here soon.
Are the Phillies close? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe. But we have a lot to be excited about.
The big signing.
A lot happened in the final three months of 2017, and while it’s not the most shocking, the Carlos Santana signing still is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.
Of course he’s here because he can get on base, and because his steady veteran bat can play over three years as the team becomes a contender. But does it mean another big signing or trade is afoot?
Who will be traded?
This has occupied our time during the latter half of the year. Will the Phils package an outfielder (say, Altherr or Williams) with prospects for a good starting pitcher? We thought, for about 11 hours, that Manny Machado was a real possibility.
What about Tom?
Isn’t it weird that the guy with the second-most home runs on the team in 2017 is still on the roster but universally known as a goner?
Tommy Joseph got his shot, but he only walked 33 times to 129 strikeouts. He only hit .240. He only had a .289 on-base percentage. He only played average defense. He’s not going to be here in 2018. But he’s still here in 2017. And that’s weird.
We’re not sure what’s going to happen with Cameron Rupp, Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez, but in 2017, we were – respectively – fine, frustrated and very happy with them.
Freddy Galvis was traded the same day the Phils signed Santana. He put up a respectable .255/.309/.382 line in 2017, along with playing outstanding defense at shortstop. He was fun to watch, a cool guy, and we’re glad he was part of our lives for a while.
Meanwhile here are guys who weren’t good for the Phillies in 2017:
Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, Ricardo Pinto, Joely Rodriguez, Jeanmar Gomez, Clay Buchholz, Jesen Therrien.
Pivetta is probably better than this. Velasquez should be. Maybe Eflin, too. Anyway.
Good lord. Also pitching in mediocre fashion were Jerad Eickhoff, Jeremy Hellickson, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr., Joaquin Benoit, Edubray Ramos and Jake Thompson.
Pat Neshek was our all-star! Remember that!
And, hey, he’s back in 2018! Woohoo!
At least we have Aaron Nola.
3.54 ERA, 184 K, 49 BB. He’s pretty good.
John Kruk was great in the booth.
What an addition. Every game with Kruk was a funky little adventure. Glad he’s on board.
To the beats.
Phillies beat writers are great at their jobs. Hopefully those who were let go from their former employers find new posts soon.
Thanks for following and reading along and hating and/or loving things that I and the rest of us write at Phillies Nation. You guys are all great, and we love you, and happy new year.
Also, go Phils!