Jonathan Papelbon has a strange legacy in Philadelphia. On one hand, he made two All-Star teams in parts of four seasons with the Phillies and is the franchise’s all-time leader in saves. On the other hand, the most memorable moment of his time with the team is probably his infamous crotch grab at Citizens Bank Park, and subsequent suspension.
Still, if you’re just going based on numbers and performance, there’s a case to be made that Papelbon should be on the Phillies Wall of Fame. The problem is that the Wall of Fame is, in part, a promotional event to sell tickets, and like Scott Rolen, Papelbon probably has as many fans who dislike him as who like him in Philadelphia.
In addition to the crotch grab, Papelbon also said in July of 2013 that “he definitely didn’t come here for this,” referring to the fact that the Phillies were in the midst of a season where they would ultimately finish 73-89.
Papelbon, usually elusive, did an extended interview recently with Ben Ennis & JD Bunkis of Sportsnet, reflecting on the entirety of his career, including the four-year/$50 million deal he signed with the Phillies ahead of the 2012 season.
“The Phillies [won a] World Series [in 2008], were in the National League Championship Series, Division Series all these years, right?… Honestly, when I was going to Philly, I thought I was going to win two more World Series. And I get there, and oh shoot…15 games out of first, 20 games out of first and then like 22 games out of first, my first three years. And I was like, ‘What is going on?’ And I think I had made the comment in the paper, or something like that, [I said] ‘I didn’t really come here for this.’ Of course, the Phillie fans didn’t really like that. Phillie fans are a little bit different, but I thought that I was being pretty blunt and pretty honest to the media, and even nowadays doing media.”
Though Ryan Howard tore his achilles on the final play of the 2011 NLDS and we’ve since learned that Roy Halladay’s body was showing signs of breaking down late that year, the Phillies did win 102 games the year prior to Papelbon’s arrival, a franchise record. It wasn’t unreasonable for him to think that he was joining a team where he had a chance to add to the 2007 World Series title he closed out as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
Instead, pretty much the entire core of the greatest run in franchise history all hit a wall at once.
“I don’t know, man – it just didn’t really unfold the way I thought it would unfold in Philly. And then, next thing you know, Roy Halladay is going down…Chase Utley plays maybe 40 games…Ryan Howard doesn’t play but maybe 50 games…all your horses are in the stable. They aren’t out on the field.
“I think one year, we had one All-Star guy and I was the guy. I was the one lone All-Star player for the Phillies. And I was like ‘Man, this is crazy, there should be four or five of us, like I was used to in Boston. There was always four or five of us.’ It just didn’t go.”
Papelbon was an All-Star in 2012, when he was joined by Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz. Three years later – weeks before he would be traded to the Washington Nationals – Papelbon was the Phillies lone representative at the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati. The Phillies, who had at least two All-Stars every year from 2004 to 2013, now haven’t had multiple All-Stars since 2013.
The reality is that on the field, Papelbon held up his end of the bargain on a deal that some thought was an overpay by then-general manager Rubén Amaro Jr. at the time. Had the teams around him been better, his quirky personality probably would have been endearing in Philadelphia. Instead, there’s a real chance that you’ll never see him back at Citizens Bank Park again.
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