Dummyball, Part II: Big Names, Big Failures

BY PAUL MANCANO—It’s hard to imagine a more tragic end to the Phillies’ Glory Core. The group that gave us five straight years of championship contention is now a rapidly sinking ship, plunging headlong towards the depths of baseball mediocrity. Plus, the fact that Ruben sent absolutely no one away on lifeboats at the trade deadline means that absolutely no one (except Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez) will escape the whirlpool of torment and frustration that comes with such terrible loss.

The worst part is, it was totally avoidable.

A couple weeks ago, I posted the first part in a series entitled “Dummyball: The Sundry Ways Ruben Amaro Jr. Has Ignored Sabermetrics.” I wrote about how Amaro has only looked at the primary stats, not the secondary ones. How he’s valued the attractive stats more the important ones. The result is a team full of big names and high salaries, but devoid of run creators.

But the Phillies’ issues run deeper than just individual players and careless research. They stem from the misguided philosophy of the entire organization, going all the way up the ladder to the president and CEO, David Montgomery.

About a month and a half ago, Montgomery some things that caused some head-scratching:

“In 1998, what were we drawing? Where were we ranked of the franchises in the city? We were last,” Montgomery said. “When I took over, we thought it was a moral victory to go 44-46 in the second half and still lose 97 games, drawing a million and a half and we couldn’t get into a new ballpark.

“Some people say that the Phillies worry too much about attendance. Yes, we do. When you are low in attendance, the risk is only on the upside. When you are (drawing well), the risk is dropping any further. And that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

…Wait, what??

Maybe Montgomery should take a walk across the street to the Wells Fargo Center and have a chat with Sam “Big Ping-Pong Balls” Hinkie about how he’s managed to win over an entire fan base in a year by losing—on purpose. Or maybe he should read Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Especially the part that says the only thing fans care about is winning.

From 2009-2011, the Phillies made bold moves to acquire big names such as Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Hunter Pence. They also threw an insane amount of cash at homegrown stars like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels because, well, they’re fan favorites. True, these players were very good in their prime (Hamels and Utley are still very good) but they also have the added benefit of lighting up a marque, if you will. It was all good when we were paying these these Phils legends mucho dinero to win games. But now, we’re just paying them to construct mega mansions, and occasionally hit a homer.

But the Glory Core weren’t the only ones to benefit from Ruben’s fat wallet. Look at all the old, often expensive, big names the team has brought in since ’09: Mike Sweeney, Jim Thome, Michael Young, Dontrelle “D-Train” Willis, Bobby Abreu, Marlin Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Grady Sizemore, etc. I’d even throw Tony Gwynn Jr. into that category because his name carries some weight (I call it the Casey Matthews Effect). I’m pretty sure they also signed Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle to minor league deals, but they never made it out of single-A. Of that group, Marlin Byrd and Grady Sizemore have worked out OK, but beyond that, how many wins has the rest of this sorry group of bums given us? 15? 20? Abreu and the D-Train sucked so hard they couldn’t even crack the roster. This roster. A roster that now boasts Reid Brignac and Cameron Rupp. That’s pathetic.

But surely, those names have at least brought some more fans to the ballpark, right? Let me ask you this: have you been to a Phillies game recently? No? It’s okay, nobody has. The Phillies draw in about 30,000 fans a game these days, which isn’t terrible, until you compare it to the 45,440 they drew on a nightly basis a mere three years ago. Back then, the Fightins had the best record in baseball. Back then, a trip to Citizens Bank Park meant watching a team of stars nearing the end of their prime make one last run at glory. Nowadays, it means watching a team of has-beens wheeze and gasp their way to the millions of dollars owed to them.

David Montgomery, Ruben Amaro Jr., and the rest of the Phillies’ brass worry a rebuild would drive fans away. Ironically, they seem to be the only ones who don’t realize that the exact opposite is true. It’s a lack of a rebuild that’s driving fans away.

Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane is all about getting the best bang for his buck. So, he recruits a team of no-names and watches them flourish into stars, before they become too expensive to keep on the roster. Then he ships them off for more no-names. “Fans would rather see a team of nobodies become stars than a team of stars become nobodies,” writes Lewis.

The 2014 Phillies a prime example of this fact. Fans are watching a team of stars slip into oblivion before their eyes. It’s depressing as hell. No wonder people chose to go bowling on Saturday nights instead of going to ballgames in South Philly.

The Phillies’ selective blindness and the fans’ clear-eyed pessimism represents a clear divide between the organization and the fan base. Maybe more people would show up right now if they saw the potential for winning further down the road. Until Montgomery realizes this, he’ll have to endure the paltry crowds, the boos, and all these losses.

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