Are you feeling pessimistic about the 2014 Phillies? Let me tell you, things could be worse. In fact, when it comes to the Phillies, things often have been worse.
To illustrate just how bad the Phillies used to be, I will compare one of today’s players to a player from the team’s not-so-glorious past. Please join me as I take a somewhat unpleasant trip down memory lane in a segment I like to call Ghosts of Phillies Past!
Featured Phillie of the Month: Chase Utley
I don’t think there’s much debate over who was the Phillies’ MVP in the month of April. While Carlos Ruiz, A.J. Burnett, and even Jonathan Papelbon had strong months, one player was clearly the best, and will merit a fair share of National League Player of the Month votes. I’m obviously talking about second baseman Chase Utley.
A few years ago, Utley looked like he was well on his way to the Hall of Fame. He was a perennial All-Star who was always in the National League MVP discussion, and held the unofficial title of “Best second baseman in baseball.”
Unfortunately, injuries caused Utley to take a detour on his way to Cooperstown. An arthritic condition in his knees caused Utley to miss large chunks of time in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons. While his knees weren’t a problem in 2013, an oblique strain sidelined him for a month. When healthy, he put up strong numbers, although not quite at the level of his prime years.
For the first time in years, Utley appears to be completely healthy, and once again, he looks like the best player at his position. Through April he’s batting .355 with three home runs and a .978 OPS.
If he can maintain this level of production – which is probably dependent on maintaining this level of health – over the next few years, Utley may once again force himself to be considered for eventual Hall of Fame enshrinement.
Ghost of Phillies Past: Sparky Anderson
The Phillies once had a Hall of Famer as their second baseman. Unfortunately, George “Sparky” Anderson’s Hall of Fame credentials had little to do with his ability to play baseball.
In the 1950’s, Anderson spent a few years bouncing around the Dodgers’ farm system. He was notorious for being an energetic player, which caused a radio announcer to bestow his famous nickname upon him. But energy can only get a player so far, and in Anderson’s case, that didn’t include a spot on the Dodgers’ major league roster.
In December 1958, the Phillies – firmly established as a second division team at this point – decided to take a chance on Anderson. They traded three players to the Dodgers in exchange for Anderson, and then made him their regular second baseman for the 1959 season.
He didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Anderson only batted .218 and didn’t hit any home runs. In those days, second baseman weren’t necessarily expected to provide much offense, but Anderson’s defense wasn’t good enough to compensate for those poor numbers.
Anderson was demoted back to the minor leagues, and despite playing several more seasons, he would never return to the major leagues.
Career minor leaguers often make for successful coaches and managers, and Anderson was no exception. He became a minor league coach after his playing career ended, and his success in that role eventually led to him becoming the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Anderson led the “Big Red Machine” to two World Series titles, and after moving to the Detroit Tigers, he guided that franchise to a championship in 1984.
Anderson finally retired in 1995 and due to his managerial success, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
Some people suspect that Chase Utley would make a good manager one day. He is largely considered one of the hardest workers and smartest players in the game.
But for now, the Phillies just hope he keeps playing the game at a high level. If he can continue to do so, he may eventually wind up enshrined next to Anderson in the Hall of Fame.
If you’d like to read previous editions of Ghosts of Phillies Past, click here.