The Legend of Gregory Dobbs


"“That’s been the hardest part — the timing. I can’t afford to be out. Having that taken away from me, with something I can’t control, it gets at you.”"

Just four or five guys, their careers sealed shut or blasted forward based on the luck of their teammates’ bones.  For a regulation baseball team, playing off the bench is being asked to perform mightily in unwavering, sporadic outbursts.  A small sliver of a window may open, and the player can turn it into a fist bump or an eye roll.  Knowing your biggest chance to make an impact may come when a star player blows up his knees falling down the dug out steps must feel a teensy bit parasitic.

Greg Dobbs is one of these guys.  In his prime, his “funny background guy” status makes all of his successes that much more likable.  He wasn’t Ryan Howard, he was playing first base, and he was hitting home runs.  It was decided the man warranted at least a song.

Who was this guy?  With a name like “Greg Dobbs,” you know he grew up in an okay neighborhood and had to be home by dinner.  He’s far from The Big Piece, certainly.  How was this pasty nobody going to hop off the bench and into our hearts?  How I ask you, how?!

In this vein, a miracle occurred in 2007:  Ryan Howard sprained his knee. Terrible news for Ryan Howard, no doubt, and probably even worse for Charlie Manuel, Ruben Amaro, and pretty much everyone else involved in the Phillies organization.  Also thousands of fans.

But in baseball, it’s not really about the team. It is a highly individualized game where the sum of one whole never comes through in the end, and the focus should be on the self.  So if Greg Dobbs did a quiet fist pump the day he got his big chance, how could he blamed?  He was just looking out for #1.  Or in this case, #2.  (First of all, he never did that, and secondly, everything you said before that is so incorrect I feel like I need a shower.  –Editor)

The Phillies’ sinister depth in 2007 was one of their greatest strengths.  The offense was a sword that never needed to be sharpened.  Even the guy hitting for the relief pitcher in the top of the 8th was a bona-fide threat.

They called him “The Natural. He stormed all of baseball for the most pinch hit RBI and wound up with 18.  In 2008, he finished second in the same category after leading the league in pinch hit at bats with 22.  This is still Greg Dobbs I’m talking about, by the way.

What he was doing made perfect sense.  Major League teams had spent the last 12 years trying to seduce Greg away from his education.  First, the Mariners came calling in the 52nd round of the ’96  Draft.  Dobbs passed in favor of attending Riverside Community College.  Three years later, the Astros couldn’t help themselves and, wiping the drool off their mouths, sensually selected Dobbs in ’99 .

“Fuck you,” Dobbs stated politely, as he again picked school over baseball and continued attending the University in Oklahoma (“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”  -Me at 8 years old). Like a true tease, he went on a tantalizing tear at UO with a .438 average, 104 hits, 25 doubles, 62 RBIs, 12 steals, and a sociology degree.

He did not write a book about journalism ethics.

The Mariners, unable to get Dobbs out of their dreams, once again appeared at his doorstep, with hat in hand and a bouquet of deafening daffodils.  Out of schools to choose over baseball for the moment, he finally gave in, and in 2001, was signed as a free agent in a deal constructed by a General Manager named Pat Gillick.

So it was Gillick’s gushing recommendation that, six years later, had him leading all of baseball  in a stat nobody really looked up, but contributed immensely and let him just plain enjoy the Phillies’ inevitable World Series victory. He had squeezed through the window of opportunity and robbed the house blind.

Even upon Howard’s return to the lineup, Dobbs continued to show up whenever needed, bat in hand, constantly prepared to cause trouble.  He’d be a great fit with the crackhead gang that hangs out near the entrance to my building. Clearly, the man wants to play.  However, so do the starters.  A lot.  An unhealthy amount?  Easily.

When’s the last time you ever saw Chase Utley willingly leave a game? (Three days ago.  –Ed.) Ever see Charlie try to switch out Shane in one of the later innings?  He starts foaming at the mouth.

On a team of unstoppable forces (Until this season!  Ha ha, injuries!  -Ed.), how does a back up player wedge himself into the mix?  Does he create murderous sabotages to have an injury open a spot?  Does he accept the bench and learn to spit out his name with sunflower seeds? When nobody wants time off, clearly sharpened skills can be worn down.  With Greg’s bat much more unused in 2009, he went .247 with 5 home runs and 20 RBIs.

Charlie Manuel is a patient man.  When someone has proven themselves to him, they’re in, and he gives a multitude of chances for them to redeem themselves should they be befallen by self-confidence issues or an ancient baseball curse or a hangover or whatever.  Brad Lidge, after a perfecto 2008, came out in 2009 with a mind shattering 180, and was quickly the worst closer in the league.

Dobbs suffered a similar decline.  He became a stranger.  Nobody wanted to see him at the plate because we just didn’t know him anymore. Clearly we had drifted apart, but he would keep showing up to leave a note on our windshield or hit a weak pop-up to third.  It was over.

Whatever Lidge had, Dobbs had contracted it.  Slowly, we began to act like we didn’t know who he was.  He was gone, like a post-Rumspringa Amish kid who decides to work in an Apple store (Selling computers and iPods and shit, not like an actual apple shack on the side of the road). 2010!

“Ha, ha! We still play for the Phillies.”

The Grapefruit League was in full swing, and Dobbs was down in Clearwater with the rest of the two time National League champions.  Maybe the winter and a hot pre-season were all Dobbs needed to abandon the tireless labors of ’09. Maybe that guy from Seattle would show up and set the spring on fire once more.  No, not Raul Ibanez, that’s… a whole other… thing.

On June 21, Dobbs was batting .152.  The creeping dreads in the back of his mind became more and more prominent with every weak ground ball and swinging third strike.  The shadow of a ghastly, demonic Iron Pig was looming and seemed to beckon at Dobbs with open hooves as a demotion felt imminent.

“Come on down,” he snorted.  “Triple-A is okay.”

On June 22, time was up.  Dobbs was designated for assignment with the IronPigs of Lehigh Valley. His window has closed for the time being.  He was shut out.  It may have been starting to get to him.  The rock and roll montage that had been his career was slowly becoming a sad man alone in a room playing the trombone.

And, obviously the keystone in whatever may be the grand master plan of the baseball gods, Dobbs got another miracle:  This time, it was Placido Polanco crawling onto the DL.  Third base happened to be one of the 16 baseball positions Dobbs could play.

How many bench players have a decent chunk of fans walking around wearing their jersey number?  He pinch hit his way into the fanbase, then, with a mighty hack at an 0-2 change up, swung himself back out of it.  Within a three year span, we saw his rise and fall, like in Scarface, but a probably lower body count.  Maybe an equal amount of drug use.

Another window has opened for Greg Dobbs, so for now, the timing is working out for him.  All he has to do is make use of it.  Which he has apparently found impossible to do (11-for-72?! Jesus…).

Last night, he stroked a base hit that wound up being ineffectual.  Sometimes a scream can start as a whisper.  And some times, sure, nobody hears it.  But with another opportunity in The Show comes another chance to be in control of his own destiny.

Point is, don’t be mad at Greg Dobbs.*  He has tried to leave baseball.  It won’t let him.

*Also it’s okay to be mad at him.  I probably will be later today.