People always say wisdom comes with age. My interns have proven that the years need not be copious for someone to be a sagacious observer of athletics, however. For this week, I have handed over my blog to Ben Griffiths and Tim Johnson, Temple University students who always love to remind me that pudding pops are wonderful and Styx is the greatest group of all-time. Enjoy!
The Manchurian General Manager by Ben Griffiths
As Hunter Pence, the latest All-Star to defect from the Astros to the Phillies, continues to live up to expectations, let us pause to give thanks to the man who sent him here, Houston’s General Manager Ed Wade.
That’s right, the same man who spent eight years guiding the Phillies through mediocrity, should be praised for a lifetime of service to Philadelphia sports. This is especially true considering that Wade inexplicably continues to find ways to help the team. My dad presented a theory, which I think best explains Ed’s continued loyalty to our Fightin’s even after seemingly moving on to another franchise.
“Ed Wade is our Manchurian Candidate,” he said.
This is how it works. The trade deadline is fast approaching and Ed Wade needs to cut loose an expensive player, say Roy Oswalt. No matter how many teams have provided Ed with tantalizing offers, eventually the phone will ring and on the other end will be Phillies GM Rubin Amaro, Jr.
“Mitch Williams’ mullet,” he’ll say, and it will be all over in a flash. Ed, triggered by the magic words, will suddenly see only an upside to J.A Happ and happily accept a deal that sends Oswalt to Philadelphia.
Actually, when you take a look at the tangled history of the Phillies, Astros and Wade, any other explanation sounds kind of far fetched.
Ed joined the Phillies at the start of the ’90s, serving as assistant to then-GM Lee Thomas. Before coming to Philly, Wade had held the position of Director of Public Relations for several clubs, including the Astros. During his eight years under Lee, Wade tasted short-lived success and plenty of failure. Unfortunately for Ed, by the time he took over as GM in 1998, the team had hit rock bottom, finishing dead last the previous two years.
Wade’s problem was the same one that he is currently facing in Houston. How do you keep a team competitive when you are in dire need of revamping an aging, over-priced roster with young talent? His infusion of new blood into Phillies was slow and often misguided. But most of all, it earned him the bitter hatred of the loyal Philly fan base every step of the way.
His plan was to build the team around a young core of players including Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins. This meant slowly dismantling the old guard. The fans didn’t mind when he fired Manager Terry Francona and hired fiery, former Phillie Larry Bowa. But they howled when disgruntled stars like Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen demanded to be let out of town and were traded for the likes of Travis Lee. Their attitudes didn’t improve much after Schilling went on to win a couple of World Series and Rolen found immediate success in St. Louis.
Wade infuriated us by spending years trying to patch up a terrible bullpen by trading for the kind of guys that had the look of defeat in their eyes before they even took the mound. I mean, who can forget the blockbuster trade of 2001 where we sent Bruce Chen and Adam Walker to the Mets for Dennis Cook and the unflappable Turk Wendell? It felt like the organization was content to tread water.
Still what most people forget is that Wade was there at the dawn of a renaissance in Phillies baseball. The signing of the power-hitting Jim Thome in 2002 electrified this town and suddenly baseball mattered again. The team moved into brand new Citizens Bank Park, and the Phillies were playing for sold-out crowds.
However, by ’05 the luster of the new stadium had worn off and attendance dropped even though the Phillies had been in a tight Wild Card race. Ironically for Wade, the team ended up finishing one game behind the eventual World Series-bound Houston Astros, With his name already being dragged through the mud for firing popular manager Larry Bowa in favor of a plain-talking senior citizen named Charlie Manuel, the failure to reach the playoffs was the final straw, and Ed received his walking papers.
The rest you already know. The Phillies plowed forward to eventual success, and the Astros were there to scoop up Ed Wade. Wade’s bad luck continued, as he inherited a Houston team still hung over from the recently ended Bagwell- Berkman-Biggio era.
Wade was forced to dismantle the team and, perhaps looking to repeat his success in making big deals between the two clubs, seemed to turn to the Phillies whenever he had to unload a big name. After all, he was there when the Phillies got Schilling from the Astros in ’92, and he orchestrated the deal that brought Billy Wagner’s heart-stopping fastball to Philadelphia.
But mediocrity clings to Ed Wade like a tumor. Can you chalk it up to anything other than bad luck when you trade two over-the-hill pitchers like Lidge and Oswalt only to see them return to greatness as soon as they step off the plane in Philadelphia? He has received plenty of young talent in return, but only time will tell whether he has made a good trade since he joined Houston.
But before you dismiss Ed Wade as a buffoon who has unwittingly helped propel the Phillies into a golden age of baseball, consider this. Only two players (Jayson Werth and Pedro Feliz) on the starting 2008 championship team were not drafted during Wade’s tenure. Furthermore the MVP of that World Series Cole Hamels (2002) and key late-inning reliever Ryan Madsen (1998) were both drafted during this time.
So as Astros’ fans tear their hair out and Phillies fans snicker, I am still torn as to whether Ed Wade is really as dumb as he looks. Maybe five years down the road, long after Wade has been fired, the Astros will become a contender with all the young talent that the Phillies have given them. But for now, let’s just hope that when the trade deadline rolls around, Ed Wade continues to pick up that phone.
Untitled by Tim Johnson
I came across an article the other day that brought up that oh-so-often-used claim in these days of Philadelphia sport euphoria.
“By signing Cliff Lee the Phillies have stolen the New York thunder—they are the new Yankees”
“The Phillies do it again, trading for one of the best hitters on the market (Hunter Pence) while somehow also holding onto most of their blue-chip players like Domonic Brown. Not even New York could do this.”
“The Eagles nabbed Nnamdi Asomugha from the Jets and just about every other team in desperate need of a corner. They are the Dream Team—the Miami Heat of football.”
These are not actual quotes, but I think we’ve all heard these sentiments sputtered out at least once over the past calendar year.
While I am simply giddy with all the success, Id like to take a step back.
We all remember the pained days of Philadelphia sports, don’t we? I am a newly turned 21-year-old (the very first alcoholic beverage I ever ingested was delicious thank you very much), and I remember Travis Lee, Omar Daal, an aging Ricky Watters and, my personal favorite, Bobby Hoying.
A mountain of progress has been made since then and while it has yielded only one parade in 2008, every team, save the 76ers, is a legitimate championship contender every year.
This is all great, but why compare us to New York and Miami? Can’t we just be Philadelphia for once?
It’s all part of some twisted fallacy that no matter what a team does, they still sit beneath the light of New York and whatever “bigger” market teams there are. To quote our good friend at the South Philly Review ‘The Midnight Caller,’ we got to tell it like it is.
The Phillies are great. The Eagles have made great signings, and it is clear players will take less money to play here. The fans are great. The stadiums are mammoth achievements of architecture. The teams support their players. Everyone is here to win. The list goes on.
Can’t that be enough? Or is the success of a team some sad attempt to hold a light to the unstoppable force that is New York?
Well this Philadelphian’s stomach churns at the thought of warm nut vendors at every street corner. I’ll take my cheesesteak and Schmidtter any day.
So please, stop the comparisons, national media.
We in Philadelphia need no reminder or comparisons. We are better than New York.