If you are like many Philadelphia Phillies fans, meaning you have watched in agony as the team that went to back-to-back World Series as recently as seven years ago has become a decrepit shell of its former self, then you likely took great offense to the latest words that Ruben Amaro Jr. has chosen to utter.
But in case you haven’t seen them spewed across your Facebook timeline or your Twitter feed or your email news ticker, I’ll share them here. After all, us fans who have sat back during the so-called ‘rebuilding,’ who have continued to support the team, who have called for a youth movement since I don’t know, 2010, we deserve to know how we are viewed in the eyes of the all-powerful GM.
“They don’t understand the game. They don’t understand the process. There’s a process. And then they bitch and complain because we don’t have a plan. There’s a plan in place and we’re sticking with the plan. We can’t do what’s best for the fan. We have to do what’s best for the organization so the fan can reap the benefit of it later on. That’s the truth.”
I’ll allow you all a moment or two to digest those comments.
Now, if you are like me, Amaro is not your favorite person, far from it. He’s to blame for destroying what could have been a beautiful thing. To be fair, he’s not solely to blame, all of those in the organization take some responsibility, but Amaro is more than just a scapegoat. Whether it be through a series of bad trades at the worst possible times or just a general ineptitude to do his job, Amaro has laughed all the way to the bank while us fans and this great city, have seen the crumbling of what could have been a dynasty.
But then again, I guess we just don’t “understand” the game…
It takes a lot of guts, no scratch that, it takes a lot of stupidity, to call out a fan base that for the most part, has remained loyal to you and your laughable excuse for a rebuild.
To some extent though, I actually get it. Amaro is in a tough position. He’s trying to do his job, all the while needing to defend his actions against fans. And fans are great. Fans are great when they are going to the games, filling the seats and making the argument that one deserves an extension or a bigger paycheck. But when the fans stop watching and stop going to Citizen’s Bank Park as they have this season, they aren’t as much a commodity to be won or lost anymore. And one has to think that Amaro knows he’s already lost the fans, at least as far as respect for him and his ability to do his job are concerned.
But to say that we fans “don’t understand the game,” is so far over the line, it’s bordering on insanity. Because the sad truth that Amaro sees every day when he looks in the mirror, the truth he can’t admit to himself or the organization as he goes tail tucked between his legs to every meeting, the truth that causes 29 other GMs to laugh at him behind his back and to his face, is that if anyone doesn’t understand the game, it’s him.
Amaro’s ‘Understanding’ of the Game
In 2008, the Phillies were riding on Cloud Nine. They boasted an excellent core of stars just hitting their prime, a bullpen that was second to none and a starting staff that while not the best in the league, did its job and did it proficiently. They were exactly what Jimmy Rollins said. They were the “team to beat.”
But following that magical season, Pat Gillick retired from his position as GM and appointed in his stead Amaro, who was an assistant GM at the time. Mike Arbuckle was the other assistant GM and he’s currently turning the Kansas City Royals into a perennial playoff contender. But I’m guessing Amaro doesn’t understand how Arbuckle’s turnaround was even made possible. After all, building a farm system, effectively operating with a small budget, finding value-based players and not overpaying them, it defies baseball logic. Well, at least in Amaro’s mind.
Anyway, looking back now, it is easy to pinpoint that the moment Amaro was given the job was the moment the Phillies demise began.
The 2009 season, although culminating in a second World Series birth, was highlighted by the midseason trade for Cliff Lee. As a solitary move, it was an excellent one, but in baseball, no move should ever be evaluated as a standalone. In fact, the bigger move was the one the Phillies didn’t make. Let’s just say, there was a jersey in the clubhouse and if not for Domonic Brown, the Phillies could have Roy Halladay a season sooner than they did.
The move to acquire Lee was the first of many which saw Amaro prioritize winning now over winning in the future. In theory, fans would have loved that mentality, that is of course if we had actually won anything post-2008. But instead, there was a decline, marred by playoff shortcomings, outrageous reward contracts and a period of free agent signings that seemed less like a fit for the team and more like Amaro was trying to prove something.
As the years went by and the team got worse, Amaro refused to acknowledge a rebuild was needed. At least around Philly, he popularized the phrase, “retool.” For a brief time, the nostalgia was still fresh enough that this alternative was acceptable. But when retooling meant bringing in former washed up players that no other team wanted anymore or guys on the cheap who were supposed to help contribute to the Phillies success, (believe me, the list is quite long and depressing) the idea of retooling quickly soured with the fans.
Amaro refused to accept that the window had closed even as it was staring him in the face. He refused to accept that he had not only mortgaged but bankrupted the future by trading for guys who in the end, did nothing but play on a losing team.
He didn’t understand the value of prospects, save for the untouchable Brown and well, we all know how that worked out. He didn’t understand or perhaps just blatantly ignored the push to more advanced stats. He certainly didn’t understand that there were better ways to win a game than trying to have every player hit a home run every single at-bat.
And when the Phillies started losing more and more games, he didn’t understand why. Clearly he had put together the best team possible. How were they so bad? Oh right, it was someone else’s fault be it first base coach Davey Lopes, bench coach Pete Mackanin, hitting coach Milt Thompson, pitching coach Rich Dubee, or manager Charlie Manuel, all of whom were fired or had their contracts not renewed. The Phillies coaching staff, once a staple of the team’s greatness, had become a revolving door, of which Amaro and his failures could hide behind.
Amaro claims he had a plan, that he’s always had a plan but I don’t think he can understand what a plan is. Plans are meant to be blueprints for success, not descending steps to failure. Although if his plan was a guidebook on “How to Destroy a Franchise in 5 Easy Steps,” then yes, absolutely he nailed it. But only an idiot would have that kind of plan, and well, yeah. I suppose I’ll just leave it at that.
Amaro doesn’t understand the game of baseball, the nuances involved, and the simplicity of small ball. He doesn’t understand how teams like the New York Mets and Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals have all passed his Phillies by both in terms of talent and in the overall standings. He doesn’t understand that those teams are younger and those teams aren’t afraid to promote their best minor league prospects before their 28th birthday. To Amaro, players need to be nourished. They need to be yoyoed from the majors to the minors and then back again. They need to be developed under a plan that no one else in the league quite understands.
And yet somehow, every other team is doing it better.
That’s something Amaro will never really understand.
So yes, sometimes fans can be overly critical or make harsh comments or judgments but it’s our right. Our money buys tickets and merchandise. It helps pay the salaries of Amaro and his cronies. We support our team, no matter who is on it, but no one wants to see a bad or mediocre product.
So we push for what we know, what we see other teams doing. If Bryce Harper can make his debut at the ripe old age of 19, why is Roman Quinn, already 22, and hitting .309 with 14 XBH and 32 runs, just now in his first year of Double-A? Why did Jayson Heyward, at 20, get the opportunity to stick in the majors and Brown, at 22, who was ranked ahead of him in the prospect rankings at one point, barely get major league playing time?
We watch the games, we see all of this develop. We see our competitors get younger and we can’t help but wonder why we aren’t doing the same thing. Or we watch teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants win from within, using their farm system as it should be, using it as at one time that seems so long ago, we did too.
We watch as the Phillies assemble a roster of players who were plucked from the bargain bin or just the waste bin instead of promoting players they’ve drafted. The 2008 roster was built on first round draft picks from Pat Burrell to Chase Utley to Brett Myers to Cole Hamels. But since Hamels in 2002, the team has found one player, Joe Savery in 2007, who has actually even played in a major league game with the team, and none who have had a significant major league career. And the guys who looked to have a chance, are all gone now, be it Travis d’Arnaud in the Halladay trade or Jarred Cosart in perhaps Amaro’s worst blunder, the Hunter Pence deal.
But maybe all of that, those bad trades and blow up of the minor league system, the idea of signing 37-year-old pitchers instead of promoting fresh and exciting young arms, giving insane contracts and no-trade clauses to players beyond their prime and a refusal to use the assets you have to improve, maybe that’s all part of the plan that we fans will just never seem to understand.