755, 714, 660, 586, 573…For any baseball fans around 40 years of age and older, these numbers were most likely etched in your minds and doodled on notepads during long school days for most of your childhood and teen years. And the names would rattle off of your tongue: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, etc. As Jim Thome reached the 600 homer threshold a couple of seasons ago, can these same fans rattle off the all-time home run list so easily? It’s highly doubtful, and is a reflection of baseball and society in this day and age as opposed to just a couple of decades ago. The fact is that home run list was unchanged for so long that it gave you some sense of stability, some sense that despite all of the chaos going in the world or in your own life, you can always rely on those same names and numbers. As a lifelong Phillies fan, I was always happy to see Mike Schmidt firmly entrenched in the top ten, and it seemed he would stay there forever, along with the likes of Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson. And why not? They were in their respective positions for years, and there was no real threat to their lofty perch on the horizon to speak of. Like Joe DiMaggio‘s 56 game hitting streak, it seemed like they would be there forever, unmovable, and always reliable.
Then came the 1990s. Gone were the cheesy uniforms of the Pirates, Brewers, Padres and A’s, gone were Whitey Herzog’s Runnin’ Redbirds and half of the old Astroturf stadiums of two decades earlier. And gone was the reliability of those numbers…755,714,660,586,573…thanks to the ushering in of the steroid era, and the regularity of 50, 60 and even 70 home run seasons. Remember when it was a big deal when George Foster or Dave Kingman challenged or surpassed 50 home runs in a season? Now it became commonplace, culminating with the post-strike circus act of McGuire-Sosa and their summer-long race to artificially induced immortality. It was bothersome enough when the single-season home run records began to fall, but it was tolerable given the state of the game and the damage that was done due to the strike in ’94.
However, those fraudulent home run numbers began piling up over the years, and began to infiltrate and corrupt the home run list that we had relied upon as untouchable, immovable for all of our childhood. The names of Mickey Mantle, Killebrew, Ruth, Robinson, Schmidt, Jackson, and Mays began to share face time with names like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro…and it just didn’t feel right. The chaos and disorder of a society that allowed illegal supplements to infect America’s pastime began to infiltrate these long-standing numbers that had stood for so long, unscathed and untainted. The order of things that had stood for so long as one of the few aspects of our lives that always stayed the same, no matter whether you were in grade school, high school, or graduating college was forever altered. Now I challenge any fan 40 years or older (or younger, for that matter) to rattle off the top ten home run hitters of all time. The fact is, they would stutter and stammer their way through it, or just refuse to even attempt to answer the question. Given that, they could probably recite Alex Rodriguez‘s current annual salary with greater ease, or tell you who he’s dating this week. They may even be able to recite the top ten player salaries instead, which tells you all you need to know about how baseball has evolved, or devolved, over the generations. A guy like Jim Thome, or Ken Griffey Jr. before him, tend to remind us fans of the type of players that used to comprise that list. But they seem to be few and far between these days, and now that old list is much like so many other things in this grown-up life, you just can’t rely on it the way you used to…
Speaking of longing for the long ball, the current Phillies roster as it exists today is in dire need of sluggers. The one thing that propelled them to a World Series title in 2008 and another World Series appearance in 2009 was the prevalence of home run hitters on their squads, both in the starting lineup and off of the bench. This lineup through the nearly decade-long run of success has been predicated on the three run homer. The problem that existed the past few seasons was Charlie Manuel‘s unwilling transition into a small-ball manager. Just as Jimmy Rollins is not built to be a leadoff man, this team is not built for small ball. They need to focus on obtaining some thumpers for the middle of their lineup. Unfortunately, this year’s free agent crop is the slimmest it’s been in years. Other than a Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, or by some miracle David Wright or Josh Hamilton, the most prudent move may be to seek a trade for a bigger name. Either way, the days of 58 homers by Ryan Howard or even 30 plus from Chase Utley seem more distant by the day, and gambling on the likes of Domonic Brown and John Mayberry would be fine for a young team in rebuilding mode, not a team loaded with aging veterans that has just about one shot left in them, if that.
Charlie Manuel is not built for Whitey Herzog-style small ball success, and neither is this team. Ruben Amaro and company need to get creative in a hurry and figure out how to get that 2008-09 magic back, and the only way to do so is to once again swing for the fences, in more ways than one.Tags: baseball, Charlie Manuel, Chase Utley, David Wright, Domonic Brown, Jim Thome, Jimmy Rollins, John Mayberry, Josh Hamilton, Mark Reynolds, Mike Schmidt, MLB, Nick Swisher, Philadelphia Phillies, Ruben Amaro, Ryan Howard