For years the cry has gone up from every major league locale not called The Bronx, USA: “It’s not fair! The Yankees can get anyone they want. The deck is always stacked!” Indeed, the disparity between the Yankees’ pile of dollars to be spent on players (and those of a few other teams) and the rest of the MLB universe was explicitly recognized when the luxury tax was instituted in 1998. The merits or lack thereof of that system is not the focus here, however. The behavior of the fans and sportswriters following teams that have struggled against the so-called Yankee advantage is.
A responsive question to the accusation that the Yankees attempt to “buy” pennants has always been: “Well, would you rather have your team more in a Yankees’ position to buy better players, or are you happy to go down in flames with an inferior, ‘home-grown’ and otherwise cheaply assembled lineup?” The latter position seems downright silly, but undoubtedly some would choose it, and choose to ignore the facts that the Yankees too have grown some of their own best players – Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano are prominent current examples – and that attempting to buy pennants doesn’t always work. See the history of the Chicago Cubs, for example, or that long stretch of Yankee futility that could be called The Mattingly Era.
However, the best position to be in is the Yankee position, and by creating success on the field that leads to enhanced revenues, a team may have the opportunity in September to roll big guns onto the battlefield and hope for the best with some confidence, rather than simply “wait ’til next year.” The Philadelphia Phillies, losers in last year’s World Series to the Bombers, are in such a position now, and their fans and sportswriters have begun to consider the possibilities made real by having three starting pitchers who are arguably Number 1’s. Two of these pitchers (the Roys – Halladay and Oswalt) are products of trades; one is home-grown (Cole Hamels).
In the middle of Labor Day weekend, with just about a month to go in the season, these three pitchers had a deceptive aggregate won-loss record of 36-33, but an aggregate ERA of 2.81. (Halladay’s ERA was 2.36 in the middle of that weekend.) The fact of the matter is that their total won-loss record should probably have been about 42-26 because none of the three had been especially well-supported by a team whose offense has been gutted this season by injuries and mysterious cold spells. (Oswalt, in fact, had been let down by two teams.) That all three players were (and still are) pitching well had (still has) Philadelphians drooling in a very Yankee way about what is coming in the next few weeks. The Fightin’s led in the N.L. Wild Card race as summer unofficially ended, but their fan base was sure that they would overtake Atlanta for the N.L. East title, a fourth straight such title. Is this unreasonable? No. Is it a done deal? No again.
In fact, the fun of this September on the Delaware is that this isn’t a done deal, which leads to the sort of article that showed up in The Philadelphia Inquirer on September 6th. In a lengthy piece involving a fair amount of fairly tedious work, Bob Brookover offered his local club some advice about using their three aces in two pivotal series against Atlanta, the first at home September 20-22, and the second on the last three days of the season down south. With charts, bells and whistles, Brookover showed how minor alterations could be made to the Phils’ five-man rotation for the rest of the season and – presto! – Atlanta would have to face the three aces and only the three aces for most of the scheduled 45 innings in their remaining six games. Brookover also helpfully considered every seeming impact implicit in his suggested scheme. The worst eventuality seemed to be that Roy Oswalt would have to pitch on four-days rest four times, and on five-days twice, but Oswalt’s career ERA on four-days rest is actually better than his five-days number – 3.12 to 3.53.
Boy, what could go wrong? This is a Yankees GM question, of course, and if the answer were clearly apparent, the Evil Empire would probably have about 55 pennants instead of the merely comfortable lead they now have on everybody else.
Two of the three Philadelphia aces were “bought,” and nobody cares about that in Philly anymore. They’ve earned the money and players they’ve used to go to market. (Labor Day weekend the club passed its 110th straight sell-out.) The only problem on the horizon, as Manager Charlie Manuel has noted, is that by the end of the World Series – should the Phils make it – Roy Halladay will have pitched nearly 300 innings.
If such a load actually hurts him – he’s never thrown more than the 266 innings he pitched in 2003 – then he will be a player hurt by his own excellence. Otherwise, he and his team’s followers will view that workload as a matter of wonderful exhaustion.
Brookover, Bob. “Making the most of the three aces.” The Philadelphia Inquirer 6 September 2010: D7.
“Cole Hamels,” “Derek Jeter,” “Robinson Cano,” “Roy Halladay,” & “Roy Oswalt.” baseball-reference.com. 5 September 2010.
“Samebdayasbay.” “Pittsburgh Pirates: Luxury Tax lies and broken promises.” xomba.com. 15 October 2009.