At one point or another, all of us have had a motherly figure say, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." But sometimes I can't help but think Mother Conlin must have said something different to a young Bill Conlin, "If you can't say anything nice, be a sports columnist for the losingist sports franchise in history."
Anyone who follows the Phillies is disappointed in the way 2004 has gone, and rightfully so. As a general rule in baseball, the more money you spend, the better your team will do. However, that's not what happened to the Phillies after the big spending in the previous two offseasons. The Phillies have the fourth highest payroll in baseball and yet they are solidly in the middle of the pack in baseball, epitomizing the term "also-ran". Disappointment is natural and expected, but Conlin's column in Thursday's Philadelphia Daily News goes beyond disappointment, it's an exercise in splenetic petulance.
Yes Bill, we are all disappointed. Yes Bill, we are all hoping for something different in 2004. But what good does a column like this do? I can certainly understand expressing your displeasure, I've certainly done it repeatedly, but at this point, Phandom needs to focus on what the positives of the team are - and there are some - and what changes can be made in the offseason to make next years team better. Yes, phans should expect and demand better from the Phillies, but columns such as this do nothing but contribute to the natural cynicism that pervades the area and clouds the possibility of some forward thinking.
Instead of a thoughtful and reflective column that points out the development of two young baseball players with the potential to be All-Stars in Chase Utley and Ryan Madson, we get statements from Conlin like "The slogan of this outfit could have been Better Losing Through Bad Chemistry." Conlin also has the benefit of 20/15 hindsight, "Maybe it should have been an item of concern that despite the addition of Milton to the rotation, the other four guys still were named Padilla, Wolf, Millwood and Myers." The Phillies have a farm system containing several young players that every general manager in baseball covets, but because objective reasoning is lost on Conlin, he can't appreciate Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels, instead he closes the column with, "I don't have the heart to tell you what a mess the Phillies' minor leagues are in. Again."
Reading between the lines, you get the impression that Conlin would actually prefer to re-live the 1964 Phillies collapse than the unfulfilled potential of 2004. But I am willing to contend that if we could somehow dig up some writings of Conlin from 1964, we would find that he wished the Phillies had played .500 ball for most of the season than lose a large lead in the last weeks of the season. For that matter, I would also bet that somewhere out there, there are essays written in faded ink on brittle yellow parchment with Conlin stating, "Moving the nation's capital to Washington, DC will never work, it should return to York, Pennsylvania."
What would you do Bill? If David Montgomery called you tomorrow and said, "Gee Bill, I've been reading your columns and I think you are the man for the general manager job." What would be the first action you would take? We know from your columns you can complain with the best of the old fogies, but can you talk free agents into coming to play for a team that has a long history of losing and a fickle fan base the way Ed Wade can? Who would you hire to replace Larry Bowa? A "player's manager" or a hard-nosed disciplinarian? Want to start all over gain with a new core of players? Who do you trade? What general managers can you talk into taking on the contracts of Abreu or Burrell or whoever else you feel should leave town?
I guess when you face such weighty issues every day as deciding what donut to dunk in the coffee mug, running a major league baseball franchise must look like child's play. I can't wait to read in the coming months what Bill Conlin would do if he were in charge of the Phillies. He will tell us won't he?