The shame of sports is that we can’t freeze time. We can’t have the story end with Brad Lidge swarmed on the mound, Pat Burrell leading the parade and Chase Utley shouting, “World Bleeping Champions!”
So we’re forced to live through the back end of this bell curve, as the Phillies – division winners five years in a row –endure the creakiness, the teardown, the payback. The celebration down Broad Street fades further in the rearview mirror, and we enter a season in which 100 losses seems possible.
Damn, it ended all too fast.
This isn’t a column blasting Ruben Amaro. Plenty of time for that all season. Rather, it’s my rueful look at the nature of pro sports, where yesterday’s toast of the town becomes today’s stale crust. We’re asked to root for the laundry. But, hey, didn’t we swear not too long ago that we’d love this group of guys forever?
There are now just four players left in the clubhouse with World Series rings: Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Utley.
Hamels is likely to be traded for a bunch of kids who don’t even shave yet. Ruiz and Utley are only occasionally capable of their former glory. And Howard? The Big Piece, who averaged 50 homers and 143 RBIs from 2006-09, is now the much-booed symbol of bloated contracts and a stubborn refusal to stop hitting that 4-6-3 double play directly into the shift.
There’s no turning back time. So we watch this team through the five stages of death — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. For what’s it’s worth, President Pat Gillick is already at Stage Five, declaring the franchise won’t contend again until 2018.
I was reminded of the inevitable last week when Kyle Kendrick – the fifth-last player left from ’08 – signed a one-year deal with Colorado (where, by the way, his waist-high junk is going to get waxed). This is where my sentimental ode ends: There’s not a single player I less enjoyed watching over the era. Kendrick was a painfully slow worker who’d stand with that pained expression as he took every batter to 3-2. Being a Sunday plan holder, it bothered me more that every weekend I went to the park to see Lee or Halladay or Hamels, this nibbler would be standing on the mound, promising us all a three-and-a-half hour slopfest.
Someday, maybe 2023, they’ll have a reunion for our last World Series winner. The Phils will hang a fresh banner and retire a few numbers. We’ll get over our grudges and scream like mad for Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth and, yep, Ryan Howard. I’ll even cheer for Kyle Kendrick.
But that one won’t be easy.