Success is not without its price. Winning turns people into fiends. After a while, they dont just expect victories, they crave them. Before long, it becomes a potent drug thats hard to detox from.
It wasnt all that long ago when merely making the playoffs got the baseball loving public in Philadelphia excited. In 2007, when the Phillies scooted past the Mets on the last day of the season to win their first NL East title in forever, I got countless calls from friends and family. People I hadnt heard from in years reached out via e-mail and text. It was like a local holiday, and it hardly seemed to matter to the fans when the Rockies bounced the Phils out of the playoffs in the first round without much trouble.
But then the Phils went on to win four more NL East crowns and, in the process, end the citys interminable 25-year-championship drought with a glorious World Series win and a parade that turned into a wild party that might have made Caligula uncomfortable. That was quite a high. People still want to feel that way. Maybe thats why watching the Fightins win 102 regular season games last year was enjoyable but not nearly satisfying enough for the fans and the media. The axiom is right: give them what they want and all they want is more.
Charlie Manuel knows that better than most. When all the Phillies officially reported to Bright House Field for spring training, Manuel delivered his annual state-of-the-team speech to his players. He said he had a script written, but he ended up tossing it out and took off on my own instead. He said the main points were generally the same as they were in years past play hard, play right, and so on but added that he wanted his guys to keep things in perspective and things will work out for us.
When that story was relayed to the media, someone asked whether not keeping things in perspective contributed to the Phillies not realizing their full potential over the last few seasons.
I dont know, we won about 200 games in the regular season in two years, Manuel said. No Philly team did that. How many you want us to win? Tell me and I might shoot for that. Thats a tough question.
Thats how it goes in Philadelphia now. The Phillies are in elite company. Along with the Red Sox and Yankees, theyre just about the only club in baseball that could win 100 games and still look at the season as a failure if it doesnt end with a championship. The Phillies were the favorites to win it all last year, and they remain the favorites to win it all this season.
According to Vegasinsider.com, the Phillies odds to do so are 92 better than the Yankees (62), Angels, Red Sox and Rangers (all 81). There has to be quite a bit of pressure that goes along with that -- especially when three of your four infielders (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Placido Polanco) have ugly injury histories. Even so, they are expected to do more than excel. They are expected to win the only game that matters -- the last one of the postseason.
We can always get better, Manuel said. I look at it like that. We can always get better. Enthusiasm, charisma, happiness, energy, things like that, thats what really produces great pitching, big offense, good defense. Thats because everybody enjoys playing. Everybody will be out there watching the game and there wont be nobody thats not interested in the game. Thats what baseball is about.
"Baseball is about a lot of fun. We make jokes and we play loose, but also, when we get ready to play, the game becomes very serious. It better. Some people think hey, look at those guys, theyre just out there having a good time, they can do anything they want to and blah, blah, blah. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. Have a clue. Really. Thats not how it goes. Play right.
The blah, blah, blahnah, nah, nah part made people in the room at the time, including me, laugh out loud. But in the end, it probably wont be amusing if the Phils have another postseason like the one that unfolded in 2011. Manuel knows that. He knows that the fans were frustrated when the Phils got bounced from the playoffs by the Cardinals in the NLDS.
He heard people complaining on the radio. He read the critical stories. He knows that theres only one way to ultimately satisfy the city. He gets it. But hes also logical enough to point out that no matter how good you are, only one manager and one team get to enjoy that big parade at the end of the season.