Sunday, October 03, 2004

Philly Phutility: The Pointless (and Perfect) Pageant of Fan Appreciation Day

I took the wife and kid to the ballpark for the final Phillies game of the year. The sun was shining, the breeze was light, and the Phillies got one final meaningless victory for the home crowd at The Cit. Billy Wagner nailed down one final high-velocity save. Jimmy Rollins even knocked out a grand slam.

But the meta-drama in the stadium was far more interesting than anything happening on the field of play.

On Fan Appreciation Day, prizes of travel, dining, and Phillies-related memorabilia are given away to the occupants of various seats throughout the stadium, as announced on the P.A. system. A disproportionate number of the prizes seemed to be going to the 100-level and luxury suite sections. Of course, the boobirds in the balconies readily showered their toney neighbors below with their disdain. Ticket prices may establish the ballpark caste system, but in Philadelphia, you don't want to snub the proletariat.

An unpopular umpire's call in the late innings brought a stadium-wide chant from the stands: "We want Bowa! We want Bowa!" A minute later, an even louder chant started up: "Fire Ed Wade! Fire Ed Wade!" (And no...I didn't start it.)

Alas, the snippy skipper got the axe this weekend, as was widely predicted. I mentioned in my previous posting on Bowa that the local fans don't agree with conventional wisdom on Bowa. It's easy to dismiss their support as stylistic sympathy for the hometown hero. But maybe some of these fans realize that the team's disappointing season wasn't really Bowa's fault.

Too many injuries happened, and none of them were obviously results of arm-slagging. Marlon Byrd was a human out-making-machine—not the good kind. Lieberthal is drifting rapidly toward his offensive collapse...and the defensive one happened long ago.

Although he's had one or two spectacular off-season successes and presided over the creation of the first respectable Phillies farm system in my lifetime, I think the blame is properly assigned by the fans to Ed Wade. The bullpen was too expensive for what could be expected from it. The roster had highly desirable surpluses to trade away. (One of Bell or Polanco was a spare, and we'll never be able to play Ryan Howard, whose stock will never be higher than it is now.) Wade continued his long-standing tradition of being totally ineffectual in-season. When the bleeding started, he did nothing to bandage the wound.

Oh, sure, we know he worked the phones. But this is the City of No Excuses. If you don't get the job done, we don't want to hear that we were expecting too much from you.

We can see Wade for what he is...perfectly consistent, and staggeringly uncreative.

I appreciate a general manager who doesn't mortgage the future to accomplish meaningless fan appeasement in the present. For years the Phillies weren't ready to contend, so there was no point in playing for the near term. But now that the Phillies' window has opened, Wade appears all too willing to mortgage the present for the future.

So long as they don't go out and hire a manager with a defiant hatred of pitch counts or plate discipline, the Phillies will be fine next year without Bowa. It's still a bum rap, and the fans are right not to let him take the fall for a failure of the whole organization.


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