The Phillies Are Loyal to A Fault
If there’s been one constant about the Phillies through the years, it’s that they’re a very loyal organization. Former players are often welcomed to stay with the organization in other roles. After being fired as the team’s manager towards the end of last season, Charlie Manuel agreed to become an advisor to GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. Former second baseman Mickey Morandini is the manager of the Single-A Lakewood BlueClaws. Former shortstop Larry Bowa is in his second coaching stint with the team, despite his time as manager from 2001-04 not going so well, and finding success with a diametrically-opposite manager in Manuel.
In many ways, loyalty can be a good thing. It can help you keep prized assets around when they might otherwise go elsewhere given the prospect of a more prominent role and/or more money. The reputation creates good will within the organization and in the community, allowing the fans to maintain a relationship with players they loved to watch growing up. At other times, being loyal can be detrimental, making one blind to a close ally’s faults and being resistant to change the status quo. The Phillies, unfortunately, have hurt themselves lately by keeping familiar faces in the periphery.
The Phillies brought Bowa back as a coach during the off-season, and it was questionable even back then. Bowa is not a friendly guy and commonly finds himself embattled with his players. Third baseman Scott Rolen — who turned down a ten-year, $140 million contract extension from the Phillies — was happy to land in St. Louis in 2002 in a trade after battling with Bowa for a year and a half.
Bowa went on 97.5 The Fanatic recently and used the platform to rip the team. He said that the Phillies weren’t playing “big-league baseball”. More specifically, he criticized Domonic Brown for showing up to the ballpark with a smile on his face despite his struggles at the plate. Bowa criticized Roberto Hernandez for not being able to go more than five innings in a majority of his starts. He suggested that several unnamed Phillies lacked good baseball instincts, and absolved the coaching staff of blame because “you can’t teach instincts”.
Even if Bowa’s criticisms were right — they’re not — what purpose does he serve going on the radio and ripping the team and the players? If it was meant to light a fire under the team, as it is sometimes suggested, it didn’t work, as the Phillies lost 7-0 to the Washington Nationals later that night and 8-4 on Wednesday. Brown has logged two hits, both singles, in seven at-bats since.
The Phillies are not the group of youngsters that they were under Bowa’s leadership in the early 2000’s. They’ve seen a manager yell, throw chairs, and flip over post-game spreads. None of it is going to magically make the team play better. That the team would allow Bowa the freedom to go on the radio and castigate the players shows not only a fundamental misunderstanding of human psychology, but blind loyalty.
But this is who the Phillies are. It’s why they’ve been the slowest team to adopt the use of analytics. It’s why they have kept around the same core that won them a championship six years ago even though they’re all injury-prone and in their mid-30’s. New ideas cannot permeate the Phillies’ culture because they keep the same people around and they all think the same things. Is there any debate that when Amaro’s time is done, the Phillies will just hand the job over to an underling like Scott Proefrock or Marti Wolever?
For a brief period of time, the Phillies took a risk going outside of the organization and it paid off. When Ed Wade was relieved of his duties as the team’s GM after the 2005 season, the team brought on Pat Gillick. Gillick traded away franchise icon Bobby Abreu and approached roster construction from a different perspective, slyly picking up Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs on the cheap, having known both players from his time with other teams (the Orioles and Mariners, respectively). His eye for getting fringe players — think Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin, Tadahito Iguchi, Matt Stairs — was unique and not something the Phillies had had success with in the past. But it worked, and the team won a championship as a result.
The Phillies don’t just need a fresh, new roster. They need fresh, new upper management. They need leadership that will be happy to bring in a qualified outsider over someone that has hung around the organization for 30 years. They need to be able to let go of old memories and realize that while fans may be happier with the crotchety, old former Phillie in the short-term, they’ll be happier — and be more willing to spend money — when the club is successful again after adopting 21st century ideas and people.
Larry Bowa is emblematic of the Phillies’ biggest organizational problem at the moment. Bowa made that loud and clear on Tuesday with his appearance on 97.5. The Phillies should use that clue to turn the club in a new direction when the time comes, be it this season or several years from now. Otherwise, they’re doomed to continue repeating the same mistakes they have always made.