Jul 192010

July 19 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlin

“DEC. 5, 1978, was the day the Phillies won the 1979 National League pennant at the winter meetings in Orlando. Free agent Pete Rose had just signed a 4-year, $3.2 million contract to play first base for manager Danny Ozark’s already loaded team. “It’s a stack of money so high a show dog couldn’t jump over it,” Pete grinned.

Dec. 16, 2009, was the day the Phillies won the 2010 NL pennant. The Phillies had just traded for Toronto uber-ace righthander Roy Halladay for minor league prospects Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d’Arnaud. Doc’s deal was just a little better than the one GM Paul Owens gave to Rose. Halladay got $60 million for 3 years.

And if the 1979 pennant seemed to be a lock that day in the shadow of Disney World, it became a slam dunk on the eve of spring training. Ozark’s already stellar infield became best-in-show when The Pope acquired balletic second baseman Manny Trillo, outfielder Greg Gross and catcher Dave Rader from the Cubs for five players, including Ted Sizemore, Barry Foote and Jerry Martin. Mike Schmidt and Rose at the corners, Larry Bowa and Trillo in the middle, Bob Boone catching. Garry Maddox flanked by Greg Luzinski and Bake McBride. A tremendous bench. Carlton heading a formidable rotation. A loaded bullpen. What could go wrong?

The 1979 Phils did not win the pennant. They got Danny Ozark fired instead. Oh, Pete Rose held up his part of the bargain. At age 38, he played 163 games, lashed 208 hits and batted .331. But the rest of the season was a train wreck of injury and underacheving. By midseason, the Phillies were all but out of the race. The torpor was so thick you could cut it with a broken bat. Rose made this observation to Sports Illustrated: “I run out to first base when we’re taking the field and I have to stand out there 2 minutes before I have anybody to throw to. Maybe the Phillies were always that way, but they ran out on the field when I first joined the club. I still run to my position.”

It is becoming painfully apparent with each passing day, each feeble dribble of off-balance offense that the 2010 Phils will not win the pennant, either.

The lead on this team’s obituary was written during a warmup sprint by Jimmy Rollins, minutes before the home-opener introductions. The shortstop missed 57 games. His fellow All-Star sidekick, Chase Utley, has been out 17 games since blowing up his right thumb and could miss at least 50 more.

In ’79, Trillo fractured his left arm and was sidelined 6 weeks. Bowa missed 16 games with a broken thumb.

Terrible things happened to the pitching staff. Larry Christenson, 25, opened the season on the DL, the beginning of arm miseries that would end his career prematurely. LC didn’t make his first start until May 12 and finished 5-10. Dick Ruthven was brilliant during a 6-0 start, then became suddenly ineffective. The righthander finally admitted he was pitching with a groin injury. He went on the DL and finished with a 7-5 record.

Righthander Nino Espinosa, acquired from the Mets to be a solid No. 4 or 5, found himself as the No. 2 behind Steve Carlton, headed for a so-so 18-11 season.

Like these former 2010 favorites, those former 1979 favorites broke smartly from the gate and were 24-10 with a 3 1/2-game lead after the famed 23-22 victory on May 17 in Chicago. Charlie Manuel’s club was 24-13 on May 17, with a five-game lead. I was starting to agree with e-mailers who suggested my 98-victory call was pessimistic.”

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