Jul 162010

July 16 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Hagen 

“The passing of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner this week was an opportunity to pause and remember. And also to wonder how differently things might have turned out for the Phillies had a momentous decision gone in another direction some 20 years ago.

It’s easy to imagine history’s videotape rewinding. Chase Utley’s pronouncement: “snoipmahc [gnipeelb] dlrow.” The flatbed trucks backing up Broad Street. Players scuttling backward into the dugout and to their positions. Brad Lidge jumping up from his knees as the pitch to Eric Hinske returns to his hand. Almost as if it didn’t happen. And it might not have,

Baseball was in a state of flux back then. Expansion and the wild card loomed. Interleague play would follow. All the old traditions were being rethought. Everything was on the table, including a truly radical thought:

Moving the Phillies into the American League East.

Inside the executive offices at Veterans Stadium, there was some support for the idea. The proponents pointed out that it would mean multiple annual visits from the Yankees and Red Sox, teams certain to draw well. Geographical realignment would cut down on travel costs and allow for more games to be televised in prime time locally. And that all made sense in a bloodless, CPA sort of way.

Of course, it also would have meant flushing more than 100 years of National League history and accepting the designated hitter. But those concerns are often swept aside when the glittery prospect of quick dollars is dangled in front of management types.

In the end, they stayed put. And the view from this stool is that it’s a good thing for Phillies fans. Which is where Steinbrenner comes in.

As was duly noted in the various remembrances, The Boss was a fierce and ruthless competitor. And he didn’t mind spending whatever it took to achieve his goals. If you played in the Yankees’ division, you either stepped up to try to match him (Red Sox) or became a second-class citizen (Orioles).

Now, the Phillies weren’t very good back then. They claimed an onerous lease handcuffed them financially. The farm system was a wasteland and attendance was relatively paltry. The lack of paying customers kept revenue down, which kept spending on player development and the payroll down. And the cycle continued, feeding on itself.

In those days, too, the Phillies seemed more like a tea-on-the-terrace operation that found getting its manicured hands dirty distasteful rather than the sort of operation that would do whatever it took to compete with the big boys.

As a result, it’s a lot easier to envision them becoming homecoming opponents for the AL East powerhouses than having the ability – or the will – to spend what it would have taken to keep up.”

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