Balancing heart, skill, other.
The phenomenon of assigning culpability where it ought not be assigned extends far beyond Phillies fans. The faults of the world have been blamed everything from violent movies to the religious right: to Janet Jackson’s boob to Michael Moore.
Displacement happens when shop talking the Phils, too, where losing gets blamed on everything from Citizens Bank Park, umpires, fan negativity to Charlie Manuel’s verbal skills and leadership.
The individuals lobbying hardest for these factors are also the loudest, but in my experience--blogging for over a year and reading others--those voices represent the minority.
An ongoing concept being revisited is the idea the Phils play without passion, focus and determination, which was the subject of Todd Zolecki’s morning Inquirer article. We’ve read this piece twice this season going on a hundred.
To me, lack of passion is closer to the root problem than things like fan negativity or ballpark dimensions, but doesn't represent the whole. Going back three managerial eras – Terry Francona, Larry Bowa and Manuel – each of these teams faced criticism for lack of heart, and both Bowa and Manuel publicly urged players to show fire.
This criticism is justified. The boys in red have been noticeably listless for years, not just in front of fans, but to baseball men and front office suits across the league, most of them believing the Phils have all the right pieces to field a winner.
No one, it seems, can figure out the Phillies.
When assigning blame--a favorite topic on Beerleaguer--the best points are made when the fat is trimmed leaving one irrefutable point, not easily done with an enigma like the Phils. For example, "The Phils got swept by the Red Sox because the Red Sox played better." I’d start there and work down when talking about last series.
Using the series sweep as a springboard, philly.com asked readers what’s wrong with the Phils. An overwhelming majority blamed management (36%), but the rest blamed player-related issues, such as not caring (24%), bad pitching (21%) and no timely hitting (20%). So about 65-35 if you chose to view it that way, though it might have been a smaller spread had the choice specified manager and general manager.
Back when the season started, I made it clear 2005 was all about Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal and David Bell–the veteran core installed to win. But I also said the offseason’s big move was hiring Manuel, the players’ coach, to give this team the comfort they were reportedly starved for.
I posted a similar poll back when the team was struggling in April. Votes are actually still rolling in on my defunct blog, Berks Phillies Fans, and the results show more blame cast on the players, with 38 percent blaming the players, with less votes going to choices like general manager (26%), the manager (16%) and the owners (14%).
Just as the players earned credit for the 12-1 homestand, so, too, should they receive blame for their recent failures at home. Brett Myers, their best pitcher, went 0-1 with a 15.95 ERA in two starts. Jon Lieber and Vicente Padilla allowing six and five runs in their only outings. Mike Lieberthal went 2-14, and David Bell went 4-25.
Heart can’t be easy for one man to educe into a team of 25 professionals, yet some teams like the Atlanta Braves have kept the competitive edge for years--decades. When thousands and thousands of baseball players in the world are narrowed down to 30 teams, competitive drive has to kick in higher than at any level. The role of manager shouldn't be taken for granted.
There’s always something to be said about collective heart, but there’s still percentage points more to be said about individual performance. Runs earn wins. Runs are achieved with the crack of a bat, the whip of a wrist and the snap of a glove, yards away from the dugout, the bleachers, the press box.