2008-2009 Phillies: Best Philly Sports Team Ever?

Filed in Sports by on October 22, 2009

Should they win their second consecutive World Series, I’d say absolutely yes. Certainly the only team in the modern era to rival these Phils would be the Broad Street Bullies, who won consecutive Stanley Cups in the early to mid-seventies. Who else would even be on the list? The Steve Van Buren-era Eagles? Pro football was not even close to a dominant sport at the time. Maybe Connie Mack’s 1920′s-early ’30′s Philadelphia Athletics, who counted Hall of Famers Lefty Grove, Mickey Cochrane, and Al Simmons amongst their members? The Yanks of that era were even more dominant than they were. Maybe the one-year wonder Sixers with Wilt, Luke Jackson, Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham, Hal Greer and Wally Jones? For one year, maybe Philly’s best ever, but it was for only one year.

No, this team has arguably eclipsed them all, even my beloved 1980 champs. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins have already established themselves as the greatest first baseman, second baseman and shortstop respectively in Phils’ history. All will arguably have good shots at the Hall of Fame, with Utley a virtual lock if he just continues on his career path. The only thing that could keep Howard out would be the relative brevity of his career, as he didn’t make his major league debut until he was 26. But a few more peak years coupled with his post-season success could well remedy that. You will recall that the ’80 champs had late-in-his-career Pete Rose at first, the slick-fielding Manny Trillo at second, and nail-spitting Larry Bowa at short. I loved them all, but none of them could take over a game offensively like their three 2008-09 counterparts. And Rollins, with his unreal range, is even a better  fielding shortstop than Bowa, and that’s saying something. Granted, Pedro Feliz is no Michael Jack Schmidt, but he’s well above average defensively and significantly improved his offensive output this year.

There is simply no comparison between the outfields of the 1980 champs and this team. Jayson Werth is a clutch-hitting machine and a Gold Glove caliber rightfielder, while Bake McBride, who I loved, was league-average.  Both Garry Maddox (still my fave all-time Phillie) and Shane Victorino earned Gold Gloves in center, but Victorino’s offensive skills far outpaced Garry’s. You can make a case for the Bull, Greg Luzinski, in left over Burrell or Ibanez. I’d take Greg over Burrell but not Ibanez, as Raul is not a defensive liability out there, which Luzinski was.

Slight edge to Bob Boone over Carlos Ruiz, but don’t forget that ace pitcher Steve Carlton needed his own designated catcher, and it wasn’t Boone.

Pitching staffs are quite comparable. Carlton, of course was an upper tier Hall of Famer, but the 2008-09 Phils also have an ace at the front of the rotation, Hamels (2008), Cliff Lee (2009), and this year’s Hamels, Happ, Blanton and Martinez are every bit the rotation equals of Ruthven, Christenson, and Walk. I think that last year’s bullpen was the best the Phillies have ever had, with Romero, Madson, and Lidge  shutting teams down from the 7th on. The Lidge of 2008 was at least equal to the Tugger of 1980.

And I will take Charlie Manuel over any manager in Phils’ history. Dallas Green was a one-trick pony, lighting a fire under the collective butts of a perennially underachieving bunch. While Phils’ fans will forever owe Dallas a debt of gratitude for bringing that catharsis to our town, does anyone think that Dallas could have handled J-Roll’s prolonged slump and Brad Lidge’s problems with the patience of Charlie? Didn’t think so. And Charlie’s experience as one of the majors’ best hitting coaches has helped players like Feliz and Ruiz improve into genuine offensive contributors to this team.

Finally, you simply can’t overstate the clutch nature of this team. A second WS championship will lock this team in as Philly’s best ever. For now, they’re in the mix, thumbs slightly pointing upwards.

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  1. Scott P says:

    I’d tend to agree with everything you said. The one thing this team needs to do to cement its position is beat the Yankees. Without that (and depending on what they do in the future), there will always be those who say they caught a good deal of luck last year and this. They didn’t beat particularly great teams in the LDS’s, and the Dodgers obviously have some big holes (as well as big aholes, I’m looking at you, dredboy). And in the Series, they got a young team playing over its head, and who shot their load holding on to the ALCS. If they can beat the f-ing Yankees, though, you really can’t argue. Phillies aside (and maybe not), they are the best team in baseball. Beat them, and you’ve really proven you’re the best.

  2. Scott P says:

    As far as other Philly teams to put on the all-time best list, there’s one you missed that wouldn’t be number one, but easily could have been — the current Andy Reid era Eagles. Throw in just a couple of clutch, game-winning drives in the NFC Championship games or in the SB against the Pats, and they’re the measuring stick. Instead, we got a string of heartbreaking “so close” games and McNabb puking when he should have been throwing the game-winning TD to TO.

  3. You’re right about the Iggles. But, like those great Phils’ teams of the mid-to-late ’70′s, they never won the big one. Maybe the Birds need their own Dallas Green…

  4. RSmitty says:

    Scott,

    For defense against those who claim luck had a role, keep in mind that they were only a handful of Brad Lidge + Ryan Madson blown-saves away from a 100+ win season. Of their 69 losses this year, enough of them were close enough, let alone leads in the final inning, that had Lidge even had a normal year for a top-closer (up to four blown saves, tops) and thus Madson not needed in that role, we’re talking as many (103) if not more wins on the season than the Skankees. Honestly, I think the Phils are on that same level as the Skanks. Don’t let the 103 vs 93 wins fool you. The Phils were there, save Lidge’s massive regression, which looks much better now, in the post-season.

  5. RSmitty says:

    But, like those great Phils’ teams of the mid-to-late ’70’s, they never won the big one. Maybe the Birds need their own Dallas Green

    Does this suggest that Big Dred is Danny Ozark?

  6. Smitty: I’d say yes-and-no. Andy Reid has had far more of a role in assembling his team than Ozark ever did. But there seems something missing, perhaps a motivational component at a key time, which keeps the Iggles from grabbing the Lombardi Trophy. Kind-of a Moses/Mountaintop thing.

  7. John Manifold says:

    The 1966-67 76ers are still regarded as the greatest team in basketball history. They failed to repeat when Billy Cunningham was lost in the ’68 playoffs.

    The current Phillies are admirable, as are the other teams mentioned above, but not close to the Big Dipper’s team.

  8. Scott P says:

    Exactly. The Eagles have always been one or two key pieces from being a great team. Usually that piece was a wide receiver, which is why TO was the closest they got to adding a Moses or a Rose to get them over the top. The blame really lies with Lurie and Banner for putting together really good teams, without going the extra step and making them into great teams. With the exception of Owens, they have done nothing to make the team better year to year. They’ve pretty much just replaced parts, which is why the team has about the same level of success each year.

  9. Von Cracker says:

    this team and the ’83 Sixers.

  10. Another Mike says:

    Ozark was a malaprop machine, while Big Red’s encounters with the press should be investigated by the Human Rights Commission. From Philly.com’s obituary:

    Over the six-plus years he managed the Phillies, Mr. Ozark would become as renowned for the malaprops he uttered as for the teams he managed.
    After his controversial moves resulted in a 1978, Mr. Ozark told reporters, “We flubbed that dub a little.”
    During an era when that political scandal dominated the headlines, the manager once tried to explain away a slump by saying, “even Napoleon had his Watergate.”
    Asked how team morale was holding up, Mr. Ozark shot back, “Morality isn’t a factor at this point.”
    And when he got a rare ovation from a Veterans Stadium crowd. Mr. Ozark was moved. “It really sent a twinkle up my spine,” he said.

    As for best team, the current Phillies are at or very close to the top. The Flyers do have those two consecutive Stanley Cups, and the Philadelphia Athletics had some awesome teams, but they’ve been out of town more than 50 years. I believe this current Phils team has at least one or two more series winners in them.

  11. anon says:

    snark /

    Isn’t hailing the best Philly sports team ever like hailing the best liberal Delaware politician ever? C’mon, it’s not a tough competition.

    / snark

  12. Scott P says:

    Smitty — As to the Phils’ opponents, for the record, here is what I think: 1) Everything I wrote is true; 2) It doesn’t mean shit. You can only play your opponents as they come. The fact that they haven’t lost more than 1 game in a series shows that they’re not just squeaking by against these guys. Only beating lesser opponents (but these were not bad teams by any means) does not prove you are not great — losing to them would. Beating another great team, however, would prove your own greatness. I only pointed this out because it’s a not-outlandish claim that could still, to this point, be made against this team. That being said, I think they will make it a moot point in a couple weeks.

  13. Scott P says:

    Yes, anon. It’s definitely got a bit of the “valedictorian of summer school” air about it. But that’s why it’s fun. If we had dozens of great teams around here to choose from, this wouldn’t feel as special. As for myself, I just keep thinking about all those awful Phillies teams I watched for years from the mid 80′s until 6 or 7 years ago (fluky ’93 aside). Damn it, I paid my dues. I’ve suffered long enough. I’m enjoying every last minute of this.

  14. John Manifold wrote: “The current Phillies are admirable, as are the other teams mentioned above, but not close to the Big Dipper’s team.”

    That team (the 1966-67 Sixers) had a prototype player at each position. Wilt Chamberlain, arguably the greatest center in NBA history, in his prime; Luke Jackson, born to be a power forward, grabbing a rebound and swinging those elbows; slasher/shooter Chet Walker at small forward; deadeye jump-shooter and Hall of Famer Hal Greer at shooting guard, and spectacular distributor ‘Nova’s Wally ‘Wonder’ Jones at PG. Not to mention the Kangaroo Kid coming off the bench.

    Unfortunately, they did lose Cunningham to a devastating knee injury (I can still hear him screaming) and then Wilt forced his way out of town to the bright lights of LA, bringing a too-swift end to what could have been a dominant team for years.

  15. RSmitty says:

    Hmm…John brings up an interesting angle that involves, “what if’s.” Were the late-60′s Sixers robbed of a dynasty? Yeah, I’ll accept that. We can extend that in a few directions, as well. What about the mid-80′s Flyers? Obviously without a cup, but had Pelle Lindbergh made a better decision before heading out in his Porsche one fateful night, would we have seen repeat greatness on that team? A lot of people thought so. I was on the fence about that opinion, but many were convinced. Hey, Hextall was a good goalie in his youth, but as the eventual tender, we all saw someone who was too unpredictable and hyper to seal it shut in the huge games. Was that the difference between marking them with tragedy versus greatness? Who knows?

    So, taking the “what if’s” out of this, I lift up the Broad Street Bullies (and not just the cup-winning seasons, either) as the top consideration and the late-60′s Sixers second and this current Phils team as the third. I do say that if the Phils take this series, then they leap over the Sixers.

  16. Perry says:

    Although not like the Phillies of the late ’70′s and now, I can’t let go unmentioned the Whiz Kids (or, Cinderella Kids), who won the pennant in 1950, with the right-left combo pitching of Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons, and reliever Jim Konstanty, outfielders Del Ennis, Richie Ashburn, and Dick Sisler, Granny Hamner at short, Mike Goliat at second, Eddie Waitkus at first, and Andy Seminick catching, to name those I can remember. Eddie Sawyer was the manager. They played at the old Shibe Park on Lehigh Avenue.

    Please note: The Phillies won the pennant on the last day of the season by beating, guess who, the Brooklyn Dodgers!

    As a sidelight, a thrill for me at the time, was in 1949, when my brother and I rode our bikes from Yeadon to Bala Cynwood, where Roberts, Ashburn and two other players who did not last in the majors, were living with Ashburn’s mom in a rented house. We were after autographs, but when we got there we were afraid to knock on the door, so sat on the curb. Mrs Asburn saw us and invited us in for a visit. Needless to say, that was a great and unforgettable experience for two young Phillies fans, one year before, as it turned out, that they won the NL pennant.

    In the first game, reliever Jim Konstanty started and pitched for the exhausted Robin Roberts in the first game, which he lost 1-0; Curt Simmons was called into military service, so was unavailable. Andy Seminick, as it turned out, played the entire series on a broken ankle. Their opponent, of course, was a classic Yankee team made up of the likes of Joe Dimaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and Casey Stengle.

    Needless to say, the Phillies lost the Series 0-4, although three of the games were decided by one run.

    How could I ever forget the Whiz Kids?

    Now we have the Yankees again!

    Go Phillies!!!

  17. Perry: I remember when Eddie Sawyer resigned as Phils’ skipper in (I think) 1960. His quote about leaving that hopelessly-inept team that lost 23 straight games was something like, “I’m 59 years old. I want to live to see 60.”

    I also remember Ozark describing a real close nailbiter of a game as a ‘cliff dweller’.

    Oh, and I forgot, here are the stats on that great Sixers’ team:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/PHI/1967.html

  18. John Manifold says:

    A dynasty is gluttony. Like El Som, I was raised in an environment of recurring short-sightedness of Philadelphia athletic moguls, and celebrate such achievements that occur.

    The 1967 Sixers had the greatest player in the history of the sport, but also a melding of styles and talents that put them at a higher level than the sport has ever seen, before or since.

    El Som rightly notes that the Phillies of 1980 were quite flawed. When he was a 32-year-old freelancer, Bill James wrote that they were essentially “Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Hoyt Wilhelm and the Toronto Blue Jays,” his then-nascent methods having shown to him that apart from Carlton, Schmidt and McGraw, the 1980 Phils were sub-par performers.

    Perry rightly notes that the Whiz Kids were exhausted. Robbie started four times in last nine days of the season! [The '50 Phils had a 7½-game lead with 11 games remaining, then behaved like the '09 Dodgers.]

    In 2008 and 2009, the Phillies had the 5th best record in MLB.

  19. And, JM, the Phils’ collapse in 1964 contributed at least as much to my pessimistic worldview as the assassination of JFK. 1980 finally eliminated 1964, and Nov. 4, 2008 finally eliminated Nov. 11, 1963. I was finally at peace.

    At least until I was fired and frogmarched out of the Carvel Building like a common criminal with no explanation whatsoever in December…

  20. RSmitty says:

    In 2008 and 2009, the Phillies had the 5th best record in MLB.
    Oh John. In regard to the 2009 season, see my response to Scott P at 1:28PM. Aside from the closing-pitcher spot that went from perfection in 2008 to near-worst in 2009, this team was within three outs (several times) of either the second-best or the best MLB record. Of course, I just hit on a “what if,” but my point being this is quite a solid team that has great defense and very disciplined hitting from 1 through 8. I think this squad is better than the 1976-1981 teams (remove the anomaly that was 1979), easily. While I wax poetic about the past, I won’t diminish what this team has done simply because they aren’t yet nostalgic. I have yet to see this version of the Phillies (the last THREE seasons, not two) quit. Well, one could argue against that with their flop against the Rockies in 2007, but look what started in 2007, let alone doing to the Mets (in ’07) what was done to them in ’64. It’s a hell of a squad that still lacks the respect that I think they have earned.

  21. Scott P says:

    I have two things to say regarding the regular season record. One is that it’s not very relevant, because we’re deciding if this is the best Philadelphia team, not the best ever team. Secondly, it obviously points out the subjectiveness of the entire exercise (which, of course, is what makes it fun). You have to decide how much you weight regular season success versus post season success. Would the Phillies be considered a better team if they had MLB’s best record but went out in the LDS all 3 years? Was that Mariners team that won 114 or whatever games, but lost in the playoffs, the best team ever? Smitty’s right that their record could easily have been much better. I go back to El Som’s position by position account, and agree that they’re definitely the best Phillies team ever.

  22. John Manifold says:

    this team was within three outs (several times) of either the second-best or the best MLB record.

    Like the Mets in ’07 and ’08.

    There’s a very strong argument that this is the best Phillies team ever. Not the best “Philly team,” for reasons noted above, as well as La Salle’s men’s basketball teams of 1954 and 1955, Immaculata’s national women’s basketball champions of 1972-73-74, Villanova’s national men’s cross country champions of 1966-67-68, or Villanova’s women’s cross country team, which won the national title an ungodly six straight years, from ’89 [Vicki's senior year] through ’94.

    The best Philadelphia baseball team? The A’s of 1929-31.

  23. I wouldn’t include the La Salle, Immaculata or ‘Nova teams here. They were superb amateur teams, but this is a whole ‘nother level. Seriously.

    The A’s of 1929-31 were something special. But even I was not around to see them. Simmons, Grove, Cochrane, Jimmy Foxx, George Earnshaw, and a second baseman named Max Bishop who walked well over 100 times a year. In typical Connie Mack fashion, he sold off the virtual lot of them.

  24. RSmitty says:

    Getting back to El Som’s analysis:
    Slight edge to Bob Boone over Carlos Ruiz
    Make that an edge of slightest proportions. Ruiz’ confidence as the play-caller/field manager has noticeably skyrocketed as this season went on. I think his peak performance of 2009 is happening right now and that says something about handling big-game pressure. Also, Chooch’s (sp?) ball-contact ability with the bat is uncanny. He may not have a high average, but the man puts the ball into play, which is all you really want from an 8-hole hitter. Put it into play and move runners or induce a mental mistake from the opposing defense. If you can get a respectable average from your effort, then bravo. The guy doesn’t whiff all that often.

    He’s just about at Boone’s level and ready to surpass.

  25. RSmitty says:

    While you can’t dismiss the A’s teams, I have an aversion to Connie Mack’s stylings. Boo Connie Mack.

    John – my defense of this group of Phillies was going up against your suppressing (or my misinterpretation thereof) them in light of the 50′s squad, not all Philly pro teams.

    I still go Broad St Bullies collection of Flyers, late-60′s Sixers, then current Phils. If this Phils team (2009) does win it all, then I have to give them that second slot, because that will be that almost-udefinable “intangible” we often hear about of great teams that will give them a win over a very dangerous AL foe this year (either the Skanks or Halos). The Broad St Bullies had that trait, so the Phils and them may very well be at the same level, if they get that WS trophy for a second year in a row.

  26. Boone was a very solid catcher and had a long career. I’d still vote for him over Dutch Daulton as the Phils’ best backstop ever. He was especially well-regarded for his ability to ‘frame pitches’, i.e. make borderline pitches look like strikes. And he was well above average when it came to throwing out runners trying to steal. He really didn’t give the team much offensively, but didn’t have to. I think he’s underrated in hindsight. But, his 1980 stats WERE down from previous years. Here are his career #’s:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/boonebo01.shtml

    And, in fairness to Boone, Carlton was a whackjob, albeit a Hall of Fame whackjob in both senses of the phrase, who had his caddy from the Cards, Tim McCarver, imported to catch for him.

  27. John Manifold says:

    Was there a better cross country team in the world than the ones with Tom Donnelly, Dick Buerkle, Frank Murphy, Dave Patrick, Chris Mason, Marty Liquori, Des McCormack, Ian Hamilton, Charlie Messenger?

    The 1929-31 A’s played .700 ball over three full seasons.

  28. RSmitty says:

    …who had his caddy from the Cards, Tim McCarver, imported to catch for him
    Didn’t McCarver come over first? I was but a mere toddler/youngin’ in the wee-early 70′s, but McCarver was part of the Flood trade, no? I thought that preceded Wise-for-Carlton. I could be wrong, of course.

    The 1929-31 A’s played .700 ball over three full seasons.
    Connie Mack…boo. Probably sold them off for a new car auto carriage.

  29. RSmitty says:

    Boone was a very solid catcher and had a long career. I’d still vote for him over Dutch Daulton
    Yeah, I wasn’t touching space-cadet Daulton. I appreciated Daulton, absolutely, but I also think Boone did more for the Phils than did Daulton. I’m specific about Ruiz, who still has a little ground to get to Boone’s impact, but I still say he’s right there, ready to pounce. He needs a 2010 season with impact to take it over.

  30. JM: I’ll leave your first question to the loyal readers of the Cross Country Courier. Many of those names, especially Marty Liquori, Dave Patrick and Charlie Messenger, are also well-known for their Olympic track-and-field exploits. Villanova was a true track power back when athletes had to go to class. Now they just go to Arkansas.

  31. Smitty: Ruiz was 30 on Opening Day. He’s not the Phils’ catcher of the future, but he could have around 3 more good seasons left in him. Especially if they get a backstop to catch about 40 games a year.

    As to McCarver, you could be right. I just know that they were reunited w/the Phils.

  32. John Manifold says:

    McCarver came in the Flood trade, then was traded to the Expos for John Bateman in Paul Owens’ first act as general manager in ’72. Timmy bounced to the Red Sox, who released him a third of the way to their ’75 pennant, whereupon he joined Johnny Oates and Boone. Savviest catching corps ever? Two future managers and a mainstay national telecaster.

  33. Jason330 says:

    My heart still tells me the 80′s team was the best ever. If the current team wins another championship and plays together for a while longer they’ll have a shot at knocking them off.

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