It seemed like we’d always be good. Five divisions in a row. The best record in baseball two straight years. Three NLCS appearances. Two NL Pennants. Two NL MVP’s. A Cy Young. A World Series MVP. And yes, a World Series championship. The Phillies were invincible.
Until October 7th, 2011. That night Roy Halladay got out dueled 1-0. The game ended with Ryan Howard on the ground with a torn achilles. The Cardinals won the series. Then they won the World Series. A much younger Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina got their rings. Halladay was never the same again. Howard was never the same again. Chase Utley was hurt a lot after that. Cliff Lee too. The Nationals got good. The Mets got good. The Braves got good too, really good. The Phillies went 11 years before they saw the playoffs after that.
Being a Phillies fan in 2011 was cool. The stadium was packed every night. The stadium ended up being sold out for years. The team spent big money bringing great players to the city. We were winners. Then we weren’t. In a few short years we weren’t even good anymore. The stadium emptied. All the heroes left. Halladay even died. The f***ing insect Mets fans even started to infest our stadium to watch their perennial failing team again, with their stupid little chants.
I’ve had a Phillies 17 game season ticket package with my father since 1991, but it was never cooler than 2007-2011. I was 24 when they won the first division and 28 when they won the last one. The World Championship, the heated rivalry with the Mets, Howard’s majestic homers, the best middle infield in baseball, the four aces- it was awesome. Then it was over, and we’re a real adult, and sports kind of suck until Nick Foles performs the ultimate Jesus act and beats Tom Brady to win a Super Bowl for Philly. Honestly that stupid f***ing NLDS loss to the Cardinals ends up being a demarcation point between my fun young adult years and descending into adulthood. It didn’t bother me as much at the time as it grew to over the years. Really. That game bothers me more than some things that happened to me personally.
So yes, when the Phillies had a chance to play the f***ing Cardinals, I got excited. Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright are all legends, much respect to them. But seriously, the Phillies had a chance to end their careers, in their home park? Holy shit. This was too good to be true. To sweep them? Amazing. To watch their fans empty out before game one was over, in the ballpark the national media swears is “baseball heaven?” Yes, this feels better than good. Let me keep feeling this. It’s not personal because they’re bad people or something- but they were the ones celebrating on our field as our best player laid on the field injured, our era over. So I’m not saying it’s special, but let ‘em know the Phillies did it. The Phillies ended their legends. Hell yeah.
Quick and dirty here- these are my predictions for this weekend.
AL Series- Rays @ Guardians- This series is going to have a lot of people picking the road team. They come from the better division, they’ve been here the past few years. And they’re going to lose here in three games, taking game two only.
AL Series- Mariners @ Blue Jays- This series is really even on paper. Seattle played really well down the stretch. Toronto is a cut above though. I see Toronto winning this series in three games, the first and third.
NL Series- Padres @ Mets- You know how bad I want to pick the Mets to lose this, right? And there’s a case. San Diego has a great pitching staff. Scherzer is iffy in the playoffs. Soto and Machado are monsters. The Mets lineup had a good year, but it isn’t their strongest suit. I’m not going to pick a 100 win team to lose in the first round though. Their starting pitching will give them two great performances and their bullpen will hold their leads. Mets win games two and three.
NL Series- Phillies @ Cardinals- You know how bad I want to pick the Phillies, right? They’re on the road though, against the team of destiny in the second half. I’m not sure anyone scores in game one, since neither pitcher gave up anything to the other team this year. I’ll give St. Louis that one. I think Nola gets it done in game two though for the Phillies. Game three is basically a crapshoot, but I’m picking my Phillies to avenge 2011 and get the win here.
It wasn’t all that long ago that I was watching Aaron Judge play in International League Playoff games in Allentown for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders. He was big- really big. He hit the ball hard. He seemed to have fun. He was really good. It wasn’t long after that he became a Yankee, and he was really good there. It was fun to watch then. It’s even more fun to watch now.
Aaron Judge is my pick to win the AL MVP, and he should win it unanimously. His AL record of 62 home runs is one of the greatest seasons we’ll ever see, and he seemed to really enjoy doing it. What’s not to like? He won the home run title, the RBI title, finished second in batting average, and as a result narrowly missed the triple crown. It’s a historic season. No, it is not the record. Barry Bonds absolutely used performance enhancing drugs, we’re all sure of it, and I’m also sure that Major League Baseball turned the other cheek to cash in on him doing it. Both his single season and all-time homer records are certainly tainted, and denied the feats to more incredible people, but that’s the choice MLB made. They ruined their own record books for money, and they did it with McGwire and Sosa too. All that argument about records aside, Judge did set the American League record. He did it clean. It was fun to watch. He should win the game’s highest individual award, and win it without opposition (sorry, Shohei).
The National League MVP should narrowly go to Freddie Freeman. I don’t think you could go wrong if you gave this award to Paul Goldschmidt either, it’s really damn close. Freeman was second in batting average, first in hits and runs scored, and plays an elite defensive first base. Goldschmidt was third in average, hits, and runs, and second in RBI’s, while also being very good down at first. I’d vote Pete Alonso in fourth for his second in homers, first in RBI’s season. The gap here? Freeman played on the best team this season. I’d round out my ballot here with Dansby Swanson (yes, really), because that dude is clutch as hell, in fifth, and Trea Turner in fourth.
My National League Cy Young would go to Sandy Alcantara, ever so narrowly over Julio Urias. Urias edged Alcantara in ERA and won three more games, but had less strikeouts and 50+ less innings. Are my penalizing Urias for pitching on a team that could pace him? Sure. I just put a lot of stock in an arm being a horse out there. Max Fried, Corbin Burnes, Aaron Nola, Yu Darvish, and Zac Gallen all deserve a nice finish too.
My American League Cy Young would go to Justin Verlander. The future Hall-of-Famer won the ERA title and won the most games in the American League. Dylan Cease was right there with him in both categories and finished ahead in strikeouts and innings, but nine innings edge isn’t enough. Hat tip to Gerrit Cole, Shohei Ohtani, and Alex Manoah here too.
My American League Rookie of the Year would go to Julio Rodriguez, with ease. Nice job by Steven Kwan and Adley Rutschman, but not quite. My National League Rookie of the Year would go to Spencer Strider, just barely over his teammate Michael Harris. It’s all Braves here.
My National League Manager of the Year would go to Rob Thomson of my Phillies. He took over a team under .500 and lifeless, and took them to the playoffs. Other managers did more this season, but they did more with better teams. In the American League, Terry Francona should win Manager of the Year without a vote. Nobody had this team anywhere near .500, let alone winning 90 games. Seattle’s Scott Servais and Baltimore’s Brandon Hyde deserve votes, just for second place.
I’ve been in DC about a week right now and I have to say the digital ads I get on social media are much different and more interesting than home. One that jumped out for me was an ad pushing me to pressure members of Congress to stop the Bureau of Land Management (Department of the Interior) to stop rounding up wild horses in the West. I didn’t know this is a problem. I don’t know which party took which position. I’m pretty sure I’m against this. I’m now much more interested than I was, and want to be educated on the matter.
The number of issues in our lives that government touches are so vast that you can’t count them. Your state and local government touches your every day life most directly. The federal government touches nearly every facet of your life, in a systemic way. While you hear about guns, taxes, abortion, civil and voting rights, the environment, and commerce most often, there are people and organizations that care deeply about issues outside of our normal debate. Every federal appropriations bill funding a department is a chance to impact their issue of choice, and they actively are trying to influence those in power every day.
Sane and functional political parties would spend their time talking about issues people care about. On a loose level, the parties do. Inflation, crime, abortion, and voting rights/defending democracy all show up fairly high on voters minds in every poll I’ve seen in 2022. You see a lot of ads touching on those issues. The truth is though that not all “major” issues are created equal. If an issue doesn’t touch a majority of the people’s daily lives, you probably can’t win on the issue alone. It’s simply reality, and it’s why sometimes parties can win an election with a number of unpopular positions- because they’re popular on the ones reaching the broadest coalitions. Voters might agree with you on more issues, but if they’re not important issues in their daily lives, it won’t impact their votes.
A majority of Americans in every internal poll I’ve seen this year, dislike Donald Trump. I’m not sure a majority will vote based on that dislike. A majority of Americans would like to see the first female President, but that didn’t elect Hillary Clinton. This leads me to my last quite important point that is out there- the “micro” electorate. There are voters like me who are quite interested in who Humane PAC endorses, or who their union endorses, or whatever their cause may be. One of the great successes of the modern day, pre-Trump GOP is that they had a very broad swath of single issue, or small group of issue voters that helped them win a majority of elections. Between taxes, guns, and abortion, they had a formidable locked in vote that put them in range of victory every election. I’m not sure that’s still true after Trump, or if it’s all just grievance now. The Democrats have never mastered this, largely aiming at issue popular with their activists and donor base and little to no one else, and that was true of the majority of their 2020 primary field (but not Biden). It will be interesting to see if this leads to sustained higher interest and turnouts, or the lack of precision with this electorate alienated them. Can either party get out of their own way and build a true majority? We will see.
A few years back a friend that is a labor attorney told me that in CBA negotiations the NFL owners won’t call the players “the players,” they only refer to them as “the product.” In a country that is football crazy, we sure allow our heroes to suffer some shitty treatment. The league treats them barely better than livestock, and even that depends on the farm.
The coverage and attention that concussions and CTE have received in recent years is inconvenient for the multi-billionaires that own football teams. It highlights all the other bad things about the league. A terrible labor record, the danger in the sport, the “short week” so they can make more Thursday night money, the “macho” attitude that gets guys hurt, and just the general greed of it. The NFL would love for this to go away.
It’s not going away though. Thursday night I was sitting at dinner with a friend in Baltimore and she notices my face go shocked. She turns and looks at the TV and sees Tua Tagolaivoa laying on the ground and his hands looking like he’s either having a stroke or throwing up gang signs. I immediately say he just got his second concussion in a week. Her response? I’m not sure there will still be football in a few years. I don’t think she’s totally right, because of the size and scope of the industry, but she’s onto something. Mothers are going to want their boys playing less and less after watching these incidents.
It wasn’t long ago professional boxing went through this for letting former stars fight well past their prime, into dangerous stages. The truth is that the human brain isn’t made to take repeated beatings. Doing it out of little more than greed isn’t going to sell with society. The NFL both has to come clean on what it knows and understands about brain injuries, and lay out how they’re going to keep players safer down the road. The alternative is a barbaric, deeply cynical future where white collar, highly educated people keep their kids out of football, while all the “other” kids go take the risk in hopes of reward. It sounds as dystopian as it actually is. A few more scenes like this and it will be reality.
There’s something really wrong in America right now. Last week I posted about why issue polling isn’t worth it’s weight. The basic idea is that it doesn’t matter what you think about an issue, it matters what issues you care about. Then something happened this week that cemented that idea for me.
By now, if you’re reading this, you’ve read about Hershel Walker’s son basically putting him on blast for being a shitbag. That’s not really the thing that happened though for me. The thing that happened is the GOP proved my point- nothing matters except for what motivates voters. In the mere hours after all of this came out about Walker, he broke the bank with big fundraising for his race. In other words, the grassroots of the right rallied to his defense. Then Dana Loesch said the quiet part out loud- she doesn’t care that he paid a “skank” for an abortion, she needs him to win so the GOP has power. In other words, yeah he’s awful, but he gets the job done.
There is no floor anymore. You can be an absolute piece of shit and people will vote for you. Part of it is you’ll do what they want you to do. Part of it is that for a lot of people, they assume everyone is a piece of shit anyway. At some point along the way we totally jumped the shark, and anything became okay, as long as the ends justified the means. It’s why the “Access Hollywood” story didn’t move people. It’s why people like Doug Mastriano and Herschel Walker absolutely have a chance to win this cycle. You don’t care if someone is a bad person while running for office unless you’re looking for a good person.
The personal life of someone running for office is really not all that relevant to Americans in their every day life. For much of the media and official Washington though, they can’t get that through their heads. Doug Mastriano may be a bad dude, but if your goal is a full school voucher program, or massive tax cuts, or “fixing” the “broken” election system, or keeping gun access on demand, well, who cares? It’s not like they think Josh Shapiro is good, or even any better if he’s against their priorities. If the foundational principles of the other candidate are counter to your’s, what’s morality amongst rats?
The black Summer has ended.