Tolerance of failure has contaminated the Phillies
When he got it all started with a 2014 yawn and wink, the initial reaction was that Pat Gillick was just being Pat Gillick again. Three years later, it has turned out not to be whimsical, prescient or wise. Three years later, it’s proven to have been a blast of patience that has cost the Phillies organization a hunk of its soul.
“I think where we are right now, it’s probably a couple years,” Gillick was widely quoted as saying, just before the Phillies would begin to run and hide from championship expectations. “I wouldn’t think it would be 2015 or 2016. I don’t think that’s in the cards. I think somewhere around 2017 or 2018.”
That was the then-general-manager’s timetable for the Phillies to recover from their 2007-2011 party, the one resulting in five first-place finishes, two World Series and a 2.6-million-spectator parade. In the largest monopoly market in baseball, in a virtual no-salary-cap industry, with fans known to line up in the afternoon to overpay for standingroom tickets that night, the Phillies would need time, but not much of it, to resume collecting flags.
By then, Gillick had enough accomplishment and status to be believed. He had unloaded a similar wail around 2006, when he began making substantial Phillies roster changes. And he was proven correct. In a short time, a dynasty developed. He’d offered fulfillment in exchange for forbearance, and it turned out to be a fair deal for all. So when he tried it again, Gillick had credibility. a Hall of Fame plaque included. Yet he had too much credibility. He had so much of it, in fact, that his OK to rebuild on a delayed timetable would become something of a new, organization-wide policy, never to be disobeyed. And that has led to a season like the Phillies have inflicted on their customers and TV viewers in, yes, 2017. It has yielded one of the most unacceptable explosions of incompetence in the history of a franchise that has endured more than a few.
Gillick has virtually disappeared into a distant, advisory role. So it’s no longer his fault that every time Bob McClure makes a mound visit, the scoreboard operator starts clicking up runs. But the atmosphere of indifference he recommended has proven poisonous.
In a moment so bizarre last winter that bordered on comedy genius, Pete Mackanin publicly offered his deepest hope that the Phillies could — wait for it — play .500 baseball. Yes, that was the organization’s signature spring declaration. And given that it capped an offseason where the club effectively spent only on quick-fix-scheme players it had hoped to flip at the next trade deadline, it was as good a way as any to force Philadelphia sports fans into resuming discussions of the NFL Draft.
While some at that time questioned the manager’s subdued battle cry, it was largely accepted. How couldn’t it have been? Wasn’t that the Gillick Plan? Wasn’t that the order from his essential replacement, Andy MacPhail? Wasn’t that the babble spilling from Matt Klentak, the general manager hired to keep MacPhail a stadium level away from criticism?
Wasn’t everyone instructed to keep their seats in an upright and locked position?
So that’s what they did … and this season has been the result. Not only has there been virtual silence from the executive level as the Phillies have collapsed, but somehow during that tragedy, Mackanin won a contract extension.
Times have changed since the late Dallas Green would routinely react to failure with an annual roar of disapproval. It would have been too late for that, anyway. The approval of lousy baserunning, ineffective relief pitching and refusal of pitchers to work overtime has so contaminated the 25-man roster that few in that clubhouse would listen if three state troopers ordered them to get on the ground. They’re oblivious to it all, most of them, though Freddy Galvis, for one, has begun to protest. “We have to play harder every single day,” he was quoted as saying, mixing in some vulgarity, after a 6-1 loss the other day in Arizona. “We need to try to do better.”
That’s where it would start, if it is ever to actually start at all. It will start with somebody being intolerant of the disorder that’s been going on throughout. Essential owner John Middleton, the three-billionaire, began to make noises this season, promising to restore the Phillies to greatness. Yet he’s the one who introduced MacPhail. And MacPhail hired Klentak. And Klentak extended Mackanin. And Mackanin tolerates McClure. And no one at the top is demanding better from anyone throughout.
By the way, a spoiler alert: That 2017-2018 timetable? Don’t count on it. To contact Jack McCaffery, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @JackMcCaffery