Last year, about this time but a few weeks later, Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel sat down in front of reporters, separately, and tried to convince the assembled scriptuals and, by extension, fans that the Phillies would have a new approach at the plate in 2012, that things would change. That Jimmy Rollins would turn into a slap hitter. That Ryan Howard would strike out less. That Shane Victorino wouldn’t be an idiot. That Hunter Pence, too, wouldn’t be an idiot. That Chase Utley would… well, keep being Chase Utley.
We chronicled Amaro's season-ending press conference here. It came just days after the Phillies lost in five games to the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Just days after they only scored one run in the final 17 innings of the series.
Not even the most naive fan really bought what Amaro and Manuel were saying, but all of us crossed our fingers that some of the core players and veterans could change their games, just a bit.
Then we all remember that Ryan Howard was rolling around on a scooter.
Then the Phillies signed Jim Thome.
Re-signed Jimmy Rollins.
Signed Ty Wigginton.
All of a sudden, it seemed like more of the same. Amaro, who was hell bent on changing the Phillies’ approach at the plate, added players who were essentially older, slower and less-talented (Pierre notwithstanding) versions of old, slow and talented players the Phillies already had.
Ryan Howard is a home run threat and strikes out a lot? Let’s get Jim Thome to fill-in for him. We moved him five years ago to make room for Howard, but now Thome is older and not as good as he used to be. He’ll make a great addition.
Let’s sign Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix, below average Major League players who are only marginally more versatile than guys like Ross Gload and Matt Stairs, who we parted ways with in recent years.
I didn’t quite get it from the beginning. Sure, Pierre and Jonathan Papelbon (money aside) proved to be welcome additions and quality performers. But you can argue that the Phillies moved laterally, and therefore, because of age and injuries, backward last offseason.
Then came Howard’s setback. The non-setback that pushed his return back at least two months.
Then the Utley fiasco.
All this, before the season started. By that point, the comments about changing the approach had been forgotten, replaced with talk about whether the Phils could fill out a lineup card with names that weren’t on a schedule at a supermarket last October while the Phils were playing in their fifth straight postseason.
I bring all that up, not to ball tap you into submission, but to say that it feels like just yesterday that Amaro and Manuel sat there, giving us answers that they might not have even believed. And now here we are again, a post-season press conference to explain why there is no postseason. This time what went wrong wasn’t a poorly timed late-season slump. This time everything went wrong. This time the Washington Nationals are NL East Champs.
This time, it’s the end of days.
So, instead of trumpeting their words like I did last year and like most of the team’s beat writers will do, I’d like to translate some of the more important points and quotes from today’s 45-minute, season-ending press conference. Because last year I felt confident that Amaro and Manuel knew what they were doing (they had earned the benefit of the doubt). But not this year. This year I’m scared.
[Paraphrasing, except where there are quotes.]
Amaro: We’re going to hire an assistant hitting coach, go with a two-man crew. It’s worked for some other clubs.
Translation: Again, our approach at the plate is awful. Greg Gross couldn’t instruct his way out of a completed Rubik's Cube. I figure two guys are better than one. Hell, I’d hire three if David would give me the money, but he won’t.
Manuel on whether he is worried about being in last year of his contract: “I know how old I am. My favorite saying is know thyself.” I still love baseball, contract is fine, at the end of the year will sit down and see where I’m at.
Translation: I know that I’m not getting an extension right now. We were terrible this year. And I’m old. I could retire after next season. Or I can get fired. So no sense in talking about it now. For the first time in a while, I’m on the hot seat. And I don’t mind it. My car has a seat warmer, and I’ve always enjoyed that. This is no different in my mind.
Manuel on coaching changes: I don’t like them. They’re a necessary part of the business. It doesn’t mean those guys aren’t good coaches.
Translation: Better them than me, right?
Amaro on what he would have done differently: I wish I would have done a better job with the bullpen.
Translation: I’ve already mailed a flaming bag of shit to Chad Qualls. Also, counting on Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes was foolish, and there was 100 years of baseball evidence that an unproven reliever who has one good season can’t be counted on. But Bastardo has ridiculous glutes, so I thought if anyone could do it, it was him. He came around in the end. But I don’t know where Stutes is. The smell of marijuana is out of the clubhouse, though. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing.
Amaro on whether Ryne Sandberg is the heir apparent to Manuel: Ahhhhhohmygod he’s not the heir apparent. We made no promises to Ryne Sandberg.
Translation: Ahhhhhohmygod he’s totally the heir apparent, and they figured it out. Don’t tell Charlie.
Manuel on Sandberg, sitting on his shoulder, until the he takes his job: I like Ryne. I like everything about him and get along real well with him. “I think it’s gonna be really good. I’m really looking forward to working with him.” We’re going to use his hitting expertise, too.
Translation: I like the guy, but I’m going to beat him some kind of West Virginia silly if he even thinks about pushing me out.
Amaro, responding to Howard Eskin, when asked about the obvious conclusion that Sandberg taking Manuel’s job is going to come up a lot this season: “I’m not worried about it because I don’t think Charlie is worried about it.”
Charlie: “No, I’m not worried about it. I think it might come up… but I… it just came up!”
Translation: Fuck you, Howard.
Amaro on the same issue: “One of the things that I think makes an organization stronger, frankly, is being able to hire people that may eventually take our jobs.” I want there to be people here, that we’ve hired in our front office, that when I’m let go or move on, that they’re able to do that.
Translation: Take that, Jack Welsh. I went to fucking Stanford. I could manage Apple out of this maps crisis. But for real, I don’t think I hired anyone even remotely capable of taking my job, right? I made sure of that. And none of those Jonah Hill nerds, either.
Amaro on what changes he can make: We’re going to have to be creative. Don’t know how much wiggle room I have. But we’ll try. We’ll see what we can do by trade or free agency. “Some guys are less touchable than others.”
Translation: Anyone have a list of all slow, plodding white guys? Because that’s all I can afford. Unless I trade Cliff Lee. Cole Hamels is untouchable.
Manuel on Juan Pierre: He had 40 steals. Hit .300. “He’s a very good bench player or part-time player.” If we had a solid season, he should get less at-bats. Because he’s a bench player. We’ll talk about keeping him around.
Translation: Have you seen him play left field? He’s great as a bench or platoon player, maybe. But I can’t have him in left field every day. He’s an absolute liability.
Amaro: Same thing, but there are going to have to be other priorities addressed before Juan Pierre. We were very left-handed, and we need more right-handed bats. He was great for us, we couldn’t believe he was still out there in the offseason.
Amaro on Rollins saying the Nationals would have finished second if it weren’t for Phillies injuries: “Glad that Jimmy is throwing out those quotes again, that’s good. We tend to do pretty well when Jimmy is quoting.” The Nats are NL East Champions, they had a better year. Our goal is get to get back there.
Translation: I don’t fully understand the meaning of the word “quote,” and Jimmy needs to shut his mouth. He’s right, though. Our team is better. But everyone was hurt. We’ll see what happens next year if Utley’s knees don’t take their annual siesta.
Manuel on hitting approach: “I look at guys who’ve got a lot of experience in the game, and when you talk to them about their hitting, and you try to work with them about their hitting, some of them are very hard-headed and subject to change is not too good. But at the same time, maybe that’s who that guy is. And I think when you say that you got to address your team and you got to, like, twinker with it, or in a short-spirited time, rebuild it, I think sometime got to ask yourself, what does this guy give us?”
“We had guys that, I thought, that needed to learn more about how to play baseball, yet we’re talking about guys who had some age on them. That definitely doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m talking about the Philadelphia Phillies’ way of teaching, or my way of teaching, or our coaches’ way of teaching, or Ruben. I’m talking about guys who’ve played the game, and all of a sudden you look over, and we have trouble playing it right.”
Amaro on the outfield: “We have some work to do. Center field is something we have to address, and it will be one of our priorities, and we’ll see where we can go from there.” Who knows what Darin Ruf can be? “We don’t know what Domonic Brown is yet.”
Translation: I’m not above re-signing Shane Victorino. And how, in the fuck, can we still not know what’s going on with Domonic Brown? This has been, like, four years. How long can I keep doing this? I don’t know.
Amaro on Utley: “Based on everything we’ve seen, and the plans that we’ve put together, our medical staff has put together for Chase– we’ll be monitoring him, and we’ll have several guys who will see him as well. We think he has a reasonable chance of playing every day next year at second base.”
Translation: If he fucks me again with this knee injury, I’m, I’m, I’m going to have him hold another press conference in the grass.
Manuel on who manages in his place if he can’t make a game: “If I get thrown out of the game, Sandberg will manage. He’ll be the manager.”
Amaro: “I’m going to come down and manage. No, Ryne Sandberg will be.”
Translation: Oh God. It’s starting already.
Manuel on Brown: “The more consistent he gets, that’s when he’ll become what you call a big league hitter.”
Translation: You know, like, that Trout fellow, and Harper, they’re so, so youngish like, and I see them, they’re out there swinging bats and hitting and stuff. And at the same time, I have no fucking clue how Domonic Brown isn’t a big league hitter by now. I’m flustered and all at that, and it’s getting real old.
Manuel on leadoff hitters: “Who out there in the Major Leagues, who fits, does a better job in the leadoff role than Jimmy?”
Translation: I’m really loyal.
Manuel on Rollins’ hitting approach and how players shouldn’t all follow each other: I don’t like followers. Being a follower isn’t a good thing. Being a leader is good. “That’s like you and me going to the top of the Empire State Building and you jump and I don’t. I’m smarter than you.”
Translation: You jump, I jump. Remember?