Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Comparing Teams

Since the Phillies appear to be headed toward their third consecutive National League Eastern Division championship, it brings back memories of the 1976-1978 edition of the team, which also won three straight division championships. I think it makes for an interesting comparison.

The 1976 and 1977 editions of the Phillies each won 101 regular season games, the best regular season records ever posted by any Phillies team. The 1978 team slipped to 90-72, but still won the division by 1.5 games. That run, wherein the Phillies posted a combined record of 292-194, was the best in the history of the franchise. Many say that the 1977 team was the finest that the franchise has ever fielded. Of course, they suffered an epic meltdown during the first round of the playoffs and were eliminated by a Dodgers team that was clearly not the better team. As great as those Phillies teams were, they never reached the World Series.

The current incarnation of the Phils went 89-73 during the regular season and then went 92-70 in 2008. This year, they are on a pace to finish the season at 95-67, which would give them a three-season combined record of 276-210. From a wins and losses standpoint, the current incarnation does not appear to be as good as the mid-1970's edition of the team, but for one major factor: the 2008 team is the defending world champion, while those mid-1970's teams never made it to the big dance.

From a personnel standpoint, the 1970's edition featured names that are now legendary in Phillies' lore: Mike Schmidt, the Hall of Fame third baseman often considered the greatest to play his position; Steve Carlton, the Hall of Fame hurler who won 329 games and four Cy Young Awards in his storied career and was one of the finest left-handed pitchers to ever toe the rubber; Tug McGraw, the Irish sprite who saved game after game; fiery shortstop Larry Bowa, Garry Maddox, the gazelle-like centerfielder, Greg "The Bull" Luzinski, the power hitting but immobile left fielder; Bob Boone, the superb defensive catcher who had some pop in his bat, and others. Those Phillies teams were just loaded with talent.

The current edition features second baseman Chase Utley, who is well on is way to a fifth straight season of 100 RBI's or more; first baseman Ryan Howard, the "Big Piece", who reached 200 career homers faster than any player in the history of the game; shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who already has one MVP to his credit, and who plays superb defense in addition to being the engine that makes the team run; emerging star right fielder Jayson Werth, Cliff Lee, like Carlton a lefty who gets people out, and Cole Hamels, who could be great.

From a talent standpoint, I think I like the current edition of the team better. It's more balanced, and it features some truly gifted young players. Utley, Howard, and Werth probably haven't even reached their potential yet, and certainly are in the prime of their careers. The point is that with judicious monetary management by the front office, these Phillies could be competitive for years to come. The 1970's team had its last hurrah in 1980 when, driven by Pete Rose, the Phils won the franchise's first world championship. In 1981, they lost all of their momentum with the unfortunate players' strike, and they were never the same again. Let's hope that nothing similar happens to the current edition of the team.

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