Dear Josh Harris, Please Buy the Phillies

Taking my first foray into baseball writing. I usually only write about basketball (and my dating problems (although I seem to have a girlfriend for the moment…I hope it works out, because she’s AWESOME…just sayin’), and occasionally pop culture crap, but you know what I mean), but I’ve been watching the Phillies even longer than the Sixers (didn’t really get into basketball until I was about 11-12, but my dad was taking me to baseball games when I was still pretty much in diapers), so I feel like I’m at least entitled to have my opinion.

It’s no secret to anyone that the Phillies kinda suck, and are on a bad downward trend. 2007-11 was wonderful, but is long since gone, as these things go. The window slammed shut in a haze of age and injuries, and there are no fresh soldiers worth mentioning to reinforce the team. Now, every day they run out a lineup composed of their way-past-their-prime stars (Utley, Howard, Rollins) and guys who shouldn’t be major league players (Asche, Bregniac, Ruf, Brown, Mayberry Jr) and guys who shouldn’t have been acquired (Byrd). Plus an odd pitching staff that has included Kyle Kendrick at the major league level for WAY too long.

The tendency, even among people I respect as being pretty knowledgeable about sports, is to blame Ruben Amaro Jr for the appalling situation in which our team finds itself. And this is not to say that Rube isn’t a Boob. He kinda is, especially for a Stanford grad. A lot of people question why someone who has almost never made a good move is still in charge of the Phillies.

Here’s the thing, though. Like our beloved Sam Hinkie, Rube works for a boss. And this, I think, is both the source of the Sixers’ ultimate salvation and the Phillies’ ultimate downfall.

The two lead owners couldn’t possibly be more different, at least in terms of ownership style (obviously, they’re both wealthy middle-aged white men, so demographically, they’re basically the same person, but this bit of light entertainment isn’t the forum for that sort of discussion, about which I can do absolutely nothing, and about which doing something sort of galls my basic concept of free-market economics). And what their teams are doing reflects their dichotomy perfectly.

Montgomery is the classic sports team owner. He wants to Win Now, not because he loves winning baseball so very much, or because he’s such a huge fan of Ryan Howard’s strikeout stylings, but because he wants to make a profit every quarter no matter what. And this means filling the seats as best he can. Which, in turn, means winning as many games as possible, and at least giving the illusion that the team has a chance to compete for something every year, even when everyone knows objectively that they don’t. A lot of being a sports fan is self-delusion, and Monty knows this. He wants to milk that self-delusion for every dime Right Now. This is not an uncommon mindset either in sports team ownership or in corporate senior management, and it’s not surprising that Monty feels this way.

He has instructed his Personal Flying Monkey (Rube) to do Whatever It Takes to keep those seats full at all costs. Knowing the Philly fanbase as he does (Hell, he played here a couple of years), Rube understands that we tend to be irrationally attached to “Our Guys,” even when they aren’t really producing anymore. He would never trade a productive Jimmy Rollins for a bunch of unproven kids we’ve never heard of that will start out in Single-A. While Rube makes an almost steady stream of baffling personnel decisions, we tend to lose sight of the fact that he is merely executing a strategy handed to him by his boss.

Compare and contrast with Our Hero, Sam Hinkie. Like Rube, Hunkie Hinkie works for a boss. Like Rube, he is also charged with executing the strategy At All Costs. The difference, and this is all the difference, is that the strategies are at polar opposites. Hinkie’s boss, Josh Harris, is fanatically committed to taking the long view of things. He wants to produce a team that consistently contends (without self-delusion) for titles. He understands the environment in which he must operate. He understands that the cost of creating a real contender is more empty seats Right Now and maybe not hitting his profit numbers every quarter From Here to Eternity, or at least not yet. He’s creating a dynastic powerhouse. A new Power Elite team to join the Lakers and Celtics, et al. And to do that, you need top players at reasonable prices. The way to do that is to draft them. The way to draft impact players is to suck and get the best picks. Etc. Ad Nauseum. Ad Infinitum. We all know The Plan.

I recognize that there is an enormous difference between rebuilding a 15-man NBA roster and a MLB team plus their entire farm system. Harris can wait on a five-year plan. Five years wouldn’t make a dent in the horror show the Phillies’ organization, from top to bottom, has become. There are no valuable trade assets to speed the process along (except possibly Cole Hamels). But you have to start somewhere. Houston did it, and they’re about to get really exciting, with all their interesting young guys just now breaking into the major league lineup. It took them time, their fans stuck it out, and they’re about to be rewarded for their patience. I get that Philly fans are not generally as patient as, well, anyone. But many of us are not stupid (I have listened to Cataldi’s show, and I can state categorically that some of us *are*, in fact, stupid), and we would get the idea of a full-on rebuild, and many of us would embrace it, especially if ownership and the front office were as open and honest as the firm of Harris, Hinkie, and Brown as to what is happening here, how it’s going to happen, and what the expected endgame is.

But David Montgomery is a classic Make Your Numbers Now kind of corporate executive guy, and he would never do this in a bazillion years. This is why I think the best thing that could happen to the Phillies, in the long run, would be for the team to be sold to someone who understands long-term strategy and how to build a sustainably profitable business. A guy like…Josh Harris.

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