Wake up Philadelphia!
By “The Voice of Choice” Bruce Wirt
To believe that the darlings of the team that gave Philadelphia its first world championship in twenty-five years weren’t tainted is akin to believing that it really is Santa Claus that left all of those presents under the tree when you were a kid. Oh wait; this is the rude, crude, vilified, blue collar town that hates Santa so much that you threw snowballs at him in the 1970s…you can’t possibly believe in father Christmas, can you?
I know it’s hard for you to think about, but Carlos Ruiz getting suspended for unauthorized use of Adderall is quite similar to a pot smoking priest in a sea of pedophiles at the pulpit. 2008 was the season of dreams; it was the holy water that exercised years of demons. Philadelphia fans rejoiced as super-villain GM Ed Wade’s farm system came together with super-genius GM Pat Gillick’s magic touch tinkering and culminated in a parade down Broad Street. But how much of the magic of that team was without malice?
Let’s start with the unfathomable, evil “S” word. Yes Philadelphia, S-T-E-R-O-I-D-S. The Major League Baseball performance enhancing drug (PED) policy was a joke until 2006, and a riddle until 2008. Even though failed tests were made public in 2006, and suspensions could be levied upon the first failure of a test, the suspensions were relatively short, and the list of banned substances were limited. It wasn’t until 2008 that Major League Baseball really threw the book at offenders and added substantially more tests. In essence, a PED user could have used illegal drugs under the radar through the 2007 offseason, and maintained bodily benefits with a rigid workout regimen sustained through the 2008 season, and probably even 2009.
In summary, we must look at 2010 as the first real season in which PED’s were the exception and not the rule.
Ok Philly, this is the spoiler alert: This is where you will want to stop reading if you don’t want your momentous season of joy taken away from you with a brutal dose of reality. Let’s start with the most obvious – “The Big Piece”, or for the last 2+ seasons “The Missing Piece” Ryan Howard.
Howard burst onto the Philadelphia sports scene in 2005 as an injury replacement for Jim Thome. It was Lou Gehrig/Wally Pipp all over again. The prolific slugger entered the lineup midseason and never looked back, slugging 22 home runs and winning the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year Award. It seemed as if his bat were a magic wand; he could reach out and touch the baseball and magically lift it over the left field fence. The key phrase: Left field fence.
Ryan Howard had unparalleled opposite field power. Through 2008, a staggering 40+ percent of Howard’s home runs were hit to the opposite field (credit baseballanalysts.com). His opposite field power made him one of the game’s biggest threats. In four full seasons from 2006-2009, Howard mashed 198 home runs at a clip of nearly 50 per season. He was hitting home runs at a historic pace. Then came 2010…
The man who hit a home run every 11.6 at bats now needed 21 at bats to get a round tripper. His opposite field bombs were now dying just shy of the warning track. The historic slugger that was once on pace to sit on a throne as the King of Cooperstown was suddenly mortal. The decline was steep: Howard went from 45 home runs and a league leading 141 RBI in 2009 to a mere 31 home runs and 108 RBI in 2010. The marked decline as least raised a question regarding PEDs, but the smoking gun didn’t come until the last unforgettable play of the 2011 season.
As Ryan Howard crawled down the first base line, sending Philadelphia’s hopes for a second World Championship to a crashing halt, the taboo PED question could no longer be ignored.
One of the side effects of steroid abuse is that the ligaments and tendons can’t keep up with the growth up the muscles, causing ruptures and tears. According to the book Juicing the Game, baseball’s disabled list increased by a whopping 20 percent from 1998 to 2001. What was one of the most common steroid related injuries?
You guessed it Philadelphia: Ruptured Achilles Tendons. I present the information; you can make the call.
It doesn’t stop at Ryan Howard either. Philadelphia’s darling son, Chase Utley, also began a curious decline beginning in 2010. Utley also experienced degenerative injuries to the ligaments in his hip and knees. His power decline is also noticeable: A home run every 18.4 at bats in 2009, down to one every 32 at bats in 2010.
Again, I present the information; you make the call.
We can look through the lineups across baseball and draw similar parallels starting in 2010. Is it a coincidence that 2010 was the year that Ruben Amaro switched his emphasis from a lineup that mashed their way to wins, to a pitching centric philosophy fueled by multiple aces? Did Amaro know more than he would ever say publicly?
Again…you get it…I present the information; you make the call.
Finally, I’ll leave you with something to chew on after you put down that cheesesteak. If you won’t let your heart believe that your favorite athletes cheated their way to a championship by using performance enhancing drugs, maybe you’ll at least consider one aspect of unsportsmanlike conduct that the Philadelphia Phightin’ Nine never recovered from:
In May 2010 the Phillies were busted for using binoculars to steal signs from the opposing team. The Phillies hit 214 home runs in 2008. Your Phightins mashed 224 in 2009. When the sign stealing stopped in 2010: 166.
I’ll save the line, but go ahead and cast your own judgment.
The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies were the team of destiny. They were the team that exercised 25 years of demons. But were the 2008 Phillies the result of an unholy mix of cheating and chemicals? We may never find out for sure, but the baseball Gods have a way of bringing justice to the unjust. This, Philadelphia, could be the start of another 25 years of doom.
Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please contact me through our website at http://vocnation.com, or on twitter @vocnation.