Philography: Dick Allen

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Dick Allen starred with the Phillies in the 1960’s and returned in the mid-70’s

Dick Allen belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Let’s get that out of the way with right off the bat. I’m one of them, the growing list of supporters for this man to be enshrined there as a player.

He is a finalist on the ‘Golden Era’ ballot, which selects an old-timer once every three years. The results for that slot will be announced in a little over a week from now.

Allen was born on March 8th, 1942 in the middle of World War II out in Wampum, Pennsylvania, a tiny borough less than an hour from Pittsburgh, not far from the west-central state line.

Raised in a rural part of the state, Allen developed a love of horses early in life from his father. It would be a love that he would carry into and through adulthood, right up to the present day.

One of five boys raised in a mostly white town, he doesn’t remember much personal experience with prejudice, despite the 1950’s still being a time of segregation in much of the country.
Allen and his brothers were tremendous athletes, helping their local school sports programs become regional powers, which went a long way towards their being accepted.

Dick and his brothers were especially talented as basketball players, and two of those brothers, Hank and Ron, would each earn college basketball scholarships before eventually turning to baseball and each briefly reaching the Majors themselves.

Dick became a baseball fan and player after watching some of the top Negro League games and players in his early years as a boy, and then following the career of the great Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente, his first real baseball idol.

After an aggressive push by one of their scouts, Allen signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, but almost immediately had problems with the organization when they decided, without his input, to begin referring to him in official organizational materials as “Richie” Allen.

His own pro baseball career would begin at just age 18, with Elmira in the NY-Penn League, and over the next couple of years his prodigious power allowed him to quickly rise through the Phils minor league system. In 1963, after a salary power play with Phils GM John Quinn failed, Allen was shipped to Arkansas for another year in the minors, and here he was subjected to his first real taste of extended racism from fans.

After destroying minor league pitching for 33 homeruns in that 1963 season, Allen eventually won over many of the fans who had begun the year vilifying him. He finally got the call up to the big club in September of that year. Playing in parts of 10 games, he got to experience being a part of the best Phillies team in a decade. The club finished that year with 87 wins, good for 4th place in the National League.

The 1964 season dawned with great optimism in Philadelphia. The Phils had already shown they were becoming competitive the previous year, and now would be adding the mega-hyped rookie Allen for a full season for the first time. His powerful presence in the lineup was felt immediately.

In that ’64 campaign, Allen produced a season that would result in his being named the NL Rookie of the Year. He also would come in 7th in the NL MVP voting for a season in which he hit .318 with a .382 on-base percentage, crushed 29 homers, 38 doubles, knocked in 91 runs, and scored 125 runs.

Unfortunately, that 1964 season is largely remembered in Philadelphia for the historic losing skid by the team at the end of the year. Holding a 6 1/2 game lead in the NL Pennant race with just 10 games remaining, the Phils blew it all. The collapse was no fault of Allen’s, however. He hit .442 with 3 homers, 12 runs, and 11 rbi in those final 10 games. But it wasn’t enough to halt the team’s unforgettable collapse.

Over the next three seasons, Allen continued to develop his game, becoming one of the most domainant and feared hitters in all of baseball. He was an NL All-Star each season from 1965-67. He received MVP votes each of those years as well, finishing as high as 4th in the 1966 balloting.

Allen tailed off a bit in 1968 and ’69, likely still recovering from a freak career-threatening hand injury that ended his 1967 season early. He had hurt the hand while fixing his car one day. Still, his power remained, and he topped the 30 homerun mark in each year.

In his first 6+ seasons in a Phillies uniform, from his September callup in ’63 through the 1969 season, Allen hit for an even .300 batting average with a .380 on-base percentage. He had 966 hits, 177 homeruns, 544 rbi, and 591 runs. And he was just entering his prime years, as the 1970 season would see him turn 28 years old.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, he wouldn’t play any of his prime here in the City of Brotherly Love. Following that near-miss campaign of 1964, the Phillies did not contend again. From 1965-67 they continued to record winning records, but never finished higher than 4th.

In 1968, the club slid back to 76-86, the franchise’ first losing record in years. Many in the town’s fan base turned on it’s enigmatic slugger as a symbol of their frustrations, and frankly there was still an element of the team’s fan base that could be described as nothing less than racist in that late-60’s civil rights era.

Some of the fans in the left field bleachers at old Connie Mack Stadium took to throwing pennies, even batteries, at him. He began to wear a batting helmet in the field, a practice that would follow him throughout the rest of his career.

In 1969, Allen was off to a hot start, but then in June of that season he was suspended by new manager Bob Skinner for showing up late to a game. For Allen, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. During his down time, he had purchased horses for his growing stable on a farm in Bucks County. Happy to get away from the abusive fans and what he felt was some unfair treatment by the team, Allen told the Phillies that he wouldn’t return from suspension.

Fearful of losing a prized asset in the prime of his career at the peak of his trade value without compensation, GM Bob Carpenter talked Allen into returning with a promise that he would be traded at the end of the season. Allen returned, and while the team was pitiful, he finished out another strong individual season.

The trade came on October 7th, 1969 as the Phillies sent Allen, Cookie Rojas, and Jerry Johnson to the Saint Louis Cardinals in exchange for outfielders Curt Flood and Byron Browne, catcher Tim McCarver, and pitcher Joe Hoerner. But as with seemingly everything involving Allen at the time, even his trade would not come without major controversy.

These were the days before free agency, when baseball’s “reserve clause” was still in effect, basically binding players to a team unless they were traded. Flood wanted no parts of going to a losing situation in Philly, and balked at reporting. In the end, he would not only refuse the trade, he would take on all of baseball in fighting for the elimination of that reserve clause.

Though Flood’s fight would ultimately prove of major historical importance for all Major League Baseball players, it didn’t help the Phillies at all. The young outfielder was considered a key piece in the deal from their perspective. Saint Louis would ultimately send along Willie Montanez as compensation to complete the deal.

His stay in Saint Louis would prove short, just one season, but it was a highly productive season. Allen returned to his place among the game’s top stars. He was voted the starter at 1st base for the NL in the All-Star Game, his 4th All-Star appearance. He hit 34 homers and drove in 101 runs. And still, again there was controversy.

A series of late-season injuries, including a torn hamstring, ended his season early while the Cards were still in contention. It would prove to be a fatal blow for the team. But also, Allen chose to recover at his home near Philadelphia, rather than back in Saint Louis where the team could monitor him, a decision with which Cardinal management was not happy.

Almost immediately after the season concluded, the Cards dealt him away to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore and catcher Bob Stinson. The deal appeared to be a steal for LA, and Allen did indeed produce for the Dodgers, but it was again only a one year performance. In that one season out west, Allen hit .295, slugged 23 homers, knocked in 90 runs, and nearly led the Dodgers to an NL West crown.

Still, he was gone in the off-season, this time to the Chicago White Sox in a deal in which the Dodgers in return received a talented southpaw pitcher by the name of Tommy John. It would be Allen’s first time in the American League, and it would prove to be a perfect fit for player and franchise.

The AL West seemed up for grabs behind the Oakland A’s, who had become the team to beat in the division after winning the 1971 World Series. To challenge them in ’72, the Sox believed that Allen’s power was just what they needed. They were right, as Chicago battled Oakland all year, leading the race as late as late-August.

Though Oakland would eventually inch slowly away to an eventual 5 1/2 game division victory, the 2nd place 87-win season was a big step in the right direction for the Sox. The step forward was indeed led by Dick Allen. He was named the American League Most Valuable Player after hitting .308 and leading the AL in on-base percentage (.420), Walks (99), Homeruns (37) and RBI (113) in what was the first of 3 consecutive AL All-Star seasons.

The success would not repeat in 1973 due to injury. In late-June, Allen was in the midst of another big campaign when he broke his leg in a 1st base collision. At the time of the injury he was hitting .310 with 16 homers and 41 rbi, and he was voted to another All-Star Game appearance. He would only return for parts of 3 more games that year. The Sox, tied for first at the end of June, faded to a 5th place finish.

The 1974 season saw Allen return healthy, but also saw yet another controversy develop. Future Hall of Famer Ron Santo arrived from the cross-town Cubs. A Chicago baseball icon, Santo was basically playing out the final season of his career. A clubhouse power struggle ensued between the two, and by the end of the year, Allen confided that he was retiring. He left the team in mid-September and would not return.

Realizing that he was discontented, the Sox sought to get a return for their powerful 1st baseman while they could still get some value. He had shown that he still had that power with a 32 homer season in a 1974 during which he also hit .301 on the year. In December of ’74 they dealt him to the Atlanta Braves, but Allen remained retired and never played in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, back in his old Philly stomping grounds, the Fightin’ Phils were indeed beginning to fight their way back up the standings once again. Allen was courted by a number of current Phillies including Mike Schmidt, as well as old-timers such as Richie Ashburn and his former teammate Robin Roberts. They convinced him that things had changed in Philly, both on and off the field, and Allen relented to a return.

The Braves traded Allen’s rights to the Phils, and on May 14th, 1975, Dick Allen returned to the Philadelphia Phillies lineup for the first time in a half dozen years. He played 7 innings at 1st base that night at Veteran’s Stadium, going 1-3 with a single as the Phils shutout the Cincinnati Reds 4-0 behind a Steve Carlton complete game.

In that 1975 season, Allen helped the Phillies young sluggers Schmidt and Greg Luzinski in their development while providing a veteran slugging presence behind them in the batting order. He only hit a dozen homers, but drove in 62 runs in just 488 plate appearances.

The 1976 season opened with a ton of excitement around the team. They were expected to challenge the Pirates for the NL East crown, the All-Star Game would be held in Philly that year, and the nation would be celebrating it’s Bicentennial, with many of the important festivities centered in the city.

1976 would not play out as a healthy year for Allen. Two separate injuries at the end of April and the end of July cost him a month each time. Still, despite just 298 plate appearances, basically half a season, he managed to bomb 15 homers and drive in 49 runs. And the team did indeed finally win the NL East, setting a franchise record with 101 wins and pulling away in September to a 9-game victory in the division.

The 1976 playoffs would be the only postseason appearance of Allen’s career. The Phillies were matched up with the defending World Series champions, ‘The Big Red Machine’ era Cincinnati Reds. It would prove to be a quick knockout for the champs, as the Reds swept the Phils with 6-3, 6-2, and 7-6 wins. Allen went 2-9 with a run scored. It was mostly uneventful for the veteran slugger, except for his Game 2 error that led to the ultimate winning run.

That off-season, for the first time in his career, Dick Allen was a free agent. Unfortunately for him, it would not result in the kinds of big paydays that future free agents would enjoy. He was now 35-years old, clearly at the end of his career. Allen signed with the Oakland Athletics during Spring Training of 1977, but despite getting regular playing time through June, Allen was not happy.

Following a June 19th doubleheader in Chicago against the White Sox team for whom he had enjoyed success just a few years earlier, Allen retired. In his final at-bat, as a pinch-hitter in the top of the 7th inning, Allen struck out. In what was a more complete story to the goodbye, he had started the opener for the A’s at 1st base and gone 2-4.

Dick Allen retired having played in parts of 15 seasons. Just 11 of those were full seasons due to either youth, age, or injury. He had blasted 351 homeruns, drove in 1,119 runs and had a career .292 average. He had been the 1964 NL Rookie of the Year, and the 1972 AL Most Valuable Player, as well as a 7-time All-Star.

Allen’s retirement years were difficult. He went through a divorce that included a major financial settlement against him, and then suffered further with a destructive fire at his home which also destroyed his horse stables. Having said he would never be a coach in the game, he would indeed return as a hitting instructor with both organizations for which he had his most career success, the White Sox and Phillies.

In retirement there have been few players whose Hall of Fame credentials have been more vigorously debated. Many of his detractors point to two main negatives: that he was a “clubhouse lawyer” type who sowed discord behind closed doors and caused friction that hurt his teams. Also, that he simply didn’t produce over a long enough period of time.

However, almost every major player and coach who was a part of Allen’s career has stepped forward to refute the claims of his negativity in the clubhouse, including two of the game’s greatest managers, Chuck Tanner and Gene Mauch. Among players, no less than the greatest 3rd baseman and greatest Phillie in history, Mike Schmidt, has called Allen a mentor.

A reasonable evaluation of the dominance of the numbers produced by Dick Allen, largely during that decade of the 1960’s that is universally regarded as having been historically dominated by pitching, is absolutely worthy of his enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

If there is any justice in this great game, in a little more than a week Dick Allen will get a phone call that is long overdue. That call will be one letting him know that he has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and that in the summer of 2015, he will finally get his long-deserved day in the Cooperstown sun

Hanley and the Panda to Boston

The Boston Red Sox have agreed to longterm contracts with a pair of big name free agents, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo ‘Kung Fu Panda’ Sandoval.

MLB sources have told the Boston Globe that both deals are for 5 years, with Ramirez’ in the $90 million and Sandoval in the $100 million range.

This is as clear a sign as any that the Bosox are not happy with having followed up their 2nd World Series title in 3 years in 2013 with their 2nd last place finish in 3 years in 2014.

While the adding of big name free agents is exciting for a fan base, the more important factors involve how those players will actually fit your current needs. The fact is that the Red Sox already owned a number of exciting offensive options, both in established players and in high-ceiling prospects.

The acquisition of both Ramirez and Sandoval brings a ton of risk to the organization at great monetary cost without addressing their most glaring need.
They still need at least two more established, talented starting pitching options than they currently possess. And they could use more reliability in the pen as well.

The risk side involves both players physical ability to perform through the contracts. Hanley, who turns 31 years old next month, has missed big chunks of 2 of the last 4 seasons with injuries, not including a piece of this last 2014 season. Sandoval, one of the game’s proven “clutch” postseason hitters, is limited offensively over the course of a 162-game season. He also has a chronic weight issue that is only going to affect him more as he approaches and passes age 30.

Ramirez is going to play left field, and Sandoval will play 3rd base. With Cuban signee Rusney Castillo expected to take over the everyday role in centerfield, and with Yoenis Cespedes in right, this creates a blockade for a number of young players and prospects deserving of and ready for increased playing time.

Mookie Betts is clearly ready to play every day. He can play 2nd base, where Dustin Pedroia is entrenched, or in the now-jammed outfield. Jackie Bradley Jr is perhaps the best defensive outfielder in the game today. He has not yet shown he can hit on a consistent basis, but he appears ready for at least a shot at an every day role.

Catcher Blake Swihart just before and 3rd baseman Garin Cecchini just after Opening Day each turn 23 years old, and are both nearly ready. Will Middlebrooks is 26, and certainly ready for an everyday 3rd base role. Every one of these 5 youngsters is now blocked for the foreseeable future. Panda blocking the 3rd sackers, and 24-year old Christian Vazquez as catcher.

Kung Fu Panda joins Hanley in beefing up Bosox lineup

There is much speculation that with these signings, that the Red Sox may renew pursuit of a pitcher, such as the Phillies’ available ace Cole Hamels. If they led such a deal with young shortstop Xander Bogaerts and included any 2 of these other 5, the Phils likely pull the trigger. 24-year old pitchers Matt Barnes and Allen Webster are two other potential prospects figuring in such trade talks.

Some Boston fans would love the Phillies to take Cespedes for Hamels. That is a pipe dream. Cespedes is indeed talented. However, he turned 29 last month, and becomes a free agent after next season. Neither of those things fits into the Phillies stated rebuilding plans. If he were to agree to an affordable extension, then perhaps he works as a piece along with a couple of the prospects, but that is not likely to happen.

Whatever happens with the Phillies and Red Sox, Boston clearly needs to do something big, probably a couple somethings, involving the addition of pitching if it truly wants to come back immediately to Series contention from it’s last place finish in what is becoming an increasingly competitive division and league.

What they have shown with the signings of their one-time prospect Hanley Ramirez and the Panda are that they are not content to wait for the dice-roll development of admittedly talented kids. Now we likely will see which of those kid prospects they are willing and able to part with in order to fix the remaining pitching holes.

Philography: Jim Konstanty

Based on physical appearance, Jim Konstanty is one of the least likely looking winners of the National League Most Valuable Player award. But for the incredible ‘Whiz Kids’ team of 1950, that is exactly what the Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher became.
The right-hander pitched in parts of 13 big league seasons, 7 of those in Philly. The story of this bespectacled young man’s rise from the western New York farmland to MLB All-Star and MVP is worth knowing by any true Phils fan.
His real full name was Casimir James Konstanty, and he was born towards the tail end of World War I in the western New York farm country, raised there not far from Buffalo. In 1939 he graduated from Syracuse University, where he played basketball from 1936-39. His degree was in Physical Education, and so he then went to work as a P.E. instructor.
In 1941, already aged 24, the newlywed Konstanty tried out for and made the roster of the unaffiliated Eastern League baseball team in Springfield, Illinois. He didn’t have a lot of success as a pitcher, but showed enough that he was given a chance the following season with the Cincinnati Reds AA farm team in Syracuse.
Over the next couple of seasons his pitching improved, and in 1944 he was called up to Cincinnati. He had a nice rookie season with the Reds at age 27, going 6-4 over 112.2 innings spread over 20 games, including 12 starts, with 5 complete games and a 2.80 ERA.
In 1945, Konstanty entered the U.S. Navy towards the end of World War II, and missed the entire baseball season as a result. Coming back in 1946, he was dealt prior to the season to the Boston Braves. He pitched in Boston through early May, but was then sent to the minors. He would pitch at AAA-Toronto into the 1948 season.
In September of 1948, the Phillies, who had taken over the Toronto affiliate from Boston, finally gave Konstanty another shot at the big leagues. He rewarded the Phils by pitching well in 9 late season outings, and set himself up for a regular role in the 1949 season.

The Phillies had been one of the worst organizations in all of baseball for decades entering that 1949 season. But with some new blood, the team seemed to be making progress at long last. They finished that final season of the war-torn 40’s with a winning 81-73 record. It was just the club’s 2nd winning record since 1917.
Konstanty was a big part of the Phils sudden success. At age 32, the righty fashioned a 3.25 ERA in 97 innings across 90 appearances. His slider and changeup had developed to the point where they were true weapons, and he proved to be one of the top relief specialists in the game in what was a breakout season for both him and the team.
The 1950 season dawned full of hope for the Fightin’ Phils. Manager Eddie Sawyer had a young club that had challenged the season before, and that many thought had a chance to be very competitive once again. Their spirited play earned them the nickname ‘The Whiz Kids’, with the kids part a nod to their youth.
Eddie Sawyer1 in CardHolder 2
That 1950 club had 23-year old Richie Ashburn manning centerfield alongside 24-year old Del Ennis. 24-year old 3rd baseman Willie Jones and 23-year old shortstop Granny Hamner also started for the club. 
Even the veterans in the starting lineup: outfielder Dick Sisler, catcher Andy Seminick, and 2nd baseman Mike Goliat, were all still in their 20’s. Only 1st baseman Eddie Waitkus, at exactly 30 years of age, had exited his 20’s.
On the mound, the Phils started 23-year old righty Robin Roberts and 20-year old lefty Curt Simmons as their 1-2 in the rotation, with 23- year old Bob Miller and 26-year old Russ Meyer seeing regular action. At age 33, Jim Konstanty was an old man compared to this wet-behind-the-ears bunch.
These young Phillies got hot in early May to move well above the .500 mark, and then as the summer wore on, they took over first place in the National League. With a hot month during the dog days of August, they stretched their lead out to a steady half-dozen games. By as late as September 20th, the Phils led the N.L. by 7 1/2 games, and their first World Series since 1915 seemed a sure thing.
But then the combination of the pressure of what they were trying to finish, combined with a sudden burst from the talented Brooklyn Dodgers, saw the lead shrink. A 4-10 stretch in the final two weeks collapsed the once-safe lead down to a single game, with the Phillies and Dodgers squaring off head-to-head. The Phils would finally pull out a dramatic extra-inning victory in Brooklyn to clinch the Pennant.
Konstanty was the single most irreplaceable piece to that Pennant-winning club. The reliever took his game to another level, and Sawyer rode him hard. He pitched an incredible 152 relief innings allowing just 108 hits that season over 74 games, registering 22 Saves with a 2.66 ERA and 1.039 WHIP.
When the time came for voting for the National League’s Most Valuable Player award, Konstanty easily out-polled Saint Louis Cardinals outfielder Stan Musial and New York Giants 2nd baseman Eddie Stanky. He received 18 of 24 first place votes. Ennis (4), Hamner (6), and Roberts (7) all finished in the MVP top 10 of the voting results.
The Phillies moved into the World Series against the perennial power New York Yankees. Having burned out his starters in the final drive to the NL Pennant, Sawyer turned to his workhorse MVP Konstanty to start the opening game after the righty had not started a single game all season.
Konstanty delivered a tour-de-force performance against the powerful Yankees lineup. In that opener, Konstanty went 8 innings, allowing just 4 hits. The Yanks scored in the 4th on a leadoff double by 3rd baseman Bobby Brown, who then scored thanks to consecutive sacrifice flies.
Unfortunately for Konstanty and the Phillies, his masterful effort was one-upped by the Yanks’ Vic Raschi. The righty had won 21 games that season, and in this World Series opener he shutout the Phils on just 2 hits. The 1-0 victory put New York up 1-0 in the Fall Classic.
After two more tight losses to the Yankees by scores of 2-1 and 3-2, the Phillies were frustrated and had their backs to the wall. Sawyer again called on Konstanty to start the 4th game. This time the Yanks got to him early, scoring 2 runs in the 1st inning. Yogi Berra led off the 6th with a solo homer, and then New York added 2 more for a 5-0 lead. They would win 5-2 to take the World Series in four straight games.
In both 1951 and 1952, Konstanty continued to be a workhorse out of the Phillies bullpen. The ’51 team disappointed, falling back to losing ways. But in 1952 the team rebounded to finish with 87 wins, 20 games over the .500 mark. However, it was only good enough for 4th place.
1953 was an interesting season for both the team and for Konstanty. He was moved into the rotation frequently, getting a career-high 19 starts and pitching a career-most 170.2 innings at age 36. He went 14-10 with a 4.43 ERA, while also pitching 29 games out of the bullpen and registering 5 Saves. The team moved up to 3rd place, but it would prove to be a last hurrah for the ‘Whiz Kids’, and for Konstanty in Philly.
In August of 1954, the now 37-year old Konstanty was struggling and the Phillies were losing. The team released him, but he would not go unemployed for long. The Yankees, perhaps remembering his 1950 World Series heroics against them, picked him up. 
Rejuvenated, the veteran pitched well, allowing just 11 hits in 18.1 innings, mostly in September. The Yanks would win 103 games, but it still wasn’t enough. They finished 8 games behind an incredible 111-win Cleveland Indians team in the A.L. standings.
In 1955, Konstanty was part of an American League Pennant-winning Yankees team. He went 7-2 in 73.2 innings across 45 appearances, with a career-best 2.32 ERA. But amazingly, he saw no action as the Yanks lost a 7-game World Series to the Brooklyn Dodgers that fall. It would prove to be his final shot at a title.
54Konstanty520
The Yankees returned to, and this time won, the World Series in 1956, avenging the previous year result with a 7-game victory over the Dodgers. But Jim Konstanty wasn’t with the club to celebrate. He had a poor outing on May 13th against Baltimore, and the Yanks released him 5 days later. 
Konstanty caught on with the Saint Louis Cardinals, and finished the season with them. But that would prove to be the swan song for the 39-year old.
On retiring, Konstanty became a pitching coach with the Cardinals organization. In 1948 he had opened a sporting goods store in Oneonta, in central New York, and he would operate the store until 1973. In 1968, Konstanty took the job as Director of Athletics with Hartwick College in Oneonta, a job which he held until 1972.
Stricken with cancer, Konstanty died at just age 59 on June 11th, 1976. One of his grandsons, Michael Konstanty, would go on to play in the Cincinnati Reds organization from 2008-2010. Jim Konstanty currently ranks both 13th in Saves and Games as a pitcher on the All-Time Phillies rankings.
Although he only had that one truly dominating 1950 season, he was not a flash-in-the-pan. A late bloomer who didn’t reach the majors until age 27, he nonetheless would throw nearly 1,000 big league innings. Jim Konstanty is an indelible part of Philadelphia Phillies history. Winning the league MVP during a Pennant-winning season will do that.

Phillies, Red Sox, Hamels

Cole Hamels traded by the Phillies to the Boston Red Sox for a package of young players and prospects.

It’s a story that has been percolating for at least weeks, ever since Phillies acting President Pat Gillick publicly stated that the club likely would not win in 2015 or 2016.

Gillick has also publicly stated that everything is on the table. No player is untouchable. The Phils will explore every avenue in order to turn over the remainder of the holdovers from the recent era of excellence in hopes to move towards a bright future.

The Red Sox story has gained traction because it is true. Boston frankly is in desperate need of a starting pitcher of Hamels caliber. They have the pieces that it would take to get such a deal done. But getting the Phils and Bosox together
on an exact trade is proving to be a difficult matter.

I believe that it should be difficult. When making such a deal, from both sides, the cost to your club weighed against the potential benefits can be difficult to gauge. In the end, if such a deal does get completed, it will take a measure of courage on the parts of both organizations.

It’s my hope here to shed a little more light on what is happening, and come at things from both a Phillies and Red Sox perspective. No one can tell you whether a deal will get done or not. No one can tell you what Boston is willing to move. No one can tell you what the Phillies are asking. With that, an examination:

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What the Phillies are, have, and should be asking:

Here is what we are talking about, from a Phils perspective. They are a clearly rebuilding organization, top to bottom. In an off-season of publicly pronounced change, nearly every other interesting piece they have to offer comes with age, injury, and/or financial concerns. Hamels is the exception.

He will turn 31 years old next month, so is not old. He has thrown over 180 innings in 8 straight seasons, over 200 in 5 straight, and has made at least 31 starts in 7 straight, so he is healthy and reliable. He has struck out over 190 batters in 6 of the last 7 seasons, so he is dominant.

He is signed for the next 4 seasons, with a club option on a 5th season. That contract pays him $22.5 million each season. That is a lot, but not for what Hamels is: a true, proven, experienced, healthy, left-handed ace who has been a big winner in a big market. It is cost certainty for a wealthy team in an $8.5 billion industry.

Considering all of the above, the Phillies rightfully should be asking a great deal for his services. The teams needs are plenty, and he offers the only realistic chance to fill at least 2-3 of those needs with talented young players and prospects.

What the Red Sox are, have, and should reasonably expect to pay:

This is the Boston Red Sox we are talking about. Much like the Phils, they have one of the most passionate, involved fan bases in the game. Losing is not an option in Beantown. In 2014, a year after winning their 3rd World Series title in a decade, the Bosox came in last place in the American League East. It is actually their 2nd last place finish in the last 3 seasons.

Mookie Betts is a player that has to be on Phillies list

Boston also has one of the deepest, most talented pools of young players and prospects in the game today. Earlier this year, Baseball America ranked them 2nd, and Baseball Prospectus ranked them 4th in all of baseball in terms of organizational prospect talent.

The Red Sox also have other interesting dynamics. They went from last to champions just a year ago, so they know it can be done. But they compete in a very tough division. The Orioles won the division by a dozen games and are not going away. The Blue Jays are talented, and already making moves like signing Russell Martin, geared at winning now. The Yankees will not sit for long, just on the outside fringes of contention.

Boston can again go from last to champs. They have a core that is not getting any younger, but still talented, with ‘Big Papi’ David Ortiz now 39 years old, Shane Victorino at 34, Mike Napoli at 33, Dustin Pedroia at 31. They need at least one Hamels-caliber arm, and probably two, in order to get back to contending right away. Clay Buchholz at 30 years old is their ace for now. Otherwise, they are counting on a number of young starting rotation options for 2015.

The Red Sox should expect to pay the price of 3 high-value prospects in order to obtain the total package as a player that Cole Hamels offers. Or at least 1 mega-prospect and a pair of strong ones as icing-on-the-cake.

Specifics of a deal

Let’s be specific. I don’t know what Ruben Amaro is asking, and neither does anyone else. He has been criticized for asking for too high a price of his aging veterans in recent months. That may be valid, but even if so, it is completely irrelevant here. Hamels is not an aging veteran, he is an ace starting pitcher in his prime. Asking a high price is completely acceptable here.

I would be looking to get an infielder, an outfielder, and a pitcher in return. I would be starting my own conversations with 2nd baseman Mookie Betts, pitcher Henry Owens, and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. I would be willing to consider Garin Cecchini as an infield substitute for Betts, and Allen Webster or Trey Ball as subs for Owens. But if I did either/both of those, I may also look for a 4th, younger kid such as Rafael Devers or Manuel Margot to be included.

That is a lot, in the world of prospects. But let’s keep in mind what we are talking about here. We are talking baseball prospects, the overwhelming majority of which are not likely to pan out into big producers at the MLB level. That is simply a fact. They are pretty names right now, with lots of tools. That is all. Potential. Meanwhile, on the Boston end, Cole Hamels is a proven World Series MVP. And the Sox would still have a bunch of strong prospects remaining.

The Red Sox also still have other options. Specifically, they have one major alternate option: re-sign their own former lefty ace, free agent Jon Lester. The problem is, there are a number of teams actively pursuing Lester. He is free to negotiate with those clubs. A few may appear even more likely to win soon, and may offer more money.

Jon Lester free agency decision a key for Boston

Boston likely makes no move on Hamels at least until after it finds out a final Lester decision. But wouldn’t having both lefties in their rotation be exactly what they need? I believe that even if they bring Lester back, the Bosox are treding water from the 2014 bottom dwellers. Adding Hamels makes a legitimate upgrade.

One thing is certain, Ruben Amaro cannot let Hamels go for anything less than full value. You almost never get real value in return for an ace caliber starting pitcher. Look at the records of such deals in history. Look no further than the Phillies own deals involving both Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay just 4-5 years ago. The prospect packages back then all sounded nice. In the end, little to nothing.

There is absolutely no hurry, other than possible risk of a Hamels injury somewhere down the line lessening his value. But he has proven reliable, so that is a slight risk. Waiting into the 2015 season until the trade deadline approaches, or even revisiting this again with teams next off-season after the free agent market settles is a perfectly reasonable strategy.

The bottom line from a Phillies management and fan perspective should be that this is our one near-perfect asset, easily the most valuable that the team controls. Giving it up should be done only to give the club significant potential to cover multiple needs going forward.

With every trade, there comes risk. With any Phillies-Red Sox trade involving Cole Hamels for a trio of highly regarded prospects, there will be risk for both clubs. But right now, these two organizations seem like a near-perfect fit. They just need to find the exact right particulars. And for Ruben Amaro, he simply cannot get this one wrong.

Philography: Placido Polanco

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Placido Polanco was the Phillies starting 2B and 3B at various points

An important cog in the Philadelphia Phillies lineup for 7 of the 11 seasons between 2002-2012, Placido Polanco can nonetheless be considered the hard-luck player in the Phillies decade of winning excellence to open the 21st century.

His two stints as a starter with the ball club, first in the early part of the decade when he was mostly used as the starting 2nd baseman, and then at the end as the starting 3rd baseman, sandwiched the 2008 World Series victory, of which he was not a part.

But Polanco’s excellent play for the team in that long stretch cannot be overlooked. He brought steady professionalism, along with both winning play and a positive attitude. In the beginning, he helped the team realize it could compete with anyone. In the end,
he was a big part of a record-setting Phils season.

Placido Polanco’s career began in the Saint Louis Cardinals organization at the tail end of the 20th century. Born and raised in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, he was selected by the Cards in the 19th round of the 1994 amateur draft out of Miami-Dade College.

He began his pro career that summer playing shortstop with the Cardinals rookie league affiliate at age 18, and remained at short when assigned to A-level Peoria in 1995. Then in 1996, Polanco was moved over to 2nd base. He would play mostly that position in both ’96 at High-A and then again for the Cardinals AA-level affiliate at Arkansas in 1997.

Though he did swipe 19 bags in ’97, Polanco was a light-hitter known for his ability to make contact. He was also proving highly skilled with the glove, and he graded outstanding in overall baseball smarts. Many in the organization, as well as outside evaluators, were pegging him as a future utility infielder who would definitely reach the Major Leagues as the 90’s were drawing to a close.

He finally achieved the Big League dream with a call-up to the Cardinals in July of 1998. In his 2nd game, his first start, Polanco was installed as the leadoff hitter playing 2nd base in a game vs the Reds at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati. In the bottom of the first inning, Polanco lined a clean base hit to short rightfield off Reds’ lefty Brett Tomko for the first hit of his career.

Later in that 1998 season, in a game at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis vs the Florida Marlins, Polanco was given a start at shortstop by manager Tony LaRussa. With one-out in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Polanco drove a ball deep down the leftfield line against Rafael Medina for his first career homerun.

It was just a first taste of life in the Big Leagues for Polanco, who would split time from 1998-2000 between the Majors and AAA. Each year his time with the Cardinals increased, and finally by the end of August 2000 he was the regular starting 2nd baseman in Saint Louis as the Cards won the N.L. Central crown. He saw regular action that year during the team’s first post-season appearance in 13 years, a tough NLDS loss to Atlanta.

Over the course of that first full 2000 season, Polanco had been bounced around the infield from 2nd to short to 3rd. His versatility fully established, he was finally given a chance in 2001 to settle at a spot. He saw 103 games, 92 starts, at 2nd base that season, while also seeing a career-high 42 games at shortstop.

Saint Louis again reached the postseason, this time as a Wildcard, and again took the NLDS to a decisive game. But again, Polanco and the Cards fell short, losing in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to the Arizona Diamondbacks. A pattern of postseason frustration was being established that would see a World Series crown always just beyond Polanco’s grasp.

In 2002, Polanco was moved over to 3rd base by the Cardinals as the regular starter, seeing 131 games at the position. But then just before the non-waiver trade deadline, on July 29th, a stunner. Polanco was included in a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils were looking to move disgruntled 3rd baseman Scott Rolen, and found a match in Saint Louis.

Now beginning a new chapter of his career in Philadelphia, Polanco finished out the 2002 season with a Phils club that had come in 2nd place in the NL East, just 2 games back, during the 2001 season. The ’02 team struggled through a losing September to finish a disappointing 80-81. It would prove to be the team’s last losing season for a decade.

In 2003 the Phillies were closing Veteran’s Stadium, and wanted to open the new Citizens Bank Park on an upswing. The club brought in free agents Jim Thome, David Bell, and Dan Plesac to upgrade the overall roster. The team responded by battling into late September in a dogfight with Florida and Houston for the NL Wildcard spot. However, 6 straight losses in a season-closing 1-7 stretch dropped them out of playoff contention. They finished 10 games over .500, but finished 5 games behind the Florida Marlins.

Polanco was the regular 2nd baseman in both that final 2003 season at The Vet, and in the inaugural 2004 season at Citizens Bank Park. In ’04, the team again finished 10 games over .500, but they finished 10 behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown and 6 games behind Houston for the Wildcard. They were obviously close, but not quite a championship contender.

That fall of 2004, Polanco became a free agent for the first time. In the end, liking his place with the team and the direction in which they seemed headed, he chose to sign a 5-year deal with the Phillies. His future was secure financially, and it appeared that he had a pivotal role on a team that looked to be a consistent contender into the future on the field as well.

His on-field production was also improving as he moved into his prime years and gained more consistent playing time. In 2003 he hit .289 with 14 homers and 14 steals, had 30 doubles, and scored 87 runs. In 2004, at age 28, he upped his average to .298 and his homers to 17.

2005 would be a near-miss for the Phillies playoff fortunes. The club won a couple more games, finishing 14 over the .500 mark, but still fell 2 games short of the Braves in the division. Perhaps more excruciating, they missed the Wildcard by just a single game. Polanco, however, was not around for the near-miss. That contract he signed did not have full no-trade protection.

On June 8th of 2005, the Phillies dealt Polanco away in an effort to bolster their pitching staff for the 2nd half. He was sent off to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Ramon Martinez and Ugueth Urbina. The Phillies felt Polanco was expandable now that Chase Utley was ready to fully take over at 2nd base.

In the American League for the first time in his career, Polanco was also given a steady position for the first time. He would be the Tigers starting 2nd baseman for the next 4+ seasons. In the best portion of the prime of his career, from ages 29-33, Polanco hit a combined .311, and in 2006 he helped lead the Tigers to a Wildcard playoff berth.

In the 2006 playoffs, the Tigers would roll through the Yankees and A’s, winning 7 of 8 games to take the American League Pennant for the first time in 22 seasons. Polanco was integral. The Detroit 2nd baseman hit .413 in the ALDS vs the Yanks, and then .529 in the 4-game sweep of Oakland in the ALCS for which he was named the Most Valuable Player.

Moving on to the World Series for what would be the only time in his career, the Tigers were taking on his former team, the Saint Louis Cardinals. Polanco would also be squaring off with Rolen, the player for whom he was traded to Philly four years earlier. The two teams split the first two games in Detroit, and headed to St. Louis for the next 3 games.

The Tigers knew they needed to win just once in order to ensure at least a return trip to Detroit. It would never come. In Saint Louis, the Cardinals swept all three games to win the World Series. For his part, Polanco was almost non-existent. In his only Fall Classic he didn’t register a single hit, going 0-17 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Rolen was strong, hitting .421 with a homer and 5 runs scored in winning his lone career championship.

In 2007, Polanco would show that his previous postseason failures were not indicative of any erosion in his talent. At age 31, Polanco hit .341 with a .388 on-base percentage, he produced a career-high 67 rbi, scored 105 runs, reached 200 hits for the only time in his career, including a career-best 36 doubles. The result was his first-ever All-Star Game, as well as receiving the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards.

In both 2007 and in 2009, the Tigers would finish 2nd in the A.L. Central Division but were unable to secure a playoff spot. Polanco continued to be solid, hitting .307 for a losing Detroit team in 2008, and then winning his 2nd Gold Glove while driving in a knew career-high 72 runs in 2009.  Also in 2008, Polanco had become a naturalized U.S. citizen, taking his oath before a game right on the field at Comerica Park.

Following the 2009 season, the 5-year deal that he had originally signed with Philadelphia was now up, and he was again a free agent. The Tigers were ready to move on from their 2nd baseman, who would be turning 34-years old in 2010.

Meanwhile, back in Philly, the team had won the 2008 World Series and returned there in 2009. Their 3rd baseman, Pedro Feliz, was turning 35 years old in 2010 and had his contract expiring. Despite his not having played 3rd base since leaving Philly in 2005, the Phils approached Polanco about the possibility of moving back to the hot corner. Polanco jumped at a reunion.

Signing a 3-year deal to become the Phillies new 3rd baseman, the man who had become known as “Polly” set out to show that he could still produce at a high level. In his first season back in 2010, he played a strong 3rd base, and the Phillies reached the NLCS before losing in six games to San Francisco.

The following year of 2011, both the team and Polanco upped their games. The Phillies set a franchise record with 102 victories in rolling to their 5th consecutive National League East Division crown. Polanco made his 2nd All-Star team, his first in the National League, and would win the Gold Glove. In doing so, Placido Polanco became the first player to win a Gold Glove at two different positions.

With all of the 2011 success, the ending would prove disastrous for the team, and would signal the beginning of the end of Polanco’s time in Philly and his career as a whole. The Phils were edged out by his old Cardinals team in the NLDS thanks to a 1-0 loss in the decisive game. As in the 2006 World Series, Polanco again did not produce against them, going 2-19.

In 2012, Polanco and the Phillies suffered from injuries and began to fall apart. The team struggled to a .500 finish, missing the postseason for the first time since 2006. Polanco’s season would be ended by injury just as September began. But before it happened he had one more moment of glory. On May 14th he cracked a homerun off Houston Astros reliever David Carpenter for the 2,000th hit of this Major League career.

Granted free agency once again following that 2012 season, approaching age 37 and wanting to spend more time with his wife and two small children, Polanco considered retirement. He would only play if it could be near them, limiting him to the southeastern clubs. He signed eventually with the Miami Marlins, playing one final season as their 3rd baseman before finally retiring.

In a career that spanned parts of 16 seasons, Placido Polanco fashioned a .297 batting average in nearly 8,000 plate appearances spread across a little over 1,900 games. He appeared at 2nd base in more than 1,000 games and at 3rd in 751, as well as 122 at shortstop. He won the Gold Glove in both the AL and the NL, was an All-Star in both leagues, and had done both while with the Phillies.

Polly also proved to be very reliable. He finished with well over 500 plate appearances in every season for which he was given the opportunity during his prime years, 10 of the 11 seasons between ages 25-34. The lone exception was 2004 in Detroit when he barely missed at 495 thanks to a mid-August to mid-September injury.

A career near-.300 hitter who was a great defender. An All-Star caliber player who proved to be both versatile and dependable. A consummate professional who was well-liked and well-respected by both his peers and by fans. That is how Placido Polanco will be remembered by baseball fans in general, and Phillies fans in particular.