The “10 questions with…“ series here at The Bell is one in which I interview various individuals with some direct link to the Philadelphia Phillies or who have some other interesting baseball connection.
The interviews take place in a Q&A format where I ask each participant 10 questions (I cheat once in awhile with a multi-parter) involving their lives and career. I also delve into their history with the ball club and the game, and try to gain their insight on the current Phillies team.
Links to prior installments in the series can be found in the drop-down box at the “Phillies” section of our philliesbell.com website toolbar.
Our next interviewee comes from the world of Hollywood, actress Ellen Adair. You’ve likely enjoyed her featured work in hit TV series such as “Homeland“, “Veep“, “Chicago Fire“, and “Billions” among numerous other television, film, and stage roles.
About as big a Phillies fan as you are likely to find, Ellen was born in Philly and became a Phillies fan at a very young age. Though she moved away and grew up in the Midwest, she still has family in town and has remained loyal to the team for her entire life, referring to them as her “life partner” where sports are concerned.
10 Questions: ELLEN ADAIR
1. Many of our readers know you as an actress who is also a baseball fan, but probably not much more. Your bio says that you were “born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but also grew up partly in Indiana.” Can you expound a little on that split of time, or move? With parents who traveled, was the home base Philly at one time?
EA: First of all, you are so kind to ask me these questions. I really feel like I am going to become significantly less interesting to people when they learn any more facts about my biography…Phillies fans, specifically.
I worry that I am going to be like that universal phenomenon of seeing a maybe exceptionally attractive person coming towards you on the sidewalk, and thinking, hey, there’s an attractive person. And then, by the time you’re a few paces away from them, you’re like, Oh god no, they’re not actually exceptionally attractive, or maybe even attractive at all. Maybe that’s just me, because I am a little nearsighted.
So, I left Philadelphia in early elementary school; I was pretty young. I guess that’s a good thing, because I was young enough to get maximum appreciation of having a yard to run around in. In Philly, we’d had a little brick courtyard that we shared with our neighbor. As an adult, living in New York now, a brick courtyard of my own would make me think, Sweet.
My dad lives in Indiana, still, but my mom is in Philly – one of my sisters is there, too, and my awesome nephew – so both places are really home for me, even though many of my formative childhood and teenage years were in the Midwest. But it’s true that this severely cuts down my Philly “cred”, if I were not already obviously the least cool person ever technically born in the city.
The Phillies always remained my team, and to a certain extent, my family’s team, even in the Midwest. Indiana’s lack of a major league team might be a factor there. We’re all still Phillies fans, wherever we are. My brother lives in Florida, and he’s as big a Phillies fan as they come.
When I was a kid we would go on road trips to Cincinnati to see the Phillies because we had friends there, making it an easier trip than Chicago. Although, I also remember going to a game at the newer Comiskey Park once, falling in love with Frank Thomas, and getting a poster of him because: Frank Thomas. And we’d go to see Indianapolis Indians (Triple-A) games, too.
I do think the main factor in my pan-baseball-fandom is that my parents just love the game of baseball, so I also love the game of baseball. But it was hard, in those days, to follow the ins and outs of the Phillies season, not being local and not having television. But whatever baseball game was on the radio, my dad would put it on.
2. You wrote in that bio that your first love was either Charles Barkley of the Sixers or Von Hayes of the Phillies. What can you tell us about that love of Hayes? How old were you when that crush developed, and did you get to Veteran’s Stadium very often?
EA: So, here I am, getting closer, getting less attractive. As you might guess from my answer to question one: I was young. I could not have been older than four, I might have been three. I just knew who I liked. I probably had some reason for preferring Hayes, but a) I have an epically bad memory – I have my theories on why but won’t bore you on them, and b) I was at an age where even people with pretty good memories don’t remember everything.
But I do remember going to the Vet often enough that it was a treat, but not a single memory seared into my brain. To my memory, we went to Sixers games a lot, too; I was a lucky little kid. I feel like I remember seeing Hayes hit a homer or two and losing my mind, but I also feel like I could have constructed that memory.
I had a big weird pin with his face on it, and my mom had sewn his uniform number “9” on the back of a child Phillies shirt. You couldn’t get player-specific child jerseys in those days. My mom just sent me a Cliff Lee replaceable coffee-filter mask that she made for me. So, really, it’s a lifetime I have of my mom’s Phillies-related crafts of love. I am still a lucky little kid.
3. How about your personal life today – married? Kids? If not, any interest in either? Also, any memories that stand out from your softball playing days that you can share, such as where you played and any actual game memories?
EA: I am married to a wonderful, wonderful human being, named Eric. He is a vastly better human being than I am, which is great: I get the better deal. He is also an actor, and also likes baseball, although his baseball fandom has increased in scope being forced to be around me all the time.
Here’s what I can say about my unhealthy love of baseball: it is contagious, so wear your Cliff Lee face masks – although, if you have a Cliff Lee face mask, it may already be too late. I do think that, on my death bed, I will look back upon my life and reflect that one of my best choices, or luckiest moments, was getting my husband to play fantasy baseball with me; it has made him far more knowledgeable about all the players in the game.
And now, we’ve just started a podcast together! It’s called “Take Me In to the Ballgame.” We were watching baseball movies, trying to get a bit of a baseball fix in this world without sports, and it was Eric’s idea to record a podcast afterwards, talking about the movie. I suggested we grade the movies on the 20-80 baseball scouting scale, rating the number of different “tools” that the movies have. So, that’s what we do. We are just stupid actors, but we have fun.
We have fun, in general. We have no immediate plans to have kids, but we do have a wee dog named Mabel whom we love very much, who also appears on the podcast sometimes. Mabel has also voiced her opinion during my appearances on other podcasts such as CBS’ “Fantasy Baseball Today“, Rotographs’ “The Sleeper and the Bust“, and the Athletic’s “Poscast“, so, she has a lot of experience. Mabel has a lot to say about how there might be someone in the stairwell.
Here’s another thing I will say about Eric: he was a very good baseball player as a young boy. By reports, of course; I did not know him until 2009. I say this to segue to the next part of your question, because I really promise you that the closer fans walk to me, the less attractive I’m going to look (and the better Eric will look): because unlike Eric, I was not an excellent softball player. I was passable. I was better than Scotty Smalls at the beginning of “The Sandlot,” but maybe not better than him by the end.
I was a catcher, which is a good position for a young person with more enthusiasm for the game than outright aptitude. Or at least, I think that’s why they put me there – I was not out there, at age ten, calling the game. Eric, by contrast, was a shortstop: enthusiasm and aptitude. Not me. I was always a dancer, so I understood form and athletic effort, but I am not blessed with great hand-eye coordination. Whatever coordination I had from dance, it didn’t necessarily help me hit the ball.
Hits were rare birds, but in my memory, I really think I had an OBP of like .450 because it was pretty easy to be selective about your pitches at that age. Whether that was because I had a “good eye,” though, is up for debate. I didn’t yet know that I was nearsighted, to bring this all back around to my opening metaphor. The day when I discovered that there were individual leaves in the trees had not yet come. Ah, that was a good day.
Anyway, I believe the team I was on was called “Dr. Sturgeon,” so named for the doctor who donated the funds for our uniforms. If we had some other fun team nickname, I’ve forgotten it – seriously, my memory is really bad. I think we were just the Doctor Sturgeons.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I really don’t have specific game memories, except for one, which isn’t even my memory: it’s my friend Lynn’s. She told me about it last fall, so that’s why I remember. She was playing first base, I think, and she remembered a girl on the opposing team standing on the bag and telling the first base coach, “The catcher just told me, ‘Dear, your mascara’s running.’”
When Lynn told me that, I did vaguely recall that I had decided that while I was playing catcher, chatting up the batter was one of the jobs at which I could, hypothetically, excel. I have no memory of saying that to somebody, though. God bless Lynn for being able to remember things, or this, too, would be lost to the sands of time. But I once told another eight-to-eleven-year-old girl, “Dear, your mascara’s running” as she stood in at the plate.
4. Looking over your career at IMDb, I saw that you had an early role in 2006 for an episode of “Brotherhood“, which was one of my favorite shows and which I always felt was cancelled way too soon. Any memories of landing that role, and had you done any prior TV or film work?
EA: Oh my goodness, yes! This is ostensibly adulthood, so I do have a memory or twelve. That was my second TV job, right out of college. I think it was only about a month before that, I had shot a PBS documentary about John James Audubon, playing his wife, Lucy. I had also shot a non-paying, non-union feature film in Philadelphia that was never finished – story of a young actor’s life – the summer after I graduated, but that was about it.
Up until that point, I was a theatre actor. In fact, booking that job on “Brotherhood” was problematic because I was also in a non-union production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the time. I remember calling my friend Joy after I got out of the “Brotherhood” callback, and essentially asking her, “If I got this part, could you fill in for me in ‘Midsummer’?” She was a fantastic actor, and she knew the role I was playing.
This didn’t lessen how angry the people in the theater company were, which was justifiable. But I had to take the role in “Brotherhood.” I’m not ruthless, but I’m not dumb. Union theater have provisos that you’re allowed to take “more remunerative” work – usually TV/Film – so this kind of thing happens. For example, when I booked my part on “Homeland,” I was doing a play Off-Broadway at the time. The director of that show was a saint about it, though. Better than I deserved. I adore him. He’s one of my favorites.
In truth, I have many memories from “Brotherhood”, since shooting that episode was really a life-changing experience for me for a few reasons. I was on set for a couple of weeks, which is really an incredible gift, even now. If you’re only on set for a single day, you can’t get your bearings in the same way. It was all so new to me, since it was a much larger set and crew than had been on the PBS film. I was still figuring out what it even meant to do on-camera acting, which, I think, shows in my performance. But I also remember having an epiphany: oh, this.
I grew up without a television, it had always been about theater for me. But I loved working on camera. I loved the immediacy of it, and the scale of it, and the realness of it. I loved that another ‘take’ gave me a chance to do something different, rather than to try to recreate something.
I had a scene with Annabeth Gish, and she was lovely. But it’s funny, the only memories I have are of her work in the scene: watching her, watching what she was doing while I was acting with her. I remember Eddie Bianchi giving me a note like, “She has the answers, she’s the one who can help you,” and thinking, It’s true. God bless Eddie Bianchi. That’s a note that’s like ‘on-camera acting 101’, which I needed, since I hadn’t studied with the likes of Bob Krakower, yet. Bob would have said something similar, I’m guessing, on set with a child (not legally) such as myself.
Here are some other “Brotherhood” memories: Jason Clarke was the nicest. The episode takes place at my wedding, so I had to wear this wedding dress for all two weeks of shooting, and the wardrobe people were very concerned about my dress getting dirty. When you wear a wedding dress for a day, it’s too bad if your train gets scuffed or you spill food on yourself, but at least it’s not a continuity issue.
I was told that I had to stay in my trailer and not walk around and talk to people and go to crafty, all the things that actors are driving the crew crazy by doing on set. But I kept the door open to my trailer, just so I could see people go by. And Jason Clarke walked by. He asked me what I was doing, and I explained to him about keeping my dress clean. He said something to the effect of, “that’s ridiculous, can I get you anything?” And I said, “A Diet Coke?” And he brought me a Diet Coke. He was the star of the show and he didn’t have someone bring it to me, he brought it to me himself.
Then at lunch, I had to go back to my trailer to change out of the dress before I could eat, which is wise, because I will spill food on myself, I’m the first to admit. I came back and got in line, and Jason gently and kindly complained to somebody that if I did that, I would end up eating with the extras.
I had no experience with the weird feudal kingdom that is a huge TV set; I wasn’t offended that I was eating with the extras. But from then on, all I had to do was put my coat on over my wedding dress so that I could eat when I was “supposed” to eat. The feudal kingdom is still kind of weird to me, all these years later. But I understand that order is important for a machine with that many moving parts. Anyway, Jason didn’t need to do either of those things, but he did.
I was so young, but it taught me so much, mostly in retrospect, about what your responsibilities are to the well-being of the whole feudal kingdom if you’re at the top of the call sheet. There are other stars that I’ve worked with who are also invested in the well-being of everybody on set: they’re looking out for everybody, they’re making sure everyone’s okay, they’re helping to set the tone for everybody’s work environment.
I think Edie Falco and Scott Bakula are exemplars of this: in my experience of them, they are saints. I wasn’t on set with Bill Pullman a ton in “The Sinner”, but when I was, he also seemed like that kind of guy. There was controversy on “Bull,” but I worked there last fall, and left with a lot of admiration for how easy and welcoming Michael Weatherly is on set, and with the crew, and how much that did for making it a fun working environment. It’s really how the lead takes on the mantle of taking care of the whole set that can be a cut above, in my experience.
I know you already have a 5,000 word essay on my experience on “Brotherhood,” but I also remember Tina Benko being so nice. And I remember telling Fionnula Flanagan that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, because she was. She is breathtakingly beautiful. She said something like “Oh, bless you,” but mostly I just remember feeling bashful.
Oh, and I remember going into meal penalties and being like, We get paid not to eat? This is amazing! Before that shoot, I had been really scraping it together with like $50-per-week food budgets, with non-union theater and also working in a box office, so “Brotherhood” changed my life in that I made enough working on the show that I put it in savings and said, Now I don’t have to worry about not having enough money to buy fresh produce. I had lost my watch and went out and bought a $20 watch, which seemed very fancy to me. Just the week before, I wouldn’t have had the disposable $20 with which to do that.
5. I really enjoyed your “Complex flow-chart of baseball allegiances” (readers should take the time to explore it at that link.) The Phillies and Red Sox, apparently your other favorite team, face one another in the World Series. Are you torn?
EA: Oh, no. Absolutely not. I mean, first of all, the construction of the flow-chart is precisely what enables one to not be torn while always being invested in any given match-up. But also, there is a huge gap between the Phillies, who are my life partner – funny story about that phrase that I will tell here in a minute – and any other team.
So, two things. My allegiance to the Red Sox came at a time when I lived in Boston. I couldn’t get the Phillies broadcasts; these were the bad old days before MLB audio and MLB.TV came along. It was easy to follow the Sox, and harder to follow all the ins-and-outs of a Phillies season, and I felt little conflict since they’re in separate leagues.
But also: my appropriation of Sox fandom came when their last World Series win had come in 1918. Now, I have fully and joyously participated in their winning four championships in this century, and I’m not about to dump them just because they’re no longer inevitable, tragic losers. I absolutely love the Sox. But by the underdog principle outlined in my flow chart article, it does mean I’m not vociferously backing their need to win every single year.
But to be clear, because the Phillies are my life partner, I would vociferously back them if they were to win the World Series every year for the rest of my life. The underdog principle does not apply to the Phillies. At the same time, the flow-chart is, let’s be honest, particularly helpful in the years when your life-partner team is towards the bottom of the league. It’s nice to get joy somewhere. But there’s a gap between the joy that I receive from the Phillies doing well and the joy I receive from any other team doing well.
Now, for the ‘life partner’ story. Readers may have mixed opinions about the man in the story I am about to share, and ‘mixed’ may be the most charitable word I can use. But I met Gabe Kapler last August at Fenway Park, and I have to say, he was exceptionally friendly and kind. I felt like he was really listening to me blather, not just having a pro-forma conversation with a fan.
I’d been invited to speak at the BoSox Club Luncheon, and got the most fabulous tour of Fenway Park from the delightful, delightful Gordon Edes, the Red Sox historian, and he introduced Gabe and I.
Gordon had just heard me give a speech on the complex flow-chart, so, Edes prompted me to tell Kapler what I call the Phillies. “My life partner,” I said. And Gabe, quick-thinking, turned to my husband and said, “How do you feel about that?” My husband, who I mentioned is the best person in the world, said “Oh, I’m okay with it.” And I added, “He knows he can’t satisfy me in the ways that a baseball team can.” Kapler laughed very hard, almost like he was trying not to. And he said, “Sorry, you probably didn’t mean for it to sound like you did.” And I said, “Oh, no, that’s exactly the joke I meant to make.” I am all about making jokes at my own expense, obviously. But Kapler got plus points as a human being, for me, being game for the joke.
And yes, for the record, at that game where the Phillies played the Sox at Fenway, I sat in the very fancy owner’s seats in my Phillies gear with my sign for Aaron Nola. The only anxiety I felt was about whether those Sox hitters would get to him.
6. You wrote twice (that I saw) at The Turf on the Phillies pursuit of Bryce Harper in free agency. In your own unique metaphorical style, can you describe how you felt when the news broke that he actually agreed to the deal?
EA: Oh no, I have a unique metaphorical style? I don’t know if this is a good thing. I’m assuming this is maybe referencing the time I said seeing Aaron Nola get a hit is like having a unicorn prance into a forest clearing where you’re having a picnic of like, camembert and apricot jam and a crisp chenin blanc. Or maybe because I started with that metaphor about nearsightedness?
Okay, so, the Bryce Harper signing. I remember, things had gotten very dark by that time, though it feels so quaint now, for any number of reasons. But I will paint a picture, having a vague memory of a metaphor I used at the time. But I will really flesh it out for you.
Imagine you live in a small, single room in a tenement-style boarding house. You have only a mattress on the floor with a blanket: no sheets. The curtain is a rag that’s tacked up over the window, tattered on the diagonal. Whether you are a man or a woman or identify as neither, you have not had your hair cut in a very long time – something we all can visualize at this point. Your hotplate broke, so you are eating cold beans directly out of the can.
And then, there’s a knock on the door. You open up the door and shout, “I don’t believe anything that Jon Heyman tweets anymore!,” expecting to find your surly landlord.
Instead, it’s a guy from Publisher’s Clearing House. You didn’t even know they still existed, had not entered their contest, and were never sure if it was a scam. And he is holding one of those large cardboard checks. But the money line just says “Bryce Harper.”
The guy says, “You’ve just won one Bryce Harper per week – forever!!” And you drop your can of beans, and you are not sorry. You have Bryce Harper now. And you say, “That’s amazing,” as you try to smooth your hair and maybe bunch it into a ponytail. And you say, “How long is forever?” And the man says “Let’s just say forever and leave it at that.”
You pull on your shoes – you’re tramping on the heels, but you don’t mind, those shoes are falling apart anyway. You take the large, unwieldy check and follow the man out into the sunlight, leaving everything in your dim, dirty room behind. You buy yourself a whole pizza and eat it right out of the box as you walk down the street, on your way to get a nice new spring coat and new boots. Because you have Bryce Harper now. Forever.
Two provisos to this metaphor, which I hope is unique if it is nothing else:
- I actually personally love J.T. Realmuto more than Bryce Harper, and was also stoked about getting Andrew McCutchen, so this despair does not encapsulate my feeling about the Phillies entire off-season so much as the despair I had of them not getting Bryce Harper, in particular.
- Jon Heyman is an eminently-believable and sound journalist and a nice man.
7. Do you actually get out to ballparks very often? Assuming you went to The Vet, any special memories from there? When was your last trip to Citizens Bank Park?
EA: I talked a bit about my memories, or lack thereof, of the Vet. But I absolutely do get out to ballparks often now that I can afford it. (“Brotherhood” or no, there have been a lot of periods in my career when I didn’t have much disposable income.) My goal for the last few years has been to go to at least as many games as the current year, so 19 games for 2019. I can’t remember when the first year was that I set this goal. It could have been 13 games in 2013? Exceeding the goal is fine; last year I went to 21 games. I like to try to go to at least one new stadium every year, even if it’s a minor league stadium.
Examination of my own Instagram feed confirms that my last game at Citizens Bank Park was on my mom’s birthday, August 28, 2019, although the last day I saw the Phillies was September 7th, 2019 at Citi Field. My mom’s birthday was also one of the best days of my life, because we got to meet Aaron Nola. I will tell you how.
For my mom’s birthday, we had kindly been hooked up with field access to watch batting practice (BP), but there was no BP that day. We just stood on the field because it was the first time any of us had gotten a chance to do so. And then Aaron Nola came up into the dugout, and I nearly expired. I had my husband take a picture of me with teeny tiny Aaron Nola in the background, because I thought this would be the closest I would ever get to Aaron Nola in my life. I remember Bryce Harper also hopped into the dugout at one point, “like a beautiful woodland creature,” was the phrase that my husband used to describe it. So, we’re cut from the same unique metaphorical cloth. But I didn’t particularly care, because Aaron NOLA!
And then he sauntered out of the dugout. And came to talk. To us. I did not say any of the things to him that I wish I would have said like, “Hey, You’re my favorite baseball player”, which would have been an obvious thing to say – I did not even say that. I was mortified that I did not have my “Aaron Nola should have a superhero named after him” sign or any of my Nola gear on, because he was not pitching that day. He was very nice, despite the fact that I was, clearly, an idiot. And I am so happy in the pictures that were taken of this occasion that it is actively ugly. But it was one of the best days of my life. He didn’t have to walk over to us. But he did. What a dreamboat.
8. What was your opinion on Gabe Kapler, the Phillies moving on from him, and the signing of Joe Girardi, who is best known as a, gulp, Yankee? Does his now being the Phillies skipper blot-out and override that pinstripe time for you?
EA: Well, I did write a few articles about each of these occurrences on The Turf, so I will spare you the 5,000 word essays. But the Cliff Lee’s notes here (I should be fired from this interview, I couldn’t resist) is that Kapler clearly made some mistakes – I think none moreso than his handling of the assault at the spring training hotel when he was with the Dodgers – but I didn’t dislike him.
And to be clear, this is even before I had met him and found him to be such a pleasant person. He was the kind of manager I actually wanted for the Phillies, at the time: young, analytically-driven, positive. But people developed a lot of knee-jerk reasons why they hated him that didn’t have anything to do with the Dodgers case, which wasn’t common knowledge when he was hired by the Phillies. So, I do think his firing was partially scapegoating. But I wasn’t exactly sorry he was fired, either. In my article, I basically said that, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I was all for testing the variables as to why the Phillies had underperformed. But I truly do wish him well.
As for Girardi, he was my choice of the options that the Phillies were considering, because I hoped he would be a marriage of analytics – he had binders before they were cool – and more old-school baseball thinking. I’m a huge fan of advanced metrics, but the game is played by humans. The human factors have to be taken into consideration, too. The best managers clearly synthesize all of this information.
As for him being a former Yankee, I’m of the belief that anyone can repent and be saved. All it takes is being on another team. Granted, I think some are more easily cleansed than others. I’m trying to imagine not hating Brett Gardner, and it’s hard. But yes, I believe any Yankee is ultimately redeemable. I’m very glad to have Didi Gregorius too. God willing, we see him play with the Phillies at all, of course, on his one-year deal.
9. Name a handful of your all-time favorite non-Von Hayes players from the last few Phillies decades, and share any special reasons.
EA: My other early favorite was Darren Daulton. I feel like I could just end it there and everyone would understand. I will say, I was not cool enough to love Dutch before 1992. But that was also the time that I needed a new favorite, since I had lost Hayes. I was a little older, this was around when I started playing softball, I think, so I had this appreciation of who a catcher was to a team that is honestly probably formed by Dutch.
Is there anything more lovable than a catcher? I would contend that there is not, which is why I have a whole category about this in our baseball movie podcast. When your lovable team-leader is also an offensive contributor, as Daulton was in 91-92, well: there was nothing dreamier. Plus, boy howdy do I love gunning down a runner, and Dutch could do it.
As I mentioned, we didn’t have a TV, but I remember going over to a neighbor’s house to watch games in the 1993 postseason. Seeing Dutch on TV did nothing to dissuade me from my love. As a grown-up person, I actually also love about him all of his weird obsessions with metaphysics. I mean, my favorite dead person is W.B. Yeats and I have read “A Vision,” which may not mean anything to your average reader, but suffice to say: I find that kind of stuff very interesting, even if I don’t take it literally.
I guess my next sequential personal favorite was Jimmy Rollins. But herein also passed time living away from Philadelphia, and I was also busy being a young person and wasn’t following baseball as closely as I do now that I am an old. I guess you could insert the earlier mentioned affection for Frank Thomas in that time period.
Love of J-Roll was concurrent with my love of Jason Varitek, because when your lovable team-leader is also an offensive contributor, well: there is nothing dreamier. I remember appreciating so much that Jimmy said he would trade his hitting streak for the team making the playoffs. And his defense. Oh, boy, Rollins’ defense. We were so spoiled. It was beautiful. His defense was an Italian Renaissance painting. It was a gigantic fresco. It was Sistine-Chapel-level defense.
In 2007, I also fell in love with Cole Hamels, because how could you not. Anybody who wants to point out that none of these men are unattractive would have a very solid case to make; guilty as charged. But Hamels was also an All-Star that year, so it’s not like I didn’t have multiple reasons. That changeup. Yow. It’s still such a good pitch.
And in 2008, he was just the ultimate hero. No thinking, feeling person who was not rooting for an opposing team could watch the 2008 postseason and not fall in love with Cole Hamels. My mom was at both parts of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series; I was doing a play down in DC at the time. But my mom wore to that game the gigantic Phillies Starter jacket that my brother got for me in like 1992. So, every time I wear it to walk my dog, I feel like I am taking that ’08 Series with me.
And then in 2009 I just absolutely fell head-over-heels for Cliff Lee. It eclipsed my love for Cole Hamels, not that I disavowed Hamels, by any means. But Cliff. Lee. As a Phillie, Lee came out of the gate like an archangel with a five-pitch mix. Okay, I’m mixing my metaphors and I’m not including the slider, but basically, he was glorious.
His first game as a Phillie was a complete game, and he just dominated the whole rest of the season. His three-pitch strikeouts were like magic acts. The fact that he was the only Phillies pitcher who could subdue the evil Yankees in the ’09 Series made me sad, but made me love him the more.
I had just moved to New York, still didn’t have a TV, and so I had to watch those games surrounded by jeering Yankees fans, and Cliff Lee and his basket catch were the only things that stood between me and despair. His K:BB ratio that postseason should be on a sampler.
The day that the Phillies re-signed him was the other best day of my life, besides when I met Aaron Nola. If you’ve seen my Bryce Harper piece, you know this, but I still have the New York Daily News from the day that Lee chose the Phils on my refrigerator. It has been transferred from three successive refrigerators with care. There is no greater story of good triumphing over evil. I will love him until the day I die.
And now there’s Aaron Nola, though I have deep, deep love for J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins too. The do-si-do of Nola coming up and losing Cole Hamels, who had been my last remaining Phillies baseball boyfriend at the time, is perfect in retrospect. Nola was so, so good that year, in a season that had few bright spots. I just loved him immediately. I thought, “This is my guy,” though he was so good this is hardly a hot take. The first time I ever saw him pitch in person would have been my mom’s birthday game that year! I was beside myself with excitement and all my mom’s friends were like, “Is this pitcher your new boyfriend?” and I was like, “YES!”
Also, shout-out to Jeff Francoeur, who played for the Phillies that same year. He was the other thing that made them watchable. What a delightful human being. I was upset they didn’t re-sign him, even just for l’esprit de corps, though he was also a good contributor with his bat that year, if I recall.
10. I have a million questions, but I’ll wrap by asking you about the current Phillies team. Assuming we get an obviously unusual 2020 season in at some point, how do you see them faring? What do you feel are the strengths, weaknesses, and needs if they want to contend?
EA: Well, if we’re lucky enough to see baseball this year in some form – which I’m optimistic that we will – then the shortened season could really end up being an advantage for teams like the Phillies, if things break right for them. They’ve proved that they can hold first place for a certain amount of time in the past two seasons, they just can’t hang on to it. Almost any team that’s in the middle of the pack in terms of their projections could end up benefiting from the season being shorter – a smaller sample size. Obviously, it won’t have the volatility of a football season, but it could be more like a basketball season.
It’s also hard to know how they’ll fare if we don’t know what their division might look like – they could be battling the Yankees and the Rays, for all we know, which is tough competition. Although in the newest proposed plan, the Braves would be part of the Central Divison, which would at least be something, because I Do Not Love the Braves.
I think even before Covid-19 changed everything on the planet, the Phillies this year were a little bit of a mystery box. I think – if I can cast my mind back that far – that I referred to them as Schrodinger’s Phillies, both winners and losers inside the box.
It seems to me that Klentak decided to gamble on what a new coaching staff would do for the club – or maybe he had to, if his mandate was not exceeding the luxury tax. And on the one hand, you can see the logic there, because of course the 2019 Phillies underperformed, as a whole, versus the expectation of their amassed talent. No single player really over-performed their projections, though there were plenty who were exactly as good as could be reasonably expected.
So what if Aaron Nola gives another 2018 performance? What if Zack Wheeler sustains his periods of ace-level performance? What if Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta and/or Vince Velasquez develop some real stability? Or what if maybe Ranger Suarez steps up and is awesome? Could Spencer Howard dominate? What if Jake Arrieta actually is healthy?
What if Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto are even better and give us the kind of production we’ve seen pre-2019? What if Rhys Hoskins successfully rebuilds his swing? What if having a healthy Andrew McCutchen really helps this team coalesce, the way it seemed to in early 2019? What if Scott Kingery takes off offensively when he’s playing a single position? What if Didi Gregorius just needed a little more time after TJ and he’s 2018 Didi again?
Hey, what if Jean Segura bounces back? Could Adam Haseley take a step forward? Could we see Roman Quinn play three games without injuring himself? Will Jay Bruce continue to save us at the most improbable times? What about that bamboo? Could it help? And the largest question of all, could the lottery cards that Klentak collected to scratch off for the bullpen turn into big winners, or even just something worth redeeming at a gas station?
Obviously, statistically, the answer to all of these questions can’t be ‘yes,’ although, to be clear, I am always rooting so hard for the answer to be yes for every single guy, even if simultaneously seeing those question marks. And I get that every team always has questions, but it feels like there are questions around essentially every aspect of this Phillies team, even as I love them with my whole heart.
So, I can see why a totally hypothetical GM would think, ‘Let’s see how some of these things break.’ The fact that I see the logic doesn’t prevent me from being cranky, though, about the luxury tax barrier when they Phillies are in the thick of their window if they’re really trying to contend.
I really think they should have gotten another starting pitcher. Not looking for a big ticket item; it could have been someone in the Jordan Lyles or Alex Wood range, or a gamble on Taijuan Walker, or even, like, Michael Wacha, who yes, maybe I thought of them in a row because their last names sound similar, but my point remains the same.
This would have enabled Pivetta and Velasquez, and Suarez, too, I guess, to know their roles at the start of the season. It would make them, potentially more effective as relievers in a bullpen that’s looking like the unknowniest of the unknowns. I think that’s the charitable description; it’s scary. The bullpen is scary.
I think it’s pretty obvious to all Phillies fans, even to my dog, that the main weakness is the pitching staff – unless, of course, many of them are able to find new levels with (new pitching coach) Bryan Price. But if the answer to a lot of the questions are ‘yes’, but they’re still just a little short, it’s going to be frustrating. Just because they may decide to go out and spend a little more in the next off-season, God willing, it won’t mean the answers to the questions will be ‘yes’ again next year; we all know that’s how baseball works.
And speaking of spending money, I have anxiety – as much as anyone can have anxiety about baseball at this particular moment in history – about Realmuto’s contract. I started a campaign on Twitter in December of 2017 to #saveJT from the carcass of the Marlins – he was already one of my favorite players at that point. I wasn’t even angling for it to be the Phillies who saved him, I was up for basically anybody besides the Yankees or the Braves. But then! When it ended up taking us all by surprise! I think that I hyperventilated for the entire day when he was traded to the Phillies. But clearly, since my viral (it wasn’t viral; it was just me) campaign worked so well, I feel the need to speak out where I can.
My nightmare scenario could go a couple of ways, both ending with them not signing Realmuto to a contract extension. Should there be no season (again, I am optimistic that there will be) and the freeze on conversations continues, he might go straight into free agency. I worry that the Phillies will then cry poor because of lost revenue from 2020 and not offer him enough money. But I am also afraid that if there is a season, the organization will cry poor because of lost revenue and not offer him enough money in the contract extension, and they won’t get to a deal.
I so desperately wish they had already come to an agreement, although, as I understand it, they hadn’t because then it would have counted as part of his AAV for this year, the year they were trying to play limbo with the luxury tax line. Still, when there was a freeze on negotiations, I thought, ‘Does this imply they could have ended this nightmare earlier?!’
I get that everyone’s prognostications following the arbitration battle was essentially, ‘Oh, both sides are fine with this, they’re just going through the motions,’ but JT seemed a little subdued about it afterwards and I just thought ‘Why didn’t you give him the extra couple mil!’ Like, one for his Golden Glove and one for his Silver Slugger? Doesn’t that seem fair? And now he would be happy J.T. Realmuto in quarantine, feeling loved and appreciated. Because he is a superman. In high school, he was the star shortstop, star quarterback, and he had a 4.0 GPA. He has been sent from a superior race living on another planet and now he’s our catcher! For the sake of all that is holy, don’t let him go!
End of scene.