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Does Phillies third NL East Title make this the franchise's golden era?


Wow, what a difference three days makes.  Jayson Werth is ready to party

As recently as Monday, many local citizens (including yours truly) fretted slightly about the possibility that our Philadelphia Phillies would somehow surrender their grasp on their soon-to-be third consecutive National League East Division Title. Why is this? For the first time since Michael Jackson tore up "Motown 25," we are champions in this town!  We're not the one's standing in the corner at the dance wishing we were with the prom queen. Now, we date the prom queen, and anyone else we want.

I'll offer a quick explanation: it's Philadelphia, that's why. Frankly, it's going to take a few more titles around here to completely turn around this mindset. To expect the worst from our teams is something instilled in us at birth. If that feeling of doubt (albeit a tiny one) didn't creep into the back of your minds over the last week regarding the Phils, you are either extremely rational, or you haven't spent that much time following your local sports teams over the last decade or two. Don't get me wrong, if the Phils lost the last two nights and the Atlanta Braves emerged victorious, we're not having this conversation right now. But all is well for the time being in Philly. Crunch time separates the true winners from the also rans. The Phillies are true winners. And after last night's 10-3 win over the Astros, they are back-to-back-to-back NL East Champs!

Call me a joker, call me a fool, but the the Fightins latest triumph of the last several years has me thinking.

Right now, as we speak, we are watching THE second greatest era of Philadelphia Phillies baseball in its long, frustrating, embarrassing and oftenJimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth show off their championship rings tragic history. When I have kids of my own, I will tell them the legendary stories of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Just like my dad told me about Bob Boone dropping Frank White's pop-up, only to have Pete Rose grab it. How we fought like HELL to beat the Astros in the greatest NLCS EVER played. You get my drift. Now I do say second greatest era because you have to give the nod to the 1976-83 "powder blue away uniformers" for their number of post season appearances (6) and World Series appearances (2). The 2007-2009 Phillies now join the 1976-1978 Phillies as the ONLY two sets of Phillies teams in history to bring home three consecutive division titles. If you track the success of the current team and compare it with the progression of the 70's and 80's teams, this era is ahead of schedule. Let's compare the success of the six division winners.

Phillies FeverAfter their first division crown in 1976, the Phillies were promptly swept in three games by the Reds. Ditto for the 2007 Phils, who dropped three straight to the Rockies. 

After their second division title, the 2008 Phils had a parade down Broad Street. The 1977 Phillies suffered the single worst loss in the history of the franchise during that post season, and went home after four games. The fate of the '09 Phillies is yet to be determined. But if you're keeping score at home, this era has at least one world championship in their first two post season tries. The 1970's squad had none after three attempts. Despite their differences in post season success, the two eras share some interesting similarities.

While the Phils teams of that era had no problem advancing to the post season, just getting there WAS the problem for the current squad- narrowly missing the playoffs in 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2006 with often heartbreaking endings. When these Phils finally made the playoffs after four near misses, a championship was won. When the 1980 Phillies at long last advanced to the World Series after years of blown calls and dropped fly balls, they beat the Royals in six games. Then there's the whole '80 and '08 thing.  I know it's a stretch, but it's kinda cool if you think about it.

Other interesting notes: Both eras were built from the ground up (ie- their farm team). A left fielder (Greg Luzinski, Pat Burrell) and a young shortstop (Larry Bowa, Jimmy Rollins) are the first pieces of the puzzle to arrive. There's the crafty,ageless,well-traveled lefty (Jim Kaat, Jamie Moyer) whose presence on the team means more than individual numbers on the back of a baseball card. Both eras signed (at the time), blockbuster free agents for record setting money (Rose, Jim Thome). And perhaps most importantly, a veteran who knows how to win (Dave Cash, Aaron Rowand) teaches the team how to win, and then departs soon after serving his purpose. Neither were there when victory finally comes, but they helped their teammates believe in themselves along the way.

Then there's Charlie Manuel. Think of him as a Danny Ozark who won a World Series. In his five seasons at the helm. Manuel has cemented his This is for Philadelphia!status as one of the greatest Phillies managers ever. He is just the second manager in Phillies history to win a championship, and he now joins the late Ozark as one of only two Phillies skippers to lead his team to three straight NL East titles. The love and respect his players have for him is undeniable, his use of Brad Lidge in last night's clincher was about the classiest and tasteful move I have ever seen a manager make. And finally, the goosebumps I get whenever I hear "This is for Philadelphia!," will stay with me until the day I leave this planet.

To be honest, nobody really knows what the road holds for the 2009 Phillies and beyond. Their prospects in their minor league system suggests that this team has every reason to make a run for years to come. Although their decimated bullpen suggests a possible short playoff run this fall, keep in mind that the one thing you can never do with this Phillies team is to count them out. When they need a win is when they play their best baseball.

So savor the fun times with this team. What you saw last night previously only happened once in team history. The good old days won't last forever, and it doesn't happen too often.





Jayson Werth photo: Joe Vallee Sr: josephv985@aol.com