2013 In Review: Top 5 Disappointments in Philadelphia Sports

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2. The end of the Road for Charlie Manuel

For all of the coaching changes that occurred during 2013, this one hurt the most. Not because it was unexpected, but due to the manner of it all. For a generation of Philadelphia sports fans, myself included, Charlie Manuel was the only champion we knew. The lovable, sometimes bumbling manager of the Phillies helped guide a clubhouse through the growing pains of learning to win and, ultimately, achieved what many thought would never happen.

There could not have been a better coach to bring home the city’s first championship since 1983. His simple, yet effective approach to management helped maintain a roster of budding talents through their magical run to the 2008 World Series. Following the team’s game five win over the Rays, sealing the World Series, Manuel delivered as memorable a sequence of four words as I can remember as a fan.

"“This is for Philadelphia!”"

Standing next to the prized trophy awarded to the winner of the MLB title, many people in the city would have jumped in front of a bullet if it meant saving ‘Chollie’. Followed by three more trips to the playoffs and unprecedented regular season success for the organization, there was little question as to whether Manuel would go down as one of the coaching greats in the city.

Time wore on and an aging core and depleted farm system finally caught up to the Phillies. After a reality-check season in 2012 saw them finish without a winning record for the first time under Manuel, many wondered if the team had interest in giving Manuel an extension. He would enter the 2013 campaign without one and questions began to swirl from the first pitch. Despite surprisingly remaining in contention up until the All-Star break, the teams issues, most notably the absence of Ryan Howard and an effective Roy Halladay, finally caught up with the Phillies and the losses mounted. A 4-19 stretch toward the latter stages of July and into August all but sealed Manuel’s long-term future in Philadelphia. There was no chance an organization facing the reality of what the Phillies were had interest in offering an aging manager an extension. With Ryne Sandberg waiting in the wings, the conversation shifted away from if and more towards when Manuel would be ousted. Very few, Manuel included, felt that the team’s overall struggles were his fault. Given his contributions to the organization and favor in the clubhouse, conventional wisdom would have figured Manuel would at least get to coach out the rest of his contract. What we are constantly reminded of nowadays is that conventional wisdom does not apply to the toxic Ruben Amaro Jr.

Following game #120, a loss to the Braves capping off a six-game road trip, the news was handed down and it was decided that the organization would part ways with Manuel and name Ryne Sandberg manager for the remainder of the season. Manuel, who had given the city its only championship in 30 years, would not be able to say good-bye to the fans of Philadelphia. Things only got uglier from there.

At his farewell press conference, alongside a ‘shaken’ Amaro Jr. Manuel sat proud as he fielded questions regarding the manner. Meanwhile, it was almost impossible not to focus on Amaro, whose breakdown at the podium was more uncomfortable than anything. The ‘architect’ of the trainwreck that the Phillies had become sat next to his latest victim in an attempt to appear sympathetic. In reality everyone, Manuel included, realized who should have been on the end of this firing squad.

Managers are not miracle workers. Even current greats like Joe Maddon have the benefit of top young talent to put together a winning formula. Towards the end of his career, Manuel had little more than a hobbled group of veterans, career bench players, and an influx of minor leaguers who had no business playing for a contender with a top payroll at his disposal. It was almost as if Manuel enjoyed the press conference, knowing that without substantial changes to the infrastructure of the Phillies organization, things would only get worse.

Say what you want about Manuel about an in-game manager. There were countless situations where a lack of foresight of feel for the situation cost the Phillies dearly. That being said, Manuel brought a unique feel to the clubhouse and was able to forge a bond with a constantly-changing cast of characters that endeared him to them to this day.

"Gonna miss ya “SON”! Mahalo skip for those amazing years in Philly"

1. The Fall of Roy Halladay

A silver-lining to the final entry in the top disappointments in Philadelphia sports in 2013 is the fact that we do not have to watch Halladay, like so many aging stars, fade into irrelevancy in an attempt to extend his career. Having said that, there are certain declines in athletes that are impossible to accept until one sees the athlete hit rock bottom. That case could not have been more true than in the waning days of the career of the great Roy Halladay.

There are certain figures in sports that make the concept of the ‘superhuman’ remotely fathomable. For the better part of the 21st century, and for two seasons in Philadelphia, Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay was that figure. Following years of statistical dominance in the American League with the Blue Jays, the Phillies acquired Halladay as the cog that was going to bring them the elusive second World Series title during their run of dominance over the last five years. Following years stuck behind the juggernauts of the AL East, Philadelphia plucked Halladay out of postseason irrelevancy and placed him in charge of leading their rotation.

The big stage and bright lights of Broad Street hardly faced the unshakeable Halladay. He brought his same meticulous, intense nature to the mound every five days and his preparation and competitiveness rubbed off on the remaining members of the Phillies rotation. No matter the stage or opponent, Halladay approached the game the same way and his consistent dominance was something unseen in Philadelphia since the days of Steve Carlton.

After winning the 2010 Cy Young, many penciled in the Phillies as the favorite to cruise through the playoffs and capture their second title in three seasons. This notion only strengthened after, in his first postseason appearance ever, Halladay pitched just the second no-hitter in MLB playoff history against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS. However, the team’s struggles with Cody Ross and the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS brought a stunning end to the Phillies 2010 playoff run.

Following an equally impressive 2011 campaign, there was little reason not to believe the Phillies could not learn from their previous year’s experience and take care of the unfinished business that burdened them for a year. After an impressive showing in a game 1 victory over St. Louis, Halladay took the mound in the decisive game five to send the Phillies to the NLCS. After allowing a first inning run, ‘Doc’ was masterful in shutting down the potent Cardinals lineup, with just the lone blemish over eight innings. Unfortunately, the Phillies lineup could not even scratch across one run against the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter, and they would waste possibly the last great start of Halladay’s career falling 1-0 and being knocked out of the playoffs. The mere fact that an ‘L’ had to be placed next to Halladay’s name on the scorecard was a crime, as the team’s lackadaisical approach at the plate only fed into Carpenter’s dominance. Little did the team or fans know that Halladay would never be the same.

In 2012, Halladay would finish with just an 11-8 record and a 4.49 ERA, almost twice as high as the season prior. A noted dip in velocity and an unsettling tendency to wear out over the course of games brought concern to the once dominant Phillies rotation, as their ace had started to show signs of fading. Chalking up the struggles to mechanical issues as a result of lower back and shoulder discomfort, Halladay altered his rigorous offseason routine in an attempt to preserve his stamina over the course of a season. What we did not know at the time was that, in 2013, we would have been grateful for his 2012 statline.

Many pundits hinged the Phillies success on the performances of Halladay and Ryan Howard. Sitting behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the rotation, all the Phillies needed was for Halladay to serve as an effective third starter. What became clear almost instantly was that Doc’s problem were far beyond what anyone had expected. After posting a 2-4 record with an astronomical 8.65 ERA, Halladay was placed on the disabled list. His once devastating fastball was barely touching 90 MPH and his pinpoint control had given way to uncharacteristic wildness and misplacement. He would undergo shoulder surgery to remove bone spurs from his shoulder and attempt to return later in the season to see if the procedure alleviated some of the discomfort.

Upon Halladay’s return in late August, the Phillies had fallen out of contention and the only incentive remaining was to see if he could perform well enough to justify the team using it’s option to pick up the final year of his contract. Unfortunately, the warrior that took the mound for the final six starts of his career had nothing left in the tank. Unable to demonstrate any sort of progress from the pre-injury performance of 2013, Halladay continued to labor through starts running high pitch counts and allowing big innings to get the best of him. His final start, a road game in Miami in front of a barren Marlins crowd, was as unfitting a sendoff for one of the greats to ever take the mound. Halladay would record just one out and, against the same team that he pitched a perfect game against, he slunk off the mound never to pitch again.

After apparently attempting to ramp things up once more to try and earn one more shot, Halladay realized the inevitability of the situation. If he could not pitch the way he had grown accustomed to, continuing to play the game was no longer enjoyable for him. He would sign a one-day contract with the Blue Jays, the team he spent 12 seasons with, and at 36 years old retired from professional baseball.

Halladay joins a long list of Philadelphia greats to never win a title. Despite spending just four seasons in Philadelphia, really only two of which were as effective as he would like, the impact Halladay had on the team was as substantial as any member of the team. His intensity and competitiveness trickled through the rotation, as the Phillies boasted one of the best rotations in recent MLB memory. His contributions to one of the most prominent stretches of Phillies baseball are endless and the fact that the Phillies, the team he left to win a title for, could not pick him up is a crime in and of itself. Halladay’s demise was perhaps the final signal that the stretch of success we thought would never end had come to a close. Reality in the form of perhaps three teams surging ahead of them in terms of promise in the NL East had set in and there was nothing to show for the success achieved with Halladay in the fold. If there was ever a man who deserved more out of his illustrious career, in Philadelphia or not, it was Halladay. Philadelphia’s Superman had finally crashed down to Earth. Despite the memories and individual greatness, nothing can alleviate the sting that comes along with the fact that the man known as Doc could not ride down Broad Street lifting the title he so rightfully deserved.