Phillies fans should never forget greatness of Cole Hamels

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: Cole Hamels #35 of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning of a game at Citizens Bank Park on May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 13: Cole Hamels #35 of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning of a game at Citizens Bank Park on May 13, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

The 2008 World Series MVP occupies a strange space in Phillies history, largely under-appreciated as Cole Hamels approaches the home stretch of a Hall of Fame career.

When the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs square off on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park, a franchise legend will be back in the park. A man who played a key role in delivering the town’s first championship in a quarter of a century.

Yes, Charles Fuqua Manuel is back, acting as the Phillies’ hitting coach for the rest of the year. But I’m talking about Cole Hamels, who will be making his first start as a visiting player in Philadelphia since the Phillies traded him to the Texas Rangers in 2015.

Those four years feel like eons ago, and the fact that Hamels remains an active player has put him in an odd spot in the hearts and minds of Phillies fans.

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While many of his former teammates have since retired and have been feted accordingly on numerous occasions, Hamels continues to plug away, piling up the numbers as he slowly but surely makes his case for Cooperstown.

And, when all is said and done, I believe he’ll be the only Phillies player from the 2008 championship team to get there.

As I stated in my 2018 book I’m Getting a Sports Complex:

"In an era where nobody gets to 300 wins anymore, the new benchmark of 200 career victories are within reach for him. And though that number can be impacted by having a lousy team around you (see: Phillies 2012-2015), Hamels’ strikeout numbers are all him. He should be good to hit 3,000 for his career, which would make him a no-doubter in my book. The Hall loves them some strikeouts, and in fact the only hurlers with 3,000 career K’s that haven’t been inducted are Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. (Note: The still-active CC Sabathia has since joined this group also).There are now more strikeouts than ever happening in baseball, so the club could grow considerably in years to come. But I think Hamels is far enough ahead of the curve that he will be able to get into Cooperstown before anyone seemingly undeserving of the Hall of Fame puts themselves in the conversation purely based on a high career strikeout total. But anyway, book it for July 28, 2030, because Cole Hamels is headed to the Hall with a Phillies cap perched atop his pretty head."

This all strikes me as pretty ironic, because Hamels never seems to get the kind of adulation that his former teammates like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard have. And this is despite the fact that he was the World Series MVP in 2008.

Maybe it’s just perception. Since Hamels is still playing, he hasn’t had the tributes that the other stars from the team have had. Maybe it’s also lingering sour grapes for the way that Hamels completely ran out of gas in 2009 as the team fell short in its quest to repeat, a rare failure on his part.

But the fact remains that Hamels stands as the best pitcher the Phillies organization has produced in several decades, and the only person who stands a chance to pass him anytime soon is his opponent tonight, Aaron Nola.

Currently, Hamels sits 35th all-time in strikeouts, and he is likely to finish 2019 in the top 30. Assuming decent health, he should be able to get to the magical number of 3000 in the 2022 season at age 38. It’s not a foregone conclusion by any means, but he has a real shot at it.

Yet, even if Hamels falls short of that number, his other career accolades speak for themselves. NLCS MVP. World Series MVP and champion. Four All-Star selections. A no-hitter.

Add in the fact that that an increasing number of very suspect players are now being let into the Hall (Harold Baines? Come on.), and I continue to stand by my assertion that Hamels will get there, probably in his third or fourth year of eligibility.

Of course, a few more wins and maybe even another ring would help his case even more.

His 2008 teammates like Utley, Rollins and Howard all have Hall of Fame cases to an extent. But I feel that the most likely scenario is that Hamels ends up being the only member of that team to end up in Cooperstown.

Hopefully, Hamels’ appearance tonight in a Cubs uniform will help renew the conversation about how great he was for the Phillies. And don’t forget, Hamels is a free agent after this season.

Would there be anything wrong with the Phillies giving him a two or three-year deal so that he can complete his career journey at home?

It wouldn’t just be some kind of victory lap, as this team could really use him as a legitimate mid-rotation arm.

My feeling is that Hamels would prefer to come back to Philadelphia over signing elsewhere if the Phillies are willing to offer him a realistic amount of money and not some kind of legacy hometown discount. John Middleton should make it happen.

But even if Cole Hamels never returns to pitch for the Phillies, his legend in this town is great enough that he should be honored appropriately for a very long time, both in Philadelphia and on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in upstate New York some years from now.