The 2000 Philadelphia Phillies: Preparing for futility

(HEATHER HALL/AFP via Getty Images)
(HEATHER HALL/AFP via Getty Images) /

Twenty years ago, the Philadelphia Phillies were hoping to build upon their 77-win season the year before, but history shows us they didn’t have a chance.

A few weeks ago, we began our season-long “celebration” of the 2000 Philadelphia Phillies, a team that would go on to be the franchise’s worst in the span of several decades between 1972 and 2015.

Let’s reach back into our memory banks, though. Was it all doom and gloom in the spring as the team was just weeks away from Opening Day? Just how were things looking for those Phillies at this time 20 years ago?

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For starters, it was the fourth season for manager Terry Francona. Had young Tito learned his lessons in time to produce his first winning season? A look at the lineup might have cast some doubt on that possibility.

The Phillies did boast a couple of budding young stars in the lineup in Scott Rolen and Bobby Abreu. And they had Doug Glanville, who had managed to rip off over 200 hits the season before. They also had Mike Lieberthal, who looked like he could become one of the best catchers in the league for a brief moment. But it seemed awfully sketchy after that.

There was veteran slugger Ron Gant, back for his second season in Philadelphia after 1999’s underwhelming .260, 17 home run performance. And Mickey Morandini was back in the fold, two seasons after the Phils had dealt him to the Cubs for Glanville. The Phillies had gotten him back for the low, low price of nothing, as they merely “purchased” him from the Expos.

Defensive whiz Rico Brogna was coming off two straight 100-RBI seasons over at first base, but it appeared he was merely keeping the seat warm for top prospect Pat Burrell, who would begin the year in the minors as he patiently bade his time before running rampant over half the population.

The remaining “offense” was a collection of Phillies lifers like Desi Relaford, failed “Radio Kevin” Jordan and “Other Kevin” Sefcik. Any promise shown by the likes of Rolen and Abreu would be totally neutralized by the fact that a few of these guys were projected to be in the lineup every game for the team.

Add it all up, and this group didn’t inspire much confidence that the Phillies could compete in the NL East with the likes of the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, who were coming off seasons of 103 and 97 wins, respectively.

But while the Phils were hoping for offensive improvements from within, they were actually active on the pitching front during the offseason. They signed a new closer, Mike Jackson, to replace the departed Jeff Brantley. Jackson had actually broken into the bigs with the Phillies way back in 1986. By the spring of 2000, he was a 35-year old well-seasoned big leaguer who had saved 79 games in Cleveland over the past two seasons. What could possibly go wrong there?

As for the rotation, with Curt Schilling battling injury and trying to force his way out of town, the Phils had a new #1 pitcher atop the rotation after making an offseason trade with the Padres to acquire all-star Andy Ashby. The Phils dealt away a package of youngsters to get him that included Adam Eaton (the pre-accidental stabbing version), something they would rectify years later, of course.

Strangely, Ashby had also started his MLB career with the Phils, last appearing with them in 1992. They had lost him to the Rockies in the expansion draft after that year, and he had since gone on to become one of the NL’s top starters. Now, by making a bold move for him and picking up his nearly $6 million salary, the Phils were showing that they believed their young core was ready to take a leap in 2000.

Missed it by that much.

Before we continue our parade of individual games and players throughout this season, let’s just take time to appreciate the 2000 Phillies collectively as they readied themselves in Florida for what they hoped would be an unforgettable season.

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Unfortunately, it was destined to be unforgettable in all the wrong ways.