Despite the Philadelphia Phillies being utterly doomed as a team in 2000, one of the few bright spots that season was the play of right fielder Bobby Abreu.
Even though this season-long chronicle of the 2000 Philadelphia Phillies is bound to scrape the depths of a disastrous season, every once in a while we can stop and smell the roses. And one of the rays of hope on that club was Bobby Abreu.
Abreu had been signed out of Venezuela by the Houston Astros when he was 16 years old, and he predictably took a long time to arrive on the scene. He finally broke into Major League Baseball in 1996 and then played a larger role with Houston in 1997, but they lost him in the expansion draft to the brand spankin’ new Tampa Bay Devil Rays after that season. The Phillies must have seen something they liked, as they acquired Abreu from Tampa that same day for the price of shortstop Kevin Stocker, which immediately rendered thousands of packages of Phillies Franks out of date. (Stocker was on the package, and this joke would really work better if I could have found a single image of it! Oh well.)
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Anyhow, things were pretty dire for the Phillies, so they trotted Abreu out as their everyday right fielder in 1998. He rewarded the team with a .312 batting average in 151 games, and his career was off and running. 1999 was excellent for him, as Abreu posted a .335 average (third place in the National League) to go along with 20 home runs, 93 RBI and 27 stolen bases. He was fantastic in reality, and even more valuable if you happened to own him in your fantasy baseball league.
Now, this brings us to the year 2000.
That Phillies team was, collectively, a mess. But they did have some productive individual pieces. And their best player was unquestionably Abreu. He had what would end up being the third best year of his career, based on Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and it was an affirmation that he was here to stay as a star player.
In fact, from 1999 through 2005, Abreu had what might be the best 7-year stretch in Phillies history. He appeared in at least 152 games each season, hitting .305 over the 1100+ games that he played during that time. He averaged 24 home runs, 96 RBI, and 109 runs scored per season, and he threw in 31 stolen bases per year as well. And he did it in years where the team was decently competitive, but he also did it in 2000, which was the worst team that he ever played on. It really spoke to how consistent of a player he was; you could set your watch to his production on an annual basis.
So it has to be considered rather curious that Bobby Abreu is not fondly remembered at all in this town. Despite that talent and despite those statistics, Phillies fans just shrug (or worse) at any mention of his name. Things might have been drastically different if the Phils had ever made the playoffs while Abreu was in town, but they did not. They didn’t even come all that close, to be honest.
Was it his fault?
Not at all, but some would have you believe that he dogged it, putting his own numbers ahead of what was best for the team. They’ll say that wins and losses didn’t matter to Bobby Abreu, as long as he got his numbers and got paid. They’ll say that he only hit home runs or stole bases when the Phillies were way up or way down in a game.
Are they right?
Maybe to some mild degree, but Abreu’s high level of excellent play for an extended period of time simply can’t be ignored. Using the 2000 season as an example, Abreu was great even as the rest of the team failed miserably. And he would produce the same results for several more years after that as the Phils steadily got better around him. Abreu was simply a machine, the but Phillies never did get to the postseason until after they traded him for a bag of peanuts to the Yankees in 2006. It was really an awful way to end the tenure of the best offensive player that the Phillies had featured in years.
In 2019, the team honored Abreu by putting him in its Wall of Fame. It was a fitting and long overdue tribute to perhaps the most underappreciated Phillies player (and maybe even Philadelphia athlete) that we’ve seen in our lifetimes. And I’m still wondering why that’s the case. He might have even saved the franchise, because MLB should have probably folded the Phillies during the 2000 season if not for him.