Sunday, November 9, 2008

2008 World Series recap

By Rick Morris

Much to my evident surprise
, the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series and will, because Charlie Manuel managed a team to a championship, necessitate my putting my money where my mouth is. I can only hope that I emerge with a shiny coat after I meet my obligation!

My prediction that Tampa Bay would emerge victorious was predicated on the fact that they are a deeper team top-to-bottom than Philly, who relies hugely on their five megastars who man the ace, closer and three infield positions. Plus, they are more of an all-or-nothing American League team in terms of style and those squads generally don't fare as well in October. Having said that, I'm a huge believer in progression and regression to the mean and the team's success in the National League playoffs despite the flailing of their slugger Ryan Howard boded ill for the Rays -- because they were winning without him and he's good enough to carry a team when he gets it together as he was bound to do. Still, Tampa's superior depth gives them an equally good chance of getting back to this point next year even though the Phillies' path through a mediocre NL is so much easier. Tampa Bay has to navigate past Boston (poised to remain a top five franchise in the game through the entire next decade), the Yankees (with some decent core players remaining, more cash to spend than anyone on an annual basis and a ton of expiring contract money this year) and the Angels (a machine year in and year out -- until October, that is) -- but they're well-positioned to do so unless ownership changes their path and forces a purge of the young talent as they begin to cost more. I still maintain, as I have for months now, that the team should have pursued one more bat at the trading deadline (Junior Griffey, perhaps?) with the window of opportunity at hand.

New Phils GM Ruben Amaro is in the same spot I thought Kenny Williams was in coming off of the White Sox world title of '05. The team was good enough to win that year, but did not loom as an overwhelming threat for the next year, not like the Red Sox of '04 and '07. I thought that aggressive moves to try to get better were in order and to his credit, Williams didn't sit on his laurels, engineering the Jim Thome blockbuster that winter (ironically, from the Phillies when the great young inexpensive bomber Howard rendered him available). Amaro must approach this winter in the same spirit. Sure, Ryan Madson could continue to help Brad Lidge prop up the bullpen. Sure, the third base platoon could continue to avoid being the type of liability that keeps a team from winning it all. Sure, Brett Myers could take that (long overdue) last step to being a consistent #2 pitcher for a winner. Sure, options could develop from within to fill out the remainder of the Philadelphia rotation. But are any of these very high-percentage possibilities? The front office must continue to try to upgrade the available talent (and hang on to what they have -- hello, Pat Burrell!) if they want to make another serious run at a world title. The front office has yet to show their cards in terms of the general direction, but you'd have to guess that they understand that standing still (as the Cleveland Indians so foolishly did after last season) could be the first step toward blowing the goodwill they earned so richly from their long-suffering fans.

As previously noted in The Lounge, this World Series was one of the greatest coming-out parties for underpublicized young talent over the course of the last few decades. But, ending just before the election of our nation's first black president, it may well be remembered also in a sociological light of its own. For this World Series heralded the possible revival of the major black presence in Major League Baseball. Analysts like Joe Morgan have bemoaned the fact that black participation in MLB has hit a sharp and historic decline in recent years. People wondered what could possibly be done to reverse this. Well, as is often the case throughout history, examples could end up leading the way. Much like Jesse Owens inspired many black track stars, much like Joe Louis inspired many black boxers, much like Jackie Robinson CERTAINLY inspired many black baseball players when he broke the color line and much like people are hoping Barack Obama inspires many black children to set the aspiration of becoming President of the United States, the examples of this October could inspire more great black ballplayers. Wonderful examples were scattered all over this series: from the wonderful skill set of Carl Crawford to the cool leadership of Cliff Floyd to oft-troubled B.J. Upton overcoming his previous impulses to play at a superlative level to the young man who could be the next great ace in David Price to the slick and exciting Jimmy Rollins to Howard the tower of power. If this October is an anomaly, a positive blip upward that yields again to the continued decline of the black presence in the baseball, the game will be poorer for losing the diverse elements in the game that have helped to make it so special in the last 60 years.

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