Phillies can look to past, apply lessons to '13
Like 1979-80 squads, opportunity present for bounce-back season in Philadelphia
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies had been one of the best teams in baseball before injuries ruined their 1979 season. They entered the following spring knowing they needed to win or changes would be made.
They won the World Series.
Dallas Green sees some similarities to the 2012-13 Phillies.
"The '79 team was a good baseball team," Green said this week at Carpenter Complex. "We were coming off three straight division titles. We just never got over the hump. In '79, we started just like last year. We broke down. We had six or seven guys on the disabled list and trying to win games with second-line guys."
The 1979 team opened the season with pitchers Larry Christenson and Warren Brusstar on the disabled list. Pete Rose was the only everyday player not to miss a game because of an injury. Manny Trillo missed 46 games. Greg Luzinski missed 26. Bob Boone missed 23. Larry Bowa missed 16. The Phils placed three of their five starters on the DL on July 4: Dick Ruthven, Randy Lerch and Christenson.
"From a five-man rotation, we went to two in 24 hours," former general manager Paul "Pope" Owens said at the time.
The 2012 Phillies had a similar body count: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jose Contreras opened the season on the DL. Fifteen other players spent time there, including Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley, Carlos Ruiz, Mike Stutes, Jim Thome and Placido Polanco. That team finished 81-81 and third in the National League East, following five consecutive division titles and a franchise-record 102-win season in '11.
Nobody is saying it publicly, but the 2013 Phils find themselves in a similar situation as the 1980 club: if they don't win, significant changes could be made.
"We were starting to get long in the tooth, and we thought '80 was going to be the last hurrah for most of those guys," said Green, who managed Philadelphia from 1979-81. "And really, if you look at it, it almost was. We won in '80, and that held us together one more year. But had we lost and not played well, Pope was ready to start making changes. And let's face it, our  infield is old, but sound somewhat. The outfield is a stretch. And of course Chooch [Ruiz] going down, that hurts considerably. And it depends on Halladay. If Halladay can bounce back and take some pressure off Lee and [Cole] Hamels and let the other two guys get their share of work, we should be all right."
The 2013 Phillies are older than the 1980 team was, but Green thinks the age talk is a bit overblown.
"There are ways to rest guys," he said. "There are ways they can take care of themselves, even though 162 is a [heck] of a grind. But our guys are very experienced. Jimmy knows how. Unfortunately, he shows it too many times running to first, but Pete never let age get to him. He didn't have a great year in '80, but he played his [butt] off. And experience carried him."
Green is a big fan of third baseman Michael Young for that reason. He believes his experience can help.
"We lived on natural talent for so long," Green said. "We really did. We could out-talent a lot of teams. We can't do that anymore. You cannot go out there and just bang guys around and say, 'We're the Phillies.' Now you've got to respect the other guys and figure out a way to win the game. And that takes some thought process in game situations. Those are very, very important. Game-situation baseball is what I preach and what I live by. You can't always hit a home run. You can't always out-talent guys. You can't always have good days. So you're going to have a bad day, where you say, 'If we can just get a run.' That hurts your pitching when you can't."
If the Phillies play better situational baseball ...
If Utley, Halladay and Howard bounce back ..
If the Phils can find producers in left field and right field ...
If the pitching can be a strength like it has been in the past ...
"There's ifs," Green said. "You've got to stay healthy. And we've got to have a couple of the young guys come through here. Whether it's [Domonic] Brown or [Darin] Ruf or whoever. Somebody has to step forward and play baseball. Somebody has to. Even in the pitching. We've got a young bullpen. [Mike] Adams obviously is a big fit for us. And of course we've got [Jonathan] Papelbon. He's one of the best. And then [Antonio] Bastardo, one day he's good, the next we don't know what we have. And the rest of them are young. And they're the guys that have to come forward. At least keep us in the [gosh darn] game in the sixth and seventh inning, so if we can mount comebacks, we can mount comebacks.
"It's the same old thing. If you're a prospect, eventually you've got to put numbers up. It's like Ruf. A couple years ago, probably half of us didn't think he could play. But he worked at his game, he got himself in better shape and he started popping the ball. That's his style. He's a home run hitter. He isn't going to win a Gold Glove. You're not getting a Gold Glove. And Brownie. I love the guy. I really do. Brownie has to step up. I read about opportunity. Gene Mauch used to tell us, 'Here's your opportunity. When I give you the baseball, go get an out. When I tell you to pinch-hit, get a hit.' That's the opportunity. I've always impressed upon guys -- that's your opportunity. You couldn't ask for more opportunities than he's had for the production he's given us. Opportunity is opportunity. 'What's my role? What's my role?' The role is if you make the 25 [man roster], if you're asked to do something, do it."
But Green believes the 2013 Phillies can be a good team. He believes they can make the postseason.
"Oh, no, it wouldn't surprise me," Green said. "It really is expected."
But if they don't, the 2014 Phils could have a much different look.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.