It was a cold winter’s night in South Philadelphia……
Not a creature was stirring, not eve- ok Gritty was lurking around somewhere… Remember kids, Gritty is always watching. Always.
Anyway, the lights in the offices of Citizens Bank Park were lightly illuminated. It had been a long time since the ballpark was alive. All was quiet, save for the sounds of aggressive penny pinching going on inside.
“Andy, what are we going to do?” cried Phillies owner John Middleton. “The lack of fans this year means I can’t get that home theater extension to my second mansion! We must cut costs!”
Andy MacPhail stared blankly at his boss. The ol’wet blanket had become a master of that.
“Andy I’m talking to you! Stop doing that infuriating blank look you do! This isn’t a press conference!” said John.
“Oh sorry boss. If we don’t we don’t,” Andy finally responded. John looked puzzled. “Andy, what does that even mean? We need to come up with excuses to cut costs that are reasonable to no one other than my fellow owners!”
Andy thought long and hard, the first time he had done so in a long, long time. In fact, probably for the first time since he started his retirement plan.
“We could not pay J.T. what he wants and-“ Andy sighed. “We could use the pandemic as a reason not to replace me.”
He was so close to that sweet retirement package. Andy MacPhail could almost taste it. He had been looking forward to it since the day he was handed the Phillies job as President. It pained him to imagine still being employed in 2021. Andy had done all he possibly could in the last few years to get fired but it just wasn’t working. His last ditch effort was to draw up so much negative fan reaction by staying employed it would force John to finally free him.
“Andy now THAT’S the small market money saving tactics I hired you for!” John exclaimed. “I’ll call a press conference! Go do your thing and don’t forget to dust off those World Series rings you got twenty years ago.”
“Actually sir, those were 30 years ago,” Andy corrected.
“Whatever. Just go and say whatever you need to deflect any and all tough questions that kill any interest in the team.”
So Andy left, off to rehearse his deadpan delivery and think of mind numbingly infuriating answers to the simplest of questions.
John was pleased. His plan was getting off the ground. He would use the dumpster fire of a year known as 2020 to slash payroll and ensure he gets that nifty home theater. So what if he doesn’t resign J.T. or find a replacement for Didi, he had spent stupid money on Bryce! Why spend big on multiple nice things when you can spend big on one nice thing that looks even better in comparison to all the not so nice things!?
Johnny Stupid Money lit up a cigar. His pride was evident. Soon he’ll be able to watch “Moneyball,” his favorite movie, on a twenty foot screen in the house he only lived in for three months a year. He began to doze off dreaming of the mediocre team he was going to put on the field and the maximized profit he would be making.
When suddenly, he heard a noise. He quickly woke up to see Matt Klentak who had recently been given a new job. John couldn’t just get rid of Klentak. That would cost too much! So he reassigned him.
“Matt can’t you do that more quietly?!” John yelled in the direction of the executive bathroom. Matt emerged holding a scrubbing pod and a mop. “Sorry boss. Just wanted to wrap this one up before I leave.”
“See to it that you do,” John said as he began to close his eyes once more.
“Merry Cliffmas,” said a loud voice that boomed through the offices.
John fell from his chair at the sound of it, dropping his cigar into his lap. “Who said that? Matt? Andy?” John called out to no answer. “Wait it couldn’t be them,” John thought to himself, “that’s way too much emotion for either of their voices.”
“Who’s there?” John called back. “How did you get in here? Don’t make me call security!” John said, before quickly remembering he had cut the security team from the budget.
“You don’t remember me John?” the voice called back, and suddenly John recognized it. “Ruben? Is that you? Why are you here? There’s nothing to broadcast today,” John said into the darkness of the hallway.
Suddenly, the hallway lights went on, and there was Ruben Amaro Jr., standing next to a photo of the 2008 World Series parade.
“These were the good days weren’t they John?”
“I don’t understand,” John answered. “Did you come here in the middle of the night just to reminisce? And why do you look ten years younger?”
“I am not the Ruben Amaro Jr. you know today John,” Ruben replied. “I am the ghost of Phillies past, here to remind you what it’s like to win.”
“That doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. Did Andy put you up to this? He’s usually the one to come up with nonsense like this,” John said as he walked towards Ruben. But, John was stopped dead in his tracks. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“W-W-What is this?” John said with a confused stutter. “It’s Cliffmas John,” Ruben replied. “Don’t you remember?”
In front of them, John could see Cliff Lee, sporting a Phillies hat and his number 33 jersey, sitting at a table answering questions.
“This was when we shocked the world and brought Cliff back to form the four aces.”
“How is this possible?” John said. “No one has seen Cliff in years! He went home to Arkansas and built a cabin in the woods!”
He went up to the table, but Cliff didn’t look up. He just kept answering questions.
“He can’t see you John,” Ruben said. “What you’re seeing is what could happen again if you stopped your cost cutting ways.”
“Preposterous!” John exclaimed. “I don’t need that high of a payroll again. I signed Bryce that’s enough!”
“No John,” Ruben explained, “you cannot expect to make a move like that and call your work done. You must continue to bring in quality talent using your vast resources.”
“HOW DARE YOU TELL ME HOW TO SPEND MY MONEY!” John shouted at his former general manager.
“We’re in this situation because YOU traded away all of our prospects!” John said, turning his back to Ruben.
“That is partly true John. But you never invested enough into player development either,” Ruben retorted.
“Bah! Who needs better scouting. Matt and Andy told me computers do all that now! In fact, I even got rid of a lot of scouts!” John said defiantly.
“You still have much to learn,” Ruben said under his breath.
John spun around angrily and started pointing a finger. “No I think you-“, but he stopped.
Ruben was gone. So was Cliff and the table.
“I’m seeing things,” John assured himself. “Must’ve been those crab fries the Phanatic made. Let’s go try to sleep them off again.”
John was deep in a dream. He was at home and finally enjoying that new theater. Then suddenly, he saw a bright light. It was so blinding he nearly toppled over. He awoke to find that all of the ballpark flood lights were on.
“What’s the meaning of this? Who turned those lights on? You’re running up the electric bill! Now I’ll have to get rid of another good player!”
John looked closer, and he saw a startling sight. He saw two teams on the field, one being the Phillies.
“This cannot be. It’s December! There’s no games going on now!”
“It’s from this season John,” a voice said to him. John suddenly looked to his left and saw his manager, Joe Girardi. “Joe what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be home on vacation!” John said.
“Look closer at the field John,” Joe said, ignoring the question. John obliged, and suddenly he could make out the sight. It was a game from this past year, and Brandon Workman was on the mound.
“This is what your cost cutting has led to,” Joe said, as a baseball flew through the night into the third deck. “We assembled one of the worst bullpens in history because you didn’t want to spend.”
“That’s not on me!” John shouted back. “Matt was just awful at trades and waiver claims!”
“A GM shouldn’t be reduced to dumpster diving,” Joe snapped. “If you let him use his only competitive advantage, than maybe we wouldn’t be so desperate for a new bullpen!”
“But….but…Matt was supposed to,” John struggled to find words as he watched ball after ball fly out of the park.
“MATT WAS ONLY IN CHARGE BECAUSE YOU LEFT HIM IN CHARGE,” Joe boomed rather ominously. “This was the team you signed off on because it fit your self imposed budget.”
“I…I’m sorry! I’ll fix it this offseason I swear! Just make it go away!” John wailed. “I can’t take this anymore!” he said as he put his head in his hands. “Why is he throwing balls straight down the middle? Is he trying to be bad? I’ll fix it. I’ll fix it!”
“Don’t lie to me John,” Joe said. “I’m not stupid. I know what you’ll do. You’ll sign one, maybe two mediocre relievers and call it a day. All because you want that theater.”
“I’ll do more! I’ll do it! I swear!” John cried as the lights suddenly went back off. He looked up from his hands and saw the team’s were gone. Then he looked around in the suite to see Joe was also gone.
“I must really be losing it,” John thought to himself. Was it the bad crab fries? Or was it something more? Maybe, just maybe, that little voice in John’s head that he often drowned out was starting to break through a little.
“Maybe I should…no no that’s nonsense,” John thought. “Every other owner is cutting costs! Why can’t I?!”
John looked down at his Rolex in surprise. “Is that really the time? I must be getting home! A good night’s sleep in my own bed should help ease my mind.”
So with that, he left the owners box and headed downstairs to where his driver would be waiting. He got into his third favorite BMW and was finally on his way home.
“You’re a new driver? I guess Ned has the night off,” John said to the driver. “Yeah I guess you could say that,” the driver replied in a rather familiar voice.
John was trying to decide where he heard that voice before. “Do I know you from somewhere else? You sound awfully familiar.”
“I would hope so,” the driver said, looking into the rear view mirror. John still couldn’t place him. “I’m sorry what is your name again?” John finally asked.
John went pale. “B-B-Bryce? What do you mean? You’re much too old to be Bryce Harper!”
“I’m him at age of 40, at the end of the contract you signed me to.”
John looked closer at the mirror and he finally saw it. It was indeed Bryce Harper’s face. But it was old, with a gray beard and covered with flowing gray hair.
“But…but why? Why are you here? And how?”
“Look out the window,” Bryce said, pointing to the driver’s side. John did so, and he was appalled.
Outside the window, he saw countless images of Bryce Harper striking out, fans booing, and people leaving Citizens Bank Park en masse.
“This is what will happen if you don’t spend to make the team better,” Bryce said. “We never won anything. Everyone else left in free agency or you had them traded because they were too expensive. I was the only one left as I declined throughout my career. The fan base turned on me as they saw me as the reason we never succeeded. And despite you knowing full well it was your fault, you let them believe it was me. Because that’s who you are John. A greedy billionaire who doesn’t care about anything other than his bottom line.”
John was horrified. He was looking at his biggest nightmare. A team in shambles. An empty stadium. Plummeting merchandise sales. His star player being hated.
“How do I stop this?!? You must tell me!” John pleaded.
“It won’t matter,” Bryce responded. “You’ll only spend for one more year at most and just postpone this reality one more season.”
“No! Please! Whatever I have to do to make this never come to be! I’ll do it. I’ll spend whatever it takes. For the length of your contract! And I’ll even go over the tax this time! And I’ll invest more in development! Just please make it stop!” John blubbered on.
Suddenly, the car stopped. John looked out the window and realized he was back at Citizens Bank Park. In fact, it appeared he never left.
John sat in silence as the sun came up. “What have I done,” he thought to himself. “I’ve alienated fans and the team alike. All to just pocket a few million more dollars.”
“Hey John,” came a voice. “Oh not this again,” John grumbled to himself.
“I get it I get it! I have seen the light! We can stop with the ghostly visits now!”
“What are you talking about, boss?” said Andy MacPhail, the source of the voice.
“Andy?! Is that really you?” John said as he violently shook Andy. “Yeah it’s me. I’m about to start that zoom call where you told me to kill all and any interest with the team.”
“I have changed my mind! You don’t have to do that anymore. In fact, you don’t have to do anything anymore! You’re fired!”
Andy’s eyes lit up with joy for the first time in his life. “Really?!? You mean I can finally retire?!”
“Yes indeed. I have reversed course. I don’t need that new home theater. I want to make this team fun again. We’re going to spend, spend, spend until we finally get that trophy back!”
Andy hugged John tight. “Oh thank you thank you!”
“Of course Andy. You’re a very good set blanket. But even the wettest of blankets deserve time to dry.”
“Uhhhhh what does that mean, John?”
“It doesn’t matter,” John said. “Now I have to find a replacement for you. Someone who isn’t afraid to spend. Someone with a winning track record. I need someone to step in and win now!”
“How about Dave?” Andy said, recommending his old colleague Dave Dombrowski.
“The guy who won the World Series with Boston and made the juggernaut Tigers? You’re a genius Andy! I’ll get him on the line right away!”
“He’s perfect for the job, boss,” Andy said as he headed for the door. “In fact, he spent so much the Red Sox fired him and traded their best player!”
“You said what now?”