Professional wrestling is a form of entertainment, not a traditional sport like baseball. Wrestlers are performers who are paid to put on a show. The goal of their performance is to elicit a reaction. Whether they are playing the role of “babyface” (good) or “heel” (bad), their job is to get either cheers, boos, or some combination of both when they walk out to the ring.
The worst possible thing for a wrestler to hear is silence. Silence means that no one cares about what is happening. Silence means their act has grown stale. Maybe they change from face to heel or vice versa, anything to capture the crowd again.
You may ask why an article about the Philadelphia Phillies started with a rudimentary explanation of professional wrestling. The reason is to illustrate the path the Phillies are taking. It’s a path that has led to the end of many a wrestler’s dream to make it big. That path leads to apathy, the complete loss of interest.
The Phillies were the hottest ticket in town from 2008-2011. They were winning divisional titles and making deep postseason runs. They won their second ever championship and the city’s first since 1983.
But all good things come to an end. By 2012, the core of the team had become old and injured. It was clear that a rebuild was necessary. The team needed to say tough goodbyes and start to look towards the future. That process began in earnest in 2015, with the mid-season trade of World Series MVP Cole Hamels and the hiring of Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak as team president and general manager respectively, following the season.
The Sixers showed that even a team intentionally losing can still be fun. Sure some people were mad. But others enjoyed the challenge of watching a terrible team try to shock the world. Most importantly, fans looked forward to seeing high draft picks in action and dreaming about future title runs.
Baseball doesn’t allow for such instant gratification. Draftees usually take anywhere between 3-5 years to maybe make the Major League roster. In that respect, there wasn’t much the Phillies could do besides tell fans to be patient.
They did have some young stars arrive and show promise. Aaron Nola debuted in 2015 and developed into an ace, becoming must see TV in 2018. Rhys Hoskins came up in 2017 and went on a historic home run binge, setting fans’ minds ablaze with thoughts of a new core coming together, especially with more highly touted prospects on the way.
Signs of a heel turn
The 2018 season was when the Phillies started to flirt with turning heel. The prospects were here, but results weren’t showing themselves. Money was being spent, but those free agents, namely Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana, didn’t pan out.
A rookie manager was grilled on a nightly basis, stemming back to a curious Opening Day decision to pull his starter early, preempting a blown lead in what would be an eerie foreshadowing.
Despite it all, the Phillies were surprisingly in first place and firmly in playoff contention at the All-Star break. But it all came crashing down. They collapsed in the second half, especially in September, and finished two games under .500.
Fans began to get angry. People began to grow restless and agitated. But hope was not lost. Two white whales were available on the free agent market, and the Phillies were ready to spend stupid money.
Full on Heel
The 2019 Phillies season had the highest expectations since 2011. The team was able to sign 26-year-old superstar Bryce Harper. They were able to bring in more exciting players via trade, chiefly J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto went on to be the best catcher in baseball and Harper went on to become the team’s unofficial captain with a flair for the dramatic in a strong debut season.
So why did the Phillies finish the heel turn? Well, that’s because they yet again collapsed in the second half, sabotaged by poor starting pitching that just wasn’t up to Major League quality. The manager caught the brunt of the venom from fans, and was ultimately fired ten days after the season.
Fans were never angrier. It appeared the team was finally ready to contend, but they yet again showed their true colors and faltered. Gabe Kapler caught the most of the overwhelming negative reaction, but there were boos directed to the front office as well. Nevertheless, the front office was given a chance to fix it.
Losing the title match
The Phillies had now been built up as a great heel. Most people loved to hate them. Some still supported them, but even they had a love-hate relationship. The pandemic shortened season offered a great opportunity to re-capture the fan base with a postseason run. All they had to do was be better than 7 teams over 60 games.
They failed. They took the pin in the final week of the season, going 1-7 when all they needed to do was go 2-6. Many of the same problems reared their ugly head despite a new coaching staff, chiefly a failure to put together a competent pitching staff.
It’s hard to find any more supporters. The Phillies had their chance to get some redemption and took a dive that would make Ric Flair proud.
On the edge
Now the anger is at its all time height. But it’s not directed at the team itself per se, but rather the complete failure to make any improvements to it. GM Matt Klentak’s job has been called for starting last year, but the drumbeats and full on shouting have never been louder.
Owner John Middleton is a methodical decision maker. It took him over four months to seal the deal with Harper and ten days to fire Kapler. He may deliberate for a long time on Klentak’s future.
Frankly, he shouldn’t have to. There is more than enough evidence over the last five years that Klentak and his overseer MacPhail have failed to make a roster good enough to compete. Despite one of the highest payrolls in the league, they have never finished with a record over .500 while in charge of the Phillies. Middleton has final say, so ultimately what happens past this point is all on him. Even his reputation could use a boost, seeing as he put the financial clamps on the team before the season after promising that he would do anything to win.
Reports are surfacing that Middleton just might keep Klentak. Perhaps he will cite not wanting to buy out the remaining $6M on his GM’s contract in a year where league-wide revenue will take a hit.
That would be the tipping point. Keeping Klentak past this season would solidify the fan base’s slip into apathy. Why should they care about a team that doesn’t seem to care about making changes when things clearly aren’t working? Why should they spend their money to support a team owner that would rather save a few bucks of his billions than use the one competitive advantage they have?
Apathy is the worst thing that can happen to a sports team. They will still have supporters, but the overwhelming majority simply wouldn’t care. It’s hard to sell tickets when no one cares. Just ask the many unemployed wrestlers who weren’t big enough draws.
If Middleton decides to retain Klentak, there will be one big change at Citizens Bank Park next year. It will be a lot quieter when the Phillies collapse in September again.