Interlude: In the Rust Age

by Timothy Malcolm

Oh, what days they were! What madness! What primal, orgasmic madness!

We long for that circus.

Today, on this sunny and clear day in South Philadelphia, an afternoon perfect for baseball, the folks assembled to witness Jimmy Rollins accept Wall of Fame membership have packed the house. Today, it resembles that utopian wonderland, that brick and steel castle. But once Jimmy steps off the field, and the pinstripes step on, few of the folks will leave. They will grab their families, their commemorative books, their bouncing backpacks and disinterested looks, and walk right past the gates. And the ushers will sigh but understand why. The circus is gone. It left town long ago.

It is amazing to think that. Just ten years ago, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, top of the world! They stood outside for hours, for days, red shirts and white shirts and maroon shirts and blue shirts, just to watch a game. To be part of that madness. That primal, orgasmic madness.

You need not squint to see the paint chips falling off the steel. You need not sniff to smell the crust of bread, the sting of urine filling the air. The shine has been removed, the hot dogs have been withdrawn. Halladay retired a Blue Jay, a final tour before fitting his bird cap in Cooperstown. Lee stumbled to the finish, yet his final mile fared better than that of Ryan Howard, a shell of the bruting slugger who routinely rocked this old park. The old park. Much older than its years.

Cole Hamels flew away long ago. He is finishing a fantastic career with the Boston Red Sox. And Shane Victorino, he was traded to the Bronx. The Phillies got fleeced in that one. Trevor May never panned out. Sebastian Valle is a backup at best. Jesse Biddle? Oh yeah, that bust left baseball after three Major League starts. And don’t get us started on the Philipe Aumont disaster.

But God help you, just God help you, if you utter his name. You know who.

I remember a piece – I actually recall the day: December 29, 2011 – written by somebody at The Good Phight, this old blog, back when blogs were still in vogue. The writer mocked a conversation between Ruben Amaro Jr. and God, in which Amaro is fighting the urge to trade … you know, him … to the Mets for David Wright. Pretty funny, as I remember, and pretty telling, at least concerning a small group of Phillies fans. See, some fans thought it clinically ridiculous for the Phillies to even entertain a trade involving you know who. That all started when The Philly Phans – that was another blog – leaked that very rumor. They were mocked, it was funny. Just another blog “covering” the Phillies, trying to beat the trained professionals to the news. It never happened. He was never traded. Maybe he should have been.

I remember a game in 2010, his first stint with the Phillies. They were playing the Giants, and routing the Giants, too. A crisp, warm, starry night at Citizens Bank Park, back when the old park was packed tight and rocking heavy. He stepped in, waved that wand, and in a flash, pulverized the baseball. I mean, few shots were that prodigious. Matt Stairs. A couple Ryan Howard homers. But that’s it. This was right up there, a no doubt missile, the kind that could break detente. The crowd erupted. He had arrived. He had arrived!

I just don’t get it. Why did so many people turn on him? Why did so many people abuse him? Sure he had trouble in the field, but he was young. The man could hit! Boy could he hit! What beautiful blasts!

And patience! A young twenty-something displaying plate discipline! How many guys were doing that at his age?

Maybe we were all riding so high. Maybe we didn’t want to wait out a young kid. We saw Ben Francisco struggle, and we grinded our teeth with Kyle Kendrick. Boy, if only one of our starters today pitched like Kendrick!

I wish I knew the answer.

All I know is I saved some tweets, from way back then, way before all that happened. One blog asked if he was going to live up to his huge potential. Live up to it? The kid had only three-hundred plate appearances! One guy asked “What’s the point of (him)? Let him move on, please.” Another said he would carry him on his back if it meant bringing in David Wright. Yeah, Wright, who threw his back out in 2014 and never lived up to his potential. That would have been great.

Instead, all of that happened. What a way to go. What wasted talent.
It is amazing to think that. Just ten years ago, Hunter Pence and Chase Utley, top of the world! Carlos Ruiz, on a mural! Before Del Ennis! The glory days. We stood outside for hours, for days, red shirts and white shirts and maroon shirts and blue shirts, just to watch a game. To be a part of that madness. That primal, orgasmic madness.

Today we long for that circus. Rollins will fly back to California. The twenty-year 2008 reunion is next. Those were the days. When the old park glistened, its red brick and steel shining in the clear blue afternoon, the crisp warm night. Center of the universe, a utopian wonderland. I remember that home run he hit. My God, what a home run. He could have hit two-hundred more like that at Citizens Bank Park. I know it. And maybe they know it, too. And maybe they are regretting all the hurt and pain. Maybe they realize he could have kept the madness alive.