Weather permitting, the Phillies take their final step towards defending their World Series Championship tonight in New York. The Fall Classic begins in the Big Apple, appropriately bringing the two best teams in baseball together to compete for the 2009 title. It pits the most celebrated team in baseball history from the "Capital of the World" against the team with the most losses in baseball history from the city forever in its shadow.
Although some of the New York media seems to want to assert their city's and team's superiority, the outcome of this series will not be determined by population, cultural differences, affluence, stature of architecture or franchise history. This is baseball, here and now. The current Phillies team can do nothing about the organizational struggles in years past throughout its 100-year plus existence, but surely can do something about asserting itself as the best team in baseball this year...and perhaps this era.
Both teams share similarity in that they each have a marvelous collection of talent, but the teams were built in different ways. The Yankees have used their big market status and revenues to annually acquire the biggest names and the next tier of players on the free agent market. Currently its CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texiera, Andy Pettite, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, AJ Burnett...the list goes on. Conversely, the Phillies have primarily built around a nucleus of home grown talent, complemented by some shrewd acquisitions of "diamonds in the rough" and a couple finishing pieces.
Historically, the Yankees have been able to far exceed the competition in payroll and usually are the first team mentioned whenever top free agents seeking big payouts go on the market. They are major league baseball's "Show Me the Money" team- the "Best Team Money Can Buy." The Yankees are a collection of rentals and some old favorites melded together by the common bond of US currency.
To be fair, they do have have a few pieces cultivated within their organization. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada are products of their own drafts, amateur free agent signings and farm system. Make no mistake, though, the heart of their line-up and their starting pitchers were all wooed to the Yankee pinstripes by the highest bid.
In the opposing dugout is a team on a mission to repeat, melded through the proverbial climb together and an undeniable team chemistry. They are talented, driven and successful. And, contrary to perception that the qualities can not be mutually exclusive, they are also personable, team oriented and humble. The players and manager of this Phillies team are both champions and highly likable.
The foundation of this remarkable team and current period of success is built around players that they drafted and cultivated in their farm system. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are some of the top players in baseball that are also the clear leaders of the team. Last year's post season hero, Cole Hamels, anchors the pitching staff along with mid-year acquisition Cliff Lee, throwing to home spun Carlos Ruiz behind the plate. Other key players such as Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth were bargain basement signings abandoned by other teams who realized their potential in a Phillies uniform. And, to complete the puzzle, the team signed some value free agents such as Raul Ibanez and a couple of Pedro's.
Enthusiastic capacity crowds virtually every night in a superior venue, a winning attitude and a great team culture make for a highly attractive environment. Players want to be a part of it, and stay a part of it. The future is bright. The allure of the atmosphere is surely a key element to ensure that it stays that way. And, the team continues to develop talent from within that they are readying to step in when the time comes.
Conversely, the team to the north in Gotham City offers the Yankees mystique, fame and fortune as its primary allures. The largest market and revenue base by a long shot, along with ownership demanding success and a willingness to buy it, also goes a long way towards ensuring ongoing prosperity. When current players run their course, the holes can be plugged with the next available high priced free agents.
When the two teams face off against each other tonight in the 2009 World Series, the best teams that the National League and American League have to offer will be represented. And, two vastly different organizational philosophies will be on display as well. The Phillies players look to stake their claim in baseball history by being the first National League team to repeat as champions in 33 years, while the organization looks for validation that it did it the right way.