Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Star Performances by Star Players

Members of the Phillies celebrate during game three of the NLCS in Philadelphia

The 2009 World Series surely is loaded with star power as many of the best players in the game are assembled on one stage. It is an abundant accumulation of MVPs, All-Stars, CY Young winners, Gold Glovers, World Series heroes, playoff stars and media darlings.

Big time performances by big time players on the biggest stage not only create the best theatre, but also cements legacies along the way. Many great players never have the opportunity to perform on this exclusive stage, but those who do and perform well, etch their reputation in the annals and in the forefront of baseball fans minds for generations.

The Yankees have gathered their biggest stars largely through the allure of money. A-Rod, CC and Tex were brought in with record contracts to join home grown stars Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Robinson Cano. And, Andy Pettitte is a hybrid, having come up through their system, but brought back through free agency. Across the field in the opposite dugout, the Phillies have a bevy of stars who have been nurtured within their own organization and a couple more that they obtained with talent from their own farm system.

J Roll, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino all were young players who have blossomed within the Phillies organization. Cliff Lee and Brad Lidge came to the team in exchange for top minor league players. And, of course, Raul Ibanez and Pedro Martinez were signed through free agency this season.

Last season, Hamels and Lidge played starring roles that launched them into the vocabularies of baseball fans everywhere. This season, a new group of players have moved to the foreground. Lee has put on the type of dominant pitching display throughout the playoffs that will forever add "big game pitcher" next to his other credentials. Werth has registered on the World Series Richter Scale with 7 post season home runs. Now, Utley is making his mark with a World Series record tying 5 home runs.

Similar to the way NFL quarterbacks can have excellent careers, but never be recognized among the elite unless they win a Super Bowl, baseball players are often validated through starring performances in the post season, especially the fall classic. Although Phillies fans recognize Utley as the best second baseman in baseball, this year's performance will likely place his name in discussions about the all-time greats. His record setting performance already has his name included with icons such as Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby.

It is great to see this happen to a player who has been the model citizen on and off the field. He is a quiet, lead-by-example guy on one of the best teams in recent years and one of the hardest working, best prepared players in the game. In some ways, Utley has been hamstrung by his own greatness when it comes to the post season. The bar has been raised so high by Utley himself that anything less than a super hero-like performance is deemed as failure.

A couple players are lurking in the background who still might have their own statements to make before this series ends. Specifically, despite winning MVPs and noteworthy accomplishments in the playoffs, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins have yet to distinguish themselves as big game performers on baseball's biggest stage. Both are due to breakout, which could bode well for the Phillies prospects of a come from behind World Series victory.

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