Paul Byrd knows firsthand what it’s like when the Phillies trade their ace and the message it sends to the other players.
It may be necessary, but it’s not something they want to hear.
"It was very difficult and frustrating," recalled Byrd, an all-star right-hander with a funky delivery for the 1999 Phils, who saw things quickly unravel the following season. "Really sad, because we were playing really well the year before and then things started to go downhill. I remember when Ed Wade traded Curt Schilling he said there wasn’t another Curt Schilling to get back so instead we were getting four really good players (Omar Daal, Travis Lee, Vicente Padilla and Nelson Figueroa)."
"Curt was loud and was gonna tell you what he thought. He was one of our leaders because he had been there through the post-season. But we lost that type of guy and didn’t get back another No. 1 dominant starter."
Those Schilling-less Phillies went 65-97 in 2000, then gradually began to ascend, though they didn’t really take off until the new ace, a kid named Cole Hamels came to town. Now Hamels is gone, which again may have been necessary for the Phils to move forward.
But doesn’t make it any easier on the teammates he leaves behind.
"It says to the players ‘We have to take the necessary steps to do it all over again," explained the 44-year-old Byrd, who was introduced Saturday as part of Alumni Weekend, although he was mainly here as a pre and postgame analyst for Fox Sports Atlanta. "Even though this is painful that’s what had to happen. When I think of the Phillies I think of Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins and guys like that. So it hurts. But you’ve got to take the necessary steps to rebuild your team. As fans you have to fall in love with the new guys and the way they play the game. And if they don’t play the right way the Phillies fans will let them know it. “
That was never an issue with Byrd, who quickly became enamored with the fans here.
"Philadelphia is near and dear to my heart," said Byrd, who feels Ruben Amaro Jr. is getting a bum rap and deserves a chance to see this rebuild through. "The game I beat Randy Johnson (a 4-0 shutout in ’98) they played the theme from 'Rocky' over the speakers and I fell in love with Philly.I felt like I was one of them. I was a blue collar pitcher. I had to work hard to survive. I always had a connection with the fans."
So does “The Bull,” Greg Luzinski, first as a player, where he patrolled left field for nine seasons and clubbed 223 homers, helping lead them to their first World Championship in 1980, now as the front man for “Bull’s Barbecue.” But Luzinski says it wasn’t always such fun coming to the Vet, especially when he started out.
“I played for a last place team," he recalled of the disastrous 59-97 campaign under Frank Lucchesi and Paul Owens in 1972. "Steve Carlton won 27 games and we were still last. We actually had a rebuild program, but ours was through the minor leagues. We had (Larry) Bowa, Boonie (Bob Boone) and myself, plus Schmitty (Mike Schmidt) We filled in with a few players, like (Garry) Maddox and (Bake) McBride. Obviously, we won in ’80, but then I went to Chicago (White Sox), which kind of rejuvenated me at 30. Bowa went to the Cubs. All the guys left except Schmitty.
"Now it’s a little different here. They went with their players too long."
Which is why Cole Hamels is in Texas today, leaving the suddenly scalding-hot-since-the-all-star-break-Philies without an ace. Byrd says if the fans can be patient--never their strong suit—they may eventually be rewarded.
"They’re passionate,” said Byrd, a career 109-96, 4.41 with seven teams over 14 years. “in my opinion this is a tough city. But when you’re winning there’s no better place to be."
A number of Phillies alumni celebrating their past, would agree. They can only hope the Phillies of the future give those loyal fans something to celebrate, too.