When Baseball Teams Give Up

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It's a business. That inescapable point has been drummed into us as long as there have been professional sports. At no time, however, does the idea become as apparent as that tidy little period at the end of July, baseball's trading deadline.

Teams in contention desperately go after the player or players they believe will make them champions. Teams out of contention basically throw up their arms and throw out their stars, although nobody involved ever would concede they, well, have conceded. Even though it's obvious they have.

The commissioner his own self, Bud Selig, is always insisting the one item fans need is hope, the belief that no matter how bad the situation might be, it will improve, so never give up.

And then franchises such as the Phillies - World Series champions only four years ago - give up, although they choose more felicitous words, such as rebuilding or planning for the future.

"It could really take years to know whether the trade deadline represented Black Tuesday or Comeback Tuesday,'' wrote Bob Ford, the astute columnist of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

It's been an awful year for the Phils, not entirely of their own causing, with seemingly half the lineup injured at one time or another. You look at the standings, and even though they haven't changed from late spring, it's difficult to believe the Phillies are at the bottom of National League East and not at the top.

Those things happen. What shouldn't happen is getting rid of all the names in an instant, wham. Shane Victorino was a Philly guy, recognized, appreciated. If your team is going into the tank, a few familiar faces would appear to be a saving grace.

But now those faces are in other uniforms, Victorino with the Dodgers, Hunter Pence with the Giants. NL East has morphed into NL West.

And in the other league, the Texas Rangers went after pitcher Ryan Dempster and catcher Geovany Soto from the eternally deconstructive Chicago Cubs. Texas, still searching for that World Series victory, felt obligated to keep up with the Angels, who a few days earlier acquired Zack Greinke from Milwaukee.

The Brew Crew, tomorrow's champions, in 2010 traded for Greinke, the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner. He along with Ryan Braun was going to bring Milwaukee a pennant. Instead he brought them Jean Segura, Ariel Pena and John Hellweg from the Angels.

An All-Star, Pence was sent by the Houston Astros to the Philadelphia on July 29, 2011, for virtually half the Phils' minor league system, five players in all. A couple of days, later he homered off the Giants' Madison Bumgarner. Way to go, Hunter.

And almost exactly a year later, July 31, 2012, he went to the Giants, who according to general manager Brian Sabean were compelled to keep up with the rival Dodgers after they got Victorino.

"In some ways,'' Sabean explained, "it is a reaction."

Pence's reaction was, in effect, been there, done that, so just show him a locker and point the way to the dugout. He's saying all the right things, because there's no way to say anything wrong in baseball. Assuming you're under contract.

Pence said he happily would sign a long-term contract with San Francisco. "Absolutely,'' he said. "It'd be wonderful to have a home. Nobody ever offered me that with the Phillies."

In the end, what the Phillies offered was Pence to the Giants, who in 2011 got Carlos Beltran from the Mets and then said they couldn't afford Beltran. So he signed with the Cardinals.

With Pence in the lineup, the Giants lost their first two games, one which Matt Cain gave up two runs and San Francisco scored two and the next in which Barry Zito gave up seven runs, and it didn't matter how many the Giants scored.

Meanwhile, within 48 hours of their acquisition of Pence, the Giants, or their marketing people, were selling white home jerseys with Pence's number, 2, on the back. Above that in block letters was PENCE, even though in actuality the Giants' white home jerseys don't have names on the back. Did we say baseball was a business?

Victorino's start with the Dodgers was no less unimpressive, also going 0-for-4. Then again, as Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, give the man a little time to adjust.

How they're adjusting in Philadelphia is no small part of the equation. A contender becomes a bust and then, in a fateful few hours before August arrives, rids itself of two top names. Only by re-signing Cole Hamels did the Phils retain any sort of credibility.

"That's what the game is all about,'' said manager Charlie Manuel. "In order to stay where you want to be, if you want to be a winning team and competitive every year, sometimes you've got to change."

But do you have to change as did the Phillies, a process known as a fire sale? So sad.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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