By Jim Salisbury and Todd Zolecki
Running Press, $15
When the Phillies added Cliff Lee to a rotation that already included Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, fans rightfully wondered if it was one of the greatest assembled rotations in baseball history. By the end of the season, the Phillies pitchers had made a pretty strong argument that yes, they did deserve to be considered among the greats.
Even with Oswalt and Blanton battling injuries all season, the Phillies finished first in the National League in ERA. The big four plus rookie Vance Worley all posted ERAs better than the league average, while Halladay (19-6, 2.35), Lee (17-8, 2.40) and Hamels (14-9, 2.78) all finished among the Top 10 in baseball in ERA.
The only argument against putting the Philies among the rotation greats is the way their season ended—a shocking loss to the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs.
Much like the Phillies’ season, the playoff loss casts a pall over “The Rotation.” The book, penned by a pair of long-time Phillies’ beat writers, does an excellent job of explaining how each of the Phillies Fab Five reached the big leagues. It also does a great job of taking the reader into the front office to detail contract negotiations, trades and the other moves that were needed to bring the rotation together.
All of this makes for an excellent read. It’s the kind of detail, scouting stories and back-room negotations that diehard baseball fans like Baseball America readers, love. By the end of the first half of the book, you have a pretty good understanding of why Oswalt is willing to toy with retirement, even though he’s only one year older than Lee. You have developed an even healthier respect for the work ethic of Halladay and you can find out why a former hothead like Hamels can turn into a rotation fixture.
But halfway through the book, the focus turns to the 2011 season, which proves to be a problem. Just as the book is humming along, the slog of the season slows down the momentum. You have the ups and downs of the regular season. If this was the story of a championship team, the run to the title would give the book a natural climax. Instead, September rolls around and you remember why you’re so close to the back of the book. One shocking series loss to the Cardinals and the season, and the book, are over.
It’s not the fault of the writers that the Phillies couldn’t finish off their 102-win season with a title. But you can’t help but wonder how much better the book’s finish would have been if they had.