Looking back at Hamels' stellar Phillies career
PHILADELPHIA -- The walls of the home manager's office at Citizens Bank Park are dotted by pictures of special players and moments from Phillies history. The photo that hangs closest to the desk was taken on the night of Oct. 29, 2008.
The Phillies had just beaten the Rays to win the World Series. On the left is first baseman Ryan Howard, holding the trophy. On the right is Cole Hamels, clutching the Most Valuable Player award. In the background is the red sports car he received for winning it.
Hamels had also been voted MVP of the National League Championship Series. So it's hardly a stretch to suggest that without him the Phils would likely also be without exactly half of the World Series championships they've won in 132 years of doing business.
By itself, that's enough reason for pause for a moment on the day Hamels was officially traded to the Rangers and appreciate the impact he's had on Philadelphia since becoming the Phillies' first-round Draft pick, 17th overall, in 2002. But there's more, much more, than that.
Hamels won over a blue-collar city despite his California upbringing and surfer dude good looks. He was adopted, in a way, by a fan base who watched him grow from a gangly teen to the best pitcher the organization has developed since Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.
Of course, it helped that Hamels was really good, a three-time All-Star. It helped that he settled down in the area and raised his family here and was generous in his charitable works.
The biggest reason Hamels was embraced, though, is that he was a lot more of a Philly guy than he appeared at first glance. He earned the respect of the working-class customers because he rarely let irritation or displeasure or frustration show after his lineup, once again, failed to provide him with more than a run or two.
Philadelphia fans expect a lot of their highly-paid professional athletes. They didn't expect any more from Hamels than he expected from himself.
"One of the things that I think was a little bit of his Achilles' heel was that he expected perfection from himself every single time out. And when he wasn't, it annoyed him. And you could tell on the mound that it bothered him. But if I'm a fan watching a guy perform, that's what I'm impressed by," said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., a Philadelphia native.
"A lot of people said things about him being a prima donna and all this other business. Hollywood Hamels. I will tell you this. We've had some very, very competitive players play here in Philadelphia. I would put him up against any player we've had and any athlete we've had here in Philadelphia."
A favorite personal memory: July 22, 2010, was a brutally hot and humid day at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The temperature at first pitch for the afternoon game was announced as 92 degrees, and it climbed as the game continued under the harsh sun.
The Phillies, on the other hand, were ice cold. They'd lost four straight and six of their previous seven to fall seven games out of first place, just two games over .500.
Despite the miserable conditions, Hamels was brilliant. He allowed just one hit in eight shutout innings. The Phils eventually won, 2-0, in 11 innings.
Then-manager Charlie Manuel pointed to that game as the launching pad for all that followed.
"I still go back to that real hot day in St. Louis. I think that's the day that turned him around," he said. "It was scorching. We couldn't get a run for him and he kept right on pitching. He didn't say nothing. He wanted to be in the game. The success he had that day, especially against that lineup, I think that brought him right back where he wanted to be."
It certainly was a turning point for the team, which went 49-19 (.721) the rest of the way.
Hamels also showed that he was human, something everybody can relate to. In February 2005, he got into a bar fight -- he said he was protecting his teammates who were also there -- and his invitation to big league camp was revoked as a result. After Hamels' breakthrough season, he went 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA in 2009. Late in the playoffs, he said he couldn't wait for the season to be over.
Since there was still the chance Hamels might make another start if the Phillies staved off elimination, it was misinterpreted by some to mean he hoped his team lost.
Along the way, Hamels became part of the tapestry of the city, like Billy Penn's hat and Boathouse Row and Independence Hall. His departure leaves a noticeable hole in that fabric.
Hamels, Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley were the core of the Phils' teams that ended up winning five straight NL East titles from 2007-11 and two pennants in that span.
Rollins, the Phillies' all-time hits leader and the best shortstop ever to wear the uniform, was traded to the Dodgers last winter.
Now Hamels is gone, too. They're breaking up that old gang of theirs. Howard and Utley, the best first baseman and second basemen in team history, could be next. It's necessary. It's time. Still, watching those who played such an integral role creating the best run of sustained excellence the Phils have had in their 132 years of business is jarring. And not just to fans.
"One of the difficulties in trading a guy like Hamels is what he's meant to the organization over the years. There is nothing easy at all about these decisions and trades. Rollins. Hamels. They're difficult because these are iconic players for our organization," Amaro said.
Later Friday night, Pat Burrell was added to the Phillies' Wall of Fame. It won't be long after Hamels retires before he's honored there, too.