Ever since the 76ers traded Charles Barkley to the Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and a handful of magic beans, Philly fans have been terrified of trading superstars from their teams, no matter the circumstances.
So last winter, when the Phillies announced that they were trading Jim Thome to the White Sox for center fielder Aaron Rowand, the city groaned. Not AGAIN. It was understood that the moment Thome got out of town he would regain his health and swagger and do everything possible to remind the world that he is one of the all-time-great sluggers, the same way Barkley led the Suns to the NBA finals.
So what is Thome doing so far this season? Only a .296 avg, 29 HRs, and 75 RBIs. He’s a clear candidate for the AL MVP and his White Sox look like they will make a run at a second consecutive World Series trophy. The fears of Phillies fans were justified.
So do those Philly fans have a bitter taste in their mouths over the Thome trade? No. The city has fallen in love with Aaron Rowand, who forever earned a spot in the city’s heart when he broke his nose crashing into the centerfield fence — and still made the catch.
But it’s been more than just Rowand. Thome’s replacement, Ryan Howard, has been pretty good, too. Last year’s rookie of the year has a .282 avg, 28 HRs and 71 RBIs. Howard has given Phils fans hope for the future. And if he weren’t playing for what is quickly becoming the worst team in the NL, Howard would be an obvious MVP candidate.
Which begs the question: wasn’t there some way the Phillies could have kept both Howard and Thome?
The answer is, of course, no. Both Thome and Howard play the same position. During 2005 spring training, the Phils asked Howard to play a little outfield, but it didn’t work out too well. Howard, for all his hitting ability, is not an adept fielder. He can barely play first, for crying out loud. Thome came into the league as a third baseman, but Thome is nowhere near as spry as he was in as a 22 year-old Indian. And this spring he was coming off a season where he spent time on the DL with back problems. So that was never a possibility.
No, Thome and Howard couldn’t play together. Not in the NL, anyway. And Phillies fans are left to contemplate: what if? What if the Phillies had been able to field the two most dominant sluggers in the game not named David Ortiz? What kind of a team would that produce? Would the Phillies be looking down at the Mets, instead of the other way around?
Sadly, we’ll never know.