If I’m not mistaken, there was bumper sticker that read, “WOOF!” on the back.
Regardless, that’s the way the winter went for the MVP of the NLCS and World Series. If he wasn’t out gallivanting with Letterman or Ellen DeGeneres and giving her a cheesy Phillies’ jersey as a gift, he was appearing on his wife’s (second) reality show, the cover of Sports Illustrated or seen strolling around the city with a little dog in a backpack.
Typically those are things that make the Philly sporting fans wonder about the guy, but since Hamels pitched the Phillies to their first World Series victory in 28 years and captured the city’s first title in 25 years, the little dog and goofy TV commercial were ignored. No sense getting worked up over a miniature poodle when the dude pitched like a bulldog.
Don’t think that Hamels didn’t notice the treatment either. In fact, after his very first full season in Philadelphia where he solidified himself as the best pitcher on the staff, Hamels pointed out that, “The people treat me really nice here. Everyone is just so nice when they see me around.”
“Well yeah,” I told him. “It’s because you haven’t sucked yet.”
This is not to say that Hamels sucks now. Far from it. Though he’s 11-12 this season (counting the playoffs), he still has a left arm that comes around maybe once a generation. He has an incredible knack to put together incredible stretches of games that conjure up memories of the all-time greats. Better yet it’s a Hall-of-Fame arm, which, if one asks Hamels straight out what he wants to accomplish with his baseball career, he’ll flat-out tell it without so much as blinking or a trace of arrogance.
The answer comes as if he had rehearsed it in front of a mirror for years…
He wants no-hitters, piles of wins, Cy Young Awards, a career that spans decades, and, of course, the Hall of Fame. The good part for the Phillies is that Hamels’ goals aren’t all that unreasonable. The odds are relatively favorable that the lefty could pitch a no-hitter or two or win a Cy Young.
But here’s the thing about that – Cole Hamels ain’t Steve Carlton. Hell, he’s not even Tom Glavine. Oft-injured lefty and changeup specialist John Tudor might be more like it.
Tudor made it to the World Series three times during his career and was known as a bulldog of a competitor. He famously attacked a metal ceiling fan after losing Game 7 of the 1985 World Series for the Cardinals, after a season in which he piled up a career-high in innings, complete games and shutouts. In fact, Tudor is the last Major Leaguer to notch double-digits in shutouts when he got 10 in ’85.
Tudor followed his 275 innings season with 219 more in 1986, but then was never the same again. In 1990 he topped out at 146 innings, but that was his last season.
Just like that, Tudor, a 21-game winner, All-Star, and Cy Young candidate, was washed up at age 36. His last four seasons were nothing more than a series of one injury on top of another.
Look, nobody is saying Cole Hamels is headed down the same path as John Tudor. After all, Hamels is far more talented than Tudor ever was, and just four years into his big-league career, the Phils’ lefty is nowhere near his prime.
Without a doubt, the best years of Hamels’ career – even after getting just 13 outs in a NLCS clincher – are in front of him, not behind.
However, baseball history is littered with flameouts. Tudor is hardly even the tip of the iceberg. Remember Steve Avery, the lefty who had two 18-win seasons for the Braves before he turned 23? Yes, after three years of pitching 230 innings (including the playoffs), Avery was burnt by age 29 and out of baseball for good at age 33.
But Hamels is just 25. His bad season was more the result of poor off-season preparation than anything else. He’s also a father now, which should improve his focus.
Hey, there are a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame who lost 20 games in a season. Hell, Steve Carlton is one of them. Don’t expect anything like that to happen to Hamels. Better yet, don’t expect a encore of the 2009 season, either.