Expecting the New York Mets, were you? Not this time.
When the average Philadelphia Phillies fan thinks of the baseball team they despise the most, the team that usually comes to mind if the New York Mets, and rightfully so. They won two World Series before the Phillies won their first despite being a younger franchise. For years they were a better team, and in Philadelphia that does not resonate well with fans.
However, it's been at least a good six or seven years since the Mets were competitive, and at least from what I've seen, some of that rivalry has died off. Well, from Philadelphia's perspective, anyway. Chances are that Mets fans aren't so high on the Phillies right now since they single-handedly prevented the Mets from making the playoffs in 2007 and 2008.
Since the Atlanta Braves have made a resurgence a few years back, they have competed neck-and-neck with the Phillies for the NL East crown. Granted, the Phillies did not create that opportunity for themselves in 2013, but in the two or three seasons before that, it's been the Braves who have caused problems for the Phillies.
Here's four reasons why Phillies fans hate the Braves.
No, I'm not awarding or recognizing anybody. It's just that for the last 20 years or so, the Braves have trumped the Phillies in accomplishments.
Until Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee came along, the Braves probably had the best rotations ever to be assembled in baseball history. Guys like Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux comprised thethree-headed monster that allowed for the Braves to compete for most of the 1990s.
With the 1993 NL pennant notwithstanding, the Braves were an opponent that the Phillies almost always feared back in the 1990s.
Then there was Chipper Jones. The first-overall pick in the 1990 draft, Jones came up through the Braves' system rather quickly, making his major league debut at the end of the 1993 season. Two years later, Jones and the pitching staff helped lead the Braves to a World Series title.
Jones later won NL MVP honors in 1999, and sure enough, the eight-time All-Star managed to win the NL batting title as a 36-year-old in 2008. What a career he had.
When Ted Turner owned the Braves back in the 1990s, they were willing to spend enough money to keep the team competitive and it paid dividends. With their roster completing its youth movement now that Jones has retired, the face of the Braves will be someone who will have to prove himself going forward. It's no longer set in stone as someone like Jones.
Simply put, the Braves had more individuals who were better than the players the Phillies put out on the field for quite some time. Nobody likes to see their team being owned by another specific team. Speaking of which...
Under manager Bobby Cox, the Braves were almost unbeatable for a stretch of nearly 15 years. From 1995 through 2005, the Braves won the NL East division title every single season. Add in the fact that, before the 1994 strike-shortened season, the Braves won their then-NL West division crown in 1991, 1992 and 1993, and you get a team that was a division winner for 14 straight years (15 if you count 1994). That's extraordinary and unheard of anymore.
The Braves also won the NL Wild Card after its establishment in 2010 and 2012. But what remains perhaps their most impressive feat is that the Braves made the World Series in 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1999. The Braves made the World Series five times in the 90s, averaging one appearance in every two years. Absolutely incredible.
What may have made it worse for Phillies fans was that they were the chew toy for the Braves' winning ways. Although it surely could have been worse during Atlanta's peak years of dominance from 1991 through 2005, the Phillies went 93-122 against them. That amounts to a .433 winning percentage; not so great after all.
The Phillies did put up a fight, but it wasn't until 2003 that the Phils even managed to put up a winning season series against the Braves, going 10-9. What may hurt a bit more than that, though, was that 2003 was the Phillies' final season at Veterans Stadium. In their final three-game series of the year, the Phillies played at home against the Braves to close out both the season and the stadium.
I was at two of those games: the final night game on Friday, September 26, and the season and stadium finale on Sunday, September 28, 2003. The Phillies won one game in that series, and sure enough, it was the one I did not attend. To lose the last game in the stadium where you saw your team win their first World Series is just sad. But that was exactly what the Phillies did.
I know I already mentioned Chipper Jones' career accomplishments before. I made note of his eight All-Star appearances, 1999 NL MVP Award and his 1995 World Series ring. But I didn't talk about something more important than that, at least to Phillies fans. No, it's not his two Silver Sluggers, or his .303 career batting average or even his 468 career home runs.
Doesn't that make you angry? Don't you just want to scream in Chipper's face?
Did I get you to scream "LARRY!" at the picture up on your computer screen?
From very early on in his career, Chipper Jones quickly became one of the most reviled opposing players in the major leagues. It wasn't that he was a bad player, no, quite the opposite. In 245 career contests against the Phillies, Jones hit .331 against them with 49 home runs, 152 RBI, 71 doubles, and posted a 1.036 OPS. These are lifetime stats against one team in a very large sample size. And it's scary.
Maybe it'll give you some more comfort to know that Jones wasn't nearly as good at Citizens Bank Park as he was at the Vet. He batted just .300 (I know, just .300) against the Phillies with a .943 OPS and 11 home runs in 59 games in his later years visiting Philadelphia, but at Veterans Stadium, he was a force to be reckoned with.
Jones hit .350 with a 1.089 OPS in only three more career games at the Vet than at Citizens Bank Park. His home run and doubles totals were neck and neck between the two stadiums, but average and OPS matter a bit more than where the ball is hit, and in that regard, the Vet very well could have been his son's middle name instead of Shea (get it?).
Given his array of accomplishments both against the Phillies and the rest of baseball, it's no surprise that he continued to be booed and called "Larry" by Phillies through his final game against the City of Brotherly Love.
But what may have been the biggest reason for Phillies fans' hatred of Jones was that he really was what the Phillies wanted all along, what they've lacked since the retirement of Mike Schmidt: a franchise third baseman who was a good guy on and off the field. And he's sure to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Craig Kimbrel. Jonny Venters. Kris Medlen. Tommy Hanson. Brandon Beachy. Mike Minor. Julio Teheran.
Freddie Freeman. Jason Heyward. Martin Prado. Andrelton Simmons. Brian McCann.
What, did you really think I was just rambling names of Braves players? Of course not. All of these players have significance more than just being either top prospects or impact major leaguers. Each and every one of these players came from within the organization, whether drafted or signed as international free agents. Or even in the case of Beachy, signed as an undrafted free agent.
In recent years, the Braves have been commended for their extremely deep farm system. It's produced the likes of Kimbrel, Freeman and Heyward, who have all placed at least second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in either 2010 or 2011, and Venters came in eighth in 2010 as well. Hanson also placed third in 2009.
There are also a good crop of All-Stars in this bunch. Kimbrel already has two All-Star nods under his belt and has placed ninth and fifth in the NL Cy Young Award voting over the last two years. Venters made Midsummer Classic in 2011 and McCann had made it for six straight years until an injury-riddled 2012 campaign. Heyward was even named an All-Star in 2010 during his unforgettable rookie season.
Many of these players have immense potential. Kimbrel could one day surpass Mariano Rivera as the best closer of all time if he continues the rest of his career at his current pace. Venters, when he's on, is as close to an elite set-up man as there is, and he's certainly among the best lefty bullpen pitchers in the game today. Medlen came back from Tommy John surgery and looks like he has ace potential.
Beachy was the same until Tommy John derailed his 2012 season, and Freeman, Simmons and Prado all look like they have great careers ahead of them.
But why should Phillies fans hate the Braves for this? To be concise, it's because the Braves have a successful farm system today and the Phillies don't. They've got 12 major leaguers or fringe major leaguers ready for action and all of them look to be very good at their respective positions.
They have chemistry because they came up through the same farm system together. The Phillies' current major league squad lacks the youth the Braves have, and while the chemistry is there, the players aren't nearly as capable as they once were.
The Braves haven't made many blockbuster trades in recent years and it's served them well. But they also know how to draft. Of all the listed players, only Heyward and Minor were first-round picks, as Kimbrel, McCann and Freeman were drafted in the second or third rounds.
All of the others were either signed or drafted in the later rounds: Medlen was taken in the 10th round, Hanson was selected in the 22nd round and Venters wasn't drafted until the 30th round. Heck, Beachy wasn't even drafted at all! The rest of their sleepers came from international spending. It's a great strategy, one that Phillies fans wished their team exemplified and hate the Braves for doing so well.
Am I suggesting that the Phillies' trades are bad? Not all of them. But you lose the youth and the potential when you trade away the farm system. It's left the Phillies' minor league organization in mediocre shape at best.
But those Braves are still at it. And if the Phillies want any success in the future, they'll have to keep their system intact and make sure that the only trades they make are sending players away for minor league prospects. They started that with Victorino, Pence and Blanton this season. Should any trades occur in the future for the Phillies, let them be of the selling variety.