It is always about the money.
In fact, the minute someone ever says to you, "it's not about the money," you know that person is lying.
For the Phillies in 2012, who must now be asking themselves why the fanbase is teetering toward forsaking them, the answer is in the dollars.
This season, the Phillies have the highest payroll in the National League, but are languishing in the bottom half of the league standings.
The reason this is such a problem for the Phillies is that this result is the worst of the four possible results you can have as a professional sports franchise with reference to the relationship between cost and results.
Boiling it down to its essence, a pro sports team's season can be characterized in one of four ways: an inexpensive success, an expensive success, an inexpensive failure, or an expensive failure.
Having spent over $173M for a team that projects to win fewer than 80 games, it is pretty clear that this Phillies team is an expensive failure. Compounding the problem for the Phillies is that, for the fans, the concept of expensive failure is nearly impossible to grasp and even tougher to accept.
Phillies fans have long been conditioned to dealing with inexpensive failures.
The 1990 Phillies had only three players making more than $1M that season. That those three players were Von Hayes, Roger McDowell and Dickie Thon probably goes a long way toward explaining how the 1990 Phillies finished 77-85, fourth place in the National League East.
The 1995 Phillies were 20th in payroll in all of Major League Baseball, and a top-heavy payroll at that. Big deals were given to Darren Daulton and Lenny Dykstra in the hangover from the 1993 pennant-winning team. They finished 69-75 in a truncated 1995 season following the 1994 players' strike that cost the sport a World Series.
In each of those instances, while the team's performance was fairly dismal, it could not have been deemed unexpected.
In 1990, the team was seven years removed from its last playoff appearance with little hope on the horizon. In 1995, the 1993 National League Championship team had already begun proving that its surprising run was more miracle than explicable result; the 1994 Phillies were 54-61 when the strike ended the season. In 2000, as in 1990, the team was seven years on from playoff baseball, again with little-to-no hope of quick improvement.
Those seasons were, comparatively speaking, inexpensive failures.
Inexpensive successes are, understandably, rare. The closest you can come to that for the Phillies in the past two decades was the 1993 team, which was a collection of spare parts that somehow became a greater whole. The temptation is to look at the 2007 team the same way, but that would be inaccurate: the 2007 team had eight players making more than $5M, including the ungodly $10M paid to Freddy Garcia.
From that point forward, the past four teams would have to be considered expensive successes. While the team's playoff performances ultimately disappointed after 2008, four consecutive defenses of the National League East title cannot be seen as failure. They came at a cost, though: $98M in 2008, $113M in 2009, $141M in 2010 and $172M in 2011.
And now this. For a franchise that had, before the middle of the past decade, traditionally thrown nickels around like they were manhole covers, the 2012 team represented an even further extension of capital toward reclaiming the pennant, or even perhaps the world championship.
Perhaps it is not the franchise's first expensive failure, but in terms of degree it is certainly the most drastic.
That is why the fanbase does not know what to do. Phillies fans can understand the franchise not spending money and losing a lot of games. They have experienced the thrill of a "cheap" team unexpectedly overachieving. Surely, anyone could identify the correlation between the piles of money spent for the past five years and the team's success.
The question the fans have now is, if the Phillies spent $173M on this team and got this result, could it happen again? Will they continue to throw money into the team at this rate?
If it were your money, would you?