Ed Wade

What if Jim Thome's injury didn't solve Phillies' first base drama?

What if Jim Thome's injury didn't solve Phillies' first base drama?

In 137 years of play, the Phillies have racked up more than a few what-ifs. What if Chico Ruiz doesn't steal home in 1964? What if Danny Ozark replaces Greg Luzinski for defense on Black Friday 1977? What if the Phillies protect George Bell in the Rule 5 draft? What if they don't trade Ferguson Jenkins? Or Ryne Sandberg?

What if Michael Martinez doesn't catch that ball in deep center field that 2011 night in Atlanta and the St. Louis Cardinals don't make the postseason? What if Chase Utley's knees don't go bad and Ryan Howard doesn't blow out his Achilles tendon? There are many, many more.

Over the next few days, we'll explore a few of the moments and events that may have flown under the radar but still make you ask: what if? Join us in our trip to an alternate Phillies universe ...

There was a brief time — very brief, as it turned out — that the Phillies faced a daunting conundrum involving two popular and extremely productive sluggers.

Today's trip to an alternate Phillies universe revisits Ryan Howard's rise and Jim Thome's departure.

When all was said and done, it worked out rather seamlessly. The Phillies traded Thome to the Chicago White Sox and that cleared the way for Howard to take over the first base position. Thome continued to ride a power-hitting track to Cooperstown and Howard won a National League MVP award and became the Big Piece on a club that won five division titles, two NL pennants and a World Series.

Everybody ended up happy, happy, happy.

But what if Thome hadn't injured his back in 2005?

The Phillies targeted Thome as a free agent and signed him to a six-year, $85 million deal before the 2003 season because they wanted him to light up a lineup and a fan base as they geared to move into a new stadium and he did just that, putting up huge numbers in his first two seasons with the cub.

The wise sage Lenny Dykstra once said, "Backs are tricky, dude, because they're connected to everything." Thome learned what Dykstra meant when his back started giving him big problems early in the 2005 season. His production slipped and the pain became too much to handle. He did not play after June 30.

You know the rest of the story. Howard, who had been bombing home runs for the better part of three seasons in the minors, came up and took off. He hit 22 homers and drove in 63 runs in 88 games, a little more than a half-season. He was named NL Rookie of the Year in November.

Meanwhile, down in Florida, Thome was rehabbing his back, getting stronger and angling for a big return in 2006.

But Thome knew that return couldn't be in Philadelphia. Ever gracious and classy, he tipped his cap to Howard and said he saw many of the same traits in the young slugger that others had seen in him years earlier. Thome quietly told the organization that the best thing for everyone was to trade him — preferably to his home state White Sox, who were in need of a designated hitter — and new general manager Pat Gillick got the deal done. Sure, the Phillies had to offset $24 million of Thome's salary, but it was a simple solution to what could have been a vexing issue.

In an alternate universe, Thome stays healthy in 2005 and continues to put up big numbers and Howard stays in Triple A and does not win the Rookie of the Year.

What happens then?

An experiment to use Howard in left field had failed miserably. There was no designated hitter in the NL. (That's probably going to happen in the coming years. Had there been a DH in the NL when Thome was a Phillie, the problem would have been solved and the Phils would have had a power plant in the middle of their lineup with the two left-handed sluggers.) The only solution was a trade. Howard had already requested one. Had Thome been healthy and productive through 2005, the Phils likely would not have considered dealing him. He had three years left on his contract and he was putting fannies in the seats.

Had Thome stayed healthy, the Phils likely would have had to trade Howard and who knows what they would have gotten in return. Yes, he was putting up big numbers in the minors, but there were questions in those days about whether he'd hit big-league pitching. Those questions would have lingered — and affected his trade value — had he stayed in the minors for most of 2005.

Howard's big half-season in 2005 made a trade of either him or Thome imperative. A couple of years earlier, the Phils could afford to be patient and let the situation play out because Howard needed development time. In fact, Ed Wade, the team's general manager through 2005, made just one call to gauge trade interest in Howard when Howard was in the minors. The general manager on the other end of the phone scoffed and compared Howard to Sam Horn, a minor-league slugging legend from the '80s and '90s who had just marginal big-league success. But now, something had to be done.

Wade never came close to trading Howard. And that scorching half-season and Rookie of the Year award in 2005 cemented the young slugger's place in the organization.

In an alternate universe, it could have been so very different. Howard could have moved on and done damage in another city, for another club. It would have been painful for Phillies fans to watch, even with good guy Jim Thome sticking around and doing big things. Ultimately, the pain in Thome's back started a chain of events that took care of everything — at least until Howard suffered his own career-changing injury.

"When I leave the game of baseball someday, I want people to recognize that I always put my teams first," Thome said the night he was traded to the White Sox. "That's what I love about the game — being part of the team. I see in Ryan Howard what someone saw in me when I broke into the big leagues. And now it's time for both of us to seize the opportunity ahead of us. It's a win-win situation."

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A summer of appreciation for Ed Wade — and it's long overdue

Brett Davis/USA Today Images

A summer of appreciation for Ed Wade — and it's long overdue

The Phillies will honor Bobby Abreu with a place on their Wall of Fame before Saturday night’s game.

It is a well-deserved honor for a man whose career, with the passage of time and the aid of new perspectives, has become more and more appreciated.

Abreu’s spot on the Wall of Fame and his place as one of the top players in Phillies history is a testament to Ed Wade, another man whose career, with the passage of time, looks better and better.

And maybe this summer is finally being appreciated.

(Dan Loh/AP Images)

It has been a summer of ceremony at Citizens Bank Park. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard — world champions and club icons — were all honored with retirement nights and the fans came out in force to show their respect.

Rollins went first in early May and his speech included a notable tip of the hat to Wade for his role in putting together the 2008 World Series championship team.

Two months later, Howard did the same thing.

Utley’s remarks in June were shorter than his two infield mates’, but he’s mentioned Wade’s impact on the best era of Phillies baseball many, many times in the past.

Wade was Phillies general manager from late 1997 until the fall of 2005. Those were difficult years for the franchise as it walked a tightrope between building a roster that could win and a ballpark that could fuel the revenues needed to compete in baseball’s new world.

Wade was let go after the 2005 season. It wasn’t necessarily a baseball decision because things were moving in the right direction. The Phils won 88 games that season and finished two games behind first-place Atlanta and one game out of the wild card. Under today’s system of two wild-card teams, the Phils would have made the playoffs in 2005 and Wade’s place in the future probably would have been secured.

Wade was let go more for business reasons. Attendance dropped by 600,000 in the second year of the new ballpark, a place Wade had helped design. That loss of revenue was a sign of fans’ impatience. It called for change and Wade was let go.

Tough business, baseball.

Wade never moaned about his firing in Philadelphia. He acknowledged that the rise to the playoffs that the franchise sought and eventually got didn’t happen fast enough. He acknowledged his mistakes — it’s an unpredictable game and all GMs make them — said he was proud of the good things that he’d done and moved on to Houston a couple of years later where he brought eventual NL MVP Jose Altuve to the majors and oversaw the drafting of eventual Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and eventual World Series MVP George Springer. Those three players helped the Astros go from a rebuild to a World Series championship in 2017. Wade was not around to enjoy that title. He got caught in an ownership change and was let go after the 2011 season, but his fingerprints were all over that Houston title team — just as they were the Phillies title team.

(Tom Mihalek/AP Images)

When Pat Gillick was hired to succeed Wade in Philadelphia, he acknowledged that he was taking over a good club that had worked the ball into the red zone and just needed a little help getting over the goal line. In his opening press conference, he talked about the good work Wade had done, and as the Phillies got better and better and won the NL East in 2007, and bigger titles in subsequent years, Gillick, class man that he is, never forgot Wade in passing around the credit.

“This is Ed Wade’s team,” Gillick once said.

Of course, there were others who had a hand in the construction of those great Phillies clubs, people like Lee Thomas (Rollins was drafted when he was GM), Mike Arbuckle, Marti Wolever, Ruben Amaro Jr., and many more, but Gillick, a huge contributor himself, was dead on in his praise of Wade.

Wade was GM when the Phillies drafted and developed Utley, Howard, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson and Pat Burrell, all contributors to the championship years.

He was the GM who put a young front office man named Mike Ondo in charge of the Rule 5 draft and said, “Let’s get him,” the year Ondo identified a kid named Shane Victorino as worthy of being selected.

He was the guy whose famous, from-the-heart Thanksgiving morning email helped put Jim Thome over the top as he agonized over whether to take the money in Philadelphia or stay in his comfort zone in Cleveland.

He was the guy who did not cave to pressure and trade Howard when he was a young minor-league prospect blocked by Thome.

He was the guy who did not trade a minor-league second baseman named Utley to Oakland for Barry Zito.

And he was the guy who had the ba … OK, guts … to hire Charlie Manuel when the whole town wanted Jim Leyland.

That hire has been validated hundreds of times over — just listen to the cheers Manuel gets these next few days during Alumni Weekend — most notably with Manuel’s raising the World Series trophy in October 2008 and Gillick’s saying that hanging on to Manuel (Gillick considered a change after the 2006 season) was the best move he ever made.

(Rusty Kennedy/AP Images)

Wade watched the Phillies celebrate the 2008 World Series from afar. Abreu watched it from his home in South Jersey. He actually opened a bottle of champagne and toasted his former mates. A little piece of him was still with that nucleus of players, even though he had moved on in a trade to the Yankees in July 2006.

Abreu played nine seasons and 1,353 games with the Phillies. He hit .303 with 195 homers and 814 RBIs. He stole 254 bases. He had an on-base percentage of .416 and an OPS of .928. The people who run baseball teams these days go absolutely gaga over his career numbers and you can bet that Abreu will receive strong Hall of Fame consideration when he hits the ballot for the first time this winter.

But first, it’s the Phillies Wall of Fame.

It’s an honor that never would have happened if it weren’t for Ed Wade.

Back in the mid-90s, when he was assistant GM under Thomas, Wade was assigned a couple of teams to scout during spring training. One of them was the Astros. Abreu caught Wade’s eye and when it looked like the young outfielder might not be protected in the expansion draft of 1997, Wade hounded Thomas to get the kid, some how, some way. The Phils ended up convincing Tampa Bay to select Abreu in the expansion draft and send him their way for Kevin Stocker.

It was a pretty good get, as they say.

(George Widman/AP Images)

One of the first things they teach you in this business is to pick up the phone and talk to the people you write about. Sorry. There are no comments from Ed Wade in this story. Had I called him for some thoughts, he would have protested — “Go away, angle boy,” — and tried to talk me out of writing this. He no longer works in baseball and is content watching from afar, away from the headlines.

But make no mistake about it. Ed Wade had a significant influence on the game and a huge influence on two championship teams.

On Saturday night, he will sit quietly in Citizens Bank Park and hear yet another star player thank him for the impact he had on his career.

The appreciation is long overdue.

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