A quick look at his career transactions shows that Rick Wise was involved in a couple of franchise-changing moves. In two of the instances, trading away Wise actually benefited the team that got rid of him.
That’s definitely not a knock on Wise or his career. The fact is he was pretty good with more highlight moments than most big leaguers. For instance, Wise was the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a game many regard as the greatest ever played. Wise came on in the top of the 12th, faced Hall-of-Famers Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez as well as 1977 NL MVP George Foster, and was the pitcher of record when Carlton Fisk hit his famous homer.
Wise was also an 18-year-old rookie in 1964 when he took the mound for the second game of a Sunday doubleheader at Shea Stadium in which the opening act was Jim Bunning’s perfect game.
Wise wasn’t nearly as good as Bunning though he allowed just three hits in an 8-2 victory for the first win of his big-league career. One of those wins includes the no-hitter he threw against the Reds at Riverfront Stadium in 1971. Not only did Wise come one walk away from a perfect game, but also he slugged a pair of homers in the game to drive in three of the four runs.
Despite a resume that includes two All-Star Game appearances, a modest showing on the MVP and Cy Young balloting in 1975, as well as 188 career wins—more than Jimmy Key, Fernando Valenzuela, Ron Guidry or Sandy Koufax—Wise was better for the teams that shipped him out.
Before the 1978 season, the Red Sox sent Wise to the Indians for Dennis Eckersley. Those were the days before Eckersley was a Hall-of-Fame closer, but for two years he was the ace for the Red Sox staff that should have been in the playoffs at least once. In ’78, Eckersley won 20 games for the Sox while Wise lost 19 for the 90-loss Indians.
That’s not the trade that became the legacy of Wise’s career, though. No, more than the no-hitter and the win in Game 6, Wise might be best known as the player the Phillies swapped to get Steve Carlton.
Some say it’s one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, which is no knock against Wise. It’s just that Carlton was that good.
For the next 15 years Carlton won 241 games for the Phillies, guided them to a championship once, the playoffs six times, and became the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award four times. Wise went on to win 113 games for St. Louis, Boston, Cleveland and San Diego over the next 11 years. The Cardinals got two years of 32-28 pitching with a decent 3.24 ERA. That’s not bad, but in his first year with the Phillies, Carlton nearly amassed Wise’s two-year totals with the Cards.
So why bring this up? What does Rick Wise and Steve Carlton have to do with anything these days, considering the Phillies just went to the World Series for the second year in a row?
Well, let’s just use it as a reference point for the idea of history repeating itself.
Chances are there won’t be as loud an outcry if the Phillies were to trade away Cole Hamels in a blockbuster as there was before the 1971 season when they dealt away Wise. After all, though he was coming off a 20-win season, Carlton was still a relative unknown in provincial Philadelphia. Wise, on the other hand, had that no-hitter to go with three straight seasons in which he pitched at least 220 innings, including 272 1/3 in ’71.
At age 25, Cole Hamels is certainly no Rick Wise.
Wise did all of that before the age of 25, too, which just so happens to be the same age as Hamels. Sure, Hamels has the NLCS and World Series MVPs, but hardly is the most durable pitcher out there. After turning in 227 innings during the regular season of ’08 and 35 more in five playoffs starts (totals lower than Cliff Lee in ’09), Hamels struggled through the 2009 season.
He showed up for spring training not as prepared as in years past, but at least he ahd been on TV with Ellen, Letterman and the deer-in-the-headlights, “Who are yoooo?” commercial, a performance so wooden that only Howdy Doody would have been proud.
But the Phillies believe in Hamels. At least that’s what they say publicly. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believes the real Hamels is closer to the one who went 4-0 in the 2008 playoffs than the one who went a combined 11-13 with a 4.61 ERA through the entire 2009 season.
“He’s a top-of-the-rotation starter who had a tough year,” Amaro said. “He had to deal with some adversity for a change. It’s the first time where he’s ever had to deal with some struggles. We fully expect him to come back and be the pitcher he’s always been.”
Actually, the Phillies already have a better lefty on their staff in Cliff Lee. In fact, it would be hard to find a better left-hander in all of baseball. Teamed with rookie-of-the-year candidate J.A. Happ, the Philllies have a formidable lefty tandem even before Hamels enters the equation.
So why not trade away Hamels—a real bargaining chip—for a better right-handed pitcher. Heck, trade him to Toronto for the best right-hander.
Though they failed miserably in their attempts to deal away Roy Halladay before the July deadline, the Blue Jays will more than likely be looking to move their ace this winter. With just the 2010 season remaining on his contract, Halladay will likely command a multiyear extension only teams like those in New York, Boston and Los Angeles can afford.
With Lee heading into his walk year, too, Hamels represents the stable future in terms of the financial side of things.
But does Hamels represent another shot at the World Series? Who knows? However, team insiders are whispering about a Hamels-for-Halladay blockbuster that probably is just wishful thinking.
Halladay, teamed with Lee, Happ and Joe Blanton, gives the Phillies the best starting staff on the planet. The only way a team with guys like that doesn’t get to the World Series is because of injuries or bad luck.
If the goal is to win right now and take advantage of that always fleeting window of opportunity, then a move on Halladay isn’t just logical, it’s necessary.
Hamels may very well fulfill his promise like everyone says. But then again, maybe not. We’ve already seen what happens when accolades, awards and a new contract are bestowed on Hamels. In fact, he can barely top 190 innings.
Yes, Hamels may very well turn out to be the next Steve Carlton…
But maybe he ought to be Rick Wise first.