December 7, 2009

Back in the high life again.

Allen Iverson and Placido Polanco have returned to Philadelphia.

Only one of these two men will have any impact on a world championship run, and its the demure Dominican. But if a sports team's success related to the amount of headlines it received on ESPN.com, well, the last two weeks would have you believing that the Sixers are the city's gold standard.

And that's not to say I do not appreciate and understand the Iverson media blowout. Allen Iverson was a terrific player, and his introduction during tonight's 76ers re-debut was truly a special moment. It brought back memories of the 2000-01 76ers, a blue-collar team led by Iverson and beloved by the city.

It also made me kind of sad, as all of us basketball bandwagon hoppers finally had to think about how far the sport has fallen in Philadelphia. The Wachovia Center sold out tonight, and if the Sixers start playing competitive basketball, that plus the Iverson influence will get attendance back to acceptable levels. But ever since 2001, the team has either underachieved or flat-out sucked, and the fans have responded accordingly. When that kind of negativity pervades a franchise, it takes a lot to turn things around. Just ask Placido Polanco.

When Polanco left the Phillies in 2005, they too were underachieving. An 88-win season was enough for a close second place in the NL East, but a collapse in the final few weeks of the season left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. The team was talented (Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, the emergence of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard) but untested, prone to slumps and seemingly unable to come through in the clutch.

Fast forward to what will soon be 2010, and Baseball America has named the Phillies the Organization of the Year. Even September's World Series loss to the New York Yankees seemed acceptable...well, as acceptable as a loss can be in Philadelphia. Utley and Howard are perennial MVP candidates; Cliff Lee should be a serious Cy Young candidate next year.

You can talk about how it was the right players in the right place at the right time, or you can stress that the Phillies were smart to get a capable leader in Pat Gillick and the perfect players' manager in Charlie Manuel. Either way, the Phillies are the toast of the city, and the Sixers currently reside in the gutter.

Getting Allen Iverson will grant them a brief reprieve, albeit a joyous one with a special player we should feel blessed to watch again. But more than anything, it allows us to compare to the team that ruled in 2000 and the team on the throne in 2010. Both Iverson and Polanco seem happy to be back, and we are happy to have them both. But ironically, this time around Polanco's brilliant contact hitting will inspire more debate, discussion and (hopefully) excitement than Iverson's flash and flair.

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