PHILADELPHIA (AP) — An old, familiar chant is back after a long absence at the Philadelphia Phillies' cozy ballpark. It goes like this: "E-A-G-L-E-S!"
The Phillies are last in the NL East and headed toward their second straight losing season and third in a row missing the postseason. So, fans are turning their attention to the football team.
Cheering for the Eagles during a Phillies' game is the ultimate sign of apathy, a flashback to the way it used to be around here before the baseball team won over the city.
Less than three years removed from a dominant run that featured five straight NL East titles, two pennants and one World Series championship, the Phillies barely resemble the team that captured the hearts of a sports-crazed town.
Attendance is down, of course. After seven straight seasons of drawing at least three million fans, the Phillies are on pace for a half-million drop this year. They had a consecutive sellout streak of 257 games — the third-longest in MLB history — between July 7, 2009 and Aug. 6, 2012. Now, empty, blue seats fill the stands.
Several of the star players who led the most successful period in franchise history are still here — Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz. They're getting paid for past performances and each — except Hamels — is well past his prime. That's part of the reason why the Phillies are in this mess.
Thanks to the big contracts general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gave the stars of '08 and money spent on Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, A.J. Burnett and Marlon Byrd, they have the highest payroll ($184 million) in club history and third-highest in the majors.
All that produced a 42-53 record before the All-Star break, putting the Phillies 10 games behind Washington and Atlanta. With the non-waiver trade deadline approaching on July 31, major changes are expected. The Phillies twice flirted with inching their way into the playoff race by winning five straight games only to fall further back in the standings.
"Regardless of how we play, they're still going to make their decisions for the future of the team," Rollins said. "I remember back in '05, '06 we started making trades and we started winning. It's like, you take this guy out and you say we're not going to compete this year but we have the last say in that, and hopefully that is something that's going to happen this year."
Rollins and teammates are clinging to hope they can turn things around. They're ballplayers so they have to think like that. Reality says it's time for the Phillies to rebuild.
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