Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson,
seven-time All-Star

"I want to be a Sixer, I have said that since day one," said Philadelphia's irreverent yet most revered sports icon Allen Iverson, a 1996 first overall pick out of Georgetown. "I honestly want to be a Sixer."

Why? Why would one want to continue a career that is effectively at a dead-end in the City of Brotherly Love? Why give every last ounce of effort in your body for an organization with an identity crisis -- an organization that doesn't know whether it's coming or going? Why play at the highest level for a fanbase that will only reciprocate with free-floating hostility?

We're not talkin' 'bout practice. We're talkin' 'bout new opportunities and a change of scenery, and perhaps most importantly, a chance at a championship. Even Iverson has to know a championship is not in Philadelphia's immediate future.

Iverson had a career year in the 2005-06 season, averaging his third-highest three-point percentage, assists per game, turnovers per game; second-highest minutes per game, field goal percentage, and free-throw percentage; and most importantly, his career-high 33 points per game. He and Chris Webber were the highest-scoring duo in the NBA, and yet, the Sixers could not make the playoffs in a system that allows half of the conference to make it.

Bobby Abreu
2005 All-Star and Homerun
Derby winner Bobby Abreu

Ironically, Iverson was criticized heavily for his reluctance to pass the ball, despite averaging 7.5 assists during the season.

The Phillies' Bobby Abreu is in a very similar situation, though his trade rumors are occuring during the baseball season. Abreu, who came to Philadelphia from Tampa Bay in November 1997 for shortstop Kevin Stocker, has been the epitome of the word "consistency." Only Barry (nine) and father Bobby Bonds (seven) have as many consecutive 20 HR/20 SB seasons as Abreu, who is 12 HR shy of making it eight. The polarizing right fielder has a career batting average of .303 and can hit anywhere in the lineup from first to sixth, and yet the Phillies may move him.

Good for him, he deserves to play on a team that can win and for a fanbase that appreciates the special breed of player he is, instead of for a fanbase that overlooks his offensive prowess and chooses to focus on his poor defense in right field. Some fans compare his play in right field to that of a dog near an electric fence. That sounds inviting.

Surely Abreu has talked with other Major Leaguers about what it's like to win a championship or to lose that Game Seven in the playoffs. Surely the two-time All-Star has noticed how embracing other cities' fans are, a stark contrast to the hostile Philly faithful. Abreu should welcome a trade to just about anywhere, ripping the no-trade clause out of his contract like an eight-year-old opening up his gifts on Christmas. For Abreu, a trade would make it a true Christmas in July.

Sal Fasano
Sal Fasano, beloved for his facial hair,
not his performance

With two absolute stars possibly leaving this town with the intensity of a supernova, other players will be brought in -- against their will. Players don't dream of scoring the last-second basket at the Wachovia Center or engaging in a pile-on after winning the NL East at Citizens Bank Park. They see general managers in the Sixers' Billy King and the Phillies' Pat Gillick that are conservative when it matters and liberal when it doesn't. They see a fanbase that expects failure in the face of success. They see ownership in both teams that seems content in mediocrity, content to ride the fence and content to make the playoffs only by blind luck.

While the reputation of Philly fans may be a bit overstated, it is not unwarranted. Philly fans adore their players not by their performance or by their actual effort, but instead for apperance and reputation. For example, the phans love Aaron Rowand because he's willing to go face-first into a wall even if it costs him two and a half weeks on the disabled list. Rowand is hitting .265 with 9 HR and 34 RBI. The phans also love Sal Fasano -- .243, 4 HR, 10 RBI -- because he has Italian heritage and a Fu Manchu mustache.

That being said, it is all the more surprising that Abreu went to a new approach, perhaps a last-ditch effort to endear himself to those ready to pack his bags. He took tips from Rowand to be more aggressive in the field, and it paid off, as he held Steve Finley of the San Francisco Giants to only a single on Friday. Abreu, the hitter who has seen the most pitches in Major League Baseball, took the second pitch out to centerfield for a sacrifice fly in the first inning. The old Abreu would have taken the Finley hit on the roll, as opposed to the bounce. The old Abreu would have waited until a 2-2 or 3-2 count to get the bat off his shoulders.

The old Abreu was also never unsure of where he would be within the next week, either. Live it up, Bobby, you and Iverson may not have to share in Philadelphia's collective self-pity for much longer.