It’s the time of year when we reflect on the people and the things that brought us joy over the past 365 days. From an unexpected playoff run by Jalen Hurts and the Eagles, to a miraculous World Series appearance by the Phillies, to a more perfect Union, to the renaissance of Howie Roseman, it has been an annum of bounty in Philadelphia.
1. Rob Thomson
Larry Bowa told me two years ago that Rob Thomson should be a major-league manager. Thomson thought so, too, but, convinced he’d never get the chance, he planned to quit the game after 2022, according to The Athletic. He finally got his shot after the Phillies fired Joe Girardi on June 3. “Topper” went 65-46, won the NL pennant with a No. 6 seed, and came within two wins of a World Series title. He did it all with an injured MVP, just two reliable starters, zero reliable bullpen pieces, and a leadoff hitter who hit exactly .218 in both the regular season and the postseason.
He also happens to be the most likable figure in the history of Philly sports, with all due respect to Dick Vermeil.
2. A.J. Brown comes to town & Howie Roseman’s rebirth
In February of 2021, Eagles general manager Roseman had no real head coach, no real quarterback, no real wide receivers, and a bunch of 30-something underachievers that put him in salary-cap hell. Twenty months later he’s got Nick Sirianni, a coach of the year candidate who turned in a 9-8 rookie season, made the playoffs, and is 9-1 this season; Hurts, the “project” quarterback drafted in 2020 whose maturation has paid off as an insurance policy against Carson Wentz’s decline; DeVonta Smith, a first-round wideout home run from last year’s draft; A.J. Brown, who cost a first-round pick, $100 million, might still be a bargain; and Roseman’s getting strong performances from the likes of veterans Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Javon Hargrave, Darius Slay, and, occasionally, Fletcher Cox.
3. The Ben Simmons trade
Daryl Morey insisted that insecure malcontent Ben Simmons, who was sitting out until he got traded, would be worth more than a bunch of fringe players. Morey waited until the Nets were willing to part with inconsistent malcontent James Harden, who is a superstar, if fading. There’s hope for Harden, who’s injured. Simmons came to town Tuesday. He still stinks.
4. Bryce Harper’s postseason for the ages
Harper, the reigning MVP, tore a ligament in his right elbow in April and missed hardly any time. He broke his left thumb in June and missed two months. As a designated hitter, a role he’d never before played, he still hit 18 home runs with an .877 OPS. That only served to set up a magnificent postseason: a .349 average, six home runs, 13 RBI, an 1.160 OPS, and the winning homer in the NLCS game that sent the Phillies to their first World Series in 14 years.