Major League Baseball announced today that Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz will be suspended for the first 25 games of the 2013 season due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Ruiz tested positive for an amphetamine. It appears he will not resist the suspension with any sort of appeal, sideways talk, or fake web sites:
“I am sincerely regretful for my mistake in taking a prohibited stimulant. I apologize to my teammates, the Phillies organization and the Philadelphia fans. I will serve the imposed 25-game suspension to begin the season and I look forward to returning to the field and working toward bringing a championship back to Philadelphia in 2013.”
So what does this have to do with the Rockies? Not much, other than a meta-type reflection on the nature of baseball, the type of thing that pops into a baseball writer’s mind as the dark of winter settles in and our beloved sport fades from the public radar.
2009 was not that long ago, was it? Three baseball seasons and less than four years ago? It was at the end of that 2009 season that the respective arrows of the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies were pointing straight up. For the Rockies’ part, they lost in a divisional series that consisted of tightly contested games. It was a first round playoff exit, but it looked like they were not far from being on the same level as the class of the National League. That would be the Phillies, the team that lost that season in the World Series to the New York Yankees.
That NLDS series consisted of two teams that appeared poised to enjoy sustained success in the National League. At the time I left my imagination run wild with the possibilities: perhaps they would meet again in the playoffs in subsequent seasons. Maybe Fox or ESPN would prepare montages, complete with cinematic music, of the previous epic battles that made up the history of this wildly entertaining rivalry. If nothing else, maybe the Rockies could sustain success to legitimate the idea that real baseball was possible in Colorado…at…altitude (gasp!).
That unrelenting and genuine hopefulness tops my memories from that 2009 series. It is followed closely by memories of Huston Street blowing saves, Yorvit Torrealba spraying single after inexplicable single, freezing cold and icy weather, and, last but not least, Carlos Ruiz delivering murderous clutch hits. It turns out that Ruiz’s numbers were not as dominant as my memory would have you believe: he went 4-for-13 with 3 RBI in the series. Still, I bet those RBI were really really clutch.
Fast forward to 2012, and Ruiz’s recent slip-up culminates a rough stretch for the Phillies. It would be premature to call it a fall from grace, but it was certainly an unexpected hiccup for a team that was indeed supposed to remain at the top of the standings to miss the playoffs completely this year. This news is just the most recent reminder of the cruel impermanence of this game, as a team already derailed by injuries to its key players now loses its catcher to a suspension. It turns out that even the place held by the mighty Phillies is fickle and subject to sudden changes.
For the Rockies it has been a gradual lesson in impermanence, a steady fall to the basement over the last number of seasons. Back in 2009, our hope was based on what we thought was a stable organizational philosophy that imploded before we could figure out what happened. Whether because of a false sense of our ability to succeed (the Rockies) or because of injuries and suspensions (the Phillies), whether fleeting success (the Rockies) or sustained success (the Phillies), every team in this league is at risk to see things slip away in a startling hurry.
The suspension of Carlos Ruiz struck me as a poignant reminder of that fact, of the fact that teams that seem to have it easy, watching their 7-hole hitting catchers smack clutch singles in the playoffs just a couple years earlier, can suddenly have it as difficult as everybody else.