Mike Sweeney finally in a pennant race
Veteran hoping for chance at playoffs in Philadelphia
When he started the day on Aug. 4, Mike Sweeney and the Mariners were buried in last place in the American League West, bending under the burden of a 40-67 record, losers of 23 of their last 30 games and buried 22 1/2; games put of first place.
When he finished the day, Sweeney and the Phillies were in second place in the National League East at 59-48, two games behind Atlanta, smack in the middle of a pennant race that promised an exciting final two months of the season.
That's the magic of the waiver wire.
When the July 31 trade deadline passed, nine days after his 37th birthday, Sweeney was still with the Mariners. Then Ryan Howard sprained an ankle, and the Phillies went searching for a replacement. Sweeney had cleared waivers and in no time, his bleak season had turned into one with the promise of October baseball.
"It was a blessing," Sweeney said. "It was the most satisfying call I could get, almost as good as the day I got called up to the big leagues."
He was a 21-year-old catcher in those days, promoted by the Kansas City Royals in 1995. Later, Sweeney moved from there to first base and designated hitter, a right-handed batter with some pop, who hit .300 or better five times including .340 in 2002 when he finished second in the batting race. He made the AL All-Star team five times.
But those days seemed long gone. Plagued by injuries, he hadn't played in more than 75 games in a season since 2005. Back woes had put him on the disabled list twice this season, and he had been limited to 30 games with the Mariners, almost exclusively as a DH.
Then came the call that he would be moving into the middle of a pennant race, with a chance to play significant games down the stretch. "It was a breath of fresh air," Sweeney said.
With no DH in the National League, if Sweeney was going to fill in for Howard with the Phillies, he would have to play first base. In 16 Major League seasons, he had started just 168 games there. No problem. He found a glove and took over the position with no trouble.
"Playing here, playing in a pennant race, that's a dream come true," he said. "I got a little taste of a race in 2003 with Kansas City. We were close going into September. But this. This is going to go all the way down to the wire. This is going to be fun."
Sweeney knows the Phillies fan base can be demanding, but he became a favorite almost instantly. Two days after arriving, in his first home game, he contributed two hits in a six-run, eighth-inning rally to beat the Mets. His first single started the rally and his second one drove in a run and completed it.
Sweeney has fit into the Phillies clubhouse seamlessly.
"These guys are winners," he said. "To be a part of a winning organization with a chance to go to the playoffs, that means the world to me. It's a joy. It's like nothing I've experienced before in the big leagues."
Sweeney spent his first 13 Major League seasons with the Royals and was an important part of the Kansas City community. When his run there was over, he took out a full-page ad in the Kansas City Star to express his feelings for the fans and the city. There were three standing ovations for him when he played his final game for the Royals, an emotional end for Sweeney in his first baseball home.
From Kansas City he moved on to play in Oakland and then Seattle, both also-rans in the standings. Then came the call from the Phillies who needed some help and suddenly, after all these years, Sweeney has a shot at postseason baseball.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.