During their five-year reign over the National League East, the Phillies have, more or lees, been without a true rival. They had the Mets in 2007 and 2008, but that's it. No one else has been good enough to necessitate an actual rivalry. And as I see it, that's not likely to change any time soon.
Of course, Fox Sports Florida's Reid Forgrave thinks differently, and in a column he wrote on Monday, he goes as far as to crown the Miami Marlins as the next great rival of the Phillies.
And while I appreciate Forgrave's intent to inject some more flair and meaning into the already super-competitive National League East, I can't help but disagree on a fundamental level that the Phillies and Marlins will somehow form some great divisional rivalry.
First, it's because rivalries just can't be conjured up at the whim of a sports writer. They have to be nurtured and grown, and they have to have some sort of rhyme or reason behind them, and “the Phillies are crafty veterans and the Marlins are young upstarts,” isn't going to do it. A good rivalry can't be forced, and more importantly, they can't be predicted. When you think of the great rivalries in baseball, you think of the Red Sox and Yankees, which took a dead slugger and 70 years of catastrophic Boston failures for that to come to fruition.
Recently, the Phillies were themselves caught up in a rivalry, when they traded barbs with the New York Mets during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. And that rivalry lasted like ten minutes, if you think about it. The reason? Because it helps if both teams are good at the same time. For two seasons, the Mets and Phillies were on the same level. Since then, the Mets took a nosedive, while the Phillies rose to the top of the division. It's the same reason that the Houston Astros have a rivalry with...well, no one.
But the key ingredient to a rivalry, as I see it, is the fans. They are what makes and breaks it. The players don't really care about rivalries, because most of those guys are friends. Cole Hamels doesn't have any problem with Logan Morrison, and Josh Johnson doesn't lay awake at night thinking about how he is going to pitch to Jimmy Rollins.
And because of that, there will be no rivalry. I'm sure the citizens of Florida are all fine people who love baseball, but the Marlins aren't exactly the most popular franchise in baseball. For a team that's won two World Series since 1997, they haven't been known for packing that stadium with rabid fans. And because of that, the rivalry doesn't get perpetuated.
Sure, a new rival for the Phillies would be fun, but if i had to guess, it would be the Nationals, not the Marlins, who turn into the new foils for the Phillies. Like the Fish, the Nats are a young team with a solid core and some money to spend, plus a chip on their shoulder thanks to the Phillies fans overrunning their stadium for so many years. As a result, their fans have got into the swing of things and are more than willing to drive Philadelphians out of their stadium.
Rivalries are good. They add more spice to the game, and it adds to the narrative for bloggers and beat writers, and the fans have another reason to hate the opposing players. But like all good things in life, you have to let it breathe and come about naturally. Might the Phillies and Marlins form a rivalry? Sure, it can happen. But I wouldn't bet on it.