Winter is almost over in Philadelphia. There may not be much snow melting on the city streets and people might not have many winter clothes to shove back into the far depths of their closets, but the calendar says it’s almost spring. Lack of snow days be damned, longer days are upon us and it’s almost time for the start of my two favorite seasons- baseball season and a new season of Mad Men.
The Phillies and Mad Men are both coming off relatively strong seasons. The Phils won the National League East and Mad Men won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. Yet each season ended with a twist that left fans confused, bewildered and bamboozled. The Phillies (despite being the heavy favorite) lost in the first round of the playoffs. On Mad Men, the main character, Don Draper, pulled a rope-a-dope and got engaged to his secretary amidst the near ruin of their young agency. On the cusp of another season, the Phillies are once again favored to represent the National League in the World Series and Mad Men looks to continue to be one of the top shows on television. For both the Fighting Phils of south Broad Street and the hard drinking employees of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the questions about each one’s upcoming season aren’t so different and how each season fares this year will be largely attributed to the answers.
Down in south Philadelphia, Charlie Manuel’s squad finished a relatively successful (best record in the Major League) and exciting 2011 by losing in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual champ, the St. Louis Cardinals. Even with the Four Aces (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt) and one wild card (Vance Worley,) the Phillies again failed to make it to the World Series. For the second year in a row Ryan Howard ended the season at the plate and no, not in the good way. Once again the offense pulled a no-show during the playoffs, leaving their stud pitchers high and dry. This year, with most of the same players returning, the team is again a favorite to make it to the World Series- although questions will remain about the frequently faltering offense until they end a season with a different result.
Up in New York at the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Mad Men finished a fascinating season four with the young agency on the brink of collapsing after the loss of their main client Lucky Strike and Don surprising everyone by getting engaged to his secretary Megan (not to mention turning down his ex-wife’s subtle advances in their old kitchen.) Sweet little Peggy Olsen started coming into her own, Pete Campbell’s going to be a dad (again,) Ali knocked out Frazier and Roger got Joan pregnant in a moment of danger-induced passion after her husband went off to war. A season that began with such energy and promise ended with a thud, setting up a season five that is full of uncertainty and has everyone’s steadfast desire to keep up appearances again being threatened.
For both the Phillies and Mad Men, the windows seem to be closing. The Phillies are getting older and have missed out on the infusion of young talent needed to counterbalance the advancing age of their stars and even though a fifth season of Mad Men is promised, one has to think that show creator Matthew Weiner only has a couple of seasons left in him. But this isn’t about what’s down the road- it’s about what is almost upon us: the 2012 Phillies’ season and season five of Mad Men.
To get geared up, here are four loaded questions pertaining to both of the upcoming seasons of the Phillies and Mad Men.
1. You did what? Well I’m not sure how to handle that.
Cliff Lee is the Don Draper of the Philadelphia Phillies. Roy Halladay might put up better numbers, but Cliff was the big name of last year’s pitching staff. He was the one who drew the fans and got the people talking. It was Cliff Lee who made the surprising decision to come back to Philadelphia. Lee and Draper are both studs, both stars, and both entering this season with people wondering why each dude’s previous season ended so strangely.
Cliff Lee didn’t need to come back to the Phillies to cement his place in Phillies’ history, but it certainly helped. He almost won the 2009 World Series by himself and was the reason why the Phillies’ trade for Halladay the following offseason was one of the most bittersweet trades ever made in the history of baseball. When Lee decided to come back, he could do no wrong- rag on cheesesteaks, talk smack about Rocky and cheer for the Redskins, and Philadelphia would be cool with it. There was an aura of inevitable success that came with Lee. Unlike Ryan Howard, who repeatedly buckled in the clutch, Lee was a rock. When the playoffs rolled around, he was the least of Philadelphia’s concerns. Maybe his season had been a little erratic- he had a monster June, going 5-0 and allowing only one run in 42 innings, but had a couple starts where he was batted around a bit- resulting in a 17-8 record. Didn’t matter though, Lee was the man Philadelphia felt it could rely on in October. Yet in the playoffs, Lee was anything but reliable and went 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA. Cliff Don Draper Lee was the man who could do no wrong and could be counted on to rescue them when they were in trouble. Now here he was drunkenly pitching ripped off slogans for Life cereal and sleeping with his secretary. For Lee, has his reputation as the reliable one changed and if it has, what can we expect from Lee this season?
Season four of Mad Men saw Draper veer off course a bit. Newly single and living in a Manhattan bachelor pad, Draper stumbled consistently for the first time since the show began. Like with Roger Sterling, cracks in his foundation started popping up. He celebrated his Clio award with a radical weekend long bender and like the rest of his agency, found himself at a loss when Lucky Strike bailed. When he got engaged at the end, we weren’t surprised that it happened, but surprised who it happened too- not the sultry Faye, who seemed to provide some much needed stability to his life, but his young secretary Megan- proposing to her during the last episode. SCDP is going to need Draper to be at his best if they’re going to save their agency. Will Don lock it down a bit this year and maybe have a McNulty season like the Wire did in season 4 when it sobered it’s drunken mess of a main character up and settled him down?
The seasons of Cliff and Don ended amidst confusion. The steady ones casted doubts about their invincibility and it was jarring. When you can’t depend on dudes like Cliff and Don to deliver, who do you count on? That’s what this season is all about for Lee and Draper- proving to us that they are still the same guys that we’ve come to know and depend on. The Phillies need Lee to be that solid second ace in their rotation and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce needs Don’s creativity at full strength in order to save the floundering agency. You know it’s cool, we all have bad days and we all make weird and impulsive decisions- but what’s important is what we do after that and that’s what these upcoming seasons will be about for the leading men of the Phillies and Mad Men.
2. A bun in the oven and a check in the mail- how will the changed situations of Jimmy Rollins and Joan Harris affect their performance in the upcoming season?
Jimmy Rollins’ contract situation was a weird thing to talk about throughout the 2011 season, continuing into the offseason as it became apparent that he wouldn’t be getting the five year deal he was looking for from the Phillies, who didn’t even want to give him four years. It was a tough one. Rollins had been with the team since 1996 when they drafted him and wanted to remain in Philadelphia. But he also wanted some send me on my way money and a nice payday to finish out his career. Replacing Rollins wasn’t going to be easy if he did go. Opinions were split on whether he had anything left or was too valuable to let go. And it was J Roll- the face of the Phillies- not Ryan Howard or Roy Halladay. Rollins was the dude who got the loudest cheers when he was at the plate and the dude who got the good times going. In the end he stayed, but for only three years with the fourth as an option. But what should we expect from Rollins, whose numbers have declined every year since his MVP season in 2007? Is he a leadoff hitter anymore and will he be able to avoid the injuries that have hampered him the past couple years? Should we just resign ourselves to having a leadoff hitter who swings for the fences instead of trying to just get on base? In 2012, Rollins is back and has his money. You can ask him to pick up the check- just don’t ask him to bat anywhere but lead off.
Joan Harris landed in a good spot as the office manager with the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Her husband continued to be kind of a nerd, but at the office, her role seemed to be expanding. But as the season progressed, Joan started to fall off the rails a bit as young bucks around the office bailed on the reverence of Joan, opting instead to treat her more like a super secretary and less like an office manager. The power of her hips weren’t there anymore unless you were over forty- which luckily Roger Sterling is. As season four ended, Joan was promoted sans pay increase and pregnant with Roger’s baby, unbeknownst to him. How is being a mom going to change Joan and how is it going to affect her role at the office? How is the fact that it’s Roger’s baby going to affect both of their marriages, let alone their relationship at the office given the fact that he thought she got an abortion? Will she pretend it’s not his and it’s Greg’s (like she is at home) and how long will that last if the baby is born with silver fox gray hair and a penchant for booze?
With their situations having changed, none of us really know what to expect from Rollins or Joan this season. Both could go one way or the other- troubling scenarios for characters viewed as beacons of stability in past seasons.
3. What does a dude have to do to get paid around here?
Everyone wants to be loved, but more importantly, everyone wants to be shown that they’re loved. I once played with a musician who said that the reason he picked one band over another was because one paid and one didn’t. “Compliments aren’t feeding my son,” he said. Well for Cole Hamels and Pete Campbell, the days of playing for tips are coming to end. Both of their upcoming seasons are all about one thing: that paycheck.
Cole Hamels, like Rollins, is homegrown. He was drafted by the team in 2002 and was holding things down on the pitching mound long before Halladay and Lee showed up. The Most Valuable Player of the 2008 World Series, Hamels had another solid season in 2011 with a 14-9 record, 194 strike outs and a 2.79 earned run average. This offseason, Hamels and the Phillies avoided arbitration when Hamels signed a one year deal worth fifteen million dollars. That’s not going to happen again and come next year Hamels will be looking for a little more than walking around money. Current reports have talks between Hamels and the Phillies heating up, but until something happens, the idea of Hamels moving on is going to hang heavy over the 2012 season.
As for Pete, he has routinely made sacrifices for the agency- regardless of how many names were in the lobby or nationality of those he reported to. Yet for the amount of times Pete has taken a knee for the good of the team, he has proven himself to be a promising young rain maker. Pete has brought in one solid client after another and when SCDP lost Lucky Strike, they turned to Pete to make up for the loss. The offers from other firms have been there, but Pete has remained loyal. But his sweet wife Trudy (a.k.a. Annie from Community) wants to move to the suburbs and loyalty isn’t buying the kind of house she’s dreaming about. It seems like only a matter of time before an offer presents itself that Pete finds too good to turn down and it’ll be interesting to see if another dude named after an animal comes forward, trying to lure Pete away from SCDP.
Homegrown talent can be a slow burn because eventually the talent side of it needs to get paid. Loyalty can run deep, but it can’t run forever. Ask Cardinals’ fans (perhaps Jon Hamm) still dealing with the loss of Albert Pujols about that. The upcoming seasons of Mad Men and the Phillies will come with the looming concerns of management deciding to pay their young studs like the grownups or watch them walk. Will the Phillies keep Cole and will Pete stay with Sterling Cooper Draper Price? How will financial concerns and financial issues affect them this season and in turn, how will it affect the company they keep? Both the Phils or SCDP cannot really afford to lose Cole or Pete, and it seems like each will have this upcoming season to accept that and decide what to do next.
4. What happens when the old dog runs out of tricks…and tears his Achilles and loses Lucky Strike?
Ryan Howard and Roger Sterling: the heavy hitters of the Phillies and Mad Men respectively. They are the veterans, the big guns with the decorated past, the corner office and, as of last season, the murky future. The talk these days regarding the two old battle axes is their roles in the coming season and if they’ll be able to bang it out like they used to.
Howard had a decent 2010 season, although his numbers were down slightly from years past- 119 runs batted in and thirty-three home runs. In April he signed a $125 million, five year extension with the team, ensuring he’d be the first basemen through 2016. It was kind of a bold move on the Phillies part seeing as how his current deal hadn’t expired yet and was the kind of deal that raises eyebrows and raises expectations. With the strike out to end the Phillies’ 2010 season still fresh in everyone’s mind- getting that kind of money meant the Big Piece had to come through next time.
But of course he didn’t and to make it even worse, tore himself up in the process, inciting a collective gasp throughout the bars of Philadelphia as he dropped into a clump not even halfway down the first base line. During the offseason, he underwent surgery to repair his torn Achillies and the Phillies signed veteran Jim Thome to help bridge the gap until Howard returns (not to mention make people feel better about the Thome jersey they bought during his first stint with the team ten years ago.). Last week, Howard suffered a setback with his recovery, but up until that point had been talking a good game and saying he would be ready for the season. The Big Piece could be called the Big Liability just as easily. For every mammoth homer he sends into the stands, it’s accompanied by what seems like forty to fifty strike outs. His defense was already suspect and figures to be even more so given his hobbled wheel. Just what are the Phillies going to get out of Howard this season? Will he be able to regain the form that won him that Rookie of the Year and won him that Most Valuable Player award? And most importantly, who will supply the locker room with Subway and Powerade if he doesn’t?
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce wouldn’t exist without Sterling Cooper and that agency wouldn’t exist without smooth-talking Roger Sterling. As the senior account man, Lucky Strike was Roger’s main account and made up half of the SCDP billings. It was Roger’s reason to wake up in the morning and what kept him relevant at SCDP. But halfway through last season, Lucky Strike abruptly yanked the cord out of the wall and ended their relationship with SCDP. The ensuing days shined a pervasive light on the fragility of the mighty Roger Sterling and left doubts about what exactly his future with SCDP might be. He seemed to change in season four, looking small with his diminished clout within the agency. As the season ended and the agency was ciphering gas from the neighbors to keep going, Roger found himself to be ineffective and an occasionally disruptive bystander. Ultimately it was an uneven season for Roger and with the times changing in the world and the financial structure changing at the agency, it’s hard to tell what exactly Roger’s role is going to be going forward.
Howard and Sterling have done so much to get their respective organizations in the place that they are. Their names belong in the lobby and go ahead, speak of them with reverence and awe. But you have to wonder- for Howard and Sterling, are the glory days over?
Then there are the general unknowns…
What’s Peggy going to be like this season? The office firecracker had an almost, but not quite, coming of age last season- really growing into her own and flourishing at SCDP. She had a few love trysts and an amazing night at the office with Draper (“The Suitcase.”) The love of men with animal names everywhere, Peggy looks to have an interesting season. The over/under for one night stands this season is three, but I’d say there also a sixty percent chance she’s engaged by the end of the season.
Comparable to the uncertainty of Peggy’s upcoming season is the season of Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies new closer. Good when he’s good, bad when’s bad; he’s 100% emotion- strong like bull, smart like tractor. Providing an entertainment value second to none, it’s going to be tons of fun when he pitches at home. It’s not a safe bet, though. When you look at all the pitchers who have switched leagues, you see that only few did so fairly seamlessly. It’s like crossing the Mississippi; things are just different on each side. For the amount of loot the Phillies dropped on Papelbon, you’d kind of hope that it was a more reliable situation.
And speaking of hope, it’s been hard watching Chase Utley’s career these past few years. His hair hasn’t changed- can’t say the same for his durability though. He’s just a hard luck dude; trouble finds him. I don’t think we’ll ever see the same Chase again. Doctors talk about pain management sometimes, living with the pain and modifying your expectations. I think that’s what we have to do with Chase f’n Utley now. If he plays at least a hundred games and hits twenty five homers we should be happy.
We know Chase will always love dogs, we just don’t know if he’ll always play. It’s just like how we know Betty Francis will always be a front runner for Worst Mother of the Year or how we know Shane Victorino never blinks, Burt Cooper hates shoes and Harry Crane has gotten a little weird since he started going out to Hollywood all the time. We know the upcoming seasons of both the Phillies and Mad Men share traits like exciting, full of anticipation, and potentially emotionally damaging and we know both have lots of questions that need to be answered.
But in the end we don’t know what’s going to happen in either. All we can do is hope for the best, hope the commercials are short and hope Comcast keeps the cable on.
Mad Men photos from AMC. Phillies photos from Phillies.com.