Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Successes and Failures

Once again Placido Polanco demonstrated this past weekend why he is so valuable, hitting a walk-off home run Saturday night and playing second and third base during the three games against Milwaukee. He is going to be sorely missed.

Then there was Cory Lydle on Sunday. I usually like my crow medium well but before you stock up on it remember that Lidle may have temporarily come back from the dead with his complete game shutout on Sunday, but let us not forget this brought his nine-year career record to an underwhelming 53-51. Nonetheless, a complete game not to mention a shutout are such rarities both of us – Cory and I – should crow about them. . . at least until his next start.

A three game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers, their second sweep of the Brew Crew in ten days, brought the Phillies back to 65-65 for the season. There is no truth to the rumor that Ed Wade is preparing to make a deal with the Marlins in which he swaps the Phils remaining games with Florida for another home-and-home series with Milwaukee and throws in Gavin Floyd.

The Phillies have had more than their share of injuries this season including major stints on the DL for starting pitchers Vicente Padilla (two months), Randy Wolf (two visits including a likely season-ending one currently), and Kevin Millwood (on the list since August 5 and counting). In the bullpen the list includes Amaury Telemaco (one visit but back in action now) Billy Wagner (two visits including a ongoing one), and Ryan Madson (disabled but scheduled to return soon). Naturally, such a long list of injuries prompts us to wonder what, if anything, the Phillies may be doing wrong in the way they handle their hurlers.

I searched the internet for articles on the subject of injuries to pitchers and related matters and came across this fascinating article on Pitch Counts in Hardball Times that contains a detailed analysis of the impact of this modern strategy on performance and injury.

Fascinating though this article is, there is something about the statistical analyses dominating so many baseball discussions today that ignores the non-quantifiable. The parallel I draw is to modern portfolio theory and technical analysis in investments. Neither can overcome nor fully account for the factors of greed, fear or both and neither guarantees success. Human emotions – their expression and manifestation – cannot be easily converted to statistics; nor can hunches, luck (dumb or otherwise) and, of course, fate and curses.

Baseball is subject to similar human frailties and unpredictable factors and the likelihood one or the other can be neutralized is small. I’m sure the Jamesians have taken this argument into account and quantified it, too. Going forward it certainly will be worth noting how well those teams incorporating his approach to the game fare in the coming seasons. (If I recall correctly, James is currently employed in some capacity by the Boston Red Sox.) As the above-reference article on pitch counts makes clear, the application of strict statistical controls does not insure success, at least not on the field.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Summary Dismissals

Checking in on the Phillies makeup game against the White Sox in Chicago Monday I noted Roberto Hernandez came on in the sixth inning in relief of an ineffective Brett Myers and immediately gave up two runs and the lead. If Larry Bowa gives the ball to Roberto Hernandez one more time this season the manager should be summarily fired right on the spot. No questions asked. No second chances. He should be fired for terminal stupidity. They should change the locks on his office door before Bowa gets back to the dugout and he should be escorted from the premises.

Then, in the eighth inning, Todd Jones came in and served up a two-run home run that turned out to be the game winner for the Sox. Ed Wade should be held accountable for this one. No second chances are applicable here; Wade should have been dismissed on the spot and escorted from the stadium before the umpire threw out a new ball to Jones.

Bonds Diversification

Handicappers for baseball’s in-season claiming races are officially open for business. Leading off the post parade, we have the MVP challengers. Somehow this label always begs the question, most valuable to whom? The award is given to each league’s MVP; the winners, as we all know, play for teams not leagues.

Controversy inevitably erupts when a player who is having a monster year while his team lurks somewhere near the basement is destined to be overlooked. How valuable was so-and-so, the critics ask, if his team stunk up the joint wire-to-wire? So what if a player of Todd Helton’s accomplishments receives scant support year after year simply because the Rockies aren’t going anywhere? He’ll just have to content himself with his regular salary and forget about the incentive clauses in his contract.

This year’s installment of Does He Deserve It? will once again feature Barry Bonds, who is putting up his usual remarkable numbers. Things would be a whole lot easier if Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen weren’t doing the same in St. Louis and if their team weren’t running away with their division; or if Adrian Beltre were not matching or exceeding their performances in Los Angeles, which is also leading its division. The Cardinals have played so well all season they can safely rest their starters beginning any day now and still waltz into the playoffs and beyond. Albert Pujols was offered a respite just the other day but declined.

Things always get a little trickier when you have four or five candidates, three of whom are from one team. Not only are Pujols and Rolen having great years, so is teammate Jim Edmonds. Quite the troika, eh? Will they and Beltre split votes among themselves leaving Bonds the front runner once again?

Maybe voters will simply tire of handing the award to Bonds for a fourth consecutive year; the old time-to-spread-the-wealth-around approach. There is some merit to such thinking provided viable alternatives present themselves, which is certainly the case this season. Another less compelling factor may be the ongoing antipathy some voters feel toward Bonds, never the most congenial interview. Frankly, there is no excuse for this approach; nowhere do the rules state sour pusses need not apply. Finally, there is the Balco factor. Does he or doesn’t he? That one may cost a few votes but doesn’t figure to be a major determinant.

What, then, is the average fan to do? My unofficial vote, if it were taken right now, would be for Scott Rolen except for one small problem: I cannot stand the guy. And after all, why should I be held to a higher standard? So, I guess I will cast my unofficial tally for . . . Adrian Beltre. I’d sure like to vote for Todd Helton, but Beltre is having a better year and the Rockies are….well…Beltre is having a better year.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

I Don't Want Their MTV

Friday night I attended another game at Philadelphia’s new Citizens Bank Park, my second visit of the season, and if we are to believe the prevailing line that such stadiums represent a return to baseball’s glorious past, then the Retro movement is a fraud. Rather than trying to recapture the intimacy of a Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, the new stadiums seem more intent on reproducing the look and feel of MTV.

The Phillies slogan throughout this inaugural season has been “Real Grass. Real Fun.” I would add “Real Loud.” What could be more disconcerting or annoying than to be seated outdoors, en plein air, and have enormous difficulty hearing what the person seated immediately adjacent to you is saying? Every interval of every inning of every game is filled with excruciatingly loud music blaring from speakers mounted everywhere. The only silences can be found when a batter is up and even then, the home team’s players are introduced with a little personalized fanfare. Venezuelan Bobby Abreu, for example, gets a Latin intro as he strides to the plate; or on those rare occasions when closer Billy Wagner actually enters a game (he’s always injured) he trots in from the bullpen to the heavy-metal beat of Metalica, his favorite rock group.

While the Phillies are pounding our eardrums between innings the huge scoreboard is either playing a commercial, scanning the crowd for “typical fans” who mug and point themselves out, or, on the particular night I attended, broadcasting live a guy proposing to his girlfriend in front of 43,000 of their best friends. She accepted. [Had I done that to my wife I would have been the first guy in history to propose marriage and be sued for divorce in the same instant.]

TV monitors are mounted everywhere and carry the pre-game show, a live feed of the game telecast and instant replays including the close or controversial ones banned from the big screen on the scoreboard. The umpires won’t stand for being second-guessed on that public a scale. I didn’t stick around after the final out, but have no doubt the post-game show is also made available. (Fans can hear the radio broadcast and wrap-up upon exiting the stadium; loudspeakers are mounted outside the park as well.) From our seats in the lower section at least two monitors were visible, the point being one is really never out of touch with television. Only the upper decks lack small monitors (there being no overhang on which to mount them) and fans there must content themselves with one of several scoreboards throughout the park with streaming video capabilities or, heaven help them, the real thing down below on the field.

Prior to the game the Philly Phanatic, admittedly an amusing mascot, frolics with the opposing players and mugs during pre-game festivities around home plate. During the game he wanders through the stands performing his schtick and dances on the top of the dugout accompanied by a member of the audience. During the seventh inning stretch, he rides onto the field astride a vehicle with a cannon mounted on it and shoots tightly wrapped hot dogs into the stands.

As I noted following my first visit to the new park , baseball’s marketing mavens have clearly decided the game itself is simply not enough for those in attendance. As long as the Phillies fail to hand out remotes with mute buttons upon entering the park, this fan is going to stay away and watch the games on TV, with the sound off.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Triage Officer

An internet poll on the front page of the electronic edition of today’s Philadelphia Inquirer asks the following question: “Are you still watching the Phillies on TV?”

I would have phrased the question slightly differently: “Do they still play baseball in Philadelphia?”

Following their second sweep by the Houston Astros in less than a fortnight the Phillies limped home to the less-than-friendly confines of Citizens Bank Bandbox where they begin a weekend series with the Milwaukee Brewers, the only team in the league who appears not to have heard the news that the Phillies can be taken.

Everyone else within shouting distance, including some players if public opinion is to be taken seriously, has given up the chase for this season, mathematics notwithstanding. I will do my best to take the pulse of the local citizenry this evening when I attend the game in person, my tickets having been purchased prior to the utter collapse of the Phillies. Vicente Padilla takes the mound for the Phils so we could be entertained with a no-hitter or we could be treated to a sudden and inexplicable disintegration at any moment.

With so much speculation going on about the fate of GM Ed Wade, manager Larry Bowa and his staff not to mention half of the roster I thought I would suggest another need not often mentioned in the press or blogs: speed. The Phillies don’t have it; the Florida Marlins, for example, do. [Though I don’t follow the Marlins closely enough to know with certainty, it appears their chief problem this season has been injuries to their pitchers.]

Speed at the top of the order such as the Marlins Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo possess creates instant pressure on the opposition and immediately changes the complexion of the game. When Pierre gets on base and is followed in the order by Castillo, the defense is immediately set on edge. Both players make contact, hit for average, bunt well and can run. [Pierre’s percentage of steals to caught-stealing is lousy, but the pressure he creates on base remains intense.]

The Phillies have not had a legitimate lead-off man for years and no one currently paying Philadelphia’s wage tax seems likely to assume that role. Jimmy Rollins is not your ideal lead-off man though he has cut down on his strikeouts, one of the cardinal sins for anyone batting first. With his uppercut swing Rollins also tends to put the ball in the air, another no-no for a leadoff hitter. Marlon Byrd doesn’t make the grade on many levels, not the least of which is he doesn’t hit or draw bases on balls.

The search for a new center fielder might help address the problem of speed, defense and power, but the Phillies won’t land the best one available, Carlos Beltran, who possesses all three assets; nor are they likely to land an outfielder like him unless they are willing to trade someone of value.

A wholesale housecleaning may well be on tap for the Phillies but they cannot expect to fill all of the holes in one off-season. The first order of business may be to designate a triage officer.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Far Afield and Other Musings

For those Americans already stewing over the poor performance thus far by the so-called Dream Team in basketball, one of the more interesting developments they may have failed to notice in the Athens has been the rise of Australia in baseball. The Aussies beat a Japanese team loaded with professionals and took the silver medal, losing in the finals to Cuba. The American team failed to even qualify. (The Aussies also contended for the gold medal in women’s softball losing to the extraordinary U.S. squad.) With Commissioner Bud Selig indicating professionals are not likely to participate in future Games (hardly a guarantee of success as we are discovering), it isn’t hard to imagine the Olympics paralleling the Little League World Series of the past several decades during which foreign teams have been the winners in 23 of 36 title games. What’s next, the Super Bowl champs are beaten by a sandlot team from Qatar?

While we are on the subject of the rise of baseball beyond our shores, it is worth noting many of the vaunted Cuban defectors who signed with major league clubs have been less than overpowering. Indeed, the best imports other than those from the rest of Latin America remain Japanese players like Ichiro and Hideki Matsui. Perhaps Fidel has been unloading second tier talent on unsuspecting Yankees in a clever reprise of the Mariel boatlift.

* * * * * *

If ever there was an equal-opportunity club this year’s installment of the Phillies takes the prize. Every day someone new steps up and blows the game. The only downside appears to be that with so many players seeking their moment in the shade, repeat performances are inevitable; after all, the last time I looked MLB still limits each roster to 25 men. Perhaps in September, when the roster expands as teams call up deserving minor leaguers, the Phillies will spread the wealth around.

* * * * * *

A few months ago a friend and I decided to buy tickets to a Phillies game. I had been given two tickets to a mid-week day game earlier in the season, but my friend had not seen the new ballpark and expressed a desire to go. When I ordered tickets online in July the Phillies were still above .500 and only trailed the Braves by a few games. Tickets were hard to come by in any event given the novelty of a new stadium, but we were able to secure decent seats at $40 apiece for a Friday night game against Milwaukee. Then came the swoon capped by a horrendous 1-9 home stand. Out of idle curiosity I put the tickets up for bid on Ebay with no reserve. I did not receive a single bid though one person emailed me to say I should be paying him to take them off my hands!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"You Don't Know What You Got 'til It's Gone"

Anyone who was deceived into thinking the Phillies sweep in Milwaukee over the weekend moved the team back on track has by now fully returned to his senses following last night’s 8-4 debacle in Houston. Staked to a 2-0 first inning lead over Roger Clemens, Cory Lidle surrendered four runs in the bottom of the frame and before you were half way through your popcorn the game was over. Nothing deflates a team faster than to see its starter blow a lead against a tough pitcher. If not for a 2-run homer by Jim Thome in the eighth inning, the score would have been worse.

When the litany of missteps and blunders are read aloud following the anticipated departure of GM Ed Wade some time in the near future, the Lidle trade should vie for a spot in the top five. Wade gave up three prospects for this career .500 pitcher who hasn’t had a winning season since 2001. Suffice it to say with a current record of 7-12 the 2004 season won’t be any different.

So bad is the Phillies pitching – starters and relievers – a story has surfaced that the team is mulling over whether or not to put struggling starter Brett Myers in the bullpen. There was a time when moving starters to the bullpen was considered a demotion, but those were in the days before the Rolaids Relief awards and saves. Despite the elevation in status of relievers it is particularly difficult to imagine what the Phillies would be thinking in Myers case since his tendency is to suddenly implode in any given inning. When constructing the ideal reliever, an inclination to rattle and get visably pissed off are not on the parts list.

On the offensive side of the game, the ground swell for immediately handing the starting second baseman’s job to Chase Utley has reached a crescendo. No one has been more enthusiastic about Utley’s future than this observer but I find the rise of Utley’s stock at the expense of that of Placido Polanco a little unseemly and uninformed. Utley has clearly driven in more runs in far fewer at-bats than Polanco while fielding his position impressively. He also brings an intensity to the game sorely lacking in most of the Phillies starters. There is no doubt about it: the Phillies are a better team when Chase Ultey is in their lineup. But Polanco is a terrific player, too. He is a superb fielder who can play his natural position or move to third seamlessly as he has been called on to do numerous times over the last two seasons when David Bell has been injured. A lifetime .291 batter, Polanco is also a relative rarity among modern players, a contact hitter who knows how to move runners along, hit behind runners and give himself up.

Polanco will be a free agent at the end of the season and is likely to move on, Chase Utley’s rise notwithstanding. What we have here is a classic case in the making of not realizing what you have until it is gone. The Phillies won’t see the likes of Polanco any time soon.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Some Things to Cheer About

“Play somewhere in the neighborhood of .500 against the top teams and beat up on the bottom ones.”

I wrote that a few weeks ago when laying out the basic formula for success and the Phillies promptly dropped three straight series at home to Colorado, San Francisco and Houston respectively.

The Rockies and Astros were both playing below .500 for the season when they arrived at Citizens Bank Park and though the Giants were playing better than .500 for the season when they came to town, their record since the All Star break had been a distinctly mediocre 12 – 15.

Following a three-game sweep of the Brewers in Milwaukee this past weekend the Phils have managed to crawl back to 62-62 for the season. Still, they have to play nearly .700 ball the rest of the way and hope their competitors for the wild card berth play poorly. This is more than a tall order; it’s a pipe dream especially with five games remaining against Atlanta and seven with chief nemesis Florida.

The Milwaukee series was encouraging on a number of fronts. Eric Milton officially stamped himself the staff ace, halting a seven game losing streak with a very solid effort. The ability to stop a losing streak has long been considered one of the chief attributes of an ace. A record of 13 – 2 record doesn’t hurt either. Some people look at Milton's relatively high career ERA and his tendency to give up the long ball and wonder whether this season is indicative of the future. Others note the high run support he has received this campaign and also expect a reversion to the mean. However, we should not discount this is also the first season in a few during which he has been healthy following knee surgery.

Meanwhile, second baseman Chase Utley has clearly arrived. His pinch-hit triple won Saturday’s game and another hit coming off the bench on Sunday provided a margin that turned out to be crucial when reliever Roberto Hernandez surrendered two runs in the bottom of the ninth to make things interesting. Moreover, Utley is playing an excellent second base. What most impresses this observer, however, is his intensity. Utley is all business whether he is starting or not, a quality hard to come by especially in a young player.

Another very encouraging sign has been David Bell’s hitting. Since returning to the lineup from his latest injury Bell has hit over .420 while improving his season average to .285, thirty-one points above his career average.

All is not doom and gloom in the land of the hoagie.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Do Something!

While Eric Milton has quietly assumed the role of staff ace his future status with the team slipped under my radar. I was unaware he becomes eligible for free agency after this season so it was encouraging to read in a piece by Todd Zolecki in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer that Milton likes the city and his teammates and seems disposed to returning. Re-signing him should and probably will be the Phillies top priority. Subtract Milton from the rotation and the Phillies would have trouble contending in the Arizona Fall League.

As long as we are retooling my faulty radar it should be noted there are a number of other potential free agents Zolecki mentions in his article:

[GM Ed]Wade's list of free agents includes catcher Todd Pratt, infielders Tomas Perez and Placido Polanco, outfielder Doug Glanville, and pitchers Milton, Cory Lidle, Kevin Millwood, Roberto Hernandez, Rheal Cormier and Todd Jones. Pitcher Felix Rodriguez has a player option after the season. Pitcher Billy Wagner has a club option.

I have mentioned most of these players in other posts and won’t repeat myself here other than to say out of this list Tomas Perez would be my other top priority. He is an invaluable player especially given the fragile health of David Bell and the likely departure of Polanco.

All of these potential roster comings and goings raise another important issue. An expectation has grown in Philadelphia over the last month or so that something, anything, must be done to placate the fans who, after all, were virtually promised a contender this season. When teams fall flat on their collective faces as the local edition has clearly done the fans demand change. Much of the attention has been justifiably focused on Ed Wade, Larry Bowa and his coaching staff; indeed, the national media has established a de facto death watch for the manager and general manager.

Closer to home bloggers, talk-show hosts and their callers, TV commentators and most cab drivers and hoagie shop patrons want heads to roll. The situation is classic: the fans want action and ownership feels the pressure to take it even though it is unclear what can be accomplished in the short term. Meanwhile the usual excuses are being offered daily in the clubhouse as players decline to comment on upper management’s status or culpability while insisting they have to “get it done” on the field. The GM, under fire himself, provides luke warm support for the manager, who in turn has uncharacteristically thrown up his hands as if to say, “What else can I do at this point?”

One note that slips into the discussion more frequently is talk of the absence of any clubhouse leader. Many observers pine for the days of Darren Daulton, the catcher on the ’93 pennant winner who was known to get into other players’ faces when called for and who commanded respect from one and all. Various candidates for the job on the current club are disinclined or unsuited for the task. One who seemed to have some leadership credibility, Ricky Ledee, was reluctantly traded on July 30th. Whether or not there is much merit to the notion that grown men need this sort of guidance is beside the point. Outsiders are convinced they do; thus, we are back to square one with the many members of the media and most of the fans clamoring for action.

Whatever course of action management does take in the near term one thing remains clear: there are so many areas of dysfunction and underperformance on this club no single decision will right the ship immediately.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Too Many Holes

Next year officially arrived yesterday afternoon as the Phillies limped out of Citizens Bank Park losers of seven straight games and nine of ten overall on their just completed home stand. The latter figure represents a new club record in domestic futility.

The rebuilding process that began in the late ‘90’s can be pronounced a failure; the rebuilding process that must begin immediately may not produce a winner either. This much is clear: the Phillies have too many weaknesses to contend and not enough leverage to do much about it.

Consequently, radical measures are called for and on this front a few bold initiatives are in order. First, the Phillies don’t have many prospects in the minors other team’s covet and those they do possess are untouchable; therefore, they should trade Pat Burrell and Brett Myers. Neither of them will flourish in Philadelphia if anywhere. Burrell’s contract will be a major obstacle to moving him, but his value, such as it is, will not increase going forward so the time to act is now. Myers may fulfill his promise some day but do not count on it. He is neither bright nor patient enough to get by on raw ability alone. Together these two will at a minimum bring some very good prospects to the Phillies, but timing is everything in their cases. Another mediocre season from both and the potential newcomers will be of equally diminished value.

The areas of greatest need for the Phillies right now are catcher, center fielder, then pitching. Notice the vectors here. Yes indeed, straight up the middle is where they are weakest. Mike Lieberthal’s greatest liability may turn out to be handling pitchers not failing to hit with runners in scoring position, a failure most of these Phillies can be said to be guilty of. Neither Marlon Byrd nor any committee the Phils throw out there in center field are ever going to be the answer either.

The infield can be said to be set though again there are weaknesses. David Bell’s health will remain a concern for the rest of his career. Jimmy Rollins may not wish to remain once he becomes eligible for free agency down the road. Chase Utley will replace Placido Polanco, who will surely escape at the first opportunity once the current season ends. Jim Thome is set at first base. No one seems willing to acknowledge Jim is getting older and has suffered a number of nagging small injuries. This isn’t an infield that reminds you of the Big Red Machine, the Orioles in the late ‘60’s or early ‘70’s or the Cardinals of right now. It is a decent infield period.

In the outfield only Bobby Abreu is set in right; the other positions are wide open, especially if the team moves Burrell.

Pitching is a huge question mark going forward even when one factors in highly touted prospects Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd. Brett Myers was a highly touted prospect, too. Enough said on that subject. Randy Wolf is never likely to flourish in Citizens Bank Park. He is a fly ball pitcher in a park when routine outs almost everywhere else leave this yard in a hurry. Vicente Padilla may have the best pure stuff on the club according to Lieberthal but he cannot get by on that alone. Kevin Millwood is unlikely to pitch in Philadelphia again but his stock is so diminished by his mediocre two-year stint here he may not find many takers. Nevertheless, in the final analysis there is always a market for starting pitching. Look no further than Philadelphia, which acquired Paul Abbott and Cory Lidle.

Eric Milton may be the lone starter with much of a future here and he isn’t without his limitations either. Chief among these is his tendency to give up the long ball [see Randy Wolf].

The relief corps is too frightening to contemplate. It may be they were too overworked in the early season and ran out of gas as the literal heat was turned up, but one suspects there are more issues here than just fatigue. Yesterday’s ugly loss to Houston was a perfect example of implosion on a grand scale. Everyone who came in surrendered home runs or extra base hits and suddenly a big lead in the later innings turned into another ugly defeat. Naming names is pointless at this juncture; none of the current relievers are reliable anymore.

As for closers, I have said many times on this blog Billy Wagner is the single biggest disappointment of the year and despite recent statements by him that he is willing to come back to Philadelphia next year I cannot believe he won’t take the first good offer to move on.

The Phils face a daunting task and, frankly, there are far too many holes to fill in one or two seasons. It wasn’t that long ago they seemed to have a plan that had worked in various forms in Cleveland and elsewhere. Groom young players, acquire a few more and sign them to long-term contracts thus solidifying the nucleus. Where did it all go wrong?

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Unsteady Hands

It’s all over but the shouting and we can be sure there will be plenty of that in the coming weeks. The only remaining sport where the Phillies are concerned will be the blame game. While many will argue there is plenty to spread around, the question of ultimate culpability should rest squarely with Ed Wade, the GM. As the principal architect of the club Wade made the greatest number of miscalculations as the season wore on and down.

Simply put, Ed Wade panicked.

He failed to realize prior to the July 31 trading deadline there were simply too many holes to fill. The acquisition of mediocre reliever Todd Jones still remains a complete mystery. Even the trade for Felix Rodriguez, whose record is good, remains puzzling if for no other reason than because San Francisco is still contending for a wildcard spot. Under the circumstances one must wonder what prompted them to give him up?

Worse, immediately following the deadline Wade acquired Cory Lidle, a journeyman pitcher whose immediate value is highly debatable while the prospects surrendered for him as well as Jones and Rodriguez could have a significant impact in the future.

We cannot blame Larry Bowa for any of these questionable deals. Wade made them and Bowa was forced to live with them. Even if Wade asked Bowa for his opinion, what was a manager on the verge of dismissal going to say? Don’t get help? The steady hand on the tiller belongs to the GM and in this case we can assume Wade’s hand was shaking uncontrollably.

If a housecleaning is in order, and we know one is, it should start at the top.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Baseball's Greatest Quotes

A few weeks ago I rediscovered a wonderful book, Baseball’s Greatest Quotes, compiled by Kevin Nelson. Though still available on used book sites such as http://www.abebooks.com I thought from time to time I would share some selections with you.

In no particular order, here are a few samples:

It seems nearly every week one reads about another player having Tommy John surgery. These notices bring to mind a wonderful quote from the man himself:

When they operated on my arm, I asked them to put in a Koufax fastball. They did. But it was a Mrs. Koufax fastball.

* * * * * * *

As Barry Bonds approaches the 700 home run plateau, it is appropriate to recall how writers of another era saw Babe Ruth:

Some twenty years ago, I stopped talking about the Babe for the simple reason that I realized that those who had never seen him didn’t believe me. (Tommy Holmes)

* * * * * * *

Frank Howard, who spent most of his career with the Washington Senators and LA Dodgers, was one huge specimen of a guy at 6’7” and 255 pounds. Here is how one well-known LA columnist saw him:

Frank Howard is so big, he wasn’t born, he was founded. (Jim Murray)

* * * * * * *

He had larceny in his heart, but his feet were honest. (Bugs Baer, on plodding base runner Ping Bodie)

* * * * * * *

There’s nothing greater for a human being than to get his body to react to all the things one does on a ball field. It’s as good as sex; it’s as good as music; it fills you up. Waste no tears for me. I didn’t come along too early. I was right on time. (Buck O’Neil, recalling his days as an infielder for the Kansas City Monarchs.)

Funeral Notice

The Philadelphia Phillies, beloved team of . . . er. . . well . . . Bill Giles, passed away last night after a long illness. There will be an open casket viewing at Citizens Bank Park through October 3. Interment will be at the former site of the Vet. In lieu of flowers next of kin ask that donations be sent either to the Save A Hitter Foundation or the Home for Lost Pitchers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Throwers vs. Pitchers

What else are they going to say? The Phillies to a man say the season isn’t over and though time may be running out they haven’t given up. The percentages aren’t on their side though history does offer a very few glimmers of hope. So out come the “stranger things have happened” quotes or “we have to take this one game at-a-time” statements.

I am willing to indulge their fantasies a little longer and in that spirit offer the following advice to some members of the pitching staff: Get a grip, now! You are entitled to get annoyed occasionally when a call doesn’t go your way, but don’t use your pique as an excuse to go off your game altogether.

Last Friday night it was Brett Myers blowing his cool again; on Sunday Vicente Padilla took a turn. Both pitchers ended up losing their respective games. The umpire hasn’t been born yet who likes to be shown up; so storming around on the mound cussing this or that “blown” call does nothing to advance one’s cause.

I’ve said it before in this space: many of the Phillies pitchers don’t appear to have a game plan. It’s a classic case of throwers vs. pitchers. As Warren Spahn once put it, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” Whitey Ford offered this insight, “You would be amazed how many important outs you can get by working the count down to where the hitter is sure you’re going to throw to his weakness and then throw to his power instead.” The common thread here? It doesn’t hurt to think about what you are doing out there.

If the young guys on the Phillies staff still insist on just throwing, however, I’d suggest they follow the advice George Bamberger, the legendary Orioles pitching coach, gave one of his charges who was suffering through a particularly difficult outing: “If you know how to cheat I wouldn’t wait one more pitch.”

Monday, August 16, 2004

Obligations and Ardor

Beat writers have their daily deadlines, columnists their weekly ones. I, on the other hand, can post whenever the mood strikes me. If our common theme is the Phillies, who among us is better off, the paid professional with his or her fixed public obligations or the amateur who has only his private ardor to satisfy? No matter who holds the advantage, I find myself at the keyboard once again searching for a way to express the profound disappointment felt by most of us throughout the region. All hope has been dashed; the Phillies fall from grace is nearly complete. A local radio station in town put it best this morning at the top of their sports report: “Well, the Phillies are a officially a mediocre team.”

A .500 ball club in the middle of August.

The excuses have been offered and the fingers pointed but there is little consolation to be found in those exercises. One is left struggling to explain how a team can win back-to-back series against the best clubs on the West Coast then return home and promptly lose six out of seven games. Even the manager, who is publicly prone to embarrassment, can only offer feeble explanations at this point though he didn’t let this latest opportunity pass to admonish his players about toughness, theirs and the local fans: "You have to be able to go through tough times, man. That's why you play in a city like this. You have to be mentally tough in this city. You know what? They're going to get you. One way or another, they're going to get you. If you don't have tough skin, you'll melt. You'll melt. You better be able to deal with it."

A .500 ball club in the middle of August.

No one is ready to acknowledge it yet but things could get worse. With so many pitchers disabled or erratic, with so many other players disabled, wounded or playing out of position, with so many expectations dashed, the Phillies could easily stumble further. They have six games remaining with Atlanta and the Mets and four with the Marlins, three of which are at Pro Players Stadium where the Fish have won twelve straight from the Phillies.

A .500 ball club in the middle of August.

Sunday, August 15, 2004


Today’s post will be brief.

Jim Thome has joined the injured list though not the DL (yet?) after suffering a bad contusion to his shoulder courtesy of a bad hop in Friday night’s loss to San Francisco.

Our calculator has neither enough memory nor decimal places to add up the toll following this latest injury. Suffice it to say going forward we will only report on who is healthy.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Consistently Inconsistent

Never mind the Phillies battered and bruised collective ego; individual stories demand our attention now. Among these, Brett Myers’ is the most worrisome. Myers resurrection lasted all of two games, four if one is feeling generous. In last night’s against San Francisco Myers imploded for the umpteenth time this season walking the leadoff batter and then serving up a home run to J.T. Snow, who came into the game with all of six round trippers to date. In addition to allowing home runs to guys who don’t hit many, Myers walked five batters in three innings and visibly lost his temper on the mound yet again.

It bears repeating most of the pitchers on the Phillies don’t have much of any idea how to pitch and they don’t seem to be improving in that area under Joe Kerrigan’s tutelage. Those deficiencies might explain some of Myers’ problems but they hardly address the attitude portion. Many a hurler has pitched mean and ornery; just look at Sal Maglie, Early Wynn, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson or Roger Clemens to name a few. But all of them pitched with a plan and harnessed their intensity by focusing on a single objective: all batters were the enemy; it was business, not personal. The name of their games was consistency.

Myers gets into shouting matches with some batters, umpires and occasionally pitching coaches, easily losing the little composure with which he seems to begin a game. In a word, he rattles. For Myers it inevitably ends up being personal. The name of his game is inconsistency and unless he gets a grip on himself the future doesn’t bode well.

As for the bullpen, Brian Powell and Amaury Telemaco shared last night’s award for ineptitude as both were pounded.

During his post-game press conference last night manager Larry Bowa seemed unusually subdued. For the first time in memory he appeared to be resigned. Is it any wonder?

Friday, August 13, 2004

Formulas to Live [and Die] By

The formula for winning one’s division or league hasn’t changed much over the years: play somewhere in the neighborhood of .500 against the top teams and beat up on the bottom ones. The 2004 installment of the Phillies must have missed that class and failed to get the notes.

Throughout this woeful season they have dropped series to the Expos, Tigers, Rockies (twice) and Pirates while failing to play .500 against the Braves let alone the Marlins. Last night’s 3-1 loss to Colorado, their third in four games against the Rockies, epitomizes their season. A lack of clutch hitting or hitting of any kind doomed the home team once again and left them trailing the front-running Braves by seven full games. In a matter of three and a half weeks the Phils have fallen an additional 6 ½ games behind the Braves.

Newcomer Cory Lidle took last night’s loss despite pitching decently, about all that can be expected from a journeyman hurler with a 5.26 ERA. No one really predicted Lidle would be the answer; after all, anyone who arrives accompanied by the notation “eats a lot of innings” is not going to make the locals forget Robin Roberts or even Larry Christenson. The best that can be said here is that Lidle isn’t Paul Abbot. Let us hope Ed Wade resists trading any more prospects to try and salvage this lost season. The focus belongs squarely on next year at this juncture.

[In an earlier assessment of the team’s prospects for next year in my piece “Upgraded from Serious to Grave” I mentioned Tomas Perez but understated how valuable he is. During his five years in Philadelphia Perez has been one of the team’s most important players, capable of playing any infield position (and I suspect a few others) extremely well. In addition, Perez is a more than decent hitter with some power who keeps things lively and upbeat in the clubhouse. The Phillies count on him heavily.]

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Unexpected Heroes and Beating a Dead Horse

Wouldn’t you know! The solution has been there all along, right under our noses as fate would have it. Pitcher Randy Wolf, who hit two home runs last night, should have been batting fifth from the get-go. Who else would force opponents to pitch to Jim Thome? Randy needs to work on the home run trot and, perhaps, on his stylin’, but otherwise he seems destined to make the fans forget Pat Burrell.

On another front, ever so steadily, Chase Utley, appearing in only 61 games for the Phillies, has hit 12 homers and driven in 43 runs. He has also been spectacular in the field at times. His future continues to look very bright.

With the right side of the infield settled for the foreseeable future, clouds are thickening over on the left side. Jimmy Rollins rejected a multi-year offer from the Phillies prior to last season leaving his future with the club somewhat in doubt. Signing Rollins to a long-term deal is imperative; there is no one in the farm system to replace him. Injuries continue to plague third baseman David Bell, a gamer if ever there was one. He lost most of his first season in Philadelphia to injuries and is now listed day-to-day with back spasms and hip problems. One might be tempted to look longingly at third base and rue the day Scott Rolen, everyone’s third baseman of the current millennium, departed.

It’s time to set the record straighter on that subject once and for all. Certainly this observer has been guilty of laying too much of the blame for Rolen’s departure on Larry Bowa.

For nearly two years prior to his trade to St. Louis Scott Rolen complained early and often in no particular order about the playing surface at the Vet, a lack of commitment to winning and about senior management. He wasn’t necessarily wrong to point out any of these deficiencies (and had lots of company in each instance) but he was more or less a Curt Schilling-in-training, i.e. a major league complainer, with the exception that more often than not he forced people to guess what he was thinking rather than scurry to write down every quote (the more outrageous the merrier) that rolled off his tongue.

Scott Rolen seemed to know better than anyone else what the team needed and what it was unwilling to do to achieve those goals. But his way of communicating his displeasure was to say at every turn, "Do what I want on my schedule." He refused to negotiate a new contract in spring training. Fine. But then he insisted there would be no negotiations during the season. What was the matter, Scott, couldn't you play and make millions at the same time? Next he complained there were no new starting pitchers of the caliber he demanded. Next, he wasn’t going to wait for a new playing surface until 2004.

Nothing was really going to satisfy Scott. And then, of course, there were Larry Bowa and Dallas Green, who openly questioned Scott’s commitment. Say what you will about them, they provided Rolen with the one public explanation for his dissatisfaction. And frankly, I don't blame him for disliking either guy. They aren’t likeable.

Rolen also thought of himself as a deep thinker among men playing boys' games. But it takes more than reading the Jack Kerouac novels he was spotted carrying to qualify. Rolen could have used a few years of college to work on his logic. Precious little of what he said held up to scrutiny only proving that what really mattered was how he felt. And how he felt, denials notwithstanding, was that Bowa and Green accused him of letting down the side and the fans got all over him, too. He just didn’t like playing in Philadelphia.

It would be difficult to extract one item from his soliloquies on the state of baseball in Philadelphia as being paramount (in his mind), but I have settled on the following:

Scott wanted guarantees in a business where there are none. And above all, he wanted a guarantee the Phillies would commit to winning. He pointed to Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal, Doug Glanville and Pat Burrell and wondered aloud (twice), would the Phillies commit to winning by signing them to long contracts? (Three eventually were signed.) Would these players -- the nucleus of the team Rolen envisioned -- be in Philadelphia in the future? And then Rolen announced in the next breath, he wouldn't be here. He was the first one of this so-called nucleus of young stars to be approached about a long-term commitment and he responded by not signing a contract reportedly worth nearly three times the team's then-current payroll.

Scott Rolen can catch a baseball extremely well, hit a baseball well in spurts and run the bases well. Off the field he was no particular credit to his breed and he certainly wasn't the exemplary citizen or Hamlet-like prince many made him out to be. Indeed, he kept to himself, apparently gave relatively little of himself outside the lines and was, by most accounts, a decent guy. True, in this era even a decent guy looks very good, but decency is not a precondition for sainthood. And giving one's all on the field is not unique to Scott Rolen. I can point to several teammates on the Phillies who gave it their all; they just didn't grimace as much as Rolen and wear the same game face. Appearances were not everything.

What Scott Rolen lacked was a thick skin. If you don’t have one, Philadelphia is not your venue. St; Louis is clearly much more to his liking. Had Rolen had a thicker skin he might have been able to weather the storm, especially the one blowing in from the manager’s office. In the end Rolen lacked commitment to Philadelphia and it was on this point that I found local tributes to him following his departure more than ironic. Rolen gave up on the Phillies when they were making a pretty good effort to build a contender. J.D. Drew's refusal to sign here (or was it Scott Boras' refusal?), Curt Schilling's demand to go elsewhere and then Rolen's departure certainly weakened a team that was doing its homework. But malcontents wear out their welcomes sooner or later anyway. Rolen wore his out sooner.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

House Cleaning Begins at the Office

It’s never to early to start thinking about next year where the Phillies are concerned.

Mercifully, Paul Abbott has been designated for assignment. He is to be commended for playing the role of sacrificial lamb so well. Kevin Millwood and Billy Wagner, both on the DL, may never throw another pitch between them in Philadelphia. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, guys. Wagner, in particular, is the most selfish player to don a Phillies uniform in memory. Roberto Hernandez will not be with the Phillies next year, a decision that will be made in the best interests of his health as well as ours. Doug Glanville will depart at the end of the season, too. One suspects he will return in some management or coaching capacity. Regrettably, Placido Polanco may also move on.

Of those who will remain, David Bell’s ongoing health issues remain a very large concern. Pat Burrell’s recovery from wrist surgery is merely one of many concerns regarding the one-time wunderkind. Marlon Byrd remains a project at best. Ryan Madson should make a full recovery from shagging fly balls. Mike Lieberthal appears to be in decline. His replacement plays for Atlanta, thank you very much.

Tim Worrell has failed to show he is capable of assuming the role of closer. The rest of the relief corps appears to be adequate at best. Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Eric Milton and Brett Myers are a talented and very capable starting foursome. Wolf and Myers must step up and achieve their potentials next season; Padilla has to stay healthy, something he has not been able to do in the past; Milton has to repeat his performance with perhaps a few less home run balls thrown.

Jimmy Rollins and Bobby Abreu still have weaknesses in their otherwise excellent games, but there seems to be little evidence they can correct them. Rollins has to be a more patient hitter; he also must convince himself finally he isn’t a home run threat. Abreu should spend more time learning to play balls hit to the wall. He is unlikely to do so but one can ask.

Chase Utley is likely to blossom, his future bright. Jim Thome. What can one say? Let us hope he remains healthy.

Larry Bowa and most of his coaches, especially Joe Kerrigan, should be the first casualties of the off-season. House cleaning, after all, begins at the office.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Nary a Game Plan

Welcome home, Phils. There is nothing like wasting a fine pitching effort by your only reliable starter to undermine the momentum from series wins over the Padres and Dodgers on the West Coast and to start the home stand off on the wrong foot.

The players had best forget about their “No Excuses” pledge from spring training; the watch words now should be “Mediocrity or Bust” and the only remaining realistic objective to finish above .500. This team simply does not have the horses to win their division outright or secure the wild card position.

Everyone has assumed the biggest problem with the pitching staff has been injuries, but I demur. The biggest problem is that most of these guys simply don’t know how to pitch. Newly-acquired reliever Doug Jones is merely the most recent example of a pitcher's coming into a game with no apparent plan or forethought.

Jones entered the game in the 8th inning with a 2-1 lead and immediately gave up a home run to Felix Gonzalez. After getting one out he then surrendered a single to Aaron Miles. Next, he hit Todd Helton. Hit him. Up comes Vinnie Castilla, who just missed clobbering a home run off starter Eric Milton earlier and who up to this at-bat had 92 rbi’s on the season. Why, then, was Doug Jones throwing a curveball to him in the first place let alone hanging one? The scouting report on Castilla is fastballs in or out of the zone. Castilla hit a two-run double and the game was over, aided and abetted of course by the Phillies offense which stranded nine base runners.

Earlier in the year Randy Wolf would stay with his curveball and change and completely ignore the fastball. Any little leaguer can tell you the change sets up the fastball, but apparently Randy skipped that part. Brett Myers, who has pitched very well his last two outings, likewise seemed to have little or no plan when he took the mound throughout most of the season. He just seemed to be pissed off all the time. Now he appears to be mixing up his pitches well and establishing a good rhythm.

It’s not too late for these guys to learn how to pitch, but I don’t know if the right tutors are currently available to them. Maybe the way catcher Mike Lieberthal calls the games is part of the problem though I suspect most of the pitch selection comes from the dugout. That leaves us with Larry Bowa and/or Joe Kerrigan. Some times firing the team is not the answer even if management could do so; some times the brass are left with no other choice than to hold the coaching staff accountable.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Frogs, Locusts and Boils Next

Which of the gods exactly have the Phillies offended? Now Pat Burrell is done for the season. Every team suffers injuries during the course of the year but the Phillies are starting to resemble an episode of M*A*S*H at this point. The list grows almost daily and makes no distinction between hurlers and position players. A few more casualties and the Phils will have to bring up every able-bodied member of their AAA Scranton club who isn’t already in Philadelphia.

Their starting left fielder, closer, alleged staff ace, and best rookie are all currently on the DL and in some cases out for the season. The cynics among us will have noted by now these latest injuries guarantee another year in the City of Brotherly Love without any post-season appearance. And the unreconstructed doubters out there surely must have observed that Larry Bowa in all likelihood will survive the year. How, after all, can he be expected to produce a winning team when half of it is missing in action?

Well, there’s always the new ballpark to console us. . . for now.

Upgraded to Serious from Grave

For those of you keeping tabs on the Phillies, the patient has been removed from life support and moved to a private room. His condition has been upgraded to serious from grave.

Larry Bowa’s job is safe…for now. He thinks Philadelphia fans and the media make too much fuss about his status. Winning five out of their last six games on the West Coast will calm the natives temporarily.

Meanwhile, not wanting to feel left out, pitcher Kevin Millwood has been added to the DL. He joins reliever Billy Wagner and left fielder Pat Burrell. Starter Vicente Padilla comes off the list this week.

Wagner, by the way, visited a noted orthopedist recently for a second opinion on his ailing shoulder and had this to say, “I trust him because I know him. He’s done work on me before. Once you find a doctor you’ve had success with, then you trust him a whole lot more than anybody else. And knowing that he has no ties with team, his loyalty is to me. You have the comfort knowing there’s no motive for him. He’s not going to get a kick back and say, ‘Go on out there.’”

The results of this second exam corroborated the findings by the apparently less trustworthy (according to Wagner) doctor the team supplied earlier. Wagner went on to say he didn’t want to hurt the team or himself by going out there before he was capable of performing at his best. In this writer’s opinion the damage has been done. Wagner isn’t really a team player. He complains of being overworked when he goes more than an inning or is used more than twice a week and has spent more time clashing with the Phillies trainer and impugning the medical staff than battling opposing batters. He is without a doubt the biggest disappointment on the pitching staff this season and there have been several candidates for that title.

Brett Myers has done much to remove himself from that list. His last outing on Sunday against the Dodgers was one of his best as a pro. He mixed his fastball and curve nicely and moved along at a rapid pace. Myers may be coming around at just the right time for his team.

The most unsung hero of the team to date is Chase Utley. The Phillies have a dilemma to solve at second base. Placido Polanco, the starter, is a superb second baseman and very reliable contact hitter. Prior to July 31, rumors had him going everywhere from Oakland back to St. Louis, where Tony LaRussa understandably loves the guy. Utley, the pretender to the bag, is a less-proven but fearless fielder and a terrific hitter with a short, compact swing and plenty of pop in his bat. He is a very exciting player. What’s a team to do? Compounding their dilemma, the Phils have a terrific backup infielder in Tomas Perez, who fields and hits well, can play any position including first base, and is a terrific presence in the clubhouse.

So, the Phillies are back home. They salvaged what started out to be a disastrous road trip during which they lost six of their first seven games by winning five of their last six. Nevertheless, they left town trailing Atlanta by a half game and came back 5 ½ games behind the Braves. Playing less than .500 ball will do that to you every time.

Technology? Bah, Humbug!

I don’t want to hear any more talk about how technology has improved our lives or how telecommunications have shrunk the globe. I see ample evidence to suggest baseball remains unchanged or worse despite these so-called advances.

HDTV. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?. The trouble is, the notice at the bottom of the screen informing viewers the game is being broadcast in HDTV where available is wasted on the majority of us because we are still watching on analog sets. Who has a few thousand bucks to spare to purchase a plasma screen for the wall? Can’t any of those geeks figure out how to make our existing TV’s backward compatible?

When Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak, a record no one thought would ever be broken fell. And when Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds topped Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in rapid succession it seemed certain more hallowed records would fall. Why, then, don’t elite starting pitchers routinely win 30 games a year? After all, we are living in the age of Tommy John surgeries and laboratory-aided heroics. Starting pitchers aren’t even required to pitch complete games anymore, just six innings or a quality start, whichever comes first. Yet, not since Denny McLain (1968), Dizzy Dean (1934) and Lefty Grove (1931) has anyone won 30 games or more. Can’t anyone out there build a more perfect arm or at a minimum come up with a legal supplement that can be rubbed on existing ones?

When ballplayers at every level below the pros began using aluminum bats it seemed only a matter of time before the pay-for-play guys would follow suit. Didn’t the “ping” of the alloyed “lumber” sound much more modern than the “thwack” of the hardwood? But no, the bats the big boys use are still made of ash and they still get sawed off occasionally. As far as I can tell the aluminum ones last forever. Isn’t there some sort of filler that can be used in the wooden bats to increase their longevity if not their potency?

Astroturf was supposed to revolutionize the game. No mowers. No brown spots. No watering. No rainouts. All one had to do following a monsoon was get out the squeegee. Owners loved it. Low maintenance. Trouble was the players hated it. Turf generated temperatures that would melt the soles on their shoes. Seams, especially around the bases, would send the occasional ground ball caroming off in unexpected directions including the head. The stuff was hard on the body generally. Many a player claimed the concrete surface beneath the turf shortened their careers and wreaked havoc on their skeletons. A few indoor stadiums without retractable roofs are stuck with stuff, but every new ballpark has gone back to grass. Can’t anyone come up with grass that doesn’t need mowing or watering so that even the owners would be happy?

Whenever the Phillies play on the West Coast they might as well be in Kuala Lumpur as far as I am concerned. Trying to get real-time news about these games is like waiting for communications from a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon. The weeknight games out there start around my bedtime back here and normally end shortly before I get up for the first time in the middle of the night. Granted, some younger fans can stay up that late but many of us cannot. Why hasn’t someone come up with a way to shorten the time zone differences or crank up some way back machine to simulcast the games into the future? (Speaking of which…. I’d like to travel to Europe more often but I dread those seven and eight hour flights, which is exactly how long the journey took on my maiden flight to Europe 38 years ago. Even when the Concorde was an option it wasn’t one for my budget. Can’t anyone fly faster without breaking the sound barrier?)

Friday, August 06, 2004

Mortgages and Epitaphs

The Philadelphia Phillies brass have taken a lot of heat for their “failure” to land another starting pitcher and centerfielder prior to the trading deadline. Much of the criticism has focused on their unwillingness to trade prospects for someone who can help the big club now. Unaccustomed as I am to the following stance, I applaud them for their wisdom in refusing to mortgage the future of the club.

No starting pitcher short of a Randy Johnson was likely to help them and even he is not immune to a team that doesn’t provide much run support. These Phils don’t hit in the clutch very often and the prospect of a frustrated Johnson was not pleasant to contemplate. Likewise, no centerfielder short of Willie Mays was going to help the Phils when too many of the balls hit in that direction seem to land on the far side of the wall.

Trading highly-regarded pitching prospects such as Gavin Floyd or Cole Hamels would have come back to haunt them. More to the point, pitching remains the Phillies biggest weakness; why, then, give up two very highly rated prospects to acquire a middling hurler other than Johnson who might stay two months?

* * * * *

Much of the debate over Larry Bowa’s status has focused on the manager’s volatile personality. A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Jim Salisbury admonished readers not to forget the players’ responsibility for the Phillies disappointing season to date. We should be grateful to Mr. Salisbury for pointing out the obvious. Less obvious to those of us without access to the locker room itself is the sneaking suspicion that confidence and psyche play a role in player performance and on that front there can be little doubt Bowa and some of his coaches undermine both in several members of the team. Just take a look at Pat Burrell. When he began to struggle last season Bowa would bench him occasionally, complain publicly that unnamed players were “killing us” and generally create an atmosphere of palpable displeasure. Burrell responded by sinking deeper into his funk culminating with a well-publicized and deliberate snub of the manager following a rare home run.

Nothing seems to have improved on the atmospheric front this season.

Bowa was once quoted as saying “If there’s something you want to do, I mean really bad, you can do it if you sacrifice. I may be kicked in the face, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to quit.”

That might just be his baseball epitaph.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Stadium Bounce & Other Matters

Off the field the owners of Philadelphia Phillies are clearly enjoying the inaugural season of Citizens Bank Park as fans fill it to 94.5% of capacity through the end of July. Between the white lines is another story, however, as the team limps along barely over .500. History shows the novelty of a new stadium generally wears off within a season or two with the exception of Camden Yards where the faithful flocked to the ballpark long after the Orioles ceased to be worthy of such devotion. But even the granddaddy of retro parks has seen more than its share of empty seats lately. Miller Park, PNC Park and Comerica Park are more typical of the disconnect between a new venue and a lousy team as all saw significant drop-offs in attendance commensurate with the quality of the product on the field.

* * * * *

One unused obituary opener for sale.

What’s one to do with the lead to an obituary that cannot be published because the subject understandably refused to cooperate? Recycle it? Discard it and start anew? Publish it now and wait for events to catch up. . . as they inevitably will?.

Prior to their West Coast swing I wrote the following and placed it in the "publish" queue:

“As misfortune would have it, Larry Bowa began and ended his managerial career in San Diego. Hired by the Padres in 1987, Larry lasted less than two full seasons before imploding. Thirteen years later an alleged kindler and gentler Bowa got a second chance with the Phillies, for whom he played shortstop twelve of his seventeen big league seasons. The second tenure ended yesterday when Bowa was replaced by . . .”

It now is certain only the venue will change. The events have been set in motion and nothing short of going deep into the post-season can forestall them.

Boo Birds

Long-suffering Philadelphia sports fans are considered the most insufferable in the land with their legendary booing of Santa Claus at an Eagles game heading the list of their alleged offenses. Not wishing to let the facts stand in the way of a story, commentators at the time failed to point out that the good citizens were booing because the fellow hired to play Santa during halftime failed to show up and desperate club officials enlisted some skinny guy from the crowd who had clearly had one too many. They weren’t booing Santa Claus; they were booing a pitiful excuse for one.

A more recent incident that inspired Philadelphia fan-bashing throughout the Republic occurred when the NBA All-Star game was played in the City of Brotherly Love in February, 2002. During the game itself local product Kobe Bryant was heartily booed by the faithful. Once again the facts were withheld to protect the storyline.

The entire NBA presence in Philadelphia that February was a shameless affair by even the lowest standards: strutting befitting male peacocks; ostentation worthy of Donald Trump; stretch limos six deep at every curb. Millions of dollars were squandered, money that could have been donated to the recreation departments of more than a few municipalities and done far more good.

Parties galore were thrown at this or that venue, some open to the public (for a fee, of course) who wished to star-gaze. The food prepared for these festivities should have been donated to the local charity Philabundance, which would have helped far more people.

At the game itself, virtually no Philadelphians were actually admitted from all accounts. Instead, most of the seats were reserved for the Hollywood stars, players and former players, hangers-on, league officials and their entourages, legends and near-legends, mistresses, chauffeurs, and other flotsam and jetsam usually attracted to such events. So, the boo birds the national press focused on must have really been impostors masquerading as Philadelphians. (Admittedly they did a great impersonation, but that is besides the point.)

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Quiet Fame

Quiet Fame

It is going to be very difficult to justify withholding a vote for Raphael Palmeiro when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, you may recall a few writers failed to vote for Willie Mays when he became eligible, so anything is possible when secret ballots are cast.

As of this writing Palmeiro has a lifetime batting average of .290, 534 home runs and 2874 hits. In his prime Palmeiro also fielded his position very well winning gold gloves in 1997 and 1998. Those numbers are Hall of Fame worthy by any standards.

Blogger Mania

Legendary wit Rocky Bridges once said, "There are three things the average man thinks he can do better than anybody else: build a fire, run a hotel, and manage a baseball team." Add write a baseball blog to that list.

The number of blogs devoted to the summer game continues to soar at a staggering rate. On Baseballblogs.org, a subset of Sportblogs.org, a check of the listings of blogs by team, hardly an exhaustive sorting on this site by any means, reveals 51 blogs devoted to the Boston Red Sox, 47 to the Cubs, and 32 to the Mets, etc..

Some blogs are long on opinion and short on facts. Others seem devoted to listing transactions such as who was designated for assignment, released outright, traded for a player to be named later, or obligated to pay palimony. There are blogs recapitulating the prior day’s games, others that call for the head of such-and-such manager, still others that opine on the state of the game itself.

Generally, the writing is of a high caliber, the language overwhelmingly rated G, and knowledge of the game impressive. Many writers link other baseball-oriented blogs to their own in a real show of fellowship.

Postings, which always carry a time stamp (the zone varies depending on the section of the country from which the blog originates), suggest that while every currently employed author has kept his or her day job, at least some of them are taking time out (theirs or the boss’s) during work to write, post and read the day’s fare.

The sheer quantity of words expended suggests the fan base for baseball may be far larger and more loyal than many observers previously suspected. Whether or not it also reinforces a major distinction between baseball and all other sports remains to be seen as blog mania extends into the football season. The ability to reconstruct games remains much more suited to baseball than football given the formers’ dimensions of time and space. Such a level of detail and recollection may inspire more fans to come forth with written opinions. Baseball also presents more trading opportunities throughout its season than other sports (the July 31 deadline inspired thousands of postings) prompting more authors to take to their keyboards.

The blog phenomenon may yet peter out but one thing remains abundantly clear: fellow fans, we obviously have a lot on our minds.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Age of Euphemism

We live in the Age of Euphemism. Take quality starts for example. Baseball managers are delighted if a starting pitcher goes six innings and allows 3 or fewer earned runs. Never mind that works out to a 4.50 ERA, hardly something to write home about. In addition, six innings out of one’s starter who, hopefully, departs with a lead (no lead, no “quality” in my book) means two additional pitchers may appear in a close game, the set-up man and the closer. Where is the quality in that scenario when played out over a week’s worth of games?

Pitch counts are the hand maiden of quality starts in that both are deliberately self-limiting approaches. Many a manager who declares he wants six good innings out of his starter may also, under special circumstances, have that starter on a pitch count. More often than not the pitch count is imposed on a pitcher coming back from an injury not necessarily having anything to do with having previously exceeded a pitch count. Some times a pitcher is lifted from a game even though he is in the midst of a quality start because he has exceeded his pitch count. Some times hurlers throw a lot of pitches and simply run out of gas.

Closers don’t work with pitch counts so much as innings counts (not yet part of the baseball lexicon). It is not uncommon for a closer to tell his pitching coach or manager he can give them one inning, no more. Ultra-specialists may only be available for one batter if they have been worked excessively hard in the recent past or if they are southpaws and simply cannot get right handed batters out.

Another favorite of mine that fortunately has fallen out of favor is the hold, defined as a relief pitcher preserving a lead by not allowing any runs (earned or unearned) and handing the game over to the closer with the lead preserved. What is usually meant here is “halting the carnage.” Despite its infatuation with statistics, even the lords of baseball have declared “hold on” regarding this dubious statistic.

OBP or on base percentage is one of the current offensive favorites among baseball cognoscenti. It denotes how often a player reaches base for any reason other than an error or fielder’s choice. Its calculation requires advanced math skills. I guess it no longer suffices to say that a player hits for average and draws a lot of bases on balls. I don’t know a single fan who can quote the on base percentage for current players. (Furthermore, I doubt the average fan can accurately guess within 100 basis points of the OBP for any player.) However, I do know people who can tell you what so-and-so is hitting or that such-and-such has an ERA under 2.00. And, no, these people do not use a an abacus.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Zero Percent Commission

With the passing of the trading deadline a few days ago the opportunity to recall the most bizarre trade in baseball history expired for another season.

In 1973 New York Yankee pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich initiated their own trade thereby avoiding any commissions to their respective agents. Mssrs. Peterson and Kekich swapped wives. Children and animals were presumably renamed later.

Rent, Don't Buy

Where else but baseball can so many people publicly clamor for someone else to lose his job? No one to my knowledge writes a letter to the editor demanding that management fire the supervisor in a paper mill. Has anyone ever come across a blog calling for the immediate dismissal of the manager of a Rite Aid?

But the number of people openly expressing the desire that this or that baseball manager be fired is legion. And those who speculate when the deed will be done constitute an even greater number. Such hazards come, as they say, with the territory.

This season’s favorite target is the Phillies Larry Bowa, a man who has already been dismissed from one managerial position (San Diego) and whose current tenure was accompanied by assurances that he had, well, mellowed and matured. There are approximately five million people in the greater Philadelphia area who would beg to differ with that assessment and another 25 men occupying a dugout in Citizens Bank Park whose feelings on the subject might be even stronger.

The sad part is that Bowa loves the game. Nevertheless, if he is dismissed from his post it is likely to be the last time he manages a big league ball club. His volatility and old-school approach are incompatible with today’s players. One can be irascible and still manage a major league sports team, but there are limits to how much big league ballplayers will tolerate and by all appearances Larry Bowa crosses that line far too often.

Senior management swings back and forth on which type of on-field manager best suits today’s multi-millionaires in pinstripes. Bowa’s predecessor, the very likeable Terry Francona, is known as a “player’s manager”, someone who is easy-going and likely to relate to his charges as one of the guys. Bowa was brought in precisely because he wasn’t that type of skipper; indeed, he was brought in to whip the Phillies into shape and take no prisoners doing so. Now, the rumored replacement for Bowa is the Francona-like Charlie Manuel, older but also of the easier going persuasion.

As long as the next fellow occupying the hot seat wins, Philadelphia fans won’t demand another public firing. Given the state of the Phils pitching staff, however, I would advise whoever takes the position to rent rather than buy.