Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Damn Shame

It’s tough being a moralist because there is so much out there that bothers me.

Over the weekend a special panel of 12 voters selected 17 people out of 100 candidates from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues to be enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame.  The vote, announced yesterday, was the outcome of long, complicated process during which the records of the 100 candidates and their various teams had to be painstakingly reconstructed before a decision could even be contemplated.  The people finally chosen, none of whom are alive, included former players and executives.

Regrettably, two candidates who are alive, Buck O’Neil and Minnie Minoso, were not elected.  That is a shame, a damn shame.

O’Neil and Minoso deserved election on merit alone for their records as a coach and player respectively.  More to the point, the two have been and remain important links to the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues as well as extraordinary ambassadors of the game itself.   Neither man wanted the sympathy vote but you have to ask yourself what would it have cost baseball to acknowledge their many contributions on and off the field?

O'Neil, 94 years old, became a household name when he “starred” as a raconteur and commentator in Ken Burns’ documentary on baseball in the 1990’s.   Prior to that, he had already established his credentials.  His career began in the 1930s and concluded with him batting a combined .288 and appearing in several All-Star games.   Following his playing days, O'Neil became a scout with the Chicago Cubs. He was later named the first black coach in MLB by the Cubs in 1962 and is credited with signing Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Lou Brock to their first pro contracts. He worked as scout for the Kansas City Royals since 1988 and was named "Midwest Scout of the Year" in 1998.

O’Neil also played an instrumental role in helping to build the Negro League museum in Kansas City.  Ironically, he also served on the Hall's Veterans Committee for nearly two decades.

Minoso, 83 years old, played 17 years in the majors, primarily with the Chicago White Sox and hit .298 over his career. He was a seven-time All-Star and won three Gold Gloves in the outfield.

Following the disappointing vote, he had this to say:

"I know that baseball fans have me in their own Hall of Fame -- the one in their hearts. That matters more to me than any official recognition. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be, and I am truly honored to be considered. I've given my life to baseball, and the game has given me so much.”

How hard would it have been to acknowledge what these men gave the game while they were still alive to enjoy the tributes?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Paucity All Around

The Winter Olympians have departed Turin and headed home either to retirement or four more years of training in relative obscurity.  Meanwhile, their summer counterparts continue to labor in comparable anonymity anticipating their moments in the Beijing sun two years hence.

From our shores these just concluded games were relatively free of the strident nationalism that marred many earlier Olympics, testimony less to the absence of politics than to the absence of interest.  Attendance at these games was disappointing.  Viewerships, particularly in the United States, was dismal.

Many explanations have been offered for the failure of these games to attract broad interest in the United States.  The internet is cited for providing results at least eight hours before the events themselves would be aired on tape during prime time.  These anticlimaxes might have been mitigated had the three hours of prime time coverage not included at least two hours of commercials and twenty minutes of the nauseating profiles that have become a staple of Olympic broadcasts no matter which network is at the controls. Finally, the notable failures of some over-hyped individuals, Bode Miller in particular, and some teams, the U.S. hockey team, were also blamed for the lack of interest at home.

Meanwhile, the popular quadrennial refrain inextricably linked to all Olympic Games, that politics and sport are separate, has been dispelled once again, but not in the usual quarters.

We can thank Bryant Gumbel for injecting race into these Games.  The always smug and pedantic Gumbel concluded an unrelated broadcast on the program he hosts on HBO by pontificating that he had no intention of watching the upcoming Games, filled as they were with such irrelevant “sports” as curling and luge among others.  Likening the games to a GOP convention for their lack of racial diversity, Gumbel scorned the “paucity of black athletes” in Turin and mocked the claim by organizers that these Games showcased many of the world’s greatest athletes.

The backlash was immediate and intense.  Regrettably, some of it tried to refute Gumbel’s contentions by focusing on the one American black athlete, Shani Davis, who captured a gold and silver medal at the games, when all of the umbrage should have targeted Gumbel’s own racism and, more to the point, his identity crisis.

Elsewhere in the Olympic sphere it was politics as usual as two ancient and bitter rivals, Sweden and Finland, played each other for the first time ever for the gold medal in hockey.  Even if American had already tuned out this match on the next to last day of the Games, I have little doubt it was played before a huge crowd portions of which waved flags and shouted Sverige, Sverige, Sverige!!!

And lest you think nationalism was otherwise absent, a medals count was available on every internet site, sports page and television station to let us know exactly where we stood against the rest of the world.  For the record, the U.S. came in second, not a bad showing for a bunch of mostly white people who like cold weather.

Friday, February 24, 2006


So, you ask, what exactly does $94 million buy these days?

Well, for one thing, they buy a team forecast by most experts (yours truly decidedly excluded) to finish third within its own division.

The Inquirer carried a story today listing the Phillies 2006 salaries. For every line item that dismays us ($9 million to Randy Wolf, who may be available by mid to late summer; $22 million to the departed Jim Thome over the next few seasons) there are the relative bargains for which we and surely management are grateful: Chase Utley about $450,000 and Ryan Howard roughly $390,000.

* * * * * * *

There was another interesting piece in the paper regarding the annual Photo Day, during which various organizations set up stations in which players are photographed for everything from baseball cards to video games.

The part of the story that caught my eye was not the photographic part (though I have more than the usual interest in such things); rather, it was the comments by Aaron Rowand on how he is portrayed in one final video product:

"I've got a better arm than they give me," Rowand said. "That's crap. The hitting is usually pretty close. Defensively, I suspect I'll cover more ground in center this year. But they always short me on the arm. It's not weak, but it's not as good as it should be. I have a better arm then they give me credit for."

Did anyone know this about our new centerfielder?

* * * * * * *

The other day I tracked the results of an ESPN instant poll that asked whether we wanted to see Barry Bonds break the all-time home run record. The final, overwhelming results showed 78% of the respondents across the nation did not want to see him break the record.

At the same time, Bonds gave a series of contradictory and combative interviews regarding everything from his retirement plans to his feelings about the media and about baseball in general.

What struck me then as well as over the last year or so is how this genuinely great baseball player and unpleasant human being has gone from being nearly everyone’s hero on the diamond to the poster boy for those qualities we most dislike in many of today’s professional athletes. Writer after blogger after talk-show caller have expressed contempt for Bonds recent supplement-inspired production on the field and his antagonisms and peccadillo’s off it.

Notably, few if any baseball players themselves, active or retired, have come to his defense.

No one wants to touch him. They just want him to go away.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


It is amazing how many feathers $13.5 million a year will unruffle.

That’s all I have to say about the Phillies-Bobby Abreu charade.

Meanwhile, the Phillies have announced a tentative schedule for their broadcast team for the coming season and everyone in the blogosphere is up in arms.  HOF broadcaster Harry Kalas doesn’t get to work with his favorite partner nor, apparently, does he receive much commitment from the Phillies going forward.  And to think, the Phillies have just elevated Scott Palmer from his consultant status to PR point man.  Relations with the public are off to a great start, Scott.

It’s hard to imagine what is worse, the apparent lack of sensitivity to local icon Harry Kalas, the banishment of Larry Andersen from the TV booth to fulltime radio duty, or the attendant expansion of Chris Wheeler’s duties to six innings of incessant middle-in TV babble.

Email addresses for Mssrs. Palmer and Larry Shenk, head of PR, are available at numerous sites including Brian People’s excellent Philling Station.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Curt Gowdy

All politics are local; so, too, for many people are baseball announcers. Prior to this era, in which satellite radio and dish networks make it possible to listen to or watch any team at any time, baseball fans were partisans not only of their home teams but of their local announcers as well.

Arguments over who was the better centerfielder, Mays or Mantle, paralleled far less heated debates over who was the better announcer, Mel Allen or Ernie Harwell.

Rarely did we hear the play-by-play voices of other teams unless we could pick up a distant radio signal or were visiting friends and relatives in another baseball town.

In the 1960’s NBC decided to nationally telecast a single game on Saturday afternoons that could be watched by everyone, everywhere. To do the play-by-play they hired Curt Gowdey, then the voice of the Boston Red Sox. He was a fine choice. Born in Wyoming, Gowdy’s accent was impossible to place. He didn't really have a signature call, e.g. "that ball’s outta' here", but he wasn't one of these cookie cutter nobodies occupying too many booths today. He was Everyman. Always fair and impartial, his was a soothing passion for the game rather than histrionics. Along with sidekick Tony Kubek, Gowdy became as much a local figure as our resident announcers, no mean feat. Yesterday, at age 86, Gowdy passed away, silencing one of the few remaining voices of baseball at mid-20th century.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Put Me Down As Definitely Not Undecided

Even Barry Bonds is getting tired of his act.

In the latest reprise of his you-won’t-have-Barry-to-kick-around speech, Bonds pre-announced his retirement and then decried what has become of his beloved sport while managing at once to blame the media and absolve himself of any responsibility for its current state.

Adding insult to injury, Bonds announced he couldn’t give a damn about records but he’d do us all a favor and play one more season and try and break the all-time home run record because, as he sees it, MLB is obsessed with his doing so.

Such a magnanimous gesture, Mr. Bonds.

Poll after poll shows most baseball fans considerably less than enthusiastic about Bonds’ breaking the record. Early results in today’s ESPN instant poll reveal unanimity across the nation (not a single state shows a plurality for Mr. Bonds): 77% of the 81,856 respondents (at 8:50AM EST) do not want to see Bonds break the record.

Make that an emphatic 81,857…and counting.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Spanning the Globe To Bring You....

Apparently Jim Salisbury is not just your everyday anonymous baseball writer any longer. Not only does his column now appear replete with a picture of the author, but Jim is branching out from his normal beat, the Phillies, to pen a lengthy piece in Sunday’s Inquirer on the Daytona 500.

Perhaps the NASCAR column is just another sign of the times. Financially strapped newspapers are less likely than ever to send their reporters scurrying around the country let alone globe providing live coverage. But, hey, as long as we have a guy in Florida….

* * * * * * * *

Tight times notwithstanding, newspaper editors feel compelled to have some presence at the Winter Olympics if their papers entertain even the slightest aspirations of respectability. The Inquirer has at least three columnists in Turino, including Phil Sheridan. Despite the European dateline our intrepid columnist still found time to try out a Philly Cheese steak while on the job. In a column entitled, improbably, Found: A cheesestake in Turin Sheridan takes a break from game coverage to describe his culinary adventures. Now, if I were going to Italy, a cheese steak would come in somewhere around 900th on a list of 100 dishes I would want to try. And if, perchance, I stumbled onto an establishment offering said local fare, I’d be more than a little hesitant to devote an entire column to it.

* * * * * * * *

We’ve all seen the hot-dogging football player who is just about to strut across the goal line, dragging his feet in an exaggerated motion and styling a la the Heisman trophy pose, when, lo and behold, he is stripped of the ball by an opposing player who literally appears out of nowhere. Ignominy? No, just hot-dogging.

So, when Lindsey Jacobellis blew a sure gold medal by hot-dogging it near the finish line, everyone clucked and admonished her for such foolhardiness. But snowboarding is about hot-dogging in part and apparently Jacobellis has performed the exact same move dozens if not hundreds of times. The only difference is that this time, she missed it at the worst possible moment.

But what do the organizers expect from a 20-year old X-Games look-alike?

* * * * * * * *

I like Aaron Rowand already. In an article in today’s Inquirer, Todd Zolecki paints a portrait of a no-nonsense guy who is eager to patrol center field for his new team.

Among the many points Rowand makes is one that has been recently discussed at length in the local blogosphere: getting a good jump out of the gate in April. Rowand is on record as saying he doesn’t want to hear the marathon vs. sprint analogies of the long baseball season. He believes, correctly, that losses in April count in the final standings as much as those in July and September.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

You must forgive the local citizenry if they were confused by the recent strange weather in the Philadelphia area.  An eighteen snowstorm beginning last Saturday and concluding Sunday was nearly gone five days later following several days of sunshine and temperatures in the mid to upper ‘50’s and low ‘60’s on Wednesday and Thursday.

Late March snowstorms have been known to melt into torrents of rushing water in very short order, but big storms in February normally linger for weeks, the mounds of snow gradually turning gray, then black.

Perhaps the official beginning of Spring Training contributed to the overall warm up and thaw.

One thing is certain:  White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen doesn’t need Spring Training; he’s clearly already in mid-season form.

Speaking about Alex Rodriguez’s waffling over whether to play for the U.S. or Santo Domingo in the up-coming WBC, Guillen had this to say as quoted by ESPN from a Sports Illustrated interview:  

“Guillen, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, targeted A-Rod's much-publicized back and forth standing whether to play in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic or United States.

"Alex was kissing Latino people's asses," Guillen, who's from Venezuela, said in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated. "He knew he wasn't going to play for the Dominicans; he's not a Dominican!"” Here is the ESPN piece.

As they say, it should be interesting the first time the White Sox and Yankees meet.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Hey, bloggers, you want more validation of your efforts?

Jayson Stark debuts today on ESPN’s web site with his new blog, a “lifelong dream” he says at first blush only to qualify that time line to six months at best.

Why would Stark need a blog when he already appears regularly on ESPN’s web site with his columns and on BBTN telecasts with his commentaries?

We’ll have to ask him…if we get the chance.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Thawing Ropes

Jim Salisbury reports Brett Myers has arrived at camp pissed off at comments by GM Pat Gillick that the Phillies lacked that certain championship something, especially pitching.

Now, some guys benefit from playing pissed off at the world, channeling their us-against-them attitude into a competitive edge; thus far in his career, however, Brett Myers isn’t one of them.  Indeed, Myers is more likely to come unraveled when he becomes agitated.

It’s also worth noting that while he was at it, Myers didn’t miss the opportunity to take another swipe at the fans, with whom he has always had a contentious relationship for reasons not altogether clear.  "I don't know if [Gillick’s comments are] reverse psychology or if he's selling us short, like the fans.”  Should the fans be blamed for getting on an overweight and out-of-shape Myers last year, one who admitted he couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without getting winded?

The more things change….

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Forty-three year old Roger Clemens has made the American roster for the upcoming WBC tourney.   For old fogies such as me this should be an uplifting development but it isn’t.  Clemens’ on-again, off-again retirement plans have become annoying.  Moreover, while he normally starts off the season like a ball of fire, Roger hasn’t exactly knocked ‘em dead in the post-season throughout his career, especially in the last few seasons.

Forty-three year old pitchers wear down as the season wears on, even legends.  It’s time to hang it up, Rocket.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Speaking of hanging it up, where’s B.J.?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

I am excited about the Phillies offense for the coming season but like most of the blogosphere I worry about their pitching.

So it will be understandable that we will be doing some scoreboard watching in the early going every time a certain Nicaraguan takes the mound for the Texas Rangers.

Closer to home, at this juncture the Phillies don’t appear inclined to give Rob Tejeda much of a chance to crack the starting rotation despite his impressive stint last season before arm miseries sidelined him.  An impressive Spring might make the Phillies’ brass reconsider, however.  Tejeda has a live arm, fluid motion and great temperament.  Thrown into the rotation last season as an emergency fill-in, he performed well in general.  Given more work and a boost of confidence from Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee there is no reason he cannot help the back of the rotation.  Why Ryan Franklin is ahead of him on the depth chart is a total mystery to me.  Unless Tejeda continues to suffer arm problems the Phillies haven’t told us about, he deserves a shot.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


As one can see from my post earlier today, the New York Times was delivered to my driveway on time per usual.  Neither rain nor hail nor gloom of night stays that guy from his appointed rounds.  Ah, but the Inquirer.  Neither alarm clocks nor waiting customers seem to rouse that guy from his slumber.  The Inky was finally delivered late this AM and I just had a chance to read it during lunch.

An article by Todd Zolecki makes it clear the Phils will enjoy home field advantage for 33 of their first 53 games.  Normally that would be an enormous advantage, but we will have to wait for the final verdict from the pitching staff once the new leftfield distances and heights are tested.  Still, the favorable schedule should be an early advantage, especially since it will have to be made up as the season wears on.

Last year the local blogosphere debated the importance of getting a good jump out of the gate.  The conclusion, which came as no surprise, was that it clearly mattered.

Now if I could only remember who has the advantage in April, pitchers or batters?

Short Notes

In this morning’s New York Times, columnist Murry Chass writes a very fine piece on the dilemma MLB faces as Barry Bonds begins his final assault on the game’s most hallowed record.

As Chass points out (and as I wrote a few days ago), Bud Selig just wishes the whole did-he-or-didn’t-he thing would go away, refusing to comment on the widespread rumors and some grand jury testimony that Bonds used steroids and other supplements during the last four years excluding last year, when he was sidelined virtually the entire season.  Selig’s dilemma comes down to this:  he wants the “integrity” of the game maintained, a goal that has to include banning illegal substances, but he doesn’t appear to want to confront Bonds about his use of them.

Hats off to people like Chass, who unlike the Commissioner, won’t let the issue go away.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The blogosphere and its loyal readership are fairly up in arms about, well, the lack of arms for one thing and Pat Gillick’s penchant for talking to let alone signing has-beens and never-weres.  The rumor that the Phils were talking to a clearly over-the-hill B.J.Surhoff generated a gigabyte of incredulity and outrage, but the funny thing (if talking to a 42-year old guy who has spent much of the last five years on the DL can be said to have a humorous side) is, the rumor doesn’t appear to have made it to the newspapers or major sites on the web.

Relax, blogosphere, B.J. isn’t bringing his battered body to Philadelphia.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Beerleaguer has a short piece on the departed Todd Pratt, in which pitcher Jon Lieber credits Tank with much of his success over the final two months of the season.  

It always seemed to me that Pratt handled the pitchers better than Mike Lieberthal, not simply when setting a target or calling a game, but in managing their egos and temperaments.  Anyone who could get and hold Vicente Padilla’s attention was a real asset.  Now that El Enigma has departed, I guess there wasn’t as much need for Pratt though the Lieber interview makes it clear he had more than a few fans among the pitchers.

Pratt, a fiery guy by all accounts, may not have been too popular with management, however, and in the end their understanding of chemistry was different than that of some players.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Focus Pocus

As pitchers and catchers make their reservations for south Florida those of us remaining in the suddenly frozen tundra must content ourselves with the usual hope-springs-eternal reports that blossom in the sports pages every late February.

This week the focus has been on Pat Gillick, the new Phillies GM. Many of my fellow bloggers have posted links to these articles so I will refrain from duplicating their efforts. Suffice it to say, when the focus falls on the GM and not the team there is some cause for concern.

At this juncture, Gillick isn’t much more popular in the blogosphere than his predecessor, Ed Wade, who took several years not months to build up enmity. Much of the disappointment with Gillick revolves around his penchant for signing or trading for players he has known at previous stops along the way (Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle). Jason Weitzel posts today over at Beerleaguer that there are reports the Phils are even speaking with B.J. Surhoff, the oft-injured, presumably retired 42-year old first-baseman/outfielder/DH. I don’t put much stock in that rumor unless the Phils want him to be a roving hitting instructor. Not even the Gillick could be serious about adding a guy who spends more time on the DL than in the dugout. If it’s a character thing, let him become the team ambassador, on the order of the role Hugh Douglass assumed with the Eagles last season, only better. It often seemed that Hugh forgot the course on diplomacy.

The other thing I’ve noticed as I dutifully if reflexively read the articles in the newspaper and @ESPN on the Phillies’ prospects for the coming season is that these have already been analyzed in detail at numerous stops on the web at Beerleaguer, Balls Sticks & Stuff, Shallow*Center, The Philling Station, etc., and in comments therein by George S., Oisin, Kuff6 and others. The difference is, the bloggers and their faithful commenters are doing a much better job.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Around the Big Horn

How’s this for impending irony?

Some American players, coaches and fans are already preparing the inevitable excuses and complaints should their team fails to capture the WBC. This despite not giving a damn about the event in the first place. Even some general managers and other executives have bemoaned the whole business...but fearing official censure from the Commissioner's office have said so only off the record.

The entire affair was conceived in a marketing firm’s conference room and was immediately greeted with something less than enthusiasm by the key element, the players themselves. Many opted out before even being asked to participate. Others who hinted they might play for God and country have been opting out ever since citing fears about injury, i.e., their contracts.

What another great idea, Bud.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of world affairs, the Winter Olympics get underway in earnest today in Torino, Italy. The nationalism pervading the Olympics may be unseemly, but the athleticism isn’t. True, cross-country skiing combined with shooting a rifle may not be yours or my notion of athleticism, but most of the events are wonders of human form, energy and spirit and no amount of flag-waving can deny that.

* * * * * * * *

Who says everything isn’t negotiable?

Long time ABC and Monday Night Football announcer Al Michaels was traded to NBC yesterday for the rights to broadcast some golf events, show more Olympic highlights on ESPN, and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

That’s right, folks, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

It seems that Oswald, originally created by Walt Disney himself and a successful franchise before Mickey Mouse was a gleam in his mother’s eye, was once owned by the Walt Disney Co., parent company of ABC and ESPN. But Disney lost the rights in 1920. Now they have them back. And it only cost them one announcer.

So, who got the better end of this deal?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Frozen Ropes

If healthy, Barry Bonds is poised to become baseball’s all-time home run king some time during the coming season.

Bonds, who enters the season with 708 career home runs, has received a free pass from the lords of baseball despite his obvious use of steroids.  To make matters worse, he figures to be feted throughout the season as he closes in on Babe Ruth (714) and Henry Aaron (755).

If and when he does pass Aaron, Bonds’ “accomplishment” will be the most tainted record in the history of the game.  I only hope that when the day arrives and his family and friends are gathered in the stands to watch and rejoice that Bonds remembers to invite Mark MacGwire and Raphael Palmeiro to the game.  No two players did more to take the steroids spotlight off him.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *  

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is unlikely to be one of Bud Selig’s invitees should Bonds break the record.

Tagliabue was quoted the other day as labeling baseball as exciting as standing in line at a supermarket checkout.  He later backpedaled and claimed he was referring to the time he was forced to play right field for his law firm’s softball team.  Right, Commissioner.

I am not about to get into the age-old argument between fans of baseball and football over which sport is better.  Suffice it to say that other than fans in the two Super Bowl cities (Pittsburgh and Seattle this year), in what other sport would you have the majority of the country more interested in reviewing videos of the commercials from the championship game than from the game itself…every year!?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Until last season’s magic ride, most of us didn’t know much about Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams.  Williams is credited with building the World Series champs by resisting orthodoxy, beginning with hiring Ozzie Guillen as his manager despite the fact that Guillen had no previous experience as a skipper.  Williams is also considered a shrewd judge of baseball talent and of personalities.

As it turns out Williams had more than a cup of coffee in the majors himself playing six years with the White Sox, Tigers, Blue Jays and Expos before his playing days ended in 1991 when he was released at age 27.  It all began rather promisingly in 1987 when Williams appeared in 116 games with the Sox, batting .281, slugging 11 home runs and batting in 50.  From there it was all downhill, however, as he bounced around to three different clubs in short order.  Williams concluded his career with a lifetime batting average of .218.

Clearly, you don’t need a good scorecard of your own to figure out who the players are.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Everybody Plays

I am beginning to discern a pattern to Pat Gillick’s acquisition of utility players.  The GM seems convinced last year’s bench wasn’t up to the task and that a key pinch hit here or there would have gotten the Phils over the hump.  On record as believing five more wins would do the trick this season, Gillick has been tinkering around the edges ever since.  Gillick has also made it clear on numerous occasions he wants his manager to have lots of interchangeable parts.  A piece by Todd Zolecki in today’s Inquirer underscores Gillick’s determination to help Charlie, noting that a few recently acquired infielders may also see time in the suddenly short-handed outfield.

We may see lots of platooning at third base, catcher and in the outfield.  A few sources have even suggested the Phils would use Pat Burrell to spell Ryan Howard at first base when a tough left-hander is on the mound.   And everyone knows Chase wore down toward the end of the season and could have used a day or two off.  Now, at least, there will be six guys qualified to step in temporarily.  

There is much to be said for keeping everyone on the bench happy.  Players like coming to the ballpark every day believing they have a chance to start or get into the game.   I wouldn’t even know where to begin to find out how much difference a strong bench really makes, so I will assume that while it probably matters, pennants are largely won by starters, all nine of them.

Which brings us to pitching, which remains a big problem.  I don’t need to recapitulate the individual issues.  Suffice it to say many of the arms Pat inherited and even more of those he has acquired don’t impress.   Can they replace Billy Wagner’s 12 win shares?  By my calculations that would leave the team more than five games shy of the magic number Gillick believes it will take to win.  

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Over Under

The overhaul of the Phillies continues abated with reports of the likely addition of yet another middling ballplayer, aka, the other Alex Gonzalez.

Now there will be at least three candidates for the third base job, or portions of it, none of them exactly likely to make us forget Mike Schmidt, Scott Rolen or Puddin’ Head Jones.

The Phillies are becoming a collection of budding stars, fading run-of-the-millers, and guys who always flew just under the radar. Come to think of it, that last image is the perfect metaphor for a team that is in a perennial holding pattern. The only difference with this year’s installment is that the General Manager admits as much.

The motley collection of pitchers and utility infielders Pat Gillick continues to assemble will surely test Charlie Manuel to the limit, not as a hitting guru but as an in-game strategist. History is not on the affable skipper’s side.

Despite all, however, I am optimistic about 2007. At that stage the Phils will have more money to work with, fewer albatrosses on the 25-man roster, and hopefully a well-established nucleus of players coming into their prime. And if the newly reconfigured Cititzens Bank Park turns out to be even a little more pitcher-friendly, some free agent hurlers who heretofore have avoided Philadelphia like the plague might be enticed to sign

As for 2006, I expect a trying year. Still, with Aaron, Jimmy, Chase and Ryan in town, I expect plenty of excitement.