Bimbo misses out

Burrell Merchandise keeps us in line

Common sense says it's by design

-          Traditional

If the television program Mad Men has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes selling out can be artistic too. That starving artist bit… bah! It takes a real craftsman to take something utterly useless and turn it into something that everyone must have.

Take the plate appearances by Single-A minor league outfielder Bryce Harper of the Hagerstown Suns, for instance. Whenever the slugging high school dropout steps to the plate for the Washington Nationals’ affiliate, the P.A. announcer at Suns games will read a prepared statement:

“Now batting, Bryce Harper, brought to you by Miss Utility, reminding you to call 811 before you dig…”

Look, if you’re going to dig a hole, no matter what the circumstance, it’s a good idea to make a call or two. After all, there are zoning laws in most communities designed to keep folks away from trouble. Say you’re out in the yard digging a hole, just having a day out, and then all of a sudden a water pipe bursts, or underground wires are disturbed, or worse, a time capsule is disturbed long before it’s to be unearthed.

We can’t have that.

Nevertheless, we understand that the folks at Miss Utility are looking out for the people in Hagerstown, Md., and if they can make a buck or two off your potential hole-digging excursions, all the better. But it takes money to make money — or something like that. Besides, this isn’t about Miss Utility or the trench at the property line. No, this is about Bryce Harper and commerce and forward thinking.

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Pat Burrell is no Gil Hodges

Burrell_chooch This is the lull. Free agency doesn’t officially begin until Sunday, and the World Series was too painful for many to watch after the Phillies went belly up against the Giants in the NLCS. Of course it didn’t help that the Giants had a pretty easy time with the Rangers, either.

Still, there isn’t much that will be memorable about the 2010 World Series. The pitching duels between Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum didn’t exactly pan out, and the Rangers’ offense that tore apart the Yankees, didn't show up.

Actually, the Giants’ offense didn’t exactly conjure memories of Willie Mays or Willie McCovey or even Will Clark. Edgar Renteria was the MVP because he hit two home runs and got seven hits against a team that had one run in its last three losses.

Hitting-wise the World Series was disappointing, though not an all-time worst. That’s excluding former Phillie Pat Burrell, who not only set a record for the most strikeouts in a five-game series (in four game, no less), but also appeared to be defying physics, geometry and basic biology by failing to put the bat on the ball.

How bad was Burrell?

Let’s take a look…

***

As the 1952 World Series bounced back and forth for a week during a tense, ping-ponging of leads and ties, people in the borough of Brooklyn went to church to light candles and pray for Gil Hodges. Watch any of those saccharine-sweet documentaries about the so-called “Golden Age” of baseball when the Dodgers still played in Brooklyn and the Giants were still in the Polo Grounds in Harlem and invariably there will be a segment about Gil Hodges and the ’52 World Series.

Hodges went 0-for-21 with six strikeouts and five walks during the seven game series against the Yankees, which very well could be the most famous slump of all time. In fact, Hodges’ epic oh-fer is one of those flashpoints in time for a lot of baseball fans. Shoot, even Charlie Manuel has spoken about Hodges not being able to get a hit against the Yankees in the World Series, a moment from his youth he recounted in pre-game chats with the scribes. Manuel was eight during the 1952 World Series and said it was unbelievable to imagine a hitter like Hodges struggling like he did.

Would Gil Hodges ever get a hit? The Brooklyn fans held up their end, including Father Herbert Redmond of St. Francis in the borough who announced during an unseasonably warm mass, “It's far too hot for a homily. Keep the Commandments and say a prayer for Gil Hodges.”

With Hodges batting sixth for the Dodgers in the Game 7 at Ebbets Field, he was able to tie the game in the fourth inning on a ground out. But with no outs in the sixth inning and the tying run on first base, Hodges grounded into a double play to further dishearten the Dodgers’ spirits. They got two more base runners for the rest of the game as the Yankees won yet another title.

It’s still easy to wonder how Brooklyn’s fortunes would have turned if Hodges had gotten just one hit in the World Series. Considering he led the team with 32 homers, 102 RBIs and 107 walks, the Dodgers’ success or failure was tied to Hodges’ ability to drive the ball. Strangely, in ’52, Hodges hit 15 fair balls in seven games and not a one of them dropped onto the grass for a hit.

Funny game.

But was Hodges worse than the 0-for-13 with 11 strikeouts Pat Burrell posted for the Giants in five games of the 2010 World Series? Think about that for a second… Burrell went to the plate 15 times, he walked twice, popped out twice and was benched once. So in four games he flailed hopelessly at pitches, rarely putting the onus on the defense to make a play.

He swung and he missed. And then he did it all over again.

Now the extremists in the religion of advanced metrics will tell you that a strikeout is just one out, no different than any other. They will also explain that instead of bouncing into a double play during the sixth inning of Game 7 of the 1952 World Series, Gil Hodges would have been better off striking out. And you know what? Technically they are correct.

But do you remember the feeling of what it was like to strikeout in little league in front of family and friends or in a legion game where your smart-ass friends were sitting a few rows up in the bleachers making wise cracks at every swing and miss? You do? Well, guess what… it’s the same thing for a lot of major leaguers. The feeling of crippling failure that a strikeout leaves one with never goes away, according to some of the guys who have done it in the big leagues. In fact, some guys don’t even want to talk about the strikeouts. When the subject was brought up to Ryan Howard after he set the single-season record for whiffs, the normally affable slugger clammed up and brushed off the significance of the strikeout.

“It’s just one out,” he said dejectedly.

It is just one out, but it’s also the greatest indication of failure in sports. It even looks nasty in the scorebook with that vulgar-looking “K” slotted next to a hitter’s name. For Burrell, his ledger was riddled with them, closing out his time with the Giants with seven of those ugly Ks in his last two games.

So in going 0-for-13 with just two fair balls against the Rangers, did Pat Burrell have the worst World Series ever? Hell, is Burrell the worst World Series player to win two titles? With the Phillies in ’08 and the Giants this October, Burrell is 1-for-27 with 16 whiffs. He has fewer hits in the Fall Classic than Cliff Lee and the same amount as pitchers Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels and utility man Eric Bruntlett—in far fewer at-bats, too.

Yet his 1-for-27 has come to two rings. That’s two more than Ted Williams and Ernie Banks and one more than Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, George Brett and Mike Schmidt.

Nevertheless, it’s a tough to determine if Burrell’s performance is the worst because the Giants won the series in five games. They won it despite Burrell’s strikeout with two on and one out in the seventh inning of a tied Game 5. Burrell whiffed on a 3-2 pitch from Cliff Lee with first base open in what had been the biggest at-bat of the game to that point…

Three pitches later Edgar Renteria hit a home run to deliver the title to San Francisco for the very first time.

Burrell_parade Indeed, Burrell, unlike others, was left off the hook. Maybe that was because the Jesuits at his alma mater Bellarmine Prep in nearby San Jose, Calif. lit some candles for him?

Evan Longoria was not so lucky. In 2008 he went 1-for-20 with nine strikeouts in a series where the Phillies won three of the five games by one run. Like Burrell and Hodges, Longoria was a middle-of-the-order hitter for the Rays who’s only hit of the series drove home a run in Game 5.

The one we remember all too well in these parts came during the 1983 World Series where Mike Schmidt dug in against the Orioles 20 times and got one hit in five games. Schmidt, of course, was the MVP of the 1980 World Series, but three years later he whiffed six times and came to bat 10 times with runners on base and four times with runners in scoring position, yet got just one chance to run the bases.

When Schmidt did barely loop one over the infield and onto the turf at The Vet, base runners moved, a rally started and a run actually crossed the plate. It’s funny how that happens.

Weirdly, Schmidt batted .467 with a homer and three extra-base hits in the NLCS before managing to eke out one bloop single in the World Series. That’s kind of reminiscent of the postseason experienced by Placido Polanco in 2006.

In leading the Tigers back to the World Series, Polanco batted .471 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, including .529 during the ALCS to take home MVP honors, only to hang up an 0-for-17 in five games against the Cardinals.

Odder yet, Polanco whiffed just once during the ’06 World Series. The same goes for Scott Rolen in ’04 when he went 0-for-15 with just one whiff against the Red Sox. Rolen very well could have been the MVP of the NLCS on the strength of a seventh-inning homer off Roger Clemens to give the Cardinals the lead they never relinquished. In fact, Rolen belted two other homers in the Cardinals’ Game 2 victory and had six RBIs in the series, which was dwarfed by four homers and a 14-for-28 showing from Albert Pujols.

Of course Rolen whiffed nine times in that series, too, yet still managed to get some big hits.

Not in the World Series, though. Better yet, both Polanco and Rolen put the ball in play to make something happen, but walked away with nothing. Kind of like Hodges.

Funny game.

… and Cliff Lee is ready to go in Game 1

Howard_k Let’s just cut right to it…

The Phillies choked. They blew it. Worse, they choked and blew it with what might have been the best team ever assembled in franchise history—at least after Ruben Amaro Jr. traded for Roy Oswalt.

Yet the idea that the 2010 Phillies were as great as advertised doesn’t really matter anymore because the best team won’t be representing the National League in the World Series this year. Oh sure, the Giants deserve credit because they responded to every bit of gamesmanship and intimidation the Phillies threw at them. Between that phony, Pat Burrell, and Tim Lincecum shouting at Phillies’ players, and Jonathan Sanchez calling out Chase Utley, causing the benches to clear in Game 6, the Giants deserve some credit.

But let’s not give a team with Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff in the middle of the batting order too much credit. After all, the Phillies pitchers held them to a .249 average with just two different players hitting homers. The Phillies even outscored the Giants in the six games, 20-19. This was the same Giants that batted just .212 against the Braves in the NLDS. You know, the Braves that the Phillies manhandled during the regular season.

Frankly, it was a sickening display of offensive futility during the playoffs. They batted .212 against the Reds in the NLDS and .216 against the Giants. Sure, Lincecum, Sanchez and Matt Cain are solid pitchers. Lincecum is a bona fide star, in fact, and manager Bruce Bochy has enough versatility in the bullpen to match up, hitter by hitter, late in the game.

Oh yes, the Giants can pitch. In fact, they pitch very well. However, imagine how great a good pitching team will look against a bunch of hitters who were lost. How lost? Take a look at the schizophrenic postseason from Ryan Howard and compare it to his typical production.

It was just last season where Howard set the record for consecutive postseason games with an RBI and was named MVP of the NLCS. That was the postseason of, “Just get me to the plate, boys,” in Game 4 of the NLDS when the Rockies were just an out away from sending the series back to Philadelphia for a deciding Game 5. Moreover, 10 of Howard’s 15 postseason hits in 2009 went for extra-bases and the 17 RBIs in 15 games were one of the big reasons why the Phillies got back to the World Series.

This year Howard had good looking stats, batting .318, posting a .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging average. But Howard hit no home runs and got no RBIs. No, it’s not Howard’s fault that there were runners on base when he hit, but when there were men on base he struck out. Seven of Howard’s 12 strikeouts in the NLCS came with runners on base and five of those came with runners in scoring position.

Strikeouts only equal one out, sure, but there are productive outs where runners move up and fielders are forced to make plays. Considering that Howard had three three-strikeout games, including back-to-back triple Ks in Game 5 and 6, the heart of the Phillies’ order was punchless.

“If the production is there, you can tend to get away from strikeouts,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “But I feel especially after Ryan got hurt that he didn't find his swing. I feel like I know that he’s a better hitter than what we saw at the end of the year.”

The same goes for many of the Phillies’ hitters, especially Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Utley’s swing looked off most of the postseason as if it were difficult for him to complete it. The question many asked of Manuel was about the second baseman’s health, which is always an issue late in the season. However, straight answers never were offered and the assumption was Utley was properly healed from the thumb injury he suffered in June.

But the Phillies finished the season with the best record in baseball and closed the year by going 49-19. They had Halladay and Oswalt and Hamels lined up and all three lost in the playoffs. Sure, the Phillies pitched as well—maybe better—than the Giants, but that was it.

“I don't think we ever got our offense clicking,” Manuel said. “It always went up and down. We hit a hot streak, especially after Houston swept us earlier in the year. From that period on, we started winning a lot of games. But we weren't blowing people out and weren't really hitting like we can. It seemed like we never put up runs like I know we can.”

Maybe there was something to the injuries or maybe the preparedness. Even the victories in the postseason came in games where something extraordinary occurred. Halladay pitched a no-hitter in one and Hamels a five-hit shutout in another. In Game 2 of the NLDS the Phillies scored five unearned runs and in Game 2 of the NLCS, Oswalt pitched a three-hitter.

Finally, it came down to Halladay pitching six innings on a strained groin just to send the series back to Philadelphia.

But back home where the fans where waiting for hits that never came and runs that never circled the bases, all that was left was disappointment. The team with the best record in baseball fell to a team that batted Pat Burrell cleanup in a NLCS game… Pat Burrell?

When it finally came to an end it was Howard standing at the plate, watching as the third strike buzzed past just above his knees.

“Just get me to the plate, boys.”

“It's kind of a sucky way to end the game, a sucky way to end the year, you know, being that guy,” Howard said. “But I'll have to try and take that and use it as motivation and come back next year.

"I can't say what I want to say.”

No, he can’t, but there will be plenty of talk this winter about that last at-bat and the last series. Plain and simple, the Phillies blew it. Choked. The Phillies were the big bullies on the school yard and they got punched back and didn’t know what to do.

 

“I just don’t think any of us saw this happening,” closer Brad Lidge said. “I felt like we had the best team in baseball this year. It doesn’t always work out. Unfortunately, we just caught a team that seems to be doing everything right. They got the last hook in there. We just didn’t get our best game out there tonight. So shocked is a good word.”

Shocked like the rest of us that a team with hitters like the Giants could deliver more than the Phillies. Then again, the old, injured sage Jamie Moyer once played for a Seattle club that won 116 games, but lasted just six in the ALCS, To this day Seattle is only one of two franchises never to make it to the World Series.

“We had the best record in baseball, but when you get to the playoffs it really doesn’t mean anything,” Moyer said. “Everything starts just like it did in April. Everyone starts at zero. Now it’s about who is going to play the best, who is going to get the key hits and we fell short. …”

Cliff Lee will pitch in Game 1 of the World Series. Roy Halladay will not.

A look back at the Halladay-Lincecum duel

Roy_tim Pat Burrell and Cody Ross were downright giddy sitting while sitting at the dais to answer questions after Saturday night’s first game of the NLCS. It was no wonder considering Burrell and Ross were the big hitting heroes in Game 1, which made the actual conversing with media types a slight bit tolerable.

At least for Burrell.

There was more to it than that, of course, and it had little to do with the fact that both Burrell and Ross were players that we let go by the teams they began the season with. Burrell, of course, was not re-signed by the Phillies after he led the World Series parade down Broad St. and then was waived by Tampa Bay in May.

Ross was claimed off waivers by the Giants from the Marlins in late August not because he was wanted, but to stop the outfielder from going to divisional foe San Diego. The Giants were 5 ½ games behind the Padres when Ross joined them and didn’t even a need a month to slip into first place. Were Ross and his .286 average for the Giants the difference? Probably not, but the home run in the clincher in Game 4 of the NLDS along with the two bombs in Game 1 against the Phillies made the Giants’ prevent defense against the Padres look pretty good.

No, Burrell’s RBI double and Ross’s homers were most responsible for ruining the expected pitching duel between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum. In fact, Halladay looked like he was on his way to another epic performance in his first start since his no-hitter against the Reds in his playoff debut.

Halladay retired the side in order on eight pitches in the first and 11 pitches in the second. He got an out on three pitches in the third until Ross swung at a 2-0 pitch, did a little crow hop and watched the ball sail into the left-field seats. They seal had been broken.

Starting with Ross’s homer, the Giants rapped out eight hits over the next 22 hitters covering 4 2/3 innings. Still, there was the two-strike pitch with two outs to Burrell that Halladay thought was good he began his first steps back to the first-base dugout. Inexplicably to Halladay, home-plate umpire Derryl Cousins called it a ball. One pitch later, Burrell bashed his double off Raul Ibanez’s glove and the left-field wall.

Some duel, huh?

“I made some bad pitches at times. The first pitch to Ross I didn’t think was that bad, but the second one I left a ball over the plate. And then in the sixth a couple pitches there cost me,” Halladay said. “At this point you make a couple mistakes and they end up costing you.”

Ah, but maybe there was a pitching duel after all. You see, after Halladay gave up the homer to Ross, Lincecum served up one to Carlos Ruiz. He also gave up a homer to Jayson Werth to help the Phillies crawl back to within a run. That’s exactly where Lincecum was better than Halladay because he was able to recover from the initial home run.

That, obviously, was the difference.

Lincecum held the Phillies to an 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-11 with runners on base. Better yet, Lincecum held the Phillies to a 2-for-11 with two outs, which made sure to kill any hope for a late rally.

“It wasn’t about the numbers. It was about giving us a chance to win,” Lincecum said after the game. “I put those home runs behind me. You could squash yourself on that, make some more bad pitches, but I just took it on to the next batter after that, man. It was just enough to squeak by for us.”

Yeah, man.

Now here’s the really crazy part…

With 22 strikeouts (14 vs. the Braves in the NLDS, 8 vs. the Phillies) in his first two playoff games, Lincecum is tied with the great Bob Gibson for the most Ks in the first two games pitched. [1] Yes, Lincecum and Bob Gibson.

Bob-gibson Let that soak in for a bit.

Now what’s the first thing a person thinks about when Bob Gibson’s name is mentioned? If it isn’t intimidation, brush back pitches, a nasty fastball and intensity. His teammates were afraid to talk to him and opponents were just afraid of him. Jim Ray Hart, a slugging third baseman for the Giants in the 1960s and early ‘70s, tells the classic Bob Gibson story:

“Between games, Mays came over to me and said, ‘Now, in the second game, you’re going up against Bob Gibson.’ I only half-listened to what he was saying, figuring it didn't make much difference. So I walked up to the plate the first time and started digging a little hole with my back foot… No sooner did I start digging that hole than I hear Willie screaming from the dugout: ‘Noooooo!’ Well, the first pitch came inside. No harm done, though. So I dug in again. The next thing I knew, there was a loud crack and my left shoulder was broken. I should have listened to Willie.”

Hart should have called time out and filled up the hole the way it was.

Now compare Gibson with Lincecum, the floppy-haired 26-year-old right-ahnder from the Seattle suburbs. He kind of blends in with the kids hanging out in the Haight or Mitch Kramer in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, than the typical ballplayer sent from central casting.

But here’s the thing about that—like Gibson, Lincecum can pitch. He has a fastball he’s not afraid to challenge hitters with and has added a changeup to go with it. And like it was with Gibson, sometimes it’s just not fair when Lincecum takes the mound.

Of course there are also other times when Lincecum can be gotten to, like Game 1 at the Bank. The problem for the Phillies was Lincecum gave the Phillies a few chances and opened the door ever-so slightly before slamming it closed before it was too late.

Will Halladay and Lincecum get after each other again?


[1] Gibson struck out nine in a loss to the Yankees in Game 2 of the 1964 World Series, then came back to get 13 in 10 innings in Game 5. For good measure, Gibson went the distance in Game 7 and got nine more strikeouts to lead the Cardinals to the title.

‘Remember his name…’

Tillmans It’s not often that Pat Burrell felt helpless in an athletic competition, especially during high school when he was the all-American slugger and All-Star quarterback at Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, Calif., but there he was faced with the near impossible task of trying to tackle Pat Tillman.

In addition to being the quarterback for Bellarmine, the alma mater of at least 13 former major leaguers and a pile of NFL players, Olympians and pro soccer players, Burrell was the team’s kicker, too. That meant he usually hung back as the last line of defense if a returner broke through the wedge and the defensive coverage and was on the way to the end zone.

So in a game against Leland High, Burrell kicked off to running back/linebacker/kick returner, Tillman, and waited with the sense that it was going to come down to him preventing a touchdown. And sure enough, he was right. In a matter of seconds all that was left between Tillman and the end zone was Burrell.

“I thought, ‘Oh, bleep,’” Burrell remembered Thursday afternoon before the Giants beat the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Burrell said he stopped Tillman from scoring a touchdown, but only because he approached from an angle and tripped him. Technically, it wasn’t really a tackle, but it got the job done.

It’s interesting, though, that two kids from San Jose, Calif. born exactly a month apart during 1976 are involved in two very different things this Friday. Burrell likely will bat cleanup for the Giants in St. Louis where his team tries to make up some ground in the playoff race. Tillman, the ex-college and NFL star who enlisted to become an Army Ranger only to be killed in Afghanistan six years ago, is the subject of a documentary to be released Friday.

The film, called The Tillman Story, directed by Amir Bar-Lev, took the Sundance Film Festival by storm and opened it up to an audience that might not have been seeking it in certain parts of the mainstream media or from best-selling author, Jon Krakauer. In fact, renowned journalist Charles P. Pierce called the tale that emerged after Tillman’s death, “extraordinary,” and “the greatest sports-related story of my lifetime.”

Pierce wrote:

The more I think about it, the more I believe that Pat Tillman’s life and death is the greatest sports-related story of my lifetime. It had extraordinary sacrifice, that led, horribly, to the ultimate sacrifice. It had tragedy and heartbreak. It had lies and deceit. It had a family honoring its lost son by forcing the institution that sought to hide the truth about his death to come clean in the light of day. And, in the middle of it, was someone whose writings before his death indicate, had he survived, that he would have come out of his experience a different, brilliant man. It is every bit an epic. It needs a Homer to tell it.

I mention this only because the man who was most responsible for fudging the truth about Pat Tillman’s death is going to have a very bad Wednesday. The Tillmans have been, and are, unrelenting. They honor us all just by being our fellow citizens and doing their duty as such.

Obviously, the Tillman story wouldn’t be as compelling if it weren’t for the man himself. He was, after all, a man who believed in honesty and integrity above anything else. He was a pro football player who turned down a $9 million deal from the Rams out of loyalty to the Cardinals. The Cardinals were the team that gave him a chance when no other team would — to Tillman there was no price on that.

Sadly, Tillman’s sense of loyalty and righteousness was seen as kooky and weird. Since the world is a rat race, the conventional wisdom indicates that it’s OK to be a rat. But not to Tillman. For some reason no one could believe that someone could challenge every convention and mean it. It was further baffling to folks that Tillman would trade a $3.6 million contract from the Cardinals for the salary of an enlisted man in the Army.

Was he crazy?

No, not at all. He was just real. Dignity, honor, loyalty and truth weren’t throwaway words to Tillman. Life was short, he reasoned, so why should he always do what was expected instead of challenging himself.

Maybe the military and the government underestimated these qualities when they lied about him after his death. As Krakauer wrote, they stole his honor and rewarded him by using him as a propaganda tool. Wars were ugly business and as one of the men who was part of the initial wave of soldiers into Iraq in 2003 and viewed the action as “criminal.”

Perhaps that’s why the government lied about him and why his belongings were destroyed, including his diary. Here was a man living his life by a code of ethics and morals and they used him for their own selfishness.

Tillman’s story is complicated and further exasperated by the fact that he could not be pigeonholed in life or death.

 

 

Burrell and Tillman. Both from San Jose who took similar and divergent paths. When asked if he was familiar with Tillman’s posthumous story, Burrell just looked forlornly and shook his head slowly, as if to express how unbelievable life can be sometimes.

Rowand remembers, ‘For who? For what?’

Ro It was the greatest catch many of us saw and that was before we understood the aftermath. Like a receiver on a fly pattern, Aaron Rowand ran as hard as he could to a point where he thought the ball was going to land, which was amazing enough.

The situation called for it, Rowand said. With the bases loaded and two outs and pitcher Gavin Floyd nearing his 30th pitch in the first inning, the May, 2006 game was hanging in the balance. Xavier Nady’s long fly had escaped Rowand's glove, he could have run for days.

It was when his momentum carried him that extra half-step and he looked up where things went wrong.

In retrospect, maybe it didn’t all go wrong. Sure, Rowand got hurt pretty badly. Who can forget Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu frantically waving for the training staff to rush out to the center field warning track to help as blood poured from Rowand’s face? Very quickly, he was helped from the field by some paramedics to an ambulance waiting to rush him to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Center City. In that short time, Rowand went from just the very capable center fielder that arrived in town as part of the Jim Thome deal to a cult hero.

And all it took was a face plant into an exposed metal bar, a broken nose that required surgery, stitches for his mouth and nose, a plastic splint to protect his still-tender nose, dark violet bruises ringing his eyes and cheeks, and two weeks on the disabled list.

It was a few days later when Rowand truly became the cult hero when he dropped the retort to Ricky Watters’ infamous explanation as to why he developed alligator arms while going for a pass from Randall Cunningham over the middle.

“For who? My teammates. For what? To win,” Rowand said without hesitation or wavering. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Looking back on it, a writer for Baseball Prospectus named Clay Davenport surmised that Rowand’s catch was the equivalent to him hitting two home runs in the game. Had Nady gotten a double or triple on that play, the Phillies would have had just a 30.8 percent chance to win the game based on Davenport’s situational data. But making the catch gave the Phillies nearly a 60 percent chance to win, Davenport wrote. In other words, for a team that missed the playoffs by one game in 2005 and had not seen post-season baseball since 1993, “The Catch” was something that could have transformed the team.

Of course the Phillies barely missed the playoffs in 2006, though they rallied for a strong second-half when Abreu was traded to the Yankees. In 2007, with Rowand playing 161 games, the Phillies finally made it to the playoffs, though the trip lasted just three games.

Interestingly, Rowand missed one game in 2007 because he injured his shoulder playing tag at his daughter’s birthday party. Oh yes, no matter what the game was Rowand went all out.

“The next day I got shot up a little bit and went back out there and it was fine,” Rowand remembered for us before Tuesday night’s game between the Phillies and Giants at the Bank.

So as he’s getting closer to the end of his current five-year deal with the Giants and his career creeps closer past the middle toward the end, how does Rowand feel about that one play — one that sent him to the hospital and kept him out of action for a couple of weeks — defining his legacy? Yes, it was the greatest catch some of us ever saw, but a baseball player with a World Series ring with the White Sox in 2005, a Gold Glove and an All-Star Game berth should be known for more…

Right?

Then again, if that’s what it is, Rowand doesn’t mind.

“I look at it more along the lines as there are a lot worse things you can be or be remembered for,” he said. “If it’s going to be me being remembered for playing the game hard and being a good teammate, I don’t think anyone could ask for more than that. If that’s what I’m remembered for, after I retire and I’m bleeping long gone, so be it. It’s a good thing to be remembered for.”

Looking back, that’s not too far off from what Rowand told us in the moment. Clearly Rowand was more valuable to the Phillies on the field than rolled up in a heap on the warning track with blood pouring from his face like it was a spigot. After all, he was a player who knocked himself out cold when he ran into a cinderblock wall in college and separated his shoulder colliding with a wall in Chicago — didn’t he understand the concept of restraint?

That answer is obvious, and here’s how Rowand explained it:

Aaron_rowand “That’s why [the critics] are sitting behind a desk or a microphone,” he said tersely with his purple-ringed eyes narrowing. “I enjoy doing what I’m doing and my teammates enjoy it, too. I want to win. That’s how I play. People can call me stupid. I don’t care. I’m sure the fans got a kick out of it and I know my teammates did. Think what you want I’m here to play and play hard.”

Rowand was clearly the heart and soul of those Phillies teams, just as he was when he was playing for the White Sox, too. More interestingly, Rowand became a “Philly Guy” in a relatively short time. Think about it… Rowand spent two seasons playing for the Phillies, just missed out on winning the World Series here (“hell yes I’m jealous!”) and took the five years offered to him from the Giants, which was better than the deal offered by the Phillies.

Still, does Rowand ever wonder how he became so beloved in Philadelphia?

“The thing about these fans is they are some of the smartest baseball fans in the country,” he said. “I think everyone knows they can be rough sometimes, but it stems from a good spot. It stems from passion, it stems from their infatuation with this team. It’s a blue collar town, people here work hard and they come out and watch their sports teams play and they can relate with the guys who have the same mentality they have when they go to work.”

When Rowand was here he went to work. No doubt about that. So when the Phillies fans cheer the return of Pat Burrell, don’t doubt for a second that they will cheer for Rowand, too.

The next big thing

Dom_brown DENVER — Hang around baseball long enough and you will learn some lessons, most of them the hard way. It’s guaranteed if you’re smart enough to keep your eyes and ears open. It doesn’t matter how smart a guy thinks he is, how many good sources he has or how many games he has seen in person, there is always something.

So the best lesson I’ve learned about baseball that has been incorporated into my regular, civilian life is a hard one. There is very little wiggle room in this lesson and it is deliberate and foolproof if applied correctly.

Believe nothing. Unless you can confirm something or saw it occur in front of your own two eyes/ears, don’t believe it. In fact, even then it’s a pretty good idea to go out and get a secondary source. For instance, if you believe Albert Pujols is the best hitter you have ever seen, it’s a really good idea to get some back up. Try to find someone who has seen a lot of different hitters from all kinds of backgrounds and ask for their opinion.

Regarding Pujols, I asked Mike Schmidt and Charlie Manuel if he was, indeed, the greatest hitter I had ever seen. Schmidt went so far as to demonstrate Pujols’ batting stance right there in the clubhouse at Veterans Stadium where he described the genius of the Cardinals’ slugger.

“Watch what he does,” Schmidt said, squatting down low with his hands held high, choking up on an imaginary bat. “He always goes in there like he was two strikes on him.”

The thinking, according to Schmidt, is that Pujols is always weary, always thinking and always protective of his strike zone. Pujols wasn’t going to give in to a pitcher’s pitch or chase garbage. The theory is to kill a pitch over the plate and if a guy is good enough to throw one of those fancy breaking pitches on the edge of the plate, just tip your cap and walk quietly back to the dugout.

After that Schmidt went back to trashing Pat Burrell and his lack of hitting acumen.

Big Chuck didn’t demonstrate Pujols’ stance or make any over-analyzed hitting theories. Instead, Charlie made me think and dig between the lines. He does that a lot, actually. A big one with Charlie is, “Watch the game.” That means don’t believe the hype.

“He’s up there,” Charlie said. “He can be whatever you want him to be.”

What does this long-winded preamble have to do with uber-prospect Dom Brown? Well, everything actually. The truth is Brown’s long-awaited ascent to the Majors has sent lots of smart folks struggling to control their emotions. Long, rangy, smart, powerful and fast, Brown comes billed as the ultimate post-steroid era ballplayer. What do you need? Well, guess what? Brown has that trait in his repertoire. He was drafted in the 20th round out of high school as a left-handed pitcher because most teams thought he was headed for the University of Miami to play wide receiver. Since then he’s never thrown a pitch in a game and the only catches he makes are in right field.

What those teams didn’t know was that Brown was a baseball player who grew up idolizing Ken Griffey Jr., which is perfect. Brown, a lefty in the field and at the plate, could be a stronger, faster version of Griffey. If Griffey was the ultimate player for the pre-steroid era, Brown is his successor.

Oh yes, he’s that good.

That’s the hype machine talking, of course. Griffey, ideally, should be a unanimous Hall-of-Fame pick five years from now. Of course there were a lot of players that should have been unanimous selections in the past—Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Tony Gwynn, etc.—spring to mind, but the BBWAA votes on these things… what are you gonna do?

The question no one has pondered is if the hype and the expectations are fair to Brown. There is a lot of pressure put on the 22-year-old kid to live up to a standard set by others. Yes, it’s the way it goes in this over-populated media landscape of ours, but that doesn’t make it right. Too often we are so quick to anoint everything the greatest hero or flop of all time. There’s never just good or mediocre anymore—it has to be extreme.

We saw this happen to Burrell when he was summoned from Scranton during the 2000 season and we could not understand why the Phillies took so long to call up Marlon Byrd in 2002 because we were told he was going to be the next great center fielder. Eventually Byrd became an All-Star, but it took three teams and six years after he left the Phillies to get there.

Then there were the untouchables, Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels. When the Phillies were hanging around the cusp of a playoff berth in 2003 and 2004 as the trade deadline loomed, Floyd and Hamels were the first players every team asked for only to be told to beat it or were given a counteroffer that included Ryan Howard.

It was the Pirates, not the Phillies, which backed out of the Oliver Perez-for-Ryan Howard deal at the last minute. Coincidentally, Floyd was included in the trade that sent Howard’s roadblock, Jim Thome, to Chicago in order to clear a path for Howard.

As Charlie would say, “Funny game.”

Here’s what I know… having seen Burrell, Byrd, Chase Utley, Floyd, Hamels, Howard and Brown play in the minor leagues, I’d like to think my eyes and ears haven’t mislead me. I thought Burrell would be better with at least one All-Star berth to his credit. Byrd was marketed wrong and probably needed a little more work on his makeup in order to be a star for the Phillies.

Utley was raw and no one really was sure if he’d ever be able to field an infield position. When it appeared that Scott Rolen wasn’t going to re-sign with the Phils, Utley was promoted from Single-A to Triple-A where he spent the season playing third base. Sure, he hit fairly well, but some are still amazed that Utley didn’t kill someone (or himself) with the way he played third base. But out of all the players listed, he has come the farthest as a player. No one expected him to be the best second baseman in the game. Burrell was supposed to have the career that Utley has put together and Utley was just supposed to be a really good hitter.

Who knew?

Floyd was a talent, but not as good as Hamels and certainly lacked that cockiness and swagger the lefty had even way back when he was pitching for the Reading Phillies.

Howard? Wow, was he smart as a minor leaguer. The aspect to Howard’s game that goes unnoticed is how quickly he can make adjustments and alterations at the plate. There’s a lot more than sheer brute force to what he does up there and the massive amount of strikeouts is a byproduct of something. What has been missed is the intelligence for the game Howard had even as a minor leaguer.

Brown_lopesHoward and Hamels were the best of the bunch until Brown came along. In his first game for Reading last summer, Brown hit a home run that will go down as one of those legendary moments they talk about years from now. The problem with this legend, however, is that there isn’t much room to embellish it. C’mon… Brown hit a ball about as far as a human being could smash a baseball at Reading’s ballpark without it sounding cartoonish or like something conjured in a video game.

Even better than the talent, intelligence and everything else, Brown was grounded. People kept spelling his name wrong but he was too polite to correct them. When he answered questions he used the word, “sir,” and he wasn’t being sarcastic. Know what? Pujols did the same thing a decade ago.

For now Brown is perfect. His first plate appearance ended with an RBI double crashed off the wall. Famed documentarian Ken Burns was even on hand to see it, which hardly seems like a coincidence.

But Brown is also the one player general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. would not part with when he was cleaning out the farm system to get Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Brown is the chosen one even though Amaro went on Daily News Live last week and plainly stated that the kid wasn’t ready for the big show yet. Perhaps that was just Amaro trying to tamp down expectations in order to keep the hype from overwhelming us. A little breather, if you will.

Oh, but we know better. Amaro had no other way of dodging it. Money is always at the fore and guys like Brown (and Howard before him) have the natural flow of their development slowed in order to keep that arbitration and free agency clock from ticking. It stinks because there’s something truly sinister about those motivated by money over merit, but so far we’ve seen guys like Howard and Utley get theirs after toiling away in the minors for no good reason.

Maybe we are jumping the gun on Brown a little bit. Maybe he’ll be more Burrell and Byrd than Howard or Utley? Baseball has a way of separating the champs from the chumps really quickly. You can go to the bank on that.

But I know what my eyes have seen and I know that Brown made it through every level of pro ball with tons of scouts and management types watching his every move with the intent on prying him away from Philadelphia. There’s a reason why Halladay didn’t pitch for the Phillies in 2009 and it was because there was no way Amaro was giving up Brown to get the best righty pitcher in the majors.

Now both Brown and Halladay are teammates with lockers on the same side of the clubhouse. Chances are they’re going to remain so for a while, too. Needless to say, it’s going to be fun following Charlie’s advice…

“Watch the game.”

How can you not?

Revisiting Pat Burrell’s unique impact in Philly

Burrell We’re very into measuring legacies here on this little
site. Go ahead and dig through the archives and there will be plenty of stories
detailing the impact certain athletes had on their time and place. Some guys
made a big impact in a short amount of time like Cliff Lee, Terrell Owens or
Lenny Dykstra, while others stirred the drink over a longer period like Donovan
McNabb or Jimmy Rollins.

The thing about coming to define a ballplayer’s legacy is
that it’s totally subjective. For instance, a guy like Simon Gagne is the
longest tenured athlete in Philadelphia right now, and might go on to set a
whole bunch of franchise records for the Flyers. However, Gagne was rarely the
most important player on his team.

Of course an argument could be made about Gagne these
days considering the Flyers are 7-1 in games that he played in during the
current playoff run.

Still another thing about this exercise is that it defies
statistics or any other type of metric. It’s completely one of those “it”
things. You know, it’s so tough to define “it,” but you know it when you see, “it.”

So with the end of his days as an everyday player on a
major league roster likely looming after the Tampa Bay Rays sent him packing,
we are officially entering the beginning of the end for Pat Burrell. The weird
thing about the fan favorite here in Philly being sent out by Tampa is how
quickly the bottom fell out for Burrell. After he clubbed that long double off
the top of the center field fence to set up the World Series-winning run in
October of 2008, Burrell has not been very good.

No, he hasn’t been as awful as he was in 2003 when he
batted just .209 and manager Larry Bowa wanted to send him back to the minors
only to be vetoed  by general manager Ed
Wade because they signed the guy to a $50 million deal before the season.
However, with the remainder of a $16 million deal still owed for the rest of
the year, Burrell has been bad enough that the Rays had to do something.

After all, Burrell still has that big, sweeping swing
that leads him to strikeout more often than he puts it into play. Remember that
swing? You know, the one that made you throw things at your TV set because you
saw it so often every summer so you figured someone must have been in Burrell’s
ear telling him not to swing at those low and away pitches that sent his rear
to the on-deck circle while his bat flailed like an old lady beating back a
prowler with her cane.

Yes, that swing.
Apparently the folks in Tampa had less patience for it than we did.

Chances are Burrell will clear waivers and catch on with
a team as apart-time DH or right-handed bat off the bench. He’s not so far gone
that he’s completely worthless even though he’s hit just two homers, whiffed 28
times in 84 at-bats, and posted a .202 batting average. Just like Charlie
Manuel in Philadelphia, Rays’ manager Joe Maddon couldn’t say enough nice
things about Burrell even when kicking him to the curb.

“The thing about Pat that I respect so much, this guy
worked very, very hard despite a lot of outside criticism,” Maddon told
reporters on Saturday. “But I’m always about effort and work, and this guy did
that every day. He was the first guy showing up. He was always in the cage,
always worked on his defense even though he didn’t play out there. He was very
supportive among his teammates. It’s just unfortunate that it did not work
out.”

In other words it was business, not personal. It was
exactly what Ruben Amaro Jr. said when the Phillies decided to allow Burrell to
become a free agent after his key double and role as the Grand Marshal in the
World Series parade down Broad St. Quite clearly, it was a great send off and
one Burrell never wanted. If the Phillies would have had him back, he would have
stayed. And yet despite some kind words from people like Bill James touting his
stats, the Phillies kind of knew better.

There were just too many of those swings.

But how will you remember Pat Burrell? Is he a Greg
Luzinski type with some big slugging seasons before a very quick demise? Did he
have a career worthy of the Phillies’ Wall of Fame?

Or was he the epitome of unfulfilled promise and hype?
Was he one of those guys who just had so much talent and raw ability, but no
idea how to piece it all together?

How about all of the above?

Burrell, of course, was the No. 1 overall pick out of
Miami in 1998 who belted 29 homers in his first full season of pro ball in ’99 and
then got the call to the big club in May of 2000. In fact, in his first big
league game in Houston, Burrell hit one so hard that if that high wall in left
field hadn’t gotten in the way, the ball might have orbited the earth. Oddly
enough the pitcher who served up that shot was none other than his soon to be
nemesis, Billy Wagner.

Go figure.

Burrell hit 18 homers in 111 games of his first season,
27 in 2001 and then the big year in 2002 with 37 homers, 116 RBIs and a
career-high .920 OPS. After that season he had the city in the palm of his hand
because of his ability to get huge hits against the Mets, that $50 million
deal, and his de facto title as the “Midnight Mayor” of Philadelphia.

And then he just never put it all together. Sure, there
was that good 2005 season and a strong 2007, but his inability to hit with
runners on base in 2006 might have cost the Phillies a shot at the playoffs.
Strangely, 30-homer seasons with solid RBI and slugging numbers seemed rather
mundane, probably because we expected so much more.

Chuck_patIsn’t the curse of high expectations always a lose-lose?
Strapped with burden, it always seemed as if Burrell should have been better
when in reality he wasn’t that bad.

Yet Philadelphia loved the guy. He somehow was excused
from the boos that rained on Mike Schmidt during rough times, or hundreds of
lesser players. Why was that? How could a No. 1 overall pick struggle to hit
.200 and to avoid a trip back to the minors wind up being cheered… in
Philadelphia?  Somehow Burrell charmed
the fans even when he was snubbing the press. Needless to say, Burrell was in a
unique position for an athlete in the city.

Maybe the reason for that was because he was so accessible.
There were probably thousands of Phillies fans that ran into him after games at
The Irish Pub or out in Olde City, where he likely bought a few rounds for the
house. Perhaps Burrell was immune to the catcalls because he lived the fantasy
life of a star athlete to the hilt, and didn’t miss work or call in sick. In
fact, he and his bulldog Elvis were usually the first pair in the clubhouse
every day. Better yet, he was one of the leaders behind the scenes with the
Phillies when they finally broke that playoff drought.

He did a lot of things that fans and ballplayers liked,
such as calling out guys like Wagner for perceived slights and not airing his
laundry in the media. Actually, Burrell called us “rats,” which is fair
considering we ripped him for all those slumps and strikeouts. Sure, he was
fine to shoot the breeze with or trade in some friendly banter or idle gossip,
but to go to talk about himself or some insight on the team or the game… forget
it. That’s when the walls went up.

For those looking for the defining quotes on Burrell,
look no further than this gem Dallas Green dropped on Jim Salisbury a couple of
years ago:

“I’ve been out with
him a couple times in Florida. We have a secret (watering) hole every now and
then.

“There’s nothing
wrong with that. There are tons of guys in the Hall of Fame that were like
that.

“It’s neat to have
money, it’s neat to have good looks, and it’s neat to have broads all over you.
Every place I’ve managed, I’ve talked to kids about the same thing. It’s a hell
of a life. But there comes a time in every player’s life when he needs to get
his act together.”

No one is saying Burrell doesn’t have his act together—far
from it. However, the act often changes for all ballplayers and athletes.
Sometimes it has to come crashing down to remember how good it once was.

The warm-up act

Eisen The early reports indicate that Super Bowl 44 was the
highest rated version of the game ever. If that’s the case, it will surpass the
1982 Super Bowl, which was seen in 49 percent of U.S. households for a 73
percent share, the Saints-Colts game could rank up there with the most-watched
TV events ever.

There’s the last M.A.S.H., the “Who Shot J.R.?” Dallas
episode, Roots and probably Super Bowl 44.

Perhaps adding to the allure of watching the game was the
proliferation of social media, the Internet and all that stuff. These days a
guy can have a Super Bowl party with all his friends and followers without
traveling anywhere. And based on how the roads look after the big snowstorm
that walloped us, we weren’t getting too far anyway.

Besides, who wants to be in the same room with half of
those people anyway… I keed, I keed.

Anyway, back in my day when MTV and ESPN first came out
and we went from 12 channels with a dial to 30 channels with a space-age
remote, Super Bowl Sunday meant a day filled with tons of good sports matchups.
In fact, I recall a Sixers-Celtics and Celtics-Lakers matchup as an appetizer
for the big game. For geeks like me it was pretty fun to watch Doc, Moses,
Andrew Toney, Larry Bird, etc., etc. before the biggest sporting event of the
year. Often the NBA games were even better than the Super Bowl.

These days, though, there are 900 channels, on-demand,
in-demand, DVR, TiVo, YouTube, Hulu, and whatever else you need to watch
whatever you want whenever you want. Who can keep up? Moreover, the ratings are
never going to be accurate—if they ever were in the first place.

Nevertheless, harkening back to those halcyon days when
Super Bowl Sundays were spent with Kevin McHale and Joe Montana, I figured the
lead-ins to the big game were worth a look again. Why not? I was already snowed
in and didn’t feel like traipsing through our winter wonderland.

So after waking up at the crack of noon[1],
the first stop on the TV was the NFL Network where they were set up at a desk
on the field a good seven hours before kick-off. Even stranger than that, there
was a whole bunch of hired heads yapping about the game from a whole bunch of
different desks located around the stadium. The main desk, of course, had Rich
Eisen at the head chair with Marshall Faulk, Steve Mariucci and Michael Irvin.

Across the field from the main desk was a blonde-haired
woman with long hair that got all entangled in the wind whipping through the
stadium. I probably wouldn’t have cared if she didn’t spend at least 30 seconds
of TV time yapping about it as if the wind were literally spitting on her. In
TV, 30 seconds is an eternity, but considering the NFL Network had more than
six hours to fill the wind was as topical as anything else.

Still, the silliest part about the wind/hair/curses-to-Mother
Nature was how the blonde-haired TV woman thought the development of strong
morning breezes could have some affect on the passing attack for the Colts and
Saints in the game. You know, because weather never changes in the span of six
hours. If it’s windy when TV lady is on the scene, well by golly, it will be
windy when everyone else is there, too.

Of course the big topics were reserved for Eisen and his
crew on the other side of the field. That only makes sense considering there
was only one meaningful topic, which they proceeded to pulverize with plenty of
ancillary bantering between the panel because the game did not start for
another six hours. Then, of course, Eisen ran things because he was the only
guy there who did not play or coach in the NFL yet still was e-mailed bikini
photos of that former anchor woman in Philly[2].
That makes Rich Eisen a hero to dweeby sports geeks everywhere and sends an
important message…

Stay in school, kids. Study up on those important facts
and sports reference material. Watch plenty of games and skip class if you
must, but by all means, stay in school. You too can be just like Rich Eisen and
hang with some ex-football players where you will spend the better part of six
hours discussing Dwight Freeney’s ankle on a sun and wind-swept afternoon in
Miami.

Good times!

But way too crazy for me. I needed to pace myself if I
was going to make to kick-off so it was off to investigate what else was out
there in the wonderland known as cable television. Better yet, I settled onto
the MLB Network just in time to pick up Game 5 of the 2008 World Series exactly
where it picked up after the two-day rain suspension. You remember the first
part of the game, right? That’s the part where it rained so hard during the
action that it could only be properly summed up by a soaking wet Ryan Howard
after the stoppage in play when he told me it was a, “bleeping bleep show.”

How right he was.

Since I never saw the completion of Game 5 of the 2008
World Series except for in actual real time, I settled in to watch. Only this
time I did it without the threat of having to go straight to the airport and to
Tampa afterwards. It was much more enjoyable and relaxing this way.

But here’s what I don’t get:

Why did Joe Maddon leave the lefty J.P. Howell in to hit
and then pitch to righty Pat Burrell to start the seventh? Burrell, of course,
hit that double that just missed landing in the seats and then immediately took
him out for a righty to face a switch-hitter and two straight right-handers? I
thought Maddon was a genius?

Duke Anyway, we all remember what happened from there and
since they cut away before the clubhouse and field celebration—thus eliminating
a chance for me to see myself lurking in the background like an idiot—it was
time to move on…

… to a Duke-North Carolina match-up from 1988 when the
Tar Heels were rated No. 2 in the country and Duke was on the way to a Final
Four appearance. Oh yes, they were all there: Danny Ferry with hair, Quinn
Snyder all skinny and point-guardy. There was J.R. Reid with that flat top,
Rick Fox in short shorts, and Jeff Lebo from Carlisle, Pa. where he and Billy
Owens won the state championship.

Yes, Dean Smith was there, too, along with Coach K still
looking as rat-faced as ever. But what was the most interesting was catching a
glimpse of Billy King when he was a school boy with Duke. We all remember Billy,
right? The Sixers’ slick and stylish GM, who given the current state of the
franchise, might not have been doing too badly. Nevertheless, in 1988 King didn’t
have those chic thin glasses or the neat clean-shaven head like he did when he
was running the Sixers. Instead he had a mustache that would have made Billy D.
envious and a flat top that fit perfectly with the trendiness of 1988.

But Ferry, the current GM for the first-place Cleveland
Cavaliers, ran things for Duke back then. With Kevin Strickland and Ferry combining
for 41 points, Duke got a 70-69 victory in their first of three wins over
Carolina that season.

But Billy King’s mustache and haircut can only pique one’s
interest for so long. It was Super Bowl Sunday, after all, and kick-off was
quickly approaching. It was time to prepare, so I checked on the veggie chili I
had simmering on the stove top, poured myself a tall glass of iced tea, and
flipped the dial back to the NFL Network for any last minute insight.

Instead I got a whole bunch of yelling and a lot of
goofing off.

Seemingly holding down the fort as if in some sort of
sadistic dance marathon, Eisen was sitting there in Miami grinning like a goon
as Mariucci and Irvin were shouting overly wrought football points about topics
no one could decipher. Actually, Irvin dropped into some sort of loud,
pontification worthy of the finest antebellum preacher or Stephen A. Smith
marked with a ridiculously loud over-enunciation usually reserved for people
trying to sell you a mop on TV or folks who just have no idea what the hell
they’re talking about. Why shout and put on such an over-the-top show if you
have the facts cold? If it’s true, it doesn’t have to be sold. The truth sells
and I’m buying. Only I didn’t buy any of this[3].

Just the facts, guys.

Art_donovan Oh, but if you
wanted to hear Irvin really get loud, all you had to do was wait for Adam
Sandler, David Spade, Kevin James, Rob Schneider and Chris Rock take over the
set to talk about some movie they have coming out sometime soon. Aside from
being the typical comedians-interviewed-at-the-Super-Bowl bit, the only
trenchant part came when Spade astutely replied to Eisen’s query of a
prediction with, “No one cares what we think about football.”

That David Spade is a wise one.

Then again maybe that’s not entirely true. Maybe that
depends on what those guys actually have to say about football. Take Chris
Rock, for instance. After the group interview with the funny guys, Rock gave a
private interview with Deion Sanders in director’s chairs near the field
because… well, because he’s Chris Rock. And aside from explaining to Deion that
he was no Juan Pierre during his baseball days, Rock dropped this nugget when
asked who his favorite player was.

“Donovan,” Rock said.

In the history of the NFL there have only been nine guys
with the name, “Donovan.” Chances are Chris Rock was not talking about Art
Donovan, the Hall-of-Fame tackle for the Baltimore Colts during the 1950s.
Making it easier to deduce that this “Donovan” character was indeed, Donovan
McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles, came when Prime Time asked why Donovan was
his favorite player.

“He wins like a man and loses like a man. … He takes
responsibility,” Rock said.

Interesting, huh?

Chris Rock is a tough act to follow so just before
heading off to a pre-game nap, I flipped to CBS just in time to see host James
Brown tell analyst Dan Marino that the road leading to the stadium in Miami
was, “Dan Marino Blvd.”

Judging from Dan’s expression upon hearing that news, it
looked as if the ol’ QB took had taken a few wrong exits off that road in the past.


[1] No, not really. I just love that expression
and the humor that comes with sloth.

[2] For the life of me I can’t remember her
name. Alycia was it? Does it matter? Is there a difference?

[3] The only way Irvin could have sold me is if
he would have twisted his mustache and wore a bowler hat like an evil spy. Otherwise,
it’s just yelling.

Trolling the lobby

Lobby INDIANAPOLIS—Just did my first serious troll through the veritable Star Trek convention that is the Baseball Winter Meetings, and to describe the scene by paraphrasing a line from Bill Hader in the marvelous opening scene in the epic film, Pineapple Express, "One: lots of dudes… "

Truth be told, I've quoted that movie twice already this morning by using the always versatile phrase, "What happened to your eye?"

Regardless, the first trip proved to be quite fruitful when the rumor du jour involved ex-Phillie Pat Burrell. According to the reports, tweets and scuttlebutt, Burrell was said to be involved in a threeway deal.

Yeah, too easy…

The report was the Rays were going to trade Burrell to the Cubs for Milton Bradley and then the Cubs would turnaround and send Pat The Bat to the Mets.

Wouldn't it be awesome to see Burrell 18 times a season in a Mets' uniform? Just think about how much fun that would be aside from it underscoring the mercenary nature of baseball. Ah, but to be a wet blanket — according to the terms of his contract, the Rays would have to pay Burrell cash if he were to be traded. Sure, the Rays got to the World Series in 2008 and are no longer the doormats of the American League, but that doesn't mean they are so flush with cash that they can go around making trades and signing free agents.

Leslie Gudel sent a message to Burrell on whether or not he heard about the rumor and (not surprisingly) he had not. Burrell wasn't known to follow the hot stove back when he was playing for the Phillies and he, said back then, he didn't even own a computer. Chances are he hasn't changed his media diet all that much in the year since he has been gone.

But when asked by Tim Brown of Yahoo!, a Rays' representative dropped the ol', "That's news to us," line on Brown.

In other words, the Burrell to the Cubs and Mets rumor was too good to be true.

Another good one had ex-Phillie Brett Myers headed to either Houston or Texas…

Burrell_rays Yes, there is a joke somewhere in there, too. Go ahead and make up your own about Brett Myers, Texas, his penchant for going to the gun range, Ed Wade, and, of course, Brett Myers in the state of Texas.

Meanwhile, the Phillies didn't appear to be too busy on the first day of the Winter Meetings here at the Downtown Marriott. At one point, key front-office types Charley Kerfeld, Gordon Lakey and Howie Freiling were all in the lobby mingling with the scribes. While this was going on, Ruben Amaro Jr. and a bunch of the rest of the Phillies' brass were standing along the railing overlooking the lobby where they were undoubtedly making wise cracks about the show down below.

Like shooting fish in a barrel.

For what it's worth, the Phillies are said not to be willing to part with the money in order to get Brandon Lyon. Last season for the Tigers, the reliever earned $4.25 million and is in line for a raise this year. Still, he is the type of player the Phillies are looking to add before spring training.

Perhaps this is the off-season where the economy of the U.S. really comes into play.

Why can’t Serena play like the boys?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Spending 14 hours at the ballpark for one of those greedy day-night doubleheaders sometimes leaves a guy with a little down time. If only they had cots or hammocks in the joint perhaps a little catnap would have refreshed and revived the baseball scribes.

Nevertheless, I had a chance to catch some of the baseball highlight shows since all the televisions in the press box were magically turned to ESPN in the hours leading up to the late-night second game.

Apropos of that, if there is one thing that writers and ballplayers can agree upon it’s the Sunday night games on ESPN stink. They are almost more annoying than the 4 p.m. games on Fox, which are at the perfect time to ruin your day. They are too early to be a night game and too late to be a real day game – you’re just screwed if you actually want to have a life.

But whatever – no one wants to hear a guy who hangs out at the ballpark all day whine about what time they start the games. Besides, the thing that stood out on the highlight show was the scene from Yankee Stadium when manager Joe Girardi ranted and raved with the umpire over a call. In fact, Girardi was so demonstrative during his argument that he appeared to have ejected the umpire after he got the ol’ heave-ho.

That wasn’t the end of it either. Girardi threw his hat, bobbed his head and kicked dirt, and when the tantrum went on too long, he actually needed to be physically restrained from charging after the ump.

It was quite a scene, man.
Meanwhile, in Boston ex-Phillie Pat Burrell was tossed from a game without the show Girardi provided, but certainly with the venom. Mired in a 1-for-19 slump in September, Burrell’s ejection (which undoubtedly included some choice words) was more about his inability to hit and frustration than the call.

Either way, Burrell’s show of outrage was only a handful of seconds shorter than that of Serena Williams during Saturday night’s semifinals match at the US Open in New York City.

You know, the thing everyone is flipping out about.

So here’s the question: How come it’s OK for men to curse, swear and act like little children when arguing with the officials, but if a woman does it she has gone over the line? In tennis, no less?

For those who just saw the theatrics and not the questionable call that pushed the tirade, here’s what happened: Serena was called foot fault, which is more rare than catcher’s interference or a balk in baseball. With the semifinals match and the No. 1 ranking in the world on the line, a foot fault call — especially one that was questionable to begin with — is unheard of. It just never happens, let alone at such a critical moment in the last major tennis tournament of the year.

So Serena flipped a bit. She yelled, dropped a curse word or two, and sent the line judge scurrying to the top officials in some sort of racial tableau that would have been such a ridiculous stereotype if it weren’t actually happening.

“If I could, I would take this … ball and shove it down your … throat,” Williams reportedly told the line judge, according published reports

Yeah, that’s it. Good thing baseball players and baseball officials don’t have the delicate sensibilities of the tennis hierarchy. You don’t want to know what Charlie Manuel says during his arguments. Earl Weaver, Billy Martin or Bobby Cox… forget it.

That’s really the case considering we’re talking about a sport where Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Illie Nastase had actual profane meltdowns on the court that rivaled anything in any other men’s sport. Hell, ballplayers and men tennis players are applauded for acting that way. They are called, “fiery,” and sometimes the fans even chant their names when they throw a tantrum.

In comparison, the hand-wringing and indignation over the on-court anger from Serena is not only ridiculous, but also insulting and stupid. It also makes one wonder if there is something else at play here.

Double-standard anyone?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com “Women definitely pay a higher price for the same ‘crime,’” tennis great Martina Navratilova told ESPN.com’s Bonnie Ford. “When Martina Hingis walked around the net to question a line call at the French Open, the crowd was on her case like I couldn’t believe. Jimmy Connors did the same thing, they booed him when he did it, and then he won the next two points and they were cheering for him again.”

Williams has been fined $10,500 and there is talk of suspension, too.

Really? For what?

For acting like an athlete in the heat of the match who was upset over a perceived slight?

For doing things that the men tennis players do?

For upsetting the perceived genteel nature of women’s sports and/or tennis in particular?

How about for potentially offending a sponsor or two?

Hmmmmm…

Next: Back to Pedro and baseball

If you don’t want to see, close your eyes

image from fingerfood.typepad.com A few years ago another scribe and I were shooting the breeze with Pat Burrell before a game. If I’m not mistaken, the conversation covered all of the ground regarding the ex-Phillies outfielder’s workouts at the prestigious Athletes’ Performance Center in Arizona and golfer Phil Mickelson’s empty locker in the joint as well as his alleged penchant for gambling.

You know, basic pre-game fodder.

But then the question was posed to Burrell if he had read something written about him in one of the local papers. This was the final year of Larry Bowa’s tenure as the manager of the Phillies so some of the stories written by some of the folks in the press weren’t the gentlest of critiques of the teams’ play. The story in question was definitely one of those.

Burrell, however, never saw the story and didn’t seem too interested, either. His general thoughts on the local press (supposedly) was that they (we) are “rats.” It’s an unfortunate description especially since I prefer to use the cunning and quick-witted fox to describe some members of the press corps. Yeah, there are a few rats, but they are more like that Templeton from Charlotte’s Web.

Anyway, Burrell then revealed that (one) of the reasons why he didn’t see the story was because the team was not allowed to have newspapers in the clubhouse. Yeah, there was freedom of the press to assemble in the clubhouse, but by edict of manager Larry Bowa, the work of those meddling reporters was verboten in the inner sanctum lest some of the words over-boil the blood of the ballplayers.

In fact, it wasn’t until Charlie Manuel was hired as manager of the Phillies that newspapers were strewn about the common areas of the room. Better yet, ballplayers were able to fold over the pages and sit comfortably to do the daily crossword puzzle, Sudoku or jumble without engaging in subterfuge or the threat of scorn and fines.

Yes, it was a great day for literacy when Charlie Manuel became manager of the Phillies.

But in New York another manager named Manuel is not so as enlightened as our Charlie. In fact, Jerry Manuel of the New York Mets has enacted a Bowa-esque media blackout only with a certain caveat:

The USA Today is allowed in the Mets’ new clubhouse at CitiField, but The New York Post and New York Daily News, well, those papers aren’t quite up to the Mets’ Major League standards.

The edict, apparently, was to avoid “bad vibes,” which is fair. Look, if I don’t like a radio station, I turn the station. If I don’t like a TV show, I turn the channel. And you sure as shoot better believe that if I don’t like a periodical, I’m not going to lug it around town or have it delivered to my home and/or office.

So why should the Mets?

When word of Bowa’s paper banned leaked out the consensus seemed to be shrugged shoulders or bemused laughter. I looked at it as Nixon-esque paranoia by a guy wrapped a little too tight because I knew the papers weren’t banned because of the political bent of the Op-Ed pages. The sports section of some of the local papers rankle some delicate sensibilities – it’s OK.

Different strokes.

But in New York, the exorcism of the papers made all of the papers – and blogs. Better yet, the game story in the Post the other day led with the “controversy.” Sure, Beltran is hitting the ball like crazy, but he can’t read the Post or Daily News after the game…

Stop the press!

Or don’t… the Mets couldn’t care one way or the other.

*
In the Times, a newspaper not listed on the Mets’ clubhouse ban (though it could be), our old pal Doug Glanville dives into the latest A-Rod controversy regarding the tipping of pitches to the opposition.

Good stuff from Doug, again.


graphic from The Sports Hernia

Betting on Raul

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Huge slumps aside, Pat Burrell was an integral part of the Phillies' victory in the World Series last year. Actually, his only hit of the Series set up the WFC-winning run. As a result, he got to lead the parade down Broad Street atop of a Clydesdale-drawn beer truck with his wife and dog.

C'mon, you remember.

Anyway, it should be no surprise that Burrell's replacement in left field and the batting order has received a bit of attention as the most-anticipated season in team history quickly approaches.
Both The New York Times and Sports Illustrated have pinned a portion of the Phillies' success on whether or not Raul Ibanez can continue his string of 100-RBI seasons. Hitting fifth in the lineup behind the Phillies' big hitters, Ibanez should get his chances to drive in a few runs.

At least that's the reasoning behind why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. signed Ibanez for three years and allowed Burrell to walk.

From SI:

Burrell's other shortcoming was at the plate, where he was just as prone to kill a rally as a hanging curve. "Raul doesn't give us as much raw power as Pat, but we felt like he was going to be a more consistent hitter," says general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (Manuel echoed the sentiment when he used the word consistent three times in 10 seconds while talking about Ibañez.) Burrell hit .215 in the second half of 2008 — the same average he had in the first half of '07 — and he hit .234 with runners in scoring position for the entire season. Ibañez, on the other hand, has been largely immune from peaks and valleys; in his seven seasons as a regular, he's never hit worse than .260 in a half. And he's a career .305 hitter with runners in scoring position.

So there's that. Ibanez makes more contact, has a better batting average and, thus, drives in more runs than Burrell. But Ibanez's left-handedness also puts manager Charlie Manuel in a tough spot in the late innings.

As SI suggests, maybe a slight lineup adjustment makes sense:

Having replaced lumbering Pat Burrell in leftfield with lumbering Raul Ibañez, the Phillies find themselves with the 3-4-5 part of their lineup batting exclusively from the left side. That will be a major tactical issue late in games, when opposing managers bring in relief specialists to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Ibañez in high-leverage situations. All lefthanded hitters struggle against such lefties as the Braves' Mike Gonzalez and the Mets' Pedro Feliciano. Sliding Jayson Werth (career .374 on-base percentage, .545 slugging versus lefthanders) into the fifth spot ahead of Ibañez would force managers to choose between making a pitching change or taking a bad matchup, a decision that will come up repeatedly in the 36 games Philadelphia plays against its top two division rivals.

Meanwhile, there's the matter of the right-handed hitter for the bench. Gary Sheffield is all the talk for now, but (for a lot of reasons) doesn't seem realistic. Besides, Sheffield is a big name that gets people talking – certainly the Phillies have been pretty good at getting people to talk lately.

Maybe a slugger like Willy Mo Pena – recently released by the Nationals – might be the big right-handed bat the Phillies need for the bench?

All rock all the time…

image from fingerfood.typepad.com It's definitely going to be a crazy week around these parts. Not only do we have Villanova heading to the Final Four and all the pomp that goes with that, but also the Phillies return to Philadelphia this week for a pair of exhibition games against Tampa on Friday and Saturday before kicking off the season for real on Sunday night against Atlanta.

Who knows, the most anticipated Phillies season ever could be sandwiched between 'Nova's national semifinal game and a National Championship on Monday night.

Hey, crazier things have happened.

Anyway, we'll have a bunch of 'Nova and Phillies stories all week leading to the big weekend. Until then, here's a short list of the things I won't write about this baseball season.

Before I start, I know how lame the list is. After all, don't you hate those radio ads in which a station defines itself by what it doesn't play? Then they cue them up and play programmed and contrived crap. I heard one the other day where the station's big calling card was, "We aren't iTunes, we are your tunes."

What? This is what they announce before they launch into Don Henley.

No, take them… they're definitely your tunes.

So from here on out I'm drawing a line and painting myself into a tidy little corner. These are the stories I'm going to work as hard as possible not to write this baseball season:

1.) Jamie Moyer's age

Yes, we all know that Jamie Moyer is old. In fact, he's 46 and there have been just a select few ballplayers that had careers to that age. It's remarkable, sure, but not necessarily such an anomaly anymore.

The fact of the matter is that 46 isn't as old as it used to be. Better yet, a ballplayer only gets old if he allows himself to be that way or injuries add up. Ask Don Wildman about how limiting his age is. Or Dara Torres. Or Chris Chelios. Or Jamie Moyer.

Better yet, don't.

"Some players get injured and others just lose the desire," Moyer told me last August. "Then some, for one reason or other, are told to quit because they reach a certain age or time spent in the game. Some just accept it without asking why."

Along the same vein, Moyer's age won't be used as a crutch, either. He's 46. So what? He's as fit as any player in the league and he hasn't lost a thing off his fastball (tee-hee), so if he's walking out there he's no different than anyone else.

He's 46? Big deal.

2.) J.C. Romero's suspension

Oh yes, this is an important issue. It's especially important since the Phillies won't have their workhorse reliever for nearly a third of the season. But stories knocking it down as no big deal or some type of insignificant or unfortunate occurrence don't get it. The truth is MLB did not want Romero to pitch in the playoffs, but they allowed him to do so anyway.

Why? And why not?

3.) Lefty lineup

Chase Utley to Ryan Howard to Raul Ibanez… deal with it. Certainly the opposing managers will have to figure out a way to deal with it. Last year Utley his .277 with 13 homers against lefties, while Howard hit 14 homers (just .224 though) and Ibanez batted .305 with seven homers vs. lefties.

Oh sure, in the late innings the Phillies will face a ton of situational lefties, but any time a manager goes away from his regular habits to rely on a pitcher generally used to facing just one hitter just might level the odds a bit.

For that middle of the order trio, even odds are pretty good.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com 4.) Charlie Manuel's managerial acumen

These are the facts: Charlie knows more about baseball than you. Actually he's forgotten more about baseball than you have ever known. To top it off, he's funnier than you and tells far better stories.

Plus, the way he handled that great comeback against the Mets last August in which he used to pitchers to pinch hit, had Carlos Ruiz play third base and put Chris Coste into the game in the eighth inning and watched him get four hits. The guy is always looking at the big picture and sometimes, just for fun, he'll play a hunch.

What he doesn't do is try to over think or out-fox the game like Tony La Russa or some other new age type. He'd rather beat you Earl Weaver style – sit back and wait for a big home run – but if he has to get some base runners moving with some steals or hit-and-runs, that works, too.

Meanwhile, he likes to put his pitchers into firm roles. Yeah, sometimes that can get him in trouble, but the good part is that everyone on the roster understands their role. Big league ballplayers love that.

And if that doesn't work, Charlie will pull out the old, "Just hold 'em, guys… I'll think of something."

It's worked so far.

5.) Raul Ibanez vs. Pat Burrell

Stat heads aren't going to like this one, but Ibanez's superior batting average and lower strikeout rate will matter. It mattered in Seattle and it will matter at cozy Citizens Bank Park, too.

The reason is as simple as the triple-digit RBI totals over the last three years – Ibanez hits the ball a little more. With Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Utley and Howard hitting in front of him, the 20 fewer times Ibanez strikes out as opposed to Burrell could be significant. Figure there are 26 weeks to a season with the potential for one more run a week produced from one spot of the lineup could add up.

Right?

There you go. Now I'm going to go put the iPod on shuffle… yep, my tunes.

Whatever the hell that means.

You are quite welcome, Pat

empty-fieldCLEARWATER, Fla. – Not much going on here in sunny Bright House Field. The Phillies have a game against the Pirates with the aim to snap the four-game losing skid. Worse, the WFC Phils have lost six of their last seven spring games.

Not good.

But get this – the first time through the lineup in Friday’s action, the Phils grounded out eight times and whiffed once. Even the team’s first hit was an infield single from leadoff hitter Eric Bruntlett. A walk to Ryan Howard and an error loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth for the Phils, but young slugger John Mayberry whiffed on a 3-2 count to end the threat.

Bummer.

No worries though. The Phillies are just getting their work in.

Nevertheless, the big news here this morning was about the full-page advertisement ex-Phillie Pat Burrell purchased in the Daily News thanking the fans for the support during his time in Philadelphia.

Here, take a look:

pat-ad

Oddly, Burrell did not thank the Philly media by name, but by purchasing such a big, costly ad, he kind of did.

So you’re welcome, Pat. Don’t mention it.

Otherwise, the other big news is that third baseman Pedro Feliz suited up and played in his first spring game of the year. Feliz’s return from off-season back surgery has been a little slow going, but all indication have him back in the lineup at full bore by Opening Day.

Meanwhile, Chase Utley is expected to get into some Grapefruit League games next week. On another note Utley was in the clubhouse before the game with a big grass and dirt stain on his uniform pants.

The guy isn’t even playing and he’s already mixing it up.

He’s a gamer.

Finally, saw a whole bunch of the Maple Street Press Phillies pre-season annual out and around for purchase at the ballpark today. Considering some of the authors in that book, I don’t understand why it isn’t flying off the shelves.

We were somewhere near Barstow…

Pat BurrellI’m holed up here in a hotel in the Pocono Mountains kind of like Hunter Thompson on the Vegas strip, only not as much fun and fewer grapefruits. But I bet I have the departed gonzo doctor beat on pounds of ice applied to muscles and tendons as well as milligrams of NSAIDs ingested.

Do I know how to party or what?

Anyway, it’s always peculiar to note the extremes folks (like me) will go to in order to put on some skimpy and overpriced clothing along with shoes featuring more technological materials than the space shuttle in order to run around like a weirdo. Oh sure, there really aren’t too many things that are more fun than dashing around all naked in the wind-like, but it’s not exactly natural. Hell, when is the last time a giraffe out on the savanna decided to get the training run in for the day?

Giraffes run when they have to, not because they can.

But speaking of natural, Pat Burrell’s plate appearance with two outs in the bottom of the 10th was certified organic. Better yet, it was artful – a measure of power vs. power and baseball savvy all rolled into a healthy, natural mix. Better yet, watching here in the heavily fortified compound off the Interstate with free parking, a pool, wireless and a complimentary breakfast, it was hard not to see how Burrell was going to end last night’s game with a home run. On the telecast it was easy to see Burrell attempt to get his timing down to catch up with Brian Wilson’s blazing fastball and by the time he solved the riddle of velocity and location, the baseball didn’t stand a chance.

But more than the walk-off homer to win another game for the Phillies, Burrell’s transformation this season has remarkable. At the plate he’s balanced, patient, focused and relaxed. He seems to have a plan every time he strolls to the plate that goes beyond the simple grip-it-and-rip-it mien. For once it seems, the numbers tell the full story about what Burrell is bringing to the table for the Phillies – certainly it’s been a long time since that occurred.

Burrell rates in the top five in six major offensive categories. He leads the league in RBIs (29); he’s second in homers (nine) and slugging (.690); third in OPS (1.142); fourth in on-base percentage (.452); and fifth in walks (23). Better yet, Burrell is on pace to set career highs in homers, RBIs, walks, hits and runs.

Perhaps most importantly, Burrell is on pace to set a career low in strikeouts. Sure, he’s whiffing at a clip that could give him 113 for the season, but that’s a big drop from last season’s 120. That’s because he and Chase Utley are carrying the middle of the order while Ryan Howard attempts to find a clue out there.

But how about this? Should Charlie Manuel bump up Burrell a spot in the batting order to cleanup and slide Howard down to the fifth or sixth spot? For one, Burrell might get more pitches to hit with the specter of Howard’s past performances lurking on the on-deck circle. For another, the Phillies break up the lefties in the middle of the order so that the opposition can’t bring in a late-inning left-hander to face both Utley and Howard.

From here, holed up on the first floor waiting for the wakeup call in order to get caffeine and numb from the ibuprofen, the Burrell-Howard switch seems like the smart thing to do. With Burrell driving in runs and winning games for the team and Howard doing his best to kill rallies with an avalanche of whiffs, the longest-tenured Phillie seems ready to be the anchor.

Is he really that slow?

For the first time since the Expos moved from Washington to become the Nationals I will miss all the games of a Phillies series at RFK. Oh, I’ve missed specific games before, but until now I’ve been to at least one game of every series the Phillies have played in The District.

I was there when Chase Utley hit the ball off the foul pole and had it called foul. I was there when the game started close to midnight because MLB had no contingency plan for weather events. I was there the final weekend in 2005 when the Phillies swept the Nats only to miss out on the playoffs by one game on the last day of the season. I was there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the feeling of anger was palpable in the city.

And of course I was there when Ken Mandel, dressed as Thomas Jefferson, took his failed dash down the first-base side of the field. Actually, The Mandel Run could go down as the most memorable moment in my long history of watching baseball games.

Yes, it was epic.

The thought is that Mandel should put that big, oversized Jefferson head back on, station himself back at the top of the ramp beyond the right-field fence, and keep running until he completes the course. If he falls again he should get back up start all over.

In the meantime Ken will probably be watching Julie Moss in the 1982 Ironman Triathlon for motivation because every criminal always returns to the scene of the crime. Ken will run, dammit! He has to.

Anyway, I’m sticking close to the house for the foreseeable future because my wife – God bless her – could go into labor at any moment. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if she is in labor right now as I type this… just checked and we’re OK.

In other words, when the word comes I’m gone. In the meantime, get cozy with Lauber and The Zo Zone! It’s spelled with an exclamation point, right? Isn’t that what the Inquirer does?

Anyway, because of her state, my wife – God bless her – has been watching baseball on the teevee lately. An inquisitive sort, my wife – God bless her – keeps a running dialogue with whomever is around when she’s parked in front of the tube. If she’s alone she has her laptop nearby to give the rundown via instant messenger to keep the conversation going, and if my son or I am in the room, the banter, inevitably, turns to an inquisition.

This happens with movies, too, which usually leads to me responding with, “You’d know what’s going on if you stopped talking and paid attention,” a little too loudly.

Seriously, how complicated was Syriana? Really? Then again, I have watched that one at least four times so I guess I have figured it out by now.

Anyway, last Sunday night the old girl was lounging on the couch and taking in the Phillies-Braves matchup when the incessant chatter on Pat Burrell started up. Burrell, it seems, is an interesting and enigmatic character to casual fans, hardcore fans as well as the scribes the regularly write about the ballclub. Certainly there are other adjectives that could be used to describe Burrell, but enigmatic seems to cover them all like the giant parachute that we used to like to play with in gym class back when we were kids.

So as we were discussing the enigma that is Pat Burrell and his incumbency as the so-called “midnight mayor of Philadelphia,” Jayson Werth lined a two-out, bases-loaded single to right field. Running on the pitch because Werth faced a full count and there were two outs, Burrell got a good steam of momentum off second base as the pitch was delivered and wasn’t just going to stop running when he got to third base. The problem, though, was that the ball his struck quite hard and right fielder Jeff Francoeur, known for his very strong arm, fielded the ball cleanly and was in perfect position to make a solid throw to the plate.

As a result Francoeur’s throw to the plate beat Burrell by about five yards. However, despite this the result of the play was still in doubt. Burrell is a big dude and had a full head of steam gathered by the time he reached the plate. Catcher Brian McCann could drop the ball if jarred even though he caught it, turned and was waiting as Burrell approached.

But Burrell avoided the contact with the catcher. Instead of taking the force of his 225-plus pounds into the plate, he launched into a floaty-kind of slide about three yards away from the plate as if he was a running back diving over the top on a goal-line stand.

Needless to say he had no chance.

But that was just the beginning. The commentary shifted to such intense questioning that I now know what it’s like to be sitting at a small wooden table on a hard-back chair with a couple of investigators playing good-cop/bad-cop. The only thing missing – besides the table, chair and detectives – was the naked light bulb beating on my skin and making my face sweat like a fountain. By the end of it I was the innocent man ready to sign the confession just so the questions would stop like Daniel Day-Lewis as the would-be IRA flunky in In The Name of the Father.

“He was running before the pitcher threw the pitch and he was still out?” she asked, incredulously.

“Yes.”

“How can that be? Is he slow?”

“Yes”

“How can he be that slow?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is he the slowest guy on the team?”

“He’s up there.”

“You mean there are guys slower than him?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Johnny Estrada is really slow. Wes Helms is slow, too.”

“But are they slower than Burrell? He’s really slow.”

“I don’t know.”

“How can he be that slow? Is he hurt?”

“He has had some foot trouble. Last year he showed me the orthotic he wears in his spikes and it looked like a boot. It had ties and clamps on it and everything.”

“You mean it wasn’t like the normal type of orthotic that runners wear?”

“No.”

“It’s not like that little orthotic that you got when your Achilles was hurting and that guy stole when you were at that race?”

“No.”

“How can he be that slow? Don’t they know he is slow?”

“Yeah, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s really slow.”

“But that slow… come on.”

“What do you want me to say? He’s slow.”

“Does the guy in the outfield have a good arm?”

“Yes, he has a really good arm.”

“How good?”

“Really good… one of the best.”

“So why did they send him home if they know he’s slow and the guy has a good arm?”

“That’s a good question.”

“And what was with that slide? That was pretty wimpy.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

Then came the really good question.

“Why didn’t he knock over the catcher? They’re allowed to do that, right?”

“That’s a really good question. I was wondering the same thing.”

“They are allowed to do that, right?”

“It used to happen all the time.”

“When?”

“When there was a play at the plate.”

“No, I mean when did it happen all the time?”

“I’m not sure. Some players would have run over the catcher.”

“Like who?”

“Chase Utley.”

“Yeah, I can see that. So why didn’t Burrell run over the catcher?”

“Good question.”

“Is he a wimp?

Pause

***
POST SCRIPT: My wife pointed out that she was also not-so fleet afoot. In fact, she pointed out, she was often the slowest player on her sporting teams.

“I once hit a ball to deep center and was thrown out at first base,” she admitted.

Sadly, she’s not making that up.

***
The Nationals are one of those teams that always seems to give the Phillies fits no matter where they are in the standings. But noting where the Phillies are in the standings and the fact that the Nats have won nine of their last 13 games, it should be an interesting three games at good ol’ RFK this week.

Perhaps more questions about the Phillies will be answered… or asked.

Adding on

Lots of stuff going on around here and none of it has to do with the Phillies or baseball. In fact, with a couple of days off and the regular holiday busyness going on around here, I think the last thing I saw from the Phillies was Pat Burrell smacking a home run.

How’s that for a lasting image of the 2007 Phillies?

Anyway, here’s a prediction kind of regarding the Phillies – if someone backs out of the All-Star Game for the National Leaguers, Ryan Howard will be selected as a replacement. Certainly his numbers aren’t stupendous, but Howard is fourth in the league in homers despite spending some time on the disabled list. Howard still projects to 43 homers and 133 RBIs, which is a decent season… think the Phillies are disappointed with that?

Nope, me either.

***
I’d like to leave homeboy Floyd alone for a little while, but it just seems so impossible…

Firstly, Lance Armstrong spoke to a group in Aspen, Colo. this week and told the audience that he thinks Floyd is innocent of the doping charges levied against him, but it appears unlikely that the steamroller of (un)justice that is USADA will not agree.

In fact, it seems as if Armstrong, I and other correct-thinking folks agree that the testing in cycling far exceeds the system in the American pro sports.

Quoth Armstrong: “If you went to Major League Baseball and said, ‘We’re going to have random, unannounced, out-of-competition controls,’ they would tell you, ‘You’re crazy. No way, we’re not playing another game.’ The NFL, they would never do that. NHL, no way. Golf, forget it. Tennis, forget it. Of course, cyclists get tested more than anything else, and perhaps that’s why they get caught more than anyone else.”

Interestingly, there is a report that Armstrong may race at Leadville with Floyd on Aug. 11. Perhaps if they can coax Jan Ullrich to join them the last nine surviving Tour de France champs could be doing a race at 11,000-feet in Leadville, Colo. instead of climbing the Alpe d’Huez.

How much fun would that be?

Speaking of fun, there is a report that a verdict from USADA on the Landis case could come as early as tomorrow.

Maybe that’s what has kept someone from USADA from returning my phone calls or e-mails.

***
Speaking of ignoring me, David Walsh’s publisher has not acknowledged my request for a copy of From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France.

Perhaps it’s the crazy holiday week? Or maybe they don’t want me to read what’s in that book? Who knows? All I know is that the so-called anti-doping groups seem to have a low level of credibility when it comes to answering calls or emails.

Also, the podcast from The Competitors radio show featuring a 60-minute interview with Walsh won’t load onto my iTunes. Don’t make me listen to the pudcast again!

***
I dropped my Pat Burrell/Saddam’s hanging line on Mike Gill of The Mike Gill Show this afternoon… I think it went over well.

Putting it to bed

Phew! What a crazy few days it’s been around here. Firstly, as was well-publicized here and other places, I did the whole Landis thing last weekend, which culminated with an appearance with Floyd on the Daily News Live show on CSN yesterday. That was crazy enough until one throws in all the e-mails I received (all positive, which I wasn’t expecting, but thanks), mixed with normal life, marathon running and work.

Truth be told, I am horrible at multitasking so a normal day for most people wipes me out… so bookended between a 15-mile run in Lancaster and a 9-mile run along the Schuylkill in Philadelphia was a 30-minute outing on TV. In that regard, everyone says it went well (of course it did – would anyone tell you if you sucked… well, some might but most have a semblance of couth) but it definitely could have taken the entire 90-minutes and there are a few more things I would have liked to say.

One is that if Floyd Landis played baseball or football instead of being a professional cyclist, he never would have tested positive. Never. That’s a fact.

Conversely, if Barry Bonds were a cyclist (and what a huge cyclist he would be), he would have been banned from the sport a long time ago and he could even be looking at personal bankruptcy.

As written here before, it’s lazy, stupid and irresponsible for journalists to write how cycling (or running) cannot be taken seriously when the doping issues in baseball and football are perhaps more rampant and yet they can somehow take any of those games seriously. My guess is a lot of them used to cover baseball and football regularly and either missed the steroids stories, ignored them or were a decade late in coming to the table and have now decided to take it out on sports that have no unions and pro-active and Draconian doping policies.

During the 1990s, the only thing differentiating Major League Baseball from professional wrestling was the script.

Anyway, I think it would have been neat to talk about Floyd training and crazy stunts, such as how he decided to ride to France from Spain before the 2004 Tour de France. I could talk about training and racing stuff all day long.

OK… one last time. Here are a few snippets from Floyd on DNL:

* Floyd Landis talks about why he decided to write a book
* Landis talks about spending the past year trying to clear his name
* Landis on what happened with the testosterone tests
* Landis says he is still planning on racing in the future

And here are the links to the Landis stories:

More: Floyd Landis on Tour to Clear His Name

I also added it here: Finger Food: Floyd Landis on Tour to Clear His Name

And here: Finger Food Columns: Floyd Landis on Tour to Clear His Name

And now I’m done. Thanks for indulging and we will return this to its normal lunacy as soon as possible.

OK… here’s stage 17 from last year’s TdF:

And of course…

And then…

***
Here’s a funny one – I was catching glimpses of the Phillies game from Houston on television last night while having dinner at John Turner’s resplendent U.S. Hotel in Manayunk, when I quipped, “Geez, watching Burrell walk up to the plate to hit is like watching Saddam’s hanging. You’re sitting there the whole time thinking, ‘are they really going to go through with this? This is not going to be pleasant to watch.’”

Then sure enough, he smacks a home run. Take that, me.

On another note, it’s nice to see Aaron Rowand get an All-Star nod. Kudos to him.

***
Not that anyone else cares, but the only proper way to top off yesterday’s action-packed day would have been to roll down I-95 to Washington, D.C. to see Joe Lally and The Evens show at Fort Reno Park. I don’t want to even think about it because I know it was probably a really good show and I’m bummed that I couldn’t be there.

***
I’m not sure where I read it, but it is worth a note…

According to someone (not me and I’m upset I wasn’t smart enough to come up with it, but I wasn’t watching anyway), Florida basketball player and newly drafted Joakim Noah showed up at the NBA Draft in a suit and look that made him look like, “all of the villains from Batman rolled into one…”

Can you see Joakim getting dressed before heading off to the draft? I imagine him looking in a full-length mirror, tugging at his lapels and saying, “Wait until they get a load of me…”

Hey, if he can get away with it, let your freak flag fly.

Punching a dead horse in the mouth

Based on what’s shaking baseball-wise in the local papers, it seems as if the piling on Pat Burrell has begun in earnest. It’s either that, or there really isn’t any new news coming out of the Phillies’ clubhouse these days aside from Jon Lieber potentially heading for season-ending surgery.

The big news is still a couple days away when the New York Mets come to town for four games in three days.

It really is hard to believe that even though the Phillies’ pitching staff has been decimated and the bullpen sometimes works with smoke and mirrors, the team very well could alone in first place by the end of the weekend.

How does that happen?

Not to punch a dead horse in the mouth as Larry Bowa used to say, but the truly amazing part is that the Phillies are challenging for the lead in the NL East even though the team has just one right-handed hitting threat in Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell could be the worst player in the National League right now.

Anyway, here’s my little rip job on the much-maligned left fielder.

Certainly anything can happen between now and the end of the season, or even until the end of Burrell’s deal following the 2008 season, but as it stands now it’s fair to say that Burrell is nothing more than wasted talent.

He is wasted talent that isn’t in the lineup again tonight for the third game in a row.

***
Tonight’s starting pitcher Jamie Moyer is one of just seven 40-something pitchers taking the mound, which is the first time that has ever happened in baseball history. Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Kenny Rogers, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Woody Williams are the other 40-year old hurlers working tonight.

More impressively, Moyer was named the softest-throwing pitcher in the Majors in an anonymous poll conducted by Sports Illustrated.

The other soft-tossers? Try Maddux, Glavine, Rogers, etc.

Not bad company.

***
Speaking of Sports Illustrated, expect writer Austin Murphy to make a little bit of news with his latest story in which Lance Armstrong is, once again, implicated in doping news.

Here’s the thing about cycling that I don’t think many people understand… USADA, WADA, UCI and the brass of the Tour de France are just as corrupt and power hungry as any other group of bureaucrats or politicians.

Do you think there is a reason why the commissioners and union presidents of MLB, the NBA and the NFL don’t want those groups anywhere near their sports? Sure, the leagues all have their problems with performance-enhancing drugs, but to call in corrupt, money and power-hungry egomaniacs from the alphabet-soup groups of regulators isn’t going to help.

Still, it’s pretty explosive stuff from Austin Murphy and it will be interesting to see how Lance Armstrong snuffs out another fire. Plus, we never knew SI was in the business of hyping agenda-driven, insinuation-laden tawdry books that read like bad talk radio… good for them for branching out, I guess.

Excuse me while I go take a shower.

Buying or selling?

As we enter the last week of June, thoughts typically turn to things like training for a fall marathon, the summer road racing circuit and the Tour de France (me); or the big Fourth of July picnic, the family vacation and which players from the local team will make the All-Star Game (normal people).

But the start of July also means selling and buying in the chic parlance for certain baseball clubs. In that regard, are the Phillies selling, buying or both? Even though they enter the homestand against the Reds and the hated New York Mets just three games off the pace in the NL East, it seems like a fair question.

Clearly the Phillies need pitching help and that fact has nothing to do with the statistics or anything else. It has to do with other types of numbers, such as the Phillies only have three starting pitchers with any real Major League experience and that glut in the rotation that once saw Jon Lieber and Brett Myers moved to the bullpen is gone.

It’s funny how that happens.

Nevertheless, the Phillies are facing a crucial portion of their schedule with Cole Hamels, Adam Eaton, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick holding down spots in the rotation. With 13 games in 13 days and just one day off between now and the All-Star Break, the Phillies can probably get by with one of their arms in the minors, but chances are that won’t get them to the playoffs.

That means if the Phillies are serious about breaking the streak of Octobers spent at home, a trade should be in the offing.

But there are a lot of other teams looking for the same type of pitching as the Phillies, too. The Mets, for instance, are said to be looking to add an arm or two and will spend what it takes to do so – after all, simply making the playoffs is not an accomplishment for the Mets.

The Red Sox and Yankees will probably be foraging for some pitching as well, which means that if the Phillies want someone, say, like Mark Buehrle, it will cost them.

Maybe it will cost them something like Aaron Rowand.

Trading Rowand for pitching help didn’t seem like that huge of a deal at the beginning of the season, but now things have changed. For one thing it’s hard to say what type of pitcher Rowand could get for the Phillies, and for another thing, the centerfielder is the only right-handed hitting threat the team has.

If only they could trade Pat Burrell for something like reimbursement on the transportation to get him out of town…

While Rowand has rated at the top of the list amongst National League outfielders in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, Burrell has been simply horrible. In 71 games Burrell is hitting .205 and is on pace to hit just 18 homers with 69 RBIs and to strike out 111 times. Since the start of May, Burrell is 21-for-133 (.158) with 13 extra-base hits and 31 strikeouts.

Worse, against lefties the right-handed Burrell is hitting just .155, so why Charlie Manuel continues to put him in the lineup is simply foolhardy.

Aside from the $13.25 million salary for this season, Burrell’s nearly non-existent production could end up costing the Phillies someone valuable like Aaron Rowand.

***
If you’re looking for the Phillies to go after Rangers’ reliever Eric Gagne to shore up the bullpen, stop right now. According to published reports, the Phillies are one a handful of teams on Gagne’s do-not-trade list.

***
Our current obsession, Floyd Landis, kicks off his book tour tomorrow with an appearance on the CBS Morning Show and Late Night with David Letterman. From there Floyd stays in Manhattan for a reading/signing at the Bryant Park Reading Room along with one-time CSN.com columnist John Eustice on June 27.

Also on the 27th, Floyd hits Ridgewood, N.J. before going to Huntington, N.Y. on the 28th.

Then comes the big stop… Lancaster!

There is a reason Led Zeppelin never came to Lancaster and it has nothing to do with the fact there wasn’t a venue big enough to accommodate them…

***
Speaking of the Tour, if I was pressed right now I’d predict Alexandre Vinokourov will win, but don’t sleep on Montana’s Levi Leipheimer.

Notes and stuff

During the late innings of the Phillies’ victory over the Giants last night, an announcement was made in the press box informing the media that actor Danny DeVito would be available to answer questions regarding his TV show, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” in the basement conference room before Sunday’s game. At the same time it was announced that the Phillies’ director of scouting, Marti Wolever, would also be available to talk to the press about the upcoming amateur draft after DeVito was finished.

How about this: Could we talk to DeVito about the draft and Wolever about TV shows? Maybe?

DeVito was at the park to toss out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Sunday’s game and will be in town working on the show until June 11.

***
I defy any manager at any level of organized baseball to top Phil Wellman’s hand grenade bit…

Compare Wellman to Lou Piniella:

Lou really needs a hug. There have to be some deep issues there. Meanwhile, it appears as if the Cubs have gotten worse.

Try this out Philly fans: In the time since the Cubs went to their last World Series (and lost), the Phillies have been to the World Series four times.

***
After last night’s game Charlie Manuel said something that sounded so basic, but was really telling:

“When Howard’s hitting we become a totally different team,” Manuel said.

Based on the seventh inning of Sunday’s game, it appears as if Howard is hitting.

Meanwhile, before Saturday’s game Manuel said something that was even more interesting in that he wants to use certain pitchers in his bullpen more, but, well, he wants to win games, too.

“In order for the bullpen to get better, we’ve got to pitch them,” Manuel said. “At the same time, I say to myself, ‘We’re trying to win the game.’ It’s a double-edged sword.”

Manuel also said that one way to build a pitching staff was from the “back to the front.”

Sounds like someone is leery about overusing his starters.

“If your bullpen’s weak, it puts a lot of strain on your starters,” the skipper said on Saturday. “We need to put a limit on our guys. We’ll be pitching our whole staff more than they’ve ever pitched, or close to it.”

The Phillies starters are 14th in the league in ERA (4.68) and fifth in innings pitched (340 1/3), while the relievers are 13th in innings (152 2/3) and 14th in ERA (4.72).

Manuel also said that he plans on sticking with Pat Burrell (six homers, 24 RBIs, .226 avg.) even though his left fielder is having another disappointing season. However, it sounds as if Burrell is getting most of the playing time right now because he’s the guy with the big, multi-year contract that hangs like an anchor on the club.

“When you sign somebody for a long period of time to a big contract, there’s a commitment there. When’s the cut-off point? I don’t know. When you sign him, you commit to him.”

Though Manuel says otherwise, it’s my opinion that if the skipper benches Burrell for an extended amount of time, he’ll hear about it from his bosses.

***
One pitcher no one should be leery of overusing is Cole Hamels whose outing on Saturday night was just another spectacular chapter in a burgeoning career that should put him amongst the greats in franchise history.

You can have Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins or whomever else… Hamels IS the franchise player.

If Jake Peavy wasn’t turning in a Bob Gibson in 1968-esque first half of the season, Hamels would be the early favorite for the league’s Cy Young Award. As it stands at this moment, the Phils’ lefty is a shoo-in for the All-Star Game next month.

“I’ve seen him get better even this year,” Saturday’s catcher Rod Barajas said. “I caught him earlier in the season, and he would get emotional sometimes. He’d try to throw too hard. Now, he gives up a home run, and he stays relaxed. He was happy to quick outs all game. He’s as good as anyone I’ve ever caught.”

The best part about Hamels? He has an arrogance that isn’t overbearing or obnoxious and knows how good he is. He also knows his changeup is a killer.

***
The Astros’ Roy Oswalt is on pace to pitch approximately 260 innings this season, which is up there for this age in baseball. In fact, since Mike Scott went for 275 in 1986, no National Leaguer has gone over 270 and only two American Leaguers have reached that plateau in that time.

Any one have a guess who for who the last pitcher to deal 300 innings in a season was? Don’t cheat by looking it up…

Mike Schmidt statement on Pat Burrell

As a former Phillies player, I’m honored to be a guest at this camp. As a guest I want to do my best to steer clear, and put to bed any issues that may lead to controversy. With regard to the past article where I commented on Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn, understand the article was about the propensity of power hitters to strike out. As you all know, I’m pretty well versed on that subject being in the top five of all-time, having K’d almost 1,900 times.

I believe a goal of any hitter should be to make contact, especially in crucial at-bats, by understanding how to hit defensively with two strikes, something that me 14 years to learn. My use of the term “mediocre” was in poor taste, and I’m sorry if it offended, but it was not intended to label Pat Burrell or Adam Dunn, or their accomplishments, but to point out that at some point, as a result of reducing strikeouts, their future accomplishments will make their past seem “mediocre.”

Since meeting Pat six years ago, I have re-lived my career through him, as we have so many similarities. I root for him every game, and feel that in 2007, given good health and 600 at-bats, Pat will assert himself as one of the top run producers in baseball.

The return of Kelly Leak

When asked about the most realistic baseball movies, my answer is simple – there are two that hold up. Unless you have a couple hours to kill the others aren’t quite up to the reality challenge.

The two: Bull Durham and the original The Bad News Bears.

At least from my point of view from spending the last seven years around a professional baseball team as well as a childhood and adolescence playing the game, those two films best captured the essence of the game.

It’s probably me, though. I don’t like the sappy side of baseball simply because I’ve never seen it in real life. People strike out, coaches and parents push too hard, there’s always someone bigger, faster or better. The best way to deal with it is to enjoy it and not take it so seriously – that’s what they learned at the end of The Bad News Bears, and what Crash Davis taught everyone on the Durham Bulls.

Although I do have that romantic, NPR, baseball-as-a-metaphor-for-life buried deep in the locus of my mind, I only bring it out when I’m killing time and watching The Natural or Field of Dreams… alone. Maybe that’s because I’ve seen the real side of baseball and know that the romanticized view doesn’t exist except for on Old-Timers Day or in Cooperstown. Baseball is curse words, a hot grounder that misses a glove and turns the shin purple, spitting and an obstructed-view, upper-deck seat next to a drunk who just spilled another beer on your shoes.

It’s also a bit of a metaphor for the life of Jackie Earle Haley.

Haley, as most remember, played Kelly Leak – the hard-hitting, motorcycle-riding badass in The Bad News Bears. He also played Moocher in Breaking Away, the coming-of-age movie that first made Dennis Quaid a star. I remember watching it on TV – before the proliferation of HBO etc. – in the 1980s and being mesmerized by the story and the bicycle scenes. Maybe that’s where the fascination with endurance sports started… who knows.

Either way, in two of the best movies released during the mid-to-late 1970s, Jackie Earle Haley was front and center.

And then he disappeared.

The transition from child star to adult actor appears to be a slippery slope that has claimed many – count Haley as one who didn’t make the transition from potential star to working actor so well. But in one of the great redemption stories that has caught the eye of just about every mainstream media outlet, Haley not only is back, but also will be in the running to win an Academy Award this Sunday night for his role in adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel Little Children. Prior to that, Haley had a significant role in the re-make of the adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men.

Not bad for someone who had spent the previous 15 years as a limo driver, pizza delivery man, construction worker and infomercial producer.

Check out his story:
from Salon.com: “I felt like it was supposed to happen this way”

from The Washington Post: A Former Child Star’s Grown-Up Reward

Certainly, Haley doesn’t need a trophy to validate his work. And as we all know, the Academy Awards are the biggest bunch of b.s. out there. But if there is anyone up for the award who has paid more dues than Haley, then, yes, give them the trophy.

Let’s hope Tanner Boyle can make a comeback, too.

Elsewhere…
Pat Burrell’s engagement pictures are floating around on the Internets. Could the pending nuptials be the linchpin to a big season?

All that and brains, too
Chase Utley has joined a “virtual march” to help raise awareness about Global Warming. Let’s hope that he can start his march by taking a sledge hammer to Jon Lieber’s stupid truck.

Watching Clearwater from 6 degrees

Let’s go out on a limb and guess that Jon Lieber didn’t see An Inconvenient Truth, nor did he read the briefings from the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol during his winter break. We’re going to guess that Lieber spent some time stalking and killing small animals, but whatever…

Nevertheless, Jon Lieber showed up at camp with a ridiculous looking truck that is 9 feet, 2 inches tall and 25,000 pounds, with six doors, 45-inch wheels, seating for seven, a satellite dish and customized leather interior and takes $500 just to fill the 50-gallon gas tank that gets 12 miles to the gallon.

As Marcus Hayes wrote:

It was an audacious entrance for a player who doesn’t really have a spot on the ballclub.

There is no word whether roly-poly Lieber shot a spotted owl or clubbed a baby seal on the ride from his home in Alabama to Clearwater.

Meanwhile, the oft-injured Lieber, who manager Charlie Manuel has told to trim down over the last two season, says he weighs 243 pounds after finishing the 2006 season close to 250. He said he wants to get down to 235 pounds before the season starts though he doesn’t think being out of shape affects an athlete.

“That’s been my whole career. When I weighed 215, they were on me about my weight. The weight thing, I’ve heard it my whole life. I’m not worried about it. If you guys think I’m fat and out of shape, you guys will say it. But I feel great. I’m ready to help.”

Nah… maybe he’s just big-boned.

On another note, Lieber is two-inches taller and 80 pounds heavier than 21-season veteran Jamie Moyer.

More: Reason #56 To Love Philadelphia: Jon Lieber’s Truck
More: Debunking myths and bad jokes – Global warming? It’s 14 below!

***
An interesting quote from Pat Burrell in the Inquirer regarding the Phillies desire to get some so-called “protection” for Ryan Howard in the lineup:

“…he had a pretty good year last year, good enough to win the MVP. So something was going on right.”

It’s cold, the roads are icy and I’m salty
Looking to do something related to public relations or marketing or whatever it is companies do to revive a so-called “image problem,” the Inky publicized the addition of two new columnists to its Sunday roster.

One of those columnists is Mark Bowden, a former Inky scribe who worked on the news side and covered the Eagles before becoming the best-selling author of Blackhawk Down and Killing Pablo to name two. Some have offered that Bowden was one of the best investigative journalists working so bringing him back into the fold is quite a boon.

Though some called it a bit pedantic, Bowden’s first offering – on the need for diplomacy with Iran – was something new for paper increasingly concerned with local coverage. The fact that Bowden is also the author of Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War With Militant Islam gave a little more weight to the words.

Adding Bowden was a smart move by the Inquirer.

Meanwhile, the second addition is a man named Michael Smerconish, who is a local radio talk-show host who appears to be a marginalizing figure the way Howard Eskin is for WIP. Smerconish, who also writes a column for the Daily News, plays on the mundane clichés of “liberal” and “conservative” and partisan hackery as if those ideas still have any real meaning.

It’s boring stuff, but another good move by the Inquirer because people might talk about the Smerconish guy. Yes, his scope is purely local and when one gets out here to the far provincial outposts like Lancaster, no one has heard of Smerconish. But it seemed like a good addition nonetheless.

That’s until his “column” appeared. Instead of offering ideas, engaging prose and story-telling, Michael Smerconish offered a litany of “what I believe.” Worse, the Inquirer printed it and posted it to its web site.

And they wonder why people under the age of 50 don’t buy newspapers any more.

After stomaching the first few paragraphs it was clear that the dude wasn’t suited for a column – a blog would be more apt.

Hey, that’s just what I believe.

Schmidt to Burrell: Hit the ball

One of the more memorable moments of this job came back in the 2003 season when Mike Schmidt — the Mike Schmidt — stood casually by the coaches lockers in the dingy and dark clubhouse in Veterans Stadium and broke down what it took to be a great hitter. During that now-infamous chat with a few writers, Schmidt demonstrated different batting stances, showed off various swings for all situations, and talked theory and philosophy until we were kicked out of the clubhouse.

Needless to say, being on the front row for something like that with one of the great hitters of all-time was kind of cool. Plus, Schmidty wasn’t cranky, combative or moody that day, which made it even nicer. Schmidt, I was warned by a more-seasoned writer, had a reputation for being a “little crazy.”

“One day he’ll tell you the sky is blue and get into why it’s blue for about two hours. The next day he’ll deny the whole thing and tell you the sky is purple,” I was told.

But when I was a kid and an epic letter writer, Schmidt responded to one of my queries with a formally typed letter of his own. I think he sent autographs back, too, though I probably didn’t ask. I was more interested in a response, and in that regard Schmidt was OK in my book.

So when his demonstration that June day turned into a rant against Pat Burrell’s season-long slump, well, we were on to something. This was better than a demonstration about hitting from one of the all-time greats — this was a story. A good story is better than anything and Schmidt was dropping one straight on to our laps. Now he was more than OK in my book.

It should go without writing that we all wrote about that conversation with Schmidt. I saved mine and reprinted it here. As most remember, we all talked about it pretty extensively. In fact, Schmidt felt compelled to apologize a few days later for his comments to us. When we saw him again in Baltimore for a 20-year reunion and home-run derby of the Orioles-Phillies World Series, he made sure we all knew the topic of Pat Burrell and his hitting was off limits.

That’s until now. After nearly four years (has it really been that long!), Schmidt decided the statute of limitations was up and Burrell was fair game. While he was at it, Schmidty offered up some analysis on Adam Dunn’s (lack of) hitting, too.

According to the great Hay McCoy of the Dayton Daily News, Schmidt, “unprompted,” cited Burrell and Dunn as two players that, “tick me off” because “they strike out so much.”

I wonder if Schmidt showed off his Albert Pujols batting stance the way he did back in ’03?

“I look at Dunn and Burrell and I go, ‘My God, if these guys cut their strikeouts down to 75 or 80, they put the ball in play 85 or 90 more times a year.’ That’s at least 15 more home runs a year and at least 35 more RBIs a year.”

And…

“I mean, why would Dunn and Burrell watch what Pujols does and not want to be like him, as good as he is?” Schmidt said. “When their careers are over, they are going to wonder how much they left on the table, how much they left on the field. If only they had choked up with two strikes, spread their stances out. What they are doing now is not great, it is mediocrity.”

Schmidt isn’t wrong – just like he wasn’t wrong during that initial consultation. However, no one, not even Schmidt, can “be like” Pujols. That’s like asking Picasso to “show me how to paint like you.”

Schmidt’s other mistake is believing that Burrell cares as much about being a great hitter as he did.

Check out the big brain on Big D

Honestly, there is a lot about Dallas Green that is easy to dislike. He’s brusque and curt kind of like Grandpa Simpson, though, sometimes, Green has a handle on reality. His criticisms of Scott Rolen nearly five seasons ago were ridiculous, just as his rip job on Charlie Manuel last summer was deserving of what the manager wanted said he wanted to do to Green.

Sometimes Big D can be a big joke, like poking a crazy old bear with a stick just to make it angry and do something crazy.

But to be fair, sometimes Green is right on the money. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that without Dallas Green the Phillies could still be looking for that first World Series title.

Green, of course, is in the sports news again for something he said. This time his remarks were directed at much-maligned slugger Pat Burrell, but different from the case with Rolen, Green was dead-on accurate.

In Jim Salisbury’s (how does he always get all of those tremendous quotes?) dispatch from sunny Disney World where the Winter Meetings are being held this week, Dallas took Burrell to task saying that the so-called “Midnight Mayor of Philadelphia” shouldn’t seek another term in office. Instead, Green says, Burrell needs to focus on being the best baseball player he can be before it’s too late.

Says Green is Sully’s story:

”It’s time for Pat to look in the mirror,” Green, an adviser to general manager Pat Gillick, said in the lobby of Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort yesterday. “His career is really at a crossroads.

“He’s got to focus and get a priority. That’s No. 1 on the list. He’s got to become a baseball player and want to be a contributor and want to be the Pat Burrell that we all anticipated he was going to be when we signed him as a kid. He’s 30 years old. Damn, time is slipping by here.”

And:

“I think Pat’s going to have a hell of a year [in 2007],” Green said. “But it’s up to him. He has to recognize where his career is. I like the kid an awful lot. I always have. I talk to him all the time. I tell him, ‘You’ve got to get your act together and know what your priorities are.’ ”

Dallas is right on the money. He hit the bull’s eye. Life, as they say, is short. Baseball careers are even shorter. At the current rate, Burrell probably has three years, tops, to make something of his career before the inevitable descent into mediocrity. However, there still is time for him to push back the aging process if Burrell acts quickly. Actually, he should have gotten the message when he was 26 or 27 when he discovered he wasn’t bouncing back as well from day to day. That’s when a choice had to be made.

But giving up the so-called perks of being a Major Leaguer is probably a difficult thing to do.

Again, from Salisbury’s story:

Not that this makes him a bad guy, but Burrell has a reputation for enjoying the Philadelphia nightlife.

“Probably well-earned,” Green said. “I’ve been out with him a couple times in Florida. We have a secret [watering] hole every now and then.

“There’s nothing wrong with that. There are tons of guys in the Hall of Fame that were like that.

“It’s neat to have money, it’s neat to have good looks, and it’s neat to have broads all over you. Every place I’ve managed, I’ve talked to kids about the same thing. It’s a hell of a life. But there comes a time in every player’s life when he needs to get his act together.”

It’s not up there with, “Practice, man… we’re talkin’ ‘bout practice… ”, but Green’s money quote is a real doozy. But then again, Green is the only man to win a World Series as the manager of the Phillies and is rumored to have stopped Ed Wade and the gang from hiring Darren Daulton as the team’s manager over Larry Bowa.

How much fun would it have been if he hadn’t?

Anyway, the onus, as they say, is on Burrell for 2007. That’s a good thing. They say an animal that’s cornered will do one of two things – fight or roll over and reveal it’s soft, rounded belly.

Here’s betting that Burrell will fight.

Burrell ain’t so bad… is he?

It’s funny what a few ridiculous contracts can do for a guy’s reputation. Suddenly, after Carlos Lee’s mega-deal and a few other inflated pacts had been offered and signed by some rather mediocre free agents, Pat Burrell is beginning to look like a bargain for the Phillies.

Believe it or not, the Phillies might be lucky they have Burrell.

Check out the latest dispatch from Joe Sheehan in Baseball Prospectus:

It will be interesting to see if Pat Gillick completes the hat trick and trades Pat Burrell, clearing the last of the three massive contracts he inherited a little over a year ago. At $14 million per through 2008, he’s pretty much a bargain; heck, he’s 90% of the hitter that Carlos Lee is, and in any given year could outhit the Astros’ $100 million man. Burrell would be a good pickup for a team savvy enough to pick up the money on his deal instead of swapping prospects. The Twins would be a pretty good fit, actually. Maybe the White Sox as well, where Burrell could sit 30 times against the toughest righties.

If they do trade Burrell, the Phillies will potentially have the worst-hitting outfield in the league. A Michael Bourn/Aaron Rowand/Shane Victorino combination would be fairly good with the gloves, and replacement level with the bats. Trot Nixon could be worth a gamble here, or perhaps Aubrey Huff. The Phillies were carried by three hitters during their run late in 2006; it would be a mistake to go that route again.

Here’s my theory: Burrell isn’t going to hit .222 with runners in scoring position or .167 with runners in scoring position with two outs for two years in a row. In fact, if Burrell had hit just .250 with runners in scoring position, the Phillies just might have made the playoffs last season. He can probably do that by accident in 2007.

At least he should do it by accident.

You heard it here first — Burrell will be good in 2007. Let’s rephrase that… Burrell will be better in 2007 than he was in 2006. For $14 million with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the most prolific offense in the league surrounding him, Burrell isn’t the Phillies’ biggest concern.

Besides, with the way most people have been writing him off this winter, Burrell should show up in Clearwater in three months with something to prove.

Let’s see — 29 homers, 95 RBIs and .890 OPS? That will work.

Phillies Round Out Rotation with Eaton

Pat Gillick has not been very shy about expressing his disdain for the current crop of free agents on the market. Actually, Gillick was a bit underwhelmed by his choices last year, too, when he said his priority was to find a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Phillies.

“Sometimes we can get everything we want, but sometimes nothing materializes,” the Phils’ GM said.

Nonetheless, another year has passed and Gillick and the Phillies still have not made any changes at the top of the rotation. Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer hold down the same spots as they did at the end of the 2006 season. The only difference is that Adam Eaton, the club’s first-round draft pick in 1996, will finally start a season in the Phillies’ rotation.

Of course there was a decade of climbing through the minors, a trade to San Diego and then another to Texas before finally getting his chance to pitch for the Phillies, yet Eaton is finally here after the official announcement of his new deal with the team that drafted him.

Eaton, still just 29 years old, is guaranteed $24.5 million over the next three seasons, the team announced on Thursday afternoon. The oft-injured right-hander joins the Phillies after starting just 13 games for the Rangers in 2006 after undergoing surgery on the middle finger of his pitching hand last April. In that Baker’s dozen of starts, Eaton went 7-4 with a 5.12 ERA, but has gone 18-9 over the past two years and 37 starts.

Eaton also had elbow surgery in July of 2001 that kept him off the field until September of 2002. Meanwhile, Eaton missed a few starts in 2005 with a strained middle finger on is right hand before having surgery on it in April of 2006. In all, Eaton has been on the disabled list six times during his career.

Regardless, the Phillies just committed three seasons and $24.5 million to a pitcher who has never had an ERA lower than 4.08 or thrown 200 innings in any of his seven Major League seasons. In fact, Eaton has made more than 30 starts just twice.

“We’re very happy to have Adam in the fold,” Gillick said in a statement. “He stabilizes our rotation and will complement the rest of our staff nicely.”

So unless there is an unforeseen trade or signing, the Phillies rotation for 2007 is set. That, however, doesn’t mean Gillick doesn’t have some work to do before the team heads to Clearwater in mid February. Or even the winter meetings in Orlando, Fla. next week.

“We’ll have to wait and see. We have a few lines out there trying to acquire what we need,” Gillick offered during a conference call on Thursday evening. We want to go out fishing and we have a few proposals out there. We’re looking for some bullpen help and a hitter.”

The Phillies’ needs certainly do not need to be decoded. With five starters with Major League experience, four outfielders and five infielders, the Phillies are set in those aspects. The bullpen, on the other hand, is incomplete and Gillick says he wouldn’t mind bolstering the team’s catching (Mike Piazza?) in addition to acquiring that much-talked about hitter (Mike Piazza?).

Let’s make a deal?
But outside of landing Eaton and part-time third baseman Wes Helms, Gillick has whiffed as if he were Pat Burrell with two on and two outs. The team was interested in 40-40 man Alfonso Soriano until the Cubs came in and offered him an eight-year deal that made him the second-richest Chicagoan behind Oprah.

With Soriano gone, the team was rumored to be one of a handful of teams in the mix for Carlos Lee until he decided to go to Houston for six years and $100 million. After that news dropped, Gillick claimed the Phils weren’t so involved in bidding for Lee despite the fact that the slugger was as steady performer during his career. Sure, there are/were fair concerns over Lee’s fitness and attitude, but if Gillick and the gang are looking for protection for MVP Ryan Howard as they say they are, the new Astro would have fit in nicely in Philadelphia.

But for six years and $100 million?

Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, Gillick and the Phillies brass must have breathed a sigh of relief that Lee signed such an obnoxious deal with the Astros. While publicly downplaying the market, Gillick has a few built-in excuses and the luxury of being sane (and right) for not shelling out the mega years and bucks for Soriano and Lee. After all, Burrell already has one of those crazy deals.

And as far as trading that crazy deal to another team… well, good luck.

“We don’t have a lot to trade,” Gillick said. “We have the four outfielders (Burrell, Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino and Jeff Conine), and the five infielders (Howard, Helms, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Abraham Nunez). We need to add. We don’t have the surplus to trade.”

Besides, published reports indicate that Burrell will only waive his no-trade clause to go to the Yankees, Red Sox or a west-coast club.

So there’s another strike. Mix in the rescinded multi-year offer to reliever Joe Borowski over reported arm trouble revealed in a team physical and Gillick is fouling off some tough ones.

“I’m not really sure with what’s going on out there is everyone is looking for the same commodity,” Gillick said. “Everyone is looking for a starter. Unless someone can trade for a reliever for a starter or a starter for a reliever I can’t see a lot of action going on. If you have some pitching you don’t want to give it up.”

That goes for the reserves in the minor leagues, too. Gillick said the team would be reluctant to deal away a prospect like Gio Gonzalez for a short-term fix.

At the same time, Gillick says one of those proposals the team has dangled out there has not been offered to former Reds closer David Weathers.

Needless to say, there’s work to do.

“We’re optimistic, but I can’t make any assurances or commitments that [anything is] going to happen,” Gillick said.

But at least for now, Gillick and the Phillies can be satisfied that some of holiday shopping is taken care of with Eaton’s arrival. Plus, with the re-acquisition of the team’s 1999 Paul Owens Award winner, the Phillies staff might not have changed at the top but it’s better than it was when 2006 began.

“I don’t look at the other teams in the division or the league, but from where we were from the beginning of the ’06 season we have five starters who have [Major League] experience. We have starters with experience,” Gillick said. “We didn’t have that last year.

“From the quality standpoint we have a better rotation that we had at the beginning of last year. What we have to do is work on the bullpen.”

Pitchers and catcher report in 11 weeks.

Who’s next?

Before the hype machine could get to work or anyone could get too excited, Lance Berkman got some “protection” while it appears as if Ryan Howard is stuck with Pat Burrell.

Certainly there are worse fates than having a left fielder who was the top pick of the amateur draft that averages 31 homers and 105 RBIs per 162 games over his seven Major League seasons. But the fact is Carlos Lee probably would have been better.

But Lee is gone to Houston, all signed up for the next six seasons where he’ll get $100 million to take aim at the shallow left-field perch at Minute Maid Park, or whatever corporation paid to put its name on the stadium. Lee, as steady performer during his career despite the concerns over his fitness and attitude, would have fit in nicely in Philadelphia.

But for six years and $100?

Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, GM Pat Gillick and the Phillies brass must have breathed a sigh of relief that Lee signed such an obnoxious deal with the Astros. While publicly downplaying the market, Gillick has a few built-in excuses and the luxury of being sane (and right) for not shelling out the mega years and bucks for Alfonso Soriano and Lee. After all, Burrell already has one of those crazy deals.

So now Gillick can do two things. One is to focus on building the Phillies’ pitching staff because the bullpen needs bolstered and the rotation needs one or two more arms. The other thing – a desperate or last-ditch maneuver, perhaps – would be to go after Manny Ramirez again.

The chances of that are slightly less than slim and none since there are so many crazy variables involved with the trades and contracts and money. Plus, earlier this month Gillick stated that Ramirez was kind of a pain in the rear. Oh sure, manager Charlie Manuel says he has a good rapport with the flaky slugger, but who knows how long that will last with a goofball like Ramirez.

Besides, we already had Terrell Owens in town. Do we really need another circus, albeit a saner, goofier circus?

Hot stove warming up

Note: This post was written before reports indicated that the Phillies signed Wes Helms to a two-year deal.

First off, I took a few days off to run another marathon, rest and eat some food that normal people like – pizza and ice cream instead of tofu, salmon and rice – and now I’m more worn out than I was before.

Cie la vie.

Anyway, all of the running, racing and training information and musings is on the other slightly neglected site.

So as the Phillies and general manager Pat Gillick were sending out offers to the dozens of free agents while trying to pick up the dreaded 7-10 split at the General Manager Meetings in Florida, I was probably wondering why I couldn’t feel my calves. I may have been ignoring a football game on TV while getting a two-beer buzz and wondering if it would take more effort to carve my golf handicap down to 15 or run another 2:30 marathon.

Clearly a 2:30 is more reasonable.

Nonetheless, my goal remains to squeeze through that ever-tightening window to run a respectable marathon just as the Phillies hope to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. In that regard, I’ll go out on a limb here and say the Phillies will play baseball in October of 2007.

Wait… shouldn’t we wait for all of the hot-stove stuff to heat up? Don’t the Phillies have a few holes they need to fill?

No and yes.

I’ll explain why I believe the Phillies will make the playoffs in detail between now and next October – kind of like a serialization – so just keep checking back and delving through these ramblings. As for the needy stuff, let’s rate them in order of necessity:

  • Bolster bullpen
  • Get another starter (or two)
  • Address Pat Burrell situation
  • third base
  • catcher
  • Alfonso Soriano

    Soriano, of course, is the biggest name on the market so it’s only natural that most of the media attention is focused on him. Yet whether or not the Phillies get Soriano won’t make or break the off-season. Why? Well, for starters the Phillies already score more runs than any other team. What, is it that important that the Phils really, really out-score every other team?

    Secondly, Soriano’s so-called task would be to “protect” Ryan Howard. As I’ve written here so many times in the past, Howard hit 58 home runs and struck out 181 times – it sounds like he’s doing a pretty good job protecting himself.

    Perhaps if he just struck out 150 times instead of 181, maybe he would have hit a few more homers and raised his average a few points. Would that have made a difference in the end? Who knows… there are too many other variables that transcend mere statistics.

    This ain’t Strat-O-Matic, folks. Besides, I was always an APBA guy.

    Besides, the Phillies traded away Bobby Abreu apparently in order to create some financial flexibility, yet they are willing to give more money and years to Soriano? Why does that make sense?

    Well, Soriano is right-handed, hits for more power and hasn’t raised the hackles of certain segments of the fandom because they haven’t ever seen him play and only know him as a 40-40 guy who just so happens to be the biggest name on the market.

    What better reason is there to sign a guy than that?

    Plus, if the Phillies are unable to sign Soriano they still have Pat Burrell. Yes, Burrell has fallen out of favor in Philadelphia and had a disappointing season despite some statistics that don’t look all that bad. Like Howard and all of those strikeouts, just think if Burrell can hit .225 with runners in scoring position and two outs instead of .167.

    Miscellany

  • Randy Wolf’s agent Arn Tellem said he wants to have his client signed before the winter meetings begin in Orlando on Dec. 4. According to published reports, the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays – as well as the Phillies – are interested in Wolf.
  • According to The Inquirer, Scott Graham likely will not return to the Phillies’ broadcast booth in 2007. During the baseball season I don’t get the chance to hear the home team’s announcers that much so I’m not much of an expert on their work. Nonetheless, if Graham does not get a new contract it’s a bit of a surprise.

    I was always under the impression that baseball broadcasting jobs were like Supreme Court appointments… apparently not.

    Again, I’m no expert and don’t have any insider information that I’m willing to share, but I don’t think Graham will be on the sidelines in 2007.

  • Remember the end of September when I waxed on and on about Ken Mandel’s “performance” in the President’s Race between innings at RFK? No? Here’s a reminder

    Anyway, Ken’s dash down the first-base side of the field was nominated for “The Blooper of the Year” on MLB.com. In fact, if Ken wins the online balloting, the Nationals want to have the Phillies.com reporter back to accept an award on the field dressed as Thomas Jefferson.

    No word if the Oriole Bird will be on hand, too.

    We will keep everyone up to date on all developments of this story.

  • Trading Burrell is linchpin to big winter

    Pat Gillick and the Phillies are like an airplane loaded with passengers but still sitting at the gate. Everything has been checked and double-checked, everyone’s seatbelt is fastened and luggage is safely stowed in the overhead compartment.

    All Gillick needs to is the OK from the control tower and he’s set for take off.

    Kind of.

    When the free-agency period begins on Nov. 12, Gillick and the Phillies are expected to woo Washington Nationals’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano, likely the biggest name on the winter market. On the strength of his 40-40 season in 2006 (46 homers and 41 stolen bases), the Phillies are said to be prepared to offer Soriano $80 million over five seasons, and then plunk him down in the middle of the batting order between lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. The thought is that Soriano can both provide protection for the sluggers as well as fortify a lineup that has scored more runs than any National League team over the past two seasons.

    “We could use some depth in the middle of the order,” Gillick said.

    Even without Soriano the Phillies are formidable offensively. Howard, one of the top two MVP candidates on the strength of his 58-homer season in 2006, is the anchor of the murderer’s row that featured four players that swatted at least 25 homers and drove in 83 runs. Besides that, Gillick and manager Charlie Manuel are both very high on Shane Victorino, a young outfielder who appeared in 153 games in many roles last season.

    Offense? Yeah, the Phillies have that.

    So why do they feel the need to make it better with Soriano instead of pursuing a starter to fill out the rotation or a set-up man for closer Tom Gordon? After all, Manuel told said that he would prefer to have a backend reliever who has experience as a closer to fill out the bullpen. That’s where free agents Joe Borowski and David Weathers enter the picture. According to published reports and sources, the Phillies have eyed the relievers as possible set-up men for 2007.

    On top of that, Gillick said that he wants to re-sign free agent starter Randy Wolf to round out the rotation that features lefties Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, as well as Jon Lieber and Brett Myers. Gillick says he’s hopeful that the Phillies can work out a deal with Wolf.

    “Hopeful, but not optimistic,” the GM said.

    “This is the first opportunity he’s ever had for free agency so I think he wants to kick the tires and see if the grass is greener.”

    The grass may be greener, but for how long? The mood around the media luncheon in Citizen Bank Park’s Hall of Fame Club overlooking the pastoral and eerily quiet ball diamond was that the Phillies weren’t simply going to make bids for players, cross their fingers and hope they get their man. Nope, Gillick and the gang emitted an aura that they were in control of the situation and were confident that they will add the bat into the middle of the lineup, get that fifth starter, and find a suitable set-up man or two to anchor the bullpen.

    Really? The Phillies? Didn’t they once describe themselves as a small-market team not so long ago?

    “I think our ownership and CEO are pretty practical. Anything we bring to them that makes sense, not only for the short term, but the long term, I don’t think they’ll be reluctant to make the move,” Gillick said. “But it has to make sense. If you have to make a commitment you have to figure that player is going to figure for you for whatever time you’re obligated. If you have to give somebody four years and you only get three years, that’s one thing. But if you give somebody four years and you only get one, that’s a different story.”

    So the hot-stove is heating up for the Phillies. Signing Soriano should be a piece of cake, right? Five years without a no-trade clause should do it?

    “You can’t ever be sure,” Gillick said. “But when you make these decisions, are you going to be in love with this guy a year from now as much as you’re in love with him right now? That’s a decision you’re going to have to make. I don’t know a lot of people that I want to be in love with for five years.”

    Like Pat Burrell for instance. Gillick didn’t come right out and say that he was trying to find a suitable deal for the maligned left fielder and the Phillies this winter, but he didn’t deny it either. The same goes for Manuel who when asked about Burrell had a resigned tenor of someone who knew something was coming, but didn’t want to come right out and say it.

    “What hurt Pat the most was that when we got to the seventh or eighth inning we had to get him out of the game,” Manuel said without the best poker face. “If he didn’t have the foot issues he might have had a season like he did two years ago.

    “I haven’t ruled out the fact that he’s still on our club. I’ve always stood with Pat. He lost some at-bats [because of his foot].”

    But Burrell holds all of the cards – at least all of the good ones. He also might hold the Phillies winter progress – or lack therof – in his hands. Sure, the Phillies seem to forging ahead as if they can sign all of the players they want and keep Burrell if he doesn’t agree to be moved, but the reality is the left fielder needs to go if the team is going to fulfill their off-season objectives.

    Where or when that occurs is anyone’s guess.

    More pitching
    If the Phillies are not able to re-sign Wolf, Gillick says the fifth starter will likely come from outside the organization.

    “We’ve got to get another starter, and I don’t see that starter coming out of our organization. It’ll have to come from outside,” Gillick said. “We’ve got some things to attend to from the starting standpoint and from the bullpen standpoint.”

    Nonetheless, Gillick says he is much happier with the state of the rotation now than he was last year.

    “This year we’ll open with Hamels and Moyer instead of (Gavin) Floyd and (Ryan Madson),” he said.

    Manuel agrees with the GM noting that the rotation at the end of the season was the “best we’ve had in two years.”

    Other luncheon notes
    If the season were to end today, Ken Mandel’s fantasy football team would be in the playoffs. This is despite the fact that Phillies.com writer’s club has the least amount of points in the scribes football league.

    On the outside and looking in is yours truly, who is running away with the points title but is just 4-4-1.

    “We have to do better and I’ll take full responsibility,” I said in a release issued by the team.

  • A few writers were steamed that the availability with Charlie Manuel was held up by a TV reporter who wanted to talk to the manager about professional wrestling. Never mind the fact that the channel usually devotes a little less than 180 seconds to sports coverage every night.

    Or that no one watches that channel.

    Nevertheless, I’d like to know the skipper’s thoughts on the Junkyard Dog or Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka. If the segment gets on YouTube, please send me the link.

  • Now that’s a staff

    Let’s go out on a limb here and say Charlie Manuel is on notice. His task for 2007 is to get the Phillies into the playoffs or he can forget about that contract extension for his pact that ends at the end of next year.

    At least that’s the way it seemed when the Phillies announced that Davey Lopes, Art Howe and Jimy Williams will be the three new coaches on Manuel’s staff. You see, Lopes, Howe and Williams all have managed in the big leagues, and though only one manager in Phillies history has won more games after his first two seasons as skipper than Manuel, some might argue that a couple of those ex-managers have better credentials than their new boss.

    Williams guided Toronto to the AL East title in 1989 and took the Red Sox to the wild card in 1998, 1999 and had six consecutive second-place finishes with the Red Sox and Astros from 1998 to 2003, earning AL manager of the year in ‘99.

    Howe went to the playoffs in three straight seasons with the Moneyball Oakland A’s from 2000 to 2002, including back-to-back 100-win seasons in 2001 and 2002.

    Lopes, the artful base stealer and Phillies nemesis from his playing days with the Dodgers, was the sacrificial lamb for three years with the Milwaukee Brewers. Nevertheless, the Phillies added 2,283 Major League victories to the coaching staff to go with Manuel’s 393.

    Suddenly, the so-called overmatched Manuel has quite a bit of experience to draw upon in the dugout.

    “We’re going to have a hell of a staff,” he said.

    That’s good, because there were a lot of whispers around the league that Manuel’s staff – specifically bench coach Gary Varsho – wasn’t doing him any favors. Varsho, after all, was Manuel’s right-hand man for in-game tactical decisions. But when Varsho was working in the same capacity on Larry Bowa’s staff, he mostly just had to position the outfield, write out the lineup card and his other administrative duties while Bowa called all the shots. But with Manuel, that lack of a heavy hand ultimately worked against him. In fact, one National League manager once told me to “tell Varsho to keep giving Charlie that good advice.”

    Yes, it was a joke, but it wasn’t complimentary either.

    On the new staff, Williams will be the bench coach and coordinate spring training the way John Vukovich used to. Howe, an infielder with those good Astros teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s, will be the third-base coach and infield instructor. Lopes will be the first-base coach and base running and outfield instructor.

    Lopes could have a big influence on Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino on the base paths.

    Conversely, if the Phillies struggle out of the gate in 2007, or Manuel, inexplicably, loses the clubhouse, GM Pat Gillick doesn’t have to look far for a replacement manager. In that regard will Charlie be sleeping with one open? Is he going to cast sidelong glances over his shoulder to see what his lieutenants are doing?

    Nope. At least that’s what he says.

    “Not at all,” Manuel said. “I feel good about it. These guys are going to be helpful to me and our club.

    Gillick says – at least publically – that Manuel shouldn’t worry about anything but doing his job.

    “More ideas, more imagination,” Gillick said. “These are the type of resources you need on a staff for your manager to draw on.”

    Apparently, as stated previously, Manuel didn’t have that during his first two seasons.

    He has it now.

    “Charlie is the man, and we’re going to do everything we can to help him be successful,” said Howe, who has a reputation for being one of the friendliest men in baseball despite the fact that he managed the Mets for two years. For normal folks, that experience is enough to make one turn his back on all of humanity.

    Not Howe. Now he’s working for Charlie and the Phillies – the loosest and happiest team in the National League.

    Et cetera
    Though it’s not exactly a scoop or a well-kept secret, Gillick says he wants to try to deal Pat Burrell again. Apparently, the club had a deal with Baltimore last July but Burrell invoked his no-trade clause to remain in Philadelphia.

    Said Gillick: “We’re going to have to continue to look for a little more offense. We know that at this point, Pat has had a difficult time protecting [Ryan] Howard. We’re going to have to continue to have to make an adjustment in that area. And naturally, we’re going to have to continue to improve our pitching.

    Gillick says the American League champion Tigers have advanced so quickly because of their pitching.

    “I think one thing that’s been proven is how well Detroit has pitched. If you look at the seven games they’ve won, it all goes back to pitching.”

    But in order to be a legit player in the free-agent market for the highly coveted Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez, the Phillies will have to figure out what to do with Burrell and the $27 million they owe him for the next two seasons.

    Coming up…
    Musings from the NLCS and a look ahead to this weekend’s Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii and the Chicago Marathon, which unofficially kicks off the Fall marathoning season.

    Plus, the opening game of the World Series is this Saturday in Detroit.

    A little help?

    The big victory over the Marlins last night was pretty amazing when all that the team went through is taken into consideration. It would seem to me that playing an important baseball game when the team did not get to the hotel in Miami until 8:30 a.m. could have an effect on some players.

    Not these Phillies.

    Trade away Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Rheal Cormier and Cory Lidle? No problem. Have the general manager go on record saying the team was two years away? Pee-shaw. Start an important game at 11:30 p.m. after a four-hour, 32-minute rain delay, and wait on a bus until close to 4 a.m. figuring which airport has a pilot to fly the team to Miami?

    Is that all you have?

    Now all the Phillies need is for the Padres and/or Dodgers to lose two games in a row.

    Of course, the Phillies have to win but that seems like the easy part. Any team that can go through what the Phils have during the past week with the homer stolen from Chase Utley on Tuesday, the 14-inning game on Wednesday, and the debacle with the rain on Thursday.

    “All of a sudden, things went sour,” Manuel said. “We’ve had to overcome some things, too. But as I look back, I see hustle. I see concentration. The outcome doesn’t indicate the level of effort. At the same time, we’ve made a lot of mistakes. We haven’t gotten it done. And it’s hard to put your finger on why.”

    Part of the reason why was that MLB bent down and puckered up to smooch FOX on the rump. When the Phillies were trying to get Thursday night’s game rained out so they could get to Florida before the sun came up, the reason they got from the wizards at MLB was that the Giants and Cardinals might have to play on Monday.

    Huh?

    According to folks following the team in Miami, the Phillies were told by MLB that the league was concerned about the possibility that the Giants and Cardinals would have to play a makeup game on Monday and that FOX was worried that it would only have American League games to broadcast when the Division series start on Tuesday.

    Seriously. No joke.

    But, of course, the Phillies had to win more than one game in Washington for their whine to have any cheese. Winning cures a lot of ills and the Phillies didn’t do that at RFK.

    Even though the Phillies failed to take advantage of wonderful opportunities on Tuesday – when they went 11 straight plate appearances with runners in scoring position without plating a run – and Thursday when they squeaked out just five singles, they somehow find themselves breathing.

    Better yet, with the core of the team set to return next season it’s hard not think that the Phillies will stash this run away in the memory banks. Yeah, they came close last year, too, but this year feels different. It might feel even more different next season if the Phillies’ outfield “improves its speed” in a way general manager Pat Gillick wants.

    Of course, when I heard Gillick mention how he wanted the team to improve its speed in the outfield, I took that to mean, “We want to get rid of Burrell.”

    Funny, Jim Leyland wanted to do the same thing.

    Nevertheless, Burrell hit the ball hard on Thursday and Friday nights and will finish the season with some decent-looking numbers. For Burrell, 29 homers and 95 RBIs is nothing to sneeze at. Yet to mull over Burrell’s season now, after all that has been written, is nothing more than piling on.

    So, since we have the time and the space, let’s think about the Phillies’ lineup for 2007:

    c – ?
    1b – Howard
    2b – Utley
    3b – ?
    ss – Rollins
    lf – Dellucci?/Conine?
    cf – Rowand
    rf – Victorino

    Bench
    Bourn
    Coste
    Roberson
    Nunez

    Starters
    Lieber
    Myers
    Hamels
    Moyer
    Wolf?

    Bullpen
    Gordon
    Geary
    Madson
    Smith
    White
    ?
    ?

    They really count now

    Phil Garner managed his rear off on Monday night at the Bank, showing how to use nine pitchers in nine innings because his scheduled started decided to pitch the night before on national TV. As a result, the Astros have climbed to within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals in the NL Central, which is kind of amazing.

    Actually, it’s 1964 Phillies-type of amazing. The Astros, seemingly ready to shut it down, have made up seven games in seven days against the free-falling Cardinals. That’s unheard of. The ’64 Phillies didn’t choke up seven games in seven days, did they? They certainly didn’t have a “genius” manager like Tony LaRussa guiding the ship, either.

    Nonetheless, the Cardinals, without their closer and half of their pitching rotation, are in a dogfight now. It may be better not to go to the playoffs where they will surely lose in the first round.

    Meanwhile in Los Angeles, manager Grady Little has re-arranged his pitching rotation so that Greg Maddux and Derek Lowe will pitch in the last two games of the season on short rest. Maddux pitched in last night’s victory in Denver, while Lowe is scheduled to go tonight. That means both pitchers will work on just three days rest in San Francisco in attempting to get the Dodgers into the playoffs.

    Will Manuel — who beat out Little for the Phillies managing job — try the same thing this weekend in Miami with his two best pitchers?

    “I’m sure we’ll do some talking about that. I don’t know what we’ll do, but we’ll definitely discuss a lot of things,” he said before Tuesday night’s game.

    The idea would be to bump up Brett Myers, who pitched well despite Tuesday night’s loss, as well as Wednesday night’s starter Cole Hamels, who has never pitched on short rest ever.

    On another note, former Phillies GM Ed Wade, now a scout for the Padres, was at RFK on Tuesday night watching the Phillies for the second night in a row. Though Wade has some insider knowledge on the Phillies, I’m not so sure he’s the right guy to scout his old team. Seriously, Wade gave Pat Burrell a $50 million contract with a no-trade clause…

    Speaking of Burrell, here’s a fun stat: 14 of his 27 homers have come with no one on base and only three of them have come with runners in scoring position.

    End of an era?

    The Phillies played another doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, and Pat Burrell was not in the lineup for either game. Chances are the star-crossed slugger will be in left field when the Phillies close out the series against the Braves’ lefty Chuck James on Thursday, but make no mistake about it, the team’s brass is sending a loud-and-clear message to their $50 million man:

    “You are not needed here.”

    By now, close followers of the Phillies have deciphered Burrell’s limited role during the wild-card chase. Better yet, Marcus Hayes and Dennis Deitch have written very trenchant and unflinching looks at the former No. 1 draft pick, who, despite the early raves, big contract, and unlimited potential, never seemed to live up to the expectations.

    There is no crime in that, of course. Often, the media anoints a player to be a star even though he isn’t built for the rigors or pressure that come with it. Other times they just misdiagnose how good a player really is.

    Then there is the case of Pat Burrell.

    There was nothing about Burrell’s ascent to the big leagues, nor his first three seasons with the Phillies, that indicated he was a mediocre ballplayer. Then again, it’s hard to call his 24-homers and 84-RBIs 2006 season mediocre. Disappointing? Yes, especially when one factors in the promise and the hype that greeted Burrell after the 2002 season in which he had his supposed “breakout” year.

    What’s most enigmatic about Burrell – other than his personality – is his failure to produce with runners in scoring position this season, as well as his failure to… well, hit during this past month. Sure, Burrell has had trouble with his wrist and his foot, both which needed surgery at one point or another. But it’s also fair to point out that Burrell’s celebrated nocturnal habits might also have something to do with his leveling off as a player.

    This isn’t to say Burrell doesn’t put in the work. At least as far as it’s known, he used to. Before the injuries, winters were spent with fitness guru Mark Verstegen at the Athlete’s Performance Center in Arizona, and Burrell may very well spend time there. It’s just that every serious athlete comes to a point in his career where he has to make a choice – is he going to be serious, take nothing for granted and dedicate himself to his craft on and off the field, which means proper rest, a proper diet and good habits.

    Or, is he going to live in the moment and hope that the fickle hands of father time don’t massage him before his prime… or before he even has one.

    Burrell still has a choice. After all, he doesn’t turn 30 until Oct. 10. But if he’s going to refocus his energies to baseball, it might be a good choice for him to waive that no-trade clause where he can enter his prime in another city.

    Have a seat, Pat

    Before the Phillies opened up the 10-game homestand with last weekend’s set against the Reds, one of the baseball beat writers made a bold prediction:

    “If the Phillies win five of their next seven, they’re going to the playoffs.”

    Seven of the 10 games were against the Reds and the Mets, both of whom should be playing baseball in October. Needless to say, winning five of seven was a pretty tall order and it looked rather impossible after the Phillies dropped two of three to the Reds.

    But following the first two games of the series against the Mets, a four-game sweep – as well as that 5-2 stretch – is quite realistic.

    Go figure.

    The Phillies have been very good with the bats lately. That’s pretty obvious, especially when they have scored 24 runs in two games against the team leading the NL East by 13 games. Actually, the Phillies’ bats have been excellent when Pat Burrell has been on the bench and both David Dellucci and Shane Victorino have been in the lineup. Since the All-Star Break, the Phillies are 7-3 in games in which Burrell does not start.

    I’m not sure what that means, but it seems as if the team’s lineup has a little more pizzazz with Victorino and Dellucci.

    Of course, pizzazz isn’t quantifiable by too many traditional statistical formulas.

    Notes from Wednesday night

    Pat Burrell found a seat on the bench against hard-throwing right-hander John Smoltz not just because he was 1-for-19 during his career against the veteran, but also because his legs and surgically repaired foot.

    “Everyday when he plays, he has some pain in his foot. When he swings on his back leg, and when he has to turn in the outfield,” manager Charlie Manuel said about Burrell.

    Anyone who has watched Burrell play this season has seen how noticeably slower he is. Like Bob Boone and Johnny Estrada type slow. Burrell was also fitted with new orthodics to go inside of his baseball spikes, and as anyone who has had to wear custom orthodics knows, they can sometimes take a little while to get used to.

    Nevertheless, Burrell has been pretty solid at the plate and has solidified the middle of the order to help Manuel break up the lefties with a little more ease. He leads the team with eight homers and 22 RBIs to go with a very solid .400 on-base percentage and a .609 slugging percentage.

    Better yet, Burrell has hit lefties at a .305 clip.

    “He definitely wants to play. Last year he played through it and knows what it’s all about. That’s what he’s planning on doing this year. Anytime I can give him a blow, that might help him,” Manuel said.

    Meanwhile, it all works out well for Manuel who gets a chance to give David Dellucci some much-needed playing time. A season ago, the left-handed swinging Dellucci slugged 28 of his 29 homers against righties, so a start against Smoltz makes sense.

    It’s not exactly the easiest guy to hit against, but Dellucci really needs some action.

    “If you expect to get something out of your bench, you have to play them. It’s important to get these guys at-bats and keep them as sharp as we can,” Manuel said.

    How about a wake up call?
    Manuel’s very public airing out of his team in the dugout during the middle of Monday night’s game seems to have had a positive affect on the Phillies. Starting with that rant and the skipper’s subsequent ejection, the Phillies have become the Comeback Kids by rallying for three straight wins in the late innings.

    Coincidence?

    “The last two nights, I think we’ve been playing with more intensity as far as staying in the game,” Manuel said. “I’m not a guy who likes to get on players in front of anybody. I like to take them in my office, look him in the eye and tell him exactly what I think, and give them a chance to tell them what I think.”

    Ready for some football?
    Here’s the trailer for the upcoming movie about former Eagles Vince Papale, starring Mark Wahlberg. Based on emails from friends and Internet chatter, it seems as if Eagles fans will be camping out for tickets.

    Season-long Skid Has Schmidt Feeling Burrell’s Pain

    In his 18-year major-league career, Mike Schmidt won three MVP awards and one World Series MVP award. He hit 548 home runs to lead the National League eight times. He also drove in 1,595 runs, which led the league in RBIs four times. Only eight players in the history of the game hit more homers than Schmidt, which means that he might know a little something about hitting.

    He should. He’s certainly the best player the Phillies ever had.

    But Mike Schmidt knows a lot about failure too. In 1973, Schmidt’s first full season as a big leaguer, he hit just .196 and struck out 136 times in 132 games. In 1975, he whiffed 180 times, which at the time was the third-highest single-season total ever.

    Only four players in the history of the game struck out more than Schmidt. In fact, he whiffed no fewer than 103 times in 12 of his first 13 seasons. If there hadn’t been a labor stoppage in 1981, it would have been 13 for 13.

    So yes, Schmidt knows a lot about failure.

    He also knows a lot about what Pat Burrell is going through this season.

    “I’m the only guy on the face of the earth right now that can feel his pain. I’m the only guy. Just from my career. I’m the only guy on the face of the earth that could hit the ball into the upper deck, and at the same time have played in a Philadelphia uniform, been booed till I can’t stand it anymore, go on the field with anxiety kicking so hard that I can’t control my sense of how to hit, and I wanna go out there and swing before [the pitcher] lets it go,” said Schmidt, who was in town for the 1980s tribute. “I want to hit a 5-run home run with nobody on base. You lose it. There isn’t a guy in here that can feel the pain that he feels right now.

    “[Greg Gross] is his hitting coach, but he can’t feel his pain. I’m the one that can help him from a psychological standpoint. I can lay on a couch next to him and say, ‘Pat, I feel your pain. I’ve been there.'”

    Burrell, as it has been well documented, has labored through a very difficult season. Following Sunday’s 0-for-4 in 5-0 victory against the Boston Red Sox at the Vet, Burrell’s batting average dipped to .202. In 67 games and 247 at-bats, Burrell has struck out 79 times. That comes to a staggering statistic: Burrell has struck out in 28 percent of his plate appearances. Toss in other variables and the would-be slugger has failed to hit a fair ball in 41 percent of his plate appearances.

    Not at-bats, folks. That’s plate appearances.

    Schmidt, a part-time hitting instructor who last visited the team in Atlanta in April, says he looked over film with Burrell. At the time, Schmidt said Burrell was jumping at the ball a little bit and thinking “home run” too much.

    Yet because of Burrell’s struggles, manager Larry Bowa has moved the 26-year-old up and down in the lineup and benched him on occasion. Burrell has just one home run and three RBIs this month and just two home runs and four RBIs since May 20. It’s gotten to the point, Schmidt elluded, that pitchers are waiting to face him instead of any other hitter in the lineup.

    “You’ve got to want to be a clutch hitter,” Schmidt said. “You don’t want to be a dangerous hitter. You can be a dangerous hitter your entire career and make a lot of money. I was that guy a lot of times in my career.”

    Still, there are always glimmers of hope. Typically batting fourth or fifth in the lineup, which is not all that uncommon for a player who signed a six-year, $50 million deal before heading to spring training, Burrell went a promising 5-for-12 with two key doubles in three games against the Braves at the Vet. But against the Red Sox, the big-swinging right-hander went 0-for-8 with two more whiffs to slowly bring back the boo-birds.

    So what’s wrong with him? How can a player go from a breakout 37-home run, 116-RBI season in which he hit .286 to one where he still has to struggle to keep his average above the Mendoza line? More remarkably, Burrell is floundering despite the fact that he was given more support in the lineup with the addition of Jim Thome.

    “His swing is a little too big. He jumps out. He doesn’t let himself get deep,” Schmidt explained. “He has a tendency to loop and try to pull, and that’s an adrenaline thing. You jump out at the ball. A lot of time you see Pat’s body will explode toward the pitcher based upon the motion, rather than reading the ball. You add in the anxiety, the booing.”

    Schmidt knows about the booing. Even when he was winning the MVP awards and smacking 40 homers a season, Schmidt heard the boos and he hated it. However, he did not have the pedigree Burrell had upon joining the Phillies. When Schmidt went through that difficult season in ’73, he was still trying to figure out how to become a big leaguer, and because of those travails and the learning process that went along with it, Schmidt became a Hall of Famer.

    Burrell, unlike Schmidt, has never struggled. At every level he’s played, Burrell has been one of the best. Because of that, this rough ’03 campaign has been extra agonizing because Burrell just can’t shake the rough patches.

    “I surely didn’t have the 37-homer season under my belt, or the College MVP or No. 1 draft choice or greatest player in college history on my resume. I went through the minor leagues and couldn’t even hit there, and the next thing you know, I was in a major-league uniform,” Schmidt said.

    “I changed, changed, changed my swing. I asked myself over and over, ‘How am I going to be better?’ I was always willing to try to do something new. I was always willing to do something. If Nolan Ryan was pitching, I’d go up there with a two-strike approach from the first pitch, shorten my stroke, choke up, and sometimes I’d still hit homers. I’d do that today against Pedro. I truly believe every day offers you a chance to put a different game plan out there, and I don’t think the generation now is as cerebral. I truly think it’s a lost art today with all the gladiator guys playing.”

    Although he hasn’t seen Burrell play in person since the beginning of the year, Schmidt says it’s obvious that Burrell has not made any adjustments. There were times, Schmidt says, when he tore his batting approach down completely and rebuilt it from scratch. Burrell doesn’t have to go to that extreme, Schmidt says, but he does have to make some changes. Adjustments are, after all, the crux of the game.

    “Right now I don’t think he has a lifeline. When I feel that big long uppercut swing and I’m not letting the ball get deep, I know what to do now. He doesn’t have that. He needs to adjust. I don’t know that Pat understands that adjustments need to be made,” Schmidt said. “There are players in the Hall of Fame that made adjustments throughout their career. I look at great players who have changed stances; have changed from standing tall to crouching down; changed from going to the plate to deep in the box; changed from opened stances to closed stances; from up over the knob to choked up. To this point, my perception is Pat hasn’t been willing to make any adjustments. He gives me the impression that he feels like it’s going to come. Today is going to be the change. He’s entitled, as a player, to say that’s the way he feels. [But] there will come a time — maybe — where he’ll say, ‘I can’t figure it out. I want to make some changes,’ and he goes to [hitting coach] Greg Gross, and they’ll do something.”

    Schmidt is quick to point out that he is not the hitting coach and he doesn’t want to step on Gross’ toes. When Burrell has a problem, he should go and listen to Gross, who Schmidt says, is an outstanding hitting coach.

    “[Gross] is a tremendous hitting coach, and from the psychological side of where he’s at right now when he goes out on the field, we’re telling him the same thing,” Schmidt reasoned. “Greg is with him every day. I’m not. They work every day.”

    But if Burrell ever wants to talk to someone who was a big slugger with tons of strikeouts and lots of homers, Schmidt is always ready to talk.

    But Schmidt is not going to be the one to take the first step. He does not want to overstep his bounds, nor does he want to be presumptuous in thinking that Burrell wants Mike Schmidt to help him. But if Mike Schmidt knew there was a Mike Schmidt there for him, Mike Schmidt would call Mike Schmidt.

    Get it?

    “I always like to make the analogy of golf. If I was a young golfer and I was struggling with my game, but I was teetering on having the ability to play on the PGA Tour, and Jack Nicklaus and I practiced on the same range every day, I would say, ‘Jack, what do I need to do?'” Schmidt explained. “I would take every advantage I could to gain the power of input. Then it would be simple for me to block out that other guy [offering hitting tips] and the other guy if Nicklaus was there.”

    At the same time, Schmidt says he would watch and take pointers from other players. When Schmidt was playing, he borrowed from Steve Garvey and Roberto Clemente. And though he was a more feared hitter, Schmidt wanted to be like Greg Luzinski, who had the ability to hit a booming homer and loop a bleeder over the infield in a clutch spot.

    “I used to say, ‘Garvey can do it, why can’t I do it? Clemente used to do it, why can’t I do it? I have the same amount of ability,'” Schmidt said. “They were doing something different than I was in certain situations. Pat should be looking around and saying, ‘What’s A-Rod doing?’ Why is his stroke so good?’ I always was jealous about hitters. But that’s me. Whether it’s drive or not, I don’t know. But I always wanted to be better than I was today. If I had two strikes, I would spread out like Albert Pujols. He’s only hitting .380.”

    Doing something like that would cut down on all of those strikeouts, Schmidt says. And by cutting down on the strikeouts, Schmidt says if Burrell can do that, things will change.

    “If you cut his strikeouts in half right now, he puts the ball in play 40 more times and he’d probably have six more home runs, 10 to 15 more hits and that translates into .250 with some production, versus where he is now,” Schmidt said. “And that’s very easy for us, guys like us, me, the media, fans, to look at and say that’s easy to do, but it’s not for a guy who all his life has been able to drive the ball, been able to have a big swing and be reasonably successful. You add in the frustration and the fact that he’s got a lot of guys around him in the lineup who aren’t picking him up for part of the year. So that puts more added pressure on him because he leaves a lot of guys on base and strikes out a lot in key situations.”

    And if the Phillies weren’t struggling so much as a team, Burrell’s troubles wouldn’t be so magnified.

    “You can put Pat Burrell right now in the middle of the Braves’ batting order and he would probably go unnoticed,” Schmidt surmised. “Everybody would say, ‘Wait until he gets hot.'”

    So what does Burrell think of all of this?

    “Obviously, if a guy is going to spend time with you, especially a guy who is in the Hall of Fame, you’re going to listen to him,” Burrell told reporters. “Right now, it’s been a tough time for me period. I’m just not swinging the bat good, and that’s been a fact all year. There’s been a lot of people trying to help, and it finally got to the point where I said I gotta figure this out on my own.

    “Obviously, I have so much respect for Mike and I have talked to him tons. I don’t understand what this is all about. Obviously, this guy has done a lot of things in this game that I’m trying to do.”

    Still, all hope is not lost. Schmidt says Burrell will turn it around and it will come quickly. However,

    “He can be straightened out quickly, but he has to want it,” Schmidt said. “He has to be willing to go in another direction.”

    Once he sets his course, look out.

    “When he comes out of what he’s going through now, hopefully he puts a hot a month together and gets back on track,” Schmidt said. “Obviously, with a start like this, he’s not going to be come back and hit 60 or 55 [homers] and drive in 140, and we all think he’s that kind of player. But when he gets rolling, he’ll cover a lot of ground in two months. When that happens, he’ll always remember this period that he went through and he’ll have figured out what it was that got him out of it.”

    Who knows, maybe he’ll follow a similar course that another Phillie with a big, looping swing forged 30 years ago.

    E-mail John R. Finger