Missing out on Big Jim

Jim ThomeFor about a week I’ve wanted to write something about Jim Thome and how it just might be worth taking a flyer on the guy for the final month of the season. It was going to be this whole thing very much like how I suggested Barry Bonds might not be a bad pickup last year and how Pedro Martinez might be worth a look this year.

You know… trying to stay ahead of the curve.

So growing that big hand to pat myself on the back, I knew Pedro would be good a fit for the Phillies even though general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team had no interest in the future Hall of Famer initially.

Kudos. Kudos to me, though the Bonds idea was probably a bad one.

Anyway, snagging Thome away from the White Sox before the Dodgers got him would have been a good idea. One reason is because he is still playing out the contract he signed when he joined the Phillies before the 2003 season. Another is because with Matt Stairs fighting a two-month hitless slump and Greg Dobbs on the disabled list/in the manager’s doghouse, Charlie Manuel will need another lefty bat for the bench.

And who knows, maybe he could play first base if really pressed to it.

When the news broke about Thome joining the Dodgers earlier this week, the sentiment from Manuel and ex-Phillie turned Giants’ centerfielder Aaron Rowand was that they hoped the new Dodger was happy. Moreover, both Manuel and Rowand thought Thome would be a huge asset late in games for LA.

“He brings over 500 career homers off the bench,” Rowand said when asked what Thome gives the Dodgers.

Certainly 564 career homers sitting on the bench waiting for a late-game clutch situation isn’t easy to dig up. Plus, in signing Thome it’s obvious the memory of Stairs’ series-changing home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 NLCS still haunts the Dodgers. Besides, pinch hitting isn’t an easy job for young ballplayers. That’s why wily types like Stairs thrive in the role and it’s why Thome might just be a key component for the Dodgers in October.

As the former big league pinch hitter Manuel said, seeing a guy like Stairs and Thome lurking in the dugout or on-deck circle drives opposing managers crazy. It makes them do things they normally wouldn’t do and that right there compromises the strategy of the game.

“Even if he’s 0-for-20 or 0-for-25, you never know when he’s going to hit one for you to win a game,” Manuel said.

So yeah, Thome would have been sweet for the Phillies given the current state of their bench. Sure, Amaro indicates that the team is tapped out in terms of adding to the already-record payroll for the remainder of the season, but hell, the Phillies are already paying Thome.

“Similar to the Yankees teams [Dodgers manager Joe] Torre had when [Darryl] Strawberry came off the bench. I think you’re kidding yourself if you’re a manager and he’s sitting on the bench that you don’t think twice before making a move,” Rowand said. “He’s a professional hitter – he doesn’t need four at-bats a day to stay sharp.”

Thome on the Dodgers doesn’t guarantee anything, but he is a slight difference maker. It would have been the same deal with the Phillies, too.

And on another note, who doesn’t want Jim Thome around? Sure, he’s just a hitter these days and nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career, but man… what a good dude. That should count for something.

Another whiff

Ryan HowardThroughout the team’s history, the Phillies have always been attracted to those hitters that always seem to swing and miss a lot. Mike Schmidt was one of those guys. During his career he whiffed 1,883 times, which is the seventh-most in the history of the game.

Schmidt’s teammate Greg Luzinski averaged 133 strikeouts per 162 games. That duo of Schmidt and Luzinski led the National League in strikeouts five times.

Dick Allen, Lance Parrish, Bobby Abreu, Juan Samuel, Pat Burrell, Scott Rolen and Darren Daulton all routinely whiffed more than 100 times per season, though those guys were hardly in the same league as Jim Thome and Ryan Howard.

Thome, the heir to Schmidt, is third on the all-time strikeout list and set the club record for whiffs in a season with 182 in 2003. Like his time in Philadelphia, Thome’s reign on the top of that list was short when Howard racked up 181 strikeouts in 2006 before establishing the new Major League record in 2007 when he nearly became the first man to reach the 200-strikeout plateau with 199.

Just think what type of numbers Howard would have posted if he hadn’t missed nearly all of May.

But they wouldn’t be the Phillies if the strikeouts were exclusive to the batters’ box. Oh no. Actually, the entire franchise is kind of one big caught-looking enterprise. They do strikeouts well. After all, no professional team in the history of sports has surpassed 10,000 losses like the Phillies have and it seems as if there is no executive in league history to have been spurned more than Pat Gillick has this winter.

In terms of striking out on the free-agent market, Gillick and the Phillies have made Howard, Thome and Schmidt look like Wee Willie Keeler.

Yes, it happened again on Wednesday afternoon. In what has become a weekly rite during the winter the Phillies were told thanks but no thanks by a player that the team really could use in order to recapture the National League East. First it was Mike Lowell, who would have been the team’s answer at third base. Instead of signing on with the Phillies to play in cozy little Citizens Bank Park where he once slugged three homers in a game, Lowell took a lesser contract offer to remain with the Boston Red Sox.

Apparently, there was just something about all the money and the years that turned off Lowell about the Phillies.

Then there was Randy Wolf, the left-handed starting pitcher who came up through the Phillies system, pitched for the team for eight seasons and earned his first (and only) All-Star appearance with the club during the 2003 season. But after recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2006, Wolf took a lesser deal to pitch for the Dodgers in 2007. Two weeks ago the Phillies came knocking again and – once again – Wolf took a incentive-laden (in the parlance of the game) one-year deal to pitch for San Diego.

Gillick and Wolf’s negotiations went something like this:

Gillick: We really like you, Randy, and we really want to sign you to a multi-year deal. Is that something you would be interested in?

Wolf: Well, Pat, I grew up in Southern California and all my family is here and I would really like to be closer to them. Plus, the ballpark is a little more conducive to my style of pitching. It’s nothing personal and I really liked pitching for you guys for eight years, but I think I’m going to go to San Diego.

Gillick: Whore.*

Aaron RowandNo one wanted to sign with the Phillies. Not even Tadahito Iguchi, the second baseman who asked for his release and eschewed arbitration, passed up a chance to be the Phillies’ everyday third baseman by signing a one-year deal with San Diego, too.

So let’s add it up. Lowell to Boston; Wolf to San Diego; Iguchi to San Diego; Melvin Mora – no dice; Curt Schilling back to Boston; Geoff Jenkins, maybe; and Scott Rolen, anywhere but Philly or St. Louis.

What do the Phillies have to do? Move the franchise to San Diego? Configure a more pitcher-friendly ballpark on the parking lot where the Vet used to be? Give Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva the worst contract in the history of Major League Baseball?

All of the above?

Really, though, the more interesting question is how does Aaron Rowand fit in here? If they just could have lured Rowand back into the fold it all would have been OK. Right…


By all accounts, Aaron Rowand, the fan and media favorite, really, really wanted to return to the Phillies for 2008 and beyond. It’s just that he didn’t want to do it for less than five years. Only the Phillies offered three and apparently there was no middle ground. They couldn’t split the difference and get together on four years.

And what’s four years in the scheme of things? Come on, really… Four years is a presidential term? It’s 80 percent of one’s collegiate work? It’s just four years! That’s it. It goes by in a heartbeat.

Instead, Rowand got his five years (and, he says, the cash he was expecting) from the San Francisco Giants – a team that came in last in the NL West last season at 71-91. With Barry Bonds gone and a young corps of pitchers still finding their way around in the unforgiving world of Major League Baseball, the Giants should be slated for the cellar again in 2008. But Rowand will be there, crashing into walls, charming the fans and doing what he can to help the Giants get better.

It’s doesn’t seem as though Rowand will duplicate the offensive statistics he posted for the Phillies during the 2008 season at whatever corporation currently owns the naming rights for the Giants’ ballpark these days. But does that really matter? All that matters is that he won’t be doing anything for the Phillies anymore and that’s the really big whiff.

One thing is for certain – the “sources” were only off by a year and $25 million. But, again, that doesn’t help the Phillies much.


* Actually, Gillick said: “Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

Making the scene

Ryan HowardPhew! It was a rather eventful weekend what with the big fight in Las Vegas and putting up the Christmas decorations and all of that.

But aside from the Bonnie & Clyde kids or “Rittenhouse Swindlers[1]” as they could be called, and the Eagles loss to the Giants, not much happened in these parts. In fact, it seems as if the Philly folks were looking to get their names in the papers they had to leave town this weekend.

Yes, it seems that not only was Bernard Hopkins making the scene at Oscar de la Hoya’s party before Floyd Mayweather dropped Ricky Hatton in 10 in Las Vegas, but also Ryan Howard was on the prowl, too. According to the gossip columnist in Vegas, the Phillies’ slugger was at the Tryst nightclub [2]inside the Wynn resort with ex-Phillie Kenny Lofton. Charles Barkley was there, too, the paper reported.

Apparently, Sir Chuck was spotted at a lot of places in Vegas during the weekend before the fight. So too were Will Ferrell, Lennox Lewis and Sylvester Stallone.

Who knows, maybe Howard also hit Vegas to try and lure back local resident Aaron Rowand to the Phillies. That seems doubtful, though. Maybe Ryan was too busy in the hotel gym getting in shape for spring training?

Around these parts we got the ol’ tree up and all of that mess. Ever the traditionalists, a few years ago we bought a tree that appears to be made from the old turf they used to have at the Vet. I walked by it this morning and strained my anterior cruciate ligament.

If only it came in martini blue…

Aside from that I went in for a little A.R.T. on my tight-as-a-drum hip flexor. It’s a funny thing… I can run, walk and stand just like anyone else, but if I sit on a soft chair or the couch, the hip tightens up so much that I can’t get up and I’m left to sit there like a Buddha or Bill Conlin. It’s pretty damn frustrating.

What’s that about? I can run 90 miles per week but I can’t sit on a recliner?

Such a mess…

Ted LeoFinally, Ted Leo and his outfit, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, wrapped up a seemingly never-ending tour in with shows in New York City and Philly last week and a pair over the weekend in Washington, D.C. After playing and touring the United States and Europe quite continuously since 2005, Ted and the gang say they are going to take a bit of break to recover, rest and make another record.

The rest of us are left to ponder a world where the Pharmacists aren’t out there plotting and scheming their moves and walking that line for us. Yes, it’s a well-deserved and needed break, but we are weaker as a culture when Ted isn’t out there in the night on some stage playing as hard as he can. The Pharmacists go to work every time — it’s just so inspirational and so beautiful.

Michael Vick got 23 months! What’s that line from D.L. Hughley: Somewhere O.J. is watching and saying, “Man, I’m glad I didn’t mess with any dogs…”

Happy birthday to Meg White, Michael Clarke Duncan, Bobby Flay, Nia Peeples, J Mascis, Susan Dey, Emily Dickinson and Mark Aguirre.

[1] Isn’t that redundant? And did I make that up? It has a nice ring.

[2] Is it me or does a nightclub named Tryst sound like something out of George Carlin bit?

Good try, team!

FootballLet’s get this straight: The Eagles lost to the Patriots on Sunday night and Philly fans are pleased? Really? Is this true? The Eagles lost and folks are genuinely pleased?

Hold on for a second while I drop to one knee to catch my breath…

Look, it was a wildly entertaining game. In fact, I even napped at halftime so I could make it the whole through the second half. For a detached “fan” like me who watches Eagles games (not the NFL… that’s too much effort) when it’s convenient, Sunday night’s game was perfectly compelling. And frankly, that’s the appeal of football – the casual fan doesn’t have to invest much to be entertained. One doesn’t have to get too deep into it like with baseball where the minutia of the game seems to be the appeal. Nevertheless, the game was fun to watch and just as riveting as the Eagles-Giants game from a year or two ago that went to overtime. Now that game was one to describe in your best Keith Jackson voice…

A real donnybrook!

Still, from what I can tell from some of the reaction around town, folks are happy that the Eagles gave the Patriots all they could handle… even though they still lost.

What, has Philadelphia become a town of happy losers? Are moral victories just as good as the real thing? Lovable losers in Philly – what is this, Chicago? Moral victories – are they turning into St. Louis fans?

Hey, I know how good everyone says the Patriots are and it seems likely that they will win every game this season. I also know that the betting line was 22 points some absurdity like that. But from what I could tell the Eagles lost a game they could or should have won. You know, kind of like those games they lost to the Packers, Redskins and Bears.

So there you have it – there’s my football analysis for the rest of the season. Makes you feel smarter, huh?

Speaking of feeling smarter (I couldn’t come up with a better transition), the free-agent/hot stove comings and goings for the Phillies are beginning to come a little clearer. Or so it seems…

MoraAnyway, the Phillies appear to be interested in Orioles’ third baseman Melvin Mora, according to the Baltimore Sun. Mora has a no-trade clause and signed a three-year extension with the Orioles in 2006, but reports indicate he is unhappy with the direction the team is taking. As such, Mora is said to be willing to waive the clause to play for an east-coast team.

Meanwhile, there are reports that the Astros and former Phillies’ GM Ed Wade is in the race to ink ex-Phillies Randy Wolf and Jon Lieber. Wolf, as has been well documented, has been made an offer by the Phillies after the Dodgers declined to pick up his option for 2008.

Finally, cross the White Sox off Aaron Rowand’s list of potential suitors. According to a report in The Chicago Sun-Times, Rowand and his former club are way off in contract terms. The Dodgers, Rangers and Phillies are still interested in signing the free agent center fielder.

Lots of folks (OK, three) have asked me what I thought about Tom McCarthy re-joining the Phillies’ broadcast team. My initial reaction was, “Cool.” Wherever he is,Tom is often the friendliest guy at the ballpark so the more often we get to see him, the better. Then I thought, “Hey, it seems like the Phillies have a lot of broadcasters now… is someone leaving?”

According to folks smarter than me, Tom is likely being groomed as Harry Kalas’ successor. That’s cool, too, I guess though I agree with Dan McQuade‘s idea that a good Harry Kalas impersonator could handle those duties for decades to come.

Hey, Billy Wagner is mouthing off about the Mets

Also, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Jumping off the deep end

Cannonball!So the free agent period is officially on. In fact, it’s “on” on. Yesterday was the first day and it seemed as if everyone was freaking out trying to learn new information about who was talking to whom and where everyone was going the next couple of days. Everyone was in everyone else’s business and had each other’s names in each other’s mouths.

Between hoping I could carve out my insides with a pie cutter and waiting for my head to explode with this damn sinus/migraine thing I got going on over here, I fielded an IM or two about all this free agent hubbub from guys closer to the situation (and more seasoned) than me.

Pure insanity.

They all wanted to know if the other shoe had dropped. Did I know anything? Had I heard anything? TELL US! TELL US NOW!


But just like… well… me on payday, I got nuthin’. Nada. But then again, I’m not one of those guys who goes running all willy-nilly for no reason. I don’t go shopping the day after Thanksgiving (unless it’s online) and I don’t go doing a cannonball into the deep end without dipping my big, battered toe [1]in first. Folks, you have to settle in and build a nice rhythm if you expect to go the distance.

In other words: simmer down. Now. Who goes out on payday and breaks the bank seconds after walking out of the check-cashing place? Not anyone sane or sober and certainly not the Phillies.

But then again, perhaps the shooting-from-the-holster approach isn’t a bad one. Maybe if the Phillies jumped into the deep end they can get all of their wintertime shopping done before the crowds rush in. After all, trading for Brad Lidge kind of pushed the team onto a certain direction in completing the puzzle, which, truth be told, wasn’t too difficult to decipher to begin with. Apparently, the Phillies believe they score enough runs as it is and can go with Shane Victorino in centerfield, Jayson Werth in right and Wes Helms/Greg Dobbs at third. How many runs does a team need?

I guess that has to do with the pitching, which is what the team (and every other team, too) will be looking for. It’s also the reason why Kyle Lohse will likely sign a multi-year contract filthy with a bunch of numbers. Will it be $40 million? How about $50 million?

And yes, we’re talking about Kyle Lohse. And Carlos Silva. Write the big check for Livan Hernandez.

Aaron RowandAccording to some reportage and sleuthing by the local beat scribes, it appears as if the Phillies will not have the cash to break the bank this winter, which seems odd. It seems odd because the Phillies had the best attendance in the history of the taxpayer subsidized Citizens Bank Park in 2007. What’s more, they made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, too. That means more exposure, more games and (probably) more cash coming in. Plus, chances are they will raise ticket prices for 2008, too. Yeah, why not… if the fish is going to jump into the boat, all they have to do is beat it over the head with an oar.

Still, it seems likely that there won’t be enough petty cash stuck under the cushions of the couch to make a “competitive” offer to Aaron Rowand, the Gold Glove Award-winning centerfielder, who just so happens to be coming off a career year with the bat. It also appears that Messr. Rowand is heading for one of those contract deals that looks like science fiction, which is crazy. Could a team really be ready to offer Aaron Rowand $15 million per season?

Really? That’s Kyle Lohse money.

It also reminds me why running, cycling, golf and tennis are superior to the so-called “mainstream” sports in the U.S. Why? Because you have to win to get paid.  

[1] I reckon I have run more than I walk during the past two decades. Therefore, my toes are all beaten up as if they were about to go into a mince meat pie. I have no idea what mince meat pie looks like (or even what it is), but I bet it’s nasty… like my bludgeoned-by-running toes.

Let’s talk about… um… nothing

Curt SchillingWith the NBA season ready to kick off tonight, it means one thing in Philadelphia…

It’s hot-stove baseball time!

Yes, the rumors, innuendo and conjecture is in a full-court press as suggestions for ways the Phillies can re-build their NL East-champion club before the 2008 season. And just where do the Phillies start?


Center field?

Third base?

Another power hitter?


How about some pitching?

Did anyone mention pitching?

So far the Phillies have started by holding an organizational meeting in Florida in order to outline the plan of attack this winter. No doubt it all started with a Power Point presentation featuring the themes listed above. Or maybe someone just broke out some poster board and a Sharpie and scotch taped it to the wall. Undoubtedly they wrote:


Center field?

Third base?

Another power hitter?


How about some pitching?

Did anyone mention pitching?

Anyway, what has happened now that the official Major League season has been over for three days? Well… nothing. What was supposed to happen? Sure, Aaron Rowand and a bunch of other guys have officially filed for free agency, but that’s just a formality. It’s like signing up to bring a bag of Pirate’s Booty or a spinach dip tucked into a bread bowl to the next weekend party or something. You do it, but is your heart really into it?

Nevertheless, the Phillies have exclusive negotiating rights with Rowand and guys like Antonio Alfonseca, Jon Lieber (the fat man walks alone!), Rod Barajas, Jose Mesa and J.C. Romero for two weeks. After that… it’s on! Any team can talk to any free agent and put some scratch behind all the blather, too.

Plus, during the next two weeks of exclusivity, the Phillies can talk to other free agents though they are not allowed to discuss money or contract terms[1]. So, say for instance the Phillies want to call up… let’s just pull a name out of the air here… Curt Schilling and broach the subject about whether or not he’d like to pitch for the Phillies in 2008, they can.

As long as they don’t talk about money. Which is weird, because what else would they talk to him about?

“Hi… Curt?”

“Yeah, who’s calling? My caller ID didn’t register properly.”

“It’s the Phillies!”

“Oh hi… what’s up?”

“Oh nothing, just calling to see how everything is going… what’s new?”

“Oh, you know, nothing much. I was just in that World Series thing with the Red Sox and we won in four straight games. Other than that I have EverQuest convention coming up…”

“A what coming up?”

“EverQuest. It’s a game. You play it on the computer. It’s kind of like Dungeons & Dragons, only geekier…”

“Dungeons and what?

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t think you called to talk about that.”

“No, you’re right, we didn’t.”

“So what’s up?”

“Nothing, we’re just calling to see what’s up with you.”



“Well, nothing really.”

“Nothing really?”

“Yeah, nothing really… what are you getting at?”

“Well, we don’t know how to say this so we’ll just come out and say it… we like you. We really like you.”


“… And if you like us as much as we like you, maybe we can work together next year?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

“Well, we can’t tell you how much we like you yet, but we will.”

“Maybe we can talk again then, right now I have Lord Doljonijiarnimorinar breathing down my neck and things are getting pretty tight. Why don’t you call me in a couple of weeks and we can pick this up then.”

“OK. How about in two weeks.”


“OK… we’ll talk to you in two weeks.”


“Talk to you then.”

“OK, bye.”

“Bye… Curt, we really li…”


[1] Yeah, like that really happens.

Picking at nits

BatmanSometimes I feel like an old man. When I wake up in the morning my legs are tight, which causes me to limp around until the first jolt of caffeine from my breakfast of coffee and a Clif Bar, as well as the sting from hot water from the shower limbers me up. My friend Mike says he was the same way until he started his strict daily yoga regiment, but I think there are other factors involved.

Mike is actually Batman. He sleeps upside down swinging from a pair of parallel bars. I hope I didn’t reveal too much.

Plus, my ankle has been really cranky lately. I don’t think yoga can fix a twisted ankle all banged up from running too much.

Anyway, here’s another reason why I feel like an old man: my big plans for Friday night are to load up the kids and my old lady (I was just listening to Muddy Waters… I think he’s having problems with his old lady) and head to a local high school football game. Weather permitting of course. It’s pretty rainy and damp right now – baking weather, my old lady calls it.

Back to the game…

Playing in the game are two schools that are both 7-1 and neither of which I am an alum. Oh, I have ties to each of the schools and even attended one for the ninth grade before quickly transferring to the far superior J.P. McCaskey High School where I received a real education.

I didn’t get much of an education at the school I briefly attended and will be rooting against this evening[1]. Actually, that’s not true. I learned a lot at that school, such as I was better off not going there any longer than I had to. As such, I’m rooting against them because of the way things went for me at that school, which is to say it was a rough year and I think I’m still holding a grudge for how things went more than two decades ago with people, places and things that really have no significance in my life at all. I suppose I’m funny that way. But now that I think about it, perhaps those perceived slights motivated me? Well, motivated might be the wrong word. Maybe I was just prompted to a certain action.

Whatever it was, the thing I remember so crystal clearly is my ninth grade English teacher scoffing at the notion that I would ever consider a future as someone who wrote sentences as part of a job. Seriously, she scoffed. I was scoffed at in such a manner that even as a ninth grader I thought to myself, “Wait… is she scoffing at me? Does she think it’s funny – as in a rude joke about midgets and donkeys told at the dinner table with grandmothers and long-lost chaste aunts present? Man, I guess I suck as a writer even though I’m just 14.”

Hey, I know I’m not the best writer in the world (maybe not even the best writer in my house), but what the hell? And where does a ninth-grade English teacher at a private school get off telling a student that he would probably be better off considering a career where he could dress shabbily and walk around someone’s house, scratch his ass and then proclaim, “Yeah, I think youse need a router…”?

I thought I wanted (want) to write. Was that so wrong? Fortunately I transferred to McCaskey where Dennis Schmid cultivated the skills I came with and taught me how to compose a sentence or two. There were other teachers at McCaskey, too, who were/are ridiculously good at their jobs. Folks like John Valori, Ken Barrett, Pete Horn, Ann Pinsker, Donna Couy to name just a few off the top of my head, should have received paychecks like the one “sources” are saying Aaron Rowand is after.

Then again, after digging deeper into the pages archived on this site I might be doing those folks an injustice. The fact is I came with my own ideas and they tried to set me straight. For that I am grateful.

And I hope Columbia High wins tonight.

[1] Let me clarify: I will not be rooting against the kids on the team, because they are just kids playing a game. In fact, I find it hard to root against any team of any kind. A team is just laundry, after all. However, if given a choice I’d like to see certain teams with certain players perform well. It’s personal, I suppose… and I am an idiot that way.

Snowy Series?

Paul ByrdSo we can all thank Paul Byrd for giving us a Colorado-Cleveland World Series. Really? Colorado will play Cleveland in the World Series in nighttime games scheduled in late October? Wow. Does anyone want to bet that the first-pitch temperatures never make it above 50 degrees? Better yet, will there be snowflakes falling during all the games or just the ones in Denver?

Of course Cleveland hasn’t won anything yet. Though they lead the ALCS, 3-1, with the next game scheduled for Thursday night in Cleveland, it seems pretty academic. Then again, most people thought the same thing when the Red Sox went down 3-0 after losing by 14 runs to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. Look what happened then… yeah. It didn’t work out too well for the Yankees, did it?

Anyway, the interesting part about the Indians is what they did to get to the precipice of the World Series. During and after the 2002 season, the Indians got rid of Charlie Manuel as the manager despite the fact that he guided the team to the AL Central title in 2001. Then they allowed Jim Thome to walk away via free agency and used that money they saved to built around “system guys” like Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta on offense, as well as C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Rafael Betancourt and Fausto Carmona on the mound.

This core group mixed with Phillies castoffs like Byrd, Jason Michaels, David Dellucci, Aaron Fultz and Kenny Lofton with a under-40 manager in Eric Wedge, appears set to knock off both the Yankees and the Red Sox in the playoffs.

And all it took was getting rid of Manuel and Thome?

That probably wasn’t the entire case. After all, Indians’ fans really wanted Thome to re-sign with the team instead of going off to Philadelphia for six-years and $85 million. But then again, Thome’s departure (obviously) didn’t hurt too badly, either.

But, it could be argued that for the Indians it was Thome and Charlie – no. But Byrd, Michaels, Dellucci, Fultz and Lofton – yes.

Incidentally, those “yes” guys were all players Ed Wade brought in (except for Dellucci) to help the Phillies get to the playoffs… was Ed Wade on the right path here in Philadelphia?

bath So we’re looking at a Colorado-Cleveland World Series… I wonder what the folks at Fox think about that? Do they have the modern-day, TV execs’ version of smallpox and whiskey to thwart the Indians and get the big-market Red Sox to the World Series. Maybe when the World Series begins the Rockies will actually lose a game and make it interesting.

More importantly, what’s the difference between the Red Sox and Yankees these days anyway?

Speaking of ballplayers getting and wanting six-year deals worth $85 million, I just talked to a “source” about Aaron Rowand (because talking to sources is actually better than talking to the man himself… after all, it’s better to be “well-sourced” than, you know, anything else) and it seems as if the free-agent centerfielder has lessened his demands a bit. According to the “source,” Rowand does not want six-years and $84 million as a well-sourced “sources” indicated. Instead, the Phillies likely will offer fewer years and money, but will trump all deals with a “One Free Backrub” coupon.

Also, according to the “source,” Rowand wants all the brown M&Ms removed from the pre-game, clubhouse spread.

There will also be incentives for an All-Star appearance, home runs and fences run into and all that jazz, but apparently the backrub coupon is the deal breaker.

Paying attention is hard – Part II

Aaron RowandWhile perusing the sports pages on the Internets today, one local report caught my eye. No, I’m not going to mention any names or give any links or anything like that, but the story contained a line in which the Phillies’ free-agent centerfielder, Aaron Rowand, was pursuing a six-year, $84 million offer from the team this winter.


Citing the all-knowing “sources,” the story indicated that most in baseball place Rowand’s value somewhere in the 3-years for $30 million range, which is right in line with what Eric Byrnes got from the Diamondbacks earlier this year. Rowand, according to most folks who have actually spoken with him, will return to the Phillies for something in that price range.

But those “sources” claimed Rowand and his representatives were seeking a six-year, $84 million deal, nonetheless.


And no one called B.S.?

Here’s why they should have: Chase Utley did not get a deal as lucrative as the one Rowand reportedly wants when the All-Star second baseman and MVP candidate got a contract extension last February. Better yet, Jim Thome only got a six-year, $85 million contract from the Phillies in December of 2002 when the potential Hall-of-Famer was the top free-agent on the market.

Look, Aaron Rowand is a very nice player and if the Phillies re-sign him this winter they will be better for it. But Aaron Rowand is not stupid. He knows who he is and what he’s worth. He pays attention to that kind of stuff. That means he is not going to be asking for a deal more lucrative than the one the best player on the team just received, or one in line with a guy who just hit his 500th career home run.

If Rowand asks for six-years and $84 million the Phillies should tell him to go run into an unpadded outfield fence… again.

Pay attention, folks.

Matsui in the mixKaz
So, the National League playoffs carried on without the Phillies last night, but not without some of the spirit[1] that made the Philadelphia fans famous (infamous?), and that wily Kaz Matsui.

Oh yes… that Kaz Matsui is at it again.

Not only did he help the code orange, reactor-level hot Rockies beat the Padres in the wild-card playoff game last week, or to whip the Phillies in a three-game sweep by going 5-for-12 with that grand slam and six RBIs. But also, Matsui singled in the go-ahead run in the third inning of the Rockies’ latest victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at INSERTYOURCORPORATENAMEHERE Park.

The RBI single would have been enough, but Matsui, apparently, is hell-bent on putting his fingerprints all over the playoffs. The fact that the one-time maligned New York Met is so integral to the Rockies’ fortunes shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Hey, he isn’t as good as the New York media gushed when he came over from the Seibu Lions, but for the Rockies he blends right into a pretty good lineup.

Pretty good means they have won 18 of their last 19 games and likely won’t lose again for the rest of 2007.

But what everyone is talking about [2]is the play that caused the normally staid and late-arriving Diamondbacks’ fans to throw garbage onto the field at INSERTYOURCORPORATENAMEHERE Park. They don’t pull that kind of crap in Philly or Shea – plus, the game is sold out long before the day arrives. That’s not the case in Phoenix, where, according to reports, there were still tickets available for Game 1 of the NLCS yesterday morning.

ANYWAY, back to the throwing of the garbage… here’s how ESPN.com described the incident involving Matsui:

The play that drew fans’ ire started with runners on first and second with no outs. Arizona’s Augie Ojeda hit a grounder to Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins, who promptly threw to second. Justin Upton slid hard into Kaz Matsui to break up a potential double play, but Upton hit the second baseman’s leg with his shoulder. Second-base umpire Larry Vanover ruled that Upton interfered with Matsui and called both him and Ojeda out. Chris Snyder, who had advanced to third base, was forced to return to second.

And then:

Though the official attendance was 48,142, when the first pitch was thrown, there were thousands of empty seats, an embarrassment for a championship series game. Most of the seats were eventually filled, but that didn’t mean the scalpers were having much success.

For an environment that usually doesn’t elicit much intensity, watching the bottles hurled onto the field was a strange sight for most of the players.

“I was shocked because I’ve never seen anything like that from these fans,” said Rockies reliever Brian Fuentes, who said it was equally bad in right field, where his team’s bullpen is. “It didn’t show very much class. … Usually, I would expect that out of Shea [Stadium] or Philly.”

Wait a second… how did Philly get involved in this? Do you think Fuentes heard a few good-natured barbs when warming of for the first two games in the NLDS at the sold-out CBP last week? That elevated vistors’ bullpen is in perfect spitting distance from Ashburn Alley. Not that anyone would ever do something like that, of course.

Sic semper tyrannus.

Next: the Chicago Marathon and a trip to the B&N.

[1] They like to call it “passion.” Others call it a $5,000 fine with up to three days in jail.

[2] At least those who watched the game and/or follow this sort of thing – for instance, no one in my house cares. Nor does anyone I converse with on a regular basis. In fact, if I were to bring up the name, “Kazuo Matsui,” they probably would think I was talking about that annoying little green dude from the Fred Flintstone cartoons. Remember that guy? He sucked. Nevertheless, the Fred Flintstone was a helluva actor.

Back in it

Aaron RowandOh, I just couldn’t resist. Hamels is back to dealing after sitting down the Rockies in the fifth in order. That’s 10 in a row, with only two coming on fly balls. Was it a matter of getting back to the changeup, or is he still working that curve?

It’s hard to tell from my vantage point.

And here comes the Phillies…

Just like that and the crowd is back into it thanks to back-to-back home runs from Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell. Both were CBP Specials, which means it’s doubtful that they would have carried out of any other ballpark. Maybe Coors, but there the aid of low-altitude is somewhat significant.

But as the M-V-P! chants rained down on Jimmy Rollins with two outs in the fifth, and Chooch Ruiz swiped second base on a 2-2 count, it appeared as if it was Jeff Francis’ turn to scuffle. Rollins walked on a full count to put two on with two outs for Shane Victorino.

Before the game Charlie Manuel said he put Victorino in the lineup against the lefty instead of Jayson Werth because he wanted to the Hawaiian’s speed at the top of the order. Who would have guessed that it would have been the catcher to swipe the first base of the series?

Either way, it’s 3-2 heading into the foyer of the late frames.

Are they trying to lose on purpose? Part deux

Mr. MetI heard David Wright, the third baseman, on the radio this morning talking about how his Mets’ teammates haven’t “made off-season plans yet.” At least I think it was the radio – at this point it’s really hard to decipher the voices in my head from the ones coming out of mechanical devices. I wish I was being funny, but I’m not… I feel like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon at the end of a 36-hour shift at the Kwik-E-Mart. Remember that? He thought he was a hummingbird.

Anyway, I don’t think Wright was trying to be funny about the plans for the off-season quote, either. However, he might feel like he and the Mets are caught in a swarm of hummingbirds as those little bleepers dive in and out with the hearts and wings racing a hundred-miles per second as they try to poke his eyes out.

In this scenario the Phillies are the hummingbirds. They are ravenous and beatific all at the same time. They are also tied for first place in the NL East with just three games to go in the season because the Mets just can’t win a game when it matters.

I just can’t get over the fact that if the Mets had been able to beat the lowly Washington Nationals at home in just one of the three games this week, this would all be over. The Mets would be making plans for where to stay on the road in the NLDS instead of hearing manager Willie Randolph tear into them like a wolverine on greenies in a post-game tirade following the team’s loss to the Cardinals last night. Heading into tonight’s action, the Mets have won just three of their last 13 games and they have lost seven games in a row at cranky old Shea Stadium.

It was also during those 13 games that the Mets’ lead over the Phillies shrank from seven games to nothing. Imagine that… seven to zero in two weeks! It’s like those ads for those crazy diet pills in which they claim a person can lose 25 pounds in four hours. But, if one day you’re hanging out with some friends and the topic of rock-solid, sure-footing in the NL East standings is broached, you can say, “Yeah, well, I once saw the Mets blow a seven-game lead with just 16 games to go.

Heimlich“It was ridiculous. It was like they were waiting around to lose[1].”

Stunning. It’s all so stunning.

Anyway, I also heard an announcer proclaim on the radio this morning[2] like and antebellum preacher that, “This isn’t a choke… This is a COLLAPSE!”

Unlike Wright, the announcer was trying to be funny. At least I think he was trying to be funny. But he seemed like one of those types of people that believed everything he said. He measured every word so that it would be significant, though you could hear it in his voice – he was worried. The hummingbirds were diving in like little, tiny P-51 Mustang fighter planes and a rolled up newspaper used to swat the pests away was hardly a defense.

So this is what it has come down to for the Phillies and Mets. The three games this weekend determine which team will play on in the post-season and which team will have to scramble to cobble together some off-season plans. Interestingly, too, is that that the Mets and Phillies are matched up against the two worst teams in their division. The Phillies host the Nationals this weekend, who are fresh off a three-game sweep over the Mets at Shea and are feeling pretty groovy because they did not lose 100 games this season. Everyone thought the Nats (72-87) would drop 110; instead they have a chance to not lose 90.

Meanwhile, the Mets entertain the Florida Marlins, which, coincidentally enough, is the only team they have managed to beat in the last two weeks. Like the Nats, the Marlins won’t lose 100 either. But unlike the Nats, this feat isn’t going to go down as any type of success. Heading into the season, the Marlins thought they had what it took to challenge the Mets, Phillies and Braves atop the division standings, but things just kinda didn’t work out.

Who will things work out for this weekend? Or, will things work out so well (or badly) for both teams that they will have to come back a day after the season ends to sort it all out?


M80Talked to Aaron Rowand, the center fielder, after last night’s game and offered a query whether this Phillies’ club had any similarities with the World Champion 2005 Chicago White Sox. Rowand, of course, was an integral player on that team, which was known for having fun and being colorful in the press. It also seems as if that White Sox team was a lot like a college fraternity, but not like the one that held toga parties or socials with the sororities. No, this frat was more like the one that held illegal off-campus keggers, built bonfires that weren’t easy to extinguish, and had a member who knew how to make home-made M-80s if he could ever locate the 50 milligrams of flash powder.

So when asked if this tight-knit Phillies bunch was like the 2005 champs, Rowand didn’t hesitate.

“No doubt,” he said emphatically.

“This is the second team I’ve been on where the group comes together. We all have the same goal and it’s special,” he said. “Whether we win or not it’s a special season.”

But all things being equal, he’d rather win.

[1] This is part of quote from Mets’ catcher Paul Lo Duca, who told reporters after Wednesday night’s loss that, “Seems to me like we’re all waiting to lose.” I’m using it to be clever. I think it worked, but I haven’t gone back to re-read any of this yet. Perhaps I’ll just finish writing this and go off to take a nap without the re-read? Hey, it was funny once – why ruin a moment for myself?

[2] At least I think it was this morning… does the post-1 a.m. drive back to Lancaster count as this morning? Technically, yes, it was this morning. But I always played by the rule that the day wasn’t over until I had gone to bed. Is this a common train of thought?

Don’t Ask Rowand ‘For Who? For What?’

”For who? For what?”
— Ricky Watters, following a 21-6 loss to the Buccaneers on Sept. 3, 1995

In the moment, it seemed like an eternity. A gung ho ballplayer smashes face-first into an outfield wall, crumbles to the ground like… well, a guy who just ran face first into a wall. There was the moment where the centerfielder, almost in slow-motion, gamely held the ball aloft to show that he had, indeed, caught the ball after running full speed into the inanimate, pitiless barrier.

Within minutes, Aaron Rowand rolled over to all fours, bled all over the rubberized track lining the field, and 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 centerfielder 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.

Certainly within the throes of the situation, Rowand thought his daredevil act was precisely what needed to be done. With two outs and the bases loaded in the first inning of last Thursday’s game against the first-place New York Mets, Rowand chased down a sure game-breaking blast from Xavier Nady. But at the last minute, Rowand reached out as far as he could with his gloved hand, pulled the ball in, took a half step and crashed – nose first – into the exposed bar beneath the green padding near the 398-foot sign.

“I knew I was going to run into (the fence),” Rowand said during a meeting with the press on Monday afternoon in the basement conference room at Citizens Bank Park. “I saw it coming. It was a situation where the bases loaded with two outs and [pitcher] Gavin (Floyd) had been prone to giving up big innings so I knew I had to catch it.

“It’s one of those things that happens. I needed to catch that ball in that situation. I’ve run into a lot of walls in my day, never with this consequence. But I knew I was going to run into it. That’s just how I play the game.”

Obviously, the ever contrarian press wondered if such a valuable player like Rowand – who smacked three home runs, 10 RBIs and .333 batting average during a stretch in which the Phillies went 9-1 – should have thought twice before running into the wall. Wasn’t he more valuable to the team on the field than rolled up in a heap on the warning track with blood leaking from his face like water dripping from a faucet?

Shouldn’t a guy who once knocked himself out running into a cinderblock wall in college and separated his shoulder colliding with a wall in Chicago consider some… ahem, restraint?

Well, Aaron?

“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.”

That blood-and-guts style more than wins over the fans in town that often saves its affection for players that display grit than graceful skill. But Rowand is more than a battering ram. According to the number crunchers at Baseball Prospectus, Rowand’s catch certainly did save the game against the Mets. In fact, writes Clay Davenport, “The Catch,” as it’s now known, was equal to Rowand hitting two home runs.

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 writes.

In other words, for a team that missed the playoffs by one game a season ago and has not seen post-season baseball since 1993, The Catch could have some long-term effects.

“I think it can be contagious,” Rowand said of his all-out style. “I said it before about last year (when he was with the World Champion White Sox): When you have everybody playing together and pulling on the same end of the rope, it’s easy to win. You create your own bad hops.”

More importantly, Rowand answered a burning question that has plagued the sporting public in Philadelphia since it was first asked more than a decade ago.

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

Rowand update

Following his heroic catch in centerfield in which he smashed nose first into the outfield fence, Aaron Rowand was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a fractured nose and non-displaced fractures around his left eye. He had surgery this morning at Thomas Jefferson Hospital where his nose was reduced and readjusted, according to the Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro in a press release.

Rowand also received 15 stitches for lacerations to his face, but is expected to be released from the hospital this afternoon.

To take Rowand’s place on the roster the Phillies called up Chris Roberson from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In the minors, Roberson was hitting .287 (39-136) with 19 runs, 10 doubles, one triple and eight RBI in 34 games.

For those who missed it, here’s what happened:

Rowand, the Phillies’ blood-and-guts centerfielder who once described himself as more bulldozer than fence climber, took one for the team and then some in the rain-shortened, 2-0 victory over the New York Mets.

After starting pitcher Gavin Floyd had walked the bases loaded with two outs in the first inning, his 3-2 offering to Xavier Nady – his 28th pitch of the opening inning – was launched deep toward the far center-field fence that surely was slated to be at least a bases-clearing triple. It’s also very likely that Nady’s blow would have spelled the end for the reeling and delicate Floyd.

But at the last minute, Rowand reached out as far as he could with his gloved hand, pulled the ball in, took a half step and crashed – nose first – into the exposed bar beneath the green padding near the 398-foot sign. Somehow he had the wherewithal to show that he held onto the ball, then rolled over on all fours and bled all over the warning track.

“I’ve seen some great plays, but that one definitely ranks up there with the best of them,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “That might be the best effort and determination I’ve ever seen.”

Outfielder Pat Burrell frantically waved toward the dugout to summon help upon reaching his fallen teammate as manager Charlie Manuel and several other Phillies dashed out to the centerfield warning track to Rowand’s aid.

Finally, Rowand walked off the field with the aid of trainer Mark Andersen and several paramedics where he was taken to Thomas Jefferson Hospital.

On Tuesday Rowand had X-rays taken for his left hand after he was drilled by a pitch from the Mets’ Pedro Martinez. He had spent the past few days with an ice pack tied to his hand to reduce the swelling, but did not miss any game action with that injury.

Acquired in the trade that sent Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox, Rowand is hitting .310 with six homers and a .516 slugging percentage in 33 games. In the Phillies’ last 10 games, in which they are 9-1, Rowand has been a catalyst, going 11-for-34 at the plate with three homers and 10 RBIs.
Here’s the catch with Harry and L.A. from last night’s broadcast on CSN:

FYI: Here’s an interesting story about everyone’s new favorite player in the New York Times.

Also: Here’s an interesting note from Paul Hagen in today’s Daily News:

When the Padres saluted the Negro Leagues on May 6 by wearing throwback uniforms, San Diego starter Jake Peavy found his own way of paying tribute. On his first pitch to Cubs leadoff hitter Juan Pierre, he went into a double-pump windup reminiscent of Satchel Paige.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Peavy explained. “I just wanted to say, ‘I know what you guys did and who you are.’ “

His African-American teammates appreciated the gesture.

“For a young guy, he’s way ahead of his time,” said first-base coach Tye Waller. “Jake’s so aware of things. He knows history and the game. He loves the game and respects it. It was like he reached out and touched our heritage.”

Fence 1, Rowand 0

Let’s start this by saying Aaron Rowand is great. Not only is he a fun ballplayer to watch, but also he’s a treat to deal with on a daily basis and is always engaging when approached to talk about any subject. Better yet, the guy loves to talk about baseball and is a real professional — one of many on this current Phils’ club.

That said, I hated watching his catch that potentially saved Thursday night’s game against the Mets in the first inning. Worse, I hated watching Pat Burrell frantically wave to the dugout for help as Rowand lay on all fours in front of the center field fence as blood poured out from his broken nose like an overactive faucet. I also hated watching him walk off the field with the aid of trainer Mark Anderson and a couple of paramedics.

It just wasn’t any fun.

But boy, what a catch.

For those who missed it, here’s what happened:

With two outs and the bases loaded thanks to Gavin Floyd’s walks in a 28-pitch first inning, right fielder Xavier Nady launched a 3-2 pitch deep toward the far center-field fence that surely was slated to be a bases-clearing triple. It’s also very likely that Nady’s blow would have spelled the end for the reeling and delicate Floyd.

But at the last minute, Rowand reached out as far as he could with his gloved hand, pulled the ball in, took a half step and crashed — nose first — into the exposed bar beneath the green padding near the 398-foot sign. Somehow he had the wherewithal to show that he held onto the ball, then rolled over on all fours and bled all over the warning track.

It was the greatest catch by a Phillies player in the six years I’ve been watching every day, and probably the best catch by a Phillie in a long, long time.

Now here’s why I didn’t like it: Rowand broke his nose on the play and has cuts all over his face. No one is sure how long he will be out, but any game without Rowand in the lineup other than a routine night off is bad, because he is clearly the heart and soul of the team.

That’s why I never understood why fans are so hyped up on players running into the fence — why? Who wants the best players to get hurt? Scott Rolen used to run into anything that got in his way and will end up having a shorter career because of it.

When it comes to players running into fences and other inanimate objects, the fence will always win.