Here comes Floyd

LandisOUCHThis weekend is the big, TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, the classic race that skirts through the Art Museum area, Fairmont Park and, of course, Manayunk. In some sections of town the race is a pretty good excuse to hang out and drink beer…

Not that there is ever a bad excuse.

Nevertheless, ever since the race was saved by a last-minute sponsor with a fresh injection of cash (hey, now), the comings-and-goings of the big race have kind of flown beneath the radar. Makes sense, of course, since most Philadelphians are more worried about ankle surgery for Brian Westbrook a full 12 weeks before the football season rather than some unknown bike racers tearing through town.

That would be the case, of course, if they were all unknown. But they aren’t. Floyd Landis is going to be there.

We all remember Floyd, of course. His story has been told and re-told thousands of times since he won the Tour de France in 2006 only to have it stripped away after two years of arbitration hearings and appeals through the kangaroo courts conducted by USADA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Since then Floyd has racked up $2 million in legal bills, according to reports. He moved at of his home in Murrietta, Calif. to shack up and train in a cabin in Idyllwild, a small town located in the San Jacinto Mountains south of Los Angeles.

He has a mortgage, had hip-replacement surgery, served a two-year suspension and gotten divorced. Now, he has been named in an international arrest warrant for hacking into the computer at France’s Chatenay-Malabry anti-doping lab. That’s the same lab that produced more than 200 procedural and protocol errors when testing his urine sample following the now infamous Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. Floyd’s doctor Arnie Baker is named in the warrant as well.

And yet there he is riding in races against competitors that weren’t close to his level a little more than three years ago. Back then, he said, he was “in the best shape of” his life. These days he trains and races simply because he likes to ride his bike.

As he told VeloNews in January:

“I don’t feel in any way I am coming back to race to prove anything to anyone, or to myself for that matter. I enjoy racing for the same reason the majority of people race their bikes, whether it’s on a professional level or any other level. I think the sport deserves to have the best riders in the best races. For that reason I think this year is going to be better than it has been in a long time.”

Dime-store psychology aside, riding the bike might be the only thing that makes sense in Floyd’s life these days. In fact, before the racing season began there was talk of Floyd joining a major team and racing in the 2010 Tour de France.

But as the season developed, Floyd hasn’t won any races. He’s had some crashes and strong attacks, but hasn’t been a major threat in the final standings. Hey, racing is hard and chances are he’ll be a threat soon, but in the meantime he’s coming to Philly because he likes to ride his bike…

Kind of like the folks out in Manayunk who like to drink beer.

***

Speaking of Floyd, Brett Myers had hip surgery today in New York City with hot-shot surgeon Dr. Bryan Kelly administering.

Incidentally, after he decided to have surgery Myers told me he saw pictures of his pitching before and after the injury. In one, his right leg was as high as his right shoulder in his follow through, but in the post-injury photo, his range of motion was noticeably shorter.

The surgery should be good for Myers to regain his flexibility and with it, his velocity.

***

Speaking of Floyd, J.C. Romero returned last night for the first time after serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.

Interesting: in MLB, 50 games for a positive test.

In cycling, two years for a positive test.

We’re going to Milwaukee… Woo-hoo!

Full plate at the ballpark today. Cole Hamels and Charlie Manuel will hold “official” press conferences this afternoon at 2 p.m. after the Brewers’ manager Dale Sveum and Game 1 pitcher Yovani Gallardo gives one in which they will talk about Milwaukee’s first appearance in the playoffs since 1982.

Man, I remember that 1982 postseason like it was yesterday. Remind me to write all about soon. Cecil Cooper, Paul Molitor, Pete Vukovich, Mike Caldwell, Don Sutton and, of course, Robin Yount and Rollie Fingers – man were those guys good.

Anyway, we’ll have a plethora of playoff punditcy (not a word, I know) all week from here in Philadelphia as well as Milwaukee this weekend. We will start with a page of predictions from some really good writers from across the nation and (of course) we will be live during the games, too.

So make sure to check back throughout the playoffs.

Apropos of nothing, I am very excited about traveling to Milwaukee. I’ve never been close to ever thinking I would go to that city, so I’m fired up about heading there to check out all the cultural sites the city has to offer.

I’m told that when one opens a faucet in Milwaukee, beer flows out.

Hey, that’s what I’m told.

Anyway, more later.

Follow the money

Cole HamelsCole Hamels is on the right path.

Understanding that it’s going to take a lot more effort and diligence off the field to be able to take the ball every five days, the Phillies’ ace lefty did a total makeover to his training regime a few years ago. It wasn’t just the pedantic stuff like cleaning up his diet and getting plenty of rest, either. Nope, Hamels researched and consulted people close to him and determined that in order to be the best baseball pitcher, he was going to have do things that athletes do.

That meant beer was out, which, as Hamels said a few years ago: “It’s really the worst thing for you.”

In a sport that clings to its old mores and traditions like grim death, beer is still a clubhouse staple in a lot of cities. Even the storied St. Louis Cardinals are nearly synonymous with the Busch family and Budweiser. But according to Chris Carmichael, the fitness guru and longtime trainer for Lance Armstrong, Hamels is definitely onto something.

Says Carmichael:

“The dehydrating impact of alcohol trumps the benefits from the carbohydrate, and it’s also important to realize that alcohol itself is primarily metabolized to fatty acids rather than to usable carbohydrate energy. Yes, it originated as carbohydrate-grains, grapes, corn, whatever-but now it’s alcohol and your body treats it differently. There’s actually not much usable carbohydrate energy in beer or wine.”

More notably, Hamels was the catalyst behind the Phillies relenting and hiring a cadre of chiropractors around the league so that players can visit for adjustments or active release treatments, which is a combination of deep-tissue massage, stretching and manipulation to alleviate problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. Again, chiropractic treatments are nothing new for athletes in other sports – it’s old news, in fact. But in baseball, unless it’s a cortisone shot followed by a paper cup filled with beer, it’s innovation.

Nevertheless, Hamels is the pitcher of the new generation. Soon, guys like him will be the norm instead of just a handful of open-minded baseball players.

So yeah, in terms of putting together a long, successful baseball career, Hamels (still just 24-years old) is doing all of the right things.

It’s just that he really hasn’t done much yet to be considered any contract offer “a low blow.”

That’s how Hamels described his current contract with the Phillies which was renewed yesterday when he and the team did not come to terms. Though he made $400,000 last season, Hamels characterized the $500,000 renewal as disappointing.

“They do want to keep you happy, and that will affect down the line with certain things that come up because you can’t just all of a sudden throw everything out at (a player) at the last second and think that’s really going to make him happy, because he’s still got check marks for what they didn’t do in the years before.

“I felt like it wasn’t necessarily equal compensation for what I do and for what I can do,” Hamels said.

Clearly the team’s best pitcher, Hamels won a team-best 15 games last season, went to the All-Star Game and finished sixth in the Cy Young Award balloting. More importantly, Hamels is the pitcher the Phillies tabbed to start the first post-season game in 14 years for the franchise last October. Clearly, in regard to his pitching, the Phillies like Hamels very much.

” I’m a little surprised. It’s about respect, and when people don’t show that to you, you’re caught off guard. I thought it was a low blow.

“I felt it wasn’t necessarily equal compensation for what I do and for what I can do. I have to follow the ladder of other guys, some who play every day, and I know I’m not in that category, but you want to feel like you’re getting equally compensated for what you do on the field compared to other people that are in the same league.”

Oh, but that’s not how it works, young fella. Not in baseball, anyway. Or at least, not usually. Sure, there are a few players who received large contracts based on future potential as opposed to accomplishment, but teams have a way of closing up the check book after getting burned. Could it be that Hamels is being penalized for other bad deals?

Or could it be that Hamels is a victim of the Phillies’ team-record $106 million payroll? Considering the Phillies are still paying Jim Thome for the next two seasons, perhaps there isn’t much left over for the lefty ace?

Or could it be that Hamels is drawing a very fair salary for someone with his Major League service? At similar points of their careers, Hamels is making more than Chien-Ming Wang, Dontrelle Willis and Scott Kazmir. Plus, with another big season in ’08, Hamels could do really well next winter if he becomes eligible for arbitration as a “Super Two” player.

But the idea that Hamels can make it through an entire season without some kind of setback doesn’t seem realistic. Oh sure, he’s as fit and strong as any pitcher on the team, but history is difficult to argue with. After all, Hamels has never made through an entire season without an injury or a stint on the disabled list. Even last year when he led the team with 15 wins, Hamels only made it to the mound for 28 starts.

Better yet, in his first four pro seasons Hamels pitched just 201 innings in 36 starts. In 2006, with a two-week disabled-list stint mixed in, the lefty went 181 innings. Last year he pitched 183 and missed a chunk of the later portion of the season with tendonitis.

In other words it’s show-and-prove time for Hamels. If he wants the money he thinks he deserves, he has to go out there and pitch for it. And it’s not just 25 to 28 starts or 180 innings for 15 or 16 wins. Instead, Hamels has to figure out how to go all 162. If he does that, he won’t get low-balled any more. … even though he’s signed up with the Phillies until 2012.

So far, though, Hamels is on the right path.