Six degrees of Kevin Bacon… baseball style

pedroFor regular readers of the Freakonomics blog – and you know who you are – this might be old news. Nevertheless, it’s still interesting.

Anyway, a new study using some sort of science I don’t understand (which is pretty much every type of science) rated every single outcome from 1954 to 2008 and came up with the best players… in a cold, clinical way. Wired mag calls it the baseball version “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” though performance-enhancing drugs, illness, technology, lucky hits, stadium effects and everything else was simply collateral.

As a result, the top three hitters since 1954 turned out to be Barry Bonds, Todd Helton, and Mickey Mantle. No Phillie made it into the top 10 of the list (which can be seen here and here), however, pitching is a different story.

According to the formula, Billy Wagner is the second-best reliever since 1954, Curt Schilling is the fourth-best starter and Pedro Martinez…

Numero uno.

It’s also worth mentioning that Roy Halladay was rated as the third-best pitcher of the ultra-modern era that ranks Bert Blyleven ahead of Hall of Famers Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro and Don Sutton.

Again, check out the Wired story for the finer details of the rankings system that puts Armando Benitez in the top 10 of relief pitchers since 1954…

But if Benitez was so good how come he couldn’t get Pat Burrell out?

As far as Pedro goes, check out this little graph CSN’s Rob Kuestner came up with:

Pitcher A Pitcher B
129 Wins 111
47 Losses 33
.732 Win Pct. .771
2.19 ERA 2.00
3 Cy Youngs 3

Pitcher A is Sandy Koufax from 1961 to 1966.

Pitcher B is Pedro Martinez from 1997 to 2003.

A swan song for Billy Wagner?


Good or bad, Billy Wagner always got people to react. Whether it was by defying Pat Burrell’s wishes by actually talking to the local press, or only throwing his fastball 99 m.p.h., Billy made people talk.

There are no areas of grey when it comes to sentiment about the ex-Phillies closer. Folks either love him or hate him – sometimes both at the same time. It was the same deal for teammates and the press as well as the fans.

But the bottom line is that Wagner always got it. Sure, sometimes he was a pain in the rear, but he never forgot that baseball is fun. When broken down to its core, Wagner’s knew his job was to entertain the fans. Knowing this, Wagner engaged everyone no matter the setting. If someone yelled something at him when he was in the bullpen, he yelled back. If someone wanted an autograph, he signed it. And if someone asked him a question, he answered it.

It’s kind of hard not to respect that.

Sadly, it will be a long time before we get to react to Wagner again. Yesterday the news came out that the hard-throwing veteran was headed for reconstructive elbow surgery. As a result it appears as if the earliest Wagner will be able to return to the mound is the 2010 season… if at all.

By the time he will be able to pitch in a big league game again, Wagner will be pushing 39-years old. Certainly that isn’t ancient and athletes from all types of different sports have proved that age truly is just a number. As Wagner goes on the shelf, another 36-year-old athlete is coming out of retirement (more on this in another post) in part because he was inspired by the likes of 41-year-old Olympian Dara Torres, amongst others.

Yet because he is a power pitcher who still relies on an above-average fastball and elbow-numbing slider, Wagner will probably have to reinvent himself of he makes it back. Sure, he will probably be able to throw just as hard as he did in the past, but nearly every pitcher who has undergone reconstructive surgery says the fine touch of their control doesn’t always come back so quickly.

In addition to making his living off the high strikeout totals, Wagner also was known for his control, so it will be interesting to watch his approach to pitching if he makes it back.

“There is nobody who will tell me that I will be the same as I was,” he said. “But there is nobody who will tell me that I can’t go out there and compete and be successful.”

And as to be expected, Wagner is positive he will return to baseball.

“There’s no other way to face this but as a challenge. I have to go out there and challenge to get back. And it will be a challenge to go out there and compete.” Wagner said. “This whole thing. My age, everything’s a challenge.

“What else do I do? My kids want me to play. My wife wants me to play. I want to play.”

Talking about his 10-year-old son, Will, is when Wagner broke down during a press conference on Tuesday. It wasn’t so much the idea that he wouldn’t play anymore that got to him – it was the mere idea that his kids are just as devoted to his career.

That was enough to set off the waterworks.

It won’t be easy. Then again, nothing really came easy for Wagner. Think about it — how many other 5-foot-9 lefties from Division III colleges have made it to the big leagues? Yeah, not many.

At the same time, Wagner’s former teammates with the Phillies are hoping for the best.

“You never want to see anyone get hurt,” Ryan Howard said. “You hope he can come back healthy.”

Besides, it will be a whole lot more entertaining if he makes it back healthy.

Monday clips


During the winter when there wasn’t much going on and I was fighting to come up with mainstream sports-related ideas to write about for this site, I did a little morning clips or “clicks” feature. Guess what? As a regular feature we’re going to get busy on that again, only we’re going to focus on what people are writing and saying about us from outside of the so-called Delaware Valley.

This will be baseball-centric for now, so just deal with it. Though I’ll admit that between attempting to squeeze in everything in order to entertain the kids and catch some of the doubleheader from Shea (more on that coming up), I actually saw some of the Eagles in the opener. Yeah, on a sunny Sunday I was actually inside for a bit – how about that?

Nevertheless, from what I saw – and the post-game numbers bear it out – the Eagles looked good in the opener. Most notably, rookie DeSean Jackson  made a nice catch for his first NFL reception and went on to pile on 106 yards.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Now do it again.

Anyway, it was an eventual weekend for the Phillies, who gained ground on the Mets in the NL East. The thing about that is it wasn’t quite good enough. Despite strong pitching performances from Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer as well as a pair of clutch homers from Greg Dobbs in the first two games of the series, mixed in with a call-to-arms e-mail from Mike Schmidt, Cole Hamels came up small.

With a chance to pitch the Phillies into a tie for first place with 19 games to go, Hamels gave up two home runs to Carlos Delgado in the last visit to Shea Stadium that were rather Strawberry-esque in distance and flight.

All was not lost for the Phillies, however. Still just two games behind the Mets, the Phillies chances were greatly improved when word came out that Billy Wagner likely will not return this season.

Remember when Phillies’ GM Pat Gillick chose not to re-sign Wagner because he said the medical reports didn’t look good? And now the Phillies have Wagner’s replacement from Houston closing games for the Phillies.

The circle of life…

Speaking of the Mets, it didn’t seem as if they were too impressed with the e-mail Mike Schmidt sent to the Phillies. Never mind that early reports indicated that the players didn’t really take the time to move their lips as they fought through those nine sentences from the Hall of Famer.

Regardless, back when everything was bad and falling apart and it looked as if there was going to be fights and mutiny in the Mets’ clubhouse, someone stepped up and delivered the rallying cry that restored order.

But instead of an e-mail sent from Jupiter, a player sat down with a pen and paper to rally the team and bear his soul.

Would you believe it was Marlon Anderson?

Yeah, that Marlon Anderson… the guy who was the stop-gap starting second baseman for the Phillies between the Mark Lewis and Chase Utley eras.

Since leaving the Phillies, Anderson has pinballed to the Devil Rays to the Cardinals, to the Mets, over to the Nationals and Dodgers in one season, and then back to the Mets. In every stop, which included a World Series appearance with the Cardinals in 2004, Anderson has provided clubhouse leadership, the ability to play a bunch of positions and a solid bat off the bench.

Interestingly, Anderson led the National League with 17 pinch hits in 2004 and though he was developed as a second baseman since being drafted by the Phillies, Anderson has played just 92 games at the position since 2003 and just once in the past two years.

Rather than his bat or glove, it has been Anderson’s writing that has made the most impact with the Mets this season. According to The New York Times:

The Mets seem to have righted their ship just in time. Back in the hideous month of June, they came back from San Diego with a 30-32 record. They held a union meeting before the first home game June 10, when Anderson distributed a sheet of paper with some numbers on it.

It was as if a certified public accountant were writing the Declaration of Independence – mostly about statistical curves and the like. But it forced the Mets to face their accruing mathematical mediocrity.

Anderson, a 34-year-old utility player in his second tour of duty with the Mets, had the clubhouse status to issue a few slogans as well as the notation that the Mets needed to play .667 ball the rest of the season. According to his study of the first 12 years of the wild card, the Mets needed a record of 92-70 to qualify for the postseason, which meant they needed to win 62 of their final 100 games, actually a .620 pace.

So how about those former Phillies and their writing? Not bad, huh?

Speaking of ex-Phillies, Scott Rolen has been hitting eighth in the lineup for the Blue Jays over the past month. Usually, Rod Barajas hits seventh.

Clicks:

Ailing Wagner Might Not ReturnThe New York Times 

Phillies Still Chasing MetsBats Blog

Mets Rise Began After Some Simple AccountingThe New York Times

Showdown at Shea

Regardless of how the weekend series in New York shakes out, it’s very likely the Phillies will take the race for the NL East all the way to the final days of the season. The Phillies may not have much of a shot at a second straight playoff berth, but make no mistake – the Phillies will be in it until the end.

Be that as it is, the series against the Mets at Shea Stadium will carry a lot of weight in regard to the Phillies’ post-season hopes. The Phillies are definitely on the edge. In fact, the Phillies most definitely HAVE to win two games this weekend. Trailing the Mets by three games with just 22 remaining in the season, it could all slip away very quickly if the Phillies aren’t careful.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know that the Phillies won the NL East after trailing the Mets by seven games with 17 to go. In fact, the Phillies know it all too well. Lately, anytime a player is asked about the race against the Mets a pad answer about how the team did it before comes trotting out.

The truth is the Phillies got lucky last year. The Mets fell flat on their faces and handed it over in an epic collapse. Come on… who loses a seven-game lead with 17 to go?

Can lightning strike the same spot twice? Maybe.

But then again, maybe not.

It might not be correct to suggest the Phillies are in better shape than the Mets at this point. Oh sure, Billy Wagner might not pitch again this season (though he did have a bullpen session today), and the Mets’ bullpen has struggled throughout the second half. Meanwhile, the team’s offense is filled with some older players prone to slumps and injuries.

However, the Phillies’ ‘pen isn’t in great shape either. Even though they still have the best bullpen ERA in the league, some guys are beginning to feel the toll of the long season. Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero likely won’t get many days off over the final three weeks of the season.

Durbin, meanwhile, is in his first season as a full-time reliever and never pitched in 36 games before hitting 60 this year. Madson, who missed most of the second half of ’07 with injuries, has already appeared in 64 games and could snap his career-high of 78 appearances from 2005.

Reliever Clay Condrey also has established a new career-high in appearances, while Romero has already pitched in 120 games for the Phillies since joining the team late last June.

Fortunately, starting pitchers Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels – the hurlers scheduled to go this weekend at Shea – have been pretty good at eating up some innings. Myers has taken the game to the seventh inning in seven straight starts and could inch toward 190 innings despite missing a month while in the minors. Moyer has pitched at least six innings in 18 of his 28 starts, and Hamels leads the league in innings with 203.

Now if they could just hit the ball there would be nothing to worry about…

Right?

Is he a Vulcan?

Country TimeWhat’s that growing out of Billy Wagner’s ear… oh, it’s one of those pathetic bluetooth things. You know, the phone devices that make annoying folks look like they have an entire cadre of friends that may or may not be calling every five to ten minutes. Barring that, it makes it easier for the self-possessed to appear as if they are not talking to themselves.

Nevertheless, it appears as if Wagner, or “Country Time” as he has been dubbed in The City, will be talking to himself a lot these days. That’s because not only was he taken to task by manager Willie Randolph for calling out starting pitcher Oliver Perez for a rather languid outing a week or go, but yesterday, following a 1-0 loss to the Nationals, Wagner called out his teammates for ducking the media.

Here, take a look:

Here’s the transcript. According to published reports, Wagner directed his ire toward Carlos Delgado’s empty locker:

“Can somebody tell me why the (expletive) the closer being interviewed and I didn’t even play, while they’re over there not getting interviewed? I get it, they’re gone. (Expletive) shocker.”

OK. It sounds like the Mets’ clubhouse is a lot like the Phillies after a loss (or a win) in that players are not too interested in deconstructing their job for the media and fans. Because, you know, screw the media and the fans.

Still, there are Phillies who are very good at talking to the press after games. For instance, Brett Myers was sitting at his locker waiting to re-live the horror of Wednesday night’s eight-run debacle against the Braves. He was rather stand-up about it, which, I suspect, isn’t the easiest part of the gig. As a whole, the Phillies usually are good about the media part of the job, though a few can be a bit prickly.

I guess that makes them human… go figure.

But just for the record, if I were a mainstream professional athlete, I’d place a podium and small stage in front of my locker in order to properly discuss all topics with the press. Sometimes, you know, I can get a bit chatty, though I’d probably just use the old Scott Rolen line and ask the press, “What do you need me to say to make your story better?”

Sometimes I can be a team player.

Anyway, back to Wagner…

With the way Brad Lidge has been pitching – and yes, Wagner has been very good this year – would anyone want Country Time back in Philly?

Additionally, does anyone else think that the Mets are just going to implode during the second half of this season complete with fistfights in the clubhouse and sniping in the NYC tabloids?

Speaking of what other people think, is there any other player that has more fun than Manny Ramirez?

Answer?

No.

Billy, don’t lose that number

Billy WagnerGenerally, there is rarely a dull moment when Billy Wagner is on your team. For a group that gets more mileage out of other people’s words than their actions, Wagner sometimes is a writers’ dream.

But at the same time he can also be a nightmare. Sometimes the hot air that blasts from his pie hole has nothing to do with anything, but because Wagner is still one of the better closers in the game for a big-market club, even the craziest stuff he says generates headlines.

It was that way in Philadelphia, too. Sometimes, when there was nothing going on and there were no stories to be found anywhere, all a reporter had to do was grab a big stick and give ol’ Billy a couple of pokes and wait to see how long it took for him to growl.

Sometimes it didn’t even take a poke with a stick. For instance, take last week’s exhibition game against Michigan — that where Wags threatened to start a bean ball battle with a college team because some undergrad kid had the audacity to attempt a bunt at a time that didn’t jibe with his delicate interpretation of some ancient baseball protocol.

“If he got that bunt down, I would have drilled the next guy,” Wagner said. “Play to win against Villanova.”

Wagner continued: “It’s hot and I’m just trying to work on some pitches, and they’re bunting like it’s the College World Series. Go do that against Villanova.”

The thing is the game against the Mets was as big as the College World Series to Michigan as well as all the other college teams playing one-shot exhibition games against big leaguers in spring training. A few days ago when Florida State came to Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. to play the Phillies, it looked as if the kids’ eyes were going to bug out of their heads because they were so excited. Better yet, Phillies’ Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt went into the FSU clubhouse to talk to the team for a half hour before the Phils opened up their clubhouse so that the Seminoles could wander in and chat up the big leaguers.

But, you know, Wagner gets chapped by a bunt by a college kid.

Hey, it’s one thing to threaten a bean-ball battle against the Phillies in ’08 after they ate the Mets’ lunch in ’07. After the way the Mets strutted scoffed about the Phillies’ chances last season it’s understandable that the humble pie didn’t go down so smoothly.

But a college kid busting his rear in an attempt to impress a big-league scout or coach… come on. Maybe Wagner doesn’t remember being a Li’l Napoleon back at tiny Ferrum College where he played Division III baseball. I wonder if Wagner would have fired his big fastball at the Major Leaguers or if he would have deferred to them on a hot day because they’re just trying to work on their swings?

My guess is Billy would have reared back to try to throw his heater through his catcher instead of saving it for Shenandoah University, but that’s me.

Sandy KoufaxMeanwhile, a post on the New York Times’ BATS blog reported that the legendary Sandy Koufax showed up in Port St. Lucie at the request of Wagner to help the ex-Phillies closer how to throw a curveball.

Sandy Koufax… Pretty cool, huh?

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. One is that Sandy Koufax might have thrown the best curve in the history of the game during his comet-like big-league career for the Dodgers. He was also a lefty, like Wagner, so they have that in common. Plus, like Wagner, Koufax could really bring the heat.

In other words, it seems as if the Hall of Famer and Wagner could have a good understanding of one another. Yet for some reason I can’t help remembering back when Wagner was pitching for the Phillies and didn’t want to let the word out that he threw a pretty nasty slider to go with his high-90s fastball. So wrapped up in the faux machismo of being feared for his heat, Wagner never wanted to talk about how he used his slider on two-strikes counts in order to pile up the strikeouts. People would begin to think that Li’l Bill was losing a mph or two off that notorious fastball if word got out that his real strikeout pitch was a slider.

Worse, when pushed to talk about it Wagner wasn’t showed a former CSNer where the sun never shined – literally. Of course he (rightfully) thought that the CSNer was being mischievous with a CSN.com-er, but, you know, that’s a different story. The fact is we got to see a lot of Billy Wagner that day when he was asked about throwing a slider.

But now he is working on a curve to go with his fastball and slider, and The New York Times and Sandy Koufax are involved, too.

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.

Are they trying to lose on purpose?

“Seems to me we’re all waiting to lose.”
– Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca

Billy WagnerYes, Paul we all noticed that, too. Actually, it doesn’t look like the Mets aren’t waiting to lose, it looks like they are trying to lose.

I could live to be 100-years old and I’ll never figure out how the first-place Mets – the team that most said had to go to the World Series or the season would be considered a failure – could not beat the Washington Nationals in one game at home this week. This is the same Washington Nationals’ club in which the manager is being considered for Manager of the Year honors because he didn’t lose100 games. You know, like that’s an accomplishment.

One win against the Nats and all of this hassle could have been over for the Mets. Just one stinkin’ game and the Phillies aren’t pounding on the door with a battering ram like a bunch of DEA agents. Two wins against the 72-87 Nationals, and the Mets could have had some champagne on ice for tonight’s game against Tony La Russa’s Cardinals.

“Seems to me like we’re all waiting to lose.”

The MetsSo watching the end of the Mets-Nats game on the TV hung over my seat in the press box, I saw the Mets roll over and expose their perfectly round, pink bellies for everyone to thrash away at. Better yet, they were like a picture of the dead bug on the old cockroach-killing ads where they were flat on their backs, with legs dangling in the air and Xs where their eyes should have been.

I also saw a few players who would have preferred to have been anywhere else but Shea Stadium. Yeah, he’s a “gamer” and all of that stuff, but did anyone really think that Billy Wagner wanted to be in for the ninth inning of a game that the Mets were losing? Worn down by a long season and maybe even a little too much use, Wagner promptly hucked that low-90s fastball up there and gave up a pair of runs with his team trailing by one.

Is this the end for the Mets? Can Willie Randolph get his reeling team together to hold off the Phillies? Can the genius that is Tony La Russa do a favor for the Phillies by coming up with something just clever enough to deal the Mets yet another loss?

Maybe he’ll have his pitcher hit eighth again… yeah, that always works. Maybe he’ll run the fumble-ruski or State of Liberty play?

Oh sure, those are football plays alright, but La Russa will figure it out.
***
Then again, the Phillies have to face a beyond-desperate Braves club tonight, who can’t lose any more games (and then hope for help) this season in order to cling to the flicker of a playoff chance. To keep hope alive the Braves will rally behind John Smoltz, one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

The Phillies will counter with 23-year old rookie Kyle Kendrick and 40,000 screaming fans.

***
Daniel Kingston Wann Our good friends Mike and Michelle Wann welcomed their second son into the world this morning at 1:47 a.m.. Daniel Kingston Wann came in easily at a slick 7-pounds, 8 ounces and 19½ inches and all reports are that Michelle and big brother Christopher are doing great.

But Mike… that’s a different story.

A little background: Mike and Michelle delivered Christopher in the comforts of their home here in the School Lane Hills neighborhood of Lancaster, Pa. Rather than go to the hospital and be subjected to all of the stuff that goes on at those places, the kids had a midwife come in while Mike did his best to stay out of trouble. And since he was at home, he could putter around in the yard while Michelle was upstairs delivering the baby.

It’s how I imagine our pioneer forefathers did things.

But this time, well, perhaps I should just turn it over to Mike:

Interesting Point: Admittedly, it was in this space I planned to be clever and funny as I told our story, but sometimes, when a tale is so outrageous and unbelievable, a well crafted build-up actually takes away from the drama. So here it goes; Michelle and I birthed this little rascal at home, by ourselves, with no assistance (this is no joke). Let me be clear, that was not our intention. It went down like this:

1. We wanted to do a home-birth, like our first one
2. We called the midwife when Michelle started labor at 10:30 PM
3. The midwife planned to come when the contractions reached 1 minute in length
4. Michelle’s water ruptured at 1:15 AM (we were still waiting for the 1 minute contractions)
5. The baby exited Michelle at 1:47 AM
6. The midwife entered the house at 1:55 AM

So what did we learn? It’s true, the second birth is quicker than the first. Oh, yeah, and you never know what you can do until the occasion presents itself.

Yeah, how about that?!?!

I received a phone call from Mike this morning and he asked me what I had done so far today. I told him that I had brushed my teeth, eaten a banana and I was about to go out for a run before I got into my car for the drive to Philadelphia to go to work. All things being equal, that’s a pretty busy day for a guy like me.

“Yeah, well I birthed a baby,” he said.

Top that.

Hey, Billy… Shhh!

Yeah, Billy Wagner is at it again. When asked about the Phillies by a reporter from Sports Illustrated, ol’ Billy just couldn’t resist. Here are some of the notable quotes:

Comparing the Mets to the Phillies:
“That team has as much talent as this one. But there’s something lacking there… ”

On the lack of team leadership:
“Nobody ever gets upset. If somebody does, he’s a big mouth and nobody likes him. They take it as, ‘I did my best. I’m going home.’ There’s nobody screaming, “Hey, we’re better than this!'”

On the potential of Bobby Abreu going to the Yankees:
“I don’t think he’d mind [going to the Yankees]. Bobby Abreu’s a good guy, but he’s not a vocal leader. The one thing you have to know here (in New York) is, you have to come every day. He’s got a real laid-back attitude.”

On Brett Myers:
“As far as stuff, he’s a No. 1. But mentally, he’s a No. 4.”

Much to the credit of the Phillies, they didn’t take the bait. Quietly, they probably reacted the same way as everyone else when they were alerted to Big-mouth Billy’s latest salvo, which is: “Yawn… hey, did you see what Billy said? Man, he really needs attention, huh? Do you want to get some lunch?

The Phillies are not a threat to the Mets. They are 12 1/2 games out of first place, a game-and-a-half away from falling into last place, and it isn’t even the All-Star Break yet. The Phillies should be in Wagner’s rearview mirror, especially since the Mets gave him the contract he wanted.

Nevertheless, Wagner certainly says a lot about the Phillies for a guy who only saved 59 games in two seasons and ranks behind Ricky Bottalico and just ahead of Al Holland on the team’s all-time saves list.

Hey, he was no Jose Mesa.

Kidding aside, here’s the link to the Sports Illustrated story. On another SI-related factoid, writer Gary Smith stopped by the press box during Thursday night’s game against the Padres.

One circus leaves another one coming to town

As Barry Bonds and his traveling sideshow get ready to move out of town, another one is moving in, and this one, well, let’s just say it’s kind of personal with this one.

According to Jim Salisbury’s story in the Inquirer this morning, Billy Wagner said he did not feel very well liked by his teammates, who were overly sensitive to criticism and afraid of media scrutiny.

It all in the story, including the part where Pat Burrell apparently called Wagner a “rat.” But better yet, the story simply shows how good a reporter Salisbury is. If there was ever anyone with tons of fascinating baseball stories it’s Jim. He’s definitely one of the best.

He can write a baseball story the way regular people can rack up out-of-control, spiraling credit debt.

On another note, I imagine there will be a few extra security folks stationed along the visiting bullpen for the Mets series, which starts on Tuesday.

Fun. Fun. Fun.

Hey look… writers!
There’s nothing like a slow zoom past the press box during a sporting event. Better yet, there’s nothing like knowing someone who recorded the scanning shot, put it on YouTube and then sends you the screen shot. So thanks to Dan McQuade, here’s a view of the press box from last night’s game. It also looks as if I’m hard at work and very busy… now you just have to figure out which one is me.

Here he comes

Regardless of the feeling one has about Barry Bonds, one thing is unmistakable — he’s a lot of fun to watch. The same thing goes for Mets closer Billy Wagner, who spent parts of the past two seasons closing games here in Philadelphia.

So when the two went head to head in the bottom of the ninth inning with one on and two outs in a 7-5 game in San Francisco, it was more than just interesting theater. It was an event.

At least that’s how it here in the press box at Citizens Bank Park where the scribes were glued to the TV sets and then broke into their Wagner impersonations when Bonds blasted a fastball over the fence in left-center.

Tie game.

And everyone does a Wagner impression.

Nevertheless, Bonds’ homer off Wagner was the 711th of his career, which make it distinctly possible that baseball’s Public Enemy No. 1 could head into next weekend’s series against the Phillies ready to tie or break Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 home runs.

The Giants have seven more games until they arrive in Philadelphia, with five of them at home against Arizona and San Diego, so obviously the team’s brass wants Bonds to pass the Babe at home. Plus, after two games in Milwaukee and then the three in Philly, the Giants return home for a week. It would not be too surprising if Bonds has some sort of injury that weekend.

It’s also worth noting that Babe Ruth’s last game was played at the Baker Bowl, the Phillies old stadium that was located in North Philadelphia at Broad and Lehigh Ave. on May 30, 1935. As a player for the Boston Braves, the 40-year-old Ruth struck out in the first inning and then hurt his knee playing first base in the bottom half of the inning.

He walked off the field and never played again.

These days, the site of Babe Ruth’s last game is a partially a gas station and mini-market.