Just Manny being Barry?

a-rod-and-mannyNEW YORK – I had planned a whole thing on the brand-new Citi Field and the Phillies’ first visit to the new digs in Queens, but Manny Ramirez kind of ruined that. Besides, at this point when new ballparks are popping up every season, including two of them in New York City, the shine is off the penny a bit.

So think about this – would there have been more fawning over places like Citi Field or the new Yankee Stadium if they were built 5-to-10 years ago? It’s been nearly 20 years since Camden Yards kicked off the whole retro-ballpark craze and now it appears as if every city that wants one has either built it or is set to begin construction.

Heck, even the Marlins are getting a new park for their six fans.

Here are a couple more things to ponder… are we going to be back replacing all these new ballparks in another 30 years like we were with the multi-purpose parks of the late 1960s and early ‘70s?

And if we keep shelling out the cash to build all these stadiums, are city skylines only going to hold the light fixtures and facades of ballparks? It seems like the only public funding put to the vote are to build stadiums… you know, screw bridges and roads.

Anyway, the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel – a former mentor to Ramirez – were about as excited to talk about the latest drug suspension as they were the new ballpark. The most interesting part was while expressing sadness over the situation and fear over the harm the drug issues could cause to the sport, players generally indicate that players tied to performance-enhancing drug use have not had their accomplishments diminished.

They also don’t believe the game has suffered despite saying they want it cleaned up.

Meanwhile, baseball’s revenues and attendance has never been higher (excluding New York City, of course, where sellouts only occurred at the old ballparks), which seems to say that the fans don’t really give a damn about baseball’s issues.

Anyway, we’re not going to add to the pile of reflexive commentating regarding Ramirez and his positive test/50-game suspension since the finger waging appears to be taking care of itself. However, it is worth noting that the three top hitters of this era have all been tied/admitted/suspended for performance-enhancing drug use. In fact, one of the three has been indicted for perjury for his grand jury testimony about his alleged drug use.

Barry, Manny and A-Rod is hardly this era’s Willie, Mickey, and The Duke, huh?

Since baseball is a numbers game, let’s look at a few. For instance, nine of the top 20 home run hitters of all-time have played this decade, and six of those nine have been tied to PED use. The three who have not are Jim Thome, Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr.

What do you think of that trio’s careers now?

How about this set of numbers – 22 players who have been on teams managed by Joe Torre have been associated with PEDs. Joe’s 22 are:

Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield, Mike Stanton, Dan Naulty, Darren Holmes, Jason Grimsley, Chuck Knoblauch, Glenallen Hill, Matt Lawton, Denny Neagle, David Bell, Kevin Brown, Jason Giambi, Randy Velarde, Ron Villone, Ricky Bones, Rondell White and David Justice.

Can’t wait to dive into Tony LaRussa’s list…

Third inning: Brett Myers – Professional Hitter

There’s an old sports saying that goes something like this:

The series doesn’t start until the home team loses for the first time.

If that’s true, this could be one of those series where the home team wins every game. Or, the series could truly begin on Sunday night if the Phillies take care of business at Dodger Stadium with the chance to go for the sweep on Monday.

A Phillies sweep to go to the World Series? Really? What world are we living in? Does gas still cost more than $3 per gallon?

Did I just jinx it?

Anyway, Brett Myers gave back a run on a two-out single by James Loney. As is the case with just about everything in baseball, it wasn’t the hit that hurt Myers the most, it was the two-out walk to Andre Ethier and the one-out walk to Russell Martin.

Oh, those bases on balls…

Myers nearly waded into the mess up to his knees after Greg Dobbs booted a grounder with two outs to load the bases. After that, the pitcher got out of the inning with a strikeout on Blake Dewitt in which Myers seemed to throw nothing but curves.

As we all remember all too well, Myers got into the most trouble when he got away from his fastball and leaned on the deuce too much.

For one reason or another, Billingsley just seems to be finding trouble for himself. Pat Burrell laced the first pitch of the inning to left for a single before Jayson Werth lined an 0-2 pitch into the corner in left for a double. An intentional walk to Greg Dobbs to load the bases set up a force at the plate on a soft grounder hit by Carlos Ruiz.

That made it look as if Billingsley could wiggle out of it or, at the very least, that manager Joe Torre was going to bring in a reliever after the intentional walk. With Myers heading to the plate with one out and the bases loaded, it looked like an easy second out as well as the light at the end of the tunnel.

After all, why would Myers go to the plate looking to swing the bat. He has six hits going back to the 2004 season and once was told to go to the plate and leave the bat on his shoulder. Certainly in this situation – bases loaded and one out in a playoff game – Myers would be told to stand there and take pitches simply to avoid hitting into a double play.

But that would be too easy. It also would make sense.

Myers swung at the first pitch and hit one that rolled with all of the alacrity in which Burrell or Myers run the bases. The hit was slow and sloppy, which means in some weird sense it was perfect.

It also opened up this game as if it was a 10-pound trout with its tanned belly glistening in the sun. Myers’ ugly single sent two more runs scurrying home and also provided the impetus for us to watch the big pitcher go from first to home on Shane Victorino’s two-out triple.

Billingsley struck out four of the first six hitters he faced, but wasn’t around it to get four more outs.

Weird.

2 1/3 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 5 K – 59 pitches, 36 strikes.

I hope this game ends in time for me to catch my flight tomorrow morning.

End of 3: Phillies 8, Dodgers 2

Here come the Dodgers (and Bowa)

Hey, hey folks. Took a few days off as most have noticed. Truth is, it wasn’t by design. I really wanted to gather my thoughts and write down all the stuff I saw in Milwaukee regarding this ballclub and all the things we can expect for the upcoming series against the Dodgers, but, you know, I got a little busy.

It happens.

Nevertheless, the format of the in-game updates will hold during each and every game from Philadelphia and Hollywood. In fact, I might even add a few cool features for the trip in California. After all, it is California. If I’m going to write about the biggest series going from the capital of glamour and superficial excess, I ought to go all out…

Right?

So yeah, it’s an exciting time to be a fan, writer, player and whatever else of the Philadelphia Phillies. Who knows, they might even win the whole thing? Why not? Teams have won the World Series by accident… at least teams have gotten there through no fault of its own. Take the ’07 Rockies, for instance. Or the ’06 Cardinals and the ’03 Marlins. Talk about accidents.

Speaking of accidents, Larry Bowa is back in town with his Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon. Certainly no one ever thought that Bowa would have been in a playoff game at Citizens Bank Park not in Dodger Blue instead of Phillies.

What a life that guy leads, huh? After getting the axe as manager of the Phillies, Bowa landed on a gig talking about baseball with ESPN and XM Radio, which led to a job as the third-base coach for the New York Yankees and now LA Dodgers. If you are scoring at home that’s the top sports media company on the planet followed by the two most storied baseball franchises ever.

Still, it’s not difficult to get the sinking suspicion that all things being equal, Bowa would much rather be in Philadelphia with the Phillies. You can take the Bowa away from the Phillies, but never the Phillies out of Bowa.

Here’s a bet: at some point during the FOX telecast of the NLCS there will be a few hard-hitting stories on Bowa and Phils’ first-base coach Davey Lopes and their role in “Black Friday” as well as the Phillies-Dodgers rivalry from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Black Friday, for those who were not around for the 1977 NLCS between the Dodgers and the Phillies, or for those historically challenged on baseball lore, remember the game as the one where the Phillies missed their best chance to get to the World Series. It’s the game where Greg Luzinski famously misplayed a fly ball against the wall at the Vet and where Bowa made that terrific play at shortstop to make a throw to first in attempt to nail Lopes on a ball that caromed off third baseman Mike Schmidt. Only first-base ump Bruce Froemming called Lopes safe at first, which paved the way for more miscues as the Phillies blew a two-run lead with two outs in the ninth.

In fact, Bowa talked about it quite a bit about those old days on Wednesday afternoon.

“They were good series,” Bowa said, clad in his Dodger uniform and that traditional “LA” cap. “We grew up playing them in the Coast League – they were in Spokane and we were in Eugene, Oregon. We had a rivalry going then. They seemed to get the best of us in those games.

“We always made a mistake late. It cost us, but they’re very competitive. You remember when Burt Hooton was pitching and the crowd got into it, he couldn’t throw a strike. Then the rain game with Tommy John. The play in left field where Bull (Greg Luzinski) was still in the game and Jerry Martin had been replacing him and he wasn’t in and it eld to a run.

Davey Lopes. I know Davey says, ‘Let it go.’ But he was out. He knows he was out and he can go look at that all day. A hundred thousand times he was out. But those were good games. They were good games and they seemed to bring out the best in us. I think Garry Maddox dropped a ball which he never dropped. It was just one of those things.”

Davey, indeed, says, “Let it go,” and then some.

“It was 31 years ago. Quit crying and move on,” Lopes said.

“The rivalry was great. The intensity of playing those games was as equal to the World Series and a lot of times it’s more difficult and intense because you’re trying to get to the World Series,” Lopes said. “It’s almost like – I don’t want to say let down, but gratification that you got to the World Series.”

No matter what anyone says about his personality (or lack thereof), Larry Bowa is far and away the most knowledgeable baseball man a guy like me has ever come across. The old salt knows everything there is to know about the game. He might not ever get another managing gig again, but a guy like Joe Torre has no qualms about adding him to a coaching staff.

“He’s a younger version of Don Zimmer for me,” Torre Said. “He’s got a great deal of passion – shoots from the hip. He’s very emotional. But one thing about it, he cares very deeply about all the stuff he teaches to these young players and never relents. He’s there on a day-in-day-out basis and when things aren’t working it’s not a lot of fun to be around him. But he’s got a big heart and he’s got a great ability to teach and he’s very thorough and never gets tired.”

Here’s the thing about those old playoff games from the ‘70s… the current Phillies don’t get it. Chase Utley had no idea what “Black Friday” was until he was told about from one of the scribes. Even after he learned all about it, he still didn’t seem too impressed.

Game 1 starter Cole Hamels kind of heard about those classic games, but doesn’t think he or his teammates really care about it that much.

“I wasn’t even born,” Hamels said.

Besides, Hamels says, the current crop of players would much rather create their own legacy rather than ride the coattails of one that began over three decades ago.

“We want to be the team that everybody remembers as the team of 2008, went to the World Series and won the World Series,” Hamels said. “So it’s something that we’ve been with each other since February, and I think it’s just something where we’ve developed tremendous friendships and bonds that we want to be able to have these memories for when we’re older and we’re retired and out of the game.”

Besides, Lopes says they got the call right the first time.

“Tell Bowa I was safe,” he said.

Good move, Joe

George & JoeJust last night I was reading about the Yankees’ executives meetings in Tampa. It all seemed so odd – the execs were holed up in one of the Steinbrenner family compounds, only surfacing to tip the Domino’s man (I figure the Yankees would eat Domino’s… that just seems to fit) and perhaps even to breathe unrecycled air before diving back underground.

Meanwhile, outside the self-important NYC media gathered to delve so deeply into the most important story involving The Empire, watching from just off the Steinbrenner property line as if they were witnessing the election of a pope.

If the White House press corps worked half as hard as the Yankees beat writers, who knows how the world situation might be right now. But I know one thing for certain – President Gore would have his hands for with those Yankees scribes, that’s for sure.

But in going through the frantic and breathless dispatches from Tampa as if it were Ed Murrow describing the “orchestrated hell” of the English Lancasters’ raid on Berlin in December of 1943, I thought to myself, “Geez, what an awful thing to do to yourself.”

And I wasn’t just thinking about the NYC media staked out in Tampa. Nope, those jackals can take care of themselves. Instead, I was thinking about Joe Torre.

What did Joe Torre do to be treated this way? Was winning all of those baseball games and going to the playoffs all of those years really so bad?

Answer: Yes.

After 12 seasons with the Yankees in which every single one of them ended in the playoffs, including four World Series victories and six American League pennants, Torre was being dangled for the sharks by the team’s brass as if he were chum at the bottom of a metal bucket. Apparently that’s what 12 straight playoff appearances and a 1,173-767 regular-season record gets a guy like Torre.

Guys with half the accomplishments but 10 times the ego get to strut around like models on the runway. Only instead of thin and stylish women, we get to watch tired, frumpy and pasty middle-aged white guys bluster on using words like “tradition” and “history.”

What, they just can’t say, “Thank you… ” and leave Torre the hell alone?

Obviously not. Instead, Steinbrenner and his minions held meetings about having meetings that were followed up with the meetings in Tampa. All the while Torre was left to twist in the wind.

That is until today. Finally, Torre did the admirable thing and told the Yanks to take their managerial job and the 12 consecutive playoff appearances – a run that neither Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy nor Casey Stengel could touch – and stick it.

Oh, the Yankees wanted Torre back for 2008. At least that’s what they will say of the one-year, $5 million deal Torre was offered. To “motivate” Torre, team president Randy Levine explained that the one-year deal was loaded with incentives contingent upon a World Series appearance.

“We thought that we need to go to a performance-based model, having nothing to do with Joe Torre’s character, integrity or ability,” Levine. “We just think it’s important to motivate people.”

Yes, because a grown man who was paid $2.5 million more than the offer in 2007 who has been in the Major Leagues since turning 19 in 1960 needs motivation. Yes, thank Randy Levine for being the one to make that slacker Joe Torre to see things the proper way. Heck, if Torre would have done things Levine’s way they would have won the World Series twice in 1998.

Geez…

Obviously, the Yankees made Torre and offer he had to refuse. Clearly they want to go in another direction, which is the team’s prerogative. After all, Don Mattingly, Joe Girardi, Tony La Russa and Bobby Valentine are circling like buzzards to pick at Torre’s carcass. But Torre’s departure likely means the official end of the Yankees’ more –than-a-decade long run at the top of baseball. Alex Rodriguez, the likely MVP of the American League, will probably opt out of his contract with Torre gone. It’s also likely that others will follow A-Rod out the door, like top closer Mariano Rivera, catcher Jorge Posada and lefty starting pitcher Andy Pettitte.

But Scott Boras, the agent for Rodriguez says Torre had to turn down the deal lest the remaining players think of him as “weak.”

“It is difficult, near impossible, to accept a salary cut,” Boras told the Associated Press. “Successful people can afford their principles. They understand if they accept the position, there is a great risk the message to all under him is dissatisfaction.”

Then there is that whole fired-for-winning chestnut. It’s doubtful that DreamWorks Studios could have conjured up the special affects to make Torre’s situation even halfway believable. Better yet, maybe Spielberg and the gang can figure out a scenario in which Larry Bowa takes over as manager of the Yankees.

Please, please, please, please, please…

One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor

CharlieThe thing about being a Major League manager is that it rarely ends well. For instance, take the situation in the South Bronx where Joe Torre is reportedly on the way out as the Yankees’ skipper. Even though Torre has guided the Yanks to the playoffs in every single one of his 12 years at the helm and has won the World Series four times, it doesn’t seem to be good enough.

The fact is that Torre has won 1,173 regular-season games for a .605 winning percentage with the Yankees, and has gone 77-48 in the post-season. But Torre and the Yanks haven’t advanced past the ALDS since 2004 and they haven’t won the World Series since 2000.

Torre, it appears, made the mistake of successful managing a club too well for too long. He set the bar way too high because in the end, it always ends badly.

But the New York Yankees sure are different than the Philadelphia Phillies.

Yes, that really is an ambiguous statement, but when comparing the Yankees and the Phillies, grand, open-ended ambiguity is the safest bet.

For the Phillies, the “Golden Age” of the franchise started in the mid-1970s and lasted until the early 1980s. For about a decade, the Phillies were about as good as a team could be in the Major Leagues. They were so good, in fact, that in 1979 Danny Ozark was fired as the manager of the team because he didn’t win the World Series after winning 101 games in 1976 and 1977 and a 90-win NL East title in 1978.

It wasn’t enough to get it done.

In 1983, general manager Paul Owens bounced Pat Corrales from the managerial seat even though he had the Phillies in first place with 76 games remaining in the season. Owens came down from the front office and kept the Phillies right where Corrales left them before the collapse in the World Series against the Orioles.

Those were the days when it was either the World Series or failure for the Phillies, and it’s safe to say that a similar mentality never really occurred in the team’s 124-season history.

Danny OzarkIt would be interesting to see what fate would beset Charlie Manuel if he stumbled the way Ozark and the Phillies did in 1979. Or what would happen to Manuel if he were the skipper in 1983 when Corrales’ first-place Phillies were doing something wrong 86 games in to the season.

How can a team fire the manager when his team is in first place?

Make no mistake; there are a lot of people who don’t want Manuel to return to the bench for 2008 after three seasons in which he won more games than all but one manager in team history through this point in his tenure. With the Phillies, 262 victories in three seasons in which the team was eliminated from the NLDS in a three-game sweep is borderline historic. Actually, it’s more than remarkable – it’s unprecedented.

This is a franchise, after all, where only two (two!) managers have taken the team to more than one postseason. It’s a franchise that has been to the playoffs just 10 times in 124 seasons. For comparisons sake, look at the Atlanta Braves who… wait, nevermind. It just isn’t fair to compare the Phillies to any other franchise.

Anyway, one of those dynamic duo of managers was Ozark, who won the NL East three years in a row but was axed when he couldn’t do it for a fourth. The other manager was Ozark’s replacement, Dallas Green, who delivered the franchise’s only title in 1980 only to lose to Montreal in the 1981 NLDS.

That loss was enough to send Green on his way to Chicago where he thought he could break the Cubs’ losing curse. But Green quickly learned that even he isn’t that good. Sure, historically things are really bad for the Phillies, but even they don’t compare to the futility of the Cubs.

Can Charlie Manuel join the ranks of Ozark and Green? Well, we’re going to find out. After his first, three-year contract ran out when Shane Victorino grounded out in Game 3 of the NLDS on Saturday night at Coors Field, the Phillies quickly re-signed Manuel to a new, two-year pact with a club option for a third year. The deal was wrapped up on Tuesday night and then leaked out to the press. In fact, the staff writer for the team’s Web site had to learn about the news from a release on that very site.

Maybe Joe Torre is the manager the Cubs need to help them end 98 straight seasons without a World Series? After all, it appeared as if Torre was going to be out of a job after 12 seasons as the manager of the New York Yankees.

Torre apparently is headed for the same fate as Danny Ozark in 1979. But unlike Ozark, Torre didn’t miss the playoffs this year. Actually, Torre averaged close to 100 victories per season, won the World Series four times, including three years in a row, figured out how to charm the fickle New York media and even more, the erratic owner George Steinbrenner.

George & JoeThere is no way to categorize Torre’s time with the Yankees as anything other than wildly successful. In fact, there are some of those fickle and hyperbolic New York-media types who have deemed Torre’s Yankees’ career as Hall-of-Fame worthy alongside the all-time greats like Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel and Miller Huggins. Add Torre to that tribunal and get 21 of the Yankees’ 26 World Series titles, and 30 American League pennants.

In other words, Joe Torre has done a lot better than Charlie Manuel, but only one of them was truly on the proverbial hot seat for returning to the same team in 2008.

One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. Obviously, making it through Game 165 with a fighting chance is not a good season in the South Bronx. Steinbrenner, unlike David Montgomery and the Phillies, does not celebrate moral victories or potential. Because of that, Torre and his failure to deliver a World Series title since 2000, ends the season as a “sad disappointment,” as his boss stated. Those 1,173 victories, not including the 77 more in the playoffs, ring a bit hollow.

Torre, it seems, built expectations so high that anything less than perfection was not good enough. Is it his fault that his hitters picked a really bad time to stop being the best offense in baseball, or that the pitching staff he was handed didn’t live up to its old press clipping s anymore?

Of course not. But Torre made the mistake of having high standards.

We don’t have that problem here.

Instead, Charlie Manuel’s run in Philadelphia is still littered with hope and promise. For the Phillies, 262 victories in three seasons is nothing to sneeze at.

Better yet, it’s nearly a record.