The NLCS: Greatest Phillies team ever?

Comparisons between teams of different eras are not only difficult to do logically, but also they are odious. Seriously, the game changes so much from generation to generation that there is no way one can compare, say, the 1977 Phillies to the 2009 Phils. The game does not exist in a vacuum (or whatever). We see it just by looking at the stat sheet.

Needless to say, baseball statistics are essentially meaningless.

Take that with a grain of salt, however. The numbers are the only proof that a lot of people have to understand if a player is performing well. But I don’t need to look up Garry Maddox’s VORP or OPS to know that he was a better center fielder than Shane Victorino. Sure, there are numbers on the page and I suppose they have meaning. But if you ever got the chance to watch Maddox go gap to gap to chase down every single fly ball hit into the air, you just know.

Nevertheless, since the Phillies are on the cusp of going to the World Series for th second season in a row, those old, odious comparisons come up. They kind of have to, right? Well, yeah… after all, there really aren’t very many good seasons in the 126 years of Phillies baseball to compare.

The good years are easily categorized. There were the one-hit wonder years of 1950 and 1993; the stretch where ol’ Grover Cleveland Alexander took the Phils to the series in 1915; and then the Golden Era from 1976 to 1983 where the Phillies went to the playoffs six times in eight seasons.

Then there is now.

Obviously two straight visits to the World Series are unprecedented in team history. Actually, the five-year stint in which Charlie Manuel has guided the team are the best five years in club history. At least that’s what the bottom line says.

In just five years as the manager of the Phillies, Manuel has won 447 games. Only Gene Mauch, Harry Wright and Danny Ozark have won more games in franchise history and those guys were around for a lot longer than five years. Interestingly, Manuel ranks fourth in franchise wins and seventh in games.

That pretty much says it all right there, doesn’t it? Based on the wins and accomplishments, this is the greatest era of Phillies baseball and the 2009 club could very well go down as the best team ever—whether they win the World Series over the Yankees (Angels are done, right?) or not.

Still, I’d take Maddox over Victorino, Steve Carlton over Cole Hamels, Bake McBride over Jayson Werth; Bob Boone over Carlos Ruiz; Greg Luzinski way over Pat Burrell (and Raul Ibanez, too); and, obviously, Mike Schmidt over Pedro Feliz.

But I’d also take Chase Utley’s bat over Manny Trillo’s glove; Jimmy Rollins over Larry Bowa; and Ryan Howard over Pete Rose or Richie Hebner.

Those are the easy choices. Those Golden Era teams had some underrated players like Dick Ruthven and Del Unser, but they would have been much better with a Matt Stairs type.

No, the truth is I’d take the 2009 Phillies over those other teams and it’s not because of the players comparisons or the win totals. It’s because they are a better team.

Yeah, that’s right, these guys are the best team.

Of course I never got to go into the clubhouse to see Larry Bowa’s divisive act, Steve Carlton’s oddness, or Mike Schmidt’s diva-like act. You know, that is if the stories from those days are true…

Nope, give me a team instead of one that had the indignity to run into a pair of dynasties in the making. First the Phillies had to contend with the Cincinnati Reds and The Big Red Machine before those great Dodgers’ clubs emerged. There is no team in the NL East or National League, for that matter, that is as good as the Phillies have been.

The Mets, Dodgers or Cardinals? Nope, no and nah.

More importantly, now that Pat Burrell is gone the Phillies don’t have a true divisive force in the clubhouse. There is no more of that creepy us-against-them battle anymore considering the relief corps did a reality show with the MLB Network.

Think Warren Brusstar and Kevin Saucier would have been asked to do something like “The Pen” if they were playing these days?

No, the these Phillies have nothing as obnoxious or weird as Bowa or Carlton. They are not the 25-guys in 25-cabs team. It’s a real baseball team.

We’ll see what happens when (and if) the Phillies get to the World Series, but in this instance we’ll go with Victorino gang over Maddox’s group.

I beg to differ

Charlie_IassognaName one person who doesn’t enjoy the arguments in baseball. Go ahead, name just one person. And if you do find that one person who says they do not enjoy the little angry banter between manager and umpire, guess what? I have a little surprise for you…

They are lying.

Everyone likes the arguing in baseball.

Some of the reasons for this are obvious. Call it the oppressed challenging authority or the little guy standing up for himself. Then there is the cathartic aspect of it. Most of the time people have to bottle up their frustration and anger and shove it deep down until it manifests as an ulcer or high-blood pressure. But in baseball it’s OK to scream, yell and kick dirt like an idiot.

But here’s the thing about a manager kicking up a fuss over a bad call or some other slight by the umpires … it doesn’t help anything. The umpire never changes his mind, never reverses the call, and never says, “You know Chuck, you convinced me. I see things your way now so, yes, I will officially change the call. Kudos to you, sir, for helping me see the error of my ways.”

That never happens. It’s even rarer than the unassisted triple play. Since 1909 there have been exactly 14 unassisted triple plays in Major League Baseball history. But not once has an umpire ever reversed his call.

So that leads us back to the question – why argue? If the umpire is omnipotent and the issue is lost before the manager or coach even step foot out of the dugout. It’s almost as stupid as banging your head against a brick wall, yet it happens several times a week and the fans go crazy for it every time.

Take the row between Charlie Manuel and home plate umpire Dan Iassogna during the sixth inning of the Phils’ 10-5 loss to the Cubs, for instance. Clearly Iassogna missed the call where Paul Bako tipped one into the dirt. However, Iassogna ruled that the catcher Koyie Hill snagged it for strike three. The ump made the call even though dirt splashed around the ball, Bako barked, the Phillies’ bench exploded in protest and the Cubs slunk off the field like they stole something.

No worries, though, because Iassogna drove the getaway car.

Iassogna blowing the call wasn’t the problem, though. Instead that’s where the fun began. After all, ol’ Chuck is known for his hot temper. Oh sure, Charlie is fun, and relaxed and as nice as they come. He loves to tell jokes and stories and can laugh at himself easily.

But don’t cross him.

As Randy Wolf once said, “Don’t mistake his kindness for weakness.” And of course, Jim Thome once retold the story about how Charlie turned a clubhouse ping-pong table into kindling after a game.

Mix Chuck’s temper with Iassogna’s arrogance and, voila … it’s show time! That’s especially the case when a missed call stifles a two-out rally.

Do a quick Google photo search on Iassogna and it appears as if the guy has an anger-management issue, a demand for attention or, hell, maybe he is just an angry guy. What are you going to do … sometimes people are pissed off. Actually, he appears kind of confrontational.

Iassogna, as some remember, was the umpire who always seemed to drive Larry Bowa crazier than any other ump — and that’s saying something. It was Iassogna who got the notch on his belt for running Bowa for the first time as Phillies manager in July of 2001 and the two continued to have some run-ins during the length of Bowa’s stay as Phillies skipper.

In fact, Iassogna is so quick to flip off that mask, puff out his chest and confront any type question that he makes folks feel sympathy for guys like Bowa. Hell, Iassogna has even run Manuel from several games, too.

So what gives? Why does it seem as if Iassogna is in the middle of controversy and ready to throw everyone out of the game? Is there anything in his background that explains this?

Well, not really. According to the umpire media guide, Iassogna has a B.A. in English from the University of Connecticut, so maybe he ejects managers and players for ending sentences with prepositions. He also turned 40 on May 3, went to Catholic school, lives in Georgia and has a wife and two daughters.

The media guide profile also points out that Iassogna is, “a frequent blood platelet donor, [and] proudly works with the Chicago Fire Department in support of the ‘Bucks for the Burn Camp,’ which helps children that were burned in fires.”

Sounds like a good guy, right?

But then there was a story from Sept. of 2007 where ex-Phillie Marlon Anderson fought a suspension following an ejection because of Iassogna’s “lies.”

shane_iassognaAccording to the story:

“I went in there today and read the report that he wrote,” Anderson said. “It’s amazing that a grown man could sit there and lie and say the things that he said and not have to show up and defend what he said.”

He said Iassogna’s report indicated that Anderson cursed the umpire three times with a specific profanity.

“That’s something that doesn’t come out of my mouth. Anybody who knows me as a person has never heard me say that. There was a time in my life when I did use words like that. But that’s no longer what I do,” Anderson said. “It’s pretty sick. It makes me sick in the stomach. I don’t want that on my record. That’s not who I am.”

Look, the job of an umpire is not easy. Far from it. No one ever talks about their work unless they make a mistake, which is sure to give any human being a complex.

However, no one ever went to a baseball game to see Dan Iassogna – or any other umpire for that matter. That’s not a knock on the profession, but umpires know that when they train for the job. They know it’s difficult and they know they can diffuse a lot of problems by simply showing restraint.

But lately it appears as if some (not all) umpires are quick to yank off the mask and confront the players, coaches and managers. They seem to have a bad case of the rabbit ears and ready to jaw with a guy over the tiniest slight.

Then again, we cheer, chant and go crazy when they do, so maybe that’s all part of the show, too. In that case, Iassogna and some of his cronies are the classic heels.

Junge Gun

Eric JungeNearly seven years ago, Eric Junge pitched five innings of a 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a meaningless September game. In fact, September of 2002 was one of the last few final months that were meaningless for the Phillies. In 2004 all that was left to decide in September was when they would mercifully pull the plug on the managerial career of Larry Bowa.

Those were the days when the pitching coach got punched in the face by a player, and some wondered if it was simply a matter of time until the manager suffered the same fate. Nope, those definitely weren’t the golden days of Phillies baseball.

More like Blood Sport.

Anyway, Eric Junge started and won his first Major League outing over the Pirates in rather dramatic fashion. See, Junge was finished pitching for the year after going 12-6 with a 3.54 in Triple-A in 29 starts, until then-GM Ed Wade called him at home in Rye, N.Y. in the middle of a pizza feast. The Phillies needed some fresh arms to get through the year and since the roster had expanded, Junge got a phone call inquiring whether he wanted to pitch in the big leagues.

Sure, Junge said, but first he had to cancel some plans.

Junge joined the Phillies on Sept. 11, 2002, exactly one year after that day. So instead of going down to Ground Zero with his trumpet to play a tribute to the three friends from childhood that died on 9/11, Junge was the Vet waiting to make his big league debut instead of “preparing to mourn and remember.”

“I would have been playing my trumpet, playing Taps. It’s something I used to do on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. I would go down to the town square and all the veterans would be there,” he told us. “It would be my little way of saying thanks for our freedoms. Taps for me is emotional. I’d rather be pitching in the big leagues, obviously.

“I didn’t think I would get called up,” he said nearly seven years ago. “It’s all kind of surreal. I was getting ready to mourn and now I feel alive.”

I remember that day for a lot of reasons. First, there weren’t too many games in the 2002 baseball season that were too memorable. Brett Myers made his debut at Wrigley Field, pitcher Robert Person his a pair of homers and got seven RBIs in about two innings of a rout over the Expos, and Scott Rolen was traded.

Secondly, only two seasons into Bowa’s reign of terror, it was clear things had already come unhinged. Little did we know at the time that the franchise would have to take some decisive actions after some growing pains and old-fashioned time biding.

Otherwise, it was an underwhelming season.

But Junge was interesting. After he threw those five innings in which he gave up four hits and one run in his only big league start, I was all set to write about how he was the first Bucknell University alum to pitch in the big leagues since Christy Mathewson. Acquired in the Omar Daal trade with Los Angeles, Junge was the minor league surprise of ’02.

Instead of writing about the surprise start, the Mathewson angle and a promising future, someone saw three names scribbled on Junge’s cap while talking to him in the clubhouse after the game. The names “Fetchet,” “Mello” and “McGinley” were hard to miss there in black Sharpie just to the left of the Phillies “P” on Junge’s cap.

What was the deal with those words, Junge was asked.

Those three guys were Brad Fetchet, Chris Mello and Mark McGinley, Junge told us. All three died on 9/11 at the World Trade Center during the attacks. Mello grew up with the pitcher and the two played baseball and football all the way from little league to high school. He died when his plane struck the north tower.

Fetchet and McGinley were Bucknell classmates of Junge who were working in the Trade Center that fateful day and didn’t make it out.

Then there was Junge’s dad Peter, who was standing on the street corner adjacent to the buildings when the first plane hit, which was carrying Mello. A maritime attorney with offices a block away from Wall St., Peter Junge was on his way to court when the unthinkable happened. Junge was eating breakfast in a waffle house in Huntsville, Ala., preparing to pitch for the Dodgers’ Double-A club, Jacksonville.

“That was a hectic day,” Junge told us after his first Major League start.

It was a helluva story and forced a lot of us to re-do those Mathewson/Bucknell angles we were knee-deep in by the time we met with Junge. But aside from the emotional side of the story, there also was the work on the field. After all, it’s not every day a pitcher in his first big league start walks off with swagger. Junge might have been a surprise call up, but he was acting as if he belonged.

“Some guys might be apprehensive but he acts like he’s been here for 20 years,” Bowa said after that game. “With his makeup, he wanted the opportunity and he opened some eyes. He was walking around the dugout yelling, ‘Let’s go!’ and getting everyone fired up.”

Junge’s big league career lasted just 10 games. In 2002 he got another win when Vicente Padilla exited a game after just 13 pitches and Junge came on in the first inning and went into the sixth.

But injuries derailed whatever future he might have had with the Phillies or a chance to return to the Majors with another club. In 2003 he was shut down after 16 games between the Phillies and Triple-A. When he came back from  shoulder surgery, he pitched at three different levels in the Phillies’ organization before he was granted free agency at the end of the year.

Then came the life of the baseball nomad. In 2005 he pitched in Triple-A for the Mets and then released. In ’06 it was Triple-A with the Padres and then another release. For 2007 it was a handful of games in the independent Atlantic League until he wound up back at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with the Yankees.

And then, of course, another release.

Junge spent 2008 in Japan pitching for the Orix Buffaloes, which was the former team of So Taguchi and Ichiro, as well as the organization that featured an Amarican cleanup hitter named Chuck Manuel. They called Chuck, “The Red Devil.”

Now 32, the same age as former teammates, Marlon Byrd, Johnny Estrada, Geoff Geary, Nick Punto as well as a year older than his ex-third baseman, Chase Utley, Junge is still out there playing. As fate would have it, the lean, 6-foot-5 righty signed to play for a team with a stadium less than one-mile from my home as the crow flies.

Yeah that’s right, Junge was pitching for the Lancaster Barnstormers in the Atlantic League. The Atlantic League is baseball purgatory… or maybe worse. No matter, in his first month with the team the baseball lifer (think Chris Coste had he been a prospect) was the league’s pitcher of the month with a 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA and twice broke the franchise record with 12 strikeouts in a game. In 26 innings, Junge had 34 whiffs.

And then he was gone.

That’s what I learned this evening when I moseyed down to the ballpark with the kids to check out a game. I had hoped to see Junge, relive those days in Philly and see what’s shaking with Antonio Alfonseca, who is closing out games for the Barnstormers. However, Junge’s name was strangely omitted from the roster. A quick Google search later revealed he had left Lancaster to pitch for a team in South Korea.

How’s that for an indictment of the team, league and town? Junge would rather travel halfway around the globe to pitch in South Korea rather than for Tom Herr and Von Hayes in Lancaster, Pa.

You know, some days I know how he feels.

Nevertheless, good luck to Mr. Junge. Undoubtedly he could trade in the uniform for a career as a good baseball exec, but let’s hope his baseball journeys pay off with a trip back to the big leagues or at least some pretty kick-ass stories. He certainly gave us one seven years ago, and, as readers of the site know, it’s the stories that make the word go ‘round.

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

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

You know, basic pre-game fodder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why should the Mets?

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

Different strokes.

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

Stop the press!

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

**

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

Good stuff from Doug, again.


graphic from The Sports Hernia

Third and fourth innings: Pay back time

LOS ANGELES – Here we go!

After Brett Myers threw one behind Manny Ramirez in Game 2, and Russell Martin got plunked by Jamie Moyer and crop dusted by Clay Condrey, Dodgers’ pitcher Hiroki Kuroda fired one over Shane Victorino’s head.

Gee, wonder what he was trying to do there?

After the purpose pitch, Victorino rightly gestured at Kuroda to drill him on the body if he’s going to do that crap and not up near his head. The conversation continued after Victorino grounded out to first base. Again, he told the pitcher to hit him instead of playing that head hunting bit.

Fine. All over, right? Message sent and received.

Or not.

As the benches spilled out onto the foul territory, Manny Ramirez exacerbated the situation by doing that chicken hold-me-back bit. Then Larry Bowa began chirping again and gesturing, which incensed things even more.

Yes, imagine that – Bowa stirring it up.

Here comes the cheap shot(s):

Hey Larry, how come Charlie could take these guys to the playoffs and you couldn’t? Go back to coaching third, tough guy.

Why can’t Davey Lopes just do the earth a favor and punch Larry Bowa in the mouth? C’mon Davey, I’m sure there are at least a few dozen guys behind you ready to pile on.

Anyway, the Phillies went quietly in the fourth. J.A. Happ has settled things down for the pitching, too. After giving up a one-out single to Matt Kemp, Happ retired four hitters in a row until he walked Manny. Happ also walked Martin, which set the table for Nomar Garciaparra’s two-out, RBI single.

End of 3: Dodgers 7, Phillies 1

Pregame: Your town stinks

The Phillies seem pretty loose during batting practice, especially Jimmy Rollins who joked around with his former manager Larry Bowa as the Dodgers were preparing to take the field. Actually, watching Rollins and Bowa hobnob was kind of like that scene in the first Rocky movie where Sly watches Apollo Creed goof around with Joe Frazier in the ring before the big fight.

Sly’s line was: “You think they know each other?”

Mickey just laughed.

Anyway, Bowa and Rollins DO know each other. Quite well, in fact. However, I suspect Rollins likes Bowa better now that he works for the Dodgers. That’s just a guess though. One thing I do know is that Bowa is as talkative as ever with me – I think I rub him the wrong way which is quite understandable. I mean think about it… a hardscrabble guy from Sacramento who had to fight and scrap for every little thing he ever achieved like Bowa and a goofy dude like me from Washington and Lancaster who makes wise cracks and writes sentences for a living.

Hell, now that I think about it, I don’t like me anymore.

Speaking of writers who need a little love, I just had the distinct pleasure of meeting TJ Simers of the LA Times. Simers, of course, is known for his deep love and affection for our fair city. That’s cool, I guess, if you’re into that whole your-city-sucks bit. After all, no one ever has trotted that stuff out before.

Nevertheless, my belief is that the your-favorite-town-stink jag is an older generation thing. At least it seems like it’s property of the folks older than me and beyond. The younger set seems to enjoy each and every city for what it is – a new place to check out and explore. Frankly, the more off the beaten path a place is the better. That’s part of the reason why I enjoyed Milwaukee so much… come on, it was Milwaukee.

When am I ever going to make it back to Milwaukee again?

So TJ Simers doesn’t like Philadelphia… whatever. Worse, the LA Times flew him all the way across the country to come here and write about how people from Philadelphia are angry. Gee, that’s money well spent.

Here’s the funny part, though – Simers wrote a column about the angry folks in Philadelphia and guess what? He got a pile of angry e-mails from people from Philadelphia.

Who saw that coming?

Anyway, introduction time here. My guess is Bowa gets big cheers…

But not bigger than Charlie Manuel.

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.

Fourth & Fifth innings: Book those flights soon

MILWAUKEE – The Phillies are more than halfway through this one and the scribes are scrambling to make reservations to Los Angeles. My guess is that the rates are going to climb quickly by tomorrow when the run on them by folks from Philly.

Who knows, maybe we can all crash at Larry Bowa’s pad?

Meanwhile, after Jayson Werth’s homer, Game 1 starter Yovani Gallardo has retired six in a row. It looks as if the Brewers and the Phillies have gotten comfortable.

The same can be said for Joe Blanton, too. When J.J. Hardy singled to lead off the fifth, it was the first hit for the Brewers since Ryan Braun got a two-out single in the first. It was a run of 10 in a row for the big righty, who is on the way to turning in his best outing as a Phillie.

Then again, playoff wins are always big for the Phillies.

Following Hardy’s single, Blanton retired three straight, including two strikeouts in a row. His pitch count is a robust 75, which is the only thing likely keeping him from throwing a complete game.

End of 5: Phillies 5, Brewers 0

Looking to go back in time

Reggie BarIf it were possible to go back in time and retroactively edit my favorite childhood baseball player, I would.

But alas, time travel is meant just for Michael J. Fox.

As a kid in the 1970s and ‘80s I was a victim of geography. With no Internet or the proliferation of cable TV, I was stuck in my tiny little realm. That meant when we lived in Washington, D.C. we closely followed the Orioles and even attended a handful of games at Memorial Stadium every season.

But when we moved to Lancaster, Pa., though technically closer to the city limits of Baltimore, we followed the Phillies. Though Lancaster with Harrisburg and York comprises the 41st largest media market in the country, it falls under the umbrella of Philadelphia sports fandom. In fact, it’s not uncommon for traveling Lancastrians to tell strangers that their hometown is “near Philly” despite the fact that Philadelphians believe Lancaster to be in the middle of nowhere, or worse, the other side of the earth.

Having lived in both places, the Philadelphians aren’t wrong about Lancaster… but then again, they’re stuck in Philadelphia.

Just to mix it up a bit, the Red Sox were another team we kept up with, but that was just because they were a team that was a bit exotica. The Red Sox always had good players, always were almost good (but not quite good enough) and always seemed to have a bit of soap opera quality. And since they were on the nationally broadcasted game-of-the-week often and played in that goofy little ballpark, it was difficult to ignore them.

As a result of all of this, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Eddie Murray, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens qualified, at one point or another, as favorite players. Those players had the swings that I copied though my pitching motion was strictly a direct rip-off of Luis Tiant.

Trust me on this one – this skinny kid from The Lanc with a funky pitching motion was never afraid to stick it in a hitter’s ear. Hey, I own the inside part of the plate!

By the way: is there a reason why El Tiante is not in the Hall of Fame?

Anyway, of the group of ballplayers listed above I have had the chance to meet and spend moments in the company of all of them except for Boggs, which is why I want to change who my main guy was.

If I could do it all over again I’d go with Reggie.

REG-GIE! REG-GIE! REG-GIE!

Look, I know all about Reggie Jackson, the Cheltenham High grad and Wyncote native (like Ezra Pound and Benjamin Netanyahu) who came to prominence with the Oakland A’s, but turned into a superstar with the New York Yankees. I know how he had an ego as big as all of those home runs and strikeouts piled on top of each other. I also know that he was a bit of a diva who probably didn’t blend well with all of his teammates and/or the press.

Sometimes it seemed as if Reggie could drive everyone crazy. And I mean everyone… especially Billy Martin.

Nevertheless, Reggie got it. He knew it was a show and he had panache. People went to the park to see him homer or whiff and he rarely ever disappointed anyone. Better yet, he went deep and struck out with equal amounts of flair in which he took a huge, powerful cut that came from so deep within that it dropped him down to one knee.

But if he got a hold of one… look out! Not only did it sail far into the seats, but Reggie would stand at home plate and watch it along with everyone else before beginning his static yet stylish trot around the bases.

For some reason, though, the Reggie posturing fell out of favor. Oh no, I doubt the fans disprove, nor does it seem as if certain home run hitters like Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey are opposed to such subtle histrionics. However, when Ryan Howard gave a long home run the Reggie treatment in St. Louis last week, he took one on the right hip the next trip to the plate.

Reggie in furHey, if I were putting together an all-time greats team that spanned my lifetime Reggie probably wouldn’t make the cut (maybe we’d find him a spot as a late-inning pinch hitter), and clearly he was a flawed player. But the best part about Reggie is how he interacted with his audience and the messengers. Reggie was never shy about talking to the press and actually saying something interesting. He also liked to prod writers and challenge them the way a coach would a player. For instance, my old pal Howie Bryant was covering the Yankees for the Bergen County Record, Reggie used to give him a hard time about the location of his employer.

As Howie wrote in his book, Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball, Reggie used some Jedi-like, passive-aggressive tactics that led to him writing the book.

H.B. wrote on page 403 of the hardcover edition:

Reggie is never easy. He can employ numerous tactics designed to prove one thing: that he’s somebody and you’re not. During my first months covering the Yankees for The Record of Bergen County, New Jersey, he could be funny or condescending. A favorite Jackson ploy was to read my credential, notice I worked for a Jersey paper, and comment, “Hey, how come you don’t work for one of the New York papers?”

Reggie never had a problem with anything written about him as long as it was honest, good and not a cliché. Provocation and ideas were what interested Reggie, anything else was silly.

That’s why Reggie is my favorite and why I’m looking for that time machine.

***

Speaking of silly, it looks like former Phillies’ GM Lee Thomas finally completed a long-forgotten trade with the Dodgers.

Fava beans and a nice chianti

Hannibal LecterSnow flurries are fluttering around here in The Lanc and it’s cold again. Perhaps going from perfect, sun-soaked 60-degree mornings in Florida to blustery winter evenings in Pennsylvania is a lot like jet lag.

Oh well, Mother Nature is perfect in her demented little way, so whatever… it’s just weather.

Anyway, it would have been nice to spend a few more days in the Tampa Bay area, specifically to head up to Dunedin to check in on the Blue Jays and their new third baseman. Apparently, he used to play for the Phillies or something like that. Also working out with the Jays this spring are fellow McCaskey High alums, John Parrish and Matt Watson. Parrish, a lefty pitcher and a wintertime signing for the Jays after spending the last few seasons with the Orioles and Mariners, could figure into the Toronto bullpen in 2008.

Watson is a non-roster invitee for Toronto after spending last season playing in Japan. Prior to the stint in Japan, he played in the Expos, Mets and A’s organizations with 34 big-league games under his belt.

So far this spring, Watson has gotten into two Grapefruit League games and is 0-for-2 with a strikeout. Parrish hasn’t appeared in any games yet, but he’s expected to pitch against the Devil Rays this afternoon.

***
This spring, Major League Baseball required the first and third-base coaches to wear batting helmets when on the field. This decree comes as a reaction to the death of minor-league coach Mike Coolbaugh, who was hit by a line drive below the ear while coaching first base. Needless to say, a handful of coaches aren’t too jazzed about the new mandate, but have complied in almost all cases.

All except for one guy, of course.

“That’s not for me,” new Dodgers’ third-base coach Larry Bowa told MLB.com.

“My question is, how can I be in the league 40 years and the league says who wears a helmet and who doesn’t? One guy got killed and I’m sorry it happened. But bats break and they can be a deadly weapon. Do something about bats.

“Umpires get hit with line drives. I’ve probably seen 50 of them get hit. If coaches have to wear helmets, umpires should. I’ll sign a waiver. And there should be a grandfather clause. These are very cumbersome. They talk about delay of game, and when the helmet falls off, you’ll have to stop the game. It should be an option. I know I’m talking for a lot of guys who won’t say anything. I’ll write a check for 162 games if I have to to not wear it.”

Bowa makes salient points. However, after seeing Bowa in action for four years as manager of the Phillies, perhaps simply wearing a helmet isn’t the best call.

No, Bowa might be better off out there with one of those masks they put on Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.

Next time: Billy Wagner and C.J. Wilson.

Bowa fired as Phillies look to future

larry bowaLike anybody else, Larry Bowa has many faults. Perhaps his biggest fault if one wants to label it that is that he loves baseball and the Philadelphia Phillies more than anyone else.

Bowa eats, sleeps and breathes the Phillies, which very well could have been his undoing. Very often he was unrelenting, curt, difficult, crude and mean when pursuing what was most important to him than, seemingly, anything in his life.

That was winning ballgames for the Phillies.

The Phillies relieved Larry Bowa from his duties as manager of the ballclub on Saturday afternoon, general manager Ed Wade announced in a somber press conference an hour prior to the next-to-last game of the 2004 season. And like anything that involves Bowa, the move was emotional and difficult.

Bench coach Gary Varsho will guide the club for the final two games of the season, which obviously was not the move Wade nor team president David Montgomery wanted to make until next week.

Bowa, as usual, forced the issue.

After responding to questions in his pre-game meeting with the writers regarding numerous published reports speculating on his imminent ouster, Bowa forced Wade to make a decision.

Now.

“When I got to the ballpark this afternoon, I got a call from Larry Bowa asking me to come see him,” Wade said at a news conference. “He said he’s been getting inundated with questions about his job status and wanted to know sooner or later. After a lengthy discussion, I decided the fairest thing to do was make a move at this time.”

It was not the first time that Bowa had forced Wade to make a decision regarding his status as manager of the Phillies. Just last month, Bowa responded to a story in the Bucks County Courier Times by asking Wade to fire him immediately or give him a vote of confidence. In response, Wade fired off a hastily written press release saying that all coaching staff would be evaluated at the end of the season.

 
  Ed Wade explains his decision to fire Larry Bowa during a press conference before Saturday night’s game against the Marlins. (AP)
 

Even though Bowa and the Phillies had wrapped up the franchise’s first consecutive winning seasons in more than two decades as well as second place in the NL East for the second time in the skipper’s four season, he had failed to end the 11-year postseason drought for the losingest franchise in North American sports history.

Surely there was no escaping his fate either. Despite blatant campaigning to save his job in which he used the club’s plethora of injuries during 2004 as song and verse, Bowa always talked about returning for 2005, but deep down had to see the writing on the wall.

After Wade made the decision, Bowa took off his Phillies uniform for the last time and quickly left the ballpark before anyone knew what had happened. Wade informed the coaching staff, players and Montgomery of the news sometime between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

“Ed determined it and made the decision, but it’s one I support,” Montgomery told reporters.” Ed came and told me his decision, but in no way am I going to wash my hands of this decision.”

Neither is Wade, who said the failure to reach the club’s goals this season is as much the fault of his and the players as it is Bowa’s.

“The disappointment of this season does not rest with one person. It rests with myself, Larry, the staff, players, we all take a measure of responsibility. This should not be construed as finger pointing at one individual for why we are here today,” Wade said. “I greatly appreciate what Larry has done and it wasn’t a decision that was arrived at easily. It was certainly one that was struggled with for quite some time.”

Nevertheless, it was a decision that everyone knew was coming. As Bowa would have it, the verdict came sooner rather than later.

At the same time, Wade’s ouster has been called for almost as much as Bowa’s by the Philadelphia fans. When injuries ravaged the club, Wade was unable to make any type of significant deal to make the team better. Instead, he picked up less-than-mediocre journeyman Paul Abbott for the rotation. He also added Cory Lidle, who has pitched well, and veteran relievers Todd Jones and Felix Rodriguez.

In 2003 when the Phillies were battling the Florida Marlins for the wild-card berth, Wade added Mike Williams, Valerio de los Santos and Kelly Stinnett. Wade has also traded away Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling, who are both in the mix to win the big postseason awards as well as the World Series.

Be that as it may, Wade isn’t going anywhere. In fact, Montgomery gave Wade an enthusiastic vote of confidence after the announcement about Bowa was made.

“He has put together a championship-caliber team and made a good decision in hiring Larry Bowa four years ago,” Montgomery said. “I think he can take us to a championship.”

Though Bowa kept pointing out the injuries at every turn pitchers Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla, all three former All-Stars, missed about 35 starts. Reliever Ryan Madson was sidelined more than a month and closer Billy Wagner was out almost 11 weeks, and was placed on the disabled list twice in 2004 Wade dismissed the notion. Sure, the injuries had an affect on the club, but injuries are a part of baseball. The Anaheim Angels are a team that had numerous injuries in 2004, but they were able to overcome them and advance to the postseason for the second time in the past three years. The same goes for the Houston Astros, a team that overcame injuries to as many key members of the pitching staff as the Phillies. Somehow, the Astros were able to overcome and advance to the playoffs.

“We don’t want to dwell on injuries. We’re not going to use anything as an excuse,” Wade said. “We’re not going to portray Larry as the scapegoat, but in our evaluation of things we are in a situation where we need a different voice.”

Though speculation runs rampant, no one has any concrete idea who will stand behind that next voice.

Who is next?
Wade says the Phillies are not looking for a certain “type” of manager to guide the club where only one other skipper ultimately took the club. The next manager may or may not be the “anti-Bowa” just as Bowa was the polar opposite of his predecessor, Terry Francona. Who knows, the next manager might not even be Wade’s first choice to guide the club, just as Bowa was not the top before finally getting the job in 2000.

According to team sources, the Phillies were all set to name Darren Daulton as the team’s skipper heading into the 2001 season. In fact, as the story goes, press releases had been written and a phone call to Daulton was about to be made informing him that he had the job before special assistant Dallas Green stepped in like the governor with a midnight reprieve to stop the execution. Instead, Bowa was hired and the rest is, well, history.

Still, Wade remains pleased that Bowa was the one he hired four years ago.

“When I hired Larry four years ago he was clearly the right person for the job,” Wade said. “Anyone who has been around during the past four years knows the knowledge he has, the passion for the game and the commitment to winning.”

Though he was the prodigal son returning yet again to a franchise he has carrying the stormiest of relationships with, Bowa was considered as someone from within the organization. That is a road the Phillies would not be shy about trodding down again if the situation is right, Wade says.

Often laughed at for its need to relive its past (one played upon hearing there was a pre-game ceremony before a game earlier this season chided, “What, is this the 14th anniversary of the 10 anniversary of something that happened in 1980?”), the next Phillies manager could very well come from close to home.

Special assistant Charlie Manuel, Triple-A skipper Marc Bombard, Bob Boone, Varsho and (are you ready for this… ) Jim Fregosi are names that have been bandied about.

From outside of the organization, Bob Brenly, Davey Johnson, Mike Hargrove and Grady Little have been mentioned as possible replacements, but chances are the new skipper is still out there somewhere. Before the franchise settled on Bowa, third base coach John Vukovich, Boone, Daulton, Rick Dempsey, Jeff Newman, Lloyd McClendon, Willie Randolph and Ruben Amaro Sr.

Wade said some of those fellows could find themselves on the list of interviewees again.

“We want to find someone who gives us the best opportunity to win, and it’s not comparing and contrasting one manager against another,” Wade said. “It’s about finding the right manager for our circumstances.”

Bowa’s tenure
To describe Bowa’s time as manager of the Phillies as “stormy” or “controversial” would be gross understatements. Along those lines, “harmonious” would not be a way to describe any team managed by Bowa. Oh sure, the players get along very well. In fact, Jimmy Rollins stated earlier this season that the 2004 club rates as the most cohesive group he’s been with.

So what’s the trouble? Take a big guess.

 
  Larry Bowa compiled a 337-308 record during his four seasons as the Phillies manager. (AP)
 

On several occasions over the past two seasons, the acrimony between the players and coaches has been so palatable that one could cut the tension in the air with a butter knife. And despite having a room full of some of the best character guys in sports, the Phillies clubhouse was often not a nice place to be.

Because he was the manager, Bowa is responsible for fostering that atmosphere.

Surely the players were put off by Bowa’s emotional style and life-or-death way he was perceived of handling every pitch of the game, but it went deeper than that. Players thought Bowa was conniving and undermining and always trying willing to put someone else down if it meant putting himself in a better light.

Former Phillies with other clubs either refused to speak about Bowa or they say that the current Phillies report no changes in Bowa’s demeanor despite reports of the contrary.

“I really believe that Larry tried to change. In fact, I know Larry tried to change,” Wade said. “We had that conversation about how he has tried to adjust and adapt to certain situations. I think he did his darndest to try and do that for us.”

But perception and reputation are hard to overcome. In 2003, Sports Illustrated printed a poll of players in which Bowa was rated as the worst manager.

Think that’s just the “spoiled” millionaire players who complain about Bowa? Guess again. Even old-school baseball lifers have certain perceptions of Bowa. One complained that Bowa was a “whiny [jerk] when he was a player and he’s a whiny [jerk] now.”

Often, players and coaches old and new want to talk about Bowa’s relationship with former Phillie Scott Rolen, who in a recent poll conducted by Peter Gammons of ESPN, was regarded as the most respected player in baseball.

The relationship between Bowa and Rolen certainly has been well documented in these parts, but the current players have been very quiet about their true feelings about their former skipper. On the way out, the players had nothing but kind words for Bowa.

“Ever since I got here, Larry has always treated me with respect,” said Jim Thome, before his voice trailed off and he walked away from a group of reporters.

Wade said he told the players to behave with a certain decorum in giving them the news.

“I spoke to [the players] about the importance for those who are back next year to understand to approach this in a professional manner, and to clearly recognize that we all take responsibility for what’s taken place here today,” Wade said. “I would certainly hope that the atmosphere we create in spring training will allow us to get to our ultimate goal, which is to win a championship. Our goal wasn’t to finish second. Our goal wasn’t to go through the things that we’ve gone through this year. Our responsibility is to create a different environment.”

Certainly such a statement wasn’t necessary with this bunch of Phillies. Actually, most were very contrite and felt as though they let Bowa down.

“It was just a pleasure to play for Bo and I enjoyed it. I hate to see it come to this,” Wagner said. “He’s a great man and we should feel a bit responsible for this.”

Said shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who spent a lot of time working with Bowa by virtue of being the team’s scrappy shortstop, “You expect to play for more than one manager over the course of your career, but he’s going to surface somewhere. It’s just unfortunate that it had to happen the way it did. I believe he is a good manager, you just have to accept him for who he is.”

Regardless of what is said of Bowa, no one can deny that he is a great baseball professional. Though the chances of him managing another team in the immediate future seem slim, there is no doubt that Bowa will be in a big league uniform if he chooses to be before spring training starts in February.

At the same time, Bowa gets to keep collecting a check from the Phillies. And if he is given credit for one thing, it is raising the level of expectation for the baseball team in Philadelphia. That’s good.

“Larry is not going to struggle to find a job,” Wade said, expressing a familiar sentiment. “Remember, he is under contract with us through 2005 and we will pay him through the life of his contract, but at the same time I expect him to be in uniform at the Major League level trying to help a team win next year.”

Chances are he’ll keep doing it his way, too.

E-mail John R. Finger