World Series: Howard’s End

Ryan HowardNEW YORK—In 1983, Mike Schmidt had one of those playoff series that people remember forever. In four games against the Dodgers in the NLCS, he very well could have been the MVP if ol’ Sarge Matthews hadn’t hit three homers and driven in eight runs in four games.

The fact of the matter is that Schmidt and Lefty Carlton single-handedly won Game 1 with a homer in the first inning of a 1-0 victory. All told, the Hall-of-Fame third baseman went 7-for-15 with five runs, a pair of walks and a .800 slugging percentage.

Statistically speaking, the 1983 NLCS was far and away Schmidt’s best postseason effort.

The thing is no one remembers how good Schmidt was in the 1983 NLCS because he was so awful in the ’83 World Series.

So it’s kind of odd that he followed up the success against the Dodgers with one of the worst showing by a Hall of Famer in World Series history. In fact, take away the 0-for-21 effort by Brooklyn’s Gil Hodges in the seven-game defeat to the Yankees in the 1952 World Series, and Schmidt’s 1983 World Series could go down as the worst by a superstar.

Schmidt went hitless in his first 13 at-bats with five strikeouts in the series against the Orioles. Had it not been for that broken-bat bloop single that just made it past shortstop Cal Ripken’s reach, Schmidt would have gone 0-for-20 in the series.

Not quite as bad as Gil Hodges in 1952, but pretty darned close.

After wearing out the Dodgers to get the Phillies to the World Series, the Orioles had Schmidt’s number. There was the hit against Storm Davis and a bunch of oh-fers against Scott McGregor, Mike Flanagan, Sammy Stewart, Jim Palmer and Tippy Martinez.

Schmidt had no chance.

Kind of like Ryan Howard against the Yankees in the 2009 World Series,

Just like Schmidt, Howard wore out the Dodgers in the NLCS with eight RBIs and four extra-base hits out of the five he got. Moreover, with six walks, Howard reached base in 11 of his 21 plate appearances.

Mix Howard’s NLCS with his performance in the NLDS, and it truly was an epic postseason. With an RBI in the first eight games of the postseason, Howard tied a record set by Lou Gehrig. Then there was the career-defining moment in the clinching Game 4 of the NLDS where trailing by two runs and down to their last out, Howard blasted a game-tying double to the right-field corner.

After the Rockies took the lead in the eighth inning, Howard paced the dugout during the top of the ninth and calmly told his teammates to, “Just get me to the plate, boys.”

That’s pretty darned cool.

celebrate1983But will anyone remember the RBI streak, the production in the NLCS and that clutch at-bat in the ninth inning of the NLDS after the World Series Howard had?

Better yet, how does Howard get people to forget about the World Series?

Needless to say it will be difficult. After all, Howard whiffed a record-breaking 13 times in six games. He managed just four hits and one, stat-padding homer in the final game. Until that homer, Howard had just one RBI. After piling on 14 RBIs in the first eight games, Howard got one in next six games before that meaningless homer.

“Sometimes you’ve got it and sometimes you don’t,” Howard shrugged after the finale.

Actually, the Yankees had Howard’s number largely by scouting the hell out of the Phillies for most of the second-half of the season. So what they saw was that the best way to handle Howard was with a steady diet of left-handers. Howard batted .207 with just six homers against lefties in the regular season so that was the strategy the Yankees used.

Against the Yankees, Howard faced lefties in 18 of his 25 plate appearances. And against righties he didn’t do much better by going 0-for-6. Charlie Manuel calls Howard, “The Big Piece,” and clearly the Yankees saw the Phillies’ lineup similarly.

Schmidt said the one thing that bothers him the most about his career was his 1-for-20 performance in the 1983 World Series. If that’s the case for Howard, he has been as candid about it—of course he doesn’t have the luxury of time and space to properly analyze his showing.

“I feel cool,” Howard said. “The only thing you can do now is go home and relax and come back for spring training.”

For now, that’s it.

The NLCS: Chase Utley no Mr. October

Utley_errorLOS ANGELES—There’s no logical way to explain why some players thrive in the postseason and others just have the worst time ever. Chalk it up to simply being one of those baseball things that are indefinable.

As Charlie says, “Funny game.”

But one thing that is never a mystery is that legacies of ballplayers are defined by how well they perform in October. Sure, there are some players like Ted Williams and Ernie Banks who are given a pass for a dearth of playoff exposure, but those guys are rare. After all, there’s a reason why Derek Jeter is viewed as an all-time great despite a shortcoming or two.

And of course no one ever talks about the fact that Reggie Jackson struck out more times than anyone in baseball history and batted .300 just one time in 21 seasons. Reggie Jackson was Mr. October because he hit 10 home runs and won the World Series five times.

When it comes down to it, the performance after the season ends is what matters most, yet there are some pretty great players who struggle beneath the bright lights and others that can’t help but perform well in when the games matter most.

“It’s one of those things, I guess,” said Phillies’ hitting coach Milt Thompson, who holds the club postseason record for most RBIs in a game with five in a game in which he needed a homer to complete the cycle. “Some guys like the lights.”

Others don’t do well with them at all. For this group of Phillies it seems as if Ryan Howard is becoming quite Jacksonian. In Friday’s Game 2 of the NLCS, Howard continued his October assault by reaching base for the 15th straight postseason game. More notable, the Phillies’ slugger has at least one RBI in every game of the 2009 playoffs thanks to a fourth-inning homer against former Phillie Vicente Padilla in the 2-1 defeat.

But don’t just pin Howard’s hot playoff hitting to this season. His streak of big hits goes back to last October, too. In fact, Howard is hitting .382 (21-for-55) with six doubles, four home runs and 17 RBIs in his last 14 playoff games and he has reached base safely in his last 15.

In 23 postseason games Howard has five homers and 19 RBIs. The RBIs are already a franchise record for the postseason.

October has not been too kind to Chase Utley, though. Sure, he hit a pair of homers in the World Series last year and batted .429 against the Rockies in the NLDS, but so far he’s 1-for-8 against the Dodgers in the NLCS and has a .241 lifetime average in 23 playoff games with 23 strikeouts. Take away the 2009 NLDS and Utley is hitting just .203 in the playoffs and fails to put the ball in play more than 40 percent of the time.

Then there is the fielding. In the two biggest games of the season (so far), Utley has committed costly errors. The one in Game 1 caused pitcher Cole Hamels to throw a bit of a fit, while the one in Game 2 proved to be one of the biggest reasons why the Phillies lost to the Dodgers. Actually, Utley has three errors in his playoff career, which is a rate twice as high as his regular-season total of errors.

The errors in the field are what everyone is talking about now, but there’s more to Utley’s playoff woes. There was also the debacle of Game 1 of the 2007 NLDS in which he struck out four times on 13 pitches.

Still, even when Utley is playing well he consistently works to improve his game. Chancs are he dials up the effort even highr when things go poorly.

“I’m never really satisfied on the way I play,” Utley said. “I always feel like I can play better, so this season is no different.”

Nope, not at all. It’s no different in that Utley is finding trouble in the playoffs…

Again.

The NLCS: Phillies in five

dodgersLOS ANGELES — Let’s just put it out there on the line—Dodger Stadium is my favorite ballpark. It isn’t so much about the actual facility as it is what it represents. Of course the reality of how Dodger Stadium was built compared to its ideals of manifest destiny and a veritable garden party don’t exactly mesh, but still… the views!

That’s the part that’s amazing—sitting in the actual ballpark one can see palm trees and flowers with the picturesque San Gabriels looming just beyond the pavilion. Yet when one goes to the very top of the park to exit and looks out at the skyline of Los Angeles with its hulking post-modernist buildings and the Hollywood sign off to the right it’s hard not to think of the opening scene from “Blade Runner.”

Dodger Stadium is the second oldest ballpark in the National League, but it represents the future. It always has.

So we’ll go to Dodger Stadium on Thursday afternoon for the first game of the 2009 NLCS. There’s a pretty good chance that we’ll be back later next week, too, in order to figure out which team will go to the World Series.

If the Phillies won the National League at Dodger Stadium last year, why can’t they do it again?

Well, they can do it again. After all, in Game 1, Cole Hamels will face 21-year old Clayton Kershaw in a battle of young lefties. The interesting caveat in this matchup is Kershaw is 0-3 with a 6.64 ERA in four starts against the Phillies. Plus, three years ago he was still in high school. Of the teams that he has faced at least twice in his short career, Kershaw is the worst against the Phillies.

Moreover, the Dodgers will send ex-Phillie Vicente Padilla to the mound in Game 2. The Phillies know him well and understand that he is full of weaknesses and can easily be intimidated. As Jimmy Rollins said during Wednesday’s workout:

“When he’s good, he’s really good. If not, he’s way off.”

Take away his win against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS and Padilla hasn’t pitched seven innings since the middle of July. Besides, that Game 3 was Padilla’s first appearance ever in the playoffs so who’s to know if he can keep his focus long enough to be known a s a big-game pitcher.

Hiroki Kuroda is known to the Phillies and not in a good way. Sure, everyone remembers that incident with Shane Victorino during last year’s NLCS, but more telling is that the Phils are 6-for-60 in three games against the Japanese righty.

Then there is Randy Wolf, the ex-Phillie who pitched the first-ever game at Citizens Bank Park. Pitching for other teams at the Bank, Wolf is much better than he was as a Phillie. However, Wolf’s playoff debut wasn’t too good and he was pushed out of a Game 1 start to go in Game 4.

So it will come down to the bullpens. If the Phillies can get a lead and hold it, they will return to the World Series. But if they let Kershaw, Padilla, Kuroda and Wolf hang around, it could prove to be a tough road for the Phillies.

I’m not sure that will happen. That’s why I’m going with the Phillies in five games. Yeah, that goes against the conventional wisdom, but these aren’t the Phillies of yore. These guys know how to win and so they won’t have to return to Southern California until the end of October when they face the Angels in the World Series.

Yeah, that’s it—Phillies vs. Angels in the Fall Classic.

Can the Phillies repeat? It’s tough, says Dodgers manager Joe Torre who was guided the last team to do it in 1998-2000 with the Yankees.

“Well, first off, you’ve got a bulls-eye on your back,” Torre said. “That’s one. Everyone seems to put on their Sunday best to play you. You always get the best pitchers matching up. And then if you have a young pitcher that nobody knows, it seems to be a challenge to that young man to show what they can do against the world champs or those teams.

“So, I think when you repeat, you basically have to go through a tougher season to get there. And the Phillies, they’ve experienced those ups and downs. They go through and have a good streak, and I think they went down to Houston and got swept. But the thing about it, when you have a ball club that has been as consistent, knowing they’re good, they rebound from things like that. I think that’s the main thing about Philadelphia is how resilient they’ve been. Early in the year this year they didn’t win any games at home. It didn’t seem to bother them. They just kept plugging away. I think that’s why they’re so good. Not to mention the talent they have. When you look down that lineup, a couple of switch hitters at the top and then a couple of left-handers and then (Jayson) Werth who’s that blue-collar guy, you may compare him a little bit to Casey Blake type of individual, they’re going to fight you every step of the way. They’re a ballclub that has a purpose—they have a purpose out there, and we certainly are aware of it.”

Let’s pause for a second and think about the notion of Charlie Manuel becoming the first manager to repeat as World Champion since Joe Torre and the first National Leaguer to do it since Sparky Anderson and the Big Red Machine of 1975 and 1976…

Yeah, Charlie Manuel.

“You like to be able to look over your shoulder and know that your manager believes in you. He’s there for you,” ex-Phillies and now Dodgers pinch hitter Jim Thome said. “Charlie does that. He keeps it relaxed so all you have to do is go out and play. You can’t explain how important that is.”

It starts on Thursday afternoon from here in California.

Is everyone ready?

Game 2: Wolf and the cats

wolfieThe Phillies just finished up with batting practice here at the Bank and the Rockies are getting ready to run through their paces before Game 2. Better yet, let’s hope they play the game at a rate comparable to Game 1 where the always efficient and quick-working Cliff Lee kept everything moving.

That was so much better than the debacle that went on in Los Angeles last night where the Dodgers and Cardinals played the longest nine-inning game in NLDS history. It damn-near went on for four hours thanks largely to 30 runners left on base between the teams.

Imagine how frustrating it must have been for the Dodgers and Cardinals to leave all those runners out there. In that regard, the teams were pretty evenly matched, too. The Cards left on 16 and the Dodgers stranded 14, only LA made their hits count a little more in the 5-3 victory.

Nevertheless, right smack dab in the middle of the marathon effort was ex-Phillie turned Dodgers’ Game 1 starter, Randy Wolf. In his first ever playoff game Wolf needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning on his way to 82 in just 3 2/3 innings. Had he been able to get four more outs he would have received the win. Instead, 11 base runners against 11 outs ruined the debut.

That’s a shame, too, because based on past discussions with Wolf, I know how badly he wanted to participate in playoff baseball. Being in the playoffs was his greatest wish in his career and I know it pained him to see both the Dodgers and the Phillies in it last year while he was off playing for Houston.

“I was extremely happy for them,” Wolf said about watching his old team win the World Series, “But I was little jealous, too.”

It’s not like Wolf didn’t have a chance to be a part if the Phillies during the past three seasons. Before testing free agency and going home to California to play for the Dodgers and Padres, Wolf had an offer on the table from the Phillies. In fact, general manager Pat Gillick went to visit Wolf at his home in Los Angeles before the 2007 season to persuade the lefty to re-sign with the Phillies.

Gillick thought he had a chance to get Wolf, too… that was until he saw the cats.

You see, Wolf and his then girlfriend packed up their house in Conshohocken and had it shipped to the other coast. That included the pet cats, which was Gillick’s tip off. If a guy goes as far to move cats 3,000 miles away you can pretty much bet it’s not going to be a round trip.

It’s much easier to lug a dinette set from Pennsylvania to California than it is to wrangle up the cats, get them in a vehicle and take them across the country. Add in a girlfriend and you’re really talking about commitment.

So as soon as Gillick left the pitcher, the girl and the cats in the house in California, he scurried to the airport where he immediately phoned up the agent for Adam Eaton and offered him the deal he was going to give Wolf.

The rest is history.

Missing out on Big Jim

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

You know… trying to stay ahead of the curve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paging Dr. Freud…

unisphereNEW YORK – Word is my mom had a Brooklyn Dodgers hat when she was a kid. I’m not sure why she had a Brooklyn cap, nor if she actually could name a player on those Brooklyn teams – she has three brothers so maybe it was a hand-me-down or something.

Who knows, maybe she just likes the shade of Dodger Blue?

But here’s the point: my mom is a grandmother. She’s a baby boomer born not too long after my grandfather got back from the Army in the European Theatre during World War II. By the time the Dodgers left Brooklyn and moved to Los Angeles, she was getting ready for the second grade.

In other words, there aren’t too many grandmothers around anymore who remember the Brooklyn Dodgers. In fact, for my mom a more memorable moment was driving from Lancaster, Pa. to Flushing Meadows to go to the 1964 World’s Fair. Along with old black-and-white snapshots next to the giant Unisphere, there was one photo of the ultra-sleek and uniquely colored Shea Stadium.

For people my mom’s age, Shea Stadium was significant because that’s where The Beatles performed in the first-ever outdoor stadium concert. Moreover, it was post-modern and was a big part of urban planner Robert Moses’ grand vision of cities. See, to Moses, the car was king. He built all those freeways, bridges and tunnels, uprooted neighborhoods and displaced folks from their homes and wrecked historical buildings in favor of places like Shea Stadium.

Hell, want to know why the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles? Read up on Robert Moses.

Anyway, a ballpark in Flushing, Queens was Moses’ dream. He felt the folks from the suburbs would come out to the park in droves because of all the access roads heading toward the Unisphere. The problem was he didn’t anticipate the traffic on the BQE or the Belt Parkway.

What self-respecting urban planner doesn’t anticipate traffic?

citi-fieldSome visionary he was.

Nevertheless, we are now into the third/fourth generation of people who know New York only as a baseball town that supports the Yankees and the Mets. The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers are ancient history. Those teams are a grainy black-and-white images from a documentary where really old men talk about a game that kind of looks like the baseball we see these days.

As a result of this post-modern world dreamed up and planted firmly in Queens, New York, there is a sizable and interesting history for the New York Mets. Sure, it only begins in 1962, but think about the history that has occurred in those 47 years. Think about how much the world has changed, or what was here and then gone in a fleeting and impactful moment.

Imagine what they would think about the Internet in 1962. Shoot, imagine what they would think about the Internet in 1986 – the last time the Mets won the World Series.

So yes, history has occurred on that spans of dreaded real estate near LaGuardia Airport and Flushing Bay. The Miracle Mets won in ’69, they snuck into the big dance in ’73, Buckner missed the ball in ’86, Piazza won a game after the towers came down in September of ’01 and even Eric Bruntlett became an accidental footnote in history in a baseball game against the Mets.

As far as baseball goes, Shea has been the site of some monumental moments. Certainly some bits of time that are no less significant than have occurred in Los Angeles, Chicago or Philadelphia.

Yet for some reason the folks responsible for building the New York Mets new ballpark where all these historical moments occurred chose to memorialize the Dodgers. You know, the very same Dodgers that knocked the Mets out of the playoffs in 1988 and lead the NL West today.

See, CitiField has an uncanny resemblance (on the outside at least) to old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That’s right… the same Ebbets Field the Dodgers abandoned because they didn’t want their new stadium to be built in Flushing, Queens. Better yet, the new CitiField comes complete with the classic rotunda as a grand entrance very much like the one Ebbets Field had.

And to memorialize the rotunda in the ballpark modeled after the Dodgers’ stadium, the Mets gave the site the name of a player who was a famous Dodger. No, this is not to belittle naming it the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, because the man was the most important ballplayer ever to play the game.

Shea_postcard_1964But Robinson was a Dodger through and through. Robinson might have gone to Los Angeles with the Dodgers, but just before the 1957 season he was traded to the New York Giants. Rather than play for a team other than the Dodgers, Robinson quit and never played again.

If he couldn’t play for the Dodgers, Robinson didn’t want to play at all.

The rotunda is a stately and elegant feature of the ballpark. It’s kind of a regal oasis in a maelstrom of spilled beer, curses and lost ballgames. But it is absolutely devoid of anything to commemorate the ballclub it hosts. The Dodgers? Check.

The Mets? Well, the Mets are on the field.

Maybe it gets back to something else moms and grandmothers like to say – if one projects a strong self worth, others will view the person in the same light. It is with this self-loathing that the Mets are viewed around all five boroughs. The Yankees reign in New York – it is their town above any other team.

The Mets aren’t just the ugly stepchild – they are the ugly stepchild that intentionally carves up its own skin like an angst-filled teen aged girl. Maybe the answer is for an intervention where the team brass is assured that it will all be OK and that people like them.

It’s OK if they like themselves, too.

Just walk away

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in a very big position for the history of Major League Baseball. Not to belittle a truly historical moment, but Frank and Jamie McCourt, the owners of the Dodgers, could become of the Rosa Parks of baseball ownership. They can strike a blow against greed and ridiculousness by simply walking away.

All they have to do is say, “No.”

How difficult is that?

If only they could quit Manny.

See, the McCourts and their general manager Ned Colletti made a brand-new offer to outfielder/savant Manny Ramirez late this week to sweeten a one-year, $25 million deal. This time the Manny and agent Scott Boras were offered a two-year contract worth $45 million. Not only that, but there were plenty of sweeteners in it, as if $45 million during the worst economy the U.S. has faced in 80 years isn’t sweet enough.

Nevertheless, the McCourts offered Manny a deal that not only would make him the second-highest paid player in history, but gave him a chance to opt out after the first season. Moreover, of Manny were to get hurt and not able to play, the $45 million is guaranteed. In other words, he could foul a pitch off his big toe in the very first game of the ’09 season and walk away with all the loot.

Yes, it’s a pretty sweet deal. It’s especially sweet when one considers that Manny already has been paid nearly $163 million during his big-league career. Not bad work if you can find it.

Continue reading this story…

Manny of the people

mannyGood for Manny Ramirez. Good for him for standing up to the power structure in Major League Baseball and telling them, “You think you can buy me with $25 million? Ha!”

“Ha!” he says.

So yes, kudos to Manny Ramirez for not allowing the Los Angeles Dodgers to reduce him to a dollar sign. There’s more to Manny than the money, like… well… he’s good at hitting a baseball and he has a unique hair style. Yeah. Not everyone can hit a baseball or grow interesting hair, so Manny has that going for him.

Which is nice.

So why is the fearsome right-handed hitter trivialized with dollar signs? Why do they insist on turning the great game of baseball like it’s some sort of business?

Manny is an artist and he’s above such trite things like contacts and millions and millions of dollars. He just wants to play the game and show off his skills. He wants to entertain and dazzle us with his pure swing.

Twenty-five million dollars? Who has time to be bothered by such trivial non-sense?

Manny’s agent Scott Boras knows this. It’s a good thing the hitter has someone like Boras on his side looking out for his best interests, too. After all, could Manny fend off those jackals in those sharp suits and sensible shoes working for the Dodgers who want to give him $25 million to play baseball in 2009? Probably not. The way those guys throw around money and push and bully hardworking folks like Manny around, it’s a wonder he doesn’t wake up next to a horse head.

So when the Dodgers came calling with the contract and a Brinks truck, Boras just laughed. Maybe he chuckled. He definitely guffawed. Later, he smirked just thinking about the nerve of those suit-wearing folks in the executive offices in Chavez Ravine. C’mon, $25 million? If Boras was getting a 10 percent cut of his client’s cash, that left a mere $2.5 million.

Really…the nerve!

But let’s try this one out for size – maybe Manny is a revolutionary. Maybe he is looking out for the proletariat. You know, the hard-working, lunch-pail middle American. And so to show solidarity with the backbone of America, Manny, a son of immigrants who grew up in Manhattan’s hard-scrabble Washington Heights section, proves he can’t be bought.

Twenty-five million dollars? Go fly a kite.

Boras, in a conversation with the LA Times, called the $25 million offer a, “Suggestion.” In fact, it was an even bigger slap in the face than the two-year, $45 million offer the Dodgers sent to Manny in November.

It’s as if the Dodgers and the rest of the franchises in Major League Baseball are trying to tell Manny something. At least that’s what his pal Albert Pujols said during a press conference last week.

“I speak with Manny every three days and he tells me, ‘Man, no one wants to sign me,’ Pujols said. “I’m not an agent or general manager, but I can’t understand how Manny has not signed.”

Boras says he expects to have a deal in place by the time spring training camps open on Feb. 14, which will further stoke the speculation. Will the Mets wade into the fray despite the fact that the team’s brass say publically that they aren’t interested? Hey, why not? Manny is from New York so it could be a sweet little homecoming for him. Better yet, Newsday’s Wallace Matthews suggested that the Mets could take the cash from CitiBank earmarked for the new stadium-naming rights and just hand it over to Manny. Since CitiBank is suckling at the ample bosom of the federal government for a fat, $300 billion bailout from you, me and every other taxpayer, it’s nice that we can help a fella down on his luck find a job.

Hey, times are hard. The U.S. lost 522,000 more private-sector jobs in January, which is down slightly from the 659,000 jobs that were lost during December of 2008. Oddly enough, some of the numbers figured into the December total come from, coincidentally enough, Major League Baseball. You see, MLB decided to start a new television network on Jan. 1, 2009 so had to trim a little fat. As such, 30 or so folks who were working on the MLB web site were sent packing because, according to one report, they were making too much money.

You know, like $50,000 to $60,000 per year.

So in order to launch the network and to sign big-name stars like Bob Costas to wax philosophic, a dude writing stories for the web had to go. MLB gets its talking heads and Costas and whacks Ken Mandel.

Talk about a steal.

But wait, here’s the good part… not only did MLB have to make those jobs cuts to restore order to its bottom line, it also had to make sure commissioner Bud Selig got his. Like we said before, times are hard. MLB only had $6.5 billion in revenues last year and not a dime came from taxpayer bailouts. Plus, Selig was paid $18.5 million in salary last year and not one single person ever went to the ballpark to see him.

Not one person ever.

So let’s call Manny a Robin Hood in reverse. If the Mets swoop in to sign him with CitiBank bailout cash, it would be like stealing from the poor to give to the rich. You know, Reaganomics.

But Selig and MLB are bracing for the tough times and the rocky economic road ahead. With soaring ticket prices in places like the new stadium in New York coupled with the new network and a potential big check to be cut for Manny, Selig’s company might slump to an even $6 billion in 2009.

“We’re living in unprecedented economic times,” Selig said at last month’s owners’ meetings. “We’re trying to understand what it means.”

To be fair, it won’t take John Maynard Keynes to figure out this economic riddle. For as long as possible the pigs will feed whenever they want, for as long as they want.

So yeah, why shouldn’t Manny turn up his nose at $25 million even in a time when jobs are being shed like hair on Telly Savalas’ head? If Selig is stealing getting $18.5 million, maybe it’s right that the economy should collapse.

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.