Another whiff

Ryan HowardThroughout the team’s history, the Phillies have always been attracted to those hitters that always seem to swing and miss a lot. Mike Schmidt was one of those guys. During his career he whiffed 1,883 times, which is the seventh-most in the history of the game.

Schmidt’s teammate Greg Luzinski averaged 133 strikeouts per 162 games. That duo of Schmidt and Luzinski led the National League in strikeouts five times.

Dick Allen, Lance Parrish, Bobby Abreu, Juan Samuel, Pat Burrell, Scott Rolen and Darren Daulton all routinely whiffed more than 100 times per season, though those guys were hardly in the same league as Jim Thome and Ryan Howard.

Thome, the heir to Schmidt, is third on the all-time strikeout list and set the club record for whiffs in a season with 182 in 2003. Like his time in Philadelphia, Thome’s reign on the top of that list was short when Howard racked up 181 strikeouts in 2006 before establishing the new Major League record in 2007 when he nearly became the first man to reach the 200-strikeout plateau with 199.

Just think what type of numbers Howard would have posted if he hadn’t missed nearly all of May.

But they wouldn’t be the Phillies if the strikeouts were exclusive to the batters’ box. Oh no. Actually, the entire franchise is kind of one big caught-looking enterprise. They do strikeouts well. After all, no professional team in the history of sports has surpassed 10,000 losses like the Phillies have and it seems as if there is no executive in league history to have been spurned more than Pat Gillick has this winter.

In terms of striking out on the free-agent market, Gillick and the Phillies have made Howard, Thome and Schmidt look like Wee Willie Keeler.

Yes, it happened again on Wednesday afternoon. In what has become a weekly rite during the winter the Phillies were told thanks but no thanks by a player that the team really could use in order to recapture the National League East. First it was Mike Lowell, who would have been the team’s answer at third base. Instead of signing on with the Phillies to play in cozy little Citizens Bank Park where he once slugged three homers in a game, Lowell took a lesser contract offer to remain with the Boston Red Sox.

Apparently, there was just something about all the money and the years that turned off Lowell about the Phillies.

Then there was Randy Wolf, the left-handed starting pitcher who came up through the Phillies system, pitched for the team for eight seasons and earned his first (and only) All-Star appearance with the club during the 2003 season. But after recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2006, Wolf took a lesser deal to pitch for the Dodgers in 2007. Two weeks ago the Phillies came knocking again and – once again – Wolf took a incentive-laden (in the parlance of the game) one-year deal to pitch for San Diego.

Gillick and Wolf’s negotiations went something like this:

Gillick: We really like you, Randy, and we really want to sign you to a multi-year deal. Is that something you would be interested in?

Wolf: Well, Pat, I grew up in Southern California and all my family is here and I would really like to be closer to them. Plus, the ballpark is a little more conducive to my style of pitching. It’s nothing personal and I really liked pitching for you guys for eight years, but I think I’m going to go to San Diego.

Gillick: Whore.*

Aaron RowandNo one wanted to sign with the Phillies. Not even Tadahito Iguchi, the second baseman who asked for his release and eschewed arbitration, passed up a chance to be the Phillies’ everyday third baseman by signing a one-year deal with San Diego, too.

So let’s add it up. Lowell to Boston; Wolf to San Diego; Iguchi to San Diego; Melvin Mora – no dice; Curt Schilling back to Boston; Geoff Jenkins, maybe; and Scott Rolen, anywhere but Philly or St. Louis.

What do the Phillies have to do? Move the franchise to San Diego? Configure a more pitcher-friendly ballpark on the parking lot where the Vet used to be? Give Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva the worst contract in the history of Major League Baseball?

All of the above?

Really, though, the more interesting question is how does Aaron Rowand fit in here? If they just could have lured Rowand back into the fold it all would have been OK. Right…

Sigh!

By all accounts, Aaron Rowand, the fan and media favorite, really, really wanted to return to the Phillies for 2008 and beyond. It’s just that he didn’t want to do it for less than five years. Only the Phillies offered three and apparently there was no middle ground. They couldn’t split the difference and get together on four years.

And what’s four years in the scheme of things? Come on, really… Four years is a presidential term? It’s 80 percent of one’s collegiate work? It’s just four years! That’s it. It goes by in a heartbeat.

Instead, Rowand got his five years (and, he says, the cash he was expecting) from the San Francisco Giants – a team that came in last in the NL West last season at 71-91. With Barry Bonds gone and a young corps of pitchers still finding their way around in the unforgiving world of Major League Baseball, the Giants should be slated for the cellar again in 2008. But Rowand will be there, crashing into walls, charming the fans and doing what he can to help the Giants get better.

It’s doesn’t seem as though Rowand will duplicate the offensive statistics he posted for the Phillies during the 2008 season at whatever corporation currently owns the naming rights for the Giants’ ballpark these days. But does that really matter? All that matters is that he won’t be doing anything for the Phillies anymore and that’s the really big whiff.

One thing is for certain – the “sources” were only off by a year and $25 million. But, again, that doesn’t help the Phillies much.

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* Actually, Gillick said: “Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

I thought you said I was OK, Spider

Richard NixonWhen I was a kid I believed nearly everything adults told me. Well, I believed almost everything they told me until I was about 10. After then, I questioned everything because that’s about the time I learned about Richard Nixon. I figured if the President of the United States could be less than forthcoming, maybe other adults could, too.

That’s also about the same time I learned about Santa Claus, though truth be told the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy never made any sense. That’s especially the case with the Tooth Fairy because that just sounds a little too Uncle Eddie-ish to me. Really, what kind of a person or fairy wants little kids’ ripped out and bloodied teeth? Do they make necklaces out of them like those sharks’ tooth ones people wore in the ‘70s and stuff? Remember Turk Wendell, the Phillies’ former relief pitcher? Yeah, well he had a necklace made out of elk’s teeth and other wild animals he may or may not have shot. Actually, the necklace was kind of gaudy, but not in a P. Diddy kind of way.

Perhaps Turk Wendell was the tooth fairy for the Marlin Perkins set?

Anyway, the point is that I believed what adults told me, but then I stopped and then, for some reason, I believed them again. At least I believed what adult general managers of Major League Baseball teams told me. Seriously, why would they make up stuff? They weren’t after my teeth (as far as I knew) and they weren’t going to bring me or my family gifts every December under the cover of darkness. Better yet, I don’t think there is a single baseball GM who secretly bombed Cambodia or was less than forthcoming about the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters back in ’72. Based on that criterion, baseball GMs are a reasonably trustworthy lot.

That doesn’t mean they tell the truth all of the time. For instance, I recall a time when Ed Wade revealed that a slumping Marlon Byrd was the team’s centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future – who would have guessed that Byrd was living in the future and was to be optioned to Triple-A after a game in which he served as the centerfielder and leadoff hitter? Hey, I’m not saying Wade didn’t make the correct move, I’m just saying that if the end of the game was as far into the future as he could see, then he needs to re-do that Lasik surgery.

DeNiroSo what’s this have to do with anything? Well, it doesn’t. I just like writing about it. Plus, it’s a nice little segue way into the whole Mike Lowell thing, who, as most readers of this site and other like it (could there be others like this one?) will tell you, is the newly re-signed third baseman and MVP of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox. Lowell is a pretty darned good third baseman who played for the Marlins when they won the World Series in 2003 and I remember sitting at Citizens Bank Park the time he hit three home runs in one game for the Marlins. The last of the three came off Billy Wagner and it made me laugh out loud… not one of those obnoxious laughs like DeNiro chomping on a cigar in the movie theater like in Cape Fear, which by itself is a ridiculous scene. But it was a laugh that slips out at an inappropriate time, like say the time your friend was an altar boy at mass at Sacred Heart in 1984 or something and he knocked over a candle that he had just lit. You don’t want to laugh out loud, but you do for that briefest of seconds before anyone realizes that you are the one who a.) Has a bad sense of humor and b.) Can’t control himself in solemn places.

Not that any of that ever happened, of course.

Anyway, Nixon bombed Cambodia, Marlon Byrd was sent to Scranton and Pat Gillick told us not to believe everything we read on ESPN.com. Which one thinks about it, is a rather ambiguous statement. Just look at it:

“Don’t believe everything you read on ESPN.com.”

cigarOK. I guess that’s good advice. But it’s kind of like, don’t dance with a circus bear wearing a Shriner’s hat after it just pedaled a tricycle 50 yards. Or don’t rub the belly of an alligator that was just fed ostrich burgers for a mid-afternoon snack. Does it really mean something or is it just a broad, sweeping statement that is common amongst politicians and large retailers to homogenize us?

Perhaps what Gillick meant to say was, “Don’t believe everything you read on ESPN.com about badminton. But the stuff about the Phillies attempting to sign Mike Lowell to play third base for the team in 2008… yeah, well that stuff is as solid as your Uncle Tim’s brass spittoon.”

So how about that? Despite all the reports that indicated that the Phillies had just a limited amount of cash to spend this winter, and GM Gillick’s contention that the team was focusing on acquiring pitching and that third base was not a “priority,” it comes out that the Phillies are like Diamond Jim picking up the tab for everyone in the saloon. They’re lighting big, fat cigars with $20 bills while trying to figure out how they can spend more money and make offers to guys like Mike Lowell.

Good for them.

But here’s the question: why the subterfuge? Why all the, “Mike Lowell? Who is Mike Lowell? We wouldn’t know Mike Lowell if he walked right up and spit into our mammy’s hand purse…” Doing stuff like that is going to give a guy a reputation. It’s going to make the honest, chaste and diligent folks in the local sporting press to believe the worst in a person. They’re going to think that when Pat Gillick says, “No, no, no,” he really means, “Yes, no, yes!”

I don’t know much about poker or the game’s colorful jargon, but I do bad bluffing when I hear it. Based on this, the Phillies should swoop in and steal away A-Rod from the Yankees at any minute.

***
If the Phillies can’t get A-Rod (or Scott Rolen), maybe they can get Randy Wolf? The former Phillie lefty has received an offer from the team about returning for 2008. The team has made a bunch of other offers to other players, too, including right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who has pitched for the past decade in the Japan.

***
Most of my friends don’t follow sports too closely so they sometimes ask inane questions about how I must be a big fan of the Phillies. I don’t think they get it when I tell them that, “I root for the story.” You see, like the stereotypical, self-centered athlete, I just look out for myself.

Anyway, though I don’t really care one way or another which team wins or loses, I do find myself rooting for the success of certain people in the game. In that regard, a hearty congratulations goes out to Jimmy Rollins for being voted the National League’s MVP in 2007 by the dangerous (and fascist) secret society called the Baseball Writers Association of America. If there is one player who respects, understands and reveres the history of the game, it’s Rollins and I’m certain he will represent the award and the new fame that goes with such an honor well.

Kudos to Jimmy.

Paying attention is hard – Part III

Scott RolenInterestingly, third basemen Mike Lowell and Scott Rolen have the same agent. Even more interesting, the Phillies have not inquired about making a deal for either player. But then again, the team says all they are interested in is adding pitching.

Yeah, we’ve been all over this before.

But it’s free agency period and everyone is into the Hot Stove stuff which means memories are short or ears are clogged or both. People will pay attention to what they want and they will only hear enough to keep the rumor-mongers in business. That’s what it is now – rumors and innuendo. Forget about facts and news. That’s boring.

It’s boring like the news from the St. Louis papers regarding Rolen, who reportedly is seeking a trade away from the Cardinals because of a damaged relationship with manager Tony La Russa. This is old news. In fact, it was well known last summer that Rolen did not want to return to the Cardinals in 2008 if La Russa was going to remain the team’s manager. But with La Russa signed on for a couple more years, it has come to light that Rolen is seeking a trade.

Again, no surprise there.

Here’s the thing though – because Rolen apparently wants to be traded away from the Cardinals and because it’s assumed the Phillies are after a third baseman because it’s also assumed that they need one (even though the Phillies say obtaining a third baseman is “not a priority”), immediately the Rolen-to-Phillies stories creep up.

What are we missing here?

Oh yeah, how about the facts. Like the fact that Rolen has a no-trade clause with an unwritten line that states, “I’ll waive it for anywhere but Baghdad or Philadelphia.” Or the fact that Rolen still has three years remaining on his contract and is owed $36 million coupled with the report that the Cards will not help pay the freight. What about the fact that Rolen missed most of 2005 and 2007 seasons because of injuries that may or may not have taken away some of his offensive punch.

Do the facts matter or do they just get in the way of a good story?

Answers: No and yes.

Either way, let us reinterate the main point again – Rolen has a no-trade clause. It means he can’t be traded anywhere unless he waives it and this is often done for a hefty fee. Knowing what we know about Rolen’s first 6½ seasons in Philadelphia and the way he was received in all of his visits since 2002, what sane person would think he’d want to return to play for the Phillies, let alone fly over the city in the Enola Gay?

And don’t give me a silly answer like, “money” because Rolen already accepted a smaller paycheck to play for St. Louis.

Look, certainly Rolen is not the first player Tony La Russa rubbed the wrong way. Needless to say, La Russa isn’t the first manager Rolen has had trouble with. Actually, it seems as if the only manager Rolen did well with was Terry Francona. Let’s be hypocrites and play the rumor game, only we’ll be a little more original and make up one of our own…

Ready?

OK, Lowell signs with the Cardinals and Rolen gets traded to the Red Sox… how does that work?

Hey, it’s the best I could come up with on short notice.

But, you know, paying attention is hard. That’s especially true when the real story gets in the way of the more entertaining story.

Speaking of which, Mike Lowell ain’t coming to Philadelphia either… then again, what does his agent or Phils’ GM Pat Gillick know?

So long, sailor…
DeitchIt’s worth noting that Dennis Deitch of the Delaware County Daily Times finally found a seat with a desk. That means regular hours, holidays off and no more travelling around following a baseball team all summer long. That frees him up to do… well, whatever it is he does. Dungeons & Dragons, I guess. Perhaps some Everquest with Curt Schilling, poker at the Borgata and more time spent honing his act as the new crocodile hunter.

To that end we wish Dennis well, note our envy and hope he learns how to duck and move a little more quickly. For us that remain the departure means no more ridiculously riotous comments made with pitch-perfect timing[1]. For us, that sucks.

But kudos, Dennis. Kudos.

If you’re scoring at home, the scribes now have subtracted Marcus Hayes and Deitch from the ranks… I say the beat guys get to vote the next guy off the island. Does it work that way?


[1] Timing, of course, is relative. Perhaps Dennis’ timing is perfect because it’s so inappropriate? That’s probably the case.

The new dynasty?

Red SoxSo we live in a world where the Red Sox have won two of the last four World Series. Meanwhile, the White Sox, a club that had not won the Series since 1917, took the one of those titles during the Red Sox current “dynasty.”

What’s next? Will the Cubs finally win a World Series?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Anyway, two out of the last four counts for a pretty good dynasty these days. Though Major League Baseball does not have parity like the anti-American NFL, generally any team can win the World Series if they follow the Sox and Yankees’ formula. Since the institution of the Division Series in 1995, three teams have won the World Series more than once (the Yankees; the Marlins; and the Red Sox). That means any team can do it at least once… or at least get there. Only four teams (all of them expansion) haven’t won a pennant: the Mariners, Devil Rays, Rangers and the Nationals.

Of that four, one team clearly is not interested in winning.

The Red Sox second World Series title since 2004 makes one wonder what the hell they were doing for the 86 seasons between 1918 and 2004. No, there was no curse and people who believe in curses and jinxes in sports should put on their pink hat, untuck their jersey, sit down quietly in the club box seat, ask the waitress for another “Lite” beer and wait for the wave to come around again.

The real reason it took the Red Sox 86 seasons to win the World Series? They were stupid.

What’s the Phillies’ excuse? It approaching three decades since the Phillies’ last (and only) title, which would be worrisome if the Pirates had won since 1979, the Giants since 1954, the Indians since 1948, and, of course, the Cubs since ’08.

Ty Cobb was in his second full big-league season when the Cubs last won the World Series.

So how can the Phillies do what the Red Sox have done? Do they have to clean house of all the old-time thinking and get some new, fresh ideas like the Red Sox did? Do have to continue to build the team around their offense and the uber-cozy confines of their home ballpark? Hey, if the Rockies can win with good pitching at Coors Field, why can’t the Phillies do the same thing at Coors East?

Or do they need a manager like that Terry Francona who seems to always push the right buttons for the Red Sox over the last four seasons? Why can’t the Phillies ever get a guy like that?

***
Mike LowellAs the World Series entered the late innings last night, whipper-snapper sideline dude, Ken Rosenthal, announced that Alex Rodriguez had opted out of his contract with the Yankees and will become a free agent.

No surprise there.

Some say the Phillies could take a big step at building a World Series contender by signing Alex Rodriguez as the team’s new third baseman. In theory, this is a nice idea, but for one season of A-Rod, the Phillies would likely have to pay him 30 times what they paid Ryan Howard in 2007. Besides, if I had to bet, A-Rod will not be playing third base in 2008… he’ll be playing shortstop for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox third baseman will likely remain Mike Lowell, who priced himself out of the Phillies’ budget last night by being named MVP of the World Series. If I had to guess, the Red Sox other free agent on the Phillies’ radar, Curt Schilling, will likely return to Boston for one more run, too.

Schilling and Lowell would (could?) fit in nicely with the Phillies, but maybe Joe Crede could fit in nicely at third base as well? As far as starting pitchers go, free agents Livan Hernandez, Bartolo Colon and Carlos Silva will cost more than $10 million per season. Is that out of the Phillies’ budget? If it is, perhaps Randy Wolf would be a bargain at $8 million or so?

Better yet, maybe the Phillies can work on a trade.

Next: The Trials are four days away, which means we will have all sorts of running stuff coming this week.

This past weekend I watched the Centennial Conference cross-country championships, which (damn-near literally) took place in my back yard. If there were such a thing as a cross country video game, the designers should have pixelized Baker Field. That’s because the rain on Friday and Saturday morning turned the course into the quintessential mess, featuring standing water, slippery mounds and mud so deep in spots that when I ran the course on Saturday afternoon, my foot was buried up to my calf.

Though the World Series is over and the baseball season has come to an end until the middle of February, we will continue to write about baseball here. I’d write about sports outside of my realm (baseball, running, cycling, etc.), but I’m not so interested and I’m not good at faking it.