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: 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.

Party like it’s 1976

charlieBaring a collapse of New York Mets proportions, the Phillies will clinch the NL East for the third season in a row. The Three-peat in the East has occurred just one other time in team history and continues a string of a dearth of champs in the East. Following the Phillies’ victory in 1993, only the Braves and Mets have won the division aside from the current batch of Phillies.

In other words, the NL East resembles the NBA Finals during the 1980s when only the Celtics, Sixers, Rockets and Lakers ever got there. Eventually the Pistons and Bulls broke through, but for a long time it seemed as if only a handful of teams ever made it to the big dance.

Nevertheless, the clincher for the Phillies will likely come this weekend in Milwaukee. And as a result of sewing things up with a week to go in the season (at least), it will go down as the earliest clincher in terms of games played. To capture their first playoff berth in 26 years in 1976, the Phillies wrapped up the East in Game 155.

If the Phillies clinch before Sunday, it will be the earliest the team ensured a playoff berth ever. Even in 1950, before the advent of divisional play, the Phillies needed the full slate of games to get to the postseason.

Anyway, here’s a look at the playoff-clinching games since Major League Baseball started divisional play.

2008
Game 161 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 27)

Box score

Remember this one? Remember how you felt when Brad Lidge loaded the bases with one out and the go-ahead runs in scoring position and how the shot by Ryan Zimmerman looked like it was going to ruin the closer’s perfect slate?

Kind of feels a lot like this year, doesn’t it?

Aside from Jimmy Rollins’ heroic diving stop to spin the game-ending double play, this one is remembered for Jamie Moyer’s second straight win in a clinching game. Aside from his effort in Game 3 of the World Series, the finales in 2007 and 2008 will be the old lefty’s legacy with the Phillies.

jimmy2007
Game 162 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 30)

Box score

The fact that the Phillies were even in a position to win the East took an unprecedented collapse by the Mets. Couple the huge comeback (down 6½ games with 17 to go) with a 14-year playoff drought, and the clubhouse scene was one of the all-time great parties in the history of Philadelphia clinchers.

The truth is a lot of us never saw such a thing. Champagne corks popping and flying all over the room. Beer spray dousing everyone and anything that moves. Pharmaceuticals and English bulldogs show up and drag low-end celebrities and political chaff around, too.

In other words, it’s no different than the parties you threw in college only without the bonfire. Where this party had it over those from back in the college days is that Jade McCarthy and J.D. Durbin made it to this one, and, well… when Jade and J.D. show up then it’s a party.

Of course by the time the fog cleared and the playoffs began, the Phillies were gone in four days.

19931993
Game 157 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 28)

Box score

Get a load of this… I watched this one from the balcony at the Troc at a Fugazi show. Some guy sitting in front of me had a Sony watchman TV and we got to see Mariano Duncan crush the game-winning grand slam before the band took the stage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Commonwealth, Harry Kalas was singing High Hopes after the Phils finally wrapped it up. But since this was the Macho Row era of club, the party didn’t end with the sing-a-long. Oh no. Check out the box score for the day after the clincher and check who IS NOT in the lineup.

That oughta tell you how long into the night this one went.

1983
Game 160 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 28)

Box score

Who would have guessed that there would have been just one more clincher for the Phillies in the next 24 years after this one? Sheesh.

Regardless, this one was in the days before there were lights at Wrigley Field so it’s likely that Larry Andersen took the guys over to The Lodge after the clubhouse celebration ended.

Here’s what I remember from this one – Mike Schmidt hit his 40th homer of the season and Bo Diaz clubbed two of them all off ex-Phillie Dick Ruthven. The last out was caught by Greg Gross in left field with Al “Mr. T” Holland on the mound. I guess Holland looked like Mr. T to get a nickname like that. Seemed like a fun guy.

1981
Won first half

This was the strike year so by virtue of being in first place by the time the work stoppage occurred, the Phillies went to the first-ever NLDS. They lost in five games to the Expos, though St. Louis had the best overall record in the NL East.

schmidt1980
Game 161 vs. Montreal at Olympic Stadium (Oct. 4)

Box score

If we were ranking the best regular-season games in Phillies history, this one would have to be in the top three. Maybe even the top two. Frankly, it had everything. Comebacks, drama, suspense, crazy manager moves and then Mike Schmidt’s home run in the 11th to give the Phillies the lead they never gave up.

Oh, but if Schmidt’s homer were the only highlight.

  • Bob Boone laced a two-out single in the top of the 9th to tie the game and force extra innings.
  • Tug McGraw pitched the last three innings allowing just one hit to go with four strikeouts to get the win.
  • September call up Don McCormack came in to catch in just his second big league inning in the ninth when Dallas Green yanked Boone for a pinch runner. McCormack got the first of his two Major League hits after Schmidt’s homer in the 11th. From there, McCormack went on to play in just 14 big league innings the rest of his career over three game.

How did Don McCormack get into that game?!

  • The top four hitters in the Phillies lineup (Rose, McBride, Schmidt, Luzinski) went 11-for-19.

lerch1978
Game 161 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 30)

Box score

Here was the scenario for this one – if the Pirates won, then Game 162 would decide the NL East. Instead, the Phillies wrapped up division title No. 3 thanks to a clutch three-run homer from Greg Luzinski in the sixth inning.

The game started rather inauspiciously, too. Willie Stargell hit a grand slam in the first inning to give the Pirates the quick lead, but pitcher Randy Lerch made up for his pitching with a homer in the second and another in the fourth to cut the deficit to a run and set the table for Luzinski’s homer.

The game was not without drama at the end, either. Tug McGraw game on in the seventh and was within two outs of closing it out until the Pirates rallied for four runs and had the tying run at the plate when manager Danny Ozark went to Ron Reed to close it out.

1977
Game 157 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 27)

Box score

I don’t remember this one, but from a look at the box score it looks like one of those old fashioned Wrigley Field games that used to be unique. Now those Wrigley Field games can break out anywhere in any ballpark. And since they play mostly night games at Wrigley these days, those wild games are a thing of the past.

Still, the second clincher for the Phillies featured five RBIs and a homer (and seven solid innings for the win) from Larry Christenson and one from Mike Schmidt in a 15-9 final.

jvukovich1976
Game 155 vs. Montreal at Parc Jarry (Sept. 26)

Box score

The was the first and maybe the best of the Phillies clubs that won all those division titles. The Phils won a franchise-record 101 games, but they didn’t quite match up well enough against The Big Red Machine, who were on their were to becoming the last National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles.

I suppose there is some irony in there somewhere that the Phillies are in the mix to match the 1975-76 Reds… just don’t feel like looking.

Anyway, this clincher was the first game of a doubleheader, highlighted by a complete game from Jim Lonborg. So needless to say the nightcap had a slightly different lineup after the Phillies wrapped up their first playoff berth since 1950. In fact, John Vukovich started in the second game for his season debut. Vuke went on to start in 13 more games over five years for the Phillies – all but three came in 1980.

So there it is… looking forward to adding the new one at the top of this list over the weekend. The good part is the clubhouse in Milwaukee is plenty big enough to find a dry spot from all party shrapnel flying around.

These are the good ol’ days

robin_robertsThe Phillies alumni weekends are always good for some unintentional comedy. For instance, amidst guys like Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts, a player like Doug Clemens or Keith Hughes trots out onto the field to be introduced before the game. Looking back at the records, Hughes played in exactly 37 games for the Phillies – 93 over the course of four seasons with Baltimore, New York and Cincinnati.

So maybe a few years down the road guys like Nelson Figueroa and Jack Taschner will jog out onto the field before a game in a Phillies uniform to some polite golf applause.

But after the end of last season the Phillies alumni weekend is something of a relic. Better yet, it reinforces the idea that we are in the midst of the second golden age of the team’s history. There were the years from 1976 to 1983 when the Phillies went to the playoffs six times and the World Series twice.

Baring a collapse of Mets-like proportions (or ’64 Phillies style), the Phillies will go to the playoffs for the third year in a row for just the second time in team history. Moreover, the team already has one World Series title and is a favorite (along with the Dodgers) to get back to the Series for a second year in a row.

No one needs to see old ballplayers like Keith Hughes or even Jim Bunning to trot out onto the field from a historically moribund franchise to realize that these are the good ol’ days. Right here, right now.

That’s the thing isn’t it? By winning the World Series the Phillies have made alumni weekends useless. Sure, it’s neat to see Mike Lieberthal and Jim Kaat around the ballpark again, but really, if there is anything that the Phils prove with their old players is that they weren’t very good for a long, long, long time.

Besides, it used to be that the team needed to summon Mike Schmidt from the golf course in Florida and Steve Carlton from his underground bunker near the Four Corners region of Colorado in order to get folks to come out to the ballpark. That little glimpse at members of the team’s only championship used to put fannies in the seats before folks realized that a contending ballclub was far more interesting than a trip down amnesia lane.

Hey, there’s Greg Luzinski! Didn’t I just see him out in right field eating ribs?

Apropos of nothing (and as pointed out by another scribe), is there another franchise that has a weirder collection of Hall of Famers than the Phillies? Sure, Robin Roberts is a true gentleman and as nice a man there is walking this earth, but the other three? Really? How crazy are Schmidt, Carlton and Bunning?

Plus, why is Jim Bunning in the Hall of Fame to begin with? He never pitched in the World Series and was the ace pitcher on a team responsible for one of the greatest late-season collapses in sports history… hey, winning matters. That’s why they keep score.

If Bunning is a Hall of Famer, then so too are Jim Kaat, Tommy John, Jack Morris, Luis Tiant and Bert Blyleven.

Anyway, at the alumni things Crazy Steve is introduced as “the greatest pitcher in team history,” which is fair. It’s impossible to deny Carlton’s greatness. However, Robin Roberts was no slouch either and it makes one wonder what kind of video-game like numbers he would have produced if the Phillies had been even a bit respectable.

After going to the World Series in 1950, the Phillies finished better than fourth place just one time in Roberts’ tenure with the team. Still, the great righty figured out how to win 20 games and pitch at least 300 innings in six straight years.

Or try this out… after going to the World Series in 1950, the Phillies finished better than third place just twice until getting into the playoffs in 1976. Old-timers day?

No thanks. The good memories are being created out on the field right now.

*

Another interesting tidbit from the alumni weekend was watching Pedro Martinez trot out to the first-base line in his Phillies uniform to salute the team alums. The interesting part about that was that a lot of stat heads and baseball historians regard Martinez as one of the best – if not the best – pitcher of the past 60 years and he still can’t get into a game for the Phillies.

Amazing.

‘… we all have to share the same pair of pants’

jimmyThis current group of Phillies really get around. Think about it… the TV commercials, the MVP Awards, the playoff runs and parades, as well as a the WFC.

Always making speeches and always entertaining the fans.

But get this — Jimmy Rollins became the third Phillie on the current roster to appear on Late Night with David Letterman, joining Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. It surpasses the previous record of two set by John Kruk and Lenny Dykstra of the ’93 Phils when they yucked it up with Dave.

Here’s Jimmy and his Team USA WBC buddies:

In 1981, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt appeared in 7-Up commercials and Real People with co-host Fran Tarkenton.

OK, I made that last part up, though it illustrates a point… it’s pretty sweet to live in the digital age, huh? Imagine if there was a proliferation of cable TV, and multimedia back during the first Golden Age of Phillies baseball… sure, Pete Rose would be able to handle himself well with the press. Say what you will about Rose, but give him credit where it’s due — the guy can tell some stories. Having had the chance to spend an afternoon with him in Las Vegas (I know!), Pete is a classic storyteller, if not one of the best ever in baseball.

Schmidt, though not in Rose’s class, is always good for some stellar quotes or two. Just ask Pat Burrell about that.

But Carlton… sheesh! Thank goodness there was no Internet during his playing days. How would he handle playing in this era of baseball with guys like me trolling around. Good luck with that, Lefty.

Carlton, of course, famously did not speak to the press. If I have the story correct, the reason why he stopped talking to sportswriters about pitching a baseball had something to do with Conlin… that and taking himself waaaay too seriously.

But after having seen some of Carlton’s media work over the last few years, he definitely did us all a favor. Besides. could you have imagined Carlton on the Mike Douglas Show.

Nope, me either.

Nevertheless, maybe Letterman will have an entire panel of Phillies on his show sometime the way he did with U2 this week. It could be rating gold … in Philadelphia, at least.

Oh, and while we’re posting clips, this one from Wednesday’s Daily Show was awesome!

Monday clips


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

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

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

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Now do it again.

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

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

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

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

The circle of life…

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

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

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

Would you believe it was Marlon Anderson?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clicks:

Ailing Wagner Might Not ReturnThe New York Times 

Phillies Still Chasing MetsBats Blog

Mets Rise Began After Some Simple AccountingThe New York Times

Schmidty comes through in the clutch

Eventually, even the Hatfields and the McCoys ended their bitter inter-family war spurred by land, geography, unrequited love and moonshine.

But unlike with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin brokering a peace accord between Egypt and Israel, the Hatfield Family and the McCoy clan did not hole up at Camp David for a week in order to iron out their differences. Not even close.

Instead, the famous warring families called up Richard Dawson and played “The Feud.” Yep, in 1979 the Hatfield and McCoy families went at it once and for all on the hit TV game show, “The Family Feud.” The winners took home a prized pig, which was kept on the set during the show.

I didn’t see the episode, but if I were a betting man I’d wager Dawson gave that pig a big smooch and then afterwards played it off in sexual suggestive, yet charming, British manner.

There’s nothing charming about the feud between the Phillies and the Mets, though. The fact is the battle for supremacy in the NL East is just plain ol’ nasty. These guys just don’t like each other. In fact, the hatred the Phillies have for the Mets actually inspires them.

“The other team gives you some inspiration, let’s put it that way,” shortstop Jimmy Rollins said last week. “You’re able to take that and keep yourself motivated.”

That’s kind of vague. How about some elaboration, Jimmy?

“No, just watch ‘em. If you were a player and you’re looking over in that other dugout, you’ll feel a certain type of way. Rewind the game. Just watch the game.”

Just watch the game. It’s that simple. Better yet, it seems as if those Mets and their antics inspired an old Phillie watching the games on TV in Jupiter, Fla. to sit down in front of a computer and type out an e-mail to his old team. But more than just an “attaguy” missive congratulating the club for another fine season, this one was more of a call to arms.

Think Winston Churchill delivering his “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” address before the House of Commons on May 13, 1940.

Or maybe it was more like Franklin Roosevelt’s first inauguration address in 1933 when he told Americans that, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Maybe it was like The Dude telling the Big Lebowski that, “This aggression will not stand… man.”

So if the Phillies go on to surge past the Mets for a second straight September and into the playoffs, perhaps Mike Schmidt’s e-mail will be the watershed moment. In its historical context we’ll call it the “Better Than They Are” note or maybe, “Win One for the Schmidter.”

No matter what, Schmidt words inspired his beloved Phillies in Friday night’s taut, 3-0 classic in which Brett Myers may have turned in his finest performance ever.

Schmidt wrote:

Guys,
One pitch, one at-bat, one play, one situation, think “small” and “big” things result. Tough at-bats, stay up the middle with men on base, whatever it takes to keep the line moving. Hot offense. 27 outs on defense. The Mets know you’re better than they are. They remember last year. You guys are never out of the game. Welcome the challenge that confronts you this weekend. You guys are the best.

Good luck,
Mike Schmidt.

Just like Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” Schmidt’s letter was short, sweet and direct. Also like Lincoln’s famous speech, Schmidt’s words will be remembered forever. Schmidt came through for the team during that last series in Montreal in 1980 and he came through against Kansas City in the World Series later that month. This time, without a bat or glove Schmidt came through again – but with a laptop, an e-mail account and nine simple sentences.

If the Phillies go on to win this thing, it could go down as Schmidt’s finest moment as a Phillie.

When told that Schmidt wrote, “The Mets know you’re better than they are,” Rollins, in his understated way, added to the potential legend with a throwing down of the proverbial gauntlet of his own:

“Well, that part’s true,” Rollins said.

The Phillies will have two games on Sunday – and just 19 more after that – to prove it again.

Come on down and let’s play The Feud!

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.

And the Oscar goes to…

By now most folks have seen Terrell Owens’ post-game “act” in which he cried as if he were running for President of the United States of America following the Cowboys big choke job in their first playoff game.

For those that haven’t seen Terrell Owens’ post-game drama, here it is:

For the most part the T.O. video has been posted, talked about and then shrugged off as if it were a another bad episode in the most banal sitcom. Most folks don’t even really think it was funny or even surprising that a professional football player with diva-like tendencies would cry during a post-game press conference following a loss in the playoffs when asked about the poor play of his quarterback, Tony Romo. The reason why it wasn’t a big deal compared to when Hillary Clinton supposedly cried in New Hampshire is because there doesn’t seem to be anything remotely authentic about Owens. Owens is a drama queen so when he pretends to emote, it’s a yawn fest. Conversely, Ms. Clinton has been accused of not having a soul, so when she allegedly cried during the last days of the campaign in New Hampshire it was monumental.

TOBut as far as Owens goes his ex-teammate Jon Runyan said it best during his appearance on Daily News Live: “That wasn’t about Tony [Romo] it was about T.O. It’s always about T.O. …”

After another choke, watching T.O. was more like that crying Britney fan video that made its way through the Internets. It wasn’t funny, sad or interesting – it was just bizarre.

Really, really bizarre.

When Mike Schmidt retired and broke down blubbering and crying midway through his announcement – now that was funny. There he was with his Flock of Seagulls ‘do and up-to-the-second ‘80s style and the most composed player ever to wear the Phillies’ uniform couldn’t get through a sentence without the water works.

Douglas MacArthurBret Boone bawling after his ouster from Seattle was a good one, too, and Fred Couples falling apart following a tournament victory is spit-take worthy. Likewise, anything with the emoting Jim Mora is hilarious simply because he always tries so hard to remain as sullen and composed as if he were General Douglas MacArthur delivering his farewell address to Congress on April 19, 1951.

But instead of getting, “I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away…” as with General MacArthur, we get “Playoffs!”

As for Dick Vermeil – that’s not even a contest. In fact, let’s just turn it over to the great Jeff Johnson and his old NFL writing for Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern:

The first time I saw Dick Vermeil cry, I thought: What a jagoff. What is an adult man doing crying about football?

The second time I saw Dick Vermeil cry, I thought: Okay, Vermeil. Calm down. And also, what a jagoff.

The third time I saw Dick Vermeil cry, I thought: The problem is with you, Johnson. You’re the one who has to loosen up. Vermeil is in touch with his feelings. Vermeil has a ring, you don’t. Let Vermeil cry.

The eighth time I saw Dick Vermeil cry, I thought: Okay, Vermeil. Get on some meds, amigo. Take a deep breath. Let it go.

The fourteenth time I saw Dick Vermeil cry, I thought: This is getting weird.

The thirty-ninth time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: I had just gotten done polishing off a bottle of Drambuie with him. We were at a golf tournament outside Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He told me he wasn’t sure if he’d ever eaten a better salad than the one we’d had at dinner. “Those farmers,” he wailed, “who are they? The romaine was exquisite. What are you looking at? If you can’t—if a grown man can’t enjoy a leaf of lettuce—”

The eighty-first time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: It was back on TV. The folks at UW-River Falls, where the Chiefs spend preseason, hadn’t followed through on a team-catering request for Rice Krispies. Vermeil was melting down. “Just how tough is it? I’m sorry. I gotta go public with this,” the waterworks were on. “My men love their cereal. And now, I don’t know what kinda season we’re gonna have.”

The three hundred and fifteenth time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: It was because of a traffic light that he thought was on the verge of burning itself out. I was on a three-speed in Locust Valley, MO, and I saw him pointing and howling from the driver’s seat of his Lincoln. “Some family’s gonna get killed!” Several cars honked behind him, but he wasn’t budging.

The nine hundred forty-first time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: I was on a cruise ship. Vermeil was at a press conference. One of his kick-returners kept an adult video late and there was a fine. Vermeil, to that day, was unaware of a phenomenon known as porn. It did not make him happy.

The 33,872nd time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: I didn’t. It was just an editorial that he wrote for USA Today about the dangers of using magic markers to write kids’ names on athletic tape to identify them on football helmets. I assumed he cried the whole time he wrote it. He thought the markers were a bit toxic, that an addiction could develop.

The 198,440th time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: It was an Arby’s. A packet of Horsey sauce dared him to open it. He could not.

The 708,814th time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: He said six words and broke down, “Oh, the majesty of a sauna.”

The 1,933,336th time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: I only sensed it. God had begun wiping out whole cities with His own vomit. Vermeil’s crying caused it. I was in Murfreesboro, TN. We were covered in slime. God had registered his disgust. Vermeil was somewhere, bawling with joy about microwave technology. He stopped abruptly and ate a corn muffin before it cooled.

The 174,999,044th time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: He was dead. Vermeil was a damn ghost and he still would not quit crying. He’d met up with Tony Franklin, the old Eagles place-kicker. “How could you have possibly gone through life so darn short, Tony? It just is not fair.”

Dick VermeilThe 12,000,000,000th time I saw Vermeil cry: I got a lousy T-shirt.

The 38,555,400,093rd time I saw Dick Vermeil cry: It wasn’t so much Vermeil as the whole world. A book had been written about Vermeil’s penchant for tears. It was called The Vermeil Approach. A religion was involved. Millions of people wept. Of course, looking down and seeing this, Vermeil wept.

Why is it that I find the crying of sports figures so funny? That’s simple – because it’s easy to laugh at things that don’t matter. No, I don’t doubt the sincerity of the sadness in dealing with a retirement, a victory or a 2-2 circle change up, it’s just that people without real problems have lousy perspective. At some point we all had to quit playing sports, but did you cry after the last game of the 10th grade JV basketball season? As far as we can tell Mike Schmidt did not cry when announcing his retirement all those years ago because he was sick or injured and forced out of the game. Nor was anyone in his immediate family facing some sort of hardship that required his immediate attention. In fact, there was no real sadness involved at all. All Mike Schmidt cried about was that he was lucky enough to have a great baseball career.

If that’s not funny I don’t know what is.