The Throwback World Series: Phillies in Six

cliff leeWe’re riding the rails to New York City for the World Series the way Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn probably did on their lone trip to the big city for the big series nearly six decades ago. Only this time around, we media types don’t travel in the club car with the ballplayers and team execs. Those days ended a long time ago.

Frankly, everyone is pleased about that. Oh no, taking the train is fantastic. In fact, why the railway infrastructure in the U.S. is as paltry as it is (compared to other industrialized nations) is a sin. It’s a crime, too. A crime and a sin.

Nope, ballplayers and media guys don’t mix anymore in the same way that people don’t dress up in smart, tweed suits or fedoras to travel anymore. There are a lot of reasons for this, and it’s probably a smart idea not to get into it here, but make no mistake about it…

We’re on the trains.

Fact is, when the Yankees finally figured out a way not to mess up the series against the Angels, the first thing I thought about was the fact that I wouldn’t have to get on a plane and jet off clear across the country to Orange County. Nope, a short ride to the train station for the trip up to Penn Station was all it took.

Just like they used to do it back when the baseball, not the hype, was the star. Back then, the story was Jim Konstanty coming out of the bullpen to make his first ever start in Game 1. This time Jay-Z and Alicia Keys are going to “sing” a song before Game 1 or something like that.

The big story should be the huge matchup between ex-teammates Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia in Game 1. This, to use an old-timey term, is a dream matchup up. Think about it—Lee and Sabathia won the Cy Young Award the past two seasons when they both played for the Indians. But as it works in the days without the reserve clause, Lee and Sabathia had to be dealt away from Cleveland because they were too good.

Success equals a higher paycheck in Major League Baseball. Talk about a slice of Americana.

Oh, but Game 1 might not be the only time this dream matchup occurs and riding the train to and from New York from 30th Street Station might not be the only relic of a bygone era. In fact, Lee and Sabathia could challenge convention wisdom and post-modern baseball smarts by pitching twice on three days’ rest if the series goes seven games.

How cool would that be?

Instead of Yankees manager Joe Girardi digging through sabermetric-riddled binders for his next baseball move while Charlie Manuel leans against the rail in the dugout and chews gum (he already has all those books memorized), it will be like Casey Stengel and Eddie Sawyer are going at it all over again.

Let the pitchers pitch? Oh yes, this might happen.

The fact is, starting pitchers rarely get three starts in a World Series anymore. But then again the World Series doesn’t go seven games all that much these days, either. Curt Schilling made three starts in the 2001 series against the Yankees and Jack Morris famously started three games in the 1991 World Series.

Before Morris, the three-time starters in the World Series are few and far between. Bruce Hurt in 1986 and Luis Tiant in 1975 made three starts in the World Series. Otherwise, the last time two pitchers squared off three times in a single series was 41 years ago when Bob Gibson of the Cardinals and Mickey Lolich of the Tigers went at it in 1968. Better yet, both guys pitched three complete games.

Gibson, of course, was a freak. He made three starts in the 1964, 1967 and 1968 World Series and pitched 27 innings in each one.

Nevertheless, aside from New York-Philly, Amtrak and Lee and Sabathia, there are other reasons why the national media is hyping the 2009 World Series as a chance to be epic. After all, these very modern ball clubs also are contradictions within themselves in that they are throwbacks, too. This applies more to the Phillies than the Yankees, because of that whole un-Yankee like behavior with the pies, post-game celebrations, A-Rod and whatnot.

Nevertheless, this might not be the last time the Phillies and the Yankees are squared off in the World Series.

At least that’s what the Phillies think.

cc“If you look at our core players, we can contend for quite a while,” Charlie Manuel said. “Every time I talk to our team, I just say if we just keep what we got, we’ll be OK. I mean that. I don’t want them changing. I want them to keep the same kind of attitude, the same desire and passion, and I want them to make all the money in the world that there is to make, and keep them happy. If they do that, we’re going to be OK.”

Don’t worry about it, Charlie.

“We have a club that can get to this level every year,” Jayson Werth said. “Not looking too far ahead, we’ve got a good young club, and we don’t really have any guys coming up for free agency that we’re going to lose. Potentially, we have a chance to do this every year for a long time.”

Wouldn’t that be something? That’s the way it used to be with the Dodgers and Reds in the 1970s and the Yankees during, like, forever.

So how does it play out? Who wins? Why is this so short on analysis?

Forget about the analysis. That stuff doesn’t matter. And forget what the national pundits are predicting—they don’t know what they’re talking about. The bottom line is we’re talking about history, dynasties and all of those other media buzzwords. You want analysis? OK, the Phillies have better recent experience. There.

Take the Phillies in six games.

Revenge for 1950? Really?

Robin_RobertsThe Phillies brought out Robin Roberts, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher and one of the all-time great guys in the history of the game, so he could talk about his one and only World Series appearance on Monday afternoon. The significance, of course, was that Roberts and the Phillies were swept by Joe DiMaggio’s Yankees in the series that took place 59 years ago.

Some folks around these parts haven’t forgotten about the 1950 World Series mostly because it used to be that the Phillies didn’t play for the championship all that much. After all, before 1950 the Phillies had been to the World Series just once—in 1915—and never again until 1980.

With that kind of track record, it’s obvious to see why the Phillies in the World Series is such a big deal to the old-timers. It’s easier to see why it’s a big deal when they are faced up against the Yankees. They beat them in four straight in 1950, for gosh sakes!

But the world changes, time marches on and all that kind of stuff. The A’s don’t play in Philadelphia or Kansas City anymore. Yankee Stadium has been replaced by a newer Yankee Stadium and Connie Mack Stadium (or Shibe Park depending on your preference or demographic) was like two stadiums ago.

Check this out: my five-year old was born into a world where the Red Sox have won it twice, the White Sox once and where the Phillies are going to the World Series in back-to-back years. It’s crazy. Crazier still, the Yankees haven’t won it since 2000. Think of it… he has never been alive long enough to see the Yankees win the World Series.

Yet 1950 is a big enough deal that they have to push Robin Roberts in front of the microphone so he could talk about Bubba Church, Curt Simmons and, of course, Jim Konstanty.

“The Konstanty thing was a miracle,” Roberts said about the league’s top reliever making his starting debut in Game 1 of the 1950 World Series. “(Manager) Eddie Sawyer gave him the ball and he went out there like he was doing it his whole life. … That really was a miracle. If he would have won that would have been something they talked about forever, but because he lost people kind of forgot about it.”

Yeah, it’s funny how that works.

Then ol’ Robin had to talk about pitch counts and things like that.

“If you ever saw Stanky play…”

Sorry, let’s just cut him off there. If you ever saw Stanky play? Robin, good sir, we never saw you play. No one from the regular group of scribes and definitely not the players knew anything about Roberts or the 1950 Whiz Kids. In fact, on the Phillies coaching staff only two guys were old enough to have vague memories of Roberts’ Phillies. Charlie Manuel was six and Davey Lopes was five when the Phillies last played the Yankees.

They are much older now.

No, the 1950 World Series is about as meaningful as those three games the Phillies and Yankees played back in May. I watched ESPN trot out stats from the series played in May when the Phillies won two of three even though Brad Lidge got two blown saves.

Really? May?

“We’ve played about 200 games since then,” Jayson Werth said, exaggerating slightly. “It doesn’t matter.”

Live in the now, that’s what Robin Roberts does. He says he has the MLB Extra Innings package so he can watch all the games and follows the Phillies just like any die hard baseball fan.

So yeah, Roberts wants the Phillies to get “revenge” for the 1950 World Series. You know, not that he thinks of it that way.

“I really enjoy watching the games,” Roberts said. “It would be awful nice to see them win it again, not just because it’s the Yankees but because they are bordering on something really extraordinary.”

Since we’re on the subject of Philadelphia vs. New York in the World Series, how come no one is talking about those A’s and Giants matchups? In three different World Series, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s beat John McGraw’s New York Giants in two out of three.

The Giants took the 1905 World Series in five games, but Philadelphia bounced back in 1911 in six games and then again in 1913 in five games.

So there’s that, too.

The NLCS: Where does Pedro fit in?

pedroI guess I can chalk it up to a mixture of west coast time and baseball hours. That could be the reason why I woke up at the crack of 2 p.m. today. Worse, if I hadn’t figured it was a good idea to see what time it was, I would have slept straight through to game time.

What the hell?

Make no mistake, though, this is the time for colds, tiredness and other things that go with too many late nights and too little sleep. Tough it out. That’s what you do.

Either way, it’s back at the ballpark to dive into the HUGE Game 4. If the Phillies can figure out Randy Wolf, get ready for another trip to the World Series. If Wolfie can stick it to his old club, buckle up—we’re going to take the full ride.

In the meantime, there was an excellent story on by Jorge Arangure Jr. on Pedro Martinez and what he means to young Dominican pitchers like Antonio Bastardo. The best part of the story was the quotes from Bastardo overheard when he approached Pedro after his masterpiece in Dodger Stadium in Game 2 last Friday.

“Pedro,” Bastardo quietly said. “It was an honor watching you pitch today.”

Martinez grinned.

“Tomorrow,” Martinez told Bastardo, “you and I will go into the outfield during batting practice and we will talk. I have a few things to teach you.”

The importance of Pedro’s arrival to the Phillies can’t be understated. First, there’s the influence he has on guys like Bastardo and Venezuelan Sergio Escalona, two young guys who were little kids when Pedro was pitching like the greatest right-hander who ever lived. Pedro has taken those guys under his wing, showed them the big-league life and what sacrifices and training a pitcher has to abide in order to have a long career.

However, there are also guys like Scott Eyre and Brad Lidge who remember Pedro from that stretch when his numbers surpassed those of greats like Sandy Koufax and forced a few stat geeks to list him as the greatest pitcher ever since 1954.

The biggest question now is determining what to do about Pedro in 2010. The Phillies already have guys like Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer under contract for next season, and have an option for Cliff Lee and likely will offer arbitration to Joe Blanton. Meanwhile, pitchers like Kyle Kendrick and Kyle Drabek are waiting in the wings though the Phillies likely will need other options.

Where does Pedro fit in?

Friends of Pedro say he will pitch next season, though he’s not really looking for a pay day. Instead, he wants to pitch for a team like the Phillies that has a bona fide chance to win the World Series.

“He doesn’t care about money. He has $100 million in the bank,” a Pedro acolyte said. “He wants to win. He’s going to Cooperstown—he knows that. He has three Cy Youngs, a World Series ring and a lot of pride.”

Of course salary is another way of keeping score in baseball. Some players measure respect in dollars, though it is worth noting that Pedro took a prorated $2 million salary that came to approximately $1 million  and earned approximately $500,000 in bonuses this year.

He probably earned a helluva a lot more in potential earnings with the seven innings of two-hit/shutout ball.

So what’s next for Pedro? Or how about Game 6 of the NLCS (if necessary) or maybe a start at Yankee Stadium in the World Series.

How fun would that be?

Charlie not pleased

chuckTAMPA, Fla. — After the 12-0 loss to the Yankees at The Stein on Monday afternoon, Phils’ skipper Charlie Manuel was most displeased. No, he wasn’t upset about the loss – that stuff happens in Grapefruit League games. Instead it was the way in which the Phillies lost.

It wasn’t pretty.

“We made mistakes,” Charlie said after the 12-run, 20-hit and two-error showing against the Yanks had mercifully ended. “We made a helluva lot of bleepin’ mistakes.”

It wasn’t pretty. On defense the team threw the ball around, misplayed a few and generally looked sloppy as their Grapefruit League record dipped to 6-10. Offensively, the Phillies got six hits, stranded eight and went 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position. Worse, it lasted more than three hours turning it into the baseball equivalent to waterboarding

Nope, not one for the vault.

“I think any game like that pisses you off and the best thing you can do is bleepin’ get out there and get on that bleepin’ bus and forget about that sonofabitch. That was a horebleep bleepin’ game and if I played in a bleepin’ game like that, I’d definitely bleepin’ take some good inventory of myself. That was a horsebleep bleepin’ game. They don’t get much worse than that. It was terrible.

“I’d say we hit bleepin’ rock bottom there for a while.”

Charlie might be trying to simply motivate the kids he has in the lineup with Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino off playing in the World Baseball Classic and Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz still mending from off-season surgery. Still, on the day the team made its first cuts of the spring, Charlie might have expected some crisper play.

Nevertheless, Charlie says the quality play will improve greatly in another week or so.

“The last 10-to-12 days we’ll really work on the fundamental parts of the game,” Charlie said. “But Rollins and Victorino aren’t here and Utley and Feliz are hurt – we want to get people back and ready so we can really key on that. But today it was just bad playin’ and, you know, what the hell? That’s why I said if I was in that game I might take inventory of myself.”

Hamels: ‘Nothing to worry about’

Cole HamelsTAMPA – Just drove over the Causeway to George M. Steinbrenner Field from Clearwater where the Phillies will take on the annoying (and pretentious) Yankees this afternoon. Clearly the biggest story here – after Cole Hamels, of course – is Kyle Kendrick taking the mound in what could be a make-or-break outing.

But back to the Yankees for a minute … they certainly have a right to strut the way they do because they almost made the playoffs last year.

Still, the WFC Phillies must have breathed a sigh of relief this morning when Hamels told us that his left forearm trouble is something that occurs every year and might clear up with a shot and/or some rest.

Meanwhile, Hamels says he’s going to feel good about getting out of Florida for a few days.

Stay tuned to because we will be updating the main stories over there throughout the day.

Visiting with Pete Rose in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS – Needless to say, there is a lot of baseball talk at the Winter Meetings. It’s never ending, actually. Banter over the latest free agents, trades, the economy of the game is the reason why everyone showed up at The Bellagio in the first place.
Yet despite all of the talk and rumor-mongering no one at The Bellagio took the time to bolt out of the resort
and out into the sun-soaked Thursday afternoon in the dry December desert air to Caesar’s Palace. Seperated by just mere steps, the baseball Winter Meetings were so close to a lonely figure who knew a thing or two about the game.
At the same time he may as well have been on the other side of the moon.
But this was where he was hiding in plain sight, sitting behind a long, narrow table with a pile of Sharpie pens of various sizes while fiddling with the Bluetooth ear piece for his iPhone. He looked much older sitting there with an assistant behind the table and red ropes that cordoned his area away from the rest of the room.
Wearing a weathered leather ball cap with white leather ankle boots, a Nike dri-fit top, all accessorized by a large gold watch and gold bracelet, baseball’s all-time hits leader sat so close yet so far awy from the epicenter of the game he loved so much. His face was weathered by sun and late nights, but not as old as his years. The extra weight he carried was striking to anyone who saw him three decades ago, but then again, that’s life.
We should all be so lucky as to get old.
So Pete, is it OK if we talk some baseball?
“Sure,” he said. “Come on over and sit down.”
Finally, some baseball talk with a guy who still loves the game as much now than he ever did. Here was a guy who knew a little about it, too. Judging by the photos of other folks displayed behind the table that also made the pilgrimage to see the man (Roger Clemens, Li’l Jon, Paris Hilton, Ice-T, etc., etc.) it appeared as if I came to the right place.
Charlie Hustle
“I watch more baseball than anyone I know,” said Pete Rose, without a trace of self-doubt. “I live out west so the East Coast games are on at 4:30. The midwest games come on by 5 and then the West Coast games are on at 7:30.”
He also pointed out that he had a television set up on the table so he could watch games at work in the sports memorabilia shop called, “Field of Dreams” in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. So yeah, not only did he watch a lot of baseball and talk a lot about baseball, but he also capitalized off it by signing his name to baseballs, shirts, bats, photos or whatever else fans requested. After the signing, where Rose usually personalized the item before writing his name, the phrase “Hit King” and “4,256,” he invited the fan to the other side of the red ropes to sit for a picture and some peppery banter.
Sorry, he signs “Charlie Hustle” only on Cincinnati Reds jerseys.
After being told that a man requesting a signature and photo was named Lester, Rose said, “Lester? Lester the Molester?” Then he turned to the man’s wife and said, “She’ll never tell.”
Needless to say, the couple and Rose had grins ear-to-ear for the camera phone photo.
With the ropes and the table, it was almost as if customers showed up at the zoo and were allowed to hop in the cage.
So between autographs, photo sessions, the occasional handshake and call on the iPhone, we sat there talking about baseball. More specifically, we sat there on the other side of the ropes and talked about the Phillies. Along the way various other tangential topics arose from the serious – such as his suspension from baseball, steroids, his prison term for income tax evasion and the global economic crisis and how it relates to baseball – to the absurd – such as how no one in prison admitted guilt (“When I was in there there were 245 guys in there, but I was the only one who was guilty. They all told me their bleeping story, but I was the only one who was guilty.”) and his job as a prisoner at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Ill.
Talk about traveling all over the map – we redrew the borders. And yes, the irony about talking to Pete Rose in a shop at Caesars Palace was not lost.
“When I was in there it was the only Level 6 [federal prison] in the entire system in the U.S.,” Rose said about his jail term. “I had to work in the main prison. I had to go every day and the people in Marion were in the cage 23 out of 24 hours a day. We were the only camp who didn’t have cable TV, because then every bleeper in there would have had to have it in every cell.
“I worked in the welding department. My job was to have the bleeping hot chocolate made by 8:15 a.m. every day. That was my bleeping job. And every time the warden was coming back [to the welding department] they had me back as far back as I could go. Because I was a high-profile guy. They’d also say, ‘The old man is on the way back,’ and every time he came back I was in my little kitchen sweeping the floor. He said, ‘Pete, you know something, this is the cleanest damn floor in this entire prison. Because every time I come back there you’re sweeping this damn kitchen.’ I said, ‘Hey, I gotta keep it clean!’
“A couple years ago we we’re selling Pete Rose cookies with a company out of St. Louis. The only place you could get these cookies is in prison. They can’t sell them in a supermarket. A couple years ago I went to North Carolina for a convention of all the commissaries and all the wardens came. That warden came and got my autograph.
“I should have signed the broom for him.”
“Better yet,” I added. “You could have signed it from the ‘Sweep King.’”
Yeah, it was a bona fide chuckle fest.
But the intent was to talk only baseball. That’s it.
Look, by now everyone has heard Rose’s story and has formulated an opinion. There are no more surprises, spins, stories or theories. Pete Rose bet on baseball. As we sat there in Caesars Palace, he looked straight into my eyes and told me that he bet on his team every night.
“That’s how much confidence I had in my team,” he said.
I certainly didn’t show up in Las Vegas to get an admission from Pete Rose. Nor did I show up to kick dirt on the biggest pariah in the history of professional sports or listen to him state his case. Everyone gets it by now, and even though I told Rose I believed his suspension was proper, it does seem odd to note that if he had committed murder he might have served his sentence by now.
“I just want a second chance,” he said, sticking to his mantra. “I’ve been suspended for 19 years already.”
“And how long did you play?”
“Twenty-four years.”
We just let that hang there for a moment.
Talking baseball
But the point was baseball, and since Rose says he watches religiously, the topic turned to the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel, who was rewarded with a contract extension that will carry him through the 2011 season. After a rocky start as manager of the Phillies, even Rose was impressed with how far Manuel had come to win over the fans.
“I can see how they didn’t like him in Philadelphia at first,” Rose said. “He made some moves that no one understood but him. But give him credit. His team likes him and they play for him. That’s the hardest thing to do. Look, I managed and I know that a team takes the personality of the manager. He keeps them relaxed so they can play. He takes all on the media and the fans and lets them do their jobs.”
Managing is tough, Rose said, so he has an appreciation for Rose was able to accomplish.
“As a manager you have to have one set of rules for all 25 guys,” he said. “But you have to treat each guy individually. When I was managing and I said we have batting practice at 5, you better be there at 4:30.”
Charlie had a few issues with tardiness from shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
“I don’t get that. Rollins is a great player,” Rose said. “He must not like the game.”
Told Rollins is an astute student of the game and its history, particularly the Negro Leagues, Rose had a quick reply.
“I guess he doesn’t want to be in the clubhouse.”
Rose admitted he didn’t know so much about the modern-day big league clubhouses, since his ban from the game prohibits him from so much as attending a game without purchasing a ticket. In fact, he expressed surprise when a friend with the Astros organization told him the team employs a chef for the clubhouse. He also couldn’t get over how far technology had become entwined in the modern game.
“I got 4,256 hits and I never hit a ball off a tee and I never watched myself hit on video,” he said. “Neither did Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron.”
But Chase Utley does. Tirelessly. Rose likes Utley and allowed himself a little laugh when told about Utley’s speech at Citizens Bank Park following the World Series victory parade. Rose appreciates how Utley played much of the 2008 season through a hip injury that was worse than he let on, though the Hit King noted the price.
“He’s paying now if he’s out through May,” he said. “But I guess he got his ring so it’s OK.”
But Rose does not understand Utley’s reluctance to open up to the media about himself or baseball. Different personalities, perhaps. Rose was an open book and revealed all even when he was keeping a secret about his gambling on baseball. One of the secrets to the success of those juggernaut Phillies teams in Rose’s day was that he was the one who stood up and took on the media. With sensitive personalities like Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt on the club, Rose was the go-to guy for a quote or some insight. By doing that, he took the pressure off the team’s best players.
Rose simply did not understand why Utley refused to talk to the media during his 35-game hitting streak during the 2006 season. Not talking about baseball is just a foreign concept to him. Worse, he says, fans – particularly kids – don’t get a chance to know their heroes without some type of media insight.
“Kids might want to know more about baseball and they will listen to what a guy like Chase Utley has to say,” Rose said. “But when he’s up there all he says is, ‘Yep.’”
Rose always has time for the fans, it appeared. He was genuine, easy going, friendly, a kidder and bawdy. He sang a few bars of “Oh Canada,” to a couple from Saskatchewan, asked a man in a cowboy hat if he was in town for the rodeo and talked about boxer Manny Pacquiao with a woman from the Philippines.
When told that he was good at interacting with people, Rose agreed.
“Yes, I am,” he said.
Alone with the fans
Still, there was a sense of sadness in the room. A burden of sorts. All Rose wanted to do was be a part of baseball again. Just next door from where Rose sat, his old friends gathered to compare notes and get to know each other away from the diamond. Joe Morgan was there. So was Rose’s former pupil Eric Davis. It wasn’t uncommon to see Lou Piniella and Tony LaRussa chatting in a hallway or scouts and agents lined up at the craps tables.
But Rose was left alone with his Sharpies and the curiosity seekers behind the red rope and long, narrow table.
Sad. Not sadness in a condescending way, but in truest sense of the word. Sad because a man who had accomplished so much was now reduced to shaking hands and signing his name while his old friends got to be on the inside of the game that defined him for all of his life.
“I don’t mind working,” said Rose, noting that he drove from his home in Los Angeles to Las Vegas 15 times a month to work at Field of Dreams. He also seems to genuinely enjoy interacting with baseball fans. It is the fans, after all, that keep him tethered to the game.
“Baseball needs the fans,” he said. “Without the fans, what’s the point?”
When asked if he saw any of his old teammates or friends from baseball this week, Rose said one person made it over.
“Dave Raymond,” he said. “Do you know who he was?”
The original Phillie Phanatic.
Rose likes his life, he said. He goes to all the big fights in town, he watches baseball and he gets to meet new people every day. He gets to talk about the game, though. He’s also hoping to open up a steakhouse in Vegas, soon. Maybe, just maybe, baseball will allow him to formally ask for a second chance.
That’s not too bad.
At quitting time, Rose stacked the pens, bundled them and put them away. The assistants who snap pictures for the fans and give the memorabilia to sign slipped out of their Cincinnati Reds’ shirts and tidied up. Rose got up, gathered his things in a small bag and walked with me to the door.
We shook hands and I thanked him for his time and the stories. Especially the stories.
“Just quote me accurately,” he said.
Then he turned and walked down the ornately decorated shopping mall toward his car for the drive back to Los Angeles.