Anti-establishment Phillies buck trends

The RamonesI love trends. Just love ‘em. I love trends so much that I sometimes even take the time to figure out who is following the so-called conventional wisdom and who is not. Better yet, in my anti-establishment ethos that I have been honing since I first discovered[1] The Ramones, The Clash and Minor Threat when I was 13, I knee-jerkily give credence to those who buck the trends no matter what the trend is.

Certainly those that defy conventional wisdom not only have seen the errors of following the herd, but also they are much more hip and astute than those who blindly follow what everyone else is doing.

But more than a “why can’t I be different just like everyone else” screed, or a paradoxical “sometimes no style is a style” it’s fair to surmise that the non-trendsetters always end up creating the new trend. After all, one day Tito Puente will be dead and you’ll tell all your friends, “Oh yeah, I’ve been listening to him for years and he’s fabulous.”

And, yes, I know Tito Puente is already dead. However, Tito was clearly one of the best unconventional guest stars on The Simpsons. Don’t argue because I’m right.

Anyway, there seems to be a new trend in Major League Baseball, and no, it has nothing to do with bloused pants and high stirrups or substituting sunflower seeds and gummy bears for Skoal and a plug of Red Man. Nope, this anti-trend is more sinister and very well could upset the very balance of power in Major League Baseball…

Or something like that.

Get to the point? OK. Here it is.

According to a column scribbled out by the great Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post, home run totals have dropped in Major League Baseball for the second straight season. According to the column, last spring homer totals were down eight percent, but this spring – in the wake of The Mitchell Report – home run totals have dipped 10.4 percent from last spring.

If the trend holds there will be 4,442 homers hit this year, which is a 17.5 percent drop from 2006.

Certainly there are a lot of reasons for the home run dip that can be assumed by followers of the game and/or meteorology. For one, some claim the cooler early-season temperatures have kept more baseballs in the park. Others suggest that baseball’s drug-testing program is finally working. As Orioles’ president Andy MacPhail told Boswell:

“A ‘cold spring’ doesn’t account for an almost 20 percent drop in home runs in two years,” MacPhail said. “It’s foolish not to think there’s some correlation to more drug testing and all the [legal] attention [on steroids]. There are still people out there trying to cheat. There will always be people who try to get around the rules one way or another. But there are not as many now.”

HRMore interestingly, Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire told Boswell that he has noticed a difference in the shape and size of the ballplayers around the league.

“Just say that guys look like ballplayers again, like they looked when I was growing up, not like musclemen,” said St. Claire.

But before this descends into an essay about Bud Selig’s drug policy and the cleaning up of the national pastime, let’s take a gander at those who are bucking the trend.

Ladies and gentleman, the rebels of MLB, the Philadelphia Phillies…

So far, the Phillies have launched 71 home runs, which is the most in all of baseball. The Marlins are second with 66 and the Rangers are third with 60.

Yes, the Phillies have out-homered all American League teams by a substantial margin.

Of course part of that has to do with the fact that the Phillies play in the friendliest hitting park in all of baseball. After all, the Phillies have blasted 38 homers in 24 home games. However, the 33 road homers also lead the Majors in that sub-category.

But more telling is the fact that the Phillies hit just 56 home runs through April and May of the 2007 season. With a full week to go in the month, the Phillies will have quite a substantial increase in the power totals from a year ago.

More interesting is another trend – the Phillies have three players on pace to crush 40 homers.

When’s the last time three Phillies hit at least 40 homers in a season?

Uh, how about never. In fact, only six different guys have the franchise’s 11 40-homer seasons. Four of those have come since 2003. Actually, last season was just the second time in team history that three players hit at least 30 homers in a season.

So while the trends shift one way, the Phillies go another.

How punk rock is that?

More: Tom Boswell – “There’s Something in the Air Other than the Ball Headed for the Fence”


[1] Yes, discovered. Just like Columbus “discovered” the Americas. Yeah, like they wouldn’t have found that anyway.

Just 80 more to go

SheaThere is no easy way to get to Shea Stadium. There are no back routes or shortcuts. Take the Verrazano Bridge through Staten Island and over to Brooklyn and you will get stuck on the Belt Parkway. If you go farther north to the George Washington to cross through the South Bronx over the Triborough into Queens and you’re done before you get off 95.

The best move is to go through the Holland Tunnel and then through Manhattan to the Queens Midtown Tunnel to the Long Island Expressway and finally to the Grand Central. But even that’s a crapshoot depending on all sorts of variables.

If the natives have any secrets to get to the old stadium deep in the heart of Queens, they didn’t trickle down this way.

Nevertheless, the best way to get to Shea to see the Mets is Amtrak to Penn Station and then a short walk over to Grand Central Station to hop on the No. 7 train.

But even that’s stressful, though not the way confirmed moron John Rocker would lead one to believe. The worst part about taking the No. 7 train from Grand Central to Shea isn’t the other people – that’s the best part. In fact, it’s very difficult not to be entertained and/or to make friends on the ride out to Flushing. No, the worst is getting on the local train and making all the damn stops.

It takes forever.

It’s one thing if an arduous journey leads to a magnificent destination, but that’s not the case with Shea. For folks like me with a press pass, Shea is a mess. Even in the press box there are obstructed views, tight quarters in a room with far too few seats and a work area built for a different era when people were the size of Shetland ponies and weren’t lugging around laptop computers.

The media dining room is just as cramped, but at least they have a sundae bar and a real caterer.

It’s not much better for the players, either. Both the home and the visiting clubhouses are small with amenities that clearly aren’t up to date. The dugouts are old, deep and seemingly crumbling.

The elevators don’t work well, the parking is scarce and the location is a drag. Nothing against Flushing or the borough of Queens, but what was Robert Moses thinking? He built all those freeways, bridges and tunnels, uprooted neighborhoods and displaced folks from their homes and he didn’t anticipate the traffic?

Some visionary he was.

blueprintsAnyway, as most folks who follow this sort of thing have heard, this is the last season for the Mets at Shea Stadium before the team moves across the parking lot to spanking new Citi Field. Judging from the way the new ballpark is sprouting over the outfield fence and casting its big shadow over tired, old Shea, it looks as if things are moving as planned.

Thankfully, there are 80 games to go at Shea.

Still, it’s fair to say that Shea Stadium gets a bad rap from guys like me. The truth of the matter is that there are places far worse than Shea that are celebrated with unironic and overwrought prose about the nostalgic ardor about such buildings. From this vantage point, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, the Palestra, Wrigley Field are not great either, but aside from Yankee Stadium there are no plans to replace any of those places.

So here’s the question: did places like Shea Stadium, or RFK or even Veterans Stadium get old really fast? Or did our needs change?

In other words, did we get soft?

Certainly Veterans Stadium limped to the finish line, and clearly RFK was not properly equipped to host Major League Baseball for three years. But Shea hosted a World Series not too long ago and if the more popular and “historic” Yankee Stadium weren’t also being retired at the end of this year, chances are Shea could have been home to this year’s All-Star Game.

But after we get through all the traffic, the crowds, the stress and all that goes with it to find our way out to Queens and Shea Stadium, chances are we’re going to see something interesting. After all, it is New York where even the most mundane occurrences seem to take on greater importance.

And lots of things have happened in the not-so distant past at ol’ Shea. To prove it, I dug up an old essay from two years ago:

It Happened at Shea
The Beatles at Shea In 1964 when Shea Stadium opened, it was probably a really big deal. Right next door was where they were having the World’s Fair, which sounds like it was a pretty big deal. A World’s Fair? Can you imagine such a thing? These days there would be a Serbia and a Montenegro booth.

Nevertheless, there has been a lot of history at Shea Stadium since 1964. In fact, the very first stadium concert occurred there in August of 1965 when the Beatles played on a stage just beyond the infield dirt. In Beatle-insider Peter Brown’s account of the event in The Love You Make, the group was pretty weirded out about being at Shea. You see, back in those days the monitors, microphones, and sound system wasn’t very good. There were no fiber optics, wireless devices or Clair Bros. rigging up the sound. So in 1965 the Beatles had trouble hearing the notes they played or the words they said or sang. Mix that with blinding lights zeroing in on them and the area in front of the stage lined with cops and handicapped kids in order to keep both out of harm’s way, and the Beatles felt as if they were in a Dali painting.

When the Beatles looked out to the audience at Shea, they couldn’t hear even though they were making noise and all they could see was crippled kids and cops just inches away.

Muhammad Ali fought Antonio Inoki at Shea, while Joe Namath and the Jets, the Yankees, Pope John Paul II, and Darryl Strawberry all played there.

Just off the infield dirt behind first base is where Buckner missed the ball and there isn’t even a plaque or a statue to commemorate it.

Better yet, Shea Stadium is where The Clash put the final touches on their conquering of America with two shows in October of 1982 in support of The Who. Soon, after the legendary shows famously documented by filmmaker Don Letts, The Clash officially were dubbed “the only band that matters.”

You’re damned right.

But for the baseball scribes of Philadelphia, Shea is where all the bleep goes down. In 2003, Matt Yallof and Larry Bowa had a bit of run-in along the third-base line in a taped segment of “Bowa Unplugged.” Later, Yallof spent the entire ride back from Queens to Philadelphia performing an interview where yours truly posed as Bowa and he was a old-timey and fast-talking reporter from the 1940s lost in the new century.

After the second hour, the act got a little old but we still pressed on.

BucknerThe fallout from the so-called “Snub,” where Pat Burrell refused to slap five with Bowa by taking the back entrance to the dugout, followed quickly by the Tyler Houston ouster occurred the day after Yallof’s little tiff. I’ll never forget the look on Camden Courier Post columnist Kevin Roberts’ face as he walked out of that tiny little visitor’s clubhouse – the same clubhouse where Bob Costas waited to give Red Sox owner Jean Yawkey the team’s first World Series trophy since 1918 during Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, only to watch as workers scurried to tear down the makeshift podium and protective plastic covering the lockers as the Mets rallied. The workers somehow tore down a podium, protective plastic, removed the champagne and all evidence of an impending celebration in the time it took for the ball to trickle through Buckner’s legs until the team stomped off the field, through the passageway in the dugout and into the clubhouse.

I’ll also never forget what Sully Stansberry said to me when I asked him how he saw Pat Burrell give Bowa the snub.

“I watch the [!] game,” Sully said.

Good idea.

The next year, in 2004, Billy Wagner was tossed from that game on Sept. 11 while 2005 was nearly the scene of the a rumble between some writers and Tomas Perez as he took it upon himself to defend the honor of Miss Venezuela. If the Pie Man won’t stand up for a beauty queen, who will?

What will happen next at Shea? God only knows.