Sweating it out on the South Lawn

White House 402, Finger 1977 passWASHINGTON – The last time I was at The White House was Oct. 22, 1977 during the early days of the Carter Administration. The reason I know this was because my mom saved the tickets from the tour signed by President Carter (he signed his name, “Jimmy”). I was just a little fella back then and apparently I tripped my sister on the east portico and she fell on her face.

I don’t remember that one or maybe I’m just blocking it.

Either way, The White House as it was in 1977 was very different from the visit I had with the press corps to watch the WFC Phillies be feted by President Barack Obama. For one thing no one nearly got killed during that trip in ’77 though there was that incident with my sister.

No, this time around the budding writing careers (as well as the lives) of a pair of baseball writers nearly came to an end at approximately 11:10 a.m. on Friday morning. That’s when David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News and Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, wandered into the West Wing…

Right past the Marine sentry…

Steps away from the Oval Office…

Where the President of the United States was receiving his daily economic briefing.

That’s when those two chuckle heads decided to take a private tour.

Actually, it was an honest mistake. It had to be, right? For those who have never traipsed past those wrought-iron gates and onto the White House grounds, it’s easy to see how someone could get confused. That’s especially the case with Murphy and Zolecki, two guys who are used to going wherever they want whenever they want. Access and credentials are something other people worry about – not those guys.

Anyway, the way it works is you say your name into an intercom at a gate on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the complex closest to Lafayette Park. Once the guard at the other end of the speaker hears your name and finds it on the all-important “list,” you show a guard a government-issued identification and if it checks out, you are buzzed into the security shack.

That’s where you empty your pockets of everything and put the contents into one of those containers you get at airport security so they can run it through the X-ray machine. Then you walk through the metal detector. If you set off the detector, like I did, you get wanded down. That’s where they found that I left Chap Stick in one pocket and a pen in another to confirm that, yes, I am a jackass.

But not nearly as bad as the two guys that walked right past the Marine sentry as if they were in a hurry to get to a policy briefing.

So how could Murphy and Zolecki stumble within feet of the leader of the free world like a pair of children wandering around in the woods without a care in the world? Who sees the straightest laced Marine with the crisp dark suit, sparkling white pants with matching gloves (on a muggy, swampy D.C. day, no less) and thinks, “Yes, there’s a Marine sentry guarding a door of the White House. That’s where I should go.”

Who does that?

Murphy and Zolecki, that’s who.

To be fair, one can see how they made the mistake. Once a person is admitted to the White House grounds, they must walk up a long driveway past a bank of TV cameras set up for live shots before rounding a slight bend and squaring up with the entrance to the West Wing. Now there are two things to know about this entrance, one is if there is a man in a sharp Marine uniform standing at the door with a serious demeanor, which means the President is in the vicinity.

Or, as President Obama said to RNC chairman Michael Steele at the White House Correspondent’s dinner, “In the hizzy.”

Rule two is, if there no Marine, the President is not in the West Wing or the Oval Office.

But instead of following the path around a copse of trees and to an area marked, “Press,” and “White House Briefing Room,” ol’ Butch and Sundance walked straight beneath an awning and directly to the door where the Marine was stationed

Now get this… the Marine opened it for them. In fact, the Marine did everything but snap off a strong salute. After all, who walks into the West Wing if they don’t belong there?

A couple of baseball writers, that’s who. One from Milwaukee and another who has had brushes with the law in the past.

Here’s the most important part of the story – the two guys not only were nearly killed in cold blood by the Marine who held the door open for them once the subterfuge was discovered (as well as by various trained sharpshooters with the pair in their sights and simply waiting for the go-ahead to pull the trigger), but they also were literally steps away from the Oval Office and the President.

Obama PhilliesAll they had to do was cut through the Roosevelt Room and stroll right into the Oval Office, or, they could have made the first left and then a right to find the way to the President.

That’s much too close.

Then again, we all got pretty close to the Oval Office when we were led through the Rose Garden to the South Lawn. It was quite a sight strolling out of the portico and looking to the right to see that same path where JFK and his brother Bobby conferred during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But as soon as we exited the narrow pathway where some delicate roses separated us from the President of the United States, we made a quick right and were presented with the vastness of the South Lawn as well as a stunning view of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial.

Looking out to the South Lawn immediately conjured the image of Nixon beating a hasty retreat aboard that helicopter as he was exiled from the White House after Watergate.

This was from the shadow of the Truman Balcony, which just so happens to be my favorite architectural facet of the exterior of the building. We stood facing this splendor as we waited for the Phillies and the President to make their appearance for a brief ceremony to honor the champs for a pretty big season.

Put it this way, it was definitely worth waking up early for.

Besides, it’s not every day you get to stand 10-feet away from the President of the United States as he walks over to Gary Matthews and says, “Yo, what’s up, Sarge,” and then gives him the hug.

The President and the Sarge from Mike Meech on Vimeo.

Yes, Sarge with the President was almost as good as watching Heckle and Jeckyl disrupt American governance.

Link swiped from The Fightins (who, in turn, swiped it from us at CSN)

It all pays off in the end

utley1LANCASTER, Pa. – Last week while in Florida, I had the pleasure of bumping into both David Montgomery and Bill Giles.[1] Mr. Giles moved in and out of the area like a flash – he dashed in and rolled out after he had done and seen what he needed to do.

Mr. Montgomery, along with PR director emeritus Larry Shenk joined Todd Zolecki and I to watch Chase Utley’s spring debut during a minor-league game on one of the back fields of the Carpenter Complex. Actually, I joined them. They were standing there at the one spot along the sidelines that separated us from the actual field/benches.

Still, despite a pleasant conversation with the guys, I couldn’t help to think that, once upon a time, the Phillies were (internally) considered a small-market team. In fact, until recently the team collected cash from the so-called luxury tax put in place during the 2002 collective bargaining agreement.

The interesting part about the notion of the Phillies being a “small-market team” is the semantics. Technically, the Phillies play in the fifth-largest media market in the U.S. Only New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco are larger. Though back when the Phillies were playing in the Vet and the “small-market” statement was floated out there, Philadelphia was the fourth-largest market.

But largesse and largeness are clearly two different things.

Or at least they were until, (ahem) the Phillies got good. It’s really an elementary phenomenon – when the Red Sox got good, re-worked their business plan and ballpark and really formed a Nation, they were essentially the same free-spending team as the Yankees.

Red Sox, Yankees… same difference. If either team wanted a player, they went out and bought a player.

Poaching from a David Murphy tweet (@HighCheese), the Red Sox are set to open the 2009 season with a player payroll of $120 million. It will be the lowest rate for Boston since the 2003 season.

According to Murph, the Phillies’ Opening Day payroll will be $10 million higher than the Red Sox, while, according to research by Paul Hagen, the Phillies raised their payroll by approximately $26.7 million to $130,844,098.

For the Phillies it seems as if this winter was a perfect storm of arbitration-eligible players come home to roost. Better yet, Hagen dropped this from a story last month:

Closer Brad Lidge, who could have been a free agent at the end of the season, signed a 3-year extension in the middle of last season, got the biggest raise. His base salary went up $5.2 million to $11.5 million. He was followed closely by first baseman Ryan Howard, who is now the team’s highest-paid player at $15 million after getting a $5 million bump.

Righthander Brett Myers ($3.5 million increase) and second baseman Chase Utley ($2.75 million) got bumps that were scheduled as part of multiyear contracts.

The biggest winner percentagewise was lefthander Cole Hamels. He got an 870 percent increase from $500,000 to $4.35 million as part of his new 3-year contract. Centerfielder Shane Victorino got a 651 percent increase from $480,000 to $3.125 million.

At the same time, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told us during the winter meetings in Las Vegas that the Phillies were largely unaffected by the current world economic crisis largely because they won the World Series. Had they fallen short, perhaps the payroll might not have gotten close to $130 million?

Still, as Nate Silver pointed out last week, baseball is a really, really good investment. Looking to make some money? Buy a baseball team. Just look at what happened to Messers Montgomery and Giles…

Sure, you might be small market now, but it will pay off very quickly.

[1] Yes, this is shameless name-dropping. Make that unapologetic name-dropping.

Sixth inning: Roof ball and sausage races

MILWAUKEE – I have seen a lot of baseball games, but this is the first one where I saw a fly ball hit the roof of a dome and bounce back toward the infield so that the third baseman had to make a diving catch.

No, that doesn’t happen very much.

Here’s what happened:

With one out, Jayson Werth hit what looked like a can-of-corn to left field. Suddenly, though, the left fielder pointed at the roof and the infielders started to scamper about. Next thing we knew, Craig Counsell was sprawled out on the infield dirt with the ball in his glove for the second out.

I’m not sure about the ground rule for a roof ball, but I bet it’s goofy.

Speaking of goofy, the Mexican chorizo sausage won today’s big race between the sixth innings. Yesterday the Italian sausage went wire-to-wire in a closely contested race for the victory, which cost our pal Todd Zolecki a few dimes. You see, Todd is a compulsive gambler and he will bet on anything from a dog, horse, sausage, flip of a coin, cockfight, a mouse in a maze or an arm-wrestling bout. Yet with a strategy of always betting on the Polish sausage in the Milwaukee race, Todd is 0-for-2 this series.

Tony Gwynn Jr. singled to open the sixth to make those thunder sticks pound away, but Joe Blanton quieted them by retiring the next three, including Ryan Braun on a whiff.

That’s 99 pitches in six for Blanton.

End of 6: Phillies 5, Brewers 0