It’s not me, it’s you

Scott & TonySo the Phillies went to the Opryland Resort in Nashville for the Winter Meetings and came back empty handed (though I bet one of the guys in the travelling party swiped a towel or two and all of the sample bottles of shampoo and soap… they know who they are), which really isn’t much of a surprise. After all, just a few weeks ago general manager Pat Gillick told the local scribes to stay home to save them from the boredom.

Then he said he wanted to leave Nashville with a pitcher. In between all of that he called Randy Wolf a jerk for choosing his family and sunny California over dreary Philadelphia and its bandbox of a ballpark.

Nevertheless, the Phillies and… well, the nothing they left with was hardly the most interesting part of the Winter Meetings. Instead, the most interesting part of the Winter Meetings was Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa’s verbal thrashing of ex-Phillie (and soon to be ex-Cardinal) Scott Rolen in which he ripped the gold glove third baseman a new one before adding, “But of course we’d like to have him back… I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to come back.”

Then he looked to the side, flashed his lashes coquettishly with his hands jammed into his pockets as he shyly twisted his foot into the ground. Seconds later, a balloon cloud appeared adjacent to the halo above La Russa’s head with, “I’m a li’l stinker,” written in it.

Tony La Russa is, indeed, a little stinker. He’s also a hypocrite and a jackass, but we’ll get into that soon enough. Let’s backtrack to the stuff he said about Rolen for a second.

Here’s the Greatest Hits version from La Russa’s diatribe at Opryland on Wednesday:

“It was unanimous that everyone was for me except him. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t care. What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a major league productive star.”

“Scott’s got a lot of goodness to him. … I think he has been a team man. He plays a team sport. I don’t think he’s going to want to be the one guy and the 24 guys on the other side of the room.”

“There’s absolutely no intention to accommodate Scott. I mean, that’s not how you run an organization. The idea is to accommodate the St. Louis Cardinals, our team, our responsibility to our players and to the competition. So, no, I don’t want to accommodate Scott. But somebody doesn’t want to be part of the situation, you investigate it.”

“Nobody has more often said that I don’t think Scott should be traded than me. I think he should be with our club. I think we need him. We need him to reassert himself as an impact player. I don’t care what anybody wants in a trade. We need him and we expect him to be productive.”

“It’s very clear that he’s unhappy. And I’m making it clear that I don’t know why he’s unhappy. I can make a list of 50 respect points that this man has been given by our organization. It’s time for him to give back.”

“He’s got a contract to play, and we need him to play. And he’s going to be treated very honestly.”

“If he plays hard and he plays as well as he can, he plays. And if he doesn’t, he can sit. If he doesn’t like it, he can quit.”

“I think he’s strong-minded enough that I don’t see his opinion changing on a personal basis. And it’s gotten to the point that I don’t care. What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a Major League productive star. And that’s one of the points I’ve tried to make to him.

“We’ve had issues where guys are saying, ‘What’s going on with Scott?’ And he needs to understand that he’s slipped, not in his play, but just in the way he’s perceived as being the Scott we’ve known for a few years. And I think that means a lot to him. He can play mad every day if he wants to. It’s OK.”

“He asked to be traded, so under normal circumstances if a guy doesn’t want to be part of your situation, then you consider that. So inquiries have been made. There hasn’t been anything happening so far that would make the guys in charge pull the trigger . . . I’m just saying from a manager’s point of view, I consistently say don’t trade him. And I say that because one of our important needs is to have somebody who can hit behind Albert [ Pujols].

“I think he has put some things together in his mind and I think he needs to understand that the Cardinals have given him a lot since he’s gotten here. He’s been given a contract, a world championship, and he’s given back some. And so, we need him.”

So yeah, La Russa told Rolen he’s a bad teammate and that everyone else likes the manager but him so he should just shut up and play for a guy he does not like. I don’t know otherwise, but I’m also guessing there isn’t much respect for La Russa either. Sure, he’s a good manager and all of that and Rolen had problems with his last manager before the Phillies sent him to St. Louis.

But I don’t think Rolen ever had to go to court to plead guilty for being drunk and asleep behind the wheel of his car in the middle of an intersection. I also dug around and can’t find any YouTube videos of Rolen flunking a field sobriety test.

I found one of Tony La Russa, though. Here it is:

Two months after this event occurred in Florida, one of La Russa’s pitchers (Josh Hancock) was killed when he was driving drunk. Actually, it was reported that in the days prior to Hancock’s death La Russa had a meeting with the pitcher about drinking.

But really, that isn’t La Russa’s problem. Nor does he set the agenda that Major League Baseball is in business with companies that push the last legal drug. Instead, La Russa’s job is simply to win baseball games and if it takes tearing down Scott Rolen in order to do so, that’s part of it.

Tony La RussaYes, his job is to win baseball games and it’s something he does very well. Better yet, La Russa seems to have a laser focus on winning games to the point that nothing else matters. It’s all about La Russa and winning ballgames.

For instance, La Russa has been an ardent defender of Mark McGwire and the allegations of performance-enhancing drug use during the former player’s assault on the single-season home run records. In 2006, after McGwire’s infamous showing before the Congressional House Government Reform Committee, La Russa continued to maintain that his former player was “legal,” which is a bit semantically. McGwire admitted to using then-legal steroid, androstenedione.

“I have long felt, and still do, there are certain players who need to publicize the legal way to get strong,” La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in March of 2006. “That’s my biggest complaint. When those players have been asked, they’ve been very defensive or they’ve come out and said ‘Whatever.’ Somebody should explain that you can get big and strong in a legal way. If you’re willing to work hard and be smart about what you ingest, it can be done in a legal way.”

Nothing has dissuaded La Russa from believing McGwire was clean.

“That’s the basis of why I felt so strongly about Mark. I saw him do that for years and years and years. That’s why I believe it. I don’t have anything else to add. Nothing has happened since he made that statement to change my mind.”

La Russa managed the Oakland A’s when McGwire and Jose Canseco were the most-feared slugging duo in the game. Canseco, of course, detailed his (and McGwire’s) steroid use in his book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. But when he played for La Russa, Canseco was something of a “steroid evangelist,” as Howard Bryant wrote in his book, Juicing the Game:

He talked about steroids all of the time, about what they could do and how they helped him. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Canseco put the A’s in a difficult position. The question of his steroid use and the possible use by another teammate, budding superstar named Mark McGwire, grew to be an open suspicion.

Deeply compromised was Tony La Russa. Canseco often spoke unapologetically about steroids, yet La Russa did nothing about it. … La Russa knew about Canseco’s steroid use because Canseco had told him so. Under the spirit of baseball’s rules, La Russa could have contacted his boss, Sandy Alderson, who in turn could have told the Commissioner’s office. That’s how the chain of command was supposed to work, but Canseco was a superstar player, an MVP, and the cornerstone of the Oakland revival. Turning him in would have produced a high-profile disaster. La Russa, knowing that his best player was a steroid user, did nothing.

In fact, La Russa did more than nothing. He not only did not talk to Alderson, but actively came to Canseco’s defense. …

But perhaps the best example of La Russa’s unwavering focus on winning baseball games at the sacrifice of everything else came when he was just beginning as Major League manager for the Chicago White Sox in 1983. Just as the White Sox had broken camp and were to begin the ’83 season that ended with the White Sox winning the AL West, La Russa’s wife, Elaine, called from Florida to tell her husband that she and their 4-year old and 1-year old daughters would not be joining him in Chicago because she had, as detailed in Buzz Bissinger’s 3 Nights in August, been diagnosed with pneumonia and required hospitalization.

According to Bissinger:

La Russa responded to the news with a fateful decision, one that would cement his status as a baseball man but would define him in another way.

Based on a strong finish in 1982, the expectations were high for the White Sox in 1983. But the season got off to a wretched start, mired at 16 and 24. Floyd Bannister was having trouble winning anything. La Marr Hoyt had a record of 2 and 6 and Carlton Fisk was a mess at the plate. In the middle of May, the team had lost eight of nine games. Toronto swept them; then Baltimore swept them. La Russa found himself fighting for his life, or what he mistook for his life. He had a team that was supposed to win, that had spent money on free agents and had good pitching and still wasn’t winning. The only reason he was still around was because of the vision of White Sox owner Reinsdorf, who continued to stand by him. So he did what he thought he had to do: He called his sister in Tampa and asked whether she could take care of the kids so he could take care of baseball.

Bissinger writes that La Russa regretted the decision and has never forgiven himself, but a pattern of behavior that put baseball before anything and everything else was in motion.

So yeah, maybe Rolen does have a problem with La Russa, though the manager just can’t seem to figure it out.

“I keep saying it, I don’t understand. I told him this. He’s never given me an explanation,” La Russa said. “I don’t understand why he can be down on the Cardinals, and I don’t understand why he can be down on me.”

Maybe people just don’t get along? Maybe there is no explanation? Or, perhaps, maybe some people don’t want to be judged by the company they keep. Either way, it doesn’t seem as if Rolen is going to change his position and it appears very certain that La Russa hasn’t done anything different than he had done in the past.

Are they trying to lose on purpose?

“Seems to me we’re all waiting to lose.”
– Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca

Billy WagnerYes, Paul we all noticed that, too. Actually, it doesn’t look like the Mets aren’t waiting to lose, it looks like they are trying to lose.

I could live to be 100-years old and I’ll never figure out how the first-place Mets – the team that most said had to go to the World Series or the season would be considered a failure – could not beat the Washington Nationals in one game at home this week. This is the same Washington Nationals’ club in which the manager is being considered for Manager of the Year honors because he didn’t lose100 games. You know, like that’s an accomplishment.

One win against the Nats and all of this hassle could have been over for the Mets. Just one stinkin’ game and the Phillies aren’t pounding on the door with a battering ram like a bunch of DEA agents. Two wins against the 72-87 Nationals, and the Mets could have had some champagne on ice for tonight’s game against Tony La Russa’s Cardinals.

“Seems to me like we’re all waiting to lose.”

The MetsSo watching the end of the Mets-Nats game on the TV hung over my seat in the press box, I saw the Mets roll over and expose their perfectly round, pink bellies for everyone to thrash away at. Better yet, they were like a picture of the dead bug on the old cockroach-killing ads where they were flat on their backs, with legs dangling in the air and Xs where their eyes should have been.

I also saw a few players who would have preferred to have been anywhere else but Shea Stadium. Yeah, he’s a “gamer” and all of that stuff, but did anyone really think that Billy Wagner wanted to be in for the ninth inning of a game that the Mets were losing? Worn down by a long season and maybe even a little too much use, Wagner promptly hucked that low-90s fastball up there and gave up a pair of runs with his team trailing by one.

Is this the end for the Mets? Can Willie Randolph get his reeling team together to hold off the Phillies? Can the genius that is Tony La Russa do a favor for the Phillies by coming up with something just clever enough to deal the Mets yet another loss?

Maybe he’ll have his pitcher hit eighth again… yeah, that always works. Maybe he’ll run the fumble-ruski or State of Liberty play?

Oh sure, those are football plays alright, but La Russa will figure it out.
Then again, the Phillies have to face a beyond-desperate Braves club tonight, who can’t lose any more games (and then hope for help) this season in order to cling to the flicker of a playoff chance. To keep hope alive the Braves will rally behind John Smoltz, one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

The Phillies will counter with 23-year old rookie Kyle Kendrick and 40,000 screaming fans.

Daniel Kingston Wann Our good friends Mike and Michelle Wann welcomed their second son into the world this morning at 1:47 a.m.. Daniel Kingston Wann came in easily at a slick 7-pounds, 8 ounces and 19½ inches and all reports are that Michelle and big brother Christopher are doing great.

But Mike… that’s a different story.

A little background: Mike and Michelle delivered Christopher in the comforts of their home here in the School Lane Hills neighborhood of Lancaster, Pa. Rather than go to the hospital and be subjected to all of the stuff that goes on at those places, the kids had a midwife come in while Mike did his best to stay out of trouble. And since he was at home, he could putter around in the yard while Michelle was upstairs delivering the baby.

It’s how I imagine our pioneer forefathers did things.

But this time, well, perhaps I should just turn it over to Mike:

Interesting Point: Admittedly, it was in this space I planned to be clever and funny as I told our story, but sometimes, when a tale is so outrageous and unbelievable, a well crafted build-up actually takes away from the drama. So here it goes; Michelle and I birthed this little rascal at home, by ourselves, with no assistance (this is no joke). Let me be clear, that was not our intention. It went down like this:

1. We wanted to do a home-birth, like our first one
2. We called the midwife when Michelle started labor at 10:30 PM
3. The midwife planned to come when the contractions reached 1 minute in length
4. Michelle’s water ruptured at 1:15 AM (we were still waiting for the 1 minute contractions)
5. The baby exited Michelle at 1:47 AM
6. The midwife entered the house at 1:55 AM

So what did we learn? It’s true, the second birth is quicker than the first. Oh, yeah, and you never know what you can do until the occasion presents itself.

Yeah, how about that?!?!

I received a phone call from Mike this morning and he asked me what I had done so far today. I told him that I had brushed my teeth, eaten a banana and I was about to go out for a run before I got into my car for the drive to Philadelphia to go to work. All things being equal, that’s a pretty busy day for a guy like me.

“Yeah, well I birthed a baby,” he said.

Top that.

One down, 161 more to go…

Last year on Opening Day, Charlie Manuel sat on top of the bench in the middle of the dugout and fielded question after question about why he chose to start Placido Polanco at second base over Chase Utley during his pre-game meeting with the writers. Actually, if an interview session were a prize fight, someone would have come in and stopped it.

But no more than 30 seconds later, Manuel walked up the dugout steps to talk to the TV folks who asked wistful inanities like, “Charlie, does Opening Day ever get old?”

This year, Manuel was asked why he chose to start Abraham Nunez at third base over David Bell, but there was none of the rancor or a challenging nature to the questions. It seemed as if everyone was OK with the skipper’s decision even though Bell was a little unhappy with sitting on the bench.

What a difference a year makes.

Either way, Opening Day always reminded me of going to church on Christmas. The press box is always packed with people who aren’t going to be back next time. They take care of their yearly obligation early and might show up at the end if there is a pennant race.

Jim Salisbury had an interesting story in Tuesday’s Inquirer about Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa’s role in Jimmy Rollins’ final at bat. According to the story, LaRussa told his pitcher Adam Wainright to quit nitpicking and throw something around the plate after the count had reached 3-0.

Also in the Cardinals’ clubhouse, Scott Rolen heard sarcastic boos from some teammates when he exited the training room and headed toward his locker. It seems as if they find the Philly fans’ treatment of the former Phillie very funny.

Which, of course, it is.

Rolen told me that he thinks his former teammate Jimmy Rollins has a really good chance to threaten Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. The reason, Rolen said, is that Rollins has the ability to beat out an infield hit with his speed, and he can bunt for a hit.

“He has all the tools,” Rolen said.

But, it’s not all about simply having the tools. There’s a mental part to it, too.

“Give him credit because he has to go out there and do it.”

When with the Phillies, Rolen and Rollins had different ways of doing things that sometimes caused a bit of (very minor) friction between the pair, but one thing for sure is that Rollins has a ton of respect for Rolen. Before a game in Washington last season, Rollins talked about how much he admired his former teammate as a player.

Then again, Rollins is a true fan of the game and anyone who is a fan of baseball has a real admiration for Rolen.

Apropos of nothing, Rolen and Randy Wolf are probably the most interesting and entertaining ballplayers to talk to. Rollins is up there, too, especially when talking about certain minutia of the game. Once, probably in late 2001 or 2002, he demonstrated to this writer how to come to a quick stop after running at full speed. It seems as if there is a proper technique and form to everything in baseball.

He has a point…
Before Sunday’s exhibition against the Red Sox, Manuel talked candidly about his lack of double switches last season. It seems as if Charlie didn’t think he had the artillery to yank a starter out of the game.

In fact, when Manuel contemplated a double switch, he said, he’d look to his right from the corner of the dugout and didn’t think Tomas Perez or Endy Chavez could get it done.

It’s hard to disagree with that.