Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Get Over Yourself Award

Along with the weekly football picks, I thought it would be fun to come up with another weekly feature called, “The Get Over Yourself Award.” This honor will be bestowed upon anyone who just seems to need to take a step back and reexamine the situation.

It’s our little way to point out the self important and egotistical. You know a little self-grandiosity that may or may not bit a rip-off of Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World” feature.

Yes, I see the irony in one person writing about how another should “get over himself.”

Anyway, the inaugural “Get Over Yourself” Award goes to Michael Strahan in a runaway balloting over Albert Pujols. Strahan gets the nod, of course, for his tirade directed toward a few members of the New York media throng covering the Giants at Wednesday’s practice. It was during Strahan’s rant where he seemed to have a wee bit of a problem with a reporter’s question regarding the football player’s comments about a teammate “quit” on a play during the loss to the Titans.

Now I’m no expert, but if a player makes a public comment it’s fair to ask a question about it. Public means public. If I decide to stand on the hill in my front yard and shout at cars as they pass by, people – including reporters – are allowed to ask me about it. I gave up my right to anonymity the second I poured that seventh cup of coffee and decided to take my dementia to the front yard.

But Strahan’s public comments aren’t why he is our big winner. Nope, that would just be way too easy. The following quote is what sealed the deal for the Giants’ sacker:

“The fact of the matter is we are 6-5,” Strahan said. “We have lost three games in a row. What do you want us to do, put our head down and run to a corner? We don’t do that. We’re men. We get back, we practice hard. We prepare to play to win. We don’t prepare to come in and have someone who wants to take a comment and try to divide teammates in a way that it just disrupts this team.

“We don’t have that division,” Strahan added. “So if you want to come here with a negative, you are coming to the wrong guy, because I am not a negative guy. I don’t kill my teammates. I’m a man and I talk to my teammates.”

Strahan then ranted about the media only wanting to write negative stories to sell newspapers.

“The only thing that bothers me is the fact that you mislead people outside of this locker room when you guys spend more time with us than we damn near spend with ourselves sometimes, and that’s a shame,” Strahan said.

With that, Strahan said he was finished and had to prepare for the Cowboys. He has been listed as doubtful for Sunday matchup for the NFC East lead.
“If you are going to be negative, be negative because if you think it bothers me I don’t give a damn what you write,” Strahan said.

Where do I start?

Actually, let’s just keep this clean and quick:

There is unmitigated genocide in Darfur. Estimates show that there are between 48,904 and 54,266 civilians and approximately 3,000 Americans killed in Iraq since March of 2003. It’s the last day of November and the temperature is expected to reach nearly 70 degrees, yet we’re supposed to give a bleep that the New York Giants are 6-5 and the Michael Strahan is still out there practicing hard despite all of those “negative” newspaper stories?

Hey big fella, get over yourself.

Just so no one believes this is some web site posturing, ALL winners of The Get Over Yourself Award will be invited to go out to dinner on me the next time they find themselves in Lancaster, Pa.

I'll take them out for a steak the size of toilet seat... or for some of my veggie boy crap -- their choice.

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Phillies Round Out Rotation with Eaton

Pat Gillick has not been very shy about expressing his disdain for the current crop of free agents on the market. Actually, Gillick was a bit underwhelmed by his choices last year, too, when he said his priority was to find a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Phillies.

“Sometimes we can get everything we want, but sometimes nothing materializes,” the Phils’ GM said.

Nonetheless, another year has passed and Gillick and the Phillies still have not made any changes at the top of the rotation. Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer hold down the same spots as they did at the end of the 2006 season. The only difference is that Adam Eaton, the club’s first-round draft pick in 1996, will finally start a season in the Phillies’ rotation.

Of course there was a decade of climbing through the minors, a trade to San Diego and then another to Texas before finally getting his chance to pitch for the Phillies, yet Eaton is finally here after the official announcement of his new deal with the team that drafted him.

Eaton, still just 29 years old, is guaranteed $24.5 million over the next three seasons, the team announced on Thursday afternoon. The oft-injured right-hander joins the Phillies after starting just 13 games for the Rangers in 2006 after undergoing surgery on the middle finger of his pitching hand last April. In that Baker’s dozen of starts, Eaton went 7-4 with a 5.12 ERA, but has gone 18-9 over the past two years and 37 starts.

Eaton also had elbow surgery in July of 2001 that kept him off the field until September of 2002. Meanwhile, Eaton missed a few starts in 2005 with a strained middle finger on is right hand before having surgery on it in April of 2006. In all, Eaton has been on the disabled list six times during his career.

Regardless, the Phillies just committed three seasons and $24.5 million to a pitcher who has never had an ERA lower than 4.08 or thrown 200 innings in any of his seven Major League seasons. In fact, Eaton has made more than 30 starts just twice.

“We’re very happy to have Adam in the fold,” Gillick said in a statement. “He stabilizes our rotation and will complement the rest of our staff nicely.”

So unless there is an unforeseen trade or signing, the Phillies rotation for 2007 is set. That, however, doesn’t mean Gillick doesn’t have some work to do before the team heads to Clearwater in mid February. Or even the winter meetings in Orlando, Fla. next week.

“We’ll have to wait and see. We have a few lines out there trying to acquire what we need,” Gillick offered during a conference call on Thursday evening. We want to go out fishing and we have a few proposals out there. We’re looking for some bullpen help and a hitter.”

The Phillies’ needs certainly do not need to be decoded. With five starters with Major League experience, four outfielders and five infielders, the Phillies are set in those aspects. The bullpen, on the other hand, is incomplete and Gillick says he wouldn’t mind bolstering the team’s catching (Mike Piazza?) in addition to acquiring that much-talked about hitter (Mike Piazza?).

Let's make a deal?
But outside of landing Eaton and part-time third baseman Wes Helms, Gillick has whiffed as if he were Pat Burrell with two on and two outs. The team was interested in 40-40 man Alfonso Soriano until the Cubs came in and offered him an eight-year deal that made him the second-richest Chicagoan behind Oprah.

With Soriano gone, the team was rumored to be one of a handful of teams in the mix for Carlos Lee until he decided to go to Houston for six years and $100 million. After that news dropped, Gillick claimed the Phils weren’t so involved in bidding for Lee despite the fact that the slugger was as steady performer during his career. Sure, there are/were fair concerns over Lee’s fitness and attitude, but if Gillick and the gang are looking for protection for MVP Ryan Howard as they say they are, the new Astro would have fit in nicely in Philadelphia.

But for six years and $100 million?

Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, Gillick and the Phillies brass must have breathed a sigh of relief that Lee signed such an obnoxious deal with the Astros. While publicly downplaying the market, Gillick has a few built-in excuses and the luxury of being sane (and right) for not shelling out the mega years and bucks for Soriano and Lee. After all, Burrell already has one of those crazy deals.

And as far as trading that crazy deal to another team… well, good luck.

“We don’t have a lot to trade,” Gillick said. “We have the four outfielders (Burrell, Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino and Jeff Conine), and the five infielders (Howard, Helms, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Abraham Nunez). We need to add. We don’t have the surplus to trade.”

Besides, published reports indicate that Burrell will only waive his no-trade clause to go to the Yankees, Red Sox or a west-coast club.

So there’s another strike. Mix in the rescinded multi-year offer to reliever Joe Borowski over reported arm trouble revealed in a team physical and Gillick is fouling off some tough ones.

“I’m not really sure with what’s going on out there is everyone is looking for the same commodity,” Gillick said. “Everyone is looking for a starter. Unless someone can trade for a reliever for a starter or a starter for a reliever I can’t see a lot of action going on. If you have some pitching you don’t want to give it up.”

That goes for the reserves in the minor leagues, too. Gillick said the team would be reluctant to deal away a prospect like Gio Gonzalez for a short-term fix.

At the same time, Gillick says one of those proposals the team has dangled out there has not been offered to former Reds closer David Weathers.

Needless to say, there’s work to do.

“We’re optimistic, but I can’t make any assurances or commitments that [anything is] going to happen,” Gillick said.

But at least for now, Gillick and the Phillies can be satisfied that some of holiday shopping is taken care of with Eaton’s arrival. Plus, with the re-acquisition of the team’s 1999 Paul Owens Award winner, the Phillies staff might not have changed at the top but it’s better than it was when 2006 began.

“I don’t look at the other teams in the division or the league, but from where we were from the beginning of the ’06 season we have five starters who have [Major League] experience. We have starters with experience,” Gillick said. “We didn’t have that last year.

“From the quality standpoint we have a better rotation that we had at the beginning of last year. What we have to do is work on the bullpen.”

Pitchers and catcher report in 11 weeks.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Do the right thing

Let’s start with a clerical thing – starting on Dec. 1 I am going to go into “Holiday Mode.” That means the posts here are will drop to just two or three per week as opposed to the veritable Odyssey and the Iliad that gets posted in manic spurts. Oh, I’ll be working for the first couple of weeks of the month before using up the last of my vacation days of 2006, but there will be other things happening that need my attention. I’ve been neglecting a few more “serious” writing endeavors and I want make some headway before the end of the year.

On another note, the running and training site will continue to be update with the same alacrity as always. Feel free to dive in and laugh at me.

Now, on to our regularly scheduled drivel…

According to the dispatches from the coast, Dodgers fans are excited about landing Randy Wolf and have given him special, sloppy kudos for agreeing to a deal for less years and guaranteed money to pitch in front of his friends and family in Los Angeles.

Of course Wolf will get $7.5 million for 2007 with an easy-to-reach vesting option for $9 million if he pitches 180 innings. Should Wolf remain healthy – and there is no indication to think he won’t be – the lefty believes he’s getting a two-year deal to go home.

Then again, despite the inflated free-agent market this winter, it’s not as if deals like the one Wolf got are growing on trees. At least they don’t give them to guys who write sentences.

“I'm not being paid minimum wage,” Wolf said. “It wasn't about how many years I could get, how many dollars I get.”

Better yet:

“You can't live your life for somebody else,” he said. “You have to do what's right.”

Besides, Wolf always said the biggest thing for him was to "experience baseball in October." With a new team that has done just that for the past two seasons in a row, the former Phillie just might get his chance.

Standing with the Inky & DN
Speaking of doing what’s right, let’s interject a little business with the baseball. Now I’m definitely no expert on business matters and things of that nature. If I was, well… you know.

Anyway, there is a strong chance that the writers at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News could go out on strike at midnight on Thursday. Certainly, there are many intricate details that complicate matters, but the potential strike is bad for everybody.

It’s especially bad for a business that is making money. In fact, newspapers routinely turn in double-digit profit margins despite the changing landscape of the media. Again, I’m not expert, but it seems as if only casinos, certain elements of the entertainment industry and the Cosa Nostra consistently turn in profit margins like newspapers.

Yet across the country newsroom layoffs continue to occur at an alarming rate. Again, I’m not expert, but when did making a profit become so bad that it costs people livelihoods and careers?

Is it a simple issue of greed? Do the owners of newspapers believe the bottom line supercedes the public interest and the sanctity of our democracy? Sure, it might sound a bit dramatic, but trust me, it’s not. Without a resourceful and free press, the United States does not exist.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I believe in capitalism as it relates to a person’s liberty and labor. If someone can build a better mousetrap, have a special skill and/or work hard, they should be rewarded. But at the same time there is a way to do this with ethics and honor.

From what I can decipher from the newspapers an their double-digit profit margins is that if the world is a rat race it’s OK to be a rat.

Anyway, I’ll be rooting for a swift and painless settlement for the Inky/DN as soon as possible. There are some very hard-working, intelligent and kind people who work for our local papers of record. Let’s hope they keep on putting out their newspaper.

No way, Joe
Like Sandy Alomar a couple of years ago, a potential free agent signing for the Phillies appears to have hit a snag.

According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Phillies have “backed away” from a multi-year offer to relief pitcher Joe Borowski because of concerns over his right shoulder following the results of a physical.

According to Crasnick’s report, the Phillies were prepared to sign Borowski when a team doctor examined the results of the physical and advised against giving the pitcher a multi-year deal.

However, the report says that Borowski and his agents continue to field one-year offers from teams, including the Phillies.

The right-handed Borowski, 35, saved 36 games in 2006 for the Marlins and was eyed by the Phillies as a set-up man for closer Tom Gordon. Manager Charlie Manuel is one the record saying he would like to have a set-up man who worked as a closer in the past.

Despite appearing in 72 games in 2006 and saving 33 games for the Cubs in 2003, Borowski has struggled with shoulder trouble in 2004 and 2005 before rebounding with the Marlins.

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Injuries looming for Hamels?

Certainly I have written a fair amount about Cole Hamels and his durability, how he was able to stay healthy during his first full season of professional baseball (going wire to wire, that is), and how he plans on remaining healthy during his big league career.

There is no doubt that Hamels has a smart approach in preventing his chronic injuries from resurfacing. But according to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, it might not do much good for Hamels. You see, Verducci has come up with something he calls “The Year After Effect” where he identifies young pitchers headed for arm trouble and/or stagnant performance. The flashpoint, according to Verducci, is an increase of more than 30 innings from one year to the next and he correctly targeted the Twins’ Francisco Liriano as the casualty for 2006.

Based on an increase of more than 80 innings, Hamels is looking at some trouble in 2007.

Verducci's Year-After-Effect Candidates for 2007

Cole Hamels





Justin Verlander





Anibal Sanchez





Jered Weaver





Sean Marshall





Scott Olsen





Jeremy Bonderman





Adam Loewen





Anthony Reyes





Scott Mathieson





Boof Bonser





*-players exceeding their previous professional high

I’ve been trying to mine the depths of my memory and for the life of me I can’t think of a Major League pitcher who has gone through a career without getting injured. Of course I’m drawing just on the past six years, but if one is into masochism and wants to spend time in examination rooms there are two choices. The first one is to become a pitcher. The second is to get a motorcycle.

Those are two surefire ways to get some type of injury.

In the meantime Hamels will continue to remain diligent in his training regime. Will that make a difference in keeping the young lefty healthy? Definitely. But that doesn’t mean he won’t get injured. Health and a long career seem to be mutually exclusive for big-league pitchers.

Nevertheless, one veteran pitcher once told me “sometimes injuries just happen.” I respectfully disagreed. Injuries happen when one becomes a pitcher. It doesn’t appear as if anyone is immune.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why the Hall not?

The ballots for the 2007 Baseball Hall of Fame class are out and without getting too much into it, there is a little hubbub about certain candidates. Nevertheless, if I had a vote –- which I don’t –- here are the players I would select for enshrinement:

  • Tony Gwynn
  • Jim Rice
  • Cal Ripken Jr.

    The following is a list of candidates that I liked, but wouldn’t select for one reason or another:

  • Bert Blyleven
  • Andre Dawson
  • Rich Gossage
  • Tommy John
  • Jack Morris
  • Dale Murphy
  • Dave Parker
  • Lee Smith

    Am I missing anyone?

    A couple of notes: This could be the first Hall of Fame ballot where I was old enough to see every one of the candidates play. In fact, I remember Dave Parker’s famous throw in the 1979 All-Star Game and Jim Rice’s epic 1978 season. I remember Andre Dawson in 1987, Dale Murphy in 1982 and ’83 and Jack Morris pitching in the greatest World Series game ever.

    Additionally, maybe they could come up with a new rule where a one person is removed from the Hall of Fame after every five are elected? Let’s start with Tony Perez and Bill Mazeroski.


  • Eaton returns as Wolf goes home

    It’s hard to write about Randy Wolf and his move home to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers without doing some sad self-introspection. Baseball players, of course, come and go. There have been thousands of them to pass through Philadelphia and there will likely be thousands more. It’s the same everywhere.

    A few leave a mark either on the field or off and Randy Wolf was one of those guys. Engaging, reasonably intelligent and always thoughtful are tough characteristics to find in most baseball clubhouses these days. To find a guy who encompasses all three is like finding a specific needle in a stack of needles.

    Engaging, for a writer, is the important trait. It didn’t matter whether Wolf was pissed off after a poor outing or had somewhere to go after the game, he always treated a questioner with patience and respect.

    Certainly it’s hard not to be excited for Wolf, who gets to pitch for his hometown team where his mom, family and friends can come see him pitch as often as possible. The fact that Wolf reportedly turned down better offers – including a multi-year deal from the Phillies – to go home speaks to how important it was to go home. Sure, he has made his money and will be paid a handsome salary with easy-to-reach incentives if he stays healthy, but another good person has taken less to go somewhere else.

    “The Phillies were very competitive,” Wolf told reporters. “I felt that they were competitive with any offer out there. But it was just a matter of the Dodgers being the right opportunity. To me, it wasn't about trying to get the most money. It was important for me to have the opportunity that I didn't know would ever come up again.

    “I could have gone to the highest bidder. But for me, going to the highest bidder wasn't as important as going to the place I was from. I grew up in the L.A. area and have many fond memories of going to Dodger Stadium with friends and family.”

    Figuring out how to keep certain players in town is a headier project for another time.

    Regardless, the part I’m struggling with is that Randy Wolf was the last player remaining on the Phillies from the first day I stepped into that damp and dark clubhouse in Veterans Stadium. I arrived on the scene about a week before Pat Burrell was finally called up from Scranton and months before Jimmy Rollins got his September call up and Terry Francona his September pink slip.

    Scott Rolen, Robert Person, Bruce Chen, Brandon Duckworth, Brian Hunter, Nelson Figueroa, Omar Daal, Mike Lieberthal, Doug Glanville, Dave Coggin, Chris Brock, Eric Valent, Johnny Estrada, Todd Pratt, Amaury Telemaco, Wayne Gomes, Joe Roa, Jeremy Giambi, Eric Junge, Rheal Cormier, Bobby Abreu, Placido Polanco, Cory Lidle, Larry Bowa, Ricky Ledee, David Bell, Marlon Byrd, Tyler Houston, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Turk Wendell, Dan Plesac, Jason Michaels, Billy Wagner and Travis Lee…

    All gone.

    So Wolf heading for Los Angeles there are no more ballplayers who have been with the Phillies since the middle of the 2000 season.

    If I didn’t know any better I’d say I’m getting old.

    Eaton returns
    I’m so old that I remember when Ed Wade traded away the team’s top pitching prospects, Adam Eaton and Carlton Loewer, for the surly and underachieving Andy Ashby. At the time Wade defended the deal by claiming the Phillies’ wild-card hopes for 2000 were directly pinned on Ashby coming through at the top of the rotation with Curt Schilling not due back to the rotation until May after undergoing off-season surgery. In theory Wade was correct. The Phillies needed a top-of-the-rotation starter to compliment Schilling, but that guy wasn’t Ashby.

    That didn’t take long to figure out.

    Ashby was traded to Atlanta by June for Bruce Chen, who lasted slightly longer than a season in Philadelphia before starting his collection of used uniforms.

    Nevertheless, Eaton takes Wolf’s spot in the rotation even though the duo should have worked together for the past half decade.

    Better late than never, right?

    Though not officially official, Eaton is signed on for the next three seasons, which isn’t so bad. Just 29, Eaton will be heading into his prime years during his deal with the Phillies. Wolf should be coming into his prime, too, but Eaton should be slightly better… then again, pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery are typically better the second year.

    We’ll definitely have the chance to see how it all unfolds.

    No Lee, no way
    It turns out that the Phillies only had a cursorily interest in slugger Carlos Lee before he signed a six-year deal worth $100 million with the Hoston Astros last week. According to what general manager Pat Gillick told wunderkind Phillies writer Todd Zolecki, the Phils never had a shot.

    “We weren't in on him,” Gillick said in The Inquirer.

    To that we say, “Why the hell not”?


    “It's like musical chairs,” Gillick told Zolecki. “You don't want to be stuck without a chair... . I'm optimistic about the potential of some of the things we're talking about. I just think we've had some good dialogue back and forth, both in trades and in free agency. We've had some good talks.

    “There wasn't a lot of depth in this market. You had Soriano and Carlos Lee. You have Zito and Schmidt. After you get by that group, there's not a lot there.”

    On another note, the Phillies signed a third-base coach. If the newly-hired Steve Smith makes it through the first full week of December he’ll already be on the job longer than the last guy.

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    Ted Leo + Pharmacists beat Eagles every time

    Last Sunday I caught the second half of the Eagles’ loss to the Titans while soaking my achy right hip and hamstrings in a Jacuzzi of a beachside resort suite while allowing Richard Ford’s workmanlike prose from his latest novel pour over me. As far as Sunday’s go, this one was hard to beat.

    Until this past Sunday, that is.

    Instead of the beachside resort with a Jacuzzi in the master bedroom, my wife and I ambled over to the Chameleon here in Lancaster to catch Ted Leo & the Pharmacists regale a couple hundred folks who, like me, decided an hour or two in a dark room with Mr. Leo and his Pharmacists was a more interesting way to spend an evening.

    The only way it could have been better is if Ted and the gang played while I soaked my hip and hammys, but I’ll take what we got.

    What we got was an inspired – though shortened because of a sinus infection – performance with one of the true punk bards in an “industry” sorely lacking of such things. In a workmanlike and rip-roaring set, Leo and the tightly knit Pharmacists (the demure Dave Lerner on bass and epically bearded Chris Wilson on drums) mixed in a few new ones from a soon-to-be released recording with the older favorites. Leo and the gang did this despite revealing that he was fighting a “bloody sinus infection” and working with a fingernail rebuilt with super glue.

    Like an athlete trying to make it through a season, Leo says he does what it takes to make it through touring nine months out of the year. Better yet, the fact that Leo and his Pharmacists are able to get so many gigs even when they aren’t supporting a new record, DVD or some other multimedia explosion is a testament to the band’s ethic and spirit.

    From a few interviews, it appears as if Leo is often asked about his ferocious ethic and why he chooses to grind out a living as a musician as opposed to something more mainstream or bourgeoisie. For instance, try this one:

    So how to describe Leo for the uninitiated? According to a dispatch in a Hartford Courant from writer Brian LaRue:

    Ted Leo’s almost impossibly melodic and wordy Celtic-Motown-punk rock tunes have themselves given thousands of fans hope in the face of political, social and personal bad vibes, certain events of 2006 have demonstrated that Ted Leo himself is one wiry, literary vegan in his mid-thirties whom you probably shouldn’t mess with. Dude is a veritable vibe-bulldozer.

    That’s a hell of a paragraph with a lot to digest. Certainly there is a punk tinge to Leo’s work, kind of like a lot of the bands from England that followed The Clash to the U.S. during the late 1970s. Those bands weren’t “punk” like the Sex Pistols or Ramones, but they were “punk” because they had a DIY and progressive ethic.

    Billy Bragg certainly comes to mind and is a popular starting point for many music writers. I suppose that’s fair simply because I remember the very first time I ever heard Billy Bragg just as I remember the very first time I heard Ted Leo. In fact, I can recall sitting in a chillingly cool air-conditioned room in New York City during my first year of college and hearing Bragg’s unmistakable brogue and jagged guitar. I also remember saying out loud to anyone who was in the vicinity, “Oh my. What is this”?

    It was “A New England,” just as it was “Timorous Me” nearly 15 years later.

    Actually, it seems as if the group is are a bunch of “musician’s musicians.” Though I’m far from an insider, most of the people I know who are speak glowingly about Leo. Is there a better compliment than one from one’s peers?

    Anyway, Leo and the gang appear to have offered a more inspiring performance on Sunday night than the local football team. Besides, it’s pretty difficult to not shake and shimmy when “Me & Mia” gets going.

    Ted Leo + Pharmacists in Philadelphia on Dec. 10, 2004

    But by the time we got home there was still a lot of football to be played in Indianapolis. However, my wife grabbed the remote and opted for Brokeback Mountain on HBO instead of the Eagles. I guess they are kind of the same, right?

    More: Me & Mia
    Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?

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    Saturday, November 25, 2006

    Who's next?

    Before the hype machine could get to work or anyone could get too excited, Lance Berkman got some “protection” while it appears as if Ryan Howard is stuck with Pat Burrell.

    Certainly there are worse fates than having a left fielder who was the top pick of the amateur draft that averages 31 homers and 105 RBIs per 162 games over his seven Major League seasons. But the fact is Carlos Lee probably would have been better.

    But Lee is gone to Houston, all signed up for the next six seasons where he’ll get $100 million to take aim at the shallow left-field perch at Minute Maid Park, or whatever corporation paid to put its name on the stadium. Lee, as steady performer during his career despite the concerns over his fitness and attitude, would have fit in nicely in Philadelphia.

    But for six years and $100?

    Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, GM Pat Gillick and the Phillies brass must have breathed a sigh of relief that Lee signed such an obnoxious deal with the Astros. While publicly downplaying the market, Gillick has a few built-in excuses and the luxury of being sane (and right) for not shelling out the mega years and bucks for Alfonso Soriano and Lee. After all, Burrell already has one of those crazy deals.

    So now Gillick can do two things. One is to focus on building the Phillies’ pitching staff because the bullpen needs bolstered and the rotation needs one or two more arms. The other thing – a desperate or last-ditch maneuver, perhaps – would be to go after Manny Ramirez again.

    The chances of that are slightly less than slim and none since there are so many crazy variables involved with the trades and contracts and money. Plus, earlier this month Gillick stated that Ramirez was kind of a pain in the rear. Oh sure, manager Charlie Manuel says he has a good rapport with the flaky slugger, but who knows how long that will last with a goofball like Ramirez.

    Besides, we already had Terrell Owens in town. Do we really need another circus, albeit a saner, goofier circus?

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    Friday, November 24, 2006

    Best bets

    Last week: 3-3-1
    Year-to-date: 15-15-2

    Remember back in the early 1980s when NBC decided to televise an NFL game without the aid of the broadcasters? If I recall correctly it was the Dolphins against some other AFC team at the Orange Bowl and the experiment was roundly criticized as a failure by people who are experts at pointing out failures.

    Truth be told, though, I loved it, but admit it would have been much better if the technology to have the score and time remaining in the corner of the screen were available. That’s called a “bug” in the business.

    Anyway, I liked the austerity of that broadcast and think that something similar can work these days. Sometimes it seems as if the games are too overhyped and overproduced, but what do I know. I just liked watching games from the Orange Bowl because they kept a real, live dolphin in a pool beyond the end zone. Every once in a while when the camera would pan just right, you could catch a dorsal fin just below the cross bar.

    Could you imagine a team keeping a dolphin on the field these days? Dolphin, jaguar, eagle, giant or titan or not, I doubt it would detract from the cheerleaders on the sidelines wearing outfits the size of dental floss.

    Anyway, in tribute to the innovative stunt pulled off by NBC, I will offer this week’s football picks without the boys in the booth. Besides, why do I have to justify my choices?

    Bengals minus 3 over Browns

    Jaguars minus 3 over Bills

    Giants minus 3 over Titans

    Colts minus 9 over Eagles


    Friday leftovers

    Happy Thanksgiving and Black Friday, everyone. I hope those tryptophans didn’t make you too sluggish.

    Nevertheless, Pat Gillick and the Phillies brass appears to be on the verge of heating up the hot stove, or some other overused imagery like that. According to ESPN’s baseball sage Buster Olney, the Phillies are one of three teams – the Astros and Orioles are the other two – in the mix to land slugger Carlos Lee. On Thursday Olney wrote that if the Phillies get Lee it’s a serious 180-degree turn from the team’s stance when dealing away Bobby Abreu.

    Actually, it’s the same issue I had with the pursuit of Alfonso Soriano, however, Lee like mercenary Soriano, is right-handed. The Phillies, apparently, are willing to overlook a lot of flaws and financial constraints for simple right-handedness.

    Anyway, as Olney wrote:

    If the Phillies wind up winning this bidding, it's doubtful that there will be a more glaring example of a front-office strategic flip-flop that costs the team tens of millions of dollars: On July 30, the Phillies essentially gave away on-base percentage machine Bobby Abreu to the Yankees because they wanted to get out from underneath the $23 million still owed to him, in '06 and '07 salary. And now, four months later, they are on the verge of signing another player who is A) roughly the same age (Abreu is 32, Lee is 30); B) much worse defensively, considering his range and throwing arm; C) an inferior athlete -- Lee's thickening body greatly concerns some general managers; and D) much, much, much more expensive, with the team's financial obligation for an impact corner outfielder increasing by perhaps as much as $85 million, if the Phillies' bid takes them over $100 million.

    Now, the one real plus that Lee has, in how he fits the Phillies, is that he's a right-handed hitter who will slot in well with left-handed hitters Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

    By the way, I think we can safely assume that the Yankees are going to pick up the $16 million option on Abreu's contract for 2008, barring a serious injury, in light of how contract costs have skyrocketed this off-season.

    Lee, of course, has four straight 30-plus homer and 100-RBI seasons in a row, as well as two straight All-Star appearances. He also does not strikeout as much as typical power hitters (or walk as much) and has played in at least 140 games in the last seven seasons. This means that Lee, like Abreu, is consistent. It also means that Lee just might be what Gillick thinks the Phillies need to “protect” Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

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    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    More MVP banter

    Full disclosure – if I had a vote for the 2006 MVP Award, my ballot would have looked like this:

    1.) Albert Pujols, St. Louis
    2.) Ryan Howard, Philadelphia
    3.) Lance Berkman, Houston
    4.) Alfonso Soriano, Washington
    5.) Miguel Cabrera, Florida
    6.) Jose Reyes, New York
    7.) Jason Bay, Pittsburgh
    8.) Aramis Ramirez, Chicago
    9.) Chase Utley, Philadelphia
    10.) Carlos Beltran, New York

    Ryan Howard is certainly a worthy MVP winner and no one should really have any qualms about him winning the award. It’s just that I think Albert Pujols was a more valuable player. Statistically, Howard gets the nod, but Pujols carried his team into the playoffs and then on to the World Series without much help from Jim Edmonds or Scott Rolen.

    Howard, on the other hand, had Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Bobby Abreu for most of the season. In fact, a story in Baseball Prospectus surmised that Howard wasn’t even the MVP of his team.

    That could be a little far-fetched, but the point is Pujols was the only man on the Cardinals down the stretch, while Howard hit just two homers after Sept. 9. Perhaps the argument for Pujols could be summed up by an email I received this week:

    In game 157, Albert Pujols hit a three-run HR that allowed the Cardinals to make the playoffs and allowed La Russa to start Carpenter in Game 1 of the NLDS.

    That sort of incredible moment is what wins players MVP Awards.

    Another baseball writer crime.

    I wouldn’t call Howard’s MVP a crime – far from it. But Pujols’ September should have clinched it for him.

    That month? Try 41-for-110, 10 HR, 28 RBI, and 19 BB.

    Meanwhile, don’t lump me in with the baseball writers or the arcane, anachronistic, outmoded and irrelevant Baseball Writers Association of America. They don’t let me vote, but the guy who put Pujols third on his ballot probably gets to vote for the Hall of Fame, too. Just like the guy who put Derek Jeter sixth on his MVP ballot.

    Yeah, it’s all so scientific.

    Nonetheless, I'm pretty sure Pujols is very pleased with how his season ended.

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    Tuesday, November 21, 2006


    I’ve been reading what a lot of folks are writing in the newspapers, blogs, plogs, message boards and on billboards and I honestly believe some of these people are missing something really, really obvious about Ryan Howard.

    What’s that Obi-Wan? Tell us what everyone else is missing that you, astutely noticed that we all missed…

    Digressing, did I just have an argument with myself in a different voice? Have I sent our beautiful and complicated language back a day or two?

    Back to the point – here’s what everyone has missed:

    Ryan Howard is just going to get better. He’s going to get stronger, smarter and faster. He’s going to be able to recognize pitchers and their tendencies better. He’s going to go to the plate with a more developed plan of what he wants to do. He’s going to strike out less and walk more. As a result, his batting average and slugging percentage will rise. He will score more runs and the Phillies will win more games.

    Then there are the other things away from the field. Such as Howard will learn how to work out better. He’ll learn what he can eat and can’t eat. He’ll see Pat Burrell and realize that sleep is much more important than people realize and directly affects an athlete’s performance.

    He’ll learn how to say no.

    He better because the world changes for guys who win the MVP Award in just their first full season in the Majors. That first full season came just a year removed from a rookie-of-the-year award and a trade of established all-star Jim Thome in order to make room for a player making just the league minimum instead of the big years and eight-figures Thome was drawing.

    The Phillies will never admit it (then again, maybe they will), but the only reason they didn’t deal away Howard was because of the economics.

    “He's better than I expected,” general manager Pat Gillick admitted to reporters yesterday. “Our people thought he would struggle against left-handed pitching. That's why we tried to sign Wes Helms and Eddie Perez last year. We were looking for someone to take the heat off him with a left-hander pitching. As it turned out, none of that was necessary.”

    Nor will it be for the foreseeable future.

    Howard is just 27. He’s still years away from his prime, which will coincide, coincidentally, with his ability to test the free-agent market if the Phillies fail to sign him to a long-term deal. Though it isn’t likely he will turn in 58 homers and nearly 150 RBIs every year, 40 and 120 isn’t out of the question. Neither are a .330 batting average, .450 on-base percentage, and 1.100 OPS.

    “We laugh all the time about Ryan because he doesn't think he should ever make an out,” hitting coach Milt Thompson told reporters yesterday. “I love that about the kid. He's never satisfied. That's a sign of greatness.”

    But does he need protection?

    That will be the $125 million question this winter.

    Soriano gone to craziest bidder
    It was no secret that the Phillies coveted Alfonso Soriano as the compliment to Howard in the lineup. What they didn’t expect is that it would take eight years and a gazillion dollars to add him to the club. Apparently that's what the Chicago Cubs thought he was worth.

    Good luck with that, Cubbies.

    Here’s what is clear about that… Soriano is not interested in playing for a winning club. He’s a Dominican Rod Tidwell. Moreover, I hope the Phillies were just playing lip service to “being in the running” to sign Soriano. Eight years? For a 31-year-old player with no position?

    Let the Cubs have that albatross of a contract.

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    'Our player is gone'

    It’s with great consternation that we note the death of Andre Waters. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Waters was the tough guy and battle-axe for the greatest defensive unit ever assembled. Notice that the superlative was not prefaced with the word “arguably”?

    Waters will always be that player we will always talk to out friends about and laugh with both joy and awe at not just the outrageousness of what he did, but at the fact that he actually had the balls to play the way he did.

    If playing dirty was an art, Andre Waters was Jackson Pollack coming at you with a mess of lines and shapes and colors that look so schizophrenic but actually reveal a lot of depth and beauty.

    Nevertheless, it saddens me to learn that Waters had problems that were deeper and more confounding than regular superficial things and it’s even worse that he could not get the help he desperately needed. As I wrote, Waters will be one of those athletes that people always talk about for his play, verve and antics. Better yet, people like me were lucky to get the chance to watch him play and I hope that there was a chance that Waters knew that there were a lot of people who thought the same.

    More: Andre Waters: "Our" Player is Gone


    What the... ?!?!

    So a guy leaves town for a few days and all hell breaks loose in the Philly sports’ scene? Unfathomable craziness is unleashed like a plague of locusts ready to keep the citizens up all night with their constant chirping and desecration to the foliage.

    Actually, TV types described it as a “black cloud” hanging over the city. I wouldn’t go that far, but what can you do with a group of people so weighed down in cliché? After all, these people believe the world revolves around sports. Actually, in a lot of cities – including most portions of Philadelphia – it does not. Intellectual discourse occurs, deals are brokered, people live lives, sing songs, raise children and dance jigs.

    Overpaid men running around in tight fitting clothing never enters the consciousness.

    Oh, but boy oh boy does it ever in these parts. Frankly, as I spent a Sunday afternoon soaking in a jacquzzi in attempt to loosen a balky hip flexor spent as one of those men running around in tight clothes while watching the second half of the Eagles football game and reading Richard Ford’s latest page turner, I noticed a few things that made me smile. Oh no, it wasn’t a smile of joy or the proverbial bleep-eating grin, but an ironic smile of seeing. Seeing and believeing.

    Here’s what I saw:

  • TV shots showing Jeff Fisher, the coach of the Tennessee Titans, calmly strolling the sidelines at Philadelphia’s corporately named football stadia with a breezy demeanor and a cup of coffee in his right hand. Frankly, with the coffee in hand, Fisher looked as if he had the happy distance of a suburban parent at a 5-year-old’s soccer game. In fact, I was waiting for another one of the parents to meander over to Fisher and ask him, “how ya hittin’ ‘em,” or how much he paid to fill up the Audi this week.

    Watching Fisher made me realize a few things. Firstly, watching football in a Jacuzzi with a good book and the sound down is fun. Secondly, it’s just a matter of time until Fisher or any number of other professional sports coaches gets a sponsorship from Starbucks or Folgers or any of the other hot beverage companies. However, I doubt Jeff Fisher would need to use one of those cup sleeves around his coffee to keep him from burning his hands.

    I need one, though, because I’ve spent the past 35 years avoiding all manual labor. Regardless, all that time spent in warm, bubbling water has dried out my unblemished digits.

    Thirdly, that Jeff Fisher seems like a good coach. It’s hard to decipher that simply from watching a guy drink coffee on the sideline of a football game, but Fisher seemed much more involved and enthusiastic about the proceedings than Philadelphia’s coach. With his tempered and unobnoxious fist pumps and slaps on the back for his players, Fisher looked as if he was genuinely enjoying his job.

    Across the way, the Philadelphia guys were shown shuffling nervously from foot to foot and speaking with laminated charts and folders covering their mouths as if under surveillance. Why bother with all of that? Based on how the game went it was clear that the Philadelphia coaches’ headsets were tapped.

    Fourthly, I thought that the Fisher dude would look pretty good on the home team sidelines. Then I remembered that he was here and gone over a decade ago. Perhaps they can get him back because it seems as if he figured out how to mix in those tricky hand-off plays into the offensive arsenal. Then again I can’t be so sure about his prowess since I had the sound down.

  • Anyone who didn’t think Donovan McNabb was finished for the season the second he went down on that fateful second-quarter play should have their sports-watching rights revoked. Those people are just far too optimistic for the bloody, treacherous and objectionable world of sports viewership. In sports, bad things happen all the time… it’s like a sport within a sport. If a big, seemingly invincible football player like Donovan McNabb falls down and does not get up after a rather innocuous play, count on him rolling off the field in an electric-powered cart and then heading uptown for an MRI before boarding a plane for Alabama to have his torn anterior cruciate ligament and damaged meniscus repaired.

    Meanwhile, in light of McNabb’s situation in which he faces nearly a full calendar year before he can take a live snap in a regular-season NFL game, I haven’t heard anyone talk about the real realities of the situation.

    Perhaps the very idea of those realities hurts more than a torn cruciate ligament?

    What are those notions? Well, how do we phrase this… I suppose there is no delicate way to do it, so let’s come out with it… is it over for the Eagles? By over, I mean is it time to give up the idea in which the football masterminds forget adding a piece here or there to patchwork the roster and get the team a playoff berth?

    Is it time (Gasp!) to rebuild?

    If it is time to (Gasp!) rebuild, does that mean A.J. Feeley is the quarterback for the rest of the way?

    We all know that the window of opportunity for championships, glory and Chunky Soup commercials opens ever so slightly for a very fleeting moment in time. When that window closes, it’s better and cleaner to simply get back to work in order to make it open up again rather than attempting to break through when everyone knows it’s been bolted.

  • Again, I had the sound down, but it seems as if the Eagles really like to utilize the forward pass play a lot. And by a lot I mean more than 50 times a game from time to time. Since that’s appears to be the case, shouldn’t they get some wide receivers that can catch the ball?

  • Speaking of catching the ball, whatever happened to that Greg Lewis fellow? Or that first-round draft pick dude who liked to talk too much? Are they still around? You know the Eagles picked that loquacious fellow before Chad Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Man, would a first-round draftee look good catching passes right about now…

  • According to an acquaintance who is a scout for an NFL team and could be an assistant GM before the decade is out, Andy Reid has a reputation for being very organized and on top of things.

    I have nothing else to add there… just tossing it out there for everyone.
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    Friday, November 17, 2006

    Best bets

    Last week: 0-4
    Year-to-date: 12-12-1

    Let’s put the political hack spin on last week’s Best Bets… it is harder to go 0-4 than 4-0 or even 1-3. Anyone can pick a winner. That’s easy. After all, one consciously examines the ledger and picks the specific game that appeals to them. Obviously, based on that, it can’t be too difficult to pick one winner.

    Now going 0-4 when trying to pick all winners – that takes talent. Does anyone think the professional handicappers ever go 0-4?

    Me either.

    Anyway, take this week’s picks to the bank. They’re all going to be winners.


    Ohio State plus 7 over Michigan
    Let’s start by saying that Michigan is going to win the game. The reason I think Michigan is going to win the game is that everyone I know who went to Michigan is a really good guy. Martin Frank from the Wilmington News Journal? There is a class act. Andy Cross from over on River Dr.? One of the all-time greats. Andy’s brother Gordie? He’s going to Secretary of Defense some day.

    Chris Webber? Well, I don’t know him personally and he once plead guilty for perjury, but the other guys I listed more than make up for that indiscretion.

    However, the Buckeyes will cover.

    Notre Dame minus 32 over Army
    So does Notre Dame have the Merchant Marine Academy on the schedule, too. Way to extend yourselves, guys… Fightin’ Irish my ass.

    If Army wins this one outright I’ll go down to the recruiting office and enlist.

    (crossing fingers)

    Navy minus 32½ over Temple
    Why can’t the Owls schedule the Merchant Marine Academy?

    Indianapolis minus 1½ over Dallas
    I have a feeling this one could be a bloodbath in favor of the Colts. I’m not basing this on any football knowledge or anything, but I’m expecting a reptilian effort from Terrell Owens. By reptilian I mean alligator arms followed by crocodile tears.

    New England minus 6 over Green Bay
    Nothing to add here.

    Seattle minus 3 over San Francisco
    Hence the term “Best Bet.”

    New York Giants plus 4 over Jacksonville
    Call this one a hunch. Besides, I need a big game from Tiki Barber in order to stay in the playoff race in the Phillies Scribes Fantasy Football League (PSFL).

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    Wes Helms press conference offered without commentary

    We pursued Wes for quite some time, it actually began last year. We’re pleased to have signed him to a 2-year deal with a club option.
    We’re pleased to bring Wes here to Philadelphia. We think he’s the kind of guy, with the makeup and personality that we want. He had a tremendous year last year with Florida and we’re glad he’s with us now.

    It’S an honor to get to have a chance to play for a winning team again. That was my ultimate goal coming into this off season was to be a part of great organization and a winning team. I just knew by playing against this team last year in the division what they can do. Especially with the young guys getting another year under their belt.

    I’m going to be a good fit here because of - like Ruben said - my personality. I’ll get along with all the players. I do what is asked of me to do.

    Charlie just said to me you are going to play a lot. He said you’ll fit in the lineup well and you’ll play a lot and you’ll play third base. Maybe in an American league game I’ll be the first baseman and Howard will DH and give him a rest from the field.
    No terms were discussed about playing time. He basically said you’ll play a lot and you’ll be a big part of the team.

    I do know that I will play more third base. I don’t think it will be an adjustment because I came up as a third baseman and I played third base primarily my whole career with the exception of the last two seasons.

    I know what to do. I know the maneuvers. I worked hard in batting practice on ground balls to stay sharp. It’s a corner infield position - first or third - and you see the ball of the bat the same way.

    Yeah, I got myself a personnel trainer the past two years (Lee Gravlee). I’ve always worked hard I just never knew what to do. I did the typical things to build strength. But I got a guy who taught me how to eat and train for baseball. It totally changed my career. Down to making me more agile in the field, to my bat speed, everything just got better. I owe the world to him for that.

    I’ve always been a guy that expected too much from myself so I tried to do too much. I think I got smarter as my career went on and now understand sometimes less is better.

    The last two seasons I let the ball get deeper. I concentrate on hitting the ball to second and to right center and even if I’m early, it’s still a fair ball.

    I was coming here last year. Just to put it out there the big reason I signed with Florida had nothing to do with the Phillies, it was they had a young team and I had a feeling I’d get to play a lot more down there. A goal of mine was to get myself back to someone giving me an opportunity to get back to those 400-plus at bats.

    I can sit back and say I made the right decision but now it’s time to go out and do what I had to do. I told my wife that David Bell is not back in Philly and I really do believe that Philadelphia will be a spot I’d love to go to.

    It came down between the Phillies and Yankees. I definitely from the beginning wanted to stay in the National League. I know all the pitchers, all the hitters and how to play them from the field. Everyone I ever played with said it’s an adjustment and it’s a more comfortable for me to come to.

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    Riding a high horse

    Typically, I am never one to begrudge anyone their money/salary/bonuses, etc. This is even true of professional athletes and corporate CEOs, all of who seem to be rewarded monetarily at a rate that doesn’t jibe with experience, education and impact on society.

    Besides, if all one wants to do is make money it really isn’t too difficult, interesting or legacy building. Frankly, it’s more impressive that a person leaves something than take, take, take. I’m more interested in people who create something or have an art rather than those who drive a fancy car or live in a big house.

    You can’t take it with you, folks, so it’s better to give people something to enjoy.

    Touchy-feely sentiment aside, it actually makes me pause for a minute when I read the salaries and deals supposedly being offered to the current crop of baseball free agents. I don’t know if disgusting is the correct word, but it certainly seems as if a bunch of baseball players are going to be compensated even more out-of-line than ever before.

    I’m not the only one who thinks this way, either. According to reports from the general manager meetings in Florida, the guys offering the deals are a little turned off as well. Of course there is a way to remedy their situation, but it seems as if that horse is already out of the barn. Plus, back in 1987 it didn’t seem as if collusion amongst the teams in regard to curbing salaries was too difficult to prove.

    Who in their right mind would pay $51 million simply for the right to negotiate with an unknown player from an inferior league? Is Alfonso Soriano really worth a nine-digit dollar deal? If so, will the regular baseball fan with kids, car payments and a mortgage be able to afford to go to a game without cashing in the 401K? After all, the Phillies already raised ticket prices for 2007 based on their resounding 85-victory season in 2006.

    OK, let’s not get too deep into standing up for the regular fan right now because there isn’t enough space on the World Wide Web to address all of the variables and arguments. Besides, there is no way to convince me that regular folks are not getting shafted for doing nothing other than being a loyal fan.

    They are getting shafted, but that’s nothing new.

    Let’s just stick with the righteous indignation over the fact that out-of-shape and potentially washed-up Frank Thomas just signed a two-year, $18 million deal with the Blue Jays. Or that Wes Helms, a player who was available to any team in the league for slightly more than the minimum salary as little as a few months ago, will get close to the GNP of a third-world country to be a part-time third baseman for the Phillies.

    What was most surprising to me was the report that the Diamondbacks were prepared to give Randy Wolf $21 million for three seasons.

    That’s $21 million for a 69-60 lefty… I say run to the desert, Randy, and never look back.

    Let me preface that by saying Randy Wolf is on my short list for favorite professional athletes of all time. There really isn’t anything bad I can write or say about that guy even if I tried. But $21 million…

    God bless him.

    Yet again, therein lies the problem. Certainly Randy Wolf is smart enough not to let any of the money, superficialities or other fleeting fame change anything about him, but just because someone has the right perspective is no reason for admiration. That’s basic.

    But that’s the real issue, isn’t it? I honestly believe that a lot of people have lost the true sense of what athletics really is. Often we don’t appreciate the “art” anymore because we’re paying too close attention to the bottom line. That isn’t just in sports, either. Do people go to school to learn and be exposed to new ideas, experiences and concepts or simply to get through so they can get a certain job?

    If so, that’s sad, and it reminds me of a conversation I had with someone in my profession not too long ago. It seems this other person and I were disparaging a certain other person’s body of work (I admit it… I can be shallow, too) when it was said, “Yeah, he might not be too good at what he does but he’s making $XXX,XXX.”

    I paused for a half a beat before saying, “Yeah, that might be true, but he’s still a bleeping hack.”

    Then again, I suppose that’s better than being a poorly paid hack…


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    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Hot stove warming up

    Note: This post was written before reports indicated that the Phillies signed Wes Helms to a two-year deal.

    First off, I took a few days off to run another marathon, rest and eat some food that normal people like – pizza and ice cream instead of tofu, salmon and rice – and now I’m more worn out than I was before.

    Cie la vie.

    Anyway, all of the running, racing and training information and musings is on the other slightly neglected site.

    So as the Phillies and general manager Pat Gillick were sending out offers to the dozens of free agents while trying to pick up the dreaded 7-10 split at the General Manager Meetings in Florida, I was probably wondering why I couldn’t feel my calves. I may have been ignoring a football game on TV while getting a two-beer buzz and wondering if it would take more effort to carve my golf handicap down to 15 or run another 2:30 marathon.

    Clearly a 2:30 is more reasonable.

    Nonetheless, my goal remains to squeeze through that ever-tightening window to run a respectable marathon just as the Phillies hope to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. In that regard, I’ll go out on a limb here and say the Phillies will play baseball in October of 2007.

    Wait… shouldn’t we wait for all of the hot-stove stuff to heat up? Don’t the Phillies have a few holes they need to fill?

    No and yes.

    I’ll explain why I believe the Phillies will make the playoffs in detail between now and next October – kind of like a serialization – so just keep checking back and delving through these ramblings. As for the needy stuff, let’s rate them in order of necessity:

  • Bolster bullpen
  • Get another starter (or two)
  • Address Pat Burrell situation
  • third base
  • catcher
  • Alfonso Soriano

    Soriano, of course, is the biggest name on the market so it’s only natural that most of the media attention is focused on him. Yet whether or not the Phillies get Soriano won’t make or break the off-season. Why? Well, for starters the Phillies already score more runs than any other team. What, is it that important that the Phils really, really out-score every other team?

    Secondly, Soriano’s so-called task would be to “protect” Ryan Howard. As I’ve written here so many times in the past, Howard hit 58 home runs and struck out 181 times – it sounds like he’s doing a pretty good job protecting himself.

    Perhaps if he just struck out 150 times instead of 181, maybe he would have hit a few more homers and raised his average a few points. Would that have made a difference in the end? Who knows… there are too many other variables that transcend mere statistics.

    This ain’t Strat-O-Matic, folks. Besides, I was always an APBA guy.

    Besides, the Phillies traded away Bobby Abreu apparently in order to create some financial flexibility, yet they are willing to give more money and years to Soriano? Why does that make sense?

    Well, Soriano is right-handed, hits for more power and hasn’t raised the hackles of certain segments of the fandom because they haven’t ever seen him play and only know him as a 40-40 guy who just so happens to be the biggest name on the market.

    What better reason is there to sign a guy than that?

    Plus, if the Phillies are unable to sign Soriano they still have Pat Burrell. Yes, Burrell has fallen out of favor in Philadelphia and had a disappointing season despite some statistics that don’t look all that bad. Like Howard and all of those strikeouts, just think if Burrell can hit .225 with runners in scoring position and two outs instead of .167.

  • Randy Wolf’s agent Arn Tellem said he wants to have his client signed before the winter meetings begin in Orlando on Dec. 4. According to published reports, the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays – as well as the Phillies – are interested in Wolf.

  • According to The Inquirer, Scott Graham likely will not return to the Phillies’ broadcast booth in 2007. During the baseball season I don’t get the chance to hear the home team’s announcers that much so I’m not much of an expert on their work. Nonetheless, if Graham does not get a new contract it’s a bit of a surprise.

    I was always under the impression that baseball broadcasting jobs were like Supreme Court appointments… apparently not.

    Again, I’m no expert and don’t have any insider information that I’m willing to share, but I don’t think Graham will be on the sidelines in 2007.

  • Remember the end of September when I waxed on and on about Ken Mandel’s “performance” in the President’s Race between innings at RFK? No? Here’s a reminder

    Anyway, Ken’s dash down the first-base side of the field was nominated for “The Blooper of the Year” on In fact, if Ken wins the online balloting, the Nationals want to have the reporter back to accept an award on the field dressed as Thomas Jefferson.

    No word if the Oriole Bird will be on hand, too.

    We will keep everyone up to date on all developments of this story.
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    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Best bets

    Last week: 3-1
    Year-to-date: 12-8-1

    Typically I spend my mornings in front of my laptop with CNN droning on in the background. That’s mostly because the morning fare on television is beyond bad and I like to pretend like I’m informed. CNN seems to be the most objective of all of the news networks and it’s easy to turn off the sound and turn on music or a podcast without losing contact with what’s going on in the world.

    But this morning I felt a little bored with CNN so I decided to get a little crazy with my viewing… yeah that’s right, I flipped on the BBC.

    The allure here is that the BBC – channel 114 on your Comcast dial – doesn’t have to worry about upsetting the special interests in the United States and can present the news earnestly. They also keep the sensationalism to a minimum, which means viewers get significant news segments on what’s happening in Asia instead of the Spears-Federline break up.

    Nevertheless, this morning the BBC did a story about the big comeback for Kylie Minogue, who is recovering from breast cancer and is giving a concert in Sydney soon -- the BBC says the concert will be one of the biggest ever in Australia.

    But that’s about as sensational or as deep as the entertainment news gets for the BBC. Besides, the story was enhanced by a mid-30s hipster reporter in a black suit and white shirt opened at the collar.

    Apparently that look will never go out of style.

    Speaking of style, are you like me? Do you like baseball statistics? Yeah? Well try this out – according to Peter Gammons, who read Bill James’ latest post-season stat geek yearbook, Ryan Howard is projected to out-homer Jim Thome during his career. Here it is:

    Projected career homers: Bonds 884, Adam Dunn 618, Ryan Howard 711, Vladimir Guerrero 633, Troy Glaus 539, A. Jones 677, Pujols 867, A. Rodriguez 772, Jim Thome 619, Jason Tyner 0.

    My guess is if Howard has 711 homers at the end of his career he’ll hang around to get 715.

    Also on the BBC they talked about football, but the players didn’t have last names, like Ronaldo or Beckham. The highlights made the “football” game look really exciting, but they can’t fool me. I’ve seen that brand of football played and the prospect of watching baseball or paint dry is much more appealing.

    As an aside, there are many things we Americans get wrong, but we are definitely right about soccer.

    So you want to know what’s going to happen in the real football games this weekend? Slow down, I’ll tell you…

    Seattle minus 3½ over St. Louis
    The Seahawks looked darned good in the shutout victory over the Raiders last week. Actually, the quarterback sackers looked good and the rest of the team seemed to do just enough to get by. Watching on Monday night made me think of that scene in Stripes when Sgt. Hulka asked John Winger (played by Bill Murray, who now that I think about just might be one of my heroes) why he was last during the morning running drills.

    “I’m pacing myself, sir,” Winger deadpanned.

    I’m going to assume that the Seahawks are pacing themselves until Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselback return from their injuries. In the meantime the Seahawks will improve to 6-3.


    Can anyone else believe that Stripes came out in 1981? That’s 25 years ago… when did I get old?

    Temple plus 36 over Penn State
    Penn State, of course, will not have Joe Paterno pacing up and down the sideline this weekend after he broke his leg in a freak accident last Saturday in Wisconsin. At least they say it was an accident, but something seems fishy. Perhaps those wily folks up on North Broad thought their only chance to surprise the Nittany Lions this Saturday in the erector set model called Beaver Stadium was to take away the brains of the operation. Perhaps Paterno was "taken out."

    Why not? Remember Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly?

    Aside from the linebacker (I can’t spell his last name correctly without looking it up and I don’t feel like looking it up right now) who could win the Butkus Award, the Lions have some problems in the talented players category. Oh, they aren’t bad, they’re just a slightly above average team that will struggle to beat Temple by 36 points.

    Thirty points is a different story, but 36 are a little too much.

    Next season Penn State comes to Philadelphia to play Temple – that’s a long drive for the Lions just to have a home game.

    New Orleans plus 4½ over Pittsburgh
    Is this line a misprint? Yeah, the Steelers are playing at home, but come on. Not only are the Saints 6-2 against the spread this season, but also they are 8-0 against the spread in their last eight games in Week 10.

    Washington plus 7 over Philadelphia
    Take the Eagles to win but Redskins to cover. Plus, the Eagles are 2-8 against the spread in their last 10 games against NFC East teams.

    Do those stats and trends really mean anything? How about this one: the Eagles really, really have to win this Sunday.

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    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Ramblings, musings or rants... take your pick

    I don’t really have anything too insightful today, so I’ll just riff on a few things that caught my eye in my daily spins around the World Wide Web. Sadly, most of my reading is relegated to a bunch of newspapers and research on things like Samuel Beckett’s short stories and why I’m not smart enough to read Ulysses… you know important things.

    Anyway, here we go:

    * Admittedly, I’m not a fan of “sports” columnist King Kaufman. It’s nothing personal and sometimes I believe he has decent insight, but because he doesn’t go in the clubhouse or locker room and never has to face the subjects he writes about, well, what’s the point?

    Regardless, I am a semi-regular reader of his work, which means I must like something about it. Like this story where Kaufman applauds the voters of Seattle for not agreeing to corporate welfare – why should taxpayers foot the bill for stadiums and arenas they will likely be priced out of?

    Certainly my point of view is trite, but no one has ever answered the question. Why do regular folks have to foot the bill for multi-millionaires just for the pleasure to watch a game or to line someone else's pockets?

    Take, for instance, the situation in my hometown where a business group and some local government types want to build a convention center and hotel next the town square. Sure, they keep repeating about how it’s a guaranteed success and will re-shape the town, but for some reason they can’t do it without a handout from the taxpayers.

    If it’s supposed to be such as success as they say it is, how come they can’t put out their own money for the project?

    Again, it’s trite and basic, but how come no one will answer why they need my money?

    * Rich Hofmann is the columnist with all of the answers… well, not really, but of everyone in the Philadelphia sports media, Rich is far and away the smartest guy out there (sorry, Marcus). I’m not sure if that’s a compliment for Rich or a knock on me for not getting out there and meeting more people, but it’s always a treat to read what kind of stuff ol’ Rich comes up with.

    Anyway, in this one Rich writes that the Phillies might be better served getting someone to hold their late-inning leads rather than a hitter to help them score 10 runs when six will do.

    The idea, of course, is “protection” for Ryan Howard in the middle of the lineup. But really, how much protection does Howard need? He hit 58 home runs with 149 RBIs – what difference would someone like Alfonso Soriano make?

    How about this: Howard could strike out less than 181 times next season. If he does that he’ll be such a huge threat that the Phillies will have to get him some “protection” because no one will want to pitch to him.

    * On another note, Howard was in Japan and ate some sushi with Chase Utley. He didn’t hold his nose and plop it in his mouth and chew with his eyes closed or anything.

    He also hit a lot of home runs.

    I imagine the sushi in Fukuoka is a lot different than the stuff we get at the Ginmiya House here in Lancaster.

    * Slate, the online magazine, examines if U2 or REM were the top ‘80s band. Without even reading the story I’ll say it’s U2 and not because I think they are particularly good or Bono is the noble rocker or whatever. It’s because REM is awful.

    REM’s awfulness didn’t used to be the case, of course. In fact, there were a handful of years at the end of the 1980s to the early ‘90s when they were as important as any band out there. They were almost to the same level as The Clash or The Ramones in terms of influence of other bands, but then it all went terribly wrong.

    What happened? Well, for starters it seems as if they started believing their press clippings. Seriously, how huge are the egos in that band if they honestly believed they could replace their drummer with a machine? Were they kidding? Why didn’t they just do the honorable thing and break up?

    The Beatles broke up and their music became more important. The same goes for The Clash and a few other lesser-known bands of that ilk. Yes, if REM was a self-respecting band aware of its legacy they would have broken up when they were still relevant. Instead, for the past decade they’ve been just another corporate rock band putting out records every other year because they have a contract and an incorporated structure.

    In other words, REM is a corporation and there is nothing particularly inspiring or interesting about bands that become that hypocritical.

    In other words, U2 wins by default despite the fact that they are actually viable even though they are nothing more than a greatest-hits group.

    * Mike Radano hasn't updated his blog in quite a while. What gives?

    * Finally, Philadelphian and “60 Minutes” correspondent Ed Bradley died of complications of leukemia today. I was never a regular viewer of “60 Minutes” though I really like the show, however, I always thought Ed Bradley was extremely cool.

    Actually, Bradley was one of those famous people that if I ever got to chance to meet I had a question or topic of conversation at the ready – jazz and John Coltrane. As a DJ spinning records at WDAS back in the ‘60s, I’m sure Bradley would have been illuminating on the subject.

    Unfortunately, the opportunity never happened.

    Nevertheless, the beauty of this age of history is that Bradley’s legacy will always be available for us to watch. For that, we’re lucky.

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    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Trading Burrell is linchpin to big winter

    Pat Gillick and the Phillies are like an airplane loaded with passengers but still sitting at the gate. Everything has been checked and double-checked, everyone’s seatbelt is fastened and luggage is safely stowed in the overhead compartment.

    All Gillick needs to is the OK from the control tower and he’s set for take off.

    Kind of.

    When the free-agency period begins on Nov. 12, Gillick and the Phillies are expected to woo Washington Nationals’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano, likely the biggest name on the winter market. On the strength of his 40-40 season in 2006 (46 homers and 41 stolen bases), the Phillies are said to be prepared to offer Soriano $80 million over five seasons, and then plunk him down in the middle of the batting order between lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. The thought is that Soriano can both provide protection for the sluggers as well as fortify a lineup that has scored more runs than any National League team over the past two seasons.

    “We could use some depth in the middle of the order,” Gillick said.

    Even without Soriano the Phillies are formidable offensively. Howard, one of the top two MVP candidates on the strength of his 58-homer season in 2006, is the anchor of the murderer’s row that featured four players that swatted at least 25 homers and drove in 83 runs. Besides that, Gillick and manager Charlie Manuel are both very high on Shane Victorino, a young outfielder who appeared in 153 games in many roles last season.

    Offense? Yeah, the Phillies have that.

    So why do they feel the need to make it better with Soriano instead of pursuing a starter to fill out the rotation or a set-up man for closer Tom Gordon? After all, Manuel told said that he would prefer to have a backend reliever who has experience as a closer to fill out the bullpen. That’s where free agents Joe Borowski and David Weathers enter the picture. According to published reports and sources, the Phillies have eyed the relievers as possible set-up men for 2007.

    On top of that, Gillick said that he wants to re-sign free agent starter Randy Wolf to round out the rotation that features lefties Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, as well as Jon Lieber and Brett Myers. Gillick says he’s hopeful that the Phillies can work out a deal with Wolf.

    “Hopeful, but not optimistic,” the GM said.

    “This is the first opportunity he’s ever had for free agency so I think he wants to kick the tires and see if the grass is greener.”

    The grass may be greener, but for how long? The mood around the media luncheon in Citizen Bank Park’s Hall of Fame Club overlooking the pastoral and eerily quiet ball diamond was that the Phillies weren’t simply going to make bids for players, cross their fingers and hope they get their man. Nope, Gillick and the gang emitted an aura that they were in control of the situation and were confident that they will add the bat into the middle of the lineup, get that fifth starter, and find a suitable set-up man or two to anchor the bullpen.

    Really? The Phillies? Didn’t they once describe themselves as a small-market team not so long ago?

    “I think our ownership and CEO are pretty practical. Anything we bring to them that makes sense, not only for the short term, but the long term, I don't think they'll be reluctant to make the move,” Gillick said. “But it has to make sense. If you have to make a commitment you have to figure that player is going to figure for you for whatever time you're obligated. If you have to give somebody four years and you only get three years, that's one thing. But if you give somebody four years and you only get one, that's a different story.”

    So the hot-stove is heating up for the Phillies. Signing Soriano should be a piece of cake, right? Five years without a no-trade clause should do it?

    “You can't ever be sure,” Gillick said. “But when you make these decisions, are you going to be in love with this guy a year from now as much as you're in love with him right now? That's a decision you're going to have to make. I don't know a lot of people that I want to be in love with for five years.”

    Like Pat Burrell for instance. Gillick didn’t come right out and say that he was trying to find a suitable deal for the maligned left fielder and the Phillies this winter, but he didn’t deny it either. The same goes for Manuel who when asked about Burrell had a resigned tenor of someone who knew something was coming, but didn’t want to come right out and say it.

    “What hurt Pat the most was that when we got to the seventh or eighth inning we had to get him out of the game,” Manuel said without the best poker face. “If he didn’t have the foot issues he might have had a season like he did two years ago.

    “I haven't ruled out the fact that he's still on our club. I've always stood with Pat. He lost some at-bats [because of his foot].”

    But Burrell holds all of the cards – at least all of the good ones. He also might hold the Phillies winter progress – or lack therof – in his hands. Sure, the Phillies seem to forging ahead as if they can sign all of the players they want and keep Burrell if he doesn’t agree to be moved, but the reality is the left fielder needs to go if the team is going to fulfill their off-season objectives.

    Where or when that occurs is anyone’s guess.

    More pitching
    If the Phillies are not able to re-sign Wolf, Gillick says the fifth starter will likely come from outside the organization.

    “We've got to get another starter, and I don't see that starter coming out of our organization. It'll have to come from outside,” Gillick said. “We've got some things to attend to from the starting standpoint and from the bullpen standpoint.”

    Nonetheless, Gillick says he is much happier with the state of the rotation now than he was last year.

    “This year we’ll open with Hamels and Moyer instead of (Gavin) Floyd and (Ryan Madson),” he said.

    Manuel agrees with the GM noting that the rotation at the end of the season was the “best we’ve had in two years.”

    Other luncheon notes
    If the season were to end today, Ken Mandel's fantasy football team would be in the playoffs. This is despite the fact that writer's club has the least amount of points in the scribes football league.

    On the outside and looking in is yours truly, who is running away with the points title but is just 4-4-1.

    "We have to do better and I'll take full responsibility," I said in a release issued by the team.

  • A few writers were steamed that the availability with Charlie Manuel was held up by a TV reporter who wanted to talk to the manager about professional wrestling. Never mind the fact that the channel usually devotes a little less than 180 seconds to sports coverage every night.

    Or that no one watches that channel.

    Nevertheless, I'd like to know the skipper's thoughts on the Junkyard Dog or Jimmy "Super Fly" Snuka. If the segment gets on YouTube, please send me the link.
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