Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Rowand deal off

There were a few (published) rumors coming from San Diego that indicated the Phillies and Padres were talking about a deal that was to include centerfielder Aaron Rowand for the Padres' reliever Scott Linebrink. Apparently, those talks have flamed out.

Interestingly, I asked a couple of people with the Phillies about the rumored deal and they had no idea what I was talking about.

Go figure.

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Getting his work in

Whenever the subject about workouts and running came up, Randy Wolf's ears would always prick up. Why not? Like any competitive athlete, Wolf was always looking for an edge. If he could pick up a little something here or there and add it to his repertoire, it was even better.

I had the chance to talk about my running workouts with Wolf more than a few times over the years and it was easy to tell he was not only interested in long-distance running, but also had a passion for it. A nice, 10-miler was a routine run during the off-season, but mostly, though, he was interested in the volume that elite-level marathoners put in, as well as the types and workout schedules. Better yet, we both had a good chuckle when one writer was gushing over how “tough” Roger Clemens’ workout routine and couldn’t hide his smirk when I finally butt in with a, “Dude, that’s not very hard... ”

I have what I like to call bleephole tendencies. Hey, what are you going to do?

Anyway, I recall a conversation in August of last season where Wolf and I talked about interval sessions and the kind of stuff I did in preparing for a marathon. Like anything with Wolf, it was an informed and well-thought question and, frankly, the first time that a non-competitive runner asked specifically about something as intricate interval sessions.

As a marathoner, I said, I liked to do repeats of a mile to 5 kilometers with longer intervals when preparing for a race. At the time, longish tempo runs were what I was focusing on, which really isn’t a big help to a baseball player – it’s not a big deal for a pitcher to hit a 5k in 16:30 or a 10-miler in 58 flat. But for a marathoner, I explained, I emulated the surges that would occur in a race.

Wolf, though, wanted to know about quarters, which is something I really disliked doing. Oh I did them all right; it’s just that any workout on the track kind of scared the hell out of me. To me the track means speed, and speed kills hamstrings. Plus, stepping on a track wearing spikes meant business. There is no such thing as messing around on a track. It’s easy to go out and run for two hours without stopping where one can allow their thoughts and legs take them to wherever the mood takes them, but a track – that’s like stepping into a boxing ring.

Anyway, I told Wolf that I used to try to do 20 quarters in 70 to 75 seconds with a float around the track for the rest. Another one I “liked” to do was three miles of sprinting the straights and floating the curves. Rob de Castella, the badass Australian marathoner, used to do that one.

Wolf had to leave before we could get deep into the details of intervals sessions and exactly what he was looking for, but I think I figured it out after reading Jayson Stark’s great piece on where Wolf goes through his daily workout routine.

Even though we don’t know how fast he hits his quarters, it’s really a fascinating read and more fantastic work from the great Jayson Stark.

Here's the quote I liked:

"I want to be in baseball shape," he says. "I'm not going to run a marathon or be a decathlon athlete. I'm training to have 35 starts, hopefully more than that [if his team makes the playoffs]. That's what I'm training to do. And I think there were times during the season where I lost my stamina because I didn't listen to my body. I'd go too hard, too hard, too hard, and then I'd fade out. …

"Back when I was 22, 23, 24 years old, I was big into running and keeping in shape that way, and I wouldn't change my routine. I was still into running five, six miles. And then all of a sudden, I'm in the sixth inning and my legs were dead, and I'd have no idea why. I realize now I was just working too hard the days I was not pitching."

Truth be told, I could read about different workouts all day long. Not only is there a possibility of picking up something new, but also it’s really, really motivating.

The running though, is about all there is in common. Instead of the weights, I attempt yoga, which I sure is a treat to see. People like me make the Tin Man look limber. Wolf's workout is for athletes and it appears as if the Dodgers have found themselves a good one.

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Running for something

Originally I had an entire screed written about the egocentric nature of sports, media and culture all tied in to how I thought Curt Schilling was the most masterful media manipulator in the modern era of sports, but I changed my mind. Oh, I still believe that the superficialities, self-servitude, egos run amok and attention-seeking attitudes in local and national media and sports is, well… tacky, but instead of a entire rant on Schilling as the poster child for this, I have relented.

The reasons are simple – I like what Curt Schilling does for ALS and what he and his wife do for skin cancer awareness. This is important work. Sure, maybe I’m a little turned off that it’s Curt Schilling’s Fight for ALS (what, no one else is fighting?), it’s still a fight against ALS and that’s a good thing. From firsthand knowledge and from research, the work and effort Schilling puts into his ALS is more than admirable, and if his name attracts more attention to the fight, then maybe I should relax a bit.

The same goes for the Schilling’s SHADE foundation, which attempts to raise awareness about skin cancer. As a long-time outdoorsy type, I never paid much attention to my skin, but have begun to see the light, to coin a phrase. The SHADE web site is chock full of information and is a good reference point for anyone interesting in learning more about their skin.

Plus, it’s hard to deny that Curt Schilling is one of the greatest big game pitchers ever. His post season statistics are ridiculous – almost video game-like.

But when it comes to the chatter about Schilling running for the senate in Massachusetts in 2008, and his other political views, let’s just say Curt is a good pitcher.

According to stories in the Boston papers/web sites, there is a veritable “groundswell” of support for Schilling to take the Republican nomination and run against John Kerry in 2008. That’s cool, I guess. Schilling would be a great politician if the criteria were the ability to create superficial attention, alienating colleagues and the media, hypocrisy and arrogance. In fact, in those regards Schilling could be ahead of the curve.

Plus, (and I have no proof of this and I’m not saying it’s fact – I’m just saying something for the sake of saying something) I would not be surprised if the “groundswell” was manufactured by Schilling. I’m not saying this is the case, but everyone knows how much the big boy loves the attention.

Of course, Schilling was humbled by the notion of running for the senate. Who wouldn’t be? It also allowed him to tout his charities (shrewd… very shrewd) and toss out the quote about how mixed up they are in Washington.

“While I am a registered voter, I have too many problems with the political scene, and I don’t think I’d fit into it,” he said.

I also believe that Schilling knows that political pundits suggest a run against Kerry in Massachusetts could make Lynn Swann's run against Governor Ed Rendell look like a close contest.

Nevertheless, the extra time in the spotlight (sans towel over his head) also gave Schilling a chance to endorse fellow Arizonan Sen. John McCain and Illinois Senator Barack Obama as his favorite would-be presidential candidates. Better yet, it gave Schilling a chance to take a swipe at New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who formally announced her bid for the 2008 Presidential race.

“As far as Hillary Clinton goes, I just want her to keep talking,” Schilling said. “I just cringe every time I hear someone with a voice in the political scene talking out against the war. I am not for it, no ones for it, I just feel like -- especially someone like Hillary has to know that those comments have serious implications overseas for the men and women of the United States armed forces -- it scares the hell out of me.”

It’s kind of ironic because most sportswriters feel the same way about Schilling. When Curt starts talking about things other than baseball, his charities or his video games, well… let’s just say he’s a good pitcher. Not to mention that it’s kind of fun to listen to a self-serving blowhard like Schilling go on and on.

Let’s just say this – I like athletes that have interests outside of their sports. I think it humanizes them as well as shows that they actually care about things other than the superficial celebrity culture. Though it’s pretty safe to say that Schilling and I disagree on everything politically (though I’m not a Hillary Clinton supporter either, but not for the same reasons as Schilling) and maybe even on most ideas, I like the fact that he is someone who doesn’t hide behind the veneer political correctness and engages in some semblance of a public discourse.

I think he’s wrong, but it’s kind of refreshing to see an athlete pronounce an opinion.

As for Schilling’s opinion, since when does speaking out against a war mean someone is not supporting the troops? That’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

I wonder what Schilling thought about The New York Times story in which troops in Iraq were asked if Donald Rumsfeld’s ouster could affect morale, and answered with, “Who's Rumsfeld?”

But that’s Schilling – an enigma wrapped in a riddle and covered with a “bloody” sock.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Chase Utley press conference

Listen to what Chase Utley, Ruben Amaro and Arn Tellem had to say about the second baseman's new, $85 million contract. Guess what? They're pretty pleased with it.

With new contract in tow, Utley ready to go

When going to a press conference for a guy who just signed a brand-new, $85 million contract, there aren’t too many questions that are unanswered. Obviously, everyone is pretty pleased with what’s happening or the team would have never approached the player with the new deal, nor would the player have signed on the line to stay in town.

Obviously, the player feels pretty excited about the future prospects for the team – and himself – and the team thinks the “investment” of money and years is a wise decision. Obviously.

So when the Phillies brought out Chase Utley, nattily attired in a dark, single-breasted suit and still aglow, rested and relaxed from his honeymoon and recent nuptials, it seemed kind of insulting to ask, “Hey Chase, about that new contract – it must feel pretty good, huh?”

Just once it would be funny to hear an athlete say, “This money is going to come in handy because I want to move to a cabin in the mountains and work on my memoirs.”

Just once…

But Chase Utley isn’t going to be that guy, which is fine. However, Utley’s objective is kind of similar in a odd sort of way.

All Chase Utley wants is to be left alone so he can play baseball. Forget about the money, the tackiness of fame and all of the trappings that go with it. Utley just wants to play ball in Philadelphia for a long, long time.

“My plan is to stay a Phillie for life,” Utley said in his first press conference as a married man.

Because of that desire, Utley’s agent, Arn Tellem, said the All-Star second baseman was willing to sacrifice a bit in order to make the deal go smoothly. That probably is just agent-speak, but afterwards no one seemed too upset about the new agreement.

“When you have both sides that have a mutual interest in getting something done and Chase wanted the security of knowing he'll be in Philadelphia for a long time, we were willing to make concessions,” Tellem said.

The Phillies were happy to make concessions on their end, too, such as giving Utley a limited no-trade clause – something general manager Pat Gillick isn’t too keen on giving out. In the end, Gillick’s assistant Ruben Amaro Jr. said talent was the main factor and Utley just so happened to be one of the top 15 players in the game.

"He's a player other organizations dream about having," said Amaro, who brokered the deal with Utley and Tellem.

For the next seven seasons in which he’ll earn at least $85 million, Utley will be a Phillie as he comes into his athletic prime. When his contract with the Phillies ends Utley will be 35 years old, which was about the same age as Carlos Delgado when he signed a four-year, $52 million contract. In other words, Utley could be in position to earn one more really big contract – especially since the game’s economics will likely be even crazier six or seven years from now than they are right now.

When all is said and done, Utley will have a little bit of pocket change.

But just like the other stuff, Utley’s focus remains on baseball. The money is nice, but Utley says, “It’s not about the money, it’s more about the years.”

Of course, Utley is coming off his best season as a pro where he hit .309 with 40 doubles, 32 homers, 102 RBIs and 131 runs. He also had a 35-game hitting streak that tied for the 10th-longest in major league history and longest by a second baseman, while teaming with NL MVP Ryan Howard to lead the Phillies to within two games of the National League’s wild-card berth.

With Howard likely to get a deal that dwarfs Utley’s in the not-so-distant future, the right side of the Phillies’ infield will form the core of the team into the next decade. Plus, with left-handed pitcher Cole Hamels, just 23, beginning to show what all of the hype was about, the youthful club is starting to take shape.

With Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, the maligned Pat Burrell still on for the next two seasons (and $27 million), and centerfielder Aaron Rowand lending playoff experience, the Phillies are expected to turn to Utley for so-called leadership. That’s especially the case after Rollins revealed that the Phillies would often defer to Bobby Abreu to rescue the club in a tight spot because he had the biggest contract and the stats to match. Now Utley is in a similar position, which is fine by him, but Utley says a leader is what a leader does.

“As far as leadership goes, I’m going to continue to play the way I have,” he said. “I think a good leader leads by example. A contract isn’t going to change that. It’s not going to change how I perform, it’s not going to change how I prepare, [and] it’s not going to change how hard I play. It’s not going to change anything like that.

“[The contract] obviously gives me some security but that’s all it gives me. I’m going to work hard to try and improve every year. It’s going to be no different from here on out.”

That goes for the off-season, too, where Utley was as busy as ever. He flew to Philadelphia from his home in southern California where he had been working out after a tour of Japan with the Major League All-Star team and before his wedding last week. He’s also been keeping close tabs on the transaction wire and is impressed with Gillick’s additions of pitcher Freddy Garcia and outfielder Jayson Werth. In fact, after the acquisition of Garcia, Utley called up Rowand to get some insight on the right-hander who was the centerfielder’s teammate on the World Champion White Sox team in 2005.

“He told me, ‘He’s a gamer,’” Utley revealed. “That’s the highest compliment anybody can get.”

Better yet, Utley is impressed that the Phillies are adding good people as well as good players. That’s important, he says.

“It’s always nice to have good players on the field but it’s even better to have great guys in the clubhouse,” he said.

So with the team that has begun to take shape and a new seven-year deal in tow, Utley’s prediction for the Phillies is just as any one would expect:

“The sky is the limit.”


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Manuel enters last year of contract

It wasn’t all that long ago when general manager Pat Gillick stood in front of the local press and said that he didn’t think the Phillies would be able to compete for a playoff spot until 2008. To be fair, it certainly didn’t look good for the Phillies from anyone’s perspective after the team had just sent Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees while dealing away veterans David Bell and Rheal Cormier in a payroll purge that had “Fire Sale” written all over it.

So when Gillick – a GM who has witnessed enough in his four decades in the game to know a salary dump when he saw one – the “wait until the year after next year” was chillingly honest.

“It will be a stretch to say we’ll be there in ’07,” Gillick said on last July 30. “We’ll have to plug in some young pitchers and anytime you do that you’ll have some inconsistency.

“It’s going to take another year.”

But a funny thing happened on the Phillies’ trip to oblivion. After the trading deadline Ryan Howard emerged as the slugger in the Majors by smashing 23 home runs in the final 58 games. Furthermore, Chase Utley joined Howard amongst the game’s elite and clubbed 10 homers in the last month of the season to form a dynamic duo that should be a staple for the Phils well into the next decade.

A team does not live on homers alone, which is a good thing because heralded rookie Cole Hamels showed glimpses of the brilliance everyone had predicted by going 6-3 with a 2.60 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings during the season’s final two months. Those are numbers any veteran would take, let alone a 22-year-old kid who had never completed a full season ever because of one injury or another.

With that, when Jimmy Rollins proclaims the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East everyone just kind of shrugs and says, “Yeah, maybe he’s on to something.”

“We've improved ourselves, and some other teams haven't really done a whole lot,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “We've cut some ground on the Mets. On paper, we got stronger in our division.”

In other words, despite Gillick’s anti-Knute Rockne speech, the Phillies believed they were good enough to compete for a playoff spot now. With a youthful exuberance that prevents the players from doing something silly by allowing the media or fans to dictate how good they can be, the Phillies took the season to its final days for the second straight season. Actually, the prospects for success changed so much that Gillick backed off his claim from last July and went out and added a couple of veteran pitchers for the rotation, a veteran bat or two for the bench, and just might have another move up his sleeve to get a relief pitcher before the Phillies break camp in Clearwater and head north in late March.

Suddenly, wait-until-the-year-after-next-year became let’s-get-them-now.

This turnaround begs the question, “How did this happen?” Or better yet: “Just what did the Phillies do to go 36-22 after trading Abreu and three other veterans to nearly reach the playoffs for just the second time since Hamels, Howard and Utley were babies?”

Do you really want to know what the players say? Well… it’s the manager.

“He's a big reason the chemistry on this team is as good as it is,” Aaron Rowand said at last week’s media luncheon in Citizens Bank Park. “You guys don't get to see it, the fans don't get to see it, because you guys aren't in the clubhouse all the time. You guys aren't in the dugout during the game when he's talking to the guys, when he's conversing with people, helping guys out, pumping guys up. He's one of the best managers I've ever had a chance to play for, and I would have been very sorry to have seen him go after last year.”

Rowand, who won the World Series with Ozzie Guillen as the manager for the White Sox in 2005, isn’t the only player who says these kinds of things, either. Actually, it’s harder to find a player who says Manuel is not his favorite manager. Any player who has spent time with Manuel has lots of stories to tell with most of the subject matter dealing with something that left everyone in stitches and gets retold in an imitation of the skipper’s Virginia drawl.

In that regard, if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery then Charlie Manuel is the most beloved man in Philadelphia.

Yet for as much as the players love him, and for as much as the writing press respects him, something about Manuel’s down home, everyman persona has missed with the sophisticates in Philadelphia. In fact, a common thing heard from folks talking about the Phillies’ chances is that the team is ready to make a run at the playoffs, but if they don’t maybe they’ll finally get rid of that Charlie Manuel.

And because Manuel is heading in to the last season of his three-year deal, it could be playoffs or bust for him.

Yes, he knows all about it.

“Believe me, that doesn't affect me,” Manuel said. “I want to focus on winning ballgames. It's not about me. It's about our players. The players are the ones who are going to win the game for us, and if we're successful, then I think Charlie Manuel will be successful.”

Make no mistake; there are a lot of people who don’t want the Phillies to be successful for that very reason. Forget that after two seasons in which Manuel won more games than all but one manager in team history through this point in his tenure – a fact first reported on With the Phillies, 173 victories in two seasons in which the team was eliminated from wild-card playoff contention at game Nos. 162 and 161 is borderline historic. Actually, it’s more than remarkable – it’s unprecedented.

This is a franchise, after all, where only two (two!) managers have taken the team to more than one postseason. It’s a franchise that has been to the playoffs just nine times in 123 seasons. For comparisons sake, look at the Atlanta Braves who… wait, nevermind. It just isn’t fair to compare the Phillies to any other franchise.

One thing hasn’t changed from the Phillies’ golden days in the late 1970s and early1980s and that’s the bottom line. In the end, winning is the only thing that matters.

“Ever since I came here, from Day 1, I said I came here to win,” Manuel said. “It's not, ‘I need to win.’ It’s, ‘Philadelphia needs to win.’ ‘The organization needs to win.’ And I understand that.”

So what happens if the Phillies win in 2007? Does Manuel get a new deal to take him into the next decade, or does the organization allow him to walk away? Of all the intriguing plotlines for the upcoming baseball season, the case of Manuel and his future with the Phillies could be the most interesting. After two seasons littered with hope and promise there is plenty of room for improvement.

But then again, for the Phillies 173 victories in two seasons is nothing to sneeze at.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

1864 Base Ball

Kills me every time...


Odds and ends

For the past half dozen years I purchased the Major League Baseball Extra Innings package and enjoyed the fact that if I wanted to watch a game – even late at night – one was usually available.

The problem was, however, that I was rarely home to enjoy a Dodgers game at 1 a.m. with Vin Scully painting portraits over the microphone. On most nights during the summer I was at the ballpark and the Extra Innings package didn’t get used as much as it should have.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to get it. After all, I’m one of those people who is a baseball fan, but not necessarily a sports fan. Ever since I was a little kid I always thought that sports were for playing, not watching. To a large degree I still think that way. Nevertheless, last season I bought the online version of the Extra Innings package. Since I was never at home, but was always travelling with my laptop or within reach of a computer, it made sense to make baseball games portable. That way I could watch whatever games needed to be seen when I was at the ballpark, at the house in Colorado, on an Amtrak train, or even in a Starbucks.

As Jello Biafra said, “give me convenience or give me death.”

Rallying cries or the portability of baseball watching aside, I expect the online version of the Extra Innings package to increase its sales this season. Needless to say, any cable subscriber who is also a big baseball fan is going to agree with me after MLB told their fans, essentially, to “go to hell.” Perhaps since MLB couldn’t take away the statistics (they called it “intellectual property” and were laughed out of court) from the rotisserie leagues and online fantasy games, the league decided to take their games to Direct TV.

Now I have nothing against Direct TV, because I have never seen it nor do I know anyone who has it. As a Comcast subscriber (and shareholder), I’m very happy with what choices I have, the various offerings and the so-called on Demand features. Yes, it’s probably overpriced, but to me television is kind of like Trans fats. Sure, it tastes good, but you really don’t want to ingest too much of it. As far as cable goes, most people’s complaints lie with the local stations and affiliates.

Jayson Stark and Buster Olney wrote very eloquently about MLB’s move to the satellite company, while The New York Times thoroughly broke down the ins and outs of the deal though they left out the answer to one really big question:

What is MLB thinking?

I think MLB is attempting to enhance its web presence and believe that the era of pay-per-view sports is here and here to stay. I also believe that the Direct TV deal will be the big push to turn sports on television into something as archaic as games on the radio with the World Wide Web reaping all the benefits.

Time to increase your bandwidth, folks.

On another note…
Here in Lancaster – just a little more than an hour from the Philadelphia city limits – Phillies games will not be available on “free” TV in 2007. To watch the “hometown” team, fans need Comcast SportsNet or a nationally broadcast FOX or ESPN offering. Additionally, WLPA, the long-time home of the Phillies on the radio, will broadcast Lancaster Barnstormers (an independent league team) for a second straight year.

Needless to say, most people are a little peeved. Who wants to listen to a glorified sandlot team on the radio when the Major League team that everyone has followed for their entire lives is making a run for the playoffs?

Freddy Sanchez?
I remember a time during the latter portion of the 2000 season when Phillies' pitcher Chris Brock gave up a home run to Mike Piazza that hugged the right-field line before clanging off the façade at the Vet. Afterwards I asked Brock about the home run he surrendered and he not-so subtly insinuated that in order to hit a ball the way Piazza had, the player had to be dabbling with performance-enhancing substances.

So with Brock’s quote in tow, I marched over to the Mets’ clubhouse and told Piazza what the Phillies’ pitcher had said about his home run (the second of that game, I should add).

“Who,” Piazza deadpanned, “is Chris Brock?”

That’s kind of what I thought when I read the story from Pittsburgh about Pirates’ second baseman Freddy Sanchez not being jealous of Chase Utley’s new contract with the Phillies.

Freddy who?

To be fair, Sanchez is a nice ballplayer who probably never gave Utley’s contract a second thought. What probably happened was a writer or two were sitting around and saw that Sanchez won the batting title last season and had some statistics that were a bit better than Utley’s. So rather than think the subject through they went with the notion that Sanchez is OK with the fact that Utley is getting $85 million even though he hit .344 and the Phillies’ All-Star only hit .309.

Never mind that Utley is one of the best 10 to 15 players in the game and not simply one of the better infielders in the National League. Plus, Sanchez plays for a dreadful team that will probably be equally as bad for another generation. That means he doesn’t have the pressure of pennant races or little things like situational hitting or winning games to worry about. In Pittsburgh, Sanchez and Jason Bay can go out there and play any kind of game they want as long as they get their statistics. That way a few writers will look at them and think, “Look, he hit .344. He’s gotta be as good as Chase Utley… ”

Meanwhile, people outside of the Three Rivers area wonder just who is this Freddy Sanchez dude.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Coming a long way

It’s funny how quickly things change, to coin a phrase. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that manager Larry Bowa was forced to send Chase Utley back to the minors so that Doug Glanville could take over the last roster spot. Bowa didn’t want to do it, and if I remember correctly, fought hard to keep Utley for Opening Day in 2004, but with Placido Polanco set as the second baseman and David Bell entrenched at third base, Utley would have been able to get four or five at-bats every night in Scranton.

The rationale, as explained by the former Phillies administration of Ed Wade and Bowa, was that Glanville could spell Marlon Byrd in center field and come in and swipe a bag or two. Besides, Utley was purely an offensive player at that point of his career and his defense wasn’t so great.

Nope, Bowa didn’t really buy what he was ordered to sell. Imagine that? Byrd and Glanville for Utley?

Utley ended playing in 94 games in ’04 – 50 at second base and 13 at first base – and seemed destined to take over as the everyday second baseman until Wade offered arbitration to Polanco. Since he wasn’t one to turn down millions of dollars, Polanco accepted and Utley found himself in a platoon. Though he hit 28 homers and knocked in 105 runs in 2005, Utley was on the bench on opening day.

Polanco was traded by June and Utley hasn’t looked over his shoulder or picked up his first-baseman’s mitt since. Not even two years after sitting on the bench on opening day, Utley has a new $85 million deal with the Phillies.

Meanwhile, Ryan Howard seems to be walking the same path as his pal Utley, though when the time comes it seems as if the slugging first baseman will be messing around with Powerball-jackpot type digits. Unless Howard turns into Joe Charboneau (or Pat Burrell) it seems as if the Phillies will take care of him before spring training opens in 2008.

But like Utley, Howard never could break camp with the Phillies for one reason or another. One of those reasons, of course, was bona fide 40-homer man Jim Thome. Another was Wade and the Phillies’ reluctance to take a chance on a young player even when that young player was destroying the records at every stop in the minors. It definitely was an organizational thing, too. In fact, I remember talking to Reading manager Greg Legg during Howard’s assault of the Eastern League in 2004 and he said Howard needed a year of Triple-A before making the jump to the big leagues.

He said it, but I don’t think he believed it. All of the Phillies’ brass were saying that kind of stuff back then.

Nevertheless, count on Howard and his “ordinary” contract being a topic of discussion all summer. That’s just what happens for some reason. I remember how Kevin Millwood’s contract status was such a hot topic in 2003, and how Millwood told us he wasn’t going to talk about it anymore before talking about how he wasn’t going to talk about it.

It’s a vicious cycle or something like that.

Howard, it appears, made his first full season in the Majors, too good, according to a quoted source in Jayson Stark’s story on from Jan. 24. Technically, the Phillies don’t have to do anything with his contract and if they want to pay him the minimum – slightly below $400,000 – they can.

They won’t because Pat Gillick is smart. He knows better than us why the Howards felt it necessary to have three different agents in a little more than a year. Perhaps (despite his public and behind-closed-doors media persona) Howard is sensitive and takes perceived slights hard? Hey, we’ve seen that before, right?

The last part is just some out-loud thinking, but the point remains – Utley and Howard have come a very long way in a very short time.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

The wonder from Down Under

The Eagles announced that they had signed 33-year-old Aussie, Saverio Rocca, as a punter today. Rocca, the latest from Australian Rules Football player attempting to make in the NFL as a punter, looks as if he has a really strong leg to go along with some un-punter type athleticism.

But the signing and the fact that Rocca played for 15 seasons in the Australian Rules Football league for teams called the Collingwood Magpies and North Melbourne Kangaroos, isn't the interesting part... well, actually, it kind of is and it makes one wonder why American sports teams have nicknames that are so boring. Plus, with Rocca as the punter, the Eagles' kickers might be as tough as any player on the roster.

Think anyone wants to tangle with David Akers?

Anyway, the interesting thing about Rocca's signing was that the Eagles PR staff sent out a YouTube highlight reel of Rocca's work with the Magpies and Kangaroos:

Looks like this Internet thing is pretty popular.

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A conversation between A.I. and Jim Mora


Latest on Howard Focused on Big Season, Not Big Contract

Hamels Focused on Health, Winning for '07


When we struggle, we reach for help. That's why I've been running with my iPod lately. Of course "struggling" is a relative term, but for some reason I've needed a little extra motivation in order to put in the miles. So in that regard, these digital files that randomly were pumped into my skull during this morning's jaunt:

  • Love Sick - Bob Dylan
    There's a nasty guitar lick on this one that I just can't get enough of.

  • Trigger Cut - Pavement
    Interestingly Mark Ibold, the bassist in Pavement is a Lancasterian and his brother, Hans, was a year ahead of me at J.P. McCaskey. Mark, however, went to Lancaster Country Day, which I am staring at out my window as I type and ran past as this track played... on another note, Pavement's first album is one of those "desert island" type records.

  • Jessie's Girl - Rick Springfield
    Believe it or not, there is some interesting guitar work on this one -- OK, that's pushing it... just let me have some fun. Besides, this one worked very well in that bizarre scene in Boogie Nights. You know the one -- John C. Reilly, Thomas Jane and Marky Mark go over to Alfred Molina's house where his houseboy keeps lighting and setting off firecrackers. That scene should be studied in film schools across the country. Rick Springfield should be proud his song was used in that manner.

  • Southside - Moby
    I read something that Moby hated this song and Gwen Stefani's effort in it and that he nearly cut it from the album. It's kind of a cool song, I guess.

  • There Goes My Gun - The Pixies
    From a Peel Session. Wouldn't it be great if there were a way to dig in to John Peel's collection?

  • Knowing Me, Knowing You - Evan Dando
    Just Evan and a guitar playing an ABBA song -- that's hard to beat.

  • (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Devo
    During the early days of MTV -- back when they showed videos and were interesting -- this was a staple. It also makes me think about a Devo and John Belushi story that can't be repeated here.

  • Last Exit - Pearl Jam
    Recorded in Camden on July 5, 2003. Eddie Vedder was at the Vet that day before a Phillies game and he is really very short... then again, I'm 6-1 so maybe it's not him. Maybe it's me? Nevertheless, I watched and enjoyed Vedder's appearance on Iconoclasts on the Sundance channel where he's spends a day surfing and hanging out with Laird Hamilton in Hawaii. Most impressive is Hamilton who has inspired me to run or bike to the ballpark one day this upcoming summer. It will probably have to be a day game though, because I'm not riding or running home on the Turnpike after dark.

  • I Will Refuse - Pailhead
    Ian MacKaye and Al Jourgensen? Get out of here!

  • It Didn't Turn Out That Way - Mose Allison
    Mose Allison writes and performs perfect songs perfectly. Lately, it's taken force to get me to hit the shuffle button instead of listening to the new Evens record and Mose Allison.

  • Bonzo Goes to Bitburg - The Ramones
    My favorite Ramones song ever.

  • Bleeding Powers - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
    Ted and the gang has a new album on the way. As a live performer, Ted is hard to beat.

  • A Doubt - John Frusciante
    OK... I forgot to include Frusciante with The Evens and Mose Allison. Better yet, Frusciante's epic output last year is some of the most interesting stuff I've heard in a while. I just don't understand how a guy can put out piles of exciting and great work like Frusciante has and then moonlight in a band as predictable and tired as the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

  • I Grow Cold - Shudder to Think
    There was a time when all I listened to was Shudder to Think's "Ten Spot," "Funeral At the Movies," and "Get Your Goat." I think that was 1993 or 1994.

  • Good Day Sunshine - The Beatles
    This one played as I ran by my mom's house and James Buchanan's Wheatland.

  • Spirit of the Radio - Rush
    This one reminds me of walking to school in fifth grade at James Buchanan Elementary. That was about 25 years ago.

  • Boredom - The Buzzcocks
    The Passed covered this one back when we were in high school.

    That was fun... maybe I'll try to get out again later since it's supposed to be really cold tomorrow.

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  • Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    What have you done for us lately...

    Heard and seen at the Phillies media luncheon on Tuesday:

    It seems as if the Phillies have cooled on Chris Coste. With the arrival of Jason Werth, Karim Garcia and Rod Barajas, the Phillies’ bench is packed. That could mean that Coste, who hit nearly .900 (actually.463) last spring training and .328 in 65 games with the Phillies, could be on the outside looking in.

    “I like Chris Coste, and the reason I like him is he played good for us,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “The big thing is what happens in spring training. He had a job at the end of last year. Now, he's got to keep it. I'm not going to take it away from him.”

    This is different from past comments where Manuel said that Coste didn’t look pretty swinging the bat but he got the job done and lauded him how he caught a lot of big games down the stretch.

    Still, as Charlie says, “this game changes every minute.”

    Since players like Coste are only as good as their last AB, baseball’s most interesting and a true feel-good story of 2006 seems destined to start 2007 in Ottawa.

  • Pitching prospect Scott Mathieson showed up at the luncheon after his check-up with team doctor Michael Ciccotti. Mathieson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in September after pitching in nine games for the Phillies in 2006, says he could start throwing in the next two weeks though he isn’t expected to pitch in minor league games until July.

  • Aaron Rowand says Phillies fans and the writing press will enjoy Freddy Garcia. Not only is he a big-game pitcher, according to Rowand, but also Garcia likes to have fun.

    Rowand also said that one of the biggest reasons for the Phillies success in 2006 was the manager.

    “He's a big reason the chemistry on this team is as good as it is,” Rowand said about Manuel. “You guys don't get to see it, the fans don't get to see it, because you guys aren't in the clubhouse all the time. You guys aren't in the dugout during the game when he's talking to the guys, when he's conversing with people, helping guys out, pumping guys up. He's one of the best managers I've ever had a chance to play for, and I would have been very sorry to have seen him go after last year.”

  • Like Coste, newly-signed reliever Antonio Alfonseca has to prove he belongs on the team this spring. Still, the veteran closer could have the inside track on the set-up job in front of Tom Gordon though Manuel says he likes some of the guys already on the roster.

    “We need one of our guys to step up. Somebody like Madson or Geary. I definitely think Madson can compete. You guys always talk about how good he could be in the back of the bullpen. I hear our organization talk about how good he could be in the back of the bullpen. The door is open for him,” Manuel said. “[Alfonseca] can definitely take over that job right now. We might have that guy in-house. We need to beef up the back end of our bullpen. The more depth we get in the bullpen, the better we'll be.”

    Whoever the set-up man will be, Manuel says he will lean heavily on him in order to keep Gordon fresh and healthy for the entire season.
  • Labels: , , , ,

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    Talkin' baseball

    Saturday, January 20, 2007

    Best bets

    Last week: 2-2

    Year-to-date: 27-24-2

    It just could be the Magic vs. Bird of this era. Manning vs. Brady. Brady vs. Manning. Talent vs. Grit. The Prodigy vs. Someone Who’s Dad Wasn’t an NFL QB.

    The comparisons between Tom Brady and his Super Bowl victories and Peyton Manning and his great regular-season records have even garnered a Wikipedia entry that reads:

    Amongst active quarterbacks, Manning is most often compared to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Brady's statistics, while impressive in their own right, do not meet the record-setting level that Manning has established. Brady, however, has won 3 Super Bowls while posting a career 12-1 postseason record, best in NFL history. On the other hand, as Manning's supporters often note, Brady has been supported by great defenses in his Super Bowl runs, whereas Manning's offense is counted on to shoulder most of the load for the Colts. Manning has, however, had the luxury of superstar wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, and RB Edgerrrin James for much of his career while Brady is considered to be the only offensive star for the Patriots. The Manning-Brady debate has evoked comparisons to the Marino-Montana debate of the 1980's.

    But the on-the-field comparisons are only half of it. Manning and Brady seem as different as night and day. Example? Try this – Manning, even though he is from New Orleans where he attended the same high school as Harry Connick Jr., likes country music. Actually, it’s not even the good country music. It’s the conformist, watered-down-for-mass-production, derivative country music perpetrated by the likes of Kenny Chesney… whoever that is.

    Sorry, folks. I hate racism, injustice, poverty, genocide and commercial country music. I can’t help it. What makes it worse is that Manning, from a city with a distinctive and unique music history, allowed himself to photographed with that Kenny Chesney dude.

    Whoever that is.

    Professor Longhair is from New Orleans, for God’s sake.

    But let’s give Manning some credit for one thing – he has a personality. He performs in all of those wacky commercials for some type of product (cell phones? Wireless networks?) that I don’t recognize because I feel that if someone feels the need to make a commercial to tell me how great they are, they have some issues that simple therapy won’t remedy. Plus, they probably don’t have my interests at heart. People, by design, are selfish… and Bleep Commerce!

    Diatribe aside, I have no idea what type of music Tom Brady likes. In fact, I have no idea about anything regarding Tom Brady. No one does. Get this – The Smoking Gun searched to find which political party Brady belongs to -- because, as everyone knows, political parties explain everything about a person – only to learn learn that he doesn’t belong to anything.

    Is this just pure indifference or because Brady doesn’t want to offend anyone? Maybe it’s kind of like when Michael Jordan didn’t want to endorse Harvey Gantt over Jesse Helms because “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” Smart. Safe. Just like Brady’s game.

    But not particularly inspiring – it’s not exactly “I ain't got no quarrel with those Vietcong.”

    Put it this way – if there is nothing else on television except for two football games on opposite channels featuring Manning in one game and Brady in the other, which one will you watch?

    Right. The one with Manning.

    There is one thing we know about Tom Brady besides the fact that he has those Super Bowl victories, went to the same high school as Jim Fregosi, Barry Bonds, Lynn Swann and Gregg Jefferies and played against Bellarmine Prep’s Pat Burrell... Brady also apparently has a thing for Brazilian models.

    But then again don’t we all?

    Take Manning’s Colts minus 3 over Brady’s Patriots.

    Super Saints?
    The Internet is a neat thing. Where else would get to see this guy:

    The Internet is also a place where that guy was derided and made fun of for being a whack job, which is fair. It’s probably even correct. But let me ask you this… when is the last time an Eagles fan roamed around the parking lot giving the heebee-jeebee to the visiting fans? When the last time an Eagles fan did something other than the tired old fat, drunk and stupid routine?

    Perhaps being a unique, whack job with a cape doesn’t work here? Nevertheless, give the guy credit for so baffling the visiting fans from Philly that they couldn’t even beat the guy back with a boo, a drunken right uppercut, or a D battery tossed between the kook’s eyes.

    Rumor has it that the guy might show up in Chicago. If that’s the case, take the Saints and the 2½ points over the Bears.


    Friday, January 19, 2007

    'It won't help anyone... '

    I was going to hold a live webcast press conference on this site this afternoon to let the fans know how everything is going and what the organization expects, going forward. However, my wife decided to cancel it.

    "He's been working like crazy right now and I don't want anything distracting him," she told the local press. "I want him focused in on taking care of the laundry, yardwork and dishes, and that's what he's doing. He came out (Thursday) and trimmed the bushes out back for the first time and he didn't have a limp when he was finished. Those are all positive things.

    "Right now, talking to you guys, it won't help anyone."



    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Bloggy blog

    Though he didn’t even make it through July with the Phillies last season, Sal Fasano left a bigger mark on the Philadelphia sporting scene than Chris Webber ever did. Hell, Dan McQuade of Philadelphia Will Do and the greatest intern in the illustrious history of (there was Alex Fineman too, but let’s not rank them… for arguments sake let’s just say McQuade and Fineman are in the Hall of Fame and we’re still thanking our lucky stars that John Turner didn’t set fire to the place), would argue that Fasano needs a plaque on Memory Lane on Ashburn Alley.

    Memory Lane and Ashburn Alley haven’t been co-opted by some corporation? What gives?

    Anyway, ol’ Sal signed a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays this week, which means he’ll be sending $4 (less Canadian – probably a looner and change) slices of pizza to his “pals” in right field at SkyDome or whatever the hell they call it these days.

    Here are the interesting and coincidental parts about Fasano’s signing with the Blue Jays – he’ll train in Dunedin, Fla., just around the corner from Clearwater where the Phillies train. That means all the baseball snowbirds will get plenty of chances to root for ol’ Sal during the Grapefruit League season while others will shake their heads and wonder how a career .221 hitter can warm over the cold-hearted Philly fans, while stars Bobby Abreu and Scott Rolen had such a difficult time with the hometown rooters.

    Fasano also could take the roster spot earmarked for catcher Rod Barajas, who spurned the Jays in favor of the Phillies. Barajas will likely split time with Carlos Ruiz behind the plate in 2007, fired his agent and signed with the Phillies.

    “I never signed a deal,” Barajas said after signing with the Phillies. “I never gave anybody permission to do a deal. It just wasn't the right fit for me.”

    Either way, it was a Phillie who opened the door for Fasano and his mighty Fu Manchu to resurface north of the border. That’s a good thing, Fasano says. You see, after getting traded from the Phillies to the Yankees, Fasano had to give the big, bushy ‘stache a trim since Big Stein likes his Yankees looking like the Vienna Boys Choir. In Fasano’s case, he was allowed to grow a little mustache, but nothing like the Sam Elliott look he was seeking. Instead, Fasano said, he looked like Borat.

    That won’t happen in ’07. Fasano is going to be back and as bushy as ever.

    “I'm going to go back to the Fu Manchu,” he said. “That's my standard look anyways. I'm growing it out now, getting it ready for the season.”

    The facial hair should cover it. Forget about figuring out how to hit those pesky breaking pitches.

    More: Manchu dynasty in Toronto? Stay tuned from The Globe & Mail

    Now that I have this big, shiny ring, I forget what I was angry about
    Speaking of former Phillies and Scott Rolen, it appears as if the gold-glove third baseman and his manager/nuclear scientist, Tony La Russa, have ironed out that tiff that started during last autumn’s playoffs.

    What? Rolen not getting along with his manager? Turn the channel Marge; I’ve seen this one before…

    For those who don’t remember or simply blocked the memory because they are holding on to some phantom slight regarding Scott Rolen, the Phillies and the beloved City of Brotherly Love (let it go – Rolen doesn’t think about you), the Cardinals won the World Series despite winning fewer games than the Phillies and a post-season benching that became national media fodder.

    But the benching proved to be yet another genius move by La Russa, because Rolen – suffering from a tired and sore shoulder worn down after a long season and intensive surgery – couldn’t make an out afterwards. In fact, it took Endy Chavez’s ridiculous, fence-climbing catch to keep the former Phillie from becoming the hero of Game 7 of the NLCS.

    But with spring training less than a month away, Rolen feels better than ever, according to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Better yet, he considers the feud ancient history and doesn’t think he and La Russa need to sit down and iron things out.

    “We haven't spoken,” Rolen said of La Russa. “I went home. We went about our lives. I don't think there's a conversation in spring that needs to take place.”

    Said La Russa in picking up Rolen’s gold glove at a hot stove banquet: “I love Scott Rolen.”

    But before anyone says, “yeah, but didn’t he say that before going to spring training in 2002?” And didn’t Larry Bowa say, “I love Scott Rolen… ”

    Well, maybe. But Tony La Russa isn’t walking around the corner and ripping Rolen to his front office or favorites in the media. On top of that, Rolen isn’t trying to get himself traded, either. See, the Cardinals won the World Series. Things like that have a tendency to make people feel good about things.

    Take Rolen and his shoulder: “I'm a different guy sitting here today than I was sitting here last off season, when I was hopeful or optimistic about the season coming up or about my shoulder progress. When I was here last year, I hadn't lifted a weight yet. I don't think I was capable of lifting a weight. That's not the case anymore. I'm doing my old routine. I am totally free from any limitations.”

    Free to do what I want any old time...

    More: Rolen feels 'free' in '07 from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    I’m still not sure about this Jordan character…
    In a stunning turn of events (insert sarcasm font here), the Baseball Writers Association of America voted not to permit Internet writers from large news/media conglomerates to become members in 2007. That means guys like Jayson Stark, Jerry Crasnick, Bill Simmons, John Finger, and any other web dude won’t get a vote for anything and will have to fax teams in order to get credentials for specific games.

    That’s no really a big deal since I know for a fact that John Finger has a fax machine in his house. Jayson Stark might have one, too. You never know.

    Anyway, what’s interesting about this (I know you’re wondering), is that even though all writers of all mediums are writing for the Internet already, the membership of the BBWAA is waiting to see if this Internet stuff is going to take off.

    Yes I borrowed that last line from a blogger.

    Moreover, perhaps the BBWAA is waiting a few years until the names of the newspapers are changed from the arcane like The Philadelphia Inquirer or The Washington Post to something snappier like or

    True story: back in 1999 when I was working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania I noticed the stacks and stacks of old newspapers taking up space and thought, “why don’t we just put all this on the web already. What kind of dinosaur goes out and buys a newspaper?”

    And look where we are now… but don’t laugh TV. The web is coming for you next.

    … Where’s my money?
    Arbitration-eligible players and teams exchanged salary figures this week, and locally nothing really stood out. For the Phillies, Geoff Geary asked for $950,000 and was offered $750,000; Brett Myers asked for $5.9 million and was offered $5 million; while Chase Utley asked for $6.25 million and was offered $4.5 million.

    If there is one thing the Phillies do well it’s handling potentially messy arbitration cases. Expect deals to be made before anyone gets near the courthouse.

    Perhaps they missed the point
    Philadelphia native and big-time writer Joe Queenan wrote the best and most thought provoking essay on the Rocky Balboa phenomenon in Philadelphia and all most bloggers could do was point out that he doesn’t know where the Rocky statue is located these days.

    Hey, I don’t know where the hell the Rocky statue is, either. Oh sure, I’ve seen it. Just like I’ve seen those paintings of Elvis, still life and setting suns on velvet that people sell on the sidewalk at the bottom of the exit ramp. Same difference to me though one you can hang in your house and the other birds to the bathroom on.

    Nevertheless, Queenan asks real questions that will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears. That’s normal, I guess, just like ripping on a guy who doesn’t know where a statue of a cartoon character is located.

    Anyway, read what Queenan writes if you can get past the part about the Rocky statue not being located outside of the Spectrum. It’s good for you.

    Then tell me when and where they moved the big hunk of junk.

    More: America's great white hope? From The Guardian

    In case you missed it
    The running world is all atwitter about recent events and upcoming races featuring some of the brightest American stars pounding the pavement. Of course the big name these days is Ryan Hall, the defending national cross-country champion, who shattered the American record in the half marathon with a 59:43 in Houston.

    The old record was a shade more than an hour (60:55) set in Philadelphia by Mark Curp in 1985. Hall’s run in Houston is the ninth-fastest half marathon ever and the fastest by a non-African runner.

    Some of called Hall’s performance one of the greatest runs by an American ever at any distance and he even made it to page 3 of the sports section in USA Today, which is like a ticker-tape parade in running circles. You see, like soccer, distance running doesn’t get a lot of media coverage in the United States. However, hockey does … insert your own wisecrack or misplaced anger here.

    But what has everyone as messy a kid in a pile of spaghetti sauce and melted chocolate is that Hall is running in the National Cross Country Championships in Boulder on Feb. 10. There, he will be running against the best of the best of American runners, including, Olympic silver medallist marathoner Meb Keflezighi, Abdi Abdirahman (2:08:56 in Chicago), Alan Culpepper (2:10 in Boston), Adam Goucher (former cross-country champ), Jorge Torres, and cult hero/superstar Dathan Ritzenhein.

    Forget about the field, because first of all, the championships are in Boulder, which is the Mecca of American running. Mix in the field and it’s like going to Las Vegas for a heavyweight fight featuring Mike Tyson, Ali, Joe Frazier, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Secretariat and Tiger Woods in the ring at the same time.

    It’s a really big deal.

    Still, 2007 is shaping up to be another hype-filled year for running. Coming in April the London Marathon has put together another star-studded field, and in November the Olympic marathon trials will take place in the middle of Manhattan.

    So to celebrate Hall’s run in Houston I went out and ran 13.1 today (and the day before, and the day before that and the day before that, but not the day before that – I did 17 that day), but didn’t come close to his record with a rather pedestrian 1:26:14.

    Then I went home and ate three Clif Bars.



    Ed. note: Every once in a while we like to open to floor to contributors. Actually, the way it works is if someone I know wants to write something and wants to get it out there, they ask me and I post it. It's quite a discerning process. Be that as it may, alum and sometime freelancer, John Turner, offered today's post. Under the circumstances we thought it was a really good idea.

    by John Turner

    On most normal Monday afternoons in January, the gym at Nazareth Academy high school is filled with the sounds of bouncing basketballs, giggling high-school girls and coaches who stress the importance of “valuing the basketball” and giving “a maximum effort.”

    January 15, however, was not a normal Monday. Around 1:45 that afternoon, as I was preparing to head to Nazareth, where I am in my first year as JV head coach and varsity assistant, I received the news from our athletic director that assistant coach John Godfrey, father of head coach Greg Godfrey and a man affectionately know to the girls as “Pops,” had taken ill during a racquetball match and had been rushed to the hospital.

    Just before making the turn on to Grant Avenue, my cell phone rang and my stomach dropped. Greg’s girlfriend Gerri Lynn, barely able to speak, told me that Pops had passed away. His death is a harrowing loss to our basketball program, school and the human race. He is one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known.

    When Greg was hired in May of 2006 to coach the Pandas he went through several different options for who would be his top assistant coach. After much consideration he asked his father if he would be up for the job.

    Pops was reluctant. Of course he had to check with his wife Carol and he wasn’t altogether sure that he wanted to put work, fishing and time down in Ocean City on the backburner to be an assistant coach.

    After weighing his options, Pops decided to join Greg. From May until his death, his dedication to the team was unparalleled. Joining the coaching staff myself in September, both Greg and Pops welcomed me not only into the Nazareth family, but their own. The three of us have spent countless hours coaching the girls, scouting games and simply enjoying each other’s company. We’d talk about Eagles football, fishing, and life in general, but nothing brought a smile to Pops’ face as much when we talked about Nazareth basketball and his girls.

    Pops was the glue that kept everything together. Most coaches strive to be respected by their players and love is just icing on the cake. The girls felt both for Pops. They would run through a brick wall for him because they knew he would do it for them. After all, he was their Pops.

    For me personally, Pops always provided a calming effect. Nervous as a first year coach, all it took was a glance or a word or two from Pops to reassure me that I was doing a good job. After a 0-6 start to the JV season, it was Pops that could always help me see the little improvements that the girls were making every day. After all, success is not always measured in wins and losses and Pops knew this.

    Before Pops’ last game on Jan. 6, the girls knew he was going away. He had a fishing trip to Guatemala planned and much to his chagrin was going to miss two Nazareth games.

    On the chalkboard before the game he wrote three numbers on the board. The first two represented the number of points he wanted the team to score (60), the second was the maximum number of turnovers he wanted (12), and the third, 14, drew curious stares from each of the girls.

    After a few puzzled guesses at what 14 represented, Pops asked “How many girls are in this room?” After the girls realized that there were 14 of them, Pops said, “That’s right. I want to get all 14 of you in the scorebook!” He got his wish as every single girl played and the team cruised to a 46-27 victory over visiting Sacred Heart. From top to bottom, the man never had favorites; he just wanted to be sure that every girl be given an opportunity.

    The girls sent him away with a victory and even though he was on vacation, he still called Greg everyday to find out how things were going. He was elated with the team’s Thursday victory over Villa Joseph Marie, another game in which all 14 girls saw action, and took a Saturday loss to Villa Maria in stride as usual.

    To the very end, Pops was the consummate coach. Among the possessions he had on him when he died was a piece of paper that said “Keys to beating Gwynedd.” Gwynedd was Nazareth’s scheduled opponent for Tuesday. I told Greg to make sure he didn’t lose that paper, not because it was a sentimental keepsake, but because more likely than not Pops had a strategy that would help us beat Gwynedd.

    In his short time at Nazareth, Pops formed a lasting bond with the girls on the team. He loved them and they loved him. While sadness and tears are the order of the day for the Fighting Pandas, I am sure that when they are older they will look back on the time they did get with Pops with fondness and love. I know I already do.

    Shortly after his death, Greg told me that someone asked him who would replace Pops on our staff. Greg told them no one. After all, how do you replace a legend?

    Besides, Pops isn’t really gone. He’s just watching his girls from a different seat.

    e-mail John Turner

    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    Not to beat a dead horse but someone get my whip…’s King Kaufman wrote in today’s column that he talked to a stathead friend following the Eagles’ loss to the Saints on Saturday night and his knee-jerk reaction that punting on 4th-and-15 with 1:56 to go was the wrong move was, well, statistically correct.

    Kaufman writes: The bottom line: “We estimate that Philadelphia's win probability is about 0.11 if they go for the first down, compared to about 0.05 if they punt. By choosing to punt with 1:56 left against New Orleans, Andy Reid halved his team's likelihood of winning.”


    Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    To punt or not to punt

    So we’re still talking about 4th-and-15. Of course by “we” I mean the royal “we.” You know, the editorial “we.” Nevertheless, “we” still would have punted on the 4th-and-15 even though there was only 1:56 left in the game and the Eagles appeared to have converted on the 4th-and-10 before it was nullified on a penalty.

    Initially, I wasn’t aware that there was 1:56 remaining in the game, which kind of changed things a little bit. With so little time remaining the proverbial onus was really piled on the Eagles’ defense. They really had to stop the Saints despite the fact that Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush had, as Col. Hap Hapablap says, torn through them like a tissue at a snot party.

    But, it was no secret that the Saints were going to run the ball. The Eagles knew that, which is why they punted. It’s just that they couldn’t stop them. It’s as simple as that.

    Meanwhile, one thing no one has mentioned is the punt. It was a high, easy-to-fair-catch boot that gave the Saints starting position at their own 22 that went just 39 yards. That’s a good punt for an above-average high schooler, but suppose punter Dirk Johnson was able to kick a 45-yarder? Or a 50 yarder? Does that change things?

    Maybe. Maybe not.

    Either way, it doesn’t seem as if anyone will stop talking about 4th-and-15 any time soon. It also appears as if the punt will be a part of Andy Reid’s coaching legacy. Only another Super Bowl appearance can make the decision to kick the ball away nothing more than a cloudy memory.

    Hey, at least he didn’t call time out before opting to punt… and say what you will, deciding to punt on 4th-and-15 with 1:56 to go is not the reason the Eagles lost to the Saints on Saturday.

    In other news, the Phillies open up camp in Clearwater in 30 days.

    Labels: , ,

    Saturday, January 13, 2007

    No dice... too much Deuce

    … but it didn’t result to much.

    The Eagles’ failure to capitalize on the lone turnover of the game could result in their undoing. Instead, Drew Brees learned from his laissez flip and smartly gave the ball to Deuce McAllister neatly and carefully.

    Was he trying to make it more interesting?

    Either way, too much Deuce and the Eagles’ defense that could not stop the run reared its head, again. Afterwards, the chatter was that the Eagles made a mistake in not going for it on 4th and 15 late in the game… I don’t know about that. Sure, the defense was beat and was not able to stop McAllister at all, but a good punt and one stand would have given the team a chance.

    Conversely, if the Eagles had converted on fourth down, overtime is happening right now.

    Instead, McAllister ran it up the middle, milked the clock and kept the Saints’ magical season alive with his 143 yards on 21 carries.

    Lost in this was Westbrook's nice game (13 for 116) and another solid effort from Jeff Garcia (15 for 30 for 240), and perhaps the stalwart quarterback's last game in Philadelphia. Who knows, maybe he played himself into a starting job and bigger contract next season?

    Regardless, I'll leave the football speculation for smarter folks... I'm going to turn my attention to the local baseball club.

    Good night.


    A gift from the football gods?

    Sleeping beauty as awakened and is cursing the Eagles’ defense with less than seven minutes to go in the game. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that the Saints have attempted a couple of passes during this series. They’ve had so much success riding McAllister, you’d figure they would try to pound the Eagles down to a little nub while keeping that clock in motion.

    But what do I know.

    Nevertheless, the Saints seem to have found their rhythm. The pressure is on the Eagles’ defense to make a stand so that they can hand the ball over the offense and put the pressure on them.

    Football is a cruel game like that.

    And then it happened…


    Crunch time

    Third quarter vitals:
    Saints ran 16 plays for 147 yards and 14 points.
    Eagles ran 11 plays for 124 yards and 7 points.

    This is a really good game.

    On another note, it’s good to see the Punt, Pass & Kick kids out on the field at the end of the third quarter. Better yet, get a good look at those kids now because they’re going places – after all, you’re reading the words of the 1979 trophy winner from the Washington, D.C. area.

    Damn right.


    Who has No. 26?

    I’m no expert so I don’t know why Deuce McAllister is running all over the Eagles. Is it because they are eyeballing Reggie Bush too much? Or is it because they are keying on Drew Brees?

    Whatever it is, McAllister is having a game and he’s making it look easy. His 11-yard catch was his second TD of the game and gave the Saints a 27-21 lead. It was also his fourth catch for 20 yards to go with 12 rushes for 110 yards.

    So what’s the deal? Is Jim Johnson going to figure this out before it’s too late?


    Keep your eyes open

    So a guy gets up to go into the kitchen to poke around in the refrigerator and the next thing he see is the Eagles kicking off after a replay of Brian Westbrook’s back dashing 62 yards down the field for a touchdown.

    Serves me right.

    Westbrook’s run is the longest touchdown dash in Eagles’ playoff history, breaking the 48-yarder Westbrook had last week against the Giants. More interestingly, the Eagles have had four series in which they ran just three plays and have scored in two of them.

    Either way, the Saints counterpunched with a big drive of their own culminating in Deuce McAllister’s pack-moving, 5-yard run to make it 21-20.

    Don’t blink and stay out of the kitchen.


    Good night from Charlotte

    Bobcats 89, 76ers 83

    The Sixers were lead by a double-double by Samuel Dalmebert (12 points, 15 boards) and a game-high 19 points from Willie Green. Six Bobcats scored in double figures, including rookie Adam Morrison, who kept the hair out of his eyes long enough to pour in 17 points.



    Following Reggie Bush’s touchdown, the Eagles marched right down the field using a bunch of creative plays as well as some deft running and throwing by Jeff Garcia. With all of that it looks as if the slugfest that was advertised is on.

    Brian Westbrook dropped a sure-bet TD pass on a well-established screen pass, but gave the Birds the 14-13 lead when he dived in from a yard or two out. More telling than Westbrook recovering from the drop to score was that it took the Eagles 11 plays and 4:39 to go 80 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

    Try this – the Eagles lead the game despite being out-rushed 97-14.

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    Reg-gie! Reg-gie!

    Reggie Bush could have been tackled as soon as he ran off the rear of his left guard. Instead he bounced to his right, ran hard at an angle to the corner and barely got his right foot inside of the pylon for a touchdown.

    It was a pretty good play against some decent defense.

    Better yet, didn’t we see Bush crawling around on all fours after Sheldon Brown put that big hit on him during the opening possession? It seems as if Reggie Bush is pretty tough and it seems as if his Saints have a 13-7 lead.

    Reggie is supposed to be the one Bush to save New Orleans. Actually, it might not be as drastic as that, but he appears to have lifted some of the spirits of the folks in New Orleans. The announcers at the Super Dome can’t stop talking about how loud the joint is as they all chanted “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” after the go-ahead TD.

    Personally, my Reggie of choice is No. 44. If there was ever one player I would have liked to cover on a regular basis it’s Reggie Jackson of Cheltenham, Pa.

    How much fun would that have been? No one would have had to dig for a story. Reggie would have one for you every day.

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    Go long...

    Donte' Stallworth used to play for the Saints. He was there last season when it looked as if the world was going to end and, undoubtedly, feels some attachment for that great, suffering city.

    It also well known that Stallworth wasn’t too happy to leave New Orleans and, suffice it to say, wouldn’t mind seeing the Saints’ season end tonight. So to further that cause, Stallworth got as wide open as a receiver can get and fielded Jeff Garcia’s long, high-dangling bomb like it was a punt. With another nifty little cutback across the grain, Stallworth had the longest touchdown reception in the Eagles’ playoff history with his 75-yard snag good enough to give his new team a 7-6 lead.

    Is that touchdown grab the one to get the Eagles going? They really haven’t looked too inspiring thus far. In fact, my wife expressed her boredom, tossed aside her magazine and fell asleep on the couch. Still, she made it longer than I expected. Earlier I guessed she would fall asleep with 10 minutes to go in the first quarter…

    Hey, what do you want? It’s been a long day, she has an active 2½ –year old boy, she’s pregnant and God knows I’m no day at the beach, either.

    One more thing about Stallworth: he was a member of the champion Lancaster Crackers in the PSFL.


    Hanging around

    At the end of 3, the 76ers trail the Bobcats, 67-62. Willie Green has helped the Sixers push up that field-goal percentage with his team-leading 19 points.


    Si, Un chien andalou, si

    Eagles’ linebacker Dhani Jones claims to be a fan of Salvador Dali. I’m wondering if Jones finds Dali’s collaborations with Man Ray, Luis Buñuel or Walt Disney most appealing?

    My guess is that Jones likes the melting clocks, or The Persistence of Memory as it’s better known. Just don't tell me that those clocks are a metaphor for the Eagles' season.

    It would be nice if Jones tackled as well as he talked, huh? If so, the saints' would not have out-rushed the Eagles 71-6 in the first quarter and it wouldn't be 6-0 early in the second quarter thanks to a few long passes from Drew Brees and another field goal from John Carney.

    Sidenote: Dhani Jones and I have the same ART therapist. Mark Simoneau, Duce Staley, Joey Porter and a bunch of other Steelers and Ravens also see my guy.

    On another note, don't let anyone tell you ART or chiropractic treatments don't work. They do.

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    Not so easy anymore

    Of all the great American cities, New Orleans is the one place I always wanted to visit but never had the chance. What’s not alluring about The Big Easy? Wine, women and song? It’s like every day is the Mummer’s Day parade in New Orleans, only, you know… it’s cool.

    I wanted to go to New Orleans before I read John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces or watched Easy Rider. When I was in college – and even a few years afterwards -- Mardi Gras looked like it was the must-take trip despite assurances from former New Orleans residents that it was “garbage.” But truth be told I’m in love with that crazy, hoodoo-voodoo jazz music, and if I ever have my way, I want to have a New Orleans-style funeral.

    No sense getting everyone down. Why not be happy and think, “Man, we’re sorry that you’re gone but we’re sure glad that you got to be here… let’s celebrate.”

    That just seems to make a lot more sense than the cold grimness that accompanies most wakes.

    That was then, of course. I don’t think I want to go to New Orleans these days. You know, after. It just breaks my heart too much and even a New Orleans-themed dirge can’t liven my spirit.

    That could change, though, as long as the “new” New Orleans isn’t some manufactured, homogeneous Manayunk-looking frat boy/yuppie haven. New Orleans was always appealing because it was down-and-dirty with that don’t-worry-be-happy vibe sung by Satchmo with Dr. John on the keys and the Marsalis and Neville brothers on the backup.

    I can go to a Starbucks or Fridays in any suburb anywhere.

    Anyway, it looks as if the Eagles’ defense is struggling against the running game with Deuce McAllister racking up 44 yards on three carries. One of those rushes – a 28-yarder up the gut – set up John Carney’s 33-yard field goal for the game’s first points.

    Meanwhile, the Eagles’ offense appears to be struggling, too. The only thing keeping the Eagles in it has been the Saints’ mistakes. So far the Saints have the remedy for Brian Westbrook.


    © 2006 - John R. Finger - all rights reserved