Saturday, March 31, 2007

In the need of relief

After looking at the names above the lockers in the Phillies’ clubhouse on Friday night it’s obvious that the team really needs another reliever or two. Because of the roster moves made on Friday where Jon Lieber and Freddy Garcia were placed on the disabled list retroactive to March 23, it seems very likely that Zach Segovia, the second-round draft pick from 2002 who missed all of 2004 recovering from Tommy John surgery, will make the Opening Day roster despite never having pitched above Double-A.

Of course there are a lot of successful big league pitchers who never pitched in Triple-A and Segovia could be one of them based on his solid numbers in 2006. But is Segovia a pitcher on a playoff-bound team in 2007? Maybe he is though it seems evident that the Phillies’ brass would rather have a complimentary arm or two.

As Ruben Amaro Jr. said while standing in the middle of a veritable rugby-esque scrum of baseball scribes, “The fact we're going to have Opening Day on Monday for us doesn't mean we're going to stop working. We're going to continue to try and improve our club. We feel comfortable with what we have right now and actually, the bullpen has thrown very well lately. They get a chance to hold down their jobs.”

Meanwhile, here’s what the authors of the Baseball Prospectus 2007 yearbook say about the Blue Jays’ Francisco Rosario, the reliever reported to be the subject of trade talks:

Once considered a high-upside guy, Francisco Rosario has had his share of arm troubles and has gotten older without the upside coming around, but he could be salvaged as a decent arm out of the bullpen if he maintains the uptick in control he experienced with Syracuse last year.

More observations and notes
Cole Hamels gave up four home runs to the Red Sox on Friday night, but he didn’t look all that bad. The telling at-bat was when the lefty had Manny Ramirez in a 0-2 hole, seemingly had him struck out on a 1-2 curve before giving up a 3-2 homer that sailed over the right-field fence like a waffle ball gently clearing a hedge in a suburban yard.

Afterwards, Hamels said he was just working on some stuff.

“I'm just throwing pitches on counts that I normally wouldn't,” Hamels said, noting that he threw 20-plus pitches in each of the first two innings. “I think along the lines of throwing fastballs in fastball hitters’ counts, which is just something that will help me in the long run.”

***
This is the fourth season for Citizens Bank Park, which is one year more than the amount of time I spent covering games at the Vet… how did that happen? Regarding the Bank, I’ve received a number of e-mails from readers suggesting I post reviews of the cheese steaks and other concessions at the park. I assume these suggestions are serious so I’ll just start by noting that I’m one of those annoying vegetarians that leans toward the organic side of dining. That said, I was informed that Rick's Steaks, the cheese steakery located on Ashburn Alley now serves something they call a “veggie” cheese steak, which I assume is not a steak at all. Besides, all vegetarians want to eat food that almost tastes like dead animal carcasses. I assume my sarcasm font works…

Nevertheless, I will walk out to Rick’s and give it a try at some point and tell everyone all about it.

***
I just heard Gary Matthews work with Harry and Wheels for the first time...

***
If more evidence of the Philadelphia print media was needed, it seemed to be proven this week in its relative neglect of Ted Leo’s arrival in town to kick off his much-heralded tour of the U.S. and Europe. I say much-heralded based on the almost ridiculous amount of coverage for a performer of Leo’s ilk and political stance. Outlets like NPR produced long interviews and even presented a web cast of his show in Washington, D.C. on Thursday night, while the The New York Times, Washington Post, New York Observer, and The Onion AV Club (just to name a few) have offered glowing a full reports on the new album and tour.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia – hometown of sumptuously tufted drummer Chris Wilson – there are crickets. Actually, that’s not true or even fair. There were six or seven paragraphs in two of the town’s papers, which includes all the local shoppers and “alternative” weeklies.

Anyway, here’s the MP3 of the NPR show at the 9:30 Club in D.C. Sounded like it was a good time.

More: NPR Interview
More: A.V. Club

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Say it ain't so, Joe

This morning’s drive to the drive to the coffee shop started out just like any other. Actually, the only thing different this morning was that it was very normal. Way too normal, even. Unlike yesterday, we didn’t get run off the road by a suburban mother racing in her Prius to the coffee joint, before watching her jump out of the car while it was still moving to its resting point, jog to the shop with the driver’s side door still ajar before elbowing her way to the front of the line to order a peppermint latte…

Then she picked up a copy of The New York Times, sat down on one of the overstuffed grey chairs and began reading.

I see that kind of stuff every day and this one was almost as funny as the time when I saw a neighbor move his trash cans to edge of the driveway, take the lids off, climb on top in attempt to push the garbage further down in the receptacle. But while standing on top and jumping up and down ever so slightly to really push the trash down, the can tipped to its side like a tall tree falling in the forest. The only thing missing was someone shouting, “TIM-BER!” And all of this occurred in the time it takes one to drive by someone’s house.

Fortunately in that case the only damage was a soiled Burberry scarf, which the trash jumper likes to wear as if he was the Red Baron.

But this morning there was no speeding Prius or flying ace taking out the trash. No, this was much more sinister and came packaged in the mellifluous baritone of one of America’s most beloved sports announcers… well, that’s pushing it a bit. It was Joe Buck, not Vin Scully, and Joe was definitely selling something, which he did earnestly and without irony.

Yep, Joe wants you to buy MLB’s Extra Innings package, and he wants you to buy DirecTV, too. It’s easy, he said in his spanking new radio ad. Easier than owning cable, in fact… at least that’s what he said.

Here’s the curious part: Buck’s ad for the new DirecTV Extra Innings package was on the radio not long after senators from the Commerce Committee held a two-hour meeting with MLB President Bob DuPuy. Based on that information and the alacrity for which the Buck ad was aired, I’d guess it was produced a while ago, and I’d wager that DuPuy and the gang had no interest in negotiating a better deal with cable companies in order to sell their product to people who really, really want it.

In fact, DuPuy treated the Senators in very much the same way he did the fans by telling them that he would not agree to continue negotiating a more fan-friendly deal into the season. In other words, we’re lucky MLB lets us watch at all. Hell, we’re probably lucky they let us buy tickets while we can still afford them.

In other words, thanks Mr. DuPuy. Thanks for the new way to watch a ballgame. It kind of goes like this:

Bases loaded, two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the Phillies trailing by three with the chance to go to the playoffs for the first time since ’93 riding on this 3-2 pitch to Ryan Howard. The pitcher winds, delivers… buffering, buffering, buffering… 47 percent… buffering, buffering… 77 percent… buffering, buffering, buffering… 93 percent… buffering…

More: Baseball holds its ground on TV plans

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More trade winds...

Various reports coming from Clearwater indicate that the Phillies are working hard to add another arm to their rice-paper thin bullpen. Needless to say, it won't be this guy.

Meanwhile, the Phillies released Karim Garcia despite the fact that he hit .305 with a homer and seven RBIs during Grapefruit League action. Because of the move it appears likely that Michael Bourn and Greg Dobbs will make the 25-man roster on Opening Day. Chris Coste appears headed for the disabled list with a sore hamstring, while Jon Lieber is in the same position with his strained oblique.

I'm not going to make a joke about Lieber and his oblique muscles anymore...

This week.

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Remember his name Part II

I needed a night of sleep to cool down. Normally I’m reasonably even tempered when it comes to bad news or various injustices. I guess that attitude is a means of survival. Who knows, I’m not a psychologist. But when it comes to lies, potential conspiracies and injustice by people we’re supposed to trust and believe in, well, that’s just too much to handle.

That’s why the death of Pat Tillman and the cover up and lies they gave is enough to drive one insane. It is such a travesty and miscarriage of justice that insanity is the only way to describe it. Heartbreaking, too. It's insane and heartbreaking.

As Gary Smith wrote in Sports Illustrated, “…that's a man who lived a life as pure and died a death as muddy as any man ever to walk this rock…”

The mystery of the cover up of Tillman’s death is trying to figure out what they were afraid of. What was it about Tillman that made them burn his clothing, his diary and then lie to his family and the public? Was it that he couldn’t be labeled, ghettoized or slipped into a neat marketing package? Was it because he was intelligent? Was he a threat?

What was it?

Tillman’s mother, Mary, appeared on ESPN radio with Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann yesterday where she spoke candidly about the the latest story about what occurred to her son and she is seeking a Congressional hearing. Listen here and here. Meanwhile, here is a Google news search of all of the latest published stories regarding the Tillman case.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Nothing to see here

Today I have nothing. Not a thing to say, write or communicate. Actually, let's re-phrase that… I definitely have a lot to say, a lot to write and a lot to communicate, but just not here. Hey, you never know who is watching or reading. You know who I'm talking about. Yeah, of course you do. And if you are one of those people who I am talking about, click here.

Anyway, baseball season starts in earnest at the end of the week and for me, gearing up for my seventh year of hanging up at the ballpark, it feels like the last week of summer vacation. It's OK, though. Some people like school.

Still, a baseball season is a long road. A grind as they say. Others call the season a marathon, but as someone who has run 13 marathons, a baseball season is nothing like a marathon. Not even close. I understand the analogy, though.

And since the "marathon" is ready to begin, let's taper down and chill out on the intense baseball talk for a while. That's what marathoners do before a race – they take it easy for the final week to 10 days so they go in fresh, strong and ready to go. The thing about the taper, though, is that by the second or third day you're just chomping at the bit. You are so ready to go that it's hard to keep the pace slower than 6-minutes per mile in those short and easy workouts. Then there are all those hours left to fill that used to be spent working out. What do you do then? It's such a conundrum.

So in this taper week, where it appears likely that Big Jon Lieber, who injured his oblique muscle while swinging a bat, might start the season on the disabled list, here are a few things to check out before the long season begins.

To start, check out George Packer's expose on Iraqi translators in last week's The New Yorker. It's definitely one of those typical, sprawling New Yorker stories, but it is beyond riveting.

Speaking of riveting, my favorite radio show host (and interviewer), Terry Gross, has one of those podcasts that all of the kids are talking about. Her show, of course, is called Fresh Air with Terry Gross and it's produced in Philadelphia, but more importantly, it's portable and easier to listen to without missing an episode. George Packer was on last week and Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs was on Monday. Check it out here.

Guess what? From the "No duh" category, not only are you what you eat, but also you are also what you drink, too.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Injuries abound

This afternoon the thought crossed my mind that maybe the Phillies should give Freddy Garcia all the time he needs to recover from what was diagnosed as tendonitis of his right biceps. After all Jon Lieber was out there revving up his ample engine in the bullpen as an insurance policy. Sure, it might leave the relieving corps rice-paper thin, but at least it was something.

But then when the team announced that Lieber had strained his right oblique muscle two more thoughts zoomed through my head…

Lieber has oblique muscles? And secondly, this isn't good.

The worst part for the Phillies is that there is no timetable for Lieber's return.

Stay tuned…

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Remember his name

In a shameless news dump late Friday evening with the aim at burying a story about a cover up, it was revealed that nine officers, including four generals, were responsible for mistakes in the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman and the way it was handled and disclosed. Tillman, as most know, left the Arizona Cardinals and a multi-million dollar contract to enlist in the U.S. Army shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

As an Army Ranger, Tillman served in Iraq where he was part of the invasion in 2003. Later, Tillman was sent to Afghanistan where he was killed by friendly fire in April of 2004. His death became a national controversy after the Pentagon covered up the real circumstances of his death to, as critics allege, out of a desire to protect their image and tamp down Tillman's anti-war views and other ideologies.

So since the story was revealed so late on a Friday so that it would be hidden beneath the avalanche of coverage over Britney's bald head and the very latest up-to-date information regarding Anna Nicole Smith, we'll post a bunch of links to stories on Tillman, including his brother Kevin's essay written last November.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

'If that ain't a crock'

Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer was going to enter the witness-protection program to escape the homicidal Sideshow Bob? Of course you do. That was the one where the feds were quizzing Homer on the intricacies of the program, but for the life of him, Homer couldn’t grasp the idea of becoming Homer Thompson instead of Homer Simpson.

Here, this should help:



Anyway, lately it seems as if Major League Baseball has had as much trouble grasping what its fans want in much the same manner as Homer had in wrapping his head around the concept of a different surname. Actually, there is probably a laundry list of complaints that the regular baseball fan can levy against MLB, but for now we’ll just focus on a pair starting with the DirecTV/Extra Innings fiasco, which was enough to earn the league a spot on Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World” feature.

In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that after a few years of subscribing to the Extra Innings package on cable, I gave it up in favor of version offered on the Internets. The reason, of course, is that my laptop is typically within three feet of me at all times and if I can do a small part in making sure the revolution will be streamed instead of televised, then viva la revolucion!

By now most baseball fans who like to watch games on TV know the details of the DirecTV/Extra Innings flap and MLB’s so it should e understandable that the group who wanted to claim such public information as baseball statistics as intellectual property has no trouble taking out-of-town games away from the people who want to pay to watch them. As Olbermann said on Wednesday’s edition of Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

The bronze to Tim Brosnan, executive vice president of Major League Baseball, today rejecting the bid to keep the package of out-of-town games on cable television and satellite, rather than shifting it just to satellite. As we all know, no business strategy works quite as well as refusing to sell your products to the customers who want to buy it from you.

Indeed. But perhaps the best example of where MLB’s focus is comes from an item in Paul Hagen’s column in Friday’s Daily News. According to the story, the commissioner’s office noticed that Giants’ pitcher Barry Zito was photographed in Sports Illustrated using a burgundy-colored glove with laces of a different color…

Yeah, can you believe that? The laces are not burgundy!

Forget that Zito has used that glove for the past two seasons, MLB sent out an investigator who took pictures of the glove and forwarded them to the league office on Park Avenue in Manhattan for further investigation.

Said Zito: “I’m like, 'If that ain't a crock.'”

Here’s Hagen’s laugh-out-loud conclusion:

Watch it, Barry. You never know who might be listening.

You just can't be too careful these days. Why, if you aren't careful, next thing you know players might be trying to beat drug testing with HGH or other undetectable substances.


Yes, because we all know that using a multi-colored glove is a gateway to more self-destructive behavior. Maybe even anarchy.

***
Finally, I’d like to thank Ben Miller of the Wheatland Avenue Millers for pointing out an error in a previous post. It appears that I had claimed that Roger Waters and Syd Barrett were responsible for writing The Wall when in reality, as pointed out by Ben, Barrett had left Pink Floyd a decade before the opus had been composed.

Now if we could just get Ben to pick up on the grammatical errors in these posts.

Regardless, I regret the error and thank Ben for being both a diligent reader and a true arbiter of useless information. Thanks, Ben.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Feelin' groovy

It just figures that on the day Jon Lieber was banished to a seat near the parking lot in the bullpen so he can be closer to his environment-hating vehicle that Freddy Garcia would struggle through an outing with a sore right biceps.

Maybe they can trade Lieber for another starter?

Kidding (kind of) aside, if Garcia’s biceps turns out to be anything that could sideline him for any period of time general manager Pat Gillick will look very bright for not trading Lieber… that is if he even attempted to trade the big righty. With such a dearth of quality pitching out there it’s amazing that there wasn’t any team that wanted to make a deal. And in talking to the writers after receiving the news that he was no longer a starter, Lieber pressed on the notion that someone ought to want him as a starter.

Quoth Lieber: “It's either 29 teams really don't like me, or they're asking too much …”

Most importantly, neither the Phillies nor Garcia seems too concerned about the biceps, the pitcher’s rather pedestrian velocity during the spring or his 11.42 ERA. Better yet, the only the Phillies seem concerned about is the bullpen.

Regarding Garcia’s velocity that reportedly has topped out at approximately 88 m.p.h., assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, “He started off throwing 80 or 81 (m.p.h.). He's a veteran guy. He knows how to get himself ready. People who have arm injuries usually their velocity goes (down), but his was building. Pain is an inhibitor of velocity. We were encouraged he was going north.”

There. All better.

In the meantime, Garcia will b re-evaluated on Saturday when team physician Michael Ciccotti arrives in Clearwater.

***
Here’s what I know about hockey:

a.) Keith Jones is one of the greatest story tellers ever. He’s like the Canadian Mark Twain or something. That guy can spin a yarn about anything and even better for whomever he’s with, he often does.
b.) When ESPN broadcast the NHL before the lockout, the national ratings rated below the WNBA.
c.) Boy is that Keith Jones ever a fun guy.
d.) The NHL or hockey seems to be able to take the extraordinary, like, for instance, a fight, and make it mundane. Actually, boring is a better word. Sometimes it seems as if the fights in the NHL are choreographed or worse, detracting from what really is an exciting sport. In the case of Todd Fedoruk, the Flyers’ designated fighter who was taken off the ice on a stretcher and to a hospital in Manhattan last night after catching a right-hand lead square on the jaw from Colton Orr, the recent bouts of fighting have bordered on dangerous. At least that’s the way it seemed to this untrained eye, which has seen Fedoruk catch more than his share of blows to the head lately. It seems as if Fedoruk isn’t just putting his career in jeopardy with the continued fighting, but perhaps even his long-term health as well.
e.) Have we mentioned Keith Jones?

***
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists new record is out and ready to be downloaded, burned or however else people legally obtain music these days. Critics are giving Leo’s Living with the Living much-deserved rave reviews, though in this wannabe critics’ view, the album isn’t as strong as his earlier releases.

Nevertheless, there are many more hits than misses in Leo and his Pharmacists’ latest opus, including live staples “The Sons of Cain” and “Army Bound.”

And the live performances are really where Leo’s appeal is. If he isn’t the hardest working and most engaging man in the music biz, then he’s damn close. Better yet, do yourself a favor and go see Leo & the Pharmacists at the TLA on South Street next Wednesday night. You’ll thank me later.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Garcia leaves game with tightness

So maybe it's a good thing the Phillies still have Jon Lieber after all. And maybe his trip to the bullpen will be short lived for the time being.

Either way, that's all up in the air after Freddy Garcia left Wednesday night's Grapefruit League game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin after just 32 pitches. Garcia left the game complaining of tightness in his right biceps after giving up three runs on five hits (including a homer to Troy Glaus) in the first inning in what was supposed to be an 85-pitch outing.

Most troublesome is that Garcia has been struggling with his velocity (and his 9.39 ERA) all spring, topping out in the mid 80s on Wednesday.

Garcia will be examined by team's trainers before a diagnosis is offered tomorrow.

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Phils push Lieber to 'pen

According to published reports, the verdict is in and pitcher Jon Lieber is out… out of the rotation, at least.

Faced with a surplus of starting pitching and a dearth of arms in the bullpen, manager Charlie Manuel announced that the decision had been made to shift Lieber from the rotation to the bullpen effective immediately.

Lieber’s status with the Phillies had been in question ever since the team acquired Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton last December. Ever since then Lieber has been viewed as a top bargaining chip in a deal to get a much-needed arm in the bullpen the team covets. However, with opening day looming and the team unable to broker a suitable deal for Lieber, the veteran pitcher will work out of the bullpen for the first time since 1996 when he appeared in 36 games as a reliever and 15 as a starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

With Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Garcia and Eaton all in the mix to hold down spots in the rotation, Lieber was viewed as the odd man out. However, Eaton and Lieber were both on record saying they would accept an assignment to the ‘pen if that was what was best for the club.

Nevertheless, Lieber, who underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2003 season, is not pleased about the decision.

“I'm disappointed,” Lieber told reporters in Clearwater, Fla. “I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. I'm going to do it for these guys in here, but I think I can still start. It sucks. I signed here to be a starter.

“It's either 29 teams really don't like me, or they're asking too much,” Lieber said of the club’s inability to trade him. “I still think I can throw 200 innings. I still think I can win a lot of games for this club. If somebody somewhere doesn't think I can, I wish they'd tell me and let's move on.”

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Tough choices

There was a time during our post-collegiate days where my sister and I attended a party in which one of the other attendees put Pink Floyd’s The Wall in the CD player (these were the days before the proliferation of mp3 files) and proceeded to tell us about how Roger Waters and Syd Barrett were not on performance-enhancing substances when composing the songs that were presented on the album. The fact that my sister and I didn’t really care about Pink Floyd and what they did to prepare for composing music nor that the guy who had cornered us had not presented a well-thought out argument really mattered.

What mattered, I suppose, is that some random guy at a party (who we suspect was on some type of “performance-enhancing drugs” at the time of his presentation) thought it was important enough to defend the notion that Pink Floyd was clean when writing The Wall in very much the same way people acted when andro was found in Mark McGwire’s locker during his assault on the home run records in 1998. Or the same way some people take up Barry Bonds’ case even though there is compelling proof that he allegedly used performance-enhancing drugs with the notion that, “well, they weren’t illegal when he was using them.”

As if that makes it better.

The point is we want our heroes to be “clean” as well as articulate, thoughtful and model citizens when in reality all they are is human. I don’t know if the members of Pink Floyd ever used drugs, and I guess I don’t really care, either. Drugs, as William S. Burroughs once said, are an inevitable part of life. And, as the late comedian Bill Hicks noted, if a person is so adamantly opposed to drug use, he needs to throw away all of his music, movies, quit his job and should stop watching sports.

Needless to say, none of this realistic, but it makes for interesting reading. In that regard, writer Chuck Klosterman examined the dichotomy of why it’s probably OK that Pink Floyd may have used performance-enhancing substances, but not football player Shawne Merriman in a story for ESPN.

In the story, Klosterman writes that every day sports fans are going to have to make some tough decisions.

More: Why we look the other way (Klosterman)

More: Inside the steroid sting (from SI)

***
Speaking of decisions, in Phillies news, Charlie Manuel is taking a long look at right-hander Zack Segovia for a spot in the team’s thin bullpen. According to reports from Clearwater, Segovia meets a very important requiste in that he throws strikes. Hopefully for the Phillies, that leads to getting hitters out.

As it plots out now, the Phillies’ rotation is set up to go Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton based on Opening Day on April 2.

Meanwhile, Hamels' statistics in Grapefruit League action haven’t been too good. The lefty is 0-2 with a 7.00 ERA in three starts against Major League teams, and in an outing against minor leaguers yesterday in an attempt to iron out some mechanical issues, Hamels gave up four runs, four hits and four walks in a little less than four innings.

The good thing about this is that no one in the Phillies’ camp is too worried about these results… yet.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Playoffs?

They got out the slide rules, spread sheets, calculators with all of those funny-looking symbols and statistics to crunch the numbers and decided that the Phillies will win the NL East in 2007.

Phew! On to the playoffs.

Kidding aside – and I kid the “stat geeks” because, well, why not? – the good folks at Baseball Prospectus determined that the Phillies will win the NL East with 87 victories, edging the New York Mets by two games and Atlanta Braves by five. In fact, Baseball Prospectus predicts that the 87 victories will be the second-highest total in the National League (one game behind the Arizona Diamondbacks) sixth-best in the Majors.

Here are BP’s playoff teams:

National League
East: Phillies
Central: Brewers
West: Diamondbacks
Wild card: Padres

American League
East: Red Sox
Central: Twins
West: Angels
Wild card: Yankees

Based on this, the Phillies would play the Padres in the NLDS.

But as White Sox GM Ken Williams told the Chicago Tribune about BP’s predictions:

“That’s a good sign for us, because usually they're wrong about everything regarding our dealings.”

I won’t make my formal predictions until Opening Day eve, but here’s where I’m leaning:

National League
East: Mets
Central: Cardinals
West: Dodgers
WC: Phillies

American League
East: Red Sox
Central: Twins
West: Angels
WC: Yankees

That was easy enough. Let's get on to the champagne-soaked celebration.

***
Reports coming out of Clearwater indicate that either Adam Eaton or Jon Lieber will start the season in the bullpen. This information comes after the Phillies lost Justin Germano to the Padres who claimed him off waivers, and sent right-hander Brian Sanches to Triple-A Ottawa.

Germano was a little upset about heading to San Diego. According to the Associated Press’ Rob Maaddi:

“I'm pretty shocked,” Germano said soon after assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. informed him of the move. “I thought I was right there. I had one bad inning. I knew they didn't expect me to be perfect every time out.”

Meanwhile, players’ union head Donald Fehr will be in Clearwater to address the Phillies’ camp. Likely topics include drug testing and the World Baseball Classic.

***
Much has been made about the 76ers’ 50-point loss to the Houston Rockets on Sunday, which is the fourth-worst loss in team history. Needless to say, I didn’t watch the game and haven’t paid much attention to the aftermath, but here’s a thought: It’s reasonable to think that the Rockets could have played an entire half without scoring a single basket and still won the game.

Hey, they were up by 50!

***
Embattled Tour de France champ Floyd Landis will be near his old stomping grounds this weekend as part of his tour to raise funds for his legal defense.

As an aside, in researching the latest information on Landis, the case and his tour I participated in a message board conversation about the controversy before being attacked by someone who dubbed himself as “Pedrohead.” Besides being turned off by the whole message board experience, I’ve come to learn the identity of the character with the very apt nom de guerre, and let’s just say, “it figures.”

In the interest of full disclosure, my message board handle is, creatively, “jrfinger.” Do you think anyone will know it’s me?

***
Finally, the presentation from author Eric Schlosser at F&M College last night was quite interesting, though he didn’t stray too far from the information presented in Fast Food Nation. Nevertheless, a good time was had by all.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Randomness part 984

As written in these posts on many, many occasions, I believe the issue of performance-enhancing drugs and doping is the most important issue and story in sports now and for the foreseeable future. Actually, it’s the only story of real import but it would get pretty boring to write and read about drugging athletes all the time.

After all, sports are supposed to be entertainment.

Regardless, it should be required reading for any sports fan and/or writer to read Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. It truly is an unbelievable piece of work and parts of it read like a Cold War spy novel.

Baseball and its union should thank the authors for the book, yet instead they had the opposite reaction.

***
Similarly, I will be attending a lecture by Eric Schlosser this evening at Franklin & Marshall College. Schlosser, of course, is the author of Fast Food Nation, which examines how fast food restaurants use their economic power to exploit the culture, social conditions and public health.

Schlosser also wrote the award-winning Reefer Madness and is writing about the prison system in his next book.

It should make for an interesting evening.

***
Speaking of interesting, it’s becoming more likely that the Phillies will break camp in two weeks with six starting pitchers. According to a story in the Inquirer, the Phillies will be especially deep in the rotation, but remarkably thin in the bullpen. As written by noted casanova Todd Zolecki:

Pat Gillick said yesterday that he didn't think he would be able to make a trade for bullpen help before the season starts. He said he expected to open the season with six starting pitchers, one of which would move to the bullpen.

“Everybody is looking for the same thing,” Gillick said. “Everybody is looking for the same commodity. Everybody has a bullpen problem; nobody wants to give up a bullpen piece. If they give up a piece, it's going to create another problem for them. Who has excess?”


Anyone think Gillick is playing ‘possum?

Maybe not... according to Scott Lauber's info-packed blog, skipper Charlie Manuel has been his happy-go-lucky self lately. It seems as if the paper-thin bullpen's production this spring is wearing him out. Certainly the 'pen is not wearing out the opposition's hitters.

***
Finally, mathematics seems to have sabotaged my college basketball pool last weekend. After opening with a perfect first day in selecting winners on the first day of the tournament action, the picks made after consulting a mathematician resulted in a sub par 8-for-16 for the “Sweet 16.” Meanwhile, the picks made on hunches, a coin flips garnered 10-of-16 correct picks.

Fortunately, in both pools all of my Final 8, 4, 2 and championship teams remain.

Either way, I’m cooked.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

The long, long odds

It should be pointed out that I – Mr. I Haven’t Watched a Game All Year and I Have No Intention of Starting Now – was perfect in selecting Thursday’s opening games in the NCAA Tournament. Yep, that’s right… a perfect 16-for-16. That’s the first time I pulled that off and I seem to be headed for my best picking since I went 14-for-16 in choosing the Sweet 16 over a decade ago. In that year Old Dominion went to the Round of 16. I think they beat Villanova, too.

Regardless, like most people I filled out two pools. One was based on probability as determined by a mathematician who crunched the numbers and the other was based on what I knew about college hoops. Guess which one was perfect?

Left to my own devices I came up with Oregon, Kansas, Georgetown and Texas A&M for the Final Four, though a Penn alum told me A&M was a trendy pick and after its inconsistent showing in the opening-round victory over the Quakers, it was hard to think they were going to be in the tournament for the long haul…

Yeah, exactly. Sour grapes.

On another note regarding Penn and its basketball team, Stephen Danley, the starting forward for the Quakers, had been contributing to The New York Times’ college basketball blog called “The Bracket.” In his first entry, Danley wrote about how he and his teammates deal with cliché questions from reporters on their Ivy League pedigree and how they are so-called true “student-athletes.” Needless to say, it was pretty funny including the parts where Danley revealed the fun they have to the dim reporters doing those pad Ivy League stories.

But reading it I was struck by the clichés within the clichés. Like a riddle wrapped in an enigma covered in a conundrum. Or whatever.

How’s this for a cliché: Penn, or any other Ivy League school, in the NCAA Tournament. There, I said it. What’s the point of having those teams in the “Big Dance” when all we get to read about come March is how no Ivy League school has won a tournament game since Princeton beat UNLV in 1998 or how Princeton upset UCLA in 1996 and almost beat No. 1 Georgetown and Patrick Ewing.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Penn made it to the Final Four, and I think I know the reason why. Ready? Because it was nearly 30 years ago!

Here are some handy dandy facts from the same blog Danley contributed to:

But in the eight seasons since Princeton beat the Rebels, Ivy teams have lost by an average of 14 points and haven’t been seeded high than No. 11. That doesn’t bode well for Penn.

And:

Here are the results of the Ivy’s eight-game N.C.A.A. losing streak:

2006
No. 2 Texas 60
No. 15 Penn 52

2005
No.4 Boston College 85
No. 13 Penn 65

2004
No. 3 Texas 66
No. 14 Princeton 49

2003
No. 6 Oklahoma State 77
No. 11 Penn 63

2002
No. 6 California 82
No. 11 Pennsylvania 75

2001
No. 2 North Carolina 70
No. 15 Princeton 48

2000
No. 4 Illinois 68
No. 13 Penn 58

1999
No. 6 Florida 75
No. 11 Penn 61


Just once I’d like to see Penn – or any other Ivy League school – tell the NCAA Tournament, “thanks, but no thanks. We’re not going to travel across the country to be a first-round hors d’oeuvres for a potential national title contender. We’re going to take our chances in the NIT where we have a chance to win. We don't need to play the No. 3 seed and lose so everyone can call us 'scrappy.'”

Yeah, I know this probably isn’t a popular sentiment, but I can’t understand the logic of a team going to tournament that it has no chance of not just winning, but also being competitive. Sure, Penn could get lucky and win a game, but the thing about the NCAA Tournament is that those No. 13, 14 and 15 seeds don’t last too long after the first upset. In fact, I’d like my odds of winning the Powerball over Penn’s (or Princeton, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Cornell or Dartmouth... not Harvard -- they have it all figured out) chances to win two games in an NCAA Tournament.

But then again, what do I know. Obviously those smart kids from Penn know what's going on.

Hold on: didn’t they let Penn into the Ivy League because they were good at sports or was that Cornell?

Come on Penn folks, laugh for once. Everyone else is.

Anyway, my mathematician (an Ivy Leaguer, but not from Penn) claimed that the Quakers had a 3.8 percent chance to win a game in the tournament this year and only six other teams had worse odds.

His Final Four? Kansas, Florida, North Carolina and (ahem) Texas A&M, with Carolina beating Kansas for the championship.

Then again, he had Duke in the Sweet 16.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

No longer in the shadow

Just yesterday I picked up a copy of Game of Shadows, the expose by investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams on Barry Bonds, BALCO and the unseemly side of baseball. Though the book is incredibly researched and full of the minutest detail, my fear is that Game of Shadows only scratches the surface. Beneath lurks, perhaps, depths of ugliness, greed and cheating that is sure to be unfathomable.

I’m afraid (and I’m just basing this on hunches) the underbelly of baseball is like a Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum pulp novel. Coincidentally, Clancy owns a stake in the Baltimore Orioles. Go figure.

But in rifling through the opening chapters yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about baseball’s last major scandal, which just yesterday took a new fork in its ever-winding twists and turns in a plot that would be perfect fodder for a bad made-for-TV movie. In comparison to the steroids and HGH revelations that could knock out the punch-drunk fans, the Pete Rose scandal seems quaint. With that dirty scandal there was simply cheating, a bad cover-up and a few jail sentences that resulted in Rose essentially admitting that the investigation headed by John Dowd was correct.

Well, the investigation was sort of correct. Dowd, the civil and criminal litigator who not only is a Washington insider, but also served as Special Counsel to the Commissioner of Baseball in the investigations of Rose, George Steinbrenner, Don Zimmer and Lenny Dykstra, seems to have undershot with Rose. According to the Dowd Report, Rose bet on baseball regularly – including the Reds, the team he managed – which is a direct violation of baseball’s “Golden Rule.” But according to Rose, as revealed on ESPN radio with hosts Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, Dowd got it wrong. Rose just didn’t bet on his Reds regularly, he bet on the Reds all the time.

“I bet on my team every night. I didn't bet on my team four nights a week," Rose said during the interview with Patrick and Olbermann. “I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team, I believe in my team. I did everything in my power every night to win that game.”

That certainly is a lot different than reportedly admitting that you thought the steroid you were rubbing on your legs was flax seed oil. Who would have guessed that it was “The Cream” or “The Clear?”

Nevertheless, Pete Rose is approaching his 18th year of banishment from baseball. He also will turn 66 in a few weeks so it goes without saying that time is getting short for the so-called “Hit King” to lobby for his reinstatement to the game he says he loves so much yet still decided to treat like it owed him something. Now I don’t doubt that Rose is contrite in his repeated mea culpas, including the one that was released as a book from publisher Rodale. And I’m not going to debate whether or not Rose is sincere in apologizing for staining his game.

However, it’s so transparent that Rose wants something from baseball.

Again.

Whether or not he has properly paid for his crime and made his penance is not really for me to say, though if anyone would have asked me a few years ago I would have said that the lifetime ban was sufficient. I will say, though, that I don’t know if Rose realizes that baseball owes him nothing. Nada. Zilch. Baseball doesn’t need Pete Rose, despite what he says. In fact, baseball never needed Pete Rose. Like any art form, baseball will always exist. There will always be games whether they are in some small park in any corner of the country or at Yankee Stadium. There could be two people watching or 70,000 – it doesn’t matter. The game doesn’t exist in a vacuum and no one owns it despite what Major League Baseball leads people to believe.

To play or watch the game is a reward within itself and those who give it the proper respect and treat it with humility get to have it for life. Someone like John Vukovich got that. It doesn’t seem as if Rose ever will.

Pete Rose, it seems, had the world in the palm of his hand and spit in its face.

Worse, as Game of Shadows indicates, he wasn’t the only one.

More: Pete Rose on ESPN Radio with Olbermann and Patrick

More: The Dowd Report

More: In defense of Pete Rose

More: Pete Rose book tour hits Philadelphia (2004)

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Winds of change? Part deux

As the Phillies continue to look for ways to improve their thin bullpen, it’s interesting to note that one player seems to acknowledge that he’s the bait for the big fish. According Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Aaron Rowand appears to have accepted the notion that there is a very good chance that he will not be in Philadelphia for Opening Day.

Is he heading back to Chicago? If so, Rowand is saying… at least not in Cowley’s story:

MORE ROWAND: In the wake of a Sun-Times report last week about a possible trade to bring Aaron Rowand back to the Sox, the Phillies outfielder appeared on Mike North's morning show on WSCR-AM (670) on Tuesday and had a few interesting comments.

One that stood out was when Rowand, who always had a close relationship with Sox general manager Ken Williams, was asked if Williams ever told him that he'd bring him back to the South Side.

"I don't know if I should disclose any of that information," Rowand responded.


Meanwhile, in the same story former Phillie Gavin Floyd’s spring struggles are documented.

More: Knuckleballer Haeger making case for 5th spot

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Didn't we do this last year?

This is the week when the casual sports fan can pretend to be the biggest know-it all out there. He can pontificate on defenses, offenses, match-ups, coaching and other intangibles. He can shout all of this with such alacrity and conviction that everyone must listen and nod their head in agreement not because the shouter is making valid points, but because they want the guy to shut up.

In other words, life imitates sports talk radio. And, yes, the NCAA Tournament is about to begin.

That means everyone has their bracket filled out, checked twice and if that doesn’t work, they complete an “upsets” sheet. You know, because it’s all so scientific.

But make no mistake about it, aside from the Super Bowl, the NCAA Tournament is the one sporting event where even the casual observer or worse, the non-sports fan, can have an opinion and participate. All they have to do is fill out one of those brackets and turn it in to the sketchy guy running the office pool who always seems to win the damn thing every year.

The best part about the NCAA Tournament is that you don’t have to watch the games to be involved.

What? Don’t have to watch the games? Such sacrilege! What about the upsets and the last-second shots, and the Cinderellas, and the corny song they play at the end with all of the hightlights….

!

Yeah, well, whatever.

As one of those folks slowly morphing into a non-sports fan, I believe that the NCAA Tournament is beginning to become a parody of itself. Or a cliché. Or worse. Oh sure, the last-second shots are exciting and the upsets are cool, but it’s getting to the point when it doesn’t occur every time, the drama gets forced. Not every ending can be NC State beating Houston or Freddie Brown passing the ball to James Worthy.

Worse, the whining and complaining about what team got into the tournament or improperly seeded has reached such a pitch that it’s become completely unwatchable and unlistenable. So Drexel didn’t get invited to “The Big Dance.” I guess it shouldn’t have lost to Rider and I doubt Drexel as a bastion of academia will figure out how to trudge on even though the basketball team has to play in the NIT.

Now don’t get me wrong, I used to go crazy like everyone else about the NCAA Tournament. In fact, it’s really interesting to me that Georgetown has John Thompson as the coach and Patrick Ewing as a star player. It makes me feel like it’s 1984 all over again.

Better yet, for the last 20 years in a row, I spent the second Sunday in March in front of the television with a legal pad and a pen and marked down where, when and who each of the 53, then 64 and now 65 teams were going to play. There was no so-called bracketology involved, no whining about who was left out or wrongly seeded (though Temple’s No. 4 seed in 1994 was wrong), or no hand-wringing, boisterous and hyperbolic rants about which team was going to go to the Final Four. Simply, it was an annual ritual in its purest form.

The result was what mattered. It was that simple. There was an air of mystery about the teams and the players because the only time we (I) saw them was on TV. I didn’t know anything about Ewing, or Bird, or Sampson, or Jordan, or Bias other than what they offered during a basketball game.

Somehow, though, that mystery and pureness soured and was ruined and those old notebooks have been moved from a box in the garage to a big green plastic receptacle at the end of the driveway. Was it the corporatization and greed that has pervaded big-time athletics? Have my priorities changed that much? Has it just gotten so boring? Whatever the reason, this year I decided that all traditions must come to an end. Sure, the fact that the only reason I paid attention in the past few years was because it related to work and the Big 5 teams were a threat to make it past the first weekend of games. Then there is the fact that I haven’t watched an entire college basketball game since… gee… when was that?

I guess that’s the way it is when one gets older. Maybe those priorities and interests change because they find their proper perspective? Memories shift, too. I can still recite the Final Four from the late 1960s to about the early or mid 1990s. As for last year or the year before that I have no idea.

And this stuff used to matter – relatively speaking, of course.

Here’s the point: I’m old, and who wants to listen to Billy Packer whine or Dick Vitale get tangled up in the lies of the mission of college athletics? Not me.

But man oh man those games used to be a lot of fun. I’m sure they still are to a lot of people, so excuse this old man as he steps aside to let others have fun without another know-it-all boring everyone to tears.

And if you’re looking for help on the bracket, try this Final Four: Oregon, UCLA, Georgetown and Memphis with Georgetown and Oregon going all the way to the end.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Deep thoughts...

Here’s an idea that will probably make a few people hold their heads as if they have a really bad migraine – you know, the kind where it pounds at the temples and feels as if someone or thing is shooting a low frequency wave through the skull that emits a shrill buzz in the inner ear – and question my sanity for such “unconventional” thinking.

I’m throwing it out there any way…

Maybe the Phillies should keep all of their starting pitchers. Yeah, that’s right, all Six. Before anyone goes crazy, here’s what I’d do – Cole Hamels, Freddy Garcia and Brett Myers would pitch every five days just like they customarily would in the square-boxed thinking that guides such things. Meanwhile, I’d try to figure out how to work it so that Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and Jon Lieber started at least one game a week and if there were too long of a lull between outings, I’m sure there would be some relief work available, too.

What?

Exactly. My guess is that Moyer, Eaton and Lieber would be perfect compliments to the top three starters and would be much more effective if they were used like a dash of seasoning instead of as a main course. Better yet, if the trio made one start per week over a 26-week season then they would be that much fresher when the stretch run approached. Besides, it seems to me that good baseball teams treat the season like a chess match or a golf game where the importance of a move or shot is to put one in position to have an even better move or shot the next time.

Hey, I’m not kidding myself by believing that any manager or team would go for something like this, but what the hell? It certainly isn't convention thinking, but ideas have to come from somewhere. Right?

***
Meanwhile, it looks as if Tom Gordon’s achy shoulder is aching again.

Last season, as everyone remembers, Gordon broke down a bit and went on the disabled list in August despite a first half in which he earned a trip to the All-Star Game. At 39, the Phillies are concerned about over working their starter as evidenced by the fact that he’s appeared in just two Grapefruit League games and by the fact that they sent him back to Philadelphia for a checkup with team doctor Michael Ciccotti.

Before anyone jumps to any conclusions (how could they?), the team says the trip is simply for a routine checkup and it’s something that occurred last year at this time, too. But before anyone can say Mike Jackson, perhaps the Phillies ought to get another arm for the ‘pen to go along with Ryan Madson and Antonio Alfonseca.

Until that happens, be sure that Charlie Manuel sticks to his guns and allows Gordon just one inning per outing no back-to-back work early in the season.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Winds of change?

At first it looked like nothing more than a Tasters Choice moment between a couple of guys hanging around the batting cages at the ol’ ballpark in Dunedin. Better yet, just a couple of old pros – one a legend in the game after decades of leading all of his teams to the playoffs and the other a younger innovator who subscribes to the modern methods – talking shop and kicking around a few ideas before the start of a new season.

But with Pat Gillick work something that occurs like breathing. Sure, it might look like he’s simply standing there by himself and staring off into the bright Florida sunshine while the seabirds swoop and swoon overhead, but he’s really working. Just standing there like that he’s doing about 20 things that the casual observer would never notice.

J.P. Ricciardi, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and Gillick’s pal on that day last week around the batting cages in Dunedin, knows this. He’s heard the stories and knows the legend of Pat Gillick. After all, he’s the measuring stick for all who go to work for Blue Jays.

Be that as it is, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a BBWAA card holder to realize that there are some trade winds swirling around the Phillies’ camp in Clearwater. Perhaps all it takes is a quick glance at the Phillies’ roster and the box scores from Grapefruit League action to know that the team needs some help getting people out. And with the season set to begin in a little more than three weeks, Gillick needs to get his pitching staff together.

According to published reports, Aaron Rowand and Jon Lieber are the names the Phillies are floating out there, though losing Rowand for relief pitching leaves the team with a big hole in the outfield. A deal in which Lieber went to the Jays for outfielder Alex Rios had surfaced, but Ricciardi rejected it… with impugnity.

From Peter Gammons:

Right now Geoff Geary (7-1, 2.96), Antonio Alfonseca, Ryan Madson and Matt Smith comprise Gordon's supporting cast. No, says Manuel, Myers is not going to the bullpen, but they have been looking at other relievers, including San Diego's Scott Linebrink. One rumor in the scouts' section would have sent Jon Lieber to Toronto, Alex Rios to the Padres and Linebrink to Philadelphia, but the Toronto folks shot that down. They say when they were approached about Rios, they asked for Myers, and have no interest in swapping a potential All-Star outfielder for Lieber.

From Buster Olney:

About some of the trade stuff going on so far: The Phillies-Jays talks regarding pitching Jon Lieber and outfielder Alex Rios are completely dead. “They (the Jays) aren't trading Rios for Lieber,” one talent evaluator said flatly.

However, heard some rumblings about a possible fit between the Rangers and Phillies involving Lieber, and as Joe Cowley wrote Friday, the Phillies are talking with the White Sox about Aaron Rowand.


Something is gonna happen.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

John Vukovich 1947-2007

The plan was to write a tribute to John Vukovich, but there is just no way to do it within the confines of this or any other web site. There just isn't enough server space to do justice to what the man meant to every facet of baseball in Philadelphia. Oh, I started to write, alright, but just couldn't rein it in. yesterday I wrote more than 3,000 words with the thought of editing it down to something a little more digestible for readers, but when I sat down to work on it this morning I ended up writing another 3,000 words and I was nowhere close to being finished.

There are just too many stories. Way, way too many stories. If a person is judged by the stories they possess or that others have about them, then John Vukovich was truly the gold standard.

So excuse me while I save whatever I come up with for later. Explaining what John Vukovich meant to the Phillies, the writers that covered the Phillies, and Major League Baseball in Philadelphia is like trying to describe why the sky is blue in 10 words or less. Sure, it might be possible to do, but chances are something is missing.

That said, I'll leave at this: We might not have known it at the time, but John Vukovich was the reason why people go to the ballpark every day. He is also the reason why people sit at home and watch games on TV. It's not just his fingerprints that are all over the franchise, but his blood, sweat, tears and everything else a person can throw into a life spent trying to always do the right thing.

I thought that he was going to be there forever. I thought that 10 years from now I would be able to show up at the ballpark and see him in the third row of seats in the press box holding court with the scouts, scribes, execs and other lifers. I thought that one day they were going to have to go in and drag him out of there.

Going to the ballpark will never be the same ever again.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Remembering John Vukovich

“As a player, coach, instructor, advisor and above all, friend, he made a tremendous contribution to our organization and all of us. He was a fierce competitor who possessed tremendous baseball knowledge and had great respect for the game. He always wanted to see the game played right.

“Vuk battled his illness privately and with dignity with his loving wife Bonnie, daughter Nikki, and son Vince, by his side.

“Since the day he signed with us in 1966, Vuk devoted himself to baseball and the Phillies. Today we lost our good friend and a special member of our Phillies family.”
David Montgomery,
Phillies President


“Vuk was special. I’ve had the honor to know John for 37 years and I will never forget him. He was a Phillie through and through. Vuk had a great sense of humor, terrific knowledge of the game of baseball and was a fantastic family man. His passing is a great loss to the Phillies family and baseball as a whole. My prayers go out to his wonderful family.”
Bill Giles,
Phillies Chairman


“We knew each other for over 30 years from spring training. Being with Vuk last season I realized he had one of the sharpest minds in the game.

“His experience and knowledge was invaluable to our management team and he contributed greatly to changing the face of the club for 2007.

“He had a great sense of humor and a tremendous love and respect for the game.

“We will all miss him very much. My heart goes out to Bonnie and his family.”
Pat Gillick,
General Manager


“Vuk is much more than a friend to me. Vuk is family. Ever since I can remember being on a baseball field--from Eugene, Oregon (at 5 years old) to the GM’s box at Citizens Bank Park--he has been a special part of my life.

“He helped me grow as a man; as a Major League baseball player; as a Major League executive. Very few people in my life have helped shape me as a person and as a baseball man as has Vuk.

“I can remember spending many hours in Chicago at my father’s high-rise condo (Vuk was a boarder there) discussing why I thought it was so much easier to lay off the high fastball rather than the low pitch. Vuk and I had a lot of arguments over the years and that was the first one. Of course, he was right. I was wrong. This was usually the case, but not always.

“I will remember him as a friend, coach, mentor and a host of many other things, but what he was most for me is family.”
Ruben Amaro Jr.,
Assistant General Manager


“The Phillies and baseball have lost an outstanding baseball man and he will be greatly missed. His work as a spring training organizer, infield instructor, as well as a bench and third-base coach often went unnoticed by the general public. But, all of those people in baseball held a great deal of respect for his vast experience and knowledge. His passing leaves a great void that will be hard to fill.”
Mike Arbuckle,
Assistant GM, Scouting and Player Development


“I have so many memories of the times he and I spent together. I watched him grow up in baseball, give every ounce of himself to reach his goal in the major leagues and stay there.

“Vuk was very important to me and our success in 1980, not so much for what he did on the field, but what he did in the clubhouse and behind the scenes. He understood and helped carry my message. It helped us win a championship and put rings on our fingers.

“He helped me turn around the franchise in Chicago. We became one of the best in baseball and he was a big part of the success.

“He worked and taught the Phillies players how to be professional and play the game the right way during his coaching career with the Phils. That was his strength.

“I respected him for his baseball knowledge, dedication to the game and the Phillies, his loyalty to his managers and organizations, his honesty and his work ethic. He was one of the best baseball men I’ve ever been around.

“Vuk was one of my best friends. I will miss him terribly, including the many heated arguments we had. Sylvia and I send our deepest sympathies to Bonnie, Nicole and Vince. He may be gone, but he will never ever be forgotten.”
Dallas Green,
Senior Advisor to Pat Gillick


“John was one of my closest friends. Our relationship began over 40 years ago when he signed with the Phillies. He was not only a true baseball man but also an ardent hunter. Over the years, we spent a lot of time together on deer stands and in duck blinds.

“One of Vuk’s outstanding qualities was his innate ability to tell it the way it was. You always knew exactly where he stood on any issue whether it pertained to baseball or not.

“I will miss him and greatly appreciate his years of service to the Phillies organization both on and off the field.”
Ruly Carpenter,
Former Phillies Owner


“He was the best friend I had. He was a man’s man, a very honest person.

“As a teammate and long-time friend I am saddened at the passing of John Vukovich. He was a favorite of mine, being the first major league player I met upon signing in 1971, a teammate in triple-A Eugene in 1972, a long-time teammate in Philly, and an opponent with the Reds and Cubs. He affected countless of us in the years he gave to baseball as a player and coach. While he will most be remembered for his defensive skills at third base, I will most remember his charm, smile, and endearing wit. The Phillies family has lost another lovable and treasured member. Donna and I join everyone in prayer for Bonnie, Vince, Nicole, and the rest of the Vukovich family during this difficult time.”
Mike Schmidt

“I've known John since 1968, when we played instructional league and minor league ball together, then on to the big leagues. I roomed with Bowa and everybody knows that Vuk, Bowa and myself became good friends. He made a difference in my life, as well as my approach to the game. John WAS Mr. Baseball in Philly. I will remember him first as a great family man, as well as one of my best friends. I surely will miss seeing him and talking baseball at the BBQ stand. My prayers go out to his family.”
Greg Luzinski

"Vuk was a man's man. He was tough on and off the field as a player and a coach. He knew the game of baseball as well as anyone and was a most important fixture in the Phillies organization. After going through what we did with the Tugger, this is another sad time for the Phillies and certainly Vuk's family and friends. He was a loyal friend and a terrific teammate. We will all miss him."
Larry Christenson

“Vuk was one of my favorite teammates. He embraced the game and was very supportive of all his teammates. He got along with everyone, welcomed me with open arms, and I will miss him.”
Pete Rose

“Vuk was a dear friend since 1969 – a great baseball man. We stayed tight because of baseball for a lot of years. There is no one with higher character in the game.”
Bob Boone

“Vuk was a deer hunter and so am I. We used to tell each other lies: how big the one was we got the year before and how big the one was that got away. On one of our baseball road trips, I was wearing a bronze deer head for a belt buckle. Vuk saw it and said he needed to find one like that. I immediately took mine off and gave it to him. Every time I saw him after that, he always had that buckle on.

“I know I feel the same as every other member of the Phillies family; if I was ever in a bar room fight, or if I just needed a friend to talk to, I would want Vuk standing beside me. God bless his family.”
Ron Reed

“I got my first taste of the big leagues around Vuk. He showed me the proper way to go about my business and I respected him a lot for that. His knowledge of baseball was second to none and I’m definitely going to miss him.”
Chase Utley

“Vuk always showed me a lot of love. I got to play with his son Vince [in the minor leagues], so he came to a lot of games. He always had good things to say about me. We will miss him, we all love him and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Ryan Howard

“He was like a brother to me … one of the most loyal people I’ve ever met in baseball.”
Jim Fregosi,
Former Phillies manager


"We are blessed beyond measure to live our lives within the game of baseball. It is the nature of the game that through many years we make hundreds upon hundreds of acquaintances. Culled from those acquaintances are a very few select precious friends - friends for all of life, friends through wins and losses, through tears and high fives, friends whose families you watch grow up.

“I began with the Cubs in 1982 with Vuk - his first year with the Cubs. He became my first friend in baseball and one of those three or four people that will forever be my friend. My dad died three weeks into my first baseball season in 1982. Since then, I think of him practically every single day. I'll be doing the same with my buddy Vuk."
Ned Colletti,
General Manager, Los Angeles Doddgers


“We talked on the phone 3-4 times a week for years. He loved to hang up in the middle of a conversation which would tick me off. Vuk called me every year on my birthday, including this January when he was in a weakened condition. That really touched me. In life you can count your real, real friends on one hand. He was one of my five fingers.”
Don Zimmer,
Senior Baseball Advisor, Tampa Bay Devil Rays


“In my short time in Philly, I would say that Vuk had the greatest impact on me, not only as a coach of mine, but also as a friend. Sitting on the bench and talking baseball and life and hunting, he became a very good friend of mine. It’s very sad to hear what happened.

“He was a very special man who had a knack for making people smile.

“He had a way of running spring training like no other. It was fun because of that grumpiness but you could tell he always loved you. Just Vuk being Vuk lifted everyone every day in the spring when he would give his talks. He made baseball fun and I feel fortunate to have learned from a great baseball mind.

“I love him so much and will miss him.”
Jim Thome,
Chicago White Sox first baseman


“Our thoughts and prayers are with Bonnie, Nicole and Vince. There’ll be a lot of people in heaven toeing the line.”
Terry Francona,
Boston Red Sox manager


"Vuk always had a great reputation and I knew a lot of people in the game respected him. But I didn't know him that well until we went to Japan together on the Major League tour a few years ago. We became good friends and I could see why everyone loved and respected him so much. This is like losing one of our own - he will be missed by everyone."
Bobby Cox,
Atlanta Braves manager


“John Vukovich was the epitome of the phrase ‘a baseball man.’ As a player and coach, he always gave the game everything he had with 100% determination. As intense a competitor as he was, he still had time to laugh and have fun with his contemporaries.

“He will be sorely missed and forever remembered.

“My prayers and thoughts are with Bonnie and her family.”
Harry Kalas,
Phillies Hall of Fame announcer


“John Vukovich was a throwback. He believed that wearing the uniform of a professional baseball team was an honor and a privilege. He wanted players to be professionals and play the game right and he never wavered in his belief. Many players fought his ways while playing for his teams but they always returned at some point and thanked him for making them better players and people.

“Vuk was the best friend a man could have and he loved a good argument. He was rough and tough on the outside but truly was a kind, gentle man who would do anything to help his friends.

“I was lucky enough to be one of those friends and will never forget all the life lessons he taught
me. I will miss his friendship and advice.

“But most of all I will miss those wonderful talks at all hours of the day or night. He was a man's man and a Philadelphia Phillie to the very end.”
Chris Wheeler,
Phillies Broadcaster


“It's an unbelievable loss for baseball, not just for the Phillies, but for all of baseball. He touched so many players. He had a hard side to him, but most people never saw how big his heart was.”
Larry Andersen,
Phillies Broadcaster


“I first met John in 1979 when he was playing for the Phillies’ Oklahoma City farm club and I was working in the minor leagues for the Cardinals. We reunited 10 years later when I came to Philadelphia. Vuk was so helpful to me in getting settled in the area and adjusted to the Phillies organization.

“I was truly amazed at his many ‘connections’ with people ranging from real estate to cars to even firewood! I soon came to realize just how many friends he had.

“He was a hard-nosed competitor on the field and in the clubhouse, but off the field he had a heart of gold and would do anything in the world for you if you were one of his friends. He loved baseball and insisted that the game be played the right way. He commanded the respect of even the toughest guys on the club.

“He was proud to be a Major Leaguer and most of all a Phillie. He truly loved the Phillies and the people of Philadelphia. We have lost a great Phillie and I have lost a dear friend. My prayers go out to Bonnie and the family.”
Frank Coppenbarger,
Director, Team Travel and Clubhouse Services, Phillies


“I spent seven years coaching with him in the big leagues and I learned more about baseball through him than I had in my entire career. We didn’t just lose a good baseball man, we lost a great person. You can’t replace a John Vukovich as either a baseball man or a human being.”
Ramon Henderson,
Phillies Bullpen Coach


"John was old-school when it came to the game of baseball and life. He wanted the game played the right way and he worked tirelessly to make players better. And, he lived his life the right way. He was loyal to his friends and devoted to his family, and he had a lot of fun along the way.

“He was the kind of guy who everyone wants to have as a friend, and I am blessed to be able to say that he was my friend."
Ed Wade,
San Diego Padres scout


“He was a very dear friend the last half of my life. Our friendship went beyond being in the clubhouse together.

“He was the most loyal and intelligent coach I’ve ever been associated with.

“I will always remember him. That will never go away.”
Lee Elia,
Tampa Bay Devil Rays scout


“John was very assertive in his coaching and knew one way and that was to win. He was a no-nonsense guy working with players. Vuk was a big part of the success we had in 1993.”
Lee Thomas,
Former Phillies GM


“John was the consummate baseball man. He took his job seriously, but made friends easily. He will be missed by everyone in the Cubs organization.”
John McDonough,
Interim President, Chicago Cubs


“If I was ever to do battle with anyone I would want John Vukovich in my corner. Loyalty and strength was what Vuk was about. I love John Vukovich.”
Bruce Froemming,
National League umpire


“There is not much you can say. John was a good baseball man and a good father. He was just a good man, period. He has been a good friend for a long time.”
Pat Corrales,
Washington Nationals coach


The Phillies welcome their fans to e-mail their remembrances of John Vukovich to remembervuk@phillies.com

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Be careful for what you wish for

The New York papers are getting a lot of mileage out of Jimmy Rollins’ proclamation that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East. Like a sadistic zoo keeper poking an angry bear with a stick, the New York scribes have been prodding everyone about the Phillies’ chances in 2007. David Wright has chimed in. Billy Wagner, to a degree, did too.

Don’t think that Mets won’t use Rollins’ words as bulletin board fodder during the dog days of the season. Athletes, after all, will use anything available for motivation.

Be that as it is, Murray Chass of The New York Times was seen lurking around the Phillies’ camp where he did some poking and prodding of his own. Don’t think for a second that the players didn’t know where Chass was from and what he was doing.

Aside from attempting to eke out answers from Chase Utley, Aaron Rowand and Ryan Howard, Chass also cornered former Phillie Randy Wolf, who he labeled a “neutral observer.” In the story, Wolf said:

“The Phillies are going to be a strong team. But you can’t argue with what the Mets did last year. It was like the Braves before that. Until someone dethroned them, they were always the team to beat. Now the Mets are the team in control of the National League East. They’re obviously the one to beat.”

Looking into those words there is one element that people might be sleeping on a little bit in the supposed dog fight between the Mets and Phillies… aren’t the Braves still in the NL East?

Last I checked the Braves won the division 14 out of the last 15 seasons (14 in a row until the Mets finally broke through). During that decade-and-a-half there were a handful of seasons where pundits called one team or another the one to beat. Remember 2003 when the Phillies got Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood in the same month? I recall Pat Burrell saying after he signed his big contract (the one he is still cashing in on) that winter that the Phillies were the team to beat. Actually, Burrell was asked, “Are you guys the team to beat this year?”

He said: “We gotta be, right?”

Well…

The Phillies were the team to beat in 2004, too. Heading into the season that team was stocked with new additions Tim Worrell and Billy Wagner stabilizing the bullpen and joining Thome, Millwood, Bobby Abreu, Rollins and an assorted bunch of veterans.

During the last weekend of the season the manager of that team was fired.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More drugs news

Sports Illustrated writers Luis Fernando Llosa and L. Jon Wertheim dive into the brewing performance-enhancing drugs investigation with this piece that headlines promise to "rock sports." Certainly some of the names trickling out that are allegedly tied to the investigation have been well reported. Gary Matthews Jr., Jose Canseco, Evander Holyfield, etc., etc.

But one name that stood out in the Sports Illustrated story read:

David Bell, a veteran of a dozen major league seasons, received six packages of HCG at a Philadelphia address last April, when he played for the Phillies. The cost was $128.80, and the drug was prescribed in conjunction with an Arizona antiaging facility. Bell acknowledges receiving the shipment but tells SI the drug was prescribed to him "for a medical condition," which he declined to disclose, citing his right to privacy.

Bell had back trouble when he played for the Phillies. In fact, injuries kept him out of close to half of the games during the 2003 season, though he returned to play in 143, 150, and 145 games the next three seasons. Also, Bell and his wife Kristie had their first child during the off-season.

According to the Wikipedia entry on HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin), it can be used medically and as a steroid:

hCG is extensively used as a parenteral medication in fertility therapy in lieu of luteinizing hormone. In the presence of one or more mature ovarian follicles, ovulation can be triggered by the administration of hCG. As ovulation will happen about 40-45 hours after the injection of hCG, procedures can be scheduled to take advantage of this time sequence. Thus, patients who undergo IVF, typically receive hCG to trigger the ovulation process, but have their eggs retrieved at about 36 hours after injection, a few hours before the eggs actually would be released from the ovary.

As hCG supports the corpus luteum, administration of hCG is used in certain circumstances to enhance the production of progesterone.

In the male, hCG injections are used to stimulate the leydig cells to synthesize testosterone. The intratesticular testosterone is necessary for spermatogenesis from the sertoli cells. Typical indications for hCG in men include hypogonadism and fertility treatment.

hCG sold under brand names including Pregnyl®, Follutein®, Profasi®, and Novarel® use chorionic gonadotropins derived from the urine of pregnant women, while Ovidrel® is a product of recombinant technology. Novarel® and hCG from APP are typically considered generics in the United States.

Use with anabolic steroids
In the world of performance enhancing drugs, hCG is increasingly used in combination with various Anabolic Androgenic Steroid (AAS) cycles.

When AAS are put into a male body, the body's natural negative feedback loops cause the body to shut down its own production of testosterone via shutdown of the HPTA (hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis). High levels of AASs that mimic the body's natural testosterone trigger the hypothalamus to shut down its production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) from the hypothalamus. Without GnRH the pituitary gland stops releasing luteinizing hormone (LH). LH normally travels from the pituitary via the blood stream to the testes where it triggers the production and release of testosterone. Without LH, the testes shut down their production of testosterone, causing testicular atrophy ("shrinking testicles").

In males, hCG mimics LH and helps restore / maintain testosterone production in the testes. As such, hCG is commonly used during and after steroid cycles to maintain and restore testicular size as well as endogenous testosterone production. However, if hCG is used for too long and in too high a dose, the resulting rise in natural testosterone will eventually inhibit its own production via negative feedback on the hypothalamus and pituitary.


David Bell remains unsigned for the 2007 season.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Getting paid

Ryan Howard is really the media darling for the national press that covers Major league Baseball. Aside from the big N.Y. Times story in their sports tab that appeared late last week, Howard has been described as the “anti-Bonds,” who along with Albert Pujols, is expected to rescue baseball from the plague of supposed drug cheats.

That’s a pretty big task for a guy with just a bit more Major League service time than Cole Hamels.

So when the Phillies handed Howard a one-year deal worth a cool $900,000, it touched off a tiny wave of chatter around these parts. After all, Howard smacked 58 homers, drove in 149 runs, hit .313 and posted gaudy numbers all over the stat sheet to win the MVP Award in his very first full season in the Major Leagues.

Let’s repeat that part… his very first full season in the Major Leagues.

Based on the sentiment from certain segments, the Phillies should have run out with their wallet open, a blank check and a contract ready for Howard to fill out the way he saw fit. Better yet, folks are reacting the way they do when stores open at 3 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving and they just have to run out there and beat the crap out of each other and trample over human carcasses just to get a superficial piece of crap Cabbage Patch Doll…

You know, because it’s going to be a collector’s item one day. Oh no, it’s not an impulse buy or one of those keeping-up-with-everyone else moves. Consumers are looking long term when they buy Cabbage Patch or Tickle Me Elmo.

Now we aren’t comparing Howard to trendy plastic dolls or superficial silliness. Not at all. But we will compare him to a player with just one full Major League season under his belt who cannot become a free agent until 2011. In that regard, Howard got what he deserved… and then some. Just once in the history of the game has a player with Howard’s experience been paid as much as Howard and that was Albert Pujols.

Just as an aside and for fun, let’s throw this out there: Knowing what we know now, who would you rather have Howard or Pujols? Go ahead… think about it. While you’re thinking, how’s this fact – Howard is two months older than Pujols.

From all reports – published or not – Howard seems to understand the baseball salary structure and knows he has to wait in line in order to get the grotesque salary he apparently covets.

Here’s another aside… I always loved it when guys like Jimmy Rollins teased Howard about not really “getting paid” yet.

Meanwhile, the Phillies apparently talked about a long-term deal with Howard’s people before they came to an impasse and Howard only received his $900,000. Based on that it seems as if the Phillies will continue talks with Howard’s camp, but in the meantime the slugger has to go out there and try not to be Joe Charboneau. In that regard, I still can’t get over the synopsis from the Baseball Prospectus guide that came out late last week:

Historically, players like Howard, big-bodied guys with limited defensive skills such as Mo Vaughn and Boog Powell, tended to have high but brief peak periods. Their legs just couldn’t carry that much mass for very long, and around 30 their defense plummeted, their playing time dropped due to nagging injuries, and their singles dried up and disappeared. The Phillies should have a three-year window in which they can expect this kind of production from Howard, but should not plan beyond that.

Here’s one more question: just what did Howard lose in being stuck behind Jim Thome for two seasons?

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