Monday, April 30, 2007

'... it still doesn't make sense'

Baseball players like Josh Hancock are the Major Leagues. For the most part they go unnoticed, and usually don’t get selected to too many All-Star Games. But guys like Hancock fill a niche, work hard to help their teams and do whatever is asked of them.

For every Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter, there are a lot more guys like Hancock.

After a short stay with the Phillies as an emergency starter and farmhand for a couple of seasons, Hancock, it seemed, had found his role with Tony La Russa’s St. Louis Cardinals. Last season, after some success as a starter for the Reds in 2004, Hancock was the Cards’ long-man out of the bullpen. He got into 62 games, helped the Cardinals win the World Series last season and at 29, appeared to be on his way to a solid career.

That’s what makes the news of his death so unfathomable. He was there – he had proven himself…

“It hasn't really set in yet,” said Geoff Geary, Hancock’s spring training roommate in Clearwater a few years ago. “I didn't believe it. I had to go on the Internet to see it before it really made sense. And it still doesn't make sense, to be honest with you.”

It never will.


Ol' Man Moyer keeps getting outs

One of the true pleasures of watching baseball is pitchers like Jamie Moyer. With a fastball that could barely scuff a pane glass window and a repertoire that includes a changeup that he throws off his change and a decent curve, Moyer gets by more on smarts and guile than his arsenal of pitches.

Besides, who doesn’t like a guy that when watching at home one thinks, “Man, I bet I could hit those pitches… ”

Well, no. No you can’t.

What’s interesting is reading quotes from players like Aaron Boone, who, for the life of him, just can’t figure out Moyer. Yeah, he knows what’s coming and he knows when it’s coming, yet he still can’t hit it.

“It seems like you should be killing him,” Boone, of the Marlins told Todd Zolecki after yesterday’s loss to the Phillies at the Bank. “I haven't been able to figure it out yet. He's great at what he does.”

He added: “He's different from everybody, even guys I'm used to facing in the AL Central like [Mark] Buehrle and Kenny Rogers. Moyer, I've faced him a fair amount now and haven't had much success. Today was actually the best I thought he's pitched. However many pitches I saw against him, I didn't feel like he made a mistake.”

It seems as if that’s the key – Moyer just doesn’t make many mistakes. It’s more than trying to time an 81 m.p.h. fastball, too. After all, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux are two other pitchers that don’t throw too fast, either, and both of those 40-something pitchers are heading to the Hall of Fame when (and if) they retire.

For Moyer to last as long as he has in the big leagues is telling enough. After all, he started pitching in the Majors when Ronald Reagan was still president. But just hanging around isn’t much of an accomplishment for Moyer. No, Moyer, as John Updike wrote about Charlie Manuel’s hero, Ted Williams is “the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.”

It might not be anything as pomp as that, but having had the chance to talk to Moyer following his unspectacular but solid start against the Washington Nationals earlier last week, Moyer explained why he was disappointed about his starts despite the above-average stats.

“I’ve been struggling for three starts,” he said. “I’m not really concerned about my numbers, but I’m searching for consistency and I don’t feel as if I’ve been consistent. I haven’t found the consistency that I’m looking for. But, to be able to keep us in the game, I’m happy for that. I don’t feel as though I’m as sharp as I want to be, but I’m still able to keep it within reach.”

When I threw some of his numbers at him to argue a point about his production, Moyer said that the stats don’t really matter.

“You’re looking at numbers and I’m looking at what I’m trying to accomplish and create and it’s not there,” Moyer said.

To me, that’s a very striking statement. It doesn’t look like much sitting there in black and white on the page, but it really is quite telling. In a sense it was Moyer saying don’t let the statistics fool you because they really aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

He’s definitely correct about that, and if you can excuse some self-indulgence I’ll try to explain the genius of Jamie Moyer.

Last November I ran a marathon in Harrisburg, Pa. where I was in shape to run in 2:36 to 2:45. At least that’s what all of the indications were based on workouts, races, age and other scientific formulas. But when the day of the race came the weather was less than conducive for those types of times. It rained steadily the entire day, there were puddles and standing water dotting the course and the wind whipped off the Susquehanna River directly into our faces for at least 14 miles of the race.

In the end, I finished in 2:54, which is respectable, but disappointing. However, over the last 5 to 6 miles of the race I ran as strong and tough as I ever had. Over that span I went from 12th to 6th place and felt strong in the knowledge that if the race was just a half-mile longer I could have jumped up a few spots in the final standings.

The point is that despite those closing miles where toughness and the hard work paid off, I still felt compelled to explain away my “poor” time. Jamie Moyer, in discussing his pitching – his art – understands the triteness of the statistics. Successful pitching in the big leagues is about so much more that even the most self-absorbed distance runner would ever understand.

In other words, I'm an idiot.

Still, Moyer’s statistics from yesterday’s gem against the Florida Marlins do tell the story about his outing. Two hits and two walks over 7 1/3 innings, including taking a no-hitter to the second out of the seventh inning – that’s hard to downplay.

Regardless, Moyer was upset about falling behind in the count early. Because he fell behind, 3-1, to Miguel Cabrera, he couldn’t escape the inning with the no-hitter intact.

“I was a little upset with myself for going from 2-1 to 3-1,” he said. “If I could have gone to 2-2, I think that at-bat, I'm not going to say the outcome would have been different, but my pitch selection would have been different.

“It's a pitch I wanted to make. He popped up that same pitch in the first inning. I know he's an out-over-the-plate hitter, and I've gotten him out over the plate. But I'm thinking that he's looking over the plate here, and I wanted to see if I could get him to pop it up or even take it.”

Moyer pitches again on Friday night in San Francisco. Watching him go up against lefty Barry Bonds should be pretty interesting.

The Phillies play the first of three games in Atlanta tonight, which forced me to dig this up from last season:

Ten years already!?
Watching a game from Turner Field makes me think about the summer of ’96 when Atlanta was the home for the Olympics and the Braves’ field was configured quite differently. These days, it’s a typical nouveau ballpark that have popped up in nearly every American city, only Turner Field, nee Olympic Stadium, plays slightly in favor of the pitchers.

Since the Braves bread-and-butter has always been their pitching prowess, it makes sense that the stadium developers would skew things that way. It also gets very hot and humid during the summertime in Atlanta, which often causes the baseball the sail a little farther. They didn’t nickname the Braves old stadium the Launching Pad because it was kitschy.

Anyway, I always have to remind myself that some of the most memorable sporting events that I have ever seen occurred in that stadium during that summer 10 years ago. I’ll never forget Muhammad Ali, dressed in white, dramatically appear out of nowhere to light the Olympic torch. Now I’m not one who gets all choked up or overly-sentimental at sporting events – that’s just not how I am, because it’s just a game – but imaging Ali atop that ramp that hot summer night still gives me chills.

Along with baseball, track, specifically the distance events, is my favorite sport to watch. Most people would call these two sports among the most dull to watch, but I can’t really think of anything more interesting. Needless to say, the track events at the Olympics are about as exciting as sports spectating gets.

Call me crazy.

Anyway, the track events on that famously hard track that ringed Turner Field produced some events that running geeks still talk about. Like, for instance, when American Bob Kennedy brazenly surged to the lead at the top of the curve of the last lap in the 5,000-meter finals. It was a move that was so daring and unexpected that I shrieked (not smart since the race wasn’t aired until nearly midnight and woke up the entire house) and thought of what a bad-ass Kennedy was even though he faded to sixth place.

That was how Prefontaine must have done it, I thought.

Along that outfield warning track is also where Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia beat Paul Tergat of Kenya in the 10,000-meter dream race where Geb solidified his legend with an Olympic record. The two will meet up again in the London Marathon next weekend in possibly the greatest collection of marathoners ever, but more on that at a later date.

But the image that really sticks in my mind is Michael Johnson coming off the curve in the 200-meter finals so fast that either his gold shoes were going to burst into flames or he was going to soar into the humid sky. How can anyone forget the shock on Johnson’s face when he turned around to see the clock and saw that he had just moved faster than any human being on two feet?

If it were up to me, I’d have plaques placed on the spot where all of those memorable events occurred.

Linkage: Ten years already!?

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hey, it could happen...


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mixing it up

Anyone can manipulate statistics to say whatever it is they want, but sometimes the cold, hard numbers on the page are simply too hard to ignore. For manager Charlie Manuel, Ryan Howard’s stats jump right off the page:

Try 4-for-27 (.148); 0-for-3 with two strikeouts; and .217.

Those stats indicate Howard’s hitting against left-handed pitchers so far this season, his record against the Florida Marlins’ lefty Dontrelle Willis this year, and finally his batting average for 2007.

That’s why it was so easy for Manuel to give Howard a night off to rest his, ahem, achy knee that he injured last week while running the bases in Washington. So in order to compensate for the struggling yet reigning NL MVP, Manuel will attack Willis and the Marlins with a lineup heavy with righties with one of the game’s hottest hitters in the leadoff and No. 3 slots.

Manuel’s order for Saturday night:

Aaron Rowand, cf
Shane Victorino, rf
Jimmy Rollins, ss
Chase Utley, 2b
Pat Burrell, lf
Wes Helms, 1b
Abraham Nunez, 3b
Rod Barajas, c
Adam Eaton, p

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Mocking the draft

Today is the NFL Draft and I was asked if I was going work on a "mock draft." The quick answer is, "no."

Why should I mock the draft or mock the mock drafters? That's just mean. Besides, there are so many other things to mock. When it comes to mocking things, the draft doesn't rate that high.


Friday, April 27, 2007

From the Top Step

It was just a matter of time before Curt Schilling responded to all the chit-chat and bloggy-blog fodder about whether his socks were, indeed, bloody during the Red Sox run to the World Series in 2004. On a bad day Schilling never needs an invitation to talk, so it's not surprising that Top-Step Schill offered his retort to the notion that his socks were less than authentic.

In doing so, Top-Step came out swinging in his blog, called, creatively, Get it? He's a pitcher and he wears No. 38 so he called it 38pitches instead of something else less pithy. Anyway, Step offered $1 million to anyone who could prove that he wasn't bleeding like a stuck pig (I know… we used that term before) and his famous socks didn't get stained with the blood during the 2004 playoffs.

During the same blog post, Schilling also found an opportunity to criticize media types, which is fair. Just as it's fair to wonder why Schilling is said to have switched from red colored socks in all of his starts in '04 to white hosiery specifically for those two playoff games. Hey, I'm not sayin' anything – I'm just sayin'…

Be that as it may, just the idea of Curt Schilling with a blog is like giving a pyromaniac a Bic lighter.

Regardless, Schilling is correct about one thing in his post and that's way too much attention was spent on stains on one man's socks. That's why it would be a good idea to unleash some of the sporting press on the White House or Congressional beats. After watching Bill Moyers special on PBS last night, it seems like it would be a good idea.

Did anyone happen to catch that documentary about the Washington press and their "collusion" with the government? It was incredibly riveting.

But something like that would never, ever happen with the sporting press. For one thing, no one would ever be able to get together on a consensus point. And for another, simply, athletes don't have talking points, spinmeisters, pundits or PR people telling what to say, who to say it to and how to say it. The reason why is because they would never, ever be able to get away with it. If a pitcher gives up a home run to cost his team a game, he stands there and answers every question no matter how painful. Basically, he has to live his failure in the game on television in front of millions and then go into the sanctity of his clubhouse and relive it for the the scribes. That doesn't happen in Washington, which is odd because the idea that a relief pitcher is more accountable to the public than a politician is a little troubling.

Of course we don't vote on the players or the managers either, so maybe it's a push.

Anyway, watch the Bill Moyers special here. It's very interesting.

To really get to the bottom of the Schilling Sock thing, go to The Zo Zone! You want to really know what it was on the sock? It was ketchup (not catsup).

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Was it that obvious?

In a move that everyone saw coming and couldn’t have been less obvious unless it was broadcast by a skywriter, the Phillies optioned struggling lefty Matt Smith and recalled lefty Fabio Castro. With the Phillies Castro will be the lone lefty in the bullpen and will likely fill the role of lefty-on-lefty specialist that Smith was supposed to perform.

We say supposed to because Smith clearly didn’t do the job very well. Including last night’s game where he retired two hitters, but walked three and gave up a run, Smith had completed just four innings in nine appearances. During that span the opposition hit just .250 against Smith, but that’s because he was too busy walking a large number of hitters. Of the 27 hitters Smith had faced this season, he walked 11. Worse, of the 11 lefties he has faced, Smith has walked six and given up two hits.

So when Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro were seen waiting in the coaches’ room just off the clubhouse following the 9-3 victory over the Nationals last night, it was pretty fair to guess that Smith was a topic of conversation.

“He's had a good chance to come in and face some lefties. With his command, he's having a hard time right now,” Charlie Manuel said about Smith, after noting that the reports on Castro from Ottawa had been good and that he was mulling over other options in facing opponents’ tough lefty hitters.

Castro was a Rule 5 selection for the Rangers last year before being traded to the Phillies. He spent most of the second half of the season sitting in the bullpen, though he got in 16 games with a 1.54 ERA. This season for Ottawa, Castro’s numbers mirror the good reports the manager has received. In six relief appearances, Castro was 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA and held opponents to a .194 average.

There are few different elements working here. First, it’s fair to paint me as a skeptic. Actually, skeptic might not be the right term – non-believer is more apt. And by non-believer I don’t mean anything other than what the words imply. It’s not that I don’t doubt certain things, I just don’t believe them. I don’t believe TV commercials, press releases, conspiracy theories or nihilism (say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism – at least it’s an ethos, Dude).

In that regard, when Curt Schilling showed up to pitch in the 2004 World Series and ALCS with that aesthetically packaged bloody sock with the neatly inscribed shoe for his cause de guerre and the so-called blood placed just so above the outer rim of his Reebok spikes, well, c’mon.

Certainly we’ve never known Curt Schilling as one prone to self-aggrandizing. He’s always been one to shy away from the limelight, right? In fact, isn’t he the guy who always says, “Could you please put those cameras down and turn those tape recorders off? Enough about me, I’ve gone on and on too much as it is… let’s hear about you.”

But 2½ years after the bloody sock became a little bit of folklore, people are still talking about it. And, much to my shock, there are skeptics out there. One, MASN baseball announcer Gary Thorne, even went so far as to say the entire thing was a hoax. How does Thorne know? Well, he says, red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli told him so.

Yeah, really.

Here’s how it went down according to published reports:

In the bottom of the fifth, according to multiple media reports, Orioles play-by-play man Gary Thorne said on the air that he had been told by Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli that the substance was paint, not blood.

“The great story we were talking about the other night was that famous red stocking that he wore when they finally won, the blood on his stocking,” Thorne told broadcast partner and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, according to media reports.

“Nah,” Thorne said. “It was painted. Doug Mirabelli confessed up to it after. It was all for PR. Two-ball, two-strike count.”

Two innings later, according to media reports, Thorne explained Mirabelli had told him the story “a couple of years ago.”

"Go ask him [Mirabelli]," Thorne said.

Needless to say, Mirabelli, Schilling and Red Sox skipper Terry Francona weren’t too happy in having the ruse, er… story, replayed all over again. Denials over Thorne’s accounts flew like blood from a ruptured superior vena cava.

According to reports:

“What? Are you kidding me? He's [expletive] lying. A straight lie,” Mirabelli said, according to The Boston Globe. “I never said that. I know it was blood. Everybody knows it was blood.”

“It gets stupider,” Schilling added, according to the newspaper. “I got the 9-inch scar for you. You can see it. ... There are some bad people in your line of work, man.”

Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe contacted Red Sox GM Theo Epstein via e-mail and got this response:

"You're kidding me, right?" Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein wrote in an e-mail last night. "I'm the GM of the team, not Jerry Springer. I couldn't give two [expletives] about what was on his sock, I care that we won the game. The rest, and Gary Thorne, is just noise.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona also questioned Thorne's version of the story.

“What Schill did that night on the sports field was one of the most incredible feats I ever witnessed,” Francona said, according to The Globe. “[Thorne's remarks] go so far past disappointing. Disrespectful to Schill, to his vocation. I'm stunned.

“I am just floored. Schill takes his share of shots, and this one is so far below the belt that I'm embarrassed and I wish somebody would have had the good conscience to ask me,” Francona said, according to the newspaper.

It should be noted that Mirabelli has been burned by conversations that he thought he was having in confidence in the past. It also should be noted that Schilling has talked, a lot, in the past as well.

It also should be noted that ESPN’s Jayson Stark believes Schilling bled like a stuck pig during the World Series and ALCS in 2004. That, and that alone, is good enough for me.

Speaking of Jayson Stark, check out what he wrote about today's starter, Cole Hamels under the sub-head "Cys in the making":

The other name is 23-year-old Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels. Just last Saturday, Hamels struck out 15 Reds, in only the 27th start of his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four other pitchers in the last 25 years have had that big a strikeout game that early in their careers -- Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood (twice), Hideo Nomo and Greg Swindell. One scout who watched Hamels told Rumblings he'd vote for him for the Cy Young right now.

"I would never say he had a better changeup than Johan Santana, because nobody's better than Santana," the scout said. "But let's just say Santana's change is no better than this guy's. It's just as good. And I can't give any higher praise than that. They never made contact with it the whole night. He kept throwing it, and they kept swinging right through it."

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Talkin' baseball

One of the perks of writing about baseball is listening to the pros talk about their craft. Actually, it’s better than a perk – with the notebooks put away and the tape recorders put away, there’s nothing better than letting the stories flow.

Before tonight’s game against the Nationals at the Bank, manager Charlie Manuel sat down with a bunch of the writers and a TV reporter and talked about hitting. And then he talked and talked and talked some more. During a typical pre-game chat with the writers, Charlie goes for about 10 to 20 minutes depending on the purpose and the news of the day starting at approximately 4 p.m. But today when it was all wrapped up and all the ideas had been exhausted, it was after 5 p.m.

Where had the time gone?

One thing is for certain: when it comes to hitting and the ideas behind successful hitting, there are very few people on the planet who are true students of it than Charlie Manuel. He relate stories about conversations he’s had with Ted Williams that lasted for four hours as the pair went on and on and on talking about the way to become the best hitter.

He talked about studying different theories and how he keeps a copy of Ted Williams’ book of hitting in several rooms of his home so he can pick it up for a quick read. Mostly he explained where the power comes from in a swing and how even good hitters can over think the simple essence of hitting.

Tons of names and styles were broached from George Brett to Rod Carew to Tony Oliva (a Manuel favorite) to Brian Downing. Then some smart-alecky dude brought up Walt Hriniak and his theories to really set the manager off.

Some were afraid that particular writer was going to drone on about the Boston Marathon and how it relates to Hriniak, Charley Lau and other such silliness. Fortunately, he muzzled himself quickly.

The sad part was that it was a side of Manuel that some in the media and the fandom are unwilling to understand or acknowledge and that’s Charlie Manuel has forgotten more about hitting than most people will ever come to know. Sure, he has his flaws as a manager – there is no denying that. But Manuel is part of a dwindling cadre of old-school baseball men will do anything to be a part of the game.

That’s hard not to like.

Anyway, here’s the point… baseball is all about stories. For some of us chasing them and collecting them is truly Quixotic and Manuel is an incredible source.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thanks... do you have the receipt?

According to Major League Baseball’s rule 21-b, the Twins’ Torii Hunter could face a three-year suspension. The rule as it is written, prohibits anyone connected with a particular team from offering a gift or reward to a person connected with another team.

Gift for defeating competing club. Any player or person connected with a Club who shall offer or give any gift or reward to a player or person connected with another Club for services rendered or supposed to be or to have been rendered in defeating or attempting to defeat a competing Club, and any player or person connected with a Club who shall solicit or accept from a player connected with another Club any gift or reward for any services rendered, or supposed to have been rendered, or who, having been offered any such gift or reward, shall fail to inform his League President or the Commissioner or the President of the Minor League Association, as the case may be, immediately of such offer, and of all facts and circumstances connected therewith, shall be declared ineligible for not less than three years.

Yeah, three years.

In other words, Hunter potentially could have sent the Kansas City Royals the most expensive case of Dom Perignon ever.

The reason for the gift (for those unfamiliar with the story) was to reward the Royals for their late-season sweep over the Detroit Tigers in 2006 which opened the door for the Twins to win the AL Central.

Fortunately, it appears as if reason will win out. Hunter’s gift was made in fun and it doesn’t seem as if the penalty will be anything more than a slap on the wrist. Hunter only sent four bottles of champagne to the Royals, who sent the unopened ones back when they learned about the flap.

However, it’s worth noting that Major League Baseball’s gift policy is much tougher than its stance on performance-enhancing drugs.

Speaking of performance-enhancing drugs, it appears as if the Floyd Landis case has once again resurfaced. According to the French bastion of journalism ethics, L’Equipe, Landis’s failed drug test from last summer’s Tour de France revealed a synthetic steroid. The paper knows this because it ran the leaked results that may or may not be true.

According to the Rant Your Head Off blog, here’s the deal:

  • L’Equipe has a very good source at LNDD and that the source repeatedly leaks information about test results
  • L’Equipe’s source claims the results show testosterone use in other stages of the Tour, but no actual proof is offered to back up those claims
  • Testing performed over the last week, according to Landis’ lawyers, was done at the direction of USADA’s outside counsel
  • USADA’s observers and lawyer had full access to all aspects and phases of the testing, while Landis’ observers were denied access to crucial parts of the analysis
  • LNDD, under the direction of USADA, are able to come up with “evidence” against Landis that supports the LNDD’s conclusions from Stage 17
  • The Arbitration panel, though ruling that an independent observer must be present for any testing performed, had no independent observer at the testing
  • News of Landis’ supposed results has already circled the globe

What we don’t know is this:

  • Whether or not the reports in L’Equipe and other newspapers are true
  • If the reports are true, we don’t know what exactly the results were or whether LNDD’s conclusions are, in fact, correct. If they are similar to the results from Stage 17, it may be arguable whether or not there is any evidence of synthetic testosterone in Landis’ system during the Tour
  • When (or if) Landis’ defense team will be provided with the test results
  • Whether the arbitration panel will allow the results as evidence, given that their own order that an independent observer be present was ignored

It doesn’t appear that anything will be resolved in this case before the 2007 Tour de France, not does it seem as if Landis – innocent or guilty – will get a truly fair hearing.

For another solid synopsis of the latest developments check out the always trenchant Trust But Verify site.


I finally tried the veggie cheesesteak (yes, I am away of the oxymoron there) and will offer a full review either tomorrow or the next day. I even took pictures.

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Closing time for Gordon?

There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned freakout/team meeting to get things rolling for Charlie Manuel’s team. Currently riding a season-best three-game winning streak, the Phillies have gone from the worst record in the Majors to the current second-best winning streak in baseball.

Last season, as everyone recalls, Manuel wigged out in the dugout between innings of a game in Florida and the Phillies promptly won nine in a row and 13 of 14. At 7-11, the Phillies are one game behind where they were last season at this time.

So the Phillies – with the wins and hits finally rolling in and three games against the lowly Washington Nationals coming up – are on the way. Right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Instead, the question now is who is the closer? Does Tom Gordon hold onto the role by default or is it there for Brett Myers to snatch away? Before yesterday’s game Manuel didn’t really clear that up.

Or did he?

“It depends on how quick Brett (Myers) can come along," Manuel said. “Gordon is our closer and we're committed to him until Brett becomes better or whatever and we'll just have to see from there. Gordon still has good stuff. I think the fact he's gotten hit is the location of the pitches he's thrown.

“At the same time, we have to get Myers out there in a save situation to see how things go.”

As offered in a previous post, Gordon’s fastball still has its velocity but is struggling with the command with his curve. Plus, at 39, Gordon has a lot of miles on his arm over the last 19 seasons in the Majors. By all accounts Gordon should be able to handle the closer’s role for the foreseeable future though his success will depend on how often he’s used.

Gordon was used pretty heavily last season and responded with an All-Star season until coming up with a tired arm in August. He also missed some time during spring training to have his right arm checked out, which is nothing new. He missed the same amount of time during spring training of 2006 and bounced back fairly well.

Regardless, it appears as if Manuel is going to give Gordon every chance to hold onto the closer’s role. If he can’t do it, well, it appears as if there is a substitute waiting in for the call in the lower bullpen just beyond the center field fence.

“I don't know if it's a competition but let me put it this way I hope it's a good setting for both of them because then we can have a strong bullpen,” Manuel said.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

David Halberstam 1934-2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hall of fame

Today’s London Marathon featured another stellar field that was arguably the deepest race outside of the Olympics. According to press notes, the London Marathon was televised in 160 countries to well over a million viewers, none of which were in the United States.

To watch the race live in the U.S. fans had to get up at 4 a.m. and get on the Internets to check it out. Or, watch the tape delay here where *SPOILER ALERT* Kenyan Martin Lel outlasted American Khalid Khannouchi, world-record holder Paul Tergat, all-time great Haile Gebrselassie, Olympic gold medalist Stefano Baldini, two-time world champion Jaouad Gharib, and NYC champs Hendrick Ramaala and Marilson Gomes dos Santos. Lel won in 2:07:41 over Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco in his marathon debut in 2:07:44, and last year's champion, Felix Limo of Kenya, was third in 2:07:47. Lel lost to Limo in a sprint finish last year.

Afterwards, Lel said the marathon was one of the most tactical he had ever raced.

But for fans of American marathoning, the 2007 London Marathon could be a watershed moment. Why? Two words:

Ryan Hall.

Hall, just 24, ran the fastest debut marathon for an American ever by clocking a 2:08:24 for seventh place. He was 18 seconds behind Tergat and 30 seconds behind two-time world champion Jaouad Gharib.

It was the fastest marathon ever run by a someone born in the United States.

Most impressively, Hall (a 2006 Stanford grad who trains in Big Bear, Calif. with Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi as well as former local elite runner Terrance Mahon) not only ran in the lead pack until the final mile and a half of the race, but he also actually took the lead at the 35-kilometer mark. To do that against those runners takes more than guts – that takes brass ones. Big and brassy.

“I dreamed about being with those guys for 23 miles and I did that today and I took my swing,” Hall said after the race. “Hopefully I’ll be a bit stronger next time and run a bit smarter.”

In the end, though, the more experienced runners surged away from Hall though he said he thought he had a chance to catch up until he started tightening up. Nevertheless, for Hall, who smashed the American half-marathon record (59:43) in Houston last January, the next big race is on Nov. 3 at the Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City. If he finishes in the top three in that race, it’s off to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

For Hall, who threw down with the all-time greats in the sport, that seems like a foregone conclusion.

“With the Olympics coming up so quick, I really want to take a swing at a medal,” Hall said today. “If I’m going to do that, my best shot is going to be in the marathon.”

Speaking of young kids mixing it up with the elites of their field, check out Cole Hamels. Like Hall mixing it up with Tergat, Gebrselassie, Khannouchi, et al, Hamels may have set the fickle pendulum of momentum swinging back the Phillies’ way after a 15-strikeout, complete game on Friday night in Cincinnati.

Hamels’ latest outing was certainly a work of art, but at the same time it made me look smart, too. When asked about Hamels by friends and followers of the sport my opinion is always the same.

“The kid is a killer. On the mound he’s nasty and smart. Of the field he’s smarter and has it all together. He trains smart and is definitely ahead of everyone else.

“We could be looking at a second Steve Carlton here, only without a case of the crazies.”

That’s right. Hamels is that good. I bet he could run with Ryan Hall, too. Of course he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 175-pounds – to be a good runner at that size he’d have to lose a good 20 pounds.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Stop the press!

Thinking inside the box

Nobody likes a second-guesser or a Monday morning quarterback. Those types swoop in after the fact and offer a told-you-so type of opinion that really is quite gutless. Where were they on the first guess, is what I want to know. For those of us struggling with the first guess, we need all the help we can get. If the second-guessers are so smart, jump in and help out the first time.

Second guessing is unoriginal and boring. But sports-type people have dined out on it for decades. That said, let’s dish a little on the eighth and ninth innings of the Phillies’ inexplicable, 2-1 loss to the Reds, shall we?

What, you think we’re too good for second-guessing Charlie Manuel.


Actually, my second guess is very simple and uncomplicated. I am, at heart, a simpleton – maybe even a little naïve, but that’s a different story. If something is broken, fix it. Otherwise, leave it alone. Simple.

But with Brett Myers, a starter for his entire career until two days ago, the manager Charlie Manuel was victimized by some compartmental thinking on Friday night in Cincinnati. By compartmental thinking we mean the set-up man pitches the eighth inning and the so-called closer pitches the ninth inning and never shall the two overlap. On Friday that thinking cost the Phillies the game.

Brett Myers should have pitched the eighth and the ninth innings on Friday. It’s as simple as that. Tom Gordon, the closer for now, has struggled all season long and admits that he is a bit behind because he took a week off during spring training to have his shoulder checked out. He also seems to rely much more on his fastball as opposed to his go-to curve.

Plus, Gordon struggled to get a save against the Nationals just the day before and since Manuel said he was reluctant to use the so-called closer on back-to-back days after he struggled during the second-half of 2006 because of overuse, it seemed like using Myers for two innings was logical.

Besides, who says a closer can only pitch the ninth? Under Manuel, Gordon pitched 59 1/3 innings in 59 games in 2006, while Billy Wagner worked 77 2/3 innings in 75 appearances. Clearly that shows that closers work just one inning for Manuel.

Brett Myers doesn’t have to be so limited. He was a workhorse starter just this week who averaged close to seven innings per outing during his career. So what does it hurt if he closes out a game by going two innings? Gordon’s ego, perhaps? Please. At 4-11 the Phillies are long past worrying about such trivialities. The point is if Myers is going to be moved to the bullpen to pacify Jon Lieber (who pitched rather well as a starter on Friday night – looks like he was “comfortable” after pouting his way back into the rotation), he should be used as a weapon instead of just a cog in the machine.

Asked about it after the loss to the Reds, Manuel told reporters: “Right now, Gordon is our closer. He's been a closer. We signed him to be a closer. . . . That's something we haven't even discussed, and in some ways there's no need to discuss it. We've got to get him sharp. The stuff is there.”

Joe Torre uses Mariano Rivera for two-inning saves from time to time. Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Rich Gossage and Kent Tekulve (among others) pitched multiple innings as a matter of course during their work closing out games.

So why couldn’t Brett Myers do that on Friday night?

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Friday, April 20, 2007

It's the zebras!

Deadspin's A.J. Daulerio has the 2007 Phillies figured out... it's those damn zebras.

I think we're just about there, folks.


These are the times that try men's souls... or something like that

With a 4-10 record, the Phillies are the worst team in Major League Baseball. That should be surprising. After all, a lot of smart people who get paid a more-than-fair wage to know specifically about such things believed that the Phillies were not only the team that should win the NL East, but also were a team that could go to the World Series.

I never believed any of it. Not that the Phillies were a playoff team, a division-winning team, or a World Series-bound team. For some reason, Pat Gillick’s assessment from last July that his team was at least two years away from competition for a wild-card spot made sense. Maybe I was wrong not to move past that, but for some reason it just seemed to make sense even though the Phillies went on that late-season tear to crawl into the playoff chase.

Apropos of nothing, if I were the commissioner of baseball, football or hockey, I would not allow people that operate a gambling web site to have access to my teams in any way shape or form. I most definitely would not issue them press credentials.

Regardless, no one – from the folks who thought the Phillies were playoff-bound in 2007, to the folks who thought they’d win another 85-88 games like they do every year – believed the Phillies would have stumbled out of the gate so poorly. The worst record in baseball just two weeks into the season was inconceivable, but that’s where we are. The New York Times even documented the team's swoon.

To get out of it, Charlie Manuel took his Opening Day starter, the same guy the team’s brass invested nearly $26 million in for the next three season, and shifted him to the bullpen. Yes, the bullpen has been the bane for the Phillies, and yes, it is the one thing the manager, pundits, scouts and other team officials said was the team’s biggest weakness, but to move the team’s best starter to the bullpen is really remarkable.

In doing so, a few things must be going on. One is that Gillick must be committed to Manuel for better or for worse. The reason for this belief is because Gillick ultimately had the final say in whether Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee’s plan to make Myers a reliever would occur. So in agreeing to the plan Gillick is backing the manager’s plan to remove a guaranteed 200-plus innings from the starting five. That comes to nearly seven innings per outing every five days.

That’s a brave decision. Some say a desperate decision.

Another train of thought could be that Gillick still believes what he said last July and is still tinkering and retooling. According to what the GM said when dealing away Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle was that 2007 was going to be a rebuilding or wash-out year. As of right now that is very much the case unless something happens.

Very quickly.

Apropos of nothing, I’ve witnessed Charlie Manuel get angry. More than a few times, as a matter of fact.

Regular readers of this site know that I’m no fan of sports talk radio. That’s mostly because it makes me feel stupid or like I need to take a shower. And certainly I don’t need any help feeling stupid. There are exceptions to this, of course. Occasionally, Marcus Hayes appears on the local NPR station to talk about baseball and it’s always very good. The discussions are informative, engaging and civil and Marcus is well-behaved, too. Be that as it may, when I’m off the NPR jag I like to listen to Keith Olbermann on Dan Patrick’s show. In fact, I subscribe to the podcast so that I can listen in my car when I’m on the way home from the ballpark late at night…

Anyway, Olbermann and Patrick were discussing the Phillies on the April 18 edition of the show where they did not express any type of surprise at the team’s rough start. Actually, Olbermann says he expected it and even played old shows to prove he just wasn’t whistling a dirge.

Dan Patrick: Keith Olbermann called it during spring training pertaining to the Phillies’ chances this year.

Keith Olbermann: I’m a little worried about the Phillies. What I saw there looked like chaos to me and I don’t know if it’s going to go well.

Olbermann added:

“I think Charlie Manuel is going to get fired. I think the Phillies have woefully mismanaged their pitching staff. They have starters who should be relieving and relievers who should be starting and it’s a mess. The batting order is a mistake. Pat Burrell was not the guy to bat behind Ryan Howard and it’s going to ruin Ryan Howard this season and it’s even going to hurt Chase Utley ahead of him because they’re going to pitch around Howard and Utley isn’t going to have a chance to steal bases. Wes Helms at third base might be a good hitter, but they are just now noticing that he might not be the most mobile infielder. There are a lot of problems and I’m not really sure if Charlie Manuel is a good manager.”

Listen to the entire segment here, where the duo discusses the Philadelphia media, a certain local AM radio host that whines when his name is not specifically used when being referenced, as well as the team’s history as the losingest franchise in North American sports history. Check it out.

Anyway, Manuel didn’t hide the fact that he would not have moved Myers to the bullpen and Jon Lieber back to the rotation if the team was 10-4 instead of 4-10. Yes, the desperation is that obvious.

Apropos of nothing, the second one stars in a commercial or asks for an autograph, that person is no longer a journalist.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A right move?

Needless to say there was a lot of talk and dime-store analysis following Charlie Manuel’s post-game freak out. Hey, that’s just what we do…

Anyway, the one item that seemed to make some sense was the idea that the Phillies owed Manuel a move. All winter long and wherever Manuel went he spoke time and time again about how the Phillies would be a contending team if they shored up the bullpen. That’s all he wanted heading into spring training – an arm or two to bolster the ‘pen was what the manager thought would put the team over the top.

It turns out the bullpen and that RISP specialist are exactly what the Phillies need through the first 12 games of the season.

But instead of the reliever, Manuel was handed Wes Helms, Rod Barajas, Jayson Werth, Karim Garcia and six starting pitchers. Later, the Phillies added Antonio Alfonseca and Francisco Rosario when all along Manuel thought he could do it with five starters, Chris Coste and Abraham Nunez.

So the question remains: do the Phillies owe Manuel a move? Obviously, all they owe him is what is on his contract. But do the Phillies have to do the right thing and get that missing piece?

Or is it already too late?


All over but the shouting

It’s no secret that manager Charlie Manuel is a fan of professional wrestling. Hey, who isn’t? But as the skipper of a Major League baseball club, it’s rare that Manuel ever gets to ply some of the techniques used in the not-so sweet science of wrasslin’ in his craft.

Tuesday’s post-game press conference turned into one of those moments.

In an episode that seemed to be less than authentic and contrived on both ends, Manuel was goaded into a verbal sparing match by a local AM radio talk-show host. Asked if he had seen Cubs manager Lou Piniella berate his team and the media late last week and if he thought such methods were effective to turn around a losing club, Manuel, known as "The Red Devil" during his playing days because of his temper, responded:

“There are times and ways to do it,” Manuel said. "For me to just go in there and throw a fit - I can go in there and tear the whole (deleted) locker room up. I can come in here and throw every damn near chair out. What the hell? I don't see where that's going to do any good.”

Manuel was then erroneously told that his players don’t see him angry, which led to the manager telling the terrestrial radio talker to meet him in his office so, “I can show you I can get angry. Why don’t you drop by my office? I'll be waiting on you.”

Moments later an argument between Manuel and the radio personality was heard in the hallway outside of closed doors, which was followed by more shouting by the manager in the clubhouse before he was led away by coach Milt Thompson.

“I've been listening to your [bleep] for three [bleeping] years,” Manuel shouted.

“Grow up,” was the talk-show host's retort.

“I've been grown up,” Manuel said. “I grew up a long [bleeping] time ago, you [bleep].”

Certainly Manuel’s anger was real, but did he kick it up a notch so that his players could see and hear it? Perhaps. But when heart-of-the order hitters Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are a combined 5-for-32 with runners in scoring position this season, there isn’t much a lot of yelling and screaming can do.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Garcia by the #s

Freddy Garcia just walked off the mound minutes ago in his Phillies debut where he threw 95 pitches and left the bases loaded for Geoff Geary with two outs in the fifth. In facing 22 hitters, Garcia:

had nine three-ball counts
had six full counts
had 11 two-strike counts
had six first-pitch strikes
had six strikeouts
top velocity - 91 mph

Before the game, Charlie Manuel said Garcia was going to throw just 75 pitches. He had that by the third inning.

In game note: It should be noted that during the sixth inning of Tuesday night's frigid affair at the Bank, scribe Ken Mandel attempted to pour hot chocolate into a basic, paper soda cup. Ken looked on in disbelief as the cup, and the straw he placed into the hot chocolate, mollified into the steaming beverage.

For Ken, it seems, every day is full of surprises.

Nevertheless, Ken enjoyed the steaming cup of chemical ooze as he composed another trenchant and hard-hitting baseball synopsis.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Wet and wild redux

Perhaps the best thing about the two consecutive weather postponements for the Phillies is that Freddy Garcia gets that much more time to rest up before taking the mound. Of course Garcia hasn’t pitched all season and is on the mend from biceps tendonitis, which isn’t good, but you get the point. Tendonitis typically occurs because of overuse and the best remedy to fix it is rest.

No rest equals bigger trouble.

According to the Phillies, Garcia is ready to go so we all finally get a chance to see Pat Gillick’s big off-season acquisition in action on Tuesday night against Tom Glavine and the Mets.

On another note, Garcia is a really big dude with really wide shoulders. He looks like he should be able to throw really hard.

Meanwhile, the Phillies sent out a release this afternoon stating that Citizens Bank Park won the “Best Ballpark Eats”at the first-ever “Food Network Awards.” According to the press release:

Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies, was honored last night for having the “Best Ballpark Eats” during the premiere of the Food Network’s first-ever awards show, the Food Network Awards. The 90-minute show celebrated achievements in the world of food and entertaining in an offbeat awards ceremony unlike any other on television.

Citizens Bank Park offers many features that make it “Not Your Typical Ballpark.” From foods with Philadelphia flavor such as Rick’s Steaks, Tony Luke’s sandwiches and cheesesteaks, Chickie’s & Pete’s Crab Fries, Planet Hoagie and The Schmitter sandwich … to eateries such as Bull’s BBQ, Harry the K’s Broadcast Bar & Grille and McFadden’s Restaurant & Saloon. Plus, there are many traditional favorites such as hot dogs and fries at the Hatfield Grill stands, pizza from Peace A Pizza, ice cream products from Turkey Hill, Bubba burgers and many local and national brews. For more information, please go to

An internal panel led by Food Network Kitchens selected the nominees for the awards; the same panel, which represents all departments at the network, chose the winners, in addition to five viewer’s choice categories that were determined by votes on

Citizens Bank Park beat out the other ballpark finalists: Camden Yards in Baltimore, AT&T Park in San Francisco and Safeco Field in Seattle.

Notes from Boston
While the Phillies take the day off because of the weather, the Boston Marathon was full of intrigue for those of us interested in that type of thing and most of it was on the women’s side of the race.

All runners, it appeared, chucked out their time goals and simply competed, which made for a very tactical race. With steady 20-mph headwinds with 50-mph gusts and temperatures that started at 50 degrees and dropped like a rock to the bottom of a swimming pool, survival was the rule of the day. It definitely was no day at the beach.

Perhaps that’s why American Deena Kastor struggled in her Boston debut to finish nearly six-minutes off the pace for fifth place. A pre-race favorite, Kastor said her training for the race was “flawless” and based on how she dominated at the national cross-country championships, it was evident. But Kastor threw in a second straight “clunker” in a major marathon after running a 2:19 for the American record and the victory in the London Marathon last April, a victory in Chicago in October of 2005 and a bronze medal in the Olympics in Athens in 2004.

It’s a little baffling because Kastor clearly is tough. The Athens Olympic Marathon was run over a course very similar to the one she raced over today in Boston under conditions that were not conducive to running. In that race Kastor ran smart and solid to bring home the bronze.

Yet after running and winning on two courses designed for speedy, and world-record times, Kastor struggled on two “classic” styled courses by finishing sixth in 2:27:54 and today’s fifth-place finish in Boston in 2:35:09, which under ideal weather conditions might have resulted in a similar time to the one from NYC.

So is the tactical-style of racing or the undulating terrain on courses like New York and Boston that tripped up Kastor? Who knows. All we know is that running is a fickle mistress – some days you have it and some days you don’t. That’s really deep, I know, but what else is there to say? There is no such thing as getting “hot” in running, meaning it’s conceivable that I could hit a home run off Roger Clemens or get “hot” and finish a round under par in golf. But there is no way I will ever be able to run a 2:10 marathon no matter how hard I train or if I have a good day.

Unlike other sports there is no such thing as luck in running.

note: The New York Times reported that Kastor struggled with stomach cramps during the race. Her plan, before the weather report turned from bad to worse, was to go out hard from the start. Later she changed plans to race tactically before making a move at Heartbreak Hill. Instead, when it came to make a move Kastor went for one of the many port-o-pots lining the course. Except for the cramps, Kastor says nothing else bothered her during the race.

“I knew coming in here that the competition would be great and I could conquer it,” she said. “That wasn’t the case today. We marathoners can get pretty hard on ourselves, but I felt I had the drive to push forward and the will to win the race. So I’m definitely disappointed knowing I was good enough to come here and win this race. I’m disappointed that didn’t happen.

“Usually, you can learn a lesson from a marathon. I’m not taking anything away from this one. There was no learning experience. A fifth-place finish is a fifth-place finish.”

So yes, it had to be something with Kastor. She's far too good of a runner to simply have a bad day. Just ignore the second-guessing.

Certainly that was the case for Lidiya Grigoryeva and Jelena Prokopcuka, who finished in first and second place in the women’s race. Grigoryeva, from Russia, won in 2:29:18 by surging with a 5:10 mile to take her from Brookline to Kenmore Square on the point-to-point course. She smartly stuck close to Prokopcuka, the two-time champ in NYC and now back-to-back runner-up in Boston, when the Latvian dictated a strong early pace into the teeth of the Nor’easter. By Heartbreak Hill, Prokopcuka and Grigoryeva gapped the chase back and left Kastor a minute off the pace with approximately 15 kilometers to go.

Though she didn’t win, Prokopcuka may have been the best runner in the race.

Robert Cheruiyot didn’t have the problem of being the best runner in the race and falling short. Like Prokopcuka, Cheruiyot set the pace as if to tell the other racers that, “It begins and ends here, fellas. Hang on if you can… ” In the end, Cheruiyot finished in 2:14:12 – way off the 2:07:14 he ran to set the course record last year, for his third victory in Boston.

As a side note, while watching the race I was struck by Cheruiyot’s running style and how he gobbled up ground with a powerful stride that was contrarily efficient and smooth. Then it hit me… he ran like Moses Tanui. You remember Moses Tanui, the two-time Boston champ from the Nandi District in Kenya who was the first human to run a half marathon under an hour? Of course.

Tanui was so tough that he won the silver 1995 World Championships in the 10,000 meters even after one of his shoes fell off.

Tanui ran two of the bravest races I had ever seen, coming from more than a minute off the pace at Heartbreak Hill to chase down two runners in the final 200 meters to win the 1998 Boston followed by the great 1999 Chicago Marathon where Tanui and American record holder Khalid Khannouchi dueled at world-record pace from the gun.

In that one, Tanui surged from the pack at the 17th mile to build a 60-second lead with five miles to go. That’s when Khannouchi decided to go after Tanui to catch him with about 5k left. The two took turns trying to break one another until Tanui reached for his water bottle at the 25-mile mark. That’s where Khannouchi really threw down the hammer using Tanui’s slight hesitation as the thin window of opportunity.

On TV, Khannouchi and Tanui disappeared into a tunnel together where cameras couldn’t send out a signal or the helicopter offering a bird’s eye view couldn’t hover. But when they came out Khannouchi was alone and blazing to set a world record in 2:05:42. Tanui finished in 2:06:16, just off the record Khannouchi had broken.

Anyway, it dawned on me that Cheruiyot’s gait was eerily similar to Tanui’s until the announcers revealed that he is coached by Dr. Gabriele Rosa – Tanui’s old coach. Then it all came together… it all made sense.

Nevertheless, Cheruiyot won his third Boston and he’s just 28. Wait until he gets to his prime.

And wait until you read this story...

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Wet and wild

Ask any well-trained athlete what the biggest concern is on the day of competition and the answer will be the same every time.

The weather.

Baseball, of course, cannot be played in even the slightest of poor conditions, while football is stripped down to its bare essence when the weather turns sloppy. On days like we had today – where a nasty Nor’easter barreled through and dropped about four inches of rain on us, the Phillies, Mets and Red Sox decided to stay indoors.

Smart thinking.

Knowing how athletes fret about the weather it’s safe to say that there are a lot of people struggling to get to sleep tonight in Boston. Tomorrow, of course, is Patriot’s Day in New England which means it is Boston Marathon Day. And judging from the forecast for Monday it seems like the reward for those weekly 20-milers and months of training will be the sloppiest day in the 111 years of the race.

Maybe the anticipated wet and windy weather is a bit of poetic justice of sorts. After all, after 110 years of holding the race at 12 noon on the dot on Patriot’s Day Monday, the Boston Marathon will start at 10 a.m. Logistically, it makes sense to get everyone from Hopkinton, Mass. To Boston’s Back Bay sooner, but maybe it was a tradition that should be messed with. Perhaps that’s the case?

Actually, there are bigger forces are at play than silly superstition. However, having run a marathon in windy and wet conditions just a few months ago, I don’t envy the folks preparing to take the trip from Hopkinton to Boston. Unless the wind (predicted to gust up to 50 m.p.h.) is at the runner’s backs, then they can forget about any time goals. So that means a lot of hard work and training is lost like spores of a dandelion lost in a Nor’easter.

It’s not fair.

That’s the way it goes sometimes. As a runner, you can complain and feel bad about your fortune it or you can take off when the gun sounds and try to kick ass. There will be approximately 23,000 athletes ready to do just that tomorrow at 10 a.m.

What to look for
After a few days of feeling pretty pleased about skipping Boston this year, I have to admit that I wish I were there. How could anyone not want to run in the craziest and most extreme Boston Marathon ever? Nevertheless, I’ll be there in 2008.

As far as the fast elite runners go, don’t expect any Americans to sprinkle in to the top 10 like last year. That’s when Meb Keflezighi, Brian Sell, Alan Culpepper, Pete Gilmore and Clint Verran made the ’06 Boston Marathon the best showing by American runners in two decades. Don’t count on that tomorrow. For one thing Gilmore is the only runner of that group returning this year, since most of the elite Americans are focusing on the Olympic Trials to be run in New York City in early November, while Keflezighi, Khalid Khannouchi and Ryan Hall are slated to run the London Marathon (with another ridiculously deep field) next week.

On the men’s side, defending champ and course-record holder Robert Cheruiyot is back after his infamous spill at the finish line at last October’s Chicago Marathon. Cheruiyot is tough as nails which will come in handy in Monday’s conditions, but he should expect a challenge from countryman Benjamin Maiyo (second last year) and Robert Cheboror, who ran a 2:06 in Amsterdam in 2004.

The women’s race is doubling as the American national championship, which adds to the depth of the field. Defending champ Rita Jeptoo is back, along with defending New York City Marathon champion Jelena Prokopcuka, and Mexican stalwart Madai Perez.

But Monday is Deena’s day.

Readers of these pages know that Deena Kastor is No. 1a amongst the greatest American women runners in history (Joan Samuelson, of course, is No. 1, too). A victory in Boston would be the perfect complement to a great resume. And based on Kastor's showing in the USATF Cross Country Championships, she very well could be the best runner in the world right now.

One last bit of advice
Typically, my advice to anyone running Boston is to resist the urge to go too fast on all of the downhills through the first half of the race because, inevitably, you’ll pay for it later. That happened to me in ’97. But as soon as you get to the top of a small hill around the 14-mile mark, run like hell. Better yet, from 14 miles on surge on every downhill and maintain your pace on the inclines – including Heartbreak Hill.

Boston, like a few other marathons, is like a tricky golf course. Every mile has its idiosyncrasies and nuances that make the race unlike any other in the world just the way Augusta and Pine Valley offer challenges.

Late Sunday night, however, I came across this on the Boston Athletic Association web site:

The Boston Athletic Association's medical team recommends the following precautions and advice for participants in Monday's Boston Marathon:

FORECAST: The most up-to-date weather forecast calls for a predicted Spring storm on Monday, including heavy rains (potentially 3 to 5 inches), with the start temperatures in the mid to upper 30's. Wind will likely be East (in the face of the participants for most of the race) in the 20 to 25 mile per hour range, with gusts to as much as 50 miles per hour. This will produce a wind chill index of 25 to 30-degrees Fahrenheit.

RISKS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR RUNNERS PARTICIPATING IN COLD AND WET CONDITIONS: Combined with the rain, we are concerned that predicted weather conditions will increase the runners' risks for a condition called hypothermia. As with any athletic competition, as a runner you are assuming the risks inherent with participation. It is your responsibility to be informed about the risks associated with running in the aforementioned conditions, and the risks of injury or illness will increase with these predicted conditions.

While exercising in cold weather, our bodies attempt to maintain core temperature by shunting blood away from the periphery, thus minimizing heat loss. Hypothermia sets in when the body's temperature drops below normal, starting when the body loses heat faster than heat can be generated. Heat is produced by muscle action and shivering. Very low body temperatures can be life threatening.

In other words, all bets are off.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Could Rollins outgrow leadoff spot?

If one looks at it literally, Jimmy Rollins was correct in saying the Phillies were the team to beat in the National League East. At 2-8, boy are they ever the team to beat.

Yet despite sparking his teammates to back his words with winning baseball, Rollins has more than stood out through the early going of the season. Notoriously a poor starter during most of his career with the Phillies, Rollins leads the league with six homers, is second with 12 runs and is third in OPS (1.201) and slugging percentage (.783). Meanwhile, he slips into the top 10 in RBIs (11), on-base percentage (.418) and walks (8). A season after setting career highs in all of those statistical categories save for on-base percentage, Rollins, 28, appears to be settling into his prime.

But that’s where it gets curious. Is Rollins settling into his prime as a leadoff hitter or as a middle-of-the-order slugger? Certainly all followers of the Phillies have opinions on the topic, but the only one (or two) that matter aren’t budging.

The fact of the matter is that Jimmy Rollins is the Phillies’ leadoff hitter now and for the foreseeable future.

“I’m not saying I want to do anything,” manager Charlie Manuel said on Friday with his daily powwow with the writers. “I haven’t even thought about (a lineup change).”

Certainly Manuel has more important things to worry about than moving Rollins out of the leadoff spot, and frankly, Manuel seems to be taking the if-it-ain’t-broke approach where he can. In fact, since Manuel took over as skipper from Larry Bowa one of the first things he did was put Rollins at the top spot and to stop worrying about it. After bouncing around from the top third and bottom third of the order with Bowa in charge, Rollins has just 35 at-bats outside of the leadoff spot since Manuel took over before the 2005 season.

No doubt there were plenty calling for Manuel to move Rollins out of the top spot based on his pedestrian on-base percentage and his long stretches where he drew nary a walk. But now it seems as if Manuel’s patience has been rewarded.

“I feel like for me to want to move him we would have to need something down in our lineup,” Manuel said. “But I wouldn't do that (now). ... I don't plan on doing that. I'm not saying I won't do anything, but I haven't thought about (moving Rollins).”

Rollins, Manuel says, is a lot like his boyhood hero Rickey Henderson except for the walks of course. The quintessential leadoff man, Henderson bashed nearly 300 home runs during his long career, which was a terrifying dichotomy for the opposition when his all-time best stolen bases and second-best walks are measured in.

At the same time, Alfonso Soriano swiped 41 bags and smashed 46 homers hitting mostly in the leadoff spot for the Washington Nationals last season.

With stolen base numbers that hover in the mid-30s to low 40s, could a season like Soriano’s be in Rollins’ not-so distant future?

“He hit 25 last year. I’m not setting an amount on him and hopefully he’s not setting an amount,” Manuel said. “If he hits the ball out front with a good short swing, that’s what a home run is.”

Rollins, it seems, definitely knows what a home runs is. But will he get so familiar with the round-tripper that he outgrows his spot at the top of the Phillies’ batting order?


Friday, April 13, 2007

Welcome to Funsville

The Phillies quietly signed another relief pitcher prior Friday night’s game against the Astros and the Bank, and frankly, this guy looks like he could liven things up. In fact, right-handed reliever J.D. Durbin looks like such a good time that Deadspin decided to do a little send-up on the guy based on his MySpace page.

By the way, Durbin is 25, a Pieces, and dislikes negative people. But then again, don’t we all.

Nevertheless, Durbin was picked up on waivers from the Red Sox who picked him up from waivers from the Diamondbacks earlier in the week. The Red Sox designated Durbin for assignment with the hope of getting him to Triple-A, but the Phillies stepped in and picked him up.

Now the Phillies will try to get him to the minors without another team claiming him… or not.

Last week Durbin appeared in one game for the Diamondbacks and he got two outs. He also gave up seven runs. He was also a second-round pick of the Minnesota Twins in the 2000 draft. He appeared in four major-league games for the Twins in 2004, going 0-1 with a 7.60 ERA.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt

Word came out that Kurt Vonnegut died last night in New York City after a fall. He was 84. Fortunately, The Slaughterhouse Five, as well as the rest of his work, remains. That's beautiful. Just like Kurt Vonnegut was.

Here is an MP3 of Mr. Vonnegut reading the opening chapter of The Slaughterhouse Five.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Trading IMs with the press box

In this new feature we will reveal what some baseball writers like to message each other before, during or after a game. In this example, the IM thread began around noon on Wednesday.

Him: "Are you on your way up to Shea?"

Me: "No, because every time we're there something bad happens."

Him: "Well, you better get up here because they did it."

Me: "Did what?"

Him: "They whacked him."

Me: "Who?"

Him: "Charlie. Who did you think?"

Me: "What!?"

Him: "They fired him. They fired Charlie, Dubee and Milt Thompson. Joe Girardi takes over tonight."




Me: "[expletive deleted]."

Him: "Damn. I almost had you."

Me: "You know, Joe Girardi isn't such a bad idea."

Him: "I know. That's why I thought I'd get you."


All over the map

If you want to know how far Ryan Howard has come since hanging around in Reading and Moosic, Pa. it was in evidence on Tuesday night around midnight on CBS. There, Howard, sat in a chair usually reserved for the latest Hollywood star or pop culture icon to trade barbs with David Letterman.

From most accounts, Howard did well. He wore a nice suit, seemed personable and held his own against one of the sharpest wits (an oxymoron?) on television.

So I guess it’s fair to say that Ryan Howard is a superstar. Wow. Not bad for a guy who was “blocked” by Jim Thome.

Interestingly, Howard revealed to Dave that he “guesses 90 percent of time” about what pitch he’s going to get.

"Most of the time I'm swinging with my eyes closed anyways," Howard told Dave.

If only that were true. Howard is one of the better hitters at making adjustments on the fly. He might swing with his eyes closed, but that's because he already knows where it's going to land.

If you’re looking for someone to criticize the “traditional” style of newspaper writing, I’m the first in line. Without getting too much into it, I just don’t like doing the same old things the same old ways.

Hey, that’s just me.

But if you’re looking for good, quality newspaper writing, look no further than Paul Hagen’s story about Chris Coste and his “exile” back to the minors.

Coste, as we all remember, was the saccharine sweet feel-good story of 2006. After a decade playing and struggling in all levels of independent and minor-league ball, Coste finally made it to the Majors and played well enough that it seemed as if his days of being a bush-league cliché were over.

Or so it seemed.

Yet despite slugging seven homers, batting .328, and – more importantly – getting plenty of accolades from veteran pitchers about his abilities behind the plate, the Phillies really didn’t seem to believe what they were seeing with Coste. In fact, even when Coste was getting lots of important playing time during a late-season chase for the playoffs, the sense I got was that general manager Pat Gillick looked at Coste as an experiment that somehow went really well.

No, it didn’t seem as if Gillick or the Phillies wanted Coste to fail, but reading between the lines it appeared as if it wouldn’t have bothered them if the fairy tale would have ended with a loud thump. No matter what he did (it seemed to me), Coste never figured into the Phillies plans.

That’s a damn shame.

These days, Coste is grinding it out for Ottawa waiting for a call in his role as the perpetual insurance policy. He seems to be nothing more than a commodity or a number to the guys calling the shots, which is way it is in baseball a lot of the time. As Hagen wrote in his excellent story, “Heck, the Yankees got rid of Babe Ruth when they had no more use for him.”

Hopefully the Phillies will eventually do the right thing for Coste and trade him to a team where he can play. But then again, baseball is all business. Why would they want to do that?

Maybe a good place for Coste would be Kansas City, where former top prospect Brandon Duckworth has resurfaced as the team’s fifth starter after a few years kicking around the minors. In his first start of 2007 for the Royals, Duckworth held the defending American League champion Tigers to four hits and a walk without a run in 6 1/3 innings. Of the 19 outs he recorded, 12 were on ground balls.

Outings like that were kind of what the Phillies were hoping to get from mild-mannered right-hander when he arrived in the midst of a playoff chase in 2001. During that season, manager Larry Bowa yanked veteran 13-game winner Omar Daal from a start in Atlanta during the end of that season in favor of Duckworth.

But in 2002 and 2003, Duckworth didn’t take to Bowa’s managerial methods where it seemed that no matter what the pitcher did, it was never enough for the manager. Shockingly, it seemed to be a matter of someone having a personality clash with Bowa… like that has ever happened before.

Despite this, Duckworth averaged a little more than a strikeout per inning in 2002 though a forearm injury sidetracked much of his 2003 campaign. That winter the Phillies dealt Duckworth to the Astros in the Billy Wagner deal, where he struggled for two more seasons as a reliever and sometime starter. Before the 2006 season, he signed on with the Pirates where he spent most of the season in Triple-A before being sold to the Royals, where he pitched his way into the rotation.

Is this where Duckworth finally puts something together? Perhaps. Unlike Coste, Duckworth will get a chance.

Finally, on to the Imus fiasco…

For a while it was easy to be Don Imus. All he ever did was hate everyone, equally, for an entire career. In fact, Imus and his flunkies have hated everyone with vitriol and anger for as long as I’ve been alive. And I ain’t so young any more.

That’s why the outrage over his comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team is so weird. Imus is the dog that has been pissing on the carpet for decades, but now, after doing something that has defined his career, everyone is trying to whack him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. I ask, “What took so long?” One would be hard pressed to find a group that he hasn’t slurred.

Don Imus didn’t say one thing – he said a million things. Most of them were mean and aimed – without irony – at hurting others. That’s just how he rolls.

In fact, it’s fair to conclude that Imus is the purveyor of the schlocky and unoriginal talk radio tripe that pervades the airwaves. If Imus and his ilk have a legacy it’s creating a medium based on loudness and meanness with disciples all over the dial and ideological spectrum.

So when Imus picked on the young women from Rutgers for no good reason other than they can’t fight back, it seems as if those waiting to pounce finally found an opening. Enough, as they say, is enough.

Still Imus’ reign of hate has already scorched the airwaves. Because of his influence it seems as if the requisite for getting a talk show on the radio is to get some anger, bluster and the ability to pontificate in relative complete sentences. It doesn’t matter what stupidity pours out of one’s mouth as it gets a reaction... or ratings.

In writing about the extremely unoriginal talk-show host Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio, sportswriter King Kaufman (hey… I’m warming up to that guy) cites the lack of innovation in the sports-talk radio as one of the reasons for all the misplaced anger by hosts. The target, at least in Cowherd’s case, is the Internet which the ESPN host has stolen from and lambasted equally. Writes Kaufman:

It was the latest battle in an ongoing war between sports-talk radio and sports blogs, one that hardly seems like a fair fight. One side is a medium that's essentially unchanged since the 1970s, an industry whose only idea since the Carter administration has been to keep getting more “in your face.” The other side is, so far in its brief history, constantly adapting, changing, self-correcting, reinventing.

History tends to be on the side of the latter. There's no reason sports-talk radio has to be an enemy of innovation, no reason it can't adapt to the times, meet the challenges of new technologies and changing audience needs. It just hasn't.

Talk radio's response to the World Wide Web, possibly the greatest communications revolution since Gutenberg built his printing press and certainly the greatest since television, was to say, “Hey, you can listen to our radio show on your computer now!”


After writing about Imus and Cowherd I think it’s time to take a shower.

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