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Archive for February, 2006

Anyone for a Schmitter?

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, February 28, 2006 10:58 AM Comments: 0

Is it me, or does it seem that every year as Mike Schmidt flies south for spring training he always grabs the headlines?  This year is no different and Schmidtty is all over the place.  First, he’s got a new book which is set to be released on March 14th entitled Clearing the Bases: Juiced Players, Monster Salaries, Sham Records, and a Hall of Famer’s Search for the Soul of Baseball.  Despite what you think of Michael Jack he’s an intelligent guy and this book is rumored to be a page turner. 

He said himself the first couple chapters are a bit dull, but once you get past (or skip) them it gets good.  It’s not a tell-all like the Canseco’s Juiced, but he does hit the steroid issue head on.  Not to ruin the ending but I’m sure you’ve head by now that Schmidt feels that Mark McGwire should be inducted into the Hall of Fame while Rafael Palmeiro should not.  His reasons are pretty straightforward: Raffy got caught while Big Mac did not.  But that’s a whole different discussion; and to be honest, those comments are not what concerns me today.

On Comcast the other night, he – like many before him – commented on how the 2006 Phillies lack a true clubhouse leader.  He claimed the club is essentially just a bunch of good friends who think they are a championship caliber team.  Now this should not be construed as an insult, it was constructive criticism.  It’s well clear that the Phils are a young team, especially the position players, and as much as Lieberthal and Bell have veteran status until they can lead by example they can’t fill this role.  Schmidt went on to say it is in fact Charlie Manuel and the coaches who are the leaders of this team.  That is an interesting way to put it.  By their very nature and job description they are leaders, but of course this is grossly insufficient for a team trying to make the playoffs.  Hopefully Schmidtty can instill in Rollins and Utley some key leadership points and encourage them to step up and rally the team this year.

Mike Schmidt is an interesting character with a lot to say.  If you’d like to buy his book, it’s available in the Phillies Nation store.  Balls, Sticks, and Stuff will be hosting a discussion group in April.  But if you can’t wait until then, and would actually like to meet Michael Jack, contact us about the free tickets to see him in New York.

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Vote for Phillies Wall of Fame

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, February 27, 2006 03:42 PM Comments: 0

Voting for the Phillies Wall of Fame opened this past week and runs through March 24th.  Fans can vote for three players among 20 listed and the top five vote-getters will be placed on the final ballot.  A "special Wall of Fame selection committee" will ultimately choose this year’s inductee.  The 20 players on the list are as follows:

Pitchers: Larry Christenson, Jim Konstanty, Jim Lonborg, Al Orth, Ron Reed, Dick Ruthven, Rick Wise 
Catchers: Darren Daulton, Spud Davis 
Infielders: Don Hurst, John Kruk, Fred Luderus, Juan Samuel, Pinky Whitney 
Outfielders: Lenny Dykstra, Tony Gonzalez, Von Hayes 
Manager: Dallas Green, Gene Mauch 
Coach: Mike Ryan

For my money, I’m voting for Konstanty, Dykstra and Dallas Green.  I feel the Phillies need to honor Lenny Dykstra as much as possible in order to pry him from his Mets legacy.  Although he won a World Series with New York he spent the majority of his career in Philadelphia after being traded along with Roger McDowell for Juan Samuel – another notch in the bad decision belt of Mets management.  I often say that Jimmy Rollins and other Phillies would do well to adopt Dykstra’s approach to the game.  Frank Robinson just recently commented on the dearth of true leadoff hitters.  "They’re becoming extinct. We’ve got to protect them, like some of these animals out there in the woods.  We don’t groom people in the minor leagues to be true leadoff hitters."  For this precise reason, I really wish the Phils would hire Nails as a special hitting coach.  Anyway, if you’d like to vote for your favorite Phillies from the list above, use this link.

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Update on the Kalas Situation

Posted by Brian Michael, Sun, February 26, 2006 02:09 PM Comments: 0

An update on the Harry Kalas scandal comes to us from Rob Brooks, the Phillies’ manager of broadcasting:  "Harry is going to be doing six innings on TV and Scott Graham is going to do six on radio. No other decision on our lineup has been finalized."  The Inky article by Marc Narducci made a surprisingly good case favoring Wheels over L.A. for the television job.  He claims although Andersen is funnier and more friendly with Kalas, Wheels is the better analyst.

He has tremendous recall for situations that have occurred in Phillies history. He is always pointing out defensive strategies. Nobody is more up-to-date on the game’s current events than Wheeler. It would be hard to find any announcer who comes to a game more prepared than Wheeler.

My impression of Chris Wheeler is certainly not that high.  I’ve met him on a few occasions, but one encounter stands out in particular.  I was waiting around in the Phillies office after a game one afternoon at the Vet.  The television there was tuned to a Braves game on TBS.  Wheels came in the office and stopped next to me to check the score.  He turned to me, said "Huh, 2-1," and then walked off.  I immediately looked up at the tv and saw that the score was in fact 3-0.  It was one of those moments in life where you begin to helplessly grasp for some explanation for what just happened.  I wasn’t sure if the guy was blind, confused or just trying to mess with my head.  So ever since that day, all three characteristics come to mind when I think of Wheels.

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A Few Good Seats Still Available

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, February 23, 2006 09:00 PM Comments: 0

As many of you have noticed, tickets for individual Phillies games went on sale yesterday.  The not surprisingly high demand for the Red Sox, Yankees and Opening Day games cause a bit of an overload and it seems many people had trouble purchasing their tickets online.  The 610 morning show (which thankfully airs at 11am here) fielded several calls from confused fans who hadn’t realized the pains of buying tickets online; not to mention Angelo’s own whining over the difficulties of advancing though the system.  However anyone who is signed up for the Phillies e-newsletter at phillies.com could have avoided the mess.  On Monday I received an email from John Weber, the Phillies Director of Sales, inviting all e-mail club members to purchase tickets starting Tuesday at 9 a.m.  So besides the occasional spam from David Montgomery and Pat Gillick, it seems signing up has some other perks.

Anyway, before long, seats for the individual Red Sox and Yankee games had sold out.  The Inky said today that standing room only tickets still remain for the Boston and NY series, though a quick search on Phillies.com for the May 20th Sox game turned up two seats up in section 307 for $50.  I’m not sure who you want to believe, but all I know is that I remember walking up to the gate the day of a Yankees game about 3 years ago at the Vet and buying general admission seats for $8 a pop.  Those were the days, I guess.  Also as of last night, seats for the home opener against St. Louis have not sold out so act fast if you’re looking to ply hookie on April 3rd.

For those of you who want to see some Phillies action without breaking the bank, Phillies Nation is pleased to offer free tickets to see a taping of Steven A. Smith’s ESPN show "Quite Frankly" featuring special guest and Phillies legend, Michael Jack Schmidt.  The show is taped in New York City right across from Madison Square Garden on Thursday, March 16 at 4:30 pm, so you either have to be living in that urban death maze or take the $16 SEPTA-NJ Transit line to Penn Station.  We have about 10 tickets, so if anyone is interested either leave a comment or email us using the Contact Us form.

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Save Harry!

Posted by Brian Michael, Wed, February 22, 2006 10:37 AM Comments: 0

The Harry-gate scandal which original broke last September has just been taken to a new level with the announcement of the new broadcasting schedule.  With this news, I would like to introduce a guest post by our friend Robbie Cowie.  Robbie currently serves as commissioner of the Delaware Division of the Phillies Nation fantasy league and also thankfully maintains the exploding Phillies Nation page on MySpace.  So without further ado, here is his take on the Harry Kalas news:

Since 1971, the Phillies have played 5,346 regular season games and 48 playoff games.  They’ve had 14 coaches, 6 different uniform variations and played in two stadiums.  Who was there to broadcast, see and be at each game the Fightin’ Phils have played? Harry Kalas.  Harry Kalas is Phillies Baseball. After I read the article by Paul Hagen in yesterday’s Inquirer it made me sick to my stomach.  I immediately rose out of my chair and jumped in front of the computer to formally complain to every columnist I could email about this horrific change in the landscape of Phillies broadcasting.

In case you missed it, this is how it boils down, "The tentative plan is to pair Hall of Famer Harry Kalas and Chris Wheeler in the first three and last three innings on television, with Wheeler and Scott Graham working the middle three. Larry Andersen will move to radio exclusively." In 2004 when Kalas signed a 3-year contract extension, (which ends after this season) the rift between Kalas and Wheeler became public.  I’m not really a big Wheeler fan.  I find him to be a know-it-all type and I grew tired of his reassurance to me all season that Bobby Abreu is hussling for fly balls in shallow right field.  Despite my feelings for Wheeler, and even Harry, he will not be going anywhere.

My problem is that the Phillies should accommodate Harry with whomever he wants to be partnered. Kalas loves Andersen in the booth with him on television.  Their chemistry behind the microphones has grown on me and most fans; and I can say I enjoy their perspective and delivery style of the games on TV.  Why mess with a good thing?  Apparently I’m not the only person who feels this way.  If you check out the Phillies Message Boards you will see hundreds of similar complaints to the mistreatment of Harry K.  Come on, the guy has part of the stadium named after him.  Do you see a Wheeler’s Whiskey House anywhere in Ashburn Alley?  Hopefully Scott Palmer can get on this and start "bridging the gap" that he was talking about between the Phillies, the fans and the media.

Thanks Robbie, and for those wondering, if Scott Palmer’s email address follows the traditional taxonomy, it would be:  spalmer@phillies.com.

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Can Cory Continue?

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, February 21, 2006 07:02 PM Comments: 0

There’s been much talk about the Phillies pitching staff this off-season, most notably the starting five.  The debuts of Ryan Madson and Ryan Franklin have garnered the most headlines followed a close second by the battle for the number 1 spot between Jon Lieber and Brett Myers.  Yet lost among the hype is ole faithful, Cory Lidle.  The inning-eater who has the #3 spot in the rotation locked up is looking to improve upon 2005 in which he saw his first winning season in four years.

Many of Lidle’s numbers started moving in the right direction last year.  His HR/9 improved significantly and he gave up a lot less fly balls as the season progressed.  This lead to him only allowing 18 homeruns, which is pretty impressive considering where he was pitching.  Similarly he started throwing a lot more strikes than past seasons – 65% to be exact - which improved both his K/9 and K/BB ratio (see chart).

Cory Lidle K/BB

So Lidle had one good season – big deal.  Does that mean we can extrapolate it out to next year?  Well, according to Baseball Prospectus we shouldn’t expect much more than last season’s form.  Though truth be told, that is fine with me.  As the Phils number 3 starter, Lidle’s expectations do not really rise much above the average.  As long as he can continue to pitch 6 innings (which is precisely what he averaged last season) and win at least 12 games his performance should be sufficient.  It would help if he could decrease his ERA by at least half a point and dip under 4.00, but any small bit that surpasses expectations could really make the difference in the Phillies season.

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Philadelphia Fans – A Picky Lot

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, February 20, 2006 12:22 PM Comments: 0

Living here in London, I have had a few chances to reflect on the nature of Philadelphia fans. Two instances stand out in particular.  The first, and more obvious it is the fervor that is found in football/soccer fans.  Besides the traditional hooliganism and beatings of opposition fans, there is the unconditional support shown for your home club.  Each match is serenaded by team songs, chats and the collective battering of the visiting club.  Now this is not to say fans are not critical of their players and teams, they are certainly are in the media and in person.   But in essence, most fan behavior has become institutionalized for the long-term; whereas it seems Philly sports fans are more keen to ride the success and failure of their respective teams.

The second example which helped to put Philly fans in perspective occurred early one morning as I was watching the Eagles-Seahawks Monday Night debacle.  For some reason they don’t have commercials during NFL games here, so they instead kick it back to the studio for instant analysis and the reading of viewer emails.  This game in particular heard a smattering of boos rain down from the crowd, which caused the studio anchor to comment that Philly fans were the most intolerant fans in American sports.  I wrote the guy an email which was subsequently read on air that said, "Philly fans arent the most intolerant, we’re the most passionate – get it straight.  We expect winners and settle for nothing less."  So basically, if we boo a lot, it’s due to the fact that we don’t win very much.  Of course for those not old enough to remember 1980, (or died before then) this takes on an especially significant meaning for Phillies fans.

Phillies fans while maintaining this latter characteristic of putting winning first, do not in my opinion have the same loyalty as described in the first paragraph.  Phillies fans are much more ephemeral.  David Montgomery in fact is banking on this tendency as he just hired Scott Palmer win back some of those strayed fans.  Palmer was previously on a six month consulting contract but is now officially the Phillies Director of Media and Public Affairs.  As Marcus Hayes put it, "Montgomery enlisted Palmer to make the fans and the media happier. "

One of Palmer’s first actions upon joining the Phils back in September was to forward to Montgomery all the negative Ed Wade emails he received.  Wade was fired a month later much to the pleasure of the Phillies fan base.  Palmer is also now hosting "Behind The Pinstripes," the Phils’ new weekly television magazine which intends to "give fans an up-close look at some of their favorite players."  Marcus Haynes also mentions that Palmer will be encouraging players to speak with reports more frequently after games.  Supposedly this will benefit fans by allowing them to hear more directly from players who had an impact on the day’s game.  Therefore looking at these examples, the question is: will these tactics work if the Phillies can’t produce on the diamond?

Not to doom Mr. Palmer’s new job to failure, but I will have to say no.  Evidence of Philadelphia fans’ commitment to winning can be found just down the road with the Sixers.  In reference to the declining attendance at the Wachovia Center, Ed Snider was recently quoted as saying, "[The fans] know what they’re going to get. And they’re not happy we’re an up-and-down team, a .500 team, win one night, lose the next, and they just say, ‘We’ll watch it on TV.’ "  The Sixers claim they are pulling out all the stops in trying to attract fans, including spending money on big time players like Chris Webber.  Snider went on to say, "We are working very hard to build our attendance and, you know, I don’t think we could do a heck of a lot more than what we’re doing. The Sixers staff are tearing their hair out trying to come up with the answers."  I think the answer is clear, Ed, win games.  No matter how much money they spend on players and promotions, fans will not pay to see an average team.  Sports executives in this city must eventually come to terms with the fact that fans react to substance, not procedure.  From a fan’s perspective, claiming that you are trying hard to win but not winning is simply an excuse for failure.

Thus the addition of Scott Palmer will not significantly improve the fan’s perception of – nor money spent on – the Phillies unless they at least make the playoffs.  As said many times before by many people, winning solves everything.  The Phillies brass needs to realize this and stop wasting time trying to sell a defective product.  After all, there is increasingly less hair left for them to pull out.

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Looking for a Lefty

Posted by Brian Michael, Sat, February 18, 2006 01:09 PM Comments: 0

You may have heard that Randy Wolf is not expected to return to the Phillies rotation until at least mid-July; however even that might be optimistic.  This would put Wolf at just over a year since he had Tommy John surgery which is a much quicker rehab than that made by some of his teammates.  Tom Gordon and Jon Lieber were out 18 months before pitching again and Rheal Cormier took two full years.  Wolf is probably a bit more eager than most to return, being that 2006 will be the final year of his 4 year contract with the Phillies.  I’m not saying that he or the Phillies medical staff would be stupid enough to risk further injury, but don’t be surprised it Wolf’s timeline gets pushed back or if he does pitch in July, he will unlikely return to form.

This then leaves the Phillies without a left-handed pitcher in the rotation for much of the season.  No matter, says Charlie Manuel, he’s fine with five righties.  "A balanced staff is what you look for," Manuel said. "We don’t want all the same type of pitcher. It’s better if we have guys with a little different delivery and style. We have five guys capable of pitching well."  Certainly adding Madson to the mix will help diversify the delivery and style aspects of the staff, but it would be nice to occasionally have a lefty on the mound when facing the likes of Cliff Floyd and Carlos Delgado.  Only an amazing performance by Eude Brito in spring training would give the Phils a chance of adding lefty to the rotation – but that is highly unlikely.  So is having a lefty in the rotation really that important?  It is somewhat, for the precise reason Manuel gives.  Over the course of a three game series a left-handed starter affords a significant difference in pitching style.  Obviously not it would not be wise to throw any old southpaw on the mound, but the Phils would have done well to add one this off-season.  Instead of course they picked up Ryan Franklin – a move which would have made a lot more sense if only he were a lefty.

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Aristotle, Kant, Decartes, and Daulton

Posted by Brian Michael, Fri, February 17, 2006 10:13 AM Comments: 0

With spring training now upon us, it’s hard not to get excited about the 2006 season.  But if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I have to mention this bizarre article by Paul Hagen in today’s Daily News.  It concerns Darren Daulton and his rebirth into the world of metaphysics.  Not as much a philosopher as an unapologetic believer, Dutch now claims he understands the world in the 4th and 5th dimensions, while the rest of us mortals stop at the 3rd:  "I see life in a different perspective than I used to, in a way that’s different from how most people see it."  (I wish I was making this up because it only gets crazier, so please read on…)

It all started around the time Daulton was traded to from the Phillies to Florida for Billy McMillion.  While playing for the Marlins one day at Wrigley, the epiphany hit him.  "That was the first time I realized it," he said. "I remember coming out of the stadium and I started crying. [His wife] said, ‘What’s wrong? You just got the game-winning hit.’  And I said, ‘I didn’t hit that ball.  Something happened, but it wasn’t me.  The strange thing was I didn’t hit that ball. I never hit balls inside the third base line!"  Well, if that’s not reason to question the meaning of life, I don’t know what is.  Perhaps, Dutch just missed the post game chats with Nails and Jake where they reassured him that he was just as crazy as the rest of the lot.

But the metaphysical mindset didn’t end there.  "It was 4 or 5 years [after that day in Wrigley Field] that I started seeing this other dimension," he said. "I saw [former Phillies manager] Lee Elia, my folks, my brother running on the beach. They were all much younger. But it was real."  Now whether he was just drunk and watching Baywatch, we’ll never know, but this encounter prompted him to dig a little deeper and fine tune his new found capacity.  Eventually he compiled his thoughts into a manuscript tentatively titled, "If They Only Knew."  This of course was lifted from the popular John Kruk expression used to describe the locker room high jinx of the ’93 team.  Besides outlining Daulton’s personal manifesto, the book intends to shed light on the secrets of the pyramids, which Dutch insists are strategically placed all over the galaxy.  Funny, this seems eerily similar to the plot of Alien vs. Predator, which was loosely based on Mayan history…much like Daulton’s brain.  He even goes as far as claiming the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012 (the last day recorded on the Mayan calendar).

Now to put this all in a bit of context, around the same time that Dutch started to develop his theories he increasingly had run ins with the law.  Perhaps while in jail he used the study of metaphysics to pass the time.  This, when combined with the unholy culture of prison life, may have somehow warped his fragile mind.  Yet, he is relentless in his defense.  "I’ve been thrown in jail five or six times," Daulton says. "Nicole thinks I’m crazy. She blames everything on drugs and drinking. But I don’t take drugs and I’m not a drunk. Nicole just doesn’t understand metaphysics."

Very few of us do, Dutch.  I’ve dabbled a bit in a few philosophy departments, and somehow have yet to reach similar conclusions as those posited by Daulton.  One of my roommates at Penn graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Philosophy and while a bit eccentric, never quite reached the level of insanity now offered by Darren Daulton.  But hey, who knows, maybe Dutch is right and has a more developed brain than the rest of us.  Still, until 12/21/12 rolls around, I’m just gonna assume he’s taken one too many fastballs off the mask.

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Chase Utley in 2006

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, February 16, 2006 06:25 AM Comments: 0

We all know how important Chase Utley is to the Phillies.  His consistent clutch performance, stifling defense and hard-nosed approach to the game all contribute to him being one of the most popular guys on the team.  When he was named the team MVP by the local Baseball Writers Association of America one writer noted, "Utley has everything the veterans lacked: ability, clutch performance, heart and leadership."  He was again honored this past week with a spot on Team USA for the World Baseball Classic.  Recently, his hometown Long Beach Press Telegram profiled the Phillies star and followed his growth from the Long Beach Little League to UCLA and eventually to Philadelphia.  There’s no question that this guy has what it takes to be a superstar. 

He has the right mentality, that’s for sure.  When faced with the tough decision of either signing with the Dodgers straight out of high school or going to college made the right move.  "I could go to UCLA and mature and get a degree. In high school, my goal was to get to the major leagues but I never felt I had to do it right away."  For all those Moneyball fans out there, recall that a college education is one of the most valued assets of any young player.

But now that he’s entering his first season of starting everyday, how will Chase handle the pressure?  Statistically, the Baseball Reference PECOTA projections give him only a 40% chance of improving his runs per game ratio.  The rest of their predictions don’t look good either, even predicting a decrease in plate appearances – which I found a bit odd.  In 2005, he tallied just over 7 wins above a replacement player, in 2006 he’s expected to drop to 5.

So should we trust the predictions?  I say no.  Barring injury, Utley’s production should at least remain comparable to last season, if not improve.  Chase strikes me as the kind of guy that will only get better with experience.  He himself said, "There’s always room for improvement.  I always want to get better. I don’t see goals other than that.  Learn and get better."  That’s precisely the attitude that should catapult him into a leadership role on the team.  Hopefully he can encourage players to regularly stick around the clubhouse and discuss the ins-and-outs of the games, much like the fun-loving 1993 team did. 

Still, I think one of the more tangible statistics can best speak to what Utley means to the current Phillies squad; that is, Marginal Value Above Replacement Player which stands at a healthy $9,075,000.  Next season Chase, still on his rookie contract, is slated to make just $345,000.  If Utley continues to defy predictions, it will be interesting to see if Pat Gillick can resist giving him a long-term deal before the end of the season.

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