Author Archive

Dr. Strangeglove: Saying Goodbye

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, December 23, 2011 11:00 AM Comments: 20

In June 2009, when I was trying to find a job after graduating college, I started writing for a small Phillies blog run by a longtime friend of mine, Paul Boye. He wasn’t doing much with it, I figured, so why not let me on board? That site, The Phrontiersman, trundled along for a while at about 1,500 hits a month for seven months. We each probably posted about twice or three times a week, and it was fun, but we knew that only a couple hundred people read our posts. That site served the purpose of helping Paul and me find our voices as sports commentators, all the while developing this strange sort of comedy double act, with me playing the role of Groucho Marx and Paul as Margaret Dumont.

In January 2010, I wrote a post trying to project the Phillies’ history if they’d kept Scott Rolen. MLB Trade Rumors linked to it, and the site blew up. A couple weeks later, Paul called me at work, saying this site called Phillies Nation had gotten in touch with him and wanted us to move over and write for them. I couldn’t say yes quickly enough, and for the past two years, I’ve written anything from a short poem about Cliff Lee facing the Mets to 2,000 words on attending the 19-inning game against the Reds this year. Over 23 months, we’ve been on a journey together, you and I, that’s featured both emotion and logic, with a touch of confrontation thrown in.

Today, that journey comes to an end. This will be my last post as a member of the Phillies Nation staff.

Continue reading Dr. Strangeglove: Saying Goodbye


Ryan Howard’s 2011: The Modern-Day Achilles

Posted by Michael Baumann, Mon, December 19, 2011 02:18 PM Comments: 80

This concludes our 2011 Player Review series. Previous posts can be found here.

It’s tough to look at Ryan Howard objectively. The highs have been great (he’s one of only five players in major league history to win Rookie of the Year and the MVP in his first two seasons), and the lows have been dreadful. There’s a great tradition in Philadelphia sports of being able to separate the great athlete from his context. We look at Eric Lindros and see his concussions. We look at Allen Iverson and think first of his bizarre and polarizing behavior and his inability to overcome his terrible teammates. We look at Bobby Abreu and we don’t see the Phillies’ career leader in OBP and an outfield talent the likes of which the organization hadn’t seen since Richie Ashburn–we see his refusal to run into walls. We see Donovan McNabb and rather than recognizing that he’s the greatest offensive player the Eagles have ever had, we crucify him for only being the third-best quarterback in the NFL during his prime.

So, too, with Ryan Howard. But instead of concussions, or Ricky Manning, or a rap album, we see what should simply be known as The Contract. In his prime, Howard was as good a power hitter as could be found in baseball. His 2006 season was probably not as good as Albert Pujols‘, but his winning the MVP that year was hardly a miscarriage of justice. But since then, he’s slipped from those ranks. The league discovered that he was a dead-pull hitter who couldn’t recognize low off-speed pitches, and without much athleticism or defense to fall back on, Howard went from MVP candidate to pretty good in the blink of an eye.

Except Ruben Amaro, in April 2010, signed him to a contract extension that paid him like an MVP candidate through his age-36 season. And while I don’t begrudge Howard a dollar of the $125 million he’ll make over the next five years, that figure will color everything he does for the rest of his time with the Phillies.

But y’all know all this. How did he do in 2011?

Continue reading Ryan Howard’s 2011: The Modern-Day Achilles


Dr. Strangeglove: Nicknames

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, December 16, 2011 12:40 PM Comments: 43

Oil Can Boyd

There’s a lot not to like about baseball in the 1930s and 1940s–no television, racial segregation, and an offensive explosion that would make the Steroid Era look like the Bronze Age, thanks to joke ballparks (258 feet to the right field foul pole at the Polo Grounds!) and a set of strategic norms still adjusting to the live ball era.

But there were some things I wish hadn’t changed from then. Four, to be precise:

  1. No designated hitter
  2. No Atlanta Braves (though I admit that if they were from Boston I might hate them even more)
  3. No New York Mets
  4. Nicknames

Sure, we have nicknames on the Phillies, and while some of them are pretty good (J-Roll, assuming he comes back, Doc, Chooch), others are pretty awful, like “Polly” or “J-Bone,” which is what Steven De Fratus wants us to call his brother, Phillies reliever Justin De Fratus. Intending no undue disrespect to either De Fratus brother, J-Bone is the stupidest goddamn idea for a nickname that I’ve ever heard in my life. We can come up with something better.

That’s what was so great about the interwar years–they put thought into their nicknames, which is how we wound up with The Splendid Splinter, Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons, Goose Goslin, and a litany of awesome sobriquets for Babe Ruth. And because we weren’t afraid of hurting people’s feelings, nicknames weren’t limited to things you might call your golden retriever or the third-line center on the squirt hockey team you coach on the weekend–you couldn’t really be mean, but you didn’t have to be complimentary, either. You could call someone “Losing Pitcher Mulcahy” or “Three Finger Brown” and no one would accuse you of being an insensitive pig. We need to think outside the box here, which is why I’ve been trying so hard to get “Exxon” and “Tony No-Dad” to stick.

It’s also why I need your help.

Continue reading Dr. Strangeglove: Nicknames


Hunter Pence’s 2011: Awkward but Effective

Posted by Michael Baumann, Tue, December 13, 2011 03:00 PM Comments: 14

During the last week of July, I lost my mind at the prospect that the Phillies would trade one or more of Jarred Cosart, Domonic Brown, and Jonathan Singleton to Houston for right fielder Hunter Pence. But then it happened, and you know what? It all turned out better than anyone could have imagined.

Let’s leave aside for a moment all the accoutrements that come with Hunter Pence. Let’s leave aside, for instance, the topless photos. Let’s leave aside the ragging on John Mayberry for the Stanford Mermaid Experiment. Hunter Pence: Creator of Catchphrases and Destroyer of Postgame Buffets.

These antics are great, but what do they say about Hunter Pence, the ballplayer? Pence could be a latter-day Roger McDowell, a pitcher remembered today less for his 159 career saves but for the 12 years he spent in major league bullpens setting other people’s shoelaces on fire. (Or for this more recent nastiness, which someone would mention if I didn’t.)

But back to Hunter Pence the ballplayer. From 2007 to 2010, he was pretty decent. But in 2011, particularly in the second half of 2011, he was freakin’ incredible. Continue reading Hunter Pence’s 2011: Awkward but Effective


Dr. Strangeglove: Leonid Brezhnev, GM

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, December 09, 2011 12:26 PM Comments: 24

Because it’s finals week at universities across North America, I’d like to encourage everyone to do the following: if there’s a college professor who impacted your life for the better whom you never thanked, go back and do that. For me, it would be Dr. Gordon Smith, Director of the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies at the University of South Carolina and one of American academia’s foremost experts on Russian politics. My junior year of undergrad, I took his Russian foreign policy class because 1) I needed an international relations elective and 2) my girlfriend, a Russian major, was taking it.

That class was the first impetus for my choosing to attend graduate school for political science–international relations in particular–and Dr. Smith was a fabulous teacher. I wasn’t one of the star students, and I figured that if Dr. Smith remembered me at all, it would be as the sleepy-looking bearded guy who sat next to KTLSF in the back row–she was one of the star students–and thought it was funny to characterize the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko as “in Soviet Russia, tea drinks you!” But more than a year after our last class meeting, he spotted me on the street, called me by name, and we talked for several minutes about life, the universe, and everything.

This post was made possible because of one word–gerontocracy–to which Dr. Smith introduced me that semester. I’d like to dedicate this post to Dr. Gordon Smith, who, I’m sure would be proud to know that one of his students got just enough out of his class to spot the parallels between Ruben Amaro Jr., general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union.

Continue reading Dr. Strangeglove: Leonid Brezhnev, GM


Mystery Team Enters Pujols Derby

Posted by Michael Baumann, Thu, December 08, 2011 04:52 AM Comments: 50

On Wednesday night, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the Marlins, as expected, had withdrawn from the running to sign Albert Pujols, the best baseball player of the past decade and the man who will, if he continues on a normal career path, will retire as the greatest right-handed hitter of all time. The interesting thing about all this is that he also reported that two new teams–along with St. Louis–had entered the running to sign Pujols: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, whom ESPN’s Jayson Stark later said had offered the top first baseman on the market a deal worth somewhere north of $210 million over 10 years, and an unidentified third team.

Whatever. That’s interesting, but not really worth sharing with you guys on a Phillies blog. But then I noticed, at a quarter to three in the morning, right before I was going to go to bed, that Stark tweeted this:

And now I can’t sleep.

Continue reading Mystery Team Enters Pujols Derby


Dr. Strangeglove: The Ballad of Scott Mathieson

Posted by Michael Baumann, Sat, December 03, 2011 07:30 AM Comments: 9

From 2005 to 2008, I probably paid less attention to to the day-to-day operations of the Phillies than at any other time, owing mostly to spending more than half of the baseball season living in a place where there was no local MLB broadcast among people who considered baseball season as nothing other than that awkward time between when the Gamecocks lose to Clemson and when the Gamecocks lose to Georgia. Thankfully, that second modifier no longer holds true. Eat me, Dabo Swinney. Of course, by “paid less attention” I mean “checked the standings online every day rather than spending every spare moment imagining a Hamels-and-Howard for Cain-and-Belt trade.”

Anyway, because I wasn’t watching as much baseball back then, Scott Mathieson was this mystical figure to me. He was some dude who showed up in the rotation in mid-2006 and totally sucked, not to put too fine a point on it, then got hurt and seemingly disappeared back into the woods of British Columbia like Sasquatch evading an enterprising photographer. I always liked him, because as a young guy who threw hard, he conceivably had some value to the Phillies. Also, because of my well-documented and long-running man-crush on Jeff Francis, I have a soft spot in my heart for enormous pitchers from British Columbia.

Since then, Mathieson’s had a fascinating career with the Phillies, which came to an end this week when he was granted his release. I felt a strong personal affinity for Mathieson over the years, maybe because he was the Phillies’ sleeper relief ace every year for the past three seasons but never got the chance as the Phillies relied on the likes of Danys Baez and Mike Zagurski to fill the gaps, a sort of proto-Domonic Brown. Nevertheless, for someone who only pitched 44 innings in red pinstripes, he generated a lot of ink before he was traded for a hot dog eater. In that vein, it’s appropriate to remember everyone’s favorite perennial closer-in-waiting and what our own Jay Floyd called his “strange odyssey.”

Continue reading Dr. Strangeglove: The Ballad of Scott Mathieson


The Mulligan: Domonic Brown’s 2011 in Review

Posted by Michael Baumann, Wed, November 30, 2011 07:00 AM Comments: 46

We continue on with our 2011 Player Reviews with Domonic Brown.

This is a story of unfulfilled promise. Going into the season as the No. 4 prospect in the game, according to Baseball America, and coming off a season where he posted a .980 OPS between AA and AAA, Domonic Brown seemed poised to slide seamlessly into the right field void left by Jayson Werth.  The Phillies’ best offensive prospect since Ryan Howard, Brown looked set to do in the majors what he’d done at every level of minor league baseball: take his trebuchet launch of a swing and his howitzer throwing arm and bring those weapons to bear for no purpose other than to blast the opposition into oblivion.

Then the Domonator broke the hamate bone in his right hand on March 5, and everything seemed to go downhill from there. Brown didn’t get into the major league lineup until May 21. What’s worse, the broken hamate bone saps strength in the hand, and it usually takes a hitter months to recover his full power stroke. Brown, for his part, wasn’t particularly good, dialing in at exactly replacement level according to both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, combining a .322 wOBA (not awful, but not exactly stellar for a corner outfielder) with pretty dreadful outfield defense, which, after 12 seasons of Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez in left field, has apparently started to bother Phillies fans all of a sudden.

Continue reading The Mulligan: Domonic Brown’s 2011 in Review


Dr. Strangeglove: Albert Camus and the Backup Catcher

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, November 18, 2011 07:00 AM Comments: 18

Mother died today.

-Opening line of Albert Camus’ The Stranger

The Phillies re-signed backup catcher Brian Schneider yesterday. I get worked up about a lot of baseball-related things that don’t matter, as you may know by now, and the Phillies overpaying for Jonathan Papelbon and sending Jonathan Singleton packing for Hunter Pence sent me into a blind homicidal rage that could only be sated by drinking the tears of a thousand Mets fans and the blood of a hundred innocent fawns. But when the Phillies re-signed their backup catcher to a one-year, $800,000 contract, I felt no greater emotional response to the transaction than Meursault did to his mother’s death in Camus’ 1942 masterwork.

Brian Schneider was a patently terrible offensive player last season. In 1962, the Mets acquired catcher Harry Chiti from Detroit for a player to be named later. In 15 games with New York, Chiti posted an OPS of .452 and, six weeks after the trade, was returned to the Tigers, making him, at the time, the only player in major league history to be traded for himself. Schneider was only marginally better than Chiti: a .502 OPS and, taken in concert with his defense (though an defensive rating based on 300 innings in the field is next to worthless, particularly for catchers) was nearly a full win below replacement.

But since $800,000 on a catcher to the Phillies is, proportionally, about what I’d spend on lunch, bringing Schneider back isn’t really an unwise expenditure of capital so much as it represents the inexorable march of time and the ultimate triumph of the absurd over humanity’s desire to find higher meaning in life. Continue reading Dr. Strangeglove: Albert Camus and the Backup Catcher


Dr. Strangeglove: On Not Characterizing One’s Negotiations

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, November 11, 2011 06:43 AM Comments: 20

Apparently the rules of the world now include a moratorium on all sports discussion on the internet that doesn’t involve some sort of anger at Joe Paterno and Penn State. I apologize for violating that moratorium.

The good folks over at The Good Phight have a device called the Ruben Amaro, Jr. Smug Advisory System, a machine that does exactly what the name would suggest. I bring this up because on Monday Rube produced possibly the most smug, self-satisfied utterance ever attributed to a major league general manager. Asked about his pursuit of a closer, Amaro said the following:

“I do not characterize my negotiations.”

Oh, snap.

I imagine Amaro sitting around a long table with reporters and other Phillies brass while making this statement. In fact, I’ve illustrated my mental image of the scene for you:

But when that statement was followed by rumors of a four-year, $44 million contract extension for Ryan Madson, I had an idea. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with RAJ refusing to characterize his negotiations. He’s doing his level best to construct a winning team and it really shouldn’t matter to him what we think. I actually kinda like the arrogance. I’m actually looking forward to the day when this happens at a press conference. In fact, I am so inspired by his refusal to characterize his negotiations that I’m thinking about doing the same.

Continue reading Dr. Strangeglove: On Not Characterizing One’s Negotiations

Previous Page