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A Real Pitching Spectacle

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, May 06, 2011 08:39 AM Comments: 9

Boy, Vance Worley has sure been fun this week, hasn’t he? Not only has he gone 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in two starts, but he’s a kind of goofy-looking guy who wears rec specs. Now, with Joe Blanton likely coming back from the DL in a week or so, our time with the Vanimal is likely up for now, until and unless injury or need force the Phillies to summon him once more from Lehigh Valley. So, in honor of the former 20th-round pick made good, and his eyewear, and in support of all of those who can’t see the end of their noses without some sort of vision correction (and I’m one of them), here are some stories of great moments in the history of guys who pitch and wear glasses.

Oh, before we get to those stories, I’ll admit that I said Raul Ibanez was done in this space last Friday, before he ended his 0-for-35 slump with a tremendous series against Washington. I’m still not convinced he’s not finished as a regular, but it was a truly incredible three days and he deserves a ton of credit.

Now, on to the good stuff.

Continue reading A Real Pitching Spectacle

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Offseason Icebreakers, Vol. 3: Romeo and Juliet

Posted by Michael Baumann, Mon, January 10, 2011 07:00 PM Comments: 23

In order to alleviate the boredom of the offseason–the NFL and regular season ice hockey being inadequate as diversions–I’ll be posting icebreaker questions periodically. They’ll always be at least tangentially related to the Phillies, and, as always, feel free to leave your own answers in the comment section.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always dreamed of having an illicit romance. Bringing a girl home to my parents, or being brought home to hers, having them say “We don’t approve of her–you can’t see her anymore,” and having a love of such monumental potency that we’d carry on in secret. Or, now that I’m out of high school, serving in the trenches in World War II, falling for a fetching German girl, and sneaking across the battlefield every night, risking sniper fire and land mines, to say nothing of my commission (because who knows what secrets she’s been carrying back to the Nazis?) to be with her each night.

However, to paraphrase Shakespeare, I’ve hung my bugle in an invisible baldrick, so the only way I can imagine an emotional attachment like this is by rooting for players who aren’t on the Phillies. Now, don’t get me wrong, if the Marlins are playing the Phillies and Logan Morrison is in the lineup, I want him to go 0-for-4 with 4 strikeouts (an eventuality he seems to have accepted) and the Marlins to lose. But we all have players we like who happen to wear the enemy uniform. Today’s Icebreaker: is there a player you love who just happens to wear the enemy uniform? Who is it, and why? My response is after the jump. Leave yours in the comments.

Continue reading Offseason Icebreakers, Vol. 3: Romeo and Juliet

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Offseason Icebreakers, Vol. 2: The Unbeatable Team

Posted by Michael Baumann, Tue, December 21, 2010 02:50 PM Comments: 20

In order to alleviate the boredom of the offseason–the NFL and regular season ice hockey being inadequate as diversions–I’ll be posting icebreaker questions periodically. They’ll always be at least tangentially related to the Phillies, and, as always, feel free to leave your own answers in the comment section.

This icebreaker comes courtesy of my younger brother, who killed about 3 hours on a bus somewhere in Eastern Europe with this question. You are hired as the general manager of a baseball team and given the task of assembling a team that will win each of the next 10 World Series. If you fail, you’ll be executed.

The Rules:

You can choose any 25 people on the planet, regardless of contract status or if they’re in the major leagues. Money is no object–any player can be had and paid. You can also choose any assortment of players–if you want to go with 8 position players and 17 pitchers, or vice versa, knock yourself out.

However, once you choose your 25-man roster, no changes can be made for 10 years. Also, while money is no object, injuries and aging are, so if you pick Roy Halladay as your ace, don’t expect him to perform at his current level until he’s 44. And while you’re at it, you also have to hire a manager and a coaching staff. A big tip of the hat to FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, two sites that, as always, have been my primary sources for research.

My Unbeatable Team is after the jump. If you feel so inclined, make up one of your own and leave it in the comments section. Warning: this post is 5,001 words long, so if you’re one of those people who refuses to read anything longer than a comic strip, you might want to take a pass.

Continue reading Offseason Icebreakers, Vol. 2: The Unbeatable Team

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Offseason Icebreakers, Vol. 1: The Thanksgiving Turkey

Posted by Michael Baumann, Wed, November 24, 2010 12:00 PM Comments: 27

The worst thing about the offseason is not being able to watch baseball. The next-worst thing about the offseason is having to come up with excuses to talk about baseball. With the winter meetings and free agency, it’s not too much of a stretch, but let’s face it, it’s easier to talk about baseball when there’s a game on.

In order to alleviate the boredom of the offseason–the NFL and regular season ice hockey being inadequate as diversions–I’ll be posting icebreaker questions periodically. They’ll always be at least tangentially related to the Phillies, and, as always, feel free to leave your own answers in the comment section.

This fist icebreaker is a simple question. I’ve always said that inside every fat kid is a skinny kid who didn’t run fast enough. Today, let’s indulge our inner fat kids.

With one of the few uniquely American holidays coming up later this week, imagine the 2010 Phillies as a Thanksgiving meal. Which players correspond to which foods? My answer is after the jump. Leave yours in the comments.

Continue reading Offseason Icebreakers, Vol. 1: The Thanksgiving Turkey

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The One That Got Away

Posted by Michael Baumann, Wed, October 27, 2010 02:35 PM Comments: 35

This evening, in a ballpark that will haunt Phillies fans at least until February, a skinny, 31-year-old Arkansan will take the mound in Game 1 of the World Series. This man, despite appearing in only 12 regular season games in a Phillies uniform–by the way, that’s exactly 2/5 as many appearances in Phillies red as Mike Timlin had–has captured our discourse and imaginations on the way to becoming one of the most beloved Phillies of recent memory. There are, no doubt, many Phillies fans who will be rooting for Texas in this World Series for no more complicated reason than “Cliff Lee is starting Game 1.” This despite the Rangers’ addition of Jeff Francoeur, a former Met and Brave who is reviled in these parts, and the presence of Pat Burrell–who was, during his long tenure, a well-liked Phillie in his own right–in the Giants’ lineup.

Of course, Phillies fans adore Lee for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with his 12 regular-season starts. Lee, in the 2009 playoffs, was 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA, 33 strikeouts, and a .460 opponent OPS in five starts and 40 1/3 innings pitched. He twice beat the Yankees in the World Series when no other pitcher could (despite not exactly being possessed of his best stuff in Game 5: 7 IP, 5 ER). Lee appeared out of nowhere and, as much as only one starting pitcher can, carried his team to within two games of a world title. By that measure, he earned every ounce of Phillies’ fans undying and blind admiration.

But remember–just the year before, Cole Hamels went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA, 30 strikeouts, and a .525 opponent OPS in five starts and 35 innings–not quite as good as Lee, but spectacular in his own right, and remember that Hamels left Game 5 after only 75 pitches when torrential rain and freezing cold made Citizens Bank Park unplayable–there could have been a few more strikeouts and another win on that line had the game continued. Hamels, for his part, not only won the World Series, but collected both NLCS and World Series MVP awards. What’s more, he had been a household name in Philly since he’d been drafted in 2002. But less than a year after he put up that Lee-like performance in the playoffs, Hamels was being assailed by all sectors of Philadelphia sports society. So what’s the difference?

Just about every guy out of high school–girls might be this way too, but, as you might have inferred from the fact that I write for a baseball blog, I don’t know very much about girls–can tell you about the one that got away. Now, in most cases this isn’t the kind of tragic, Patrick Dempsey-movie-fodder it sounds like. In short, there was a girl he had a crush on at some prior point in his life, and he didn’t get to explore a romantic relationship with her to its full conclusion. This could happen for one of a variety of reasons–one of them might have moved away, or they were dating other people and the timing wasn’t right, or maybe he never even got up the courage to ask her out. Whatever the reason, he’ll look back fondly on her and wonder what could have been. It most likely won’t keep him up nights and cause him to write heartbreaking songs for solo acoustic guitar, but there might, from time to time, be a nagging wonder.

In many cases, he’s better off where he is, as I’m certain the Phillies are with Roy Halladay (and if you’re still angry the Phillies couldn’t have had both Lee and Halladay at the same time, well, this metaphor only allows that kind of thing for the very, very lucky, or the very, very 19th-century Mormon). But because he never experienced the rough patches in the relationship, only the highs, he still wonders from time to time.

That, I think, is why Phillies fans have this fixation on Cliff Lee. It’s the wonder of infatuation without the danger of actually having to get to know someone. Who knows? Maybe things would have worked out with Cliff Lee in the long term, but we’ll never know. And maybe it’s better that way–after all, nothing’s more alluring than the unattainable.

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MLB Postseason is a Postcard From Cliff Lee

Posted by Pat Gallen, Mon, October 18, 2010 11:37 PM Comments: 50

San Francisco Giants To Whom It May Concern,

Hey guys, how’s Philly? Miss me?

I won’t lie, I miss you guys. I miss Philadelphia with all my heart. I miss that brotherly love. You made me feel like part of the city even though I’d only been there for like, two months. You’re all good people, passionate people. I like that you like baseball. But Seattle is my new home. I mean Texas. Well, I’m renting a condo in Dallas actually, sorry. It’s been really great here, too.

But not like Philly. I’ll always remember the times that we had. But what’s funny is, we might actually spend some more time together. The World Series begins soon and after last night’s big-time victory I had over the Yanks (8 innings, 13 strikeouts by the way. Heh, I never struck out that many in a game with the Phillies.) I’m just two wins from getting back there. So I might see all of my old friends again. I’m excited, are you?

Now I know Roy Oswalt has done a fantastic job. He’s a really good pitcher, really good. But I think it’s kind of cool that you all miss me a little bit still. Imagine this. Imagine if I had stayed. It would have been me and Roy and Cole. That could have been cool. Hell, if you think about it, it could have been me, Roy, Roy, and Cole if they really wanted.

Oh well, I’m with Texas now and enjoying my stay here. I don’t know where the wins will take me a year from now. That was a typo, I meant winds, get it (I make jokes sometimes).

I wanted to ask you guys, do you think there is any way I might be able to come back next year? Let’s try and devise a plan where the Phillies open up some payroll and make it me, Roy, Roy, and Cole. I think I would have a really good time pitching with three other guys like that.

It might not happen, but it’s worth a shot to ask. Anyway, if I don’t see you guys in a few weeks I’ll send another postcard from San Francisco. But I hope to meet up with you all again in the near future. You’ve all been big supporters.

Yours truly,

Cliff Lee

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Put Your Back Into It, Phils!

Posted by Michael Baumann, Wed, October 06, 2010 02:29 PM Comments: 0

Good news, everyone! Dr. William B. Nicoletto, mild-mannered chiropractor and cultural mahatma of Southwestern New Jersey, has changed his mind. When last we heard from him, Dr. Nicoletto was speaking gloom and doom as the Phils languished in third place in late July. Nowadays, he’s all sunshine and puppies. While we certainly appreciate his confidence, perhaps, as a chiropractor, his services could be better used on Placido Polanco…

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A Backbreaking Road Trip

Posted by Michael Baumann, Thu, July 22, 2010 08:39 PM Comments: 46

I live in Voorhees Township, in eastern Camden County in South Jersey. Around here, odd as it may sound, the arbiter of our cultural and societal zeitgeist is a chiropractor named William Nicoletto. Dr. Nicoletto is an institution–the sign out in front of his practice, as long as I can remember, has been a running commentary of our shared experience as Voorheesians. Every few days, the message is changed to a different statement on the weather, or current events, or, most often, sports. He’s such a part of the culture that when the township made road signs with movable letters illegal (they’re allowed in Gibbsboro, literally across the street from Dr. Nicoletto’s office), he was allowed an exception.

Earlier this week, with the Phillies seemingly in a free fall from playoff contention, I was driving home from work when I noticed that the sign had been changed. I submit the following without commentary.

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Rooting for the Name on the Back of the Jersey

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, July 02, 2010 07:00 AM Comments: 70

I can’t say this is always true, but I’d wager that most baseball fans, whether they’re five years old or 55 years old, have a favorite player.

How one comes to choose a favorite player has always been a source of great interest to me. Is it pure skill? Is it leadership? Charisma? Being a good person? Everyone picks a favorite player using different criteria.

I was six years old in 1993, and in my first season following baseball, I was mesmerized by Lenny Dykstra. He was ungainly and disgusting (Andy Van Slyke once famously said of Dykstra that you could get cancer playing the outfield next to him), but during that 1993 season he could do no wrong. He led the league in hits, runs, walks, and plate appearances, finishing second in the MVP voting to Barry Bonds. Not only was he the best player on my favorite team, he always got dirty and had cool nicknames (“Nails” and “Dude”). I wore my Dykstra jersey through second and third grade until it was threadbare. Without Nails, the Phillies didn’t tick.

I heard similar things about people picking Chase Utley as a favorite player when I asked on Twitter and Facebook the other day. He’s the best player on the team, he’s the heart and soul of the team, and as such he is worthy of our admiration.

One friend of mine cited Jayson Werth’s good-natured, fun-loving attitude and all-around skill as a reason she picked him as her favorite player. Another friend of mine picked Werth, knowing nothing about baseball, because he looked, much to the friend’s amusement, like a guy who’d roofie your girlfriend at a party.

My dad grew up a Mets fan in North Jersey in the 1960s and used to tell me about Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda growing up, though he never did tell me why he liked them.

Another friend of mine grew up a Pirates fan and loved Sid Bream as a kid, because they shared a uniform number and the distinction of being the slowest players in their respective leagues.

Of course, these preferences change over time. When Dykstra left, I became a Scott Rolen fan, and when he left, I developed my long-term man-crush on the player I currently call my favorite: Jimmy Rollins.

By the sabermetric methods I purport to hold so dear, Rollins is extremely overrated. He doesn’t walk enough, doesn’t get on base enough, and while he’s a great defensive player, he’s not quite as good as everyone says. According to VORP and WAR and OPS+ and the rest of the alphabet, his 2007 MVP award should have gone to Matt Holliday, or David Wright, or even his double-play partner Utley. Instead, J-Roll got it for reaching a couple arbitrary milestones (30-30 and 20-20-20-20) and by giving the Mets some of the best blackboard material in recent memory, then backing it up on the field.

Sure, I love the way he fields his position, that he’s one of the best basestealers of my lifetime, and the power he squeezes out of his 5-foot-8 frame. But the real reason I love Jimmy Rollins is because he started a war of the words that would eventually enrapture Carlos Beltran, Cole Hamels, Johan Santana and the entire Mets and Phillies fan bases. I love him because he’s the last link to a time when this team was truly terrible. I love him because he’s the informal captain of one of the most likeable teams this city’s ever seen. I love the bowling tournaments, the Red Bull stunt, and that stupid video he made about trying to teach Mike Lieberthal to dance.

With the team in third place and Chase Utley’s thumb hanging on by a few shreds of cartilage, we need a distraction. So I pose the question to the readership: who’s your favorite player? How’d you choose?

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Is Roy Halladay the Best Pitcher Ever to Throw a Perfect Game?

Posted by Michael Baumann, Wed, June 02, 2010 02:01 AM Comments: 4

Of course not, considering that Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson and Cy Young have thrown perfect games in the past. But the perfect game is one of the hardest (if not the hardest) single-game achievement in baseball. Only 23 men have ever recorded 27 straight outs in a single game: the 20 official no-hitters; Harvey Haddix and Pedro Martinez, who each threw nine perfect innings to start a game, then surrendered a hit in extra frames; and Ernie Shore. In 1917, Babe Ruth walked the first batter to start a game, was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. Shore came on in relief, got the leadoff runner thrown out stealing, then sat down 26 consecutive Washington Senators for one of three “unofficial” perfect games.

What strikes me about these 23 pitchers is that, despite each of them recording an achievement that requires a great deal of skill, many of them are quite unremarkable. So where does Halladay rank among those who have done it?

For our purposes, we’ll throw out John Montgomery Ward and Lee Richmond, who threw perfect games five days apart in 1880 in a game that resembles modern baseball about as much as rugby union resembles the modern NFL.

Likewise, we’ll discount Haddix, Shore, and Martinez, who, through no fault of their own, didn’t get through the entire game perfectly.

That leaves us with a group of 18 pitchers. Five (Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Koufax, and Catfish Hunter) are Hall of Famers. Four more (Dallas Braden, Don Larsen, Charlie Robertson, and Len Barker) won less than 100 games in the major leagues. Randy Johnson isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but only due to the fact that he hasn’t yet been retired five years.

In between, you have Halladay and a group of eight more pitchers who ranged from mediocre to quite good. Let’s see how Halladay stacks up against them. To be honest, I’m not sure what the significance of this exercise is, but in the face of the Phillies’ latest streak of offensive ineptitude, I thought we might enjoy getting one last bit of fun out of Roy Halladay’s historic Saturday night. Continue reading Is Roy Halladay the Best Pitcher Ever to Throw a Perfect Game?

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