Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hearts And Minds

The Phillies have their best opportunity to win the hearts and minds of local sports fans since the pennant winning team of 1993 and they have the Eagles, of all people, to thank.

No one would dispute the Eagles own this town.  Even as the Phillies made their late season run at the Wild Card in 2005, most fans in the Delaware Valley were more focused on the Eagles training camp following their Super Bowl appearance.  And this was before the T.O. nonsense began to unfold.  More than a few Phillies noticed the relative small crowds during the final home stand and lamented their second class status.  Some chose even harsher words to describe their displeasure.

Since then the Eagles have done very little right in the eyes of many while the Phils have generated a lot of enthusiasm with the emergence of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins et al.

The Eagles have compounded their budding public relations problems with their arrogance.  Team owner Jeffrey Lurie and president Joe Banner have reacted negatively to criticism that the team did little to improve itself in the off-season following a 6-10 record, in essence telling everyone to mind their own business.  Moreover, the Eagles like to tell anyone who will listen that they are the best salary-cap managers in the NFL and they know what they are doing with regard to personnel decisions, especially the ones in which they release or decline to re-sign popular and still-productive players once they reach a certain age.

The Eagles’ haughtiness isn’t playing well at the moment and the Phillies are in their best position in more than a decade to capitalize on it.

But to win the hearts and minds of the fans where it counts the most, on the field, they must get off to a good start this Spring.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

No, I haven’t been converted to a fan of the WBC, but the recently completed tourney did raise an important issue in my mind:  if you want to sign some of the best players in baseball today you are going to have to cross more time zones than ever before to do so.

I haven’t a clue what major league clubs pay their scouts, but you can be sure it is something considerably less than the going rate for a bench player or veteran middle reliever.   If, to be arbitrary, top scouts earn something in the neighborhood of $100,000 per year, a team like the Phillies could hire six or seven of them for what they pay a Tomas Perez.  You make the choice:  a pie-thrower or the chance to sign the next Ichiro!

Armed with this reality (or something approaching it), what the Phils need to do is some original research and they can begin by hiring sufficient scouts in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Korea, Japan and Taiwan.  

After all, that’s where a lot of good players are now.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Less than a week after posting my predictions for 2006, I am back and backtracking, sort of.  In my defense, I wrote most of that piece a few weeks ago and modified it a few times as events unfolded in Florida.

But events have a way of unfolding even faster than I can revise my thoughts, especially events involving the pitching staff.  The apparent revival of Gavin Floyd, who appears to have made the opening day roster, and outstanding performances of Ryan Madson, who appears to have made the move to the starting rotation, certainly brighten the Phils’ prospects…for now.

If they hold up, and if Ryan Franklin’s move to the middle of the bullpen works out, the Phils’ chances brighten considerably.   If not, well, see my earlier predictions.

No comments: