Monday, June 26, 2006

Hardly Their Finest Hour

Baseball, not just politics, makes strange bedfellows.

Back in February, as pitchers and catchers were getting ready to report to Spring Training, the Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury wrote a lengthy piece (which I cited in this space ) reporting that pitcher Brett Myers was pissed off about comments made by new GM Pat Gillick regarding the Phillies’ prospects for the coming season .

In the piece, Gillick is quoted as having said soon after his appointment that he didn’t feel the Phillies were a contending team.  Now, just before camp was to open, pressed to explain why, he volunteered that among other deficiencies, they didn’t really possess a big powerful arm at the top of the rotation.

Myers didn’t like that assessment one bit.  Salisbury’s lead to the story summed up the volatile Myers’ attitude this way:  Spring training hasn't even officially begun yet and already pitcher Brett Myers is sporting a midseason sneer.

All of us had seen or heard about that sneer before.  Over the years Myers has worn it for local fans, the press, umpires and teammates.   Fans weren’t supportive enough; the press was too intrusive; umpires were always squeezing him; and, teammates were forever making bad plays behind him.  RickSchuBlues, who comments frequently in this space, put it best:  [Myers is] the kind of guy who makes his own problems and then wants to glare at the fielders and umpires. That's real class for you.

Throughout the season Gillick has never said in so many words he had given up on 2006.  Only last week he responded to the question whether or not the Phils would be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline by emphatically stating they would be buyers…at least for now.   But inaction, or stop-gap measures, speak louder than words, and most of Gillick’s moves since the late Winter trade of Jim Thome for Aaron Rowand should be seen as temporary measures that failed to improve the Phillies current prospects appreciably.   He and the club remain hamstrung by big salaries and long-term commitments, some of which will finally be resolved next Fall.  

Prior to the start of the season, baseball people agreed about one thing regarding the 2006 installment of the Phillies:  they did not have the starting pitching to contend.  Nothing has changed since those pre-season assessments; indeed, if anything, the club’s starting pitching is even worse than anticipated.  More to the point, nothing Gillick has done since opening day has improved the situation, not on the field or, frankly, in the dugout.  Gillick may still make a deal or two at the trading deadline, but he won’t be a buyer, and by season’s end he could make even bigger moves regarding the manager and his coaches.

The Phillies had settled into mediocrity by the end of their most recent home stand, during which they lost seven of nine games.  Then came the incident early Friday morning in Boston when the 6’4”Myers, who weighs 235 lbs., allegedly punched his wife, who goes about 5’ and 100 lbs.,  and dragged her by the hair in public, in front of several witnesses, many of whom called 911 on their cell phones.

No one was surprised by the news and our revulsion only deepened when the Boston Globe reported that:

Courtney Knight, 26, who witnessed the alleged attack, said in an interview today that Myers was out of control.
"It was disgusting," Knight said. "He was dragging her by the hair and slapping her across the face. She was yelling, 'I'm not going to let you do this to me anymore.' "

Naturally, the immediate response by nearly everyone I read was to presume Myers’ innocence until proven guilty.  That response, however, was pure reflex.  Few if any doubted the story given the number of eye-witnesses and Myers’ history and many urged immediate punitive action.

For their part, the Phillies were faced with a dilemma.  Myers was scheduled to pitch the next day in a nationally-televised game against former Phillie, Red Sox ace and Myers’ hero Curt Schilling.

More than a few observers felt the Phillies had no choice but to sit Myers for the game.  Some called for getting rid of him altogether as soon as possible.  I would have been satisfied if Myers never appeared again in a Phillies uniform.

But Pat Gillick had other ideas.  "He's been our best pitcher, and I think it's in the best interests of the club that he does pitch.”  

The GM had fooled me all along; he wanted to win at all costs.  As disgusting as Myers’ behavior was, it was hardly his boss’s finest hour either.


Pawnking said...

There does seem to be two camps on this. One says as long as he helps the team, I don't care what he did to his wife. The other says I don't care if he helps the team because I can't support a wife-beater.

I agree with your stand and disagree with Pats.

Oisín/Wizlah said...

that's a killer punchline, tom. Very nicely written and very well structured piece. as for the sentiments, I agree in part. He shouldn't have played saturday, but I'm not going to scream if they keep the guy. what the organisation does from here out should be lead by the welfare of myers family with an emphasis on getting him to sort his head out.

Nat said...

Was anybody really surprised upon hearing about Meyers striking his wife? We are familiar with his temperment, so it couldn't have been too much of a shock. He is no doubt a fine pitching talent but that temperment has interfered with his job performance as well as his family life. If he can get straightened out, it would benefit his team as well as his family, but right now he needs less time with the Phillies and more with Dr. Phil.

Rev. Smokin Steve said...

You're right, the innocent until proven guilty thing is pure reflex in this case. It's the way our system works. We need to uphold that.

But this has too much smoke for there not to be a fire. I heard the raw audio of the press conference the DA had in Boston, and he said that it is rare to have two eyewitnesses in a domestic violence case. That's huge.

And so far in stories, I have heard three eyewitnesses interviewed in the media, and one of them was named as an employee of the Phillies marketing team who witnessed it. Although the employee is the only one who did not confirm that he actually struck her. The other two reported that he did.

Not only did he do this in public, he did this with female employees of the team around.

George S said...

Although I dislike Myers and it seems apparent that he hit his wife, I can also somewhat understand the Phillies' predicament.

Until his day in court, he hasn't officially done anything wrong. It doesn't matter how many people witnessed it: if it did, they could have simply found him guilty right there and fined him. It doesn't work that way.

The Phillies also have to consider the precedent they would be setting. Should Jason Michaels have been summarily benched the day after his arrest last season?

Also, if Myers has incentives in his contract related to starts, innings pitched, wins, etc., then the Phillies cannot really sit him down for disciplinary reasons with no official findings to back up their actions.

I am not defending Brett Myers. I think the Phillies should have sat down with him and his agent and explained that they were not going to play him or allow him with the team until he completed some kind of counseling and the incident was officially resolved. If he didn't agree with that he could file a grievance with the MLBPA.

In fact, I'm surprised that Myers, or at least his agent, didn't request a leave of absence to attend such counseling. It would be the smartest way to save his career and maybe get his head straightened out. It would also be smart PR for him, showing that he admitted to a problem and was trying to deal with it. As it stands now, Myers remains in the public consciousness every time he pitches and comes off as the jerk he truly is.

Anonymous said...

Extremely thoughtful responses by everyone here. Absolutely, Myers could have at the very least saved face by opting out for awhile, as Tim Worrell did last year. But no. I agree with you, George, the Phillies can't be faulted for allowing Myers to pitch, if for no other reason than the potential grievance/contractual mess that'd surely arise if they tried to coerce Myers into going AWOL. Although someone sure as hell ought to be strongly suggesting this to Myers in private, because he'll never have the brain or the balls to figure this out for himself.

Rev. Smokin Steve said...

That is one problem. I guarantee if the Phillies had disciplined Myers, someone in the union would have complained.

John Salmon said...

Great line about Gillick. This team doesn't want to win badly enough to, say, take on payroll....but they will allow a redneck wife abusing lowlife like Myers continue to pitch because the rest of the rotation sucks.

BTW you don't have to assume Myers is innocent, merely because before the law he remains that way. It's exceedingly unlikely that he's not guilty, and the team should treat him as the felon he (one hopes) soon will be.

You'd also think they'd want to maintain what little female fan base they now have, but this is the Phillies we're talking about.

RickSchuBlues said...

Whoops, I was the unintentionally anonymous one.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Myers and the Phillies, although we won't know for quite some time. Does this situation make him fodder for a trade, or will management just try to sweep it under the rug?

I stated a few weeks back that I didn't think Myers would ever be a top-rate pitcher, but a 15-win guy at best. Now, that's still a good thing, and of course the Phils are perpetually short of pitching, but the overall reputation of the franchise is moreover at stake here. If I were running a team, I would take pains to weed out undesirable human beings like Brett Myers, at any cost - even if he was the Cy Young winner. That may sound naive, but I know for certain that *several* organizations - the better ones - would handle this situation by doing exactly that.

As it is, nevertheless, Brett Myers is not someone who's so great that the hopes of the franchise's ability to win hinges on his presence. Not even close. He's young and cheap, and a team more desperate will be willing to fork over quite a bit for him. Gillick is good at not showing his hand, which is frustrating to fans but which could work to his advantage if he doesn't reveal the kind of disgust we all have - even if it would say more for him as a person if he did allow himself to express this. If the Phillies don't appear anxious to unload him, the chances are better he could bring a better package. Not that such concerns loom all that large in the face of what has transpired. It's always been hard for me to watch Brett Myers and root for me, knowing that he's such a jerk. But he's descended several steps beyond mere jerkdom. I will find it hard from here on out not to be rooting *against* him, because he deserves no amount of success until he owns up for what he's done and what he is. I'm sickened that such a barbaric thug is on the side I care about. The Phillies could begin to earn a lot of respect back from a lot of people by doing the right thing and holding him accountable.

RickSchuBlues said...

ahem...root for 'him', not 'me'. (why do I only remember to check for mistakes *after* I've posted?!)