It’s difficult to imagine Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels doing a whole lot more to improve their standing in the eyes of the local faithful, but here’s a suggestion for them: move to Philadelphia year round, guys.
Yeah, I know, the winters here aren’t much to write home about, especially if home has always been Southern California, but if they move here permanently the town could be theirs for life if things continue as they have. As for Howard, what’s his excuse anyway? He certainly can’t brag about the weather if he chooses to remain in the St. Louis area. Winters there are pretty grim, and summers might even be worse than here.
What are the chances of this happening any time soon? If you are a realtor reading this blog, don’t call the Phillies just yet. Utley has had a few years to contemplate relocation but thus far hasn’t even hinted at such a move. Frankly, with that hair he is unlikely to want to spend much time wearing a wool cap. Hamels is just getting adjusted to Philadelphia so it may be too soon to speculate what he might be thinking, but if I were a betting man I’d say Cole isn’t a likely candidate to want to see his Philadelphia wage tax rate increase from non-resident to resident status. Anyway, with his bad back the last thing he probably wants is to live where the cold and damp seep into your bones. As for Howard, he reportedly went house-hunting in St. Louis when the Phils were in his hometown sweeping the Cardinals at the beginning of August and everyone knows you can’t flip real estate that fast, especially when you’ve probably paid points on your mortgage.
Oh well, it was just a thought, prompted the other night when I caught glimpses on ESPN of some of the DHL Presents Major League Baseball Hometown Heroes, selected by a smattering of fans in one of those MLB online ballots where three things are certain: the vote totals will hardly be sufficient to justify the ends; those who cast ballots will be encouraged to do so early and often; and the corporate sponsor’s name will be make the name of the award a mouthful. Those caveats aside, among the 30 players selected, I couldn’t help but notice there were several who chose either to move permanently to or remain in the town of their birth throughout their careers. Interviewed for the “event” a number of them spoke of that decision and their conviction that it made a big difference in their careers.
Robin Yount, George Brett, Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, and Stan Musial were the players in question. Pete Rose played for his home town team for most of his career and then returned home to manage and bet on the Reds. Texas native Nolan Ryan was named by fans of both teams in his home state! Talk about showing the love. The other interesting thing about the first five is that not only did all of them play their entire careers with one team, most if not all have remained in there adopted or native cities even in retirement.
The chances of either scenario happening with our Phillies trio or anyone else in baseball today for that matter are about as good as Anchorage, Alaska, being awarded an expansion team.
* * * * * * * *
Speaking of Rose, his latest gambit to make money involves autographing baseballs on which he writes “I’m sorry I bet on baseball.” If nothing else, it can be fairly said Rose has possibly the worst PR man in history working on his behalf: himself.
* * * * * * * *
Prior to 2006 the consensus was the Phillies would score runs but would struggle to stop the other guys from scoring, too, and for much of the season, especially during the first half, they held true to form.
If it weren’t for the emergence of Cole Hamels, who arrived amidst high expectations and, frankly, exceeded them given his inexperience, things might have been a lot worse. And if Pat Gillick hadn’t suddenly found playoff religion in August and acquired Jamie Moyer, the Phillies probably wouldn’t have made the late season run they did.
Well, the pitching situation for the coming season doesn’t look all that promising either. In fact, it might look worse. Jon Lieber will be back, overweight no doubt, and not ready to perform at optimum speed until, say, July at the earliest. Maybe the Phils should send him to Arizona where he can simultaneously shed a few pounds at Canyon Ranch and get in some innings in the Fall League there. (Heck, Gavin Floyd will even be there to provide a familiar face.) That way, when April rolls around Lieber will think it is later in the season and might pitch accordingly.
Randy Wolf may be back. Rumor or myth has it that pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery are much stronger in the second year following their recovery. It’s been about two years since Wolf was last effective, so let’s hope the myth is true, provided, of course he is even in a Phillies’ uniform come late February. Randy certainly didn’t do anything to help his free agency cause in his final outing of the season, lasting less than two innings while giving up back-to-back home runs in the first of those. At the very least his timing was awful, what with a passel of major league scouts in the stands.
Cole Hamels will be back and should be even better. He just has to keep out of trouble in the off-season and stay away from bars and kitchen utensils. Everyone with the possible exception of the Chicago Cubs, who beat him to a pulp the only time they faced him, think the sky is the limit for Hamels.
Jamie Moyer may not be back. At age 43 and counting, Moyer, a hometown guy, has deeper roots in Seattle where he spent the last several seasons. Various reports in the newspaper make it clear he is a strong family man who missed his wife and kids during the month or so he was in Philadelphia while they were primarily home in the Northwest. I don’t know how much more Jamie Moyer has in that left arm, but he sure looks like he would make a good pitching coach. The trouble with that scenario is that the Moyers would have to uproot their six kids right in the middle of the school year. That seems unlikely. Then again, the Phils re-signed Rich Dubee for another season, so any chance of Moyer returning in that capacity would have to wait.
Then there is Brett Myers. Most bloggers, commenters and writers would be aghast at the thought of trading the guy who possesses the “best stuff” on the staff according to those most in the know. Moreover, given the overall outlook for the starting rotation as outlined above, it is nearly impossible to imagine any scenario where the Phillies would give up a pitcher who led that rotation in wins, strikeouts and ERA this past season. Myers’ value will never be much higher than it is at the moment and for that reason I’d love to see the Phils trade him for a third baseman or outfielder. As is also well known, I’d love to see them get rid of Myers just because of the lout he is. But even I’m not crazy enough to think the Phillies would move their top starter (pending Hamels’ further development) when they are so undermanned in the rest of the rotation, nor am I foolish enough to think a trade would change his personality. Expect to see Myers back in Philadelphia in 2007 unless Pat Gillick is much more of a gambler than I take him for.
* * * * * * * *
The race for NL MVP will probably be the closest of all the post-season awards with leading candidates Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols both deserving of the honor. Votes for the award were supposed to be cast prior to the start of the post-season, which is just as well for Howard. Not only is he unable to impress the jury further when his team is not playing, but Pujols gave the Cardinals the lead in the first game of their playoff with San Diego with a two-run homer to centerfield. (He also homered in the three of the Cardinals’ final five regular season games, two of them critical wins that otherwise might have cost them the divisional title and a spot in the playoffs.)
The two of them along with Boston’s David Ortiz are the most feared hitters in baseball and since there’s nothing like fear to motivate voters, perhaps pitchers, not the baseball writers, should vote. If fans could vote (not at mlb.com or espn.com, thank you) I’d give mine to Howard. Without him, not only would the Phillies have finished in the basement in their division, but the rest of the country would have been deprived of the most exciting young player to come along in years. What value do you place on that contribution?
* * * * * * * *
The dismissals of Vary Varsho, Mark Bombard and Bill Dancy from the Phillies’ coaching staff came as a mild surprise, at least the first two anyway. A few tentative conclusions can be reached following the news:
1. It must have been Varsho, not Manuel, who was responsible for the woeful double-switches of the past two seasons. Otherwise, why was he let go? For not waving fielders into position furiously enough?
2. It takes some doing to get fired as a first base coach. As far as I can tell, their chief responsibilities are to take the shin guards, batting gloves and helmet from players who arrive at their station, pat them on the fannies, point somewhere across the field, and tell them how many outs there are. Who knows, maybe they have other, hidden duties of which I am unaware such as teaching people how to bunt?
3. There were no surprises regarding Dancy’s firing. It was strictly on merit.
* * * * * * * *
Finally, in unrelated news, the Tennessee Titan’s Albert Haynesworth was suspended for five games for literally stomping on the face of Cowboys’ guard Andre Gurode, opening up cuts that required 30 stitches to close. The five game suspension was mockery enough of justice, but compounding the crime, the players’ association wanted him to appeal the suspension. In his only decent decision, Hayneworth declined to take their advice.