Tuesday, January 20, 2009

They Like Us!

The recent signings of Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson and Greg Dobbs are cause for celebration. Not only have three key players signed multi-year deals - Hamels and Madson for three years each and Dobbs for two - but each announced his pleasure in remaining with the Phillies. Hamels went so far as to say he'd like to play his entire career here. At this time last season Hamels was publicly expressing his displeasure with the Phillies' management for signing him to a one year deal at what he believed was below market value. A fine regular season capped by a briliant post-season changed everyone's mind. No one seemed to enjoy the post-season parade and atmosphere of euphoria more than Hamels. And no one was more publicly vocal about his appreciation of the fan support here.

Madson already lives year-round in the area, a rare sign of committment to our climate and community in this era of warm-weather migration. Madson, who would have been eligibile for free agency at the end of next season, is a client of Scott Boras and based on his agent's MO would have been expected to opt out. Apparently, he told Boras he wanted to stay put.

Dobbs resurrected his career in Philadelphia after being released by Seatte two seasons ago. Not only was Dobbs the premier pinch hitter in the Majors last season, he also can fill in nicely as an infielder or outfielder when needed.

The Phillies still face some difficult arbitrations, especially with Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard. Don't expect Howard to agree to a long-term deal. Not only can he be expected to sign another one-year contract of historic size, he has never given any sign of being interested in staying in Philadelphia once he is eligible to move on. Indeed, his family-driven and stoked hostility to a commitment like those of his teammates mentioned above has never been a reality. Howard will be out of here when the free agency clock strikes midnight.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rice Finally Makes The Hall

When opposing teams dreaded to see a particular player come to the plate over a 10+ year period, that player was destined for the Hall of Fame. Ricky Henderson clearly fit that description over more than two decades and Jim Rice did also though over a shorter time.

More than a few observers have argued the Hall of Fame has been lowering its standards over the last several years. Not, of course, when, say, a Tony Gwynn or Cal Ripken entered, but when fellows like Bill Mazeroski or Joe Collins got the call from the Veterans Committee, more than a few howls of protest were heard. Many of these same people along with the ever-growing legion of Red Sox haters, have long argued Rice was very good but not great.

Some candidates are shoe-ins. Everyone expected Henderson to be elected to the Hall in his first year of eligibility, that is, assuming he would finally retire and wait the required five years before becoming eligible. Henderson would still be playing if someone offered him a contract. Henderson changed the tone of a ball game every time he came to the plate, which meant from the opening gun since he was arguably the greatest leadoff man in baseball history. Ricky didn't have to sit the phone long for his call to come. Heck, he probably was on his way to second when Cooperstown rang.

Rice, on the other hand, would sit by the phone for fourteen years to no avail. Nearly every one of those fourteen years he would see his totals creep upward, depending on who else was on the ballot; and every one of those fourteen years he would fall short. The arguments for and against him were intense. While some remembered one of the most feared and fearsome-looking hitters in the American League, especially in the late '70's and early '80's, others including a lot of people who never saw him play, would look at the totals -- old and new school type stats -- and the limitations (he was a mediocre fielder and base runner) and say he just wasn't great enough.

One should not underestimate this business of not having seen him play. Unlike the current era of interleague play in which every team televises every one of its games locally if not regionally, national broadcasts occur on Sunday nights, Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons at the very least, and internet and cable packages enable one to watch any team, in Rice's era a player in the American League was not going to be seen at all by residents of National League cities unless his team made the World Series or he appeared in the All-Star game, and then only for three innings at best.

National League followers from those earlier eras, or younger fans who would not have been around to see Rice play, have no idea what a feared presence he was in the the Red Sox lineup. As someone who grew up watching the Orioles, who were still very competitive at the height of Rice's career (they went to the World Series twice), I can attest to how much I dreaded his coming to bat. An inning or two before each of his AB's, I'd start thinking ahead and telling myself, uh oh, he's coming up next inning. His impact was not only how much anxiety he produced, however; he also produced a whole lot of runs and key hits on a Red Sox team that, while competitive, was not the dynamo of today. Many AL pitchers who were his contemporaries have spoken up on behalf of Rice's candidacy over the years. They remembered hating to see him come to the plate. There is no greater testament to how good a hitter he was. His presence in the Hall is fitting.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Memo to JC Romero and all the other tired, aching, rundown major leaguers out there:

Don't know? Don't take!

There were many missteps and, apparently, some misinformation involved in the Romero suspension but in the end the Phillies lefty has only himself to blame. The key is he had to ask if it were OK to take an OTC supplement and he sought the advice of people who weren't experts. Now the Phillies are left to pick up the pieces, scurrying to find a replacement for their key lefty setup man until June 1st, 2009. Dare we remind ourselves wins and losses in April and May count in the final standings?

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Of all the slots for designated hitters in all the AL, Pat Burrell happened to walk into the one in Tampa Bay, FL, signing a two-year deal for $16 million. Hard to know if the fans there will boo or cheer him in his first plate appearance given recent history. Since the signing there have been reports, unsubstantiated of course, the Phillies offered him a better deal (more money, same time) prior to the end of the season and he rejected the offer.

As long as Raul Ibanez remains healthy and doesn't butcher everything hit his way, he will remain an upgrade over Burrell, whose long periods of futility punctuated by occasional bursts of power, made him an erratic performer at best and a maddening one at worst.

The biggest worry for the Phillies remains the absence of a right-handed bat in the middle of the batting order.

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As of this writing it doesn't appear any team in the NL East has dramatically improved its fortunes. Nor does it appear any team not located in Philadelphia has seen its fortunes decline. Yes, sports fans, the Phillies are worse off than they were a year ago. Speculation notwithstanding, Chase Utley will not be playing in April or May. Neither will Romero. Jamie Moyer will be a year older and no wiser; just a year older. Pedro Feliz is coming off of back surgery and while his recovery is expected to be in time for Opening Day, back problems have a way of being chronic.

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A little digression here....

The Eagles' bandwagon certainly has gotten crowded with their win over Minnesota. Given how the defense has been playing nearly all season, there is no telling how deep into the playoffs this team can go. That said, the offense still sputters and can fall apart at any moment. Just remember the following:

1. The defense played well against Washington but the offense was pathetic. Ditto vs. Cincinnati.
2. The defense scored two TD's against Dallas.
3. The defense scored against Minnesota.

Defenses have carried a lot of teams to the Super Bowl so the Eagles are certainly legitimate on that front. The offense, meanwhile, is one game of disproportionate reliance on passing and/or one game of more mismanagement of the clock from undermining that defense. To suggest this is a premier football team is nonsense but should they continue to win plenty of people will do so.