Monday, July 31, 2006

Too bad you stopped hitting home runs

Sigh. Good bye Bobby. You were a very good player here- the best Phillies’ outfielder I can recall. Too bad you stopped hitting home runs. Now you’ll get to walk a lot, play diffident right field, and hit warning track fly-balls where I can see you more regularly: New York.

Now, baseball insiders shriek continually that the baseball trading deadline needs to be pushed back- as the all these teams in contention means deadline deals in July are not going to happen. Teams can’t give up talent- because no team is really dead with sixty games to play.

I tend to think that is a lot of nonsense- and the Phillies were clear evidence. Here is a ballclub, only four games out of the wild card, who simply could not wait to dump one significant outfielder and one very decent starting pitcher for nothing. Frankly, I hate to think what would have happened had the Yankees refused to do the deal without Burrell being thrown in.

Baseball economics has evolved to the point where almost everyone has productive players available- because everyone has multiple someones with a bad contract. But clubs have to resign themselves they aren’t getting anything of value, player-wise, in return. Any product in surplus- and players with bad contracts always are- has zero pricing power.

Bill James used to frequently write that the major leagues were stupid to stop teams from “selling players”- as it was a viable economic tool to keep “poorer teams” from losing all their talent. To wit, they can’t keep all their good players anyway, and when a poor team makes a mistake on a player it can kill them for season after season. So by allowing them to sell veteran players to other clubs, poor teams can both subsidize the retention of their younger talent & get rid of over-paid mistakes in order to stay more competitive. For all intents and purposes, baseball bans this practice now- which used to be fairly common place (see Babe Ruth for example).

But this Abreu trade is a similar exercise. The Phillies didn’t get cash from the Yankees per se- but they did get “cash” in the sense of climbing out of over twenty million dollars in obligations to players whose best campaigns are probably behind them. The Yankees can justify $23 million for a guy who has one home run in two months and a .500 pitcher going well for a few starts; the Phillies probably can’t. Or at least can’t when they are continually six games under .500.

So you could argue Bobby probably had to go. My only objection is that if they were going to let him and Lidle go for nothing- why didn’t they wait until the end of the season? It would have only cost them these two guy’s salaries until the end of the year, they have had to these two assets to try and make a run (ed. no matter how hopeless) at this wild card thing and yes- I believe the Yankees’ (or whomever) fourth best prospect and 27 year old LHP would still have been there to make this similar deal?

But I believe Gillick continues to stick to his plan. The Phillies biggest problem wasn’t they had tons of bad players- but rather a mis-allocation, as it were, of resources: fifteen million dollars devoted solely to the back-end of the bullpen, fifteen million to Thome, more big money to foundation players who couldn’t play (Bell & Leiberthal) or are declining (Abreu and Leiber) or a mystery (Wolf).

Gillick has made progress on these fronts. You simply can’t trade unproductive players- the catcher for instance. And you can’t blow up a team’s foundation but not move what productive players you can trade. Get either the necessary payroll fleibility or young players to move forward. Frankly, I'd rather have the cash; I'm not sure the Phillies feature organizational excellence in developoing, say, young pitching.

Some of it as simply biting the bullet and letting these contracts run until they are small enough that Gillick could move them.

So, if Gillick’s goal upon taking the job was taking a wrecking ball to old foundation- and establishing the new nucleus of Utley, Howard, Myers- as well as restoring 50 million dollars in spending flexibility- well, he’s made progress. But the hard part is still to come- signing this new franchise corps & surrounding them with the necessary, but totally absent, complimentary cast.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Damn Sun!

Damn Sun!

If Rhodes' ERA get to seven, do you think then he'll stop being the set-up guy? Actually, if he can get it five, Rhodes might convince Charlie to let him close.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mantles and Koufaxes

The Philadelphia papers today tell us that a trade for Allen Iverson is off the table. #3 will be back- helping the Sixers strive for .500 and an eight seed- you know, for as long as he feels like the coach is not a fool.

It is easy- and ergo fashionable- to dismiss AI’s return as a mistake. It is pretty obvious the Sixers have sort of exhausted both the on and off-court relationship with this guy. Maybe the jury is still out on whether you can win a title with AI’s singular demand for the ball and all-encompensing soap opera. But it is obvious the Billy King and Mo Cheeks have no way, no plan to do it.

But, the evidence suggests that the main reason AI is coming back is that there was no serious market for him- no trade that made the Sixers better now, would potentially make the Sixers better later, or at the worst got them even. So if my choices were blow the Sixers up and get nothing- or not blow them up, keep a decent chance for semi-competency (a play-off spot say, another campaign or two of 44 wins) and maintain the option to deal AI later- maybe the latter is what they need to do?

I guess I’d rather them be mediocre and entertaining than be the Atlanta Hawks.

Slate has an article worth reading if, like me, you have boxes and boxes of baseball cards in your ancestral home. The bad news is that our extensive collections are worthless:

In the early 1990s, pricier, more polished-looking cards hit the market. The industry started to cater almost exclusively to what Beckett's associate publisher described to me as "the hard-core collector," an "older male, 25 to 54, with discretionary income." That's marketing speak for the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Manufacturers multiplied prices, overwhelmed the market with scores of different sets, and tantalized buyers with rare, autographed, gold-foil-slathered cards. Baseball cards were no longer mementos of your favorite players—they were elaborate doubloons that happened to have ballplayers on them. I eventually left the hobby because it was getting too complicated and expensive. Plus, I hit puberty.

It's easy to blame card companies and "the hard-core collector" for spoiling our fun. But I'll admit that even before the proliferation of pricey insert cards, I was buying plastic, UV-ray-protectant cases for my collection. Our parents, who lost a small fortune when their parents threw out all those Mantles and Koufaxes, made sure we didn't put our Griffeys and Ripkens in our bicycle spokes or try washing them in the bathtub. Not only did that ensure our overproduced cards would never become valuable, it turned us into little investors. It was only rational, then, for the card companies to start treating us like little investors. The next wave of expensive, hologram-studded cards didn't ruin collecting for us—we were already getting too old for the game. It ruined baseball cards for the next generation of kids, who shunned Upper Deck and bought cheap Pokémon and Magic cards instead.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tiger & Bicycles

Both big sport’s stories from the weekend- Tiger winning something important in England and some nice American person winning the Tour de France- didn’t interest me one whit. Other than I am pleased anytime an American wins something in Europe that causes the Europeans angst.

No, instead I was drawn to the simple bitterness in the papers this weekend. To begin with, Don McKee has a point, no?
Michelle Wie has never won a professional golf tournament. Danica Patrick has never won an IRL race. Anna Kournikova never won a WTA tournament. I wonder if they would have become media darlings if they looked like Roseanne Barr instead of pinups?
And in a way, Joe Misiti from Staten Island in Sunday's New York Post speaks pithily for me- the Phillies fan trapped in Manhattan with a ton of annoying Mets’ fans who have absolutely no context for evaluating their achievement:
Why do Mets fans have to keep comparing their team to the Yankees? Stop threatening to win the next five World Series and go out and do it. And they're constantly crying about the Yanks buying players. How did the Mets get Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Carlos Beltran and Billy Wagner? Not to mention acquiring Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca because the Marlins did not want to pay them more. Fred Wilpon has deep pockets, but if it is so easy to buy a world championship you would have thought the Mets could have done it more than two times in the almost 50 years they have been around.
Ouch! And dead right. You can’t complain for a generation- as Mets’ supporters have- about the Yankees buying success and back-page supremacy- and not have a great deal of humility about the construction of this current collection of real mercenaries.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Behold the Beauty of the Tiger

Some deep fun from Britney Spears' website:

"In some ways, people are a lot like animals," Spears writes. "I'm mesmerized by tigers. Their eyes, their stripes, their constant quest for survival. They almost have a sense of mysteriousness about them. They pull you in and make it difficult to look away. They make you wonder what is behind their gaze. A sense of eerie awe comes over you in their presence. The fear they give you when you pass them is stunning. Behold the beauty of the tiger."
And yet, all news pales today before the mighty announcement: The Eagles are in camp.

And #5 is back atop the depth chart- where he belongs. I seriously doubt the Eagles can do much this year. Dallas is better on paper. The offensive line is a mess- and Donovan is the only thing that keeps them viable with the ball. The front seven on defense is a real nice mixture of yucky, hurt or real young.

But the Eagles ought to be strong where it counts- defensive secondary play and quarterback. Westbrook is a game-breaking player. And the kicking game figures strong. They ought to flirt with the play-offs- probably even make it if McNabb is healthy. But I can’t see anything more than that. They just aren’t good enough to win consistently on the road- success which allows you to not have to play a road game that really counts in late December.

In other semi-Philadelphia news, today Garth Snow is the new general manager of the Islanders. Of course, Garth was the team's backup goal-tender yesterday- and got off a good one when asked about today’s NHL players: "I think they're all overpaid.”

And who can’t get enough of Ryan Franklin bitching about his role?

One stumbling block for Franklin has been that, unlike most relievers who use only two or three pitches, he has more pitches he believes he can use effectively. Those are four different fastballs, his slider, curveball and changeup, the last of which he essentially has abandoned.
Four different effective pitches? Uhm… that’s debatable Ryan.

In better baseball news:

Right-hander Michael Lehmann, once a standout at Hannan and now a pitcher at Pearl River Central High School, committed to Tulane on Tuesday.

Lehmann, 6 feet 1, spent his freshman and sophomore years at Hannan, but he enrolled at Pearl River after the storm. As a junior, Lehmann was 10-0 with a 0.85 earned-run average and 111 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings and helped the Blue Devils to their best season in school history. He also hit .345 with four home runs and 35 RBIs as the team won its first district title and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bob Horner?

The Philadelphia Daily News had a special treat waiting for us today- a quick poll of the worst trades, draft picks and free agent signings in recent history. What better way to follow up reading about another desultory night at the ballpark- as the Phillies second loss in a row took the paltry shine off the glow their recent semi-decent play had generated? Nothing like a quick tour through desultory decision making.

All the folks I loved to boo are there! Lance Parrish! Kevin Allen! Shawn Bradley! The last one hurts the most- because you at the time Lance and Kevin arrived in Philadelphia, you could make a cognizant argument they could play. But serious person thought Bradley could- at least never at a level justifying him being taken second overall.

Interesting that Ryne Sandberg is not on the list. But his departure, as a throw in for Ivan DeJesus, has ever rattled the locals that much. First, DeJesus was one of those late season bandage players teams add to get to and succeed at the post-season- and it worked that year for the Phillies. The Phillies made the World Series. Second, I- and a lot of other Philadelphians- never got Ryne as a “great player”.

Forget the defense. Anyone who is a plus-asset defensively is going to have to play somewhere other than second before I believe he’s really, really helping. He sure had some good years with the bat- but before I say he was in Joe Morgan’s league, I wonder long and hard about the Riverfront/Wrigley duality. Still, good power numbers for a middle infielder. I dunno. He was a good player- and even a single MVP award, even if it was a career year, is a huge step toward being a great player. However, that was his only real run at it (finished fourth twice, never close otherwise).

But again, you probably would have hesitated before trading say, Bob Horner, straight up for him any time during Horner’s first eight years or so. Sandberg, sort of, in a way, is like Cal Ripken, Jr.- a guy whose simple longevity and health really, really help his credentials- albeit Cal isn’t in yet. And there ought to be a higher standard for Hall of Famer players that that, right? But Ozzie Smith is in there- a light hitting guy I wouldn’t have traded the Sarge straight up for- so what can you do?

Friday, July 14, 2006

This Mixture of Insult and Derision

The Philadelphia Daily News makes a pretty pedestrian attempt at grading the Phillies today- even dragging out the hoary cliché: There are two grades in sports: "A" and "F." Yeah, yeah, for crying out loud, we know that Marcus.

That being said, I can’t disagree with any of the grades- except for Gillick’s- who I still think did the franchise a favor by not spending one cent or dealing one asset to improve this team this year. The idea that any kind of slap and paste job would suffice to fix this mob is a superficial one at best. And the problem with blowing up the edifice- looking to move or moving the corner out-fielders, catcher, closer, some bullpen assets and third baseman- is that for instance, you can’t really justify spending big money at the same time to bring in quality starting pitching to boast your win total from 74 to 78.

The best part of the article are the rants in reply. Frankly, we don’t need mindless Ashley Judd boosterism. We need the people of Philadelphia to vent angrily- name names and such. Plus, civic vituperation gets us ready for #5 and the Eagles’ campaign.

Still, this mixture of insult and derision merits special consideration:
I'd give the pitchers an "A" as in Absolutely no talent. The defense a "B" as in Barely present. The hitting a "C" as in Clutchless. Charlie Manual a "D" as in Duh...Brett Myers an "E" as in El Salvador, which is where I hope we send him after trading him. And, the ownership an "F" as in FAILURES.

110 years of losing, 110 years of pathetic excusing, 110 years that's long enough, sell or move.
Clutchless? I like that. “Sell or move” might also become this site’s new motto. Sell or move Lester Ricard! Sell or move Chris Scelfo!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Drop Whatever You’re Doing

Drop whatever you’re doing!

This important film looks awesome. And a Christmas release insures the people of Philadelphia will have it just in time for the first home play-off game.

Remember when Rocky made Drago bleed his own blood?

"Let's start building some hurtin' power" would be a good motto for the Eagles' front four too.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Donkeys in NASCAR

NASCAR had one of those weeks where, once again, you were forced to root for debris cautions in order to collect the cars and force them to race- if just for a lap or two. This boring, stupid race package on these mid-sized tracks once again led to serene parading for lap after lap after lap after lap. This leads to insane scary maneuvering for a lap or two after every re-start. As alluded to above, this is the only chance- when the machines are bunched together- most drivers have of catching anyone.

We had all settled down to watch the last fifty laps of yet another “exciting” Michigan-style “fuel mileage run” finish- watching Matt Kenseth’s crew grimly repeatedly answer TNT’s questions on gasoline status. Jeff Gordon was repeatedly implored to “save us some gas”. Fortunately, Jeff Gordon was not satisfied with having much the better car over the last fifteen laps- but instead decided his victory would be more emphatic and pleasing if he simply wrecked Matt Kenseth with three to go.

Gordon took Kenseth out so clean you would have thought he was getting points for how many complete rotations Kenseth did before coming to a halt.

Increasingly, Gordon goes out there and drives like an ass- completely above sanction- because NASCAR has gone out of its away to assure him he is. For example, at Bristol this spring, he physically attacked Matt Kenseth- and was placed on probation with a fine.

But fines and probation plainly mean nothing to Gordon. Nothing. And point penalties are not going to cost him his ride. What does he care? Proof? On the very day that Mike Helton embarrasses himself by allowing TNT to film his “new tough talk” to the drivers on sportsmanship in the pre-race meeting, Jeff Gordon goes and wrecks the one guy, the singular guy, he is on probation for physically assaulting.

Isn’t Helton ashamed? But Gordon knows Helton ain’t ever gonna park him- and other drivers, particularly those whom being fined and losing points will hurt- have to tolerate Gordon’s increasingly out of control antics.

Of course, I don’t condone throwing things at participants. Ever. But why did the 80,000 or so in attendance boo and jeer so lustily and throw stuff? Why have the two instances in the forever history of NASCAR that involved fans hurling objects involve the #24 in the past year? Because they are tired of this fink, tired of his enfant terrible attitude, tired of watching the guys they root for get spun and beaten because NASCAR refuses to discipline their child.

I mean, Jeff Gordon is on probation for striking Matt Kenseth. Then he goes and wrecks him for no reason. None. What does he have to do to get suspended? Seriously? Wreck Kenseth another four times? Then will Helton park him?

In other news, Juan Pablo Montoya will quit Formula One racing for NASCAR in 2007:
"I think the challenge to drive a Cup car is going to be tough. When the offer came and I saw the racing you guys do here, I was really ecstatic about it. I’m glad to be here. I think Chip has great guys around the team and to join them - they’ve already told me 'whatever you need' - and I’m excited about that. To learn and deal with myself more as a driver, I think it’s just great.”
Welcome Juan! Bring your helmet; we do a little more rubbin' here than you're used too. Again, Jeff Gordon almost killed someone deliberately yesterday for having the temerity to lead the race for 90 laps.

But our victory will not be complete until Schumacher climbs into a car with a giant detergent logo on it. And the Taco Bell 500 sponsored by the US Army is held at Nurburgring.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


My one-week vacation away from blogging was a nice respite from the continuing lassitude surrounding the baseball team. The Philadelphia Phillies haven’t won a series since sweeping Arizona a month ago- and that didn’t change. Now that is lassitude.

Last night, the Phillies looked poised to purge the blight- rallying late to tie the game with the Padres. Get three outs from Flash, right?- and look to plate that big run in the ninth. Instead, Gordon served up a three run home run. Consequently, Ryan Madson will take the ball tonight to try- mind you, the key word being try in all things rotation-wise- to get the Phillies that second win in three tries that has alluded them for a month.

Rich Hofmann implies the Phillies sort of have to soldier on as long as they have a chance at the bare 85 wins it currently appears will win the Wild Card. You can’t disagree with that, per se.

But, be honest. There are seven teams ahead of the Phillies- and the odds are one of them will get enough of their stuff in one sock to push that number a little north of 85. Every year it looks like 85 could do it- but in the end you normally need at least 88- and those three games are a big difference.

Any big push can’t come at the expense of the things that absolutely need to get done around here. For example, David Dellucci is the sort of corner bat someone could pay for. In fact, a key reason they signed him was with an eye toward trading him; he is/was never going to play regularly here. There are serviceable arms in the ‘pen that could fetch a nice price- particularly with even decent relief pitching at a premium and everyone contending in he National League. They cannot rush Leiber or Wolf back in the rotation.

Plus, I’ve never bought this stuff that young players can’t be nurtured in winning ways on a team that isn’t contending. That’s ridiculous. A Phillies team trying frantically to get to 84 wins means the kids aren’t playing. It means Ryan Franklin is starting and Bell & Leiberthal are out there every day. Are you telling me none of the young pitchers could benefit from long looks in the second half more than Lidle or Franklin? Or that I need to see more Leiberthal at-bats and fewer from Carlos Ruiz? The only upside to losing 90 games is it gives you the luxury to play young players without real consequence- rather than trying to find if they can contribute next April when the games count again.

This team has some assets they either can or ought to move- and some guys who need to play in order to find out about them. I can’t see a club with a starting rotation featuring an ERA of just under six making a run at this thing- so play as much as you can with an eye toward next year.