Results tagged ‘ Phillies ’

Phils And Yankees: Not Their Year

CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.

Unlikely Spring Training Questions From A Waiting Room

These have been bouncing around my head all off-season; some are tempests in teapots, some a little more substantial – I just havent heard many of them asked…DID the Yankees actually upgrade? Acknowledging that a healthy Nick Johnson, freed of all defensive worries, could win a batting championship (or at least the On Base crown), is a trade-off of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera for Curtis Granderson, Johnson, Randy Winn and Brett Gardner really a win? Has Cabreras clutch late-inning hitting been forgotten, or merely written off as a statistical fluke?…ON the other end of the Granderson trade, do the Tigers know Phil Coke wasnt that great against lefties during the first half of last year, and basically stopped getting them out at all after September 1 and in the post-season?…HAS Roy Halladay ever been tested in a pennant race? Does it matter? I seem to recall several clubs drooling over the various Javier Vazquezes who pitched in obscurity in Montreal and Arizona and even Chicago…DID the Angels look at Joel Pinieros last months worth of work in 2009? Did they break out his fly-ball to ground-ball ratio? Did they note that a sinkerball pitcher who cant get the ball down will probably end up in mopup relief?…WHY hasnt anybody else written that if Milton Bradley doesnt sink the Mariners, theyll be the first?…lastly IF you are the Nats and you have as exciting a prospect as Ian Desmond and you havent unloaded Cristian Guzman, why do you go ahead and sign Adam Kennedy?

Since You Asked

Two updates, one coming with my thanks, one with a touch of silliness.

Several times in the comments I’ve been asked about my father’s health. He’s now been hospitalized for more than five months and he continues to struggle against a somewhat-compromised immune system, but he’s been on the upswing for a couple of weeks, and given all he’s conquered, the doctors are very optimistic and he remains in inspiringly good humor. Your interest in him – and that of my tv viewers – is a great source of comfort to him, and on his behalf, I thank you for it.

Sharts.jpg

Now the silliness. A week ago I mentioned the Springapocalypse of 1995, when major league teams filled their camps with retreads, hasbeens, neverweres, wannabes, and UPS drivers (no offense to UPS drivers). I ran through the line-up the Dunedin-Toronto Blue Jays would’ve trotted out on the field on Opening Day in defense of their consecutive World Championships of 1992 and 1993 and a commenter giggled (appropriately, I guess) at the prospect of owning a card of the would’ve-been-Jays closer, Steve Sharts. Ask and ye shall receive. 
Sharts, as we see at Baseball Reference, had a six-year career climbing up the ladder in the Phillies system, after being their 17th Round draft choice out of Cal State Northridge in 1985 (Tom Drees, who threw three no-hitters in the PCL in 1989 and had a cameo with the White Sox two years later, went earlier in the same round). There is a youth baseball program in Florida called, of all things, the The Tampa Terror, which identifies its top coach as Steve Sharts but there is no mention made at its website confirming it’s the same one. The card is a 1990 CMC, there’s apparently also a ProCards issue from the same year.
So there.

What The Heck Is This?

Parked on 6th Avenue – for what purpose I have no idea – as bad a touch of sportsmanship (no matter how often it might’ve been used) as I’ve ever seen. 

And worse, what’s with the Hot Wheels paint job?IMG_1405.JPG

Notes From A Hospital Waiting Room

This thing in Atlanta. This is really happening? The Braves, 8-1/2 behind the Rockies 18 days ago, have won 15 of 17, are two behind the Rockies in the Wild Card, and four behind the Phillies for first in the division, with five to play? It is of course impossible, even for a team on as much of a roll as Bobby Coxs, to pull this off – except we so easily forget: this is almost exactly what the possible victims here, the Rockies, did to San Diego in 2007. Plus there are two very relevant facts here: since Jim Tracy took over, Colorado has been so hot that they necessarily had to cool down (as will the Braves), and if Atlanta pulls this off they can thank Jair Jurrjens. After he beat the Marlins tonight he rose to merely 9-1 against the NL East (yes, its 4-0 versus the Mets; that still leaves 5-1 versus everybody else). This is one of the more remarkable stats of the last few years. And lets not even start talking about how the Phlounderin Phillies have enabled all this.

Recommended Prospects, Recommended Reading (Updated)

Funny that with all the big names moving before the deadline, the number of primo prospects was actually pretty low. I was particularly unimpressed with what the Indians got for Cliff Lee (and Ben Francisco) although I am only about ten percent insufficiently skeptical to address the Lee deal as I did the McLouth one – that the trading team was selling a guy, if not at peak value, then at the last moment he would be seriously overvalued, and were doing well to get anything hopeful back.

Having said that, if you still consider Justin Masterson a prospect and not a full-fledged major leaguer, he was clearly the most gifted of all the players given up for “the names.” A year from now, when Brad Penny and John Smoltz and who knows who else are Red Sox memories, Boston would not have parted with him, and not just because of his pitching gifts. The Sox are astounded by his quiet leadership, an almost unheard-of quality for a pitcher. He doesn’t rant, he doesn’t yell, he doesn’t slap his glove against his thigh, and nothing bleeds from his sock. He just inspires his teammates to feel more secure about their talents and accomplishments, and their prospects for winning the game. Terry Francona will miss him, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of his life.
And ironically, given how they are howling in Pittsburgh over the exiling of McLouth, then Jack Wilson, then Freddie Sanchez, the head-and-shoulders pick for the top pure-prospect traded against the deadline was the guy the Bucs got for Sanchez, pitcher Tim Alderson. Harkening back to the Johan Santana/Yankees post here, the rule of thumb is that half of all pitching prospects fail. That would ordinarily discourage the ever-discouraged Pirate faithful. However, Alderson and Charlie Morton are both front-of-rotation, ace-of-staff prospects. If one makes it and the other turns merely into a righty Jarrod Washburn, they’ve done awfully well – and this assumes that very little else from the McLouth or Wilson trades bears great fruit, which is not necessarily a correct assumption.
One more deadline note. The amazement at the Adam LaRoche/Casey Kotchman trade itself amazes me. The Red Sox made a similar acquisition in 2004, a glove-first, low-power starting first baseman, about whom everyone said “where they gonna play him?” His name was Doug Mientkiewicz and the point was, his window as a starting player was pretty much over, as is Kotchman’s. He will never hit enough. So you keep the defensive whiz as your back-up and pay for it by spending the middling slugger with the middling glove. The only complication this time is that the Boston backup on those days when Victor Martinez is playing first, is a fellow named Youkilis, and he’s no slouch.
BRIEF UPDATE NOT WORTHY OF ITS OWN POST

The Rangers sent Frank Francisco out on rehab to AAA. To Frisco of the Texas League. Making him Frank Francisco of Frisco.
Nearly as good as Johnny Podres of the Padres, Jim York of New York, or Ted Cox of the Red Sox.
READ – IN FACT, YOU’RE DOING IT NOW!

Three books to endorse with high praise and the caveat that I’m mentioned in one, and two of them are written by friends. I write as a guy who was once the country’s only nationally-published reviewer of baseball books (who once gave the second edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia a panning for some awful typos) so finding three I like at one time is quite a feat.
First there’s Marty Appel’s Munson: The Life And Death Of A Yankee Captain. When a book reveals details of a man’s life to his own family, it’s a pretty good book. I am duly impressed both with the research effort and the clarity of Marty’s work, and the attempt to recreate that sad day 30 years ago tomorrow when Munson’s death shocked baseball. It is not happy reading, but it is worthwhile reading.
I think Ron Darling may have written (let’s broaden it out to all of them who didn’t go to Yale; even co-written) the best book by a pitcher since Kirby Higbe’s HIgh And Inside. Ron’s is called The Complete Game and it takes a novel approach: a pitch-by-pitch, thought-by-thought recitation of key innings of key games, nearly all of them his own, throughout his long span in college and major league ball. Apart from taking you inside an entire team’s thinking as the pitches succeed each other, Ronnie also underscores what is to me the most underrated skill among elite athletes: Memory. Nearly all of the microscopic detail (what he was thinking between the third and fourth pitches, to the third hitter, in the fifth inning, of his thirteenth start, etc) was pulled from his recall and simply verified in the record books. He rolls the details out the way Gordie Howe once rolled out each shot he took in a Detroit Red Wings-New York Rangers game, 27 years after he played it. A great read, and very well written.
Almost not at all written is the third suggestion: Chris Epting’s The Early Polo Grounds. This is 181 pre-1925 photos taken at the legendary home of The New York Giants and it borders on time travel, even if the captions aren’t always complete (a date of an October, 1910, photo is disputed by the author because the Giants didn’t play in that year’s World Series; he seems not to have known that in those days the Giants and Yankees regularly played post-season series for the “Championship of New York”). Having just spent hours in the photo vaults of Cooperstown looking at all the photos of the fabled ballpark, I can say that this collection rivals that part of the Hall’s from the 20th Century – plus, they won’t arrest you if you try to take it home.


The Philadelphia Spiders?

The Phillies, who have brought new meaning to the phrase “home away from home,” are in St. Petersburg tonight, giving us time to contemplate the insanity of a divisional leader having lost 22 of its first 35 games in its own park. For the record, in the NL East only the Mets are at .500 or better at home, and that 13-22 mark for the Phils compares unfavorably to Washington’s 12-23 home start.

Futility at home always brings back fond Collective Baseball Consciousness Memories of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, baseball’s all-time worst team, and the last to actually abandon their home city in midseason. Cleveland was the National League’s third most successful franchise during the monopoly years of the 1890’s, but in those days there were no rules about the same people owning more than one franchise. When the St. Louis Browns slid into bankruptcy before the season of 1899, the Cleveland owners, the Robison Brothers, bought that team as well. 
With St. Louis then being a far larger market, and less than three weeks before Opening Day 1899, the Robisons promptly transferred all 20 of the Spiders’ top players – including future Hall of Famers Cy Young, Jesse Burkett, and Bobby Wallace – out of Cleveland. The Spiders, filled with has-beens, reserves, and occasionally local amateurs signed for cameos, lost 20 of their first 23 games, and managed to draw a total of 3,179 fans for their first 16 home games (you not only read that right – less than 200 fans a game – but many contemporary reports suggested that those numbers were padded).

It quickly went from bad to unbelievable, even for the fluid standards of 19th Century baseball. By a July 1st home doubleheader split with Boston, the Spiders were 11-48. It was at this point that the Robisons decided that there was very little purpose in playing any more games in Cleveland. They would perform in front of the home fans (fan) only eight times thereafter, and as a wandering tribe of dispirited players, they finished the year with the remarkable record of 20 wins and 134 losses (9-33 at home, 11-101 on the road, and 0-13 in Cincinnati). Cleveland ended up in twelfth place, 84 games behind first-place Brooklyn and 35 games behind eleventh-place Washington. And of course it got worse as it went along. The Spiders lost 35 of their last 36 games (only one of them played in Cleveland).
Necessarily the Spideys produced some horrific statistics, especially for pitchers. Coldwater Jim Hughey, the staff ace, was 4-30 (and the majors’ last thirty game loser). Charlie Knepper finished 4-22, and Frank Bates, 1-18. Among the position players, Lave Cross is a longshot Hall of Fame candidate (and after suffering as player-manager until June, was ransomed back to St. Louis). Saddest of all, the man who might have been the most talented athlete in the game’s history, Louis “Chief” Sockalexis, was already so far lost to alcohol that he lasted just seven games with history’s worst team, and was dropped on May 14.
Thus at 13-22 at home, the ’09 Phils are already guaranteed to do better than this gothic nightmare out of the pages of the history of baseball greediness.
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