Sure, it was an ambiguous poll to say the least, but the point was players from around the league saw what was going on inside the Phillies dugout during games and wanted no parts of it. Hell, the team even asked that shots of the manager in the dugout during games be limited. No sense putting the dysfunction out there on the airwaves.
Anyway, Bowa said he didn’t care about what the Sports Illustrated poll indicated when asked before a game at the Vet during the 2003 season. In fact, he didn’t care so much that he spent a good portion of the pre-game meeting with the writers talking about how much he didn’t care and how dumb the players were for not seeing his brilliance. OK, he didn’t say it like that in so many words, but he clearly was bothered by his status in the poll.
The funny part wasn’t Bowa’s reaction to his No. 1 status, but the reaction by the players in the Phillies’ clubhouse. When asked about it, most of the players treated the question as if it were a flaming bag of dog crap on the front porch. Rather than jump on the bag to put out the fire, and thus getting soiled shoes, most of the players just let it smolder itself out. They said all the right things, peppering the writers with a steady barrage of jock-speak clichés.
That is except for Mike Lieberthal, another Bowa foil, who gave the best answer of all.
“If I played on another team I’d hate him, too,” Lieberthal said, before explaining how it must look in the Phillies’ dugout to a bystander. Gotta love Lieby… he had trouble figuring out how to use those clichés knowing that his true thoughts were much more fun.
So what’s the point? Who cares about that cantankerous era of Phillies baseball where one never knew what type of land mine rested just around any corner? How about this… maybe there’s something to those polls Sports Illustrated conducts? After all, in a recent issue, the Sixers’ Andre Iguodala was voted to be amongst the NBA’s most overrated players and the Phillies’ Ruben Amaro Jr. was rated as a middle-of-the-pack general manager in Major League Baseball. Make that, second-division, actually. Ruben came in 19th while ex-Phillies GM Ed Wade was 29th out of 30.
Those ratings seem to be a bit off… at least for Wade. Taking his full body of work into account Ed Wade might be a vastly underrated as a big league general manager.
Really? How so? And why does it appear as if I’m talking to myself?
Here’s why Wade is underrated:
Don’t sleep on this factor. In a business where hubris and self-absorption are the norm (see: Amaro, R.) and a sense of humor is viewed as a determent, Wade’s unintentional comedy is nothing to sneeze at. Really, do you have to ask? Wade was the guy who parachuted out of a plane—a ballsy act in itself—only to get all tangled up in a tree in South Jersey. You can’t make that up, folks. Wade just hung there in a tree with a parachute strapped to his back. That’s hilarious on so many different levels. If comedians told jokes about big league GMs, Ed Wade would be like George W. Bush.
Plus, Wade has some sort of fetish (yes, it’s a fetish) with former Phillies players/employees. Now that he’s with the Houston Astros, Wade was signed and hired countless dudes he had in Philadelphia. For instance, not only did Wade trade/sign Randy Wolf, Tomas Perez, Jason Michaels, Geoff Geary, Michael Bourn, Matt Kata, Chris Coste, Mike Costanzo, Pedro Feliz, and, of course, Brett Myers, but also he took former Phillies PR man Gene Dias to the Astros with him.
With moves like this and a run-in with pitcher Shawn Chacon where Wade ended up getting choked, the Astros did the only thing they could… they gave Wade a two-year extension.
OK, we don’t know if this is masterful foresight or just dumb luck, but Wade should get a ton of credit for not trading minor leaguers Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels when he has the chance and everyone pleaded with him to do so. Remember that? Of course you don’t because you don’t want to admit how dumb you were. Still, it’s hard to believe a few folks got all lathered up because Wade refused to make deadline deals involving Howard that would have brought back guys like Jeff Suppan or Kris Benson from Pittsburgh.
With the core group of Howard, Utley and Hamels, Wade’s successors could be bold enough to do things like trade for Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay as well as sign Pedro Martinez, Greg Dobbs and Jayson Werth. In fact, it was Wade who swiped Shane Victorino away from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft in 2005. Sure, the Phillies eventually offered him back, but sometimes it counts to be lucky, too.
Make no mistake about it, Wade’s fingerprints are all over the Phillies’ roster. Maybe as much as Amaro’s, who has the strange honor of being one of the only GMs in the history of the game to trade and sign three Cy Young Award winners in the span of five months.
Oh yes, Amaro’s moves have been solid, considering the trades for Lee and Halladay and knowing when to cut bait on guys like Pat Burrell. However, he loses points for giving Jamie Moyer a two-year deal worth $13 million. With that money on hand, the Phillies probably would have had a rotation with both Lee and Halladay at the top and Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ filling out the other three spots.
Imagine that… Amaro got all those Cy Young Award winners, but would have had two of them in their prime at the top of his pitching rotation if he had allowed then 46-year-old Moyer to walk away.
Hindsight. It has to be a GM’s worst enemy...
Or best friend.
Take the case of Raul Ibanez, for instance. A whole bunch of us knew that he was hurt/injured and that he was playing even though he was in obvious pain.
Just watch the guy run, for goshsakes. His form is all over the place like he's compensating for the pounding one takes with each painful footfall. Swinging a bat couldn't be easy, either. Just look at the difference between those first and second-half numbers for that proof.
Or better yet, when Raul first arrived in town he was always a fixture in the clubhouse before and after games, but during the second half of the season those clubhouse sightings were rare. It was deduced that he was getting treatment or going through a series of stretches, twists, shots or potions in order to get out on the field.
We didn’t know any of this because no one was saying anything. Even when Raul or Charlie Manuel were asked—point blank—if the left fielder was hurt, injured or needed surgery, the answer was always elusive and ambiguous. The best answer was always something about not being on the list of players getting treatment from athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.
The truth was Ibanez was beyond such mundane things as basic treatment.
So when the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated arrived in mailboxes, it was all there for all to read—Ibanez was hurt just like we knew, only more dramatically so.
According to the story, rather than have surgery and potentially miss a large portion of the season he toughed it out as we all saw.
He batted .312 with 22 home runs in his first 2½ months, a welcome splash of cold water for a team still groggy from a World Series hangover. But by the third week in June, Ibañez was suffering from a sore left groin and, unbeknownst to the public, a small but serious muscle tear near his abdomen. On a trip to Toronto he was confronted with an excruciating decision: He could have surgery to repair the tear and miss a large chunk of time, or he could return after a short stint on the disabled list and play his dream season hurt. "We all asked him if he would have the surgery," Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes says, "and he told everyone, 'I won't do that. I'll do anything but that.'"
After consulting with a neuromuscular specialist in Toronto and a surgeon in Philadelphia, Ibañez chose the DL, followed by aggressive rehabilitation. Every day he drops onto a mat in the Phillies' clubhouse, performs core and hip exercises with trainer Scott Sheridan and then heads for the field. Lopes believes that Ibañez's swing, speed and statistics have suffered because of the injury—he batted just .232 with 12 homers in 72 games after coming off the DL—but his clubhouse cred clearly spiked. "A lot of guys in his position would have said, 'Oh, my God, I'll just have the surgery,'" says Phillies utilityman Greg Dobbs, who played with Ibañez in Seattle. "But he's the type who says, ‘You tell me I can't, then I will.’”
So there are a couple ways to look at this, such as we can laud Ibanez for his toughness and his pain management. These are admirable traits for athletes—especially Philadelphia athletes—as long as the team doesn’t suffer because of it. Though Ibanez hasn’t been himself during the second half of the season, he hasn’t been a drain on the team.
Give the guy credit for going out there as often as possible. Charlie Manuel is the type of manager who rides his regulars and Ibanez got no special treatment despite the injury. He said he was OK, so he played... no complaints.
Conversely, it kind of stinks that Ibanez and the Phillies held back a story that the local guys had already sniffed out only to confirm it for Sports Illustrated. In the meantime all some of us could do was drop some not-so subtle hints and force readers to do some between-the-lines reading about the assumed injury. There are other examples aside from this one, but this is what stands out for the moment.
So yeah, we knew something was up. We knew there was something more than what was being trotted out there. But apparently it pays to be a part of the national media as opposed to li’l ol’ Philadelphia.
You want the truth? Can you handle it?
You know, secret societies being what they are and all.
Nevertheless, if there is one person who should be acknowledged for being a stand-up dude this season, it is Brad Lidge. After all, no matter how ugly it got on the mound or how frustrating it was following those eight losses and 11 blown saves, Lidge bravely faced the music with his teammates, coaches and media. That's a bit of a rarity these days. Better yet, not only was he consistent in demeanor, he has been accountable and kept his dignity.
In fact, Lidge has been no different in 2009 when talking about his performance than he was in 2008 when he nailed down 48 save chances in a row. He stands there and deconstructs every pitch, indulges every question and relives the horror (or glory) after every outing.
Could you imagine if a politician, a doctor or lawyer had to face the music after a day at work the way Lidge has this year?
Anyway, in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, columnist Phil Taylor weighed in on how Lidge has handled the difficult season with great dignity and aplomb. As Taylor wrote:
It's like going to sleep as James Bond and waking up as Inspector Clouseau. "My preparation is the same, my intensity, my focus, my effort, they're all the same as last season, but the results just—aren't," the 32-year-old Lidge says. "There are definitely times when I wonder, What's going on here?"
The rest of us are wondering the same thing, but not so much about his pitching. What's going on with all this self-control? No athlete in recent memory has gone from being perfect one season to putrid the next, so if ever a player could be forgiven for snapping, it's Lidge. Yet he continues to handle his struggles with grace and civility, which is just so ... unfashionable.
Hasn't he been paying attention? That's not the way it's done at a time when rage is all the rage. If you're on the verge of losing to an underdog in the U.S. Open, you take it out on your racket and the line judge, the way Serena Williams did. If an opponent shows little class by taunting, you show even less by slugging him, as Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount did after the Ducks' loss to Boise State. If the kick returner on your team lets a shot at a season-opening upset slip away, you take your frustrations out by spray-painting his lawn, the way Bills fans did after Leodis McKelvin's fumble at New England.
Even with all of those angry precedents to follow, Lidge's stack remains unblown; not once has he had to release an insincere, intentionally vague apology for some embarrassing loss of temper. Manager Charlie Manuel pulled him in a save situation against the Nationals two weeks ago, the first time as a Phillie that Lidge had suffered that indignity. Some relievers might have grabbed the biggest bat they could find and done a little impromptu demolition work in the clubhouse, but Lidge stayed in the dugout, demonstrably rooting on his replacement, Ryan Madson.
Staring out at a light rain last week, Lidge matter-of-factly discussed his performance, his affable demeanor never changing even as he used words like "crappy" and "terrible." After a particularly galling blown save against the Astros, his former team, he had sat in front of his locker so distraught that a Phillies staffer told him it would be fine if he chose not to speak to the media. Instead of taking the invitation to duck out, he took a deep breath and relived the ugly outing for his questioners—facing things, as Manuel puts it, "like a man."
Yes, Lidge has been downright dreadful on the mound this season. In fact, there have been times when it has been uncomfortable to watch him try and get hitters out. Worse, sometimes it seems as if Lidge has been on the wrong end of “pity applause,” which isn’t mean spirited, but it’s infuriating just the same. Last when Lidge would get an out the fans would erupt and celebrate another victory. This year, instead, outs are met with cheers but there is some sarcasm behind them.
Yet Lidge has pushed on. He may be bad on the mound, but off it he’s been the ace. And in the end isn’t that what really matters? Sure, sportswriters and fans talk about things like legacies and history, but that only applies to what happens between the lines.
Maybe that should change? When it comes to a true legacy maybe Lidge is ahead of the game. He’s a good dude and in the end that always matters more than anything a person can do on a ball field.
And who knows, Lidge said a few weeks ago that the true measure of a baseball season is how it ends. If this season ends just as well as last year, Lidge says it will all be worth it. However, it already has been worth it for the folks who get to talk to him on a regular basis.
It should be noted that Mike is working on this in his free time, which kind of shoots his theory in the ass a bit, but otherwise, this is groundbreaking stuff. If anything it will give the baseball writer-types the much-needed time to watch things like the Joe Buck Live so we can ponder the host’s second favorite web site.
After the five minutes passes that it takes to understand the significance of the sports announcer’s show and the unnatural disaster named Artie Lange, we can take a nap with the report on Sammy Sosa and his alleged positive test acting as an organic Ambien.
I almost read the report in The New York Times about Sammy Sosa’s alleged positive test from 2003. I should say that I actually dialed it up on the Internets, looked at the picture of Sammy and Big Mark McGwire smiling together during that summer of 1998, and tried to get through the lede graf.
But then I couldn’t stop yawning. Not enough oxygen to my head, I guess. But the yawns came so frequently that it seemed like a good idea to get up and walk around a bit. Maybe grab a drink with a little caffeine to shake loose the cob webs. Then I could go back and sit down and get through the story.
Only when I tried again I dozed off. The weird thing about this was that I was sitting in the press box at the Phillies-Jays game. There were more than 45,000 people hovering about and there I was drooling on the keys of my laptop. I may have even sprayed Gonzo or Crasnick who usually sit next to me at the ballgames.
What are you going to do? If a Sammy Sosa getting popped for PEDs can’t hold one’s attention, what chance do innocent bystanders have?
Yet refreshed and rested, I forged on. Only instead of reading up on Sammy, I learned that Senator Barbara Boxer from California really has “a thing” about highly decorated military men calling her, “senator” as opposed to “ma’am,” or even, “Babs.”
The distinguished senator from California claims she worked hard for her title, which means she raised a helluva lot of money. In fact, Babs raised so much money that the great state of California has tax rates that make even ballplayers complain. Oh sure, those guys complain about anything dealing with taxes and money and government. Hanging in a baseball clubhouse is like being an insider at one of those minutemen brigades or something, only the fortified bunkers are loaded with therapeutic tubs and pools, a training staff and all the maple bats a guy could ever want. In the case of the Phillies, sometimes the common area of the bunker (aka, The Clubhouse) has an actual team of ballplayers in it after games, but most of the time the jocks are out-numbered by PR staff members by a rate of 5-to-1.
Anyway, take a look at ol’ Babs giving Gomer Pyle the business:
Oh, but there was one thing that had me rapt for approximately 10 whole minutes. In fact, I was actually excited to lounge on the couch and read the Sports Illustrated send-up on Charlie Manuel.
Sure, there weren’t too many new stories in the piece, and, in fact, I recall hearing one of them a few weeks ago. In the story Charlie even points out that he told the story a few days prior. Well, he told them to us in the dugout during the early afternoon meet-and-greet he does with the local writing press. The truth is, the guy loves to tell stories about Billy Martin and Japan, and frankly, we like to hear them as many times as he wants to tell them.
Charlie has a few other doozies that likely won’t see print any time soon and haven’t made it into the Sports Illustrated or HBO features. Actually, that raises a pretty interesting premise and that is Charlie likes to talk to the big-time national press.
Bryant Gumble, Frank DeFord and HBO? Sure, send ‘em over. Sports Illustrated? No problem – where is the fitting for the tux? A speaking gig warming up for Colin Powell, Rudy Giuliani and Donovan McNabb? No problem, just get ready for the folksy charm.
So here’s the issue… is Charlie spreading himself too thin? Are the Phillies playing so poorly at home because of all the demands on their time from winning the World Series? Undoubtedly, Charlie and the rest of the Phillies will answer with a resounding, “No!” But think about it – how many national TV commercial ads were Phillies players starring in before they won the World Series? Before Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels became pitchmen, was there anyone else other than Mike Schmidt an Pete Rose?
It’s a wonderful thing winning the World Series, but damn if it ain’t time consuming.
The thing about that was there were no pop-out headlines or boxed photos to sully the austerity of Hamels in mid leg kick of a pitch while staring down the camera.
It's so nice you might want to hang it on your wall.
But big pictures and cover stories are superficial. They don't mean anything because if they did, Angelina Jolie, Paris Hilton and a The Octomom would be the most meaningful people on the planet.
Alas, they are not. In fact, what do they do exactly?
Anyway, Cole is sort of a big deal in these parts. When he returned to Philadelphia last week for an MRI and an ultra sound of that precious, precious left arm, camera crews dogged him around town while he guided his wife's minivan through traffic. The Phillies even put out an advance warning to the media back in Philly that Cole wasn't going to talk to reporters when he arrived at Philadelphia International.
Apparently the ride on USAir was going to be stressful enough - you know with the lost luggage and everything.
But in Lee Jenkins' story about potential top pick in the June baseball draft named Stephen Strasburg, Hamels' name came up.
In a sidebar entitled, "Young Guns," Jenkins talked to long-time scout Al Goldis about the best pitchers he bird dogged. Guess what? Hamels was second on Goldis' list.
In his career with the Orioles, White Sox, Reds, Brewers, Cubs, Angels and Mets, Goldis put Hamels in his all-time top five of pitchers he scouted along with Dwight Gooden, Brien Taylor, Mark Prior and Mike Mussina. Not a bad list, though the pro careers weren't exactly the best for all of the guys on that list.
On Hamels, the scout told the scribe:
Of all the high school pitchers I've seen, he had the most poise. He knew how to pitch. He had a great changeup. He had everything.
Indeed he did. However, because of injuries and questions about his long-term health, Hamels fell to the 17th pick in the 2002 draft where Mike Arbuckle, Marti Wolever and Ed Wade were smart enough to make the pick.
Later, they were smart enough to hold onto him when all the other teams came around sniffing for prospects in potential trades.
Nope, not much happening here.
But even a sheltered dude like me knows old-fashioned when he sees it and this time it was shoved through the mail slot in my door. So when I walked over to pick up the pile of magazines and junk mail on the ground, I saw Bar Refaeli staring coquettishly from behind a bank statement.
But rather than going for the rather flimsy-feeling magazine, I went for the bank statement. After all, in this age the fact that the bank is actually telling me I have money is the biggest turn-on.
Look, as one of those so-called red-blooded Americans, I like half-naked women as much as the next person. Think about it... what else do Americans really do well any more. There's all-you-can-eat buffets; spiraling, out-of-control credit debt; and scantily clad men and women. That's us.
But c'mon, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? In 2009? Really?