Tagged: Broadcasters

The Other Side of the Steve Phillips Argument

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General manager-turned-broadcaster Steve Phillips has taken
a lot of flack over the last few days, ever since he made a series of critical
comments about the Mets’ Carlos Beltran during ESPN’s Sunday night broadcast.
Frankly, some of the blowback against Phillips has been overdone, with his
comments taken severely out of context by some critics who don’t like his commentary to begin with or haven’t forgiven him for a spotty record as a general manager.

 

First of all, Phillips only suggested trading Beltran IF the
Mets were to fail to make the postseason for a third consecutive year. Let’s be
honest here. If the Mets fall short of the playoffs for a third summer, no one in the organization will be
untouchable. GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel will likely be fired, and
one of the Mets’ big three–either Beltran, Jose Reyes, or David Wright–will
almost certainly be traded. (And if you don’t agree with that possibility, you
simply haven’t been following the Mets’ fortunes since October of 2006.) Furthermore,
one of the reasons that Phillips “picked on” Beltran has to do with the ages of
both Reyes and Wright, who are both 26 and likely have a number of prime years
remaining. Beltran is no kid anymore–he’s 32, an age by which most players
start to show some decline–and therefore not likely to have as prolonged a
future as either Wright or Reyes. Yet, because of his all-round greatness as a
player, Beltran will still command something substantial in a potential trade.

 

In posing some of his criticisms of Beltran on Sunday night,
Phillips chose some of his words badly and came off sounding awkward. For
example, he talked about Beltran not delivering enough “winning plays,” a
strange and nebulous way of wording things, to say the least. That kind of
terminology certainly did not help Phillips’ argument, leading to some of the
negative reaction on the Internet. That’s fair criticism. But some of Phillips’
points about Beltran are legitimate. Twice this year, Beltran has inexplicably failed
to slide on the basepaths when sliding should have been his first and only
option. (Beltran is just part of the problem here; as a team, the Mets are simply
atrocious running the bases. They don’t hustle, they don’t understand game
situations, and now they even miss bases.) In the field, Beltran has also made
a habit of missing the cutoff man, which is surprising for a center fielder of
his rather considerable defensive talents. And Beltran has never been much of a
vocal leader, which is an attribute the current Mets severely lack–and have
lacked for a few years now. Hey, when you make the big bucks, like Beltran
does, some people expect you to speak up in the clubhouse every once in awhile. 

 

Did Phillips make his case against Beltran poorly? Yes,
absolutely. Did he belabor his criticisms of Beltran during the broadcast? No
question. But let’s keep things in context here, while looking toward the
possible future. If the Mets continue their inconsistent play and miss out on a
postseason berth for a third consecutive season, Beltran will be one of just
many people in the organization holding their heads on the chopping block. And
if the Mets can get the right package of players in return for Beltran–who is
still one of the top ten players in the game and a future Hall of Famer–that might be one of the steps they
need to take to change the dynamics of a team that too often seems dazed and
disinterested.

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The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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It may be small consolation to their frustrated fan base, but if the Orioles can find someone halfway decent to patrol
left field, they can make an argument for having the best outfield in the game.
Center fielder Adam Jones has blossomed in his second season, adding a robust
bat to his already imposing glove. Right fielder Nick Markakis is now a
legitimate star, having elevated his game each of the last three seasons. Unfortunately, left field remains a problem for the Birds. Felix Pie (.158
batting average and .238 on-base percentage) has hit just as poorly in Baltimore as he did in Chicago, while utilityman Lou Montanez is no
more than a stopgap solution. A more immediate short-term answer might be found at Triple-A, where the
Orioles just assigned Joey Gathright, freshly acquired from the Cubs.
Gathright, who is still one of the three fastest runners in the game (I’ll vote
for Emilio Bonifacio and Brett Gardner as the others) and can handle left field
defensively. As to how much Gathright will hit, that remains the eternal
question…

 

On Saturday night, Steve Stone provided another example of
why he’s one of baseball’s best color analysts. During the broadcast of the
White Sox-Rangers game, Stone listed Josh Fields and Carlos Quentin as the Sox’
two best runners in terms of going hard into second base and breaking up potential double
plays. That’s just great information. How many color announcers even pay
attention to such overlooked aspects of baserunning, especially in an era when
hitting and pitching are so much the focus of on-air discussion? Keep up the
great work, Steve…

 

It’s really no mystery why Zack Greinke has been so
masterfully overpowering for the Royals. He has two phenomenal pitches–an
exploding fastball and a biting overhand curve–and throws everything in his
arsenal for strikes. His start to the season is no fluke; he’s a legitimate No.
1 starter that the Royals can build around for years to come. With Greinke, Gil
Meche, and Brian “The Animal” Bannister now in the rotation, and former No. 1
pick Luke Hochevar on the way, the Royals have the makings of a starting staff
that will contend–if not in 2009, then next summer…

 

Just how low have the Yankees sunk? Fresh off their
disheartening five-game losing streak this week, the front office decided that
answers to their problems could be found in journeyman mediocrities Kevin Cash
and Brett Tomko, recalled from Triple-A Scranton. Cash is the ultimate
good-field, no-hit catcher, a limited player of borderline major league capability.
Tomko pitched horribly for the Padres last season, despite the benefit of
pitching in Petco
Park half of the time. While
it’s undeniable that the Yankees have been hit with a crushing tidal wave of
injuries, it’s inconceivable that such a wealthy franchise has such little
organizational depth. It’s also an indictment of general manager Brian Cashman
and his stunning lack of attention to detail. Remarkably, Cashman failed to put
in a waiver claim on hard-hitting backup catcher Brayan Pena, who was demoted
to Triple-A Omaha by the Royals…

 

I understand that A.J. Hinch is a bright young mind who has
done well in developing Arizona’s
farm system. But wouldn’t it have made more sense for the Diamondbacks to tap
someone with at least some on-field experience in hiring their new manager,
especially in the middle of the season. There are some legitimate managerial
candidates who have track records in running ballclubs. Torey Lovullo is a
terrific young manager who has won two minor league titles in the Indians’
system. Why didn’t the D-Backs at least approach the Indians about the
possibility of hiring Lovullo? Another possibility would have been Davey
Johnson, fresh off his stint as manager of Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Or perhaps the D-Backs could have stayed in-house by promoting bench coach Kirk
Gibson, who could have at least managed the team on an interim basis. Gibson
certainly doesn’t lack fire, which was one of the criticisms aimed at fired
skipper Bob Melvin…

 

Rickie Weeks, a notoriously poor fielding second baseman,
has been one of the game’s most improved defenders through the first five weeks
of the season. Much of the credit goes to new Brewers coach Willie Randolph, who
was hired as part of Ken Macha’s new-look staff. Randolph was one of the most
fundamentally sound second baseman of his era, so it’s no surprise that he’s
having such a positive impact on the talented but erratic Weeks…

 

Sandy Alomar, Sr. has been a player, coach, or minor league
instructors for 49 straight years, dating back to 1960, his first year in
professional ball with the Los Angeles Angels’ organization. Yet, Alomar had
never managed even a single game–mostly because he had no such aspirations–until
this weekend.  Alomar’s debut took place
on Saturday, as he managed the Mets during Jerry Manuel’s one-game suspension
for incidental contact with an umpire. The Mets won that game against the
Pirates, 10-1, which means that Alomar will have a perfect record as manager
for awhile, at least until the next time that Manuel is suspended. Good for
Alomar, one of the solid men who have been a life-long servant to the game…

 

Of all the team statistics I’ve heard bandied about, none is
more shocking than this. The Phillies are a meager 3-and-9 at home in games in
which they have faced right-handed starting pitchers. That is simply stunning
for a team that is so heavily loaded with left-handed hitting studs like Ryan
Howard, Chase Utley, the switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins, and new sensation Raul
Ibanez. The Phillies’ poor record against righties is a severe indictment of
their shaky starting pitching, which has too often failed to keep them in
games. None of Philly’s starters–particularly ace Cole Hamels or the
prehistoric Jamie Moyer–have pitched anywhere near their 2008 levels.

Harry Kalas

We get through most seasons without having to experience the loss of a current day player or broadcaster. Here in 2009, we’re only eight days into the new season, a time that is supposed to be filled with new hopes and the good feeling that comes with starting fresh, but we’ve already lost both a broadcaster and a ballplayer.

Harry Kalas, the longtime voice of the Phillies, died on Monday afternoon after collapsing in the broadcast booth at Nationals Park in Washington. He was 73. His death, occurring just a short time before the Phillies’ scheduled game on Monday afternoon, comes just four days after the passing of Angels right-hander Nick Adenhart, who died in a car accident caused by a drunk driver.

I had the fortune of meeting Harry Kalas twice. The first time occurred in 2002, when he came to Cooperstown to receive the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. The second time was last summer, when he attended a special exhibition game involving the U.S. Military All-Stars. I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to Harry on either occasion, but that’s only because he was usually in the midst of a crowd of enthusiastic fans and friends. So many people wanted to talk to Harry, mostly because they admired the stylish and dignified way that he broadcast Phillies games for so many years. And Harry did his best to blend in, always humble about his broadcasting abilities but also willing to answer whatever questions that were posed to him. In other words, he acted like a professional, through and through.

What made Kalas such a great broadcaster? I guess that the answer begins with his voice, so deep and resonant, and yet unique in its style. But there are plenty of broadcasters who have good voices and don’t achieve the heights of a Harry Kalas. That’s because Harry supported that voice with a sense of rhythm and timing. Sometimes broadcasters, particularly on the radio side, get lost within the complexity of a play and fall behind in their efforts to describe what has happened in front of them. I never once heard Harry rush a call, never heard him try to speed up his voice to catch up with the action. He always seemed to have impeccable timing; he watched the play as it unfolded, carefully but concisely detailing what he saw. His pace, a shade quicker than deliberate, worked beautifully with the mid-range speed of baseball. We often talk about how great ballplayers slow the game down; well, Harry slowed it down from the broadcast booth, and in the process, helped us better understand what was happening on the ballfield.

Harry will always be known for his radio and television work with the Phillies, understandable given his 38-year association with the franchise. But he also did good work before his 1971 arrival in Philadelphia. From 1965 to 1970, Kalas broadcast games for the Houston Astros, a team that lacked the glamor of some of Harry’s Phillies teams, but still featured such stars as Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub, and Jimmy Wynn. Older Astros fans who remember Harry’s calls from the late 1960s will undoubtedly appreciate those memories as much as Phillies fans of more recent vintage.

For nearly 45 years, Harry Kalas provided us with lively images of Morgan, Staub, and Wynn, of Steve Carlton, Greg Luzinski, and Tug McGraw, of Lenny Dykstra, Curt Schilling, and Mitch Williams, of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins. And yes, of a fellow he liked to call Michael Jack Schmidt. For nearly a half-century, Harry made their exploits a little more vivid. And he made a great game just a little bit better. 

Monday’s Bunts and Boots: Gardner vs. Cabrera, Stokes, and Dead Air

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There are those who believe that spring training performance
is too misleading to be useful in determining who should win spots on an
Opening Day roster. I would tend to agree with that, at least in the case of established
veteran players, but the Grapefruit and Cactus League seasons can be helpful in sorting out the best
and worst among younger players.

 

The 2009 Yankees provide a classic case in point. On Sunday,
Joe Girardi announced that Brett Gardner had won the center field battle, with
Melky Cabrera relegated to backup duties. Gardner
hit a leadoff home run in the Yankees’ first exhibition game this spring–and
has continued to hit all spring, even with surprising power. Cabrera, after a
slow start, has rebounded to lift his average into the .340 range, which is
very good, but still short of Gardner’s
exhibition level.

 

In my mind, Girardi has made a perfectly reasonable and
rational decision in choosing Gardner.
Both players have their strengths, Gardner
his speed and range, and Cabrera his throwing arm, but neither has a huge edge
in talent over the other. Both are younger players still trying to establish
their levels of value in the major leaguers. Neither player hit well in 2008,
leaving question marks about their staying power as regular center fielders. If
Girardi can’t use spring training as a major factor, then what else can he rely
on? Tarot cards?

 

I believe that the pressure of spring training performance
can also tell us something about a player. If a player knows he has to hit well
in the spring in order to win a job, and then he goes out and does exactly
that, it may be an indication that he can handle the pressure that comes with
the major leagues. Similarly, I believe that competition should bring out the
best in good players. And based on the way that both Gardner and Cabrera have
responded to this spring’s competition, the Yankees may find center field to be
in far more capable hands than they originally planned…

 

 

The Mets nearly made a puzzling trade with the Tigers last
week. GM Omar Minaya was prepared to send reliever Brian Stokes to Detroit for
infielder-outfielder Ryan Raburn, but backed out after watching Stokes continue
to throw spring training smoke. I’m not sure why Minaya considered this trade
in the first place. Raburn is versatile–he can play third base, second base,
and all three outfield spots–and did slug .507 two years ago, but he slumped
badly in 2008 and basically duplicates Fernando Tatis as a super utilityman.
Raburn, 27, is really not the answer to the Mets’ second base problems either.
Second base is one of his worst positions defensively; he’s committed seven
errors in 37 career games playing the pivot.

 

The Mets are better off with the live-armed Stokes. Minaya
has done a good job of collecting hard-throwing right-handers, including
veterans Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz and phenom right-hander Bobby
Parnell. Stokes is a good supplement to that collection, someone capable of
giving the Mets a quality inning or two, especially on days when Livan
Hernandez is scheduled to start or Oliver Perez is doing the moonwalk. So let’s
put this one in the familiar category of “The best trades are the ones you
don’t make.”…

 

 

Speaking of categories, let’s put the following in the file
of the “strange and bizarre.” On Sunday, with the Orioles and Mets waiting out
a first-inning rain delay, Baltimore  Assuming that Angel’s story is
true, I hope the Orioles call the radio station “decision-maker” on the carpet
for this one. He or she deserves to be publicly embarrassed for leaving the
broadcasters, the fans, and the listeners out to soak in the proverbial rain. 
Announcers Joe Angel and Fred Manfra, working the game on the team’s flagship
station, signed off and left the ballpark. The rains eventually stopped,
allowing the O’s and Mets to resume play, but the broadcast did not. Onlookers
immediately blamed Angel and Manfra for being lazy and impatient, but that may
not be the correct story. On Monday, Angel provided his version, explaining
that radio station management made the decision to pull the plug on the
broadcast in the midst of the rain delay. Angel says that he and Manfra wanted
to wait out the rain and call the game–it’s their job, after all–but radio
station “decision-makers” opted for Plan B. I tend to believe Angel, who is one
of the more professional play-by-play men in the game. I’ve worked for station
managers who treated broadcasts of games as “optional” programming, rather than
regular programming that is contractually bound–and that fans have every right
to hear.

Hall of Fame Weekend–Part Three

As I walked into the Otesaga Hotel on Friday afternoon, the first person I noticed was Willie Mays. Sitting in a chair in the front of the lobby, Mays was surrounded by a phalanx of friends and family. I guess when you’re Willie Mays, it’s hard to move five feet in any direction in Cooperstown without drawing some sort of a crowd. Later in the day, I spotted several other Hall of Famers making their way through the Otesaga lobby, including Jim Bunning, Bob Feller, and Bob Gibson. At 89 years of age, Feller is the third oldest Hall of Famer, just behind Bobby Doerr and Lee MacPhail. He’s also sporting a different look these days, with a new crew cut that reminded me of his days in the military during World War II. Gibson’s appearance also surprised me a bit; he appeared to be smiling, an expression not often seen on the master of intimidation…

Making my way around the basement of the Otesaga, I caught a glimpse of Dick Williams, who is now less than 48 hours away from his induction, in the “Abner Doubleday Room.” A fitting name. As I eavesdropped on Williams’ conversation with a member of the media, I heard him talk about today’s ballplayers. He praised them for being bigger, stronger, and better trained than athletes of the past, but complained “that they have no idea how to play the game.”  When it comes to the art of baserunning and the ability of outfielders to throw to the right base, I’m in complete agreement with Williams…

Later in the day, I ran into Cincinnati Reds broadcaster George Grande, who peaked in on us as we sat in the “Natty Bumppo Room.” Grande is currently preparing for Sunday’s induction ceremony, where he will continue his longstanding role as emcee. One of the truly nice guys in the game, Grande reminisced with me about the early days at ESPN, when the channel didn’t broadcast 24 hours a day and when SportsCenter anchors had to wear blazers with ESPN logos. We also talked about his former broadcast partner with the Yankees, Bobby Murcer. Just like everyone else in the game, Grande has nothing but kind words for Murcer, who died earlier this month from cancer. Just like Murcer, Grande is one of the good guys who help make our game something special.