Tagged: Phillies

The Sunday Scuttlebutt

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The Mets finally did the sensible thing in placing Carlos Delgado
on the disabled with a potentially career-threatening hip injury, but now they
face a bit of a quandary in trying to replace him. Do they continue to play
Gary Sheffield in left field every day, thereby freeing up Fernando Tatis and
Daniel Murphy to play first base? And why are they playing Jeremy Reed, a
mediocre hitter with limited experience on the infield, as part of a
three-headed monster at first base? I don’t know that Sheffield
will hold up, considering his age and the fragile state of his shoulder. A
better plan might be to play Murphy every day at first base, while switching
between Tatis and Sheffield in left field.
Tatis or Reed could then serve as defensive caddies for Sheffield,
replacing him in the late innings of games in which the Mets hold the lead…

 

Jerry Manuel’s Sunday night lineup against the Giants left
me scratching my head. Manuel put Reed at first base and kept Murphy in left
field, even though Reed hasn’t played the position fulltime since college and
Murphy is still a brutal defensive outfielder. Wouldn’t it have made more sense
to put Reed in left, where he is very good, and switch Murphy to first base,
where he has been working out in recent days? That way, the Mets would have had
only one player out of position, instead of two…

 

I’m simply amazed at the ferocity with which Raul Ibanez
continues to hit for the Phillies. So much for the theory that hitters need a
few months to acclimate themselves to a different set of pitchers in a new
league. Ibanez has obviously kept some good notes from his experience in interleague
play, because he is off to a career-best start in 2009, even though he’s 36 and
supposedly on the downhill climb. (He’s also enjoying the benefits of playing
his games in a hitter-friendly home part, in contrast to the pitchers’ parks of
Seattle (Safeco Field) and Kansas City (Kauffman Stadium). With 13 home
runs and a Babe Ruthian slugging percentage of .714 through the first six
weeks, Ibanez has been the Phillies’ clear-cut MVP, an impressive achievement
considering the presence of teammates Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy
Rollins. Now the Phillies just need to straighten out their starting pitching,
where everyone is underachieving, and their closer situation, where Brad Lidge
has reverted to the struggles of his latter days with the Astros…

 

As I watched the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval for the first time
this weekend, I immediately thought that Gates Brown had come out of retirement
to play third base for San Francisco.
(Brown, the old Tiger left fielder and DH, had the ultimate bad body, but was
one of the most dangerous pinch-hitters and part-time players of the sixties
and seventies.) Nicknamed “The Panda” by his teammates, the hefty Sandoval
carries the oddest physique (5’11” and 245 pounds) I’ve ever seen at third
base, a position that requires a degree of nimble dexterity. Sandoval is more
agile than his body would indicate, but it’s on offense where the switch-hitter
stands out. He can flat-out hit, and with his sizeable power to all fields,
he’s the Giants’ cleanup-hitter-in-waiting. He also brings the bonus of
versatility; Sandoval can catch, which gives the Giants some depth behind the
underrated Bengie Molina…

 

The Red Sox can still win the AL East without a vintage David
Ortiz, but his inability to hit with any semblance of power will make the chore
that much more challenging. With Ortiz at or near his peak, the Red Sox had
three hitters that struck fear into opposing pitchers. Now they’re down to two,
Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, both right-handed hitters. The Red Sox say
that Ortiz will return to the lineup on Tuesday after being benched for three
games over the weekend, but they may need to make contingency plans if Ortiz
cannot regain his lost bat speed. The Red Sox could eventually turn to prospect Jeff
Bailey or veteran Rocco Baldelli to take up the slack at DH, but the lack of a
left-handed hitting platoon partner for either player remains a concern…

 

With three consecutive walkoff wins against the Twins, the
Yankees achieved something they had not done since August of 1972. That was the
last time that the Yankees posted three consecutive wins with game-ending
at-bats. Johnny Callison accounted for two of those victories with game-winning
singles, while old favorite Horace Clarke won the other game with a sacrifice
fly. Callison and Clarke now have company, as Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez,
and Johnny Damon provided the more recent heroics with a single, a home run,
and another home run, respectively…

 

The Yankees are hoping to receive a triple-boost of talent
sometime this week. It’s possible that Brian Bruney, Chien-Ming Wang, and Jorge
Posada could all return from the disabled list within the next seven days.
Although he is the lesser name among the three players, Bruney’s return could
loom the most important. The Yankees have struggled to find pitchers who can
handle roles in the seventh and eighth innings; Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez
have both flopped badly, while lefty Phil Coke has brought forth mixed results.
Without Bruney, the Yankees don’t have a single favorable eighth-inning option
among their current pitching contenders. With Bruney, the Yankees can continue
to resist the talk show calls for Joba Chamberlain to return to the bullpen.

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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.

Eating Raul and Eating Those Ticket Prices

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The Phillies knew that Raul Ibanez would give them nearly
the same level of offensive production as Pat Burrell, though they thought with
less power and more contact. Through the Phillies’ first 20 games, Ibanez has supplied
plenty of pop, to the tune of seven home runs and a .718 slugging percentage. What
has surprised the Philly brass even more is Ibanez’ defensive play in left
field, which was a subject of much mockery and scorn in Seattle. Ibanez looks like a completely
different fielder in Philadelphia.
He has shown much more mobility than Burrell, which has made life easier on
Shane Victorino in center field.

 

At some point, the Phillies will need to add some
right-handed hitting to their lineup, but it does not appear that it will come
at the expense of Ibanez’ playing time. If Ibanez continues to hit and defend
at his current level, the Phillies will not relegate him to platoon status.
They’ll have to incorporate right-handed hitting somewhere else, whether that’s
at catcher or third base, two positions where the Phillies currently sacrifice
offense for defense…

 

Not only did the Yankees do the right thing in reducing the
prices of some of their high-end box seats, they did the smart thing. Let’s
refer to the “Empty Seat Syndrome.” Empty seats are the worst thing that can
happen to a professional sports team. Empty seats don’t buy concession items.
Empty seats don’t buy souvenirs or memorabilia. Empty seats don’t tell their
friends about their wonderful experiences at the ballpark. On top of all that,
empty seats just look bad, especially when they are located so close to the
playing field. When a team is coming off back-to-back seasons of four million
fans in paid attendance, there is no excuse for not filling the
ballpark–especially a new one that has so many improvements over the old
house–on a regular basis. Hopefully, the Yankees have learned their lesson…

 

Finally, we will continue to take your suggestions on a new
baseball card image for the month of May and post the winner sometime this
weekend. So far, we have votes for Jim Palmer (one of the underrated pitching
greats of the seventies) and Dirty Kurt Bevacqua’s 1977 Topps card, which shows
him blowing a bubble of gargantuan proportions. Both are good suggestions, but
we’re willing to hear more.

 

 

The Nickname Game: Team Names

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Beginning this week and continuing most Thursdays throughout the season, we present a new feature at Cooperstown Confidential. Though they have become somewhat of a dying art in the major leagues, nicknames are one of my favorite pastimes. They tell us more about teams and players, while adding some color to the game. In this week’s lidlifter, let’s examine some of the best secondary nicknames that have been given to some memorable teams over the last 100-plus years.


While
all current-day teams have official nicknames, there’s always been a tendency
to give some clubs more colorful names, as a way of paying tribute to unique
characteristics or personalities within the teams’ dynamics. Here are 12 of the
most intriguing names that have been given to teams over the years, either by
fans, the media, or by the players themselves.


“Hitless Wonders”: 1906 Chicago White Sox

Epitomizing
the depths of offensive frustration in the Deadball Era, the White Sox batted
.230 with a grand total of seven home runs in the regular season, yet still
claimed the American League pennant. The Sox might not have hit much, but they
drew a ton of walks and played little ball to the hilt, finishing fourth in the
league in runs scored. The White Sox then pulled off an ever larger upset in
the World Series, downing the crosstown Cubs of Tinker-to-Evans-to-Chance fame,
four games to two.

 

“Murderers’ Row:” 1927-1928 New York
Yankees

No
team nickname has matched the fame of “Murderers’ Row,” which actually
originated as a 19th century reference to an isolated row of prison
cells featuring some of the worst criminals of the infamous Tombs prison.  The baseball version of Murderers’ Row
included four future Hall of Famers–Earle Combs (batting leadoff), Babe Ruth
(batting third), Lou Gehrig (in the cleanup spot), and Tony Lazzeri (batting
sixth). The ’27 Yankees didn’t receive much punch from the bottom of the order,
where weak links like Jumping Joe Dugan and Pat Collins resided, but the top
six batters in the lineup did the damage of nine full men.

 

“The Gas House Gang:” 1934-1939 St. Louis
Cardinals

This
name originated with a neighborhood on the lower east side of Manhattan, where a violent group of young men
tormented citizens and came to call themselves the “Gashouse Gang.” The
Cardinals’ version of the “Gang” wasn’t quite as vicious as the street thugs,
but they did feature a number of ruffians, including infielders Leo Durocher
and Pepper Martin, outfielder Ducky Medwick, and ace pitcher Dizzy Dean. The
Cardinals of that era played a hard-nosed brand of ball, sliding hard into
bases, knocking over opposing defenders, and rarely backing away from on-field
brawls.

 

“Whiz Kids:” 1950 Philadelphia Phillies:

Coming
out of nowhere to win the National League pennant, Eddie Sawyer’s “Kids”
featured a day-to-day lineup of players almost exclusively under the age of 30.
The oldest regular was 30-year-old first baseman Eddie Waitkus, but the stars
were the 23-year-old Richie Ashburn and the 25-year-old Del Ennis. The starting
rotation was also headlined by two youngsters, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons,
whose combined total of wins (37) nearly matched their collective age (44).

 

“Big Red Machine:” 1969-1976 Cincinnati
Reds

Some
newspapers and magazines began to refer to Cincinnati’s dynamic offensive team
as the “Big Red Machine” as early as 1969 and ’70, but the name really caught
on when the franchise steamrolled the rest of the majors in winning the ’75 and
’76 World Championships. That mid-1970s run included a four-game World Series annhilation of the Yankees, a series that too often seemed like Thurman Munson battling alone against Cincinnati’s entire 25-man roster. The cast of characters changed significantly from 1969
to 1976, with Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Bobby Tolan eventually giving way to
George Foster, Joe Morgan, and Ken Griffey Sr. The constants were Johnny Bench,
Tony Perez, and Pete Rose, though both Perez and Rose switched positions in
mid-stream; Perez moved from third to first, and Rose went from right field to
left field to third base. Combining power and speed, few teams in history have
matched the offensive potency of “The Machine.”


“Pittsburgh Lumber Company:” 1970-1976 Pittsburgh
Pirates

The Lumber Company name didn’t really take hold until the mid-1970s, but in retrospect, the 1971 world championship team should be included. Using
a free-swinging approach that might not have been fully appreciated by some
Sabermetricians, the Pirates pummeled their way to five division titles, one
pennant, and a World Championship during the first half of the decade. Other than
Willie Stargell and Bob Robertson, the “Lumber Company” didn’t like to take
walks, which they generally regarded as unmanly. Instead, Roberto Clemente, Al
Oliver, and Manny Sanguillen preferred to swing the bat early and often, and
they did it well, banging a parade of singles and doubles in a constant barrage
against opposing pitching staffs.

 

“Mustache Gang:” 1972 Oakland A’s

After
initially balking at Reggie Jackson’s spring training mustache, Oakland owner Charlie
Finley decided that he liked the new facial hair so much that he offered $300
bonuses to each of his players if they followed suit by Father’s Day. All 25
players took up the challenge, what with $300 being a lot of money to a major
leaguer in 1972. Even after the resulting “Mustache Day” promotion, most of the
A’s kept their mustaches; some took the trend a step further by letting their
hair grown long, while adding beards and heavy sideburns to boot. The new look
certainly didn’t hurt the A’s on the field, as Finley’s gang went on to win the
first of three consecutive world championships.


“The F-Troop:” 1973-1974 Atlanta Braves

The
Braves’ bench players came to call themselves the “F-Troop,” in reference to
the popular TV show that starred Ken Berry and Forrest Tucker. Although the
Braves finished fifth and third, respectively, in 1973 and ’74, they did have
some productive players in reserve. In 1973, backup catcher-first baseman Dick
Dietz hit .295 while drawing an amazing 49 walks against only 25 strikeouts.
Reserve first baseman Frank Tepedino hit .295 with 29 RBIs. And utilityman
Chuck Goggin batted .289 while showing the versatility to both catch and play
shortstop. Without Dietz and Goggin, the bench wasn’t nearly as productive in
’74, resulting in a quick fadeaway for the F-Troop nickname.


“The Southside Hitmen:” 1977 Chicago White Sox

The
’77 White Sox of Bob Lemon finished no better than third in the American League
West, couldn’t field a lick, and had the third-worst pitching in the league,
but still managed to win 90 games while creating a legacy that makes them one
of the most beloved Sox teams in memory. The hard-hitting, stone-gloved lineup
featured Jorge Orta at second, Eric Soderholm at third, Ralph “The Roadrunner” Garr in left,
Richie Zisk in right, and Oscar Gamble at DH, all the while wearing those awful
black and white throwback uniforms that featured collared shirts of the
“untuckable” variety. Finishing second in the league in runs scored, the
“Hitmen” made the summer of ’77 a fun one in the Windy City–and a final legacy to aging owner Bill Veeck.


“The Bronx
Zoo:” 1977-1979 New York Yankees

This
nickname became popular because of the book of the same name written by Sparky
Lyle and Peter Golenbock. “The Bronx Zoo” served as a perfect description of a
team where arguments took place on a daily basis, players fought in the showers
(Cliff Johnson vs. Goose Gossage), the team’s center fielder (Mickey Rivers)
spoke in a language all his own, and Lyle himself routinely sat on birthday
cakes delivered to the clubhouse.  It was
all in a day’s work with the Yankees of the late seventies.

 

“Riders of the Lonesome Pine:” 1981 Detroit Tigers

The
’81 Tigers finished out of the playoff money during the split season and the
bench players really were nothing special, but they deserve credit for coming
up with one of the most colorful nicknames for a backup squad of players. “The
Riders” included the wacky (Johnny Wockenfuss and that wonderful leg-crossing stance), the obscure (Ron Jackson, Mick
Kelleher, and Stan Papi), and the forgotten (Lynn Jones and Ricky Peters).

 

“Harvey’s
Wallbangers:” 1982-1983 Milwaukee Brewers

This
nickname was a natural, given the first name of manager Harvey Kuenn and the
team’s ability to hit home runs at a moment’s notice. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas
led the American League with 39 home runs in 1982, while Cecil Cooper and Ben
Oglivie also cracked the 30-home run barrier. The “Wallbangers” advanced to the
seventh game of the 1982 World Series, but fell back in ’83, finishing fifth in
a stacked American League East. Two future Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor and
Robin Yount, played as regulars for the ’82 Wallbangers, while two others, Don
Sutton and Rollie Fingers, contributed to an underrated pitching staff.

 

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. 

Foot, Meet Mouth

Leave it me to insert my size-12 foot squarely into my mouth. Just a few hours after complaining of a lack of trades (or even trade rumors) this spring, major league teams executed three deals on Friday. None of the trades were blockbusters, but they all included players who could potentially make Opening Day rosters. Two of the deals involved the same player, catcher Ronny Paulino, who was first traded by the Phillies to the Giants for lefty reliever Jack Taschner before being peddled to the Marlins for a minor league right-hander. In the other trade of the day, A’s general manager Billy Beane, always one to ditch convention, acquired catcher Curtis Thigpen from the Blue Jays for a player to be named later. And with all of that, the A’s, Marlins, Phillies, and Giants showed just little I know about changing trends.

Paulino’s situation is particularly interesting. While it’s been fairly common for players to move to two different teams as part of a three-way deal, I can’t remember a player being involved in two separate trades on the same day. Paulino has now been traded three times in the span of four months, dating back to the wintertime deal that saw the Phillies acquire him from the Pirates. At one point, the Phillies envisioned him as their backup catcher to Carlos Ruiz, but Paulino hit terribly this spring while piling up too many strikeouts and too little contact. The Phillies claim that they had no problems with Paulino’s weight or work ethic–which were major issues during his years in Pittsburgh–but I have to wonder if Philly is just being polite here. Whatever the case, Paulino will now serve as Florida’s No. 2 catcher, a backup to young John Baker.

In the meantime, let’s wait and see if Friday’s dealing leads to a few more trades between now and Opening Day, now just over a week away. As for any more predictions, I’ll stay out of that business for now.  

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–George King, Mets Arrogance, and Ted Uhlaender

George King sometimes makes strange observations in his role as a beat writer for the Yankees. In Sunday’s New York Post, King warned the Yankees not to commit Joba Chamberlain to the rotation because of the age of closer Mariano Rivera. “The Yankees… pray the end isn’t here [for Rivera],” King wrote on Sunday. “Because if they use Joba Chamberlain as a starter, there isn’t a closer candidate in the organization.” Really? Right off the top, I can think of three. Hard-throwing right-hander Mark Melancon is generally ranked among the top ten prospects in the Yankee system and is scheduled to begin the season as closer at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Then there’s the talented Humberto Sanchez, finally recovered from shoulder surgery two years ago and also a step away at Triple-A. The Yankees also have right-hander Anthony Claggett, who dominated hitters at Double-A Trenton and might start the season in Scranton, too.

 

Simply put, closers are easier to find than quality starters, especially in the current Yankee farm system. That’s not to say that the Yankees will find anyone the equal of Rivera, who might just be the best reliever in major league history. Heck, unless the Yankees can find the next Dennis Eckersley, chances are that ANYBODY they choose will fall short of the great Rivera. But the Yankees clearly have promising options outside of Chamberlain–options that aren’t light years away. So let’s not start this Joba-must-be-in-the-bullpen nonsense just yet…

 

For a team that has accomplished so little over the past two seasons–except for executing embarrassing late-season collapses–the Mets are sure exhibiting plenty of chutzpah early in spring training. Newly signed closer Francisco Rodriguez has already declared the Mets the team to beat in the National League East, in spite of the fact that he’s spent about three seconds with the team. And for some reason, the Mets’ brass decided to hang a rather presumptuous sign over the clubhouse door in Port St. Lucie. The sign reads, “Through these doors pass the best players in baseball.” That bit of news will surely makes its way to Clearwater, where the Phillies happen to have their spring training home–as the game’s defending world champions. Unlike the Mets, the Phillies don’t have major question marks in both left and right field, and at second base (at least once Chase Utley returns from injury). The Mets would be well advised to change the wording on the sign–or at least wait until October, when perhaps they’ve actually won something

 

Former major league outfielder Ted Uhlaender died last Thursday at the age of 68, the victim of a heart attack. Cruelly, his passing came only one day after he’d received some uplifting news in his ongoing battle against multiple myeloma. A fleet-footed outfielder who played a nifty center field in the late 1960s, Uhlaender saw his career fall off abruptly by 1972, but not before he made a cameo appearance in the World Series for Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.” A few years ago, I met Uhlaender in spring training, where he was working as a coach with the Indians. As I asked him if he would be willing to answer some questions about the ’72 World Series, I noticed his face; he had that stern, sandpaper look of a hardened baseball veteran. Though I was intimidated at first, Uhlaender answered all of my questions, calmly and without fanfare. He was a pro, a characterization that was confirmed for me when I read Tracy Ringolsby’s touching tribute to him last week. Like the late John Vukovich and Pat Dobson, Uhlaender was a baseball lifer whose hard-edged appearance only masked a deep love of the game. As with Vuke and Dobber, we’ll miss a solid guy like Uhlaender.