SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Follow-Up: SportsProf Calls the Presidential Election

This post is a follow-up to this post.

There are plenty of blogs that will give you reasons to vote for which presidential candidate, and this blog is just not one of them. I'm ever hopeful for a new baseball commissioner, would have considered rubbing a lucky charm for the Red Sox, and might have considered supporting Dr. J for president twenty years ago. No, this is not an endorsement.

That said, this is a prediction, and it's based on the result of this game. And, based upon that, perhaps we're the first blog at all to call the presidential election before it's even held. That's right, based upon no polling, no entrance polling, no tea residue, no number of visits of The Governator into Ohio or Bruce Springsteen in Michigan, well, no anything. Nothing. Just this game.

And, based upon the results of this game, and its historical significance, the SportsProf blog not only predicts, it calls the presidential election for John Kerry. Forget about waiting for the results of the Pacific time zone to weigh in, let alone Hawaii. Forget about waiting for the cemetaries to vote in Illinois and Dade County, Florida. Don't even worry about chads in Fort Lauderdale, confusing ballots in Reno, absentee ballots from the military in Pennsylvania. That's all good and interesting stuff for blogs that focus on politics, but it doesn't matter much here. The one sports indicator that has had any meaning has been decided.

The home team lost in Washington today. If you clicked on the links, you'll know why that result has been as accurate a predictor as any.

Coincidence? Maybe.

Will the streak end? If you're George Bush, you'll take solace that a streak to end all streaks ended this year, when a baseball team whose futility has been well chronicled broke an 86-year jinx. Except for one thing -- that Cinderella is from Bostonk, the hometown of John Kerry. And, heck, this football steak only has had a 64-year run. The same way the Patriots are no longer undefeated (yes, click here for that result), the hometown pols in the White House will argue that this streak is prone to be broken, that the Redskins' loss today won't have the meaning on Tuesday that it has for the past 64 years. Most certainly, that's what they're hoping.

So what's the omen that election followers should look to? The Red Sox improbable win, as improbable, say, as a liberal from Massachusetts winning the White House? The Patriots loss, signifying that even a juggernaut loses every now and then. Does that mean that the political team from New England will be vulnerable on Tuesday? Or are the Pats more analogous to Karl Rove, whose team at times has been unbeatable? Finally, is the harbinger still that last Redskins' home game before the presidential election?

You'll figure this all out in the next two days.

But, no doubt, lots of dyed-in-the-wool Republicans probably no longer view Brett Favre with the admiration they did as recently as yesterday.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

How Bad Will It Have To Get?

Many of you have been logging onto this blog for this post, which I wrote in late August about the fate of Penn State Nittany Lion football. Some of you have even logged on for this post, which I wrote as a follow up to the original one. And, if you want to see who I think should take over the S.S. Titanic of Division I-A football, click here for my thoughts (and I'd be quick to argue that while Steve Spurrier should not be a candidate, I'd add that Rick Neuheisel should be). Finally, if you want to see how bad it is getting in Happy Valley, there are websites popping up more quickly that political laws signs in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. One of the most popular is www.joepamustgo.com. No, I am not making this up. It's out there.

Today, the Penn State Nittany Lions lost 21-10 to an offensively challenged Ohio State team in Columbus. The loss marks Penn State's fifth loss in a row. Their record now stands at 2-6, and their only wins have come against Akron and Central Florida at home. They have 3 games remaining -- against Michigan State, Northwestern and Indiana, and it says here that they'll finish the season with a 3-8 record at best. Michigan State took #11 Michigan to the mat before losing by 3 in OT today, while Northwestern upset #19 Purdue and Indiana upended #25 Minnesota. All is very much sad in Happy Valley.

And, yes, in the tradition of famous Joes past, we must hope that we're having a bad dream, and that someone will tell us when we wake up that it just ain't so. But it is so, and the plain fact of the matter is that Joe Paterno should retire from coaching Penn State football. The Nittany Lions just aren't getting the recruits they need to stay competitive, outstanding QBs usually eschew State College because the program hasn't developed many into pros, and the offensive schemes look like they're run by overmatched Ivy League kids who spend more of their days in a chemistry lab than in a weight room. Click on the rosters of Top 25 programs around the country, and count how many kids are from Pennsylvania and New Jersey especially, once very fertile recruiting grounds for Joe Paterno. Move a few here and there, and you have the Nittany Lions back in the Top 25. But to do that, you'll need a new coach with newer ideas.

It's hard to replace a legend, and many legends do not know when to retire. Coach Paterno should consult with Dean Smith about how the legendary Carolina coach knew when it was time to hang them up. In Coach Smith's case, though, it was because it got time to begin fall practice and he just didn't have the basketball juices flowing anymore. In his case, the decision was easy. But how do you decide, when you are amongs courtiers, sycophants and those who fear you, that it's time to retire because, well, you just aren't that good anymore at what you became a legend at? Because, clearly, you still have the drive to keep on going.

AD Tim Curley has a tough job, doesn't he? And, if he doesn't look out soon, his tenure at Penn State might end really fast. Why? Because if you were to analyze a combined score of Division I-A schools in the two major revenue sports, football and men's basketball, Penn State would be near the bottom, if not right at the bottom. Believe it or not, the men's basketball team is less competitive in Division I basketball than it is in Division I-A football, and that's saying a lot. The Nittany Lions are picked to be last in the Big 10 this year, and they would be hard-pressed to finish in the first division in the Ivy League. The difference between the two programs is that the men's basketball program has a second-year coach, an alum, who had turned East Tennessee State into a winner and might have a chance to do so at Penn State in a few years (and there is hardly the hoops tradition to build on in State College, either, the way there is a football tradition).

But the Penn State football program offers no such hope. The mentor of the program doesn't have the possible future the basketball coach does, as implausbile as that sounds. And the AD probably doesn't have the clout to terminate him, either. At least not with the okay of the University president, and perhaps the nods of several trustees. Which makes the entire situation one awfully tangled web.

There are many times in corporate America when people retire too young. They are either part of a downsizing that comes cloaked in an early retirement package, or they leap because they fear getting pushed out and want to go on their own terms. We're not the most patient of countries, and in many cases we do not honor the wisdom of our elders the way other societies do. And sometimes we are worse off for it.

But the situation is different here. We're not talking about refusing to listen to the wisdom of Joe Paterno, or even a Joe Paterno turned into a village wise man who can provide guidance to younger coaches on all sorts of knotty problems. We're not talking about putting him out on a small skiff near the Outer Banks and pushing it out to sea in the middle of hurricane season.

No, we're talking about whether he should be driving the big boat at this stage of his life. And, under the particular set of circumstances that face Penn State football, this might be one instance where the elder has stayed too long. It is clear that he won't go voluntarily, especially after his employer unwisely extended his contract last year for four more years. Someone simply has to tell him that it is time to go.

But in this case there are no elders to turn to, and, perhaps, we have to draw guidance from an old story that we read to our kids. You know the one, it's about the king who is vain and who has these impostors create a new suit of clothes for him made out of special thread. And after this suit's made, the king is standing in his castle, and all those around him tell him how wonderful he looks. So taken with his own kingdom, the king sucks it all up and believes what he's told. Except there's one problem: he isn't wearing anything.

He doesn't know it, of course, and so they hold a parade in his land for all to come and view his new suit of clothing. People ooh and ah and remark how wonderful he looks, until the procession gets to this little boy, who states out loud that the emperor wasn't wearing anything.

Ultimately, the emperor came to his senses, but no doubt there were people who chastised the little boy for speaking the truth.

Today, in Penn State land, there is a swelling chorus of people who are saying that the emperor is naked, that the coach just cannot coach at a championship level anymore. And, of course, there are a bunch of people who are remaining blindly loyal, as there are people who are acknowledging reality but who just don't want to see someone who had done so much for their program get cashiered in any but the most dignified fashion.

But how can that most dignified fashion take place? Unfortunately, the same people who wrote the scripts for the Boston Red Sox are nowhere to be found around Penn State football. There's no gallant comeback from six outs away to an earlier-than-expected trip to the golf course instead of the gleeful trip to Walt Disney World. There's just no way that Penn State football will rise to the cream of the BCS Bowl crop, have an undefeated season and play for the national title any time soon.

So, please, Joe, please decide on your own to go. Those who are chanting that you must go do not mean you any harm, but they are daring to tell you the hard truth that so many others are not. And, as your seniors probably told your freshmen time and time again the first time that you yelled at them, don't listen to how it's said, listen to what's said. And take it to heart.

Gather with your family, talk with your wife and children, and then talk to your A.D. and your university president. And, whatever you do, listen, listen to them, to the voices of the faithful, to the people who have hung on your every word for so many years. Because it's time to listen to those to whom, most likely, you have done most of the talking over the years. Ask the hard question, and be ready for what they're going to tell you. There's no shame in that.

November 20 marks Penn State's final home game of the season, when they host Michigan State. The game could either be something that the fans dread, as they're waiting for the punctuation mark on the final game of another bad season with no great hope for improvement in the next one. Or, it could be a great celebration of a wonderful football career, a retirement party for one of the greatest college football coaches of all time. It could mark not only the closing of a chapter, but of a wonderful book.

And the beginning of a new era. The Rick Neuheisel era? The Urban Meyer era?

No doubt, at this game, your players, current and former, will laud you for all that you've done for them, for the gifts that you had bestowed upon generations of players.

Your fans will do the same, thanking you not only for the great memories, but for the gift that you're giving them that day, the gift of a renewal, the gift of a future that couldn't come any sooner. And in thanking you, they'll be thanking you for making the toughest decision of your life.

So, please, Joe, say it ain't so. Say it ain't so that you're going to fulfill the remaining four years of your contract. Say that it's time to go.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Why Sean Taylor's DWI Could Have an Effect on the Presidential Election

Since 1936, the result of the last Washington Redskins' home game before a presidential election has been an accurate predictor of the victor of the presidential election. If the home team wins, the incumbent party wins the presidential election. For example, in 2000, the Tennessee Titans beat the Washington Redskins in the last 'Skins home game before the election, and George Bush beat Al Gore.

Fast forward to today, and you have the Redskins hosting Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers this Sunday. The favored Green Bay Packers, that is, except for the fact that since the spread is so small, you wonder if we should allow a margin for error the way the pollsters do. Which would mean, of course, that this game could be a dead heat.

The Redskins come into the game with the NFC's stingiest defense (which is somewhat Republican in nature), so the question is how the team will fare without rookie safety Sean Taylor, whose driving escapades and unfortunate interactions with police compelled Redskins' coach Joe Gibbs to inactivate him for Sunday's game (were he in Oakland, he'd probably be featured in the pre-game show and were he playing for a superstitious Republican-leaning coach, he'd probably serve his suspension after the presidential election). To make matters worse, star LB LaVar Arrington and long-range kicker Jon Hall are doubtful for Sunday's contest.

The Pack has the second-best offense in the NFC (the Democrats have always been accused of being flashier, as there are only "Republican cloth coats" and not Democratic versions), and the Skins' offense is third from the bottom. The Pack is worried about its run defense, so look out for how much Joe Gibbs will run Clinton Portis into the Packer defensive line. It looks like it all boils down to whether the explosive Green Bay offense can make a dent in a weakened Washington defense, and whether a balky Green Bay defense can hold off an equally questionable Redskins' offense.

Which is why the spread is so close. There are so many metaphors available for both political parties that I'll skip them, as there are so many blogs to click onto regarding the upcoming presidential election that I won't comment on who I think will prevail.

The cliches, however, are hard to resist. Offense does sell tickets, defense does win championships, a good defense can be a good offense, and, well, advanced societies are supposed to shed themselves of superstitions in the first place.

But people in this country and elsewhere do look for signs well beyond those that appear in an M. Night Shymalan film. Does the breaking of the Curse of the Bambino transcend hotly contested rivalries on a baseball diamond? For example, does that victory suggest that even a Democrat from Massachusetts of all places can win the White House again after all the Democrats who have tried since John F. Kennedy have been beaten to a bloody pulp? Or, would the Republicans counter that the Red Sox won only because of the courage and conviction of a true leader (and not-so-closeted Republican), Curt Schilling, who bucked up under adversity to lead his team to the promised land?

Similarly, would a win by Green Bay, placed atop the BoSox' triumph (which occurred on the night of a lunar eclipse), help signify that John Kerry somehow will gather enough momentum to eke out wins in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Jersey to give him the White House? Or would it just mean that the Cheeseheads bested the goofballs who sit in drag in the Redskins' stadium? Or, perhaps, that Clinton Portis had a better day than anyone (and everyone) else?

Conversely, would a win by the Redskins give George W. Bush the same omen that the Red Sox' win gave John Kerry, thereby effectively cancelling out any kharma that the Democratic standard bearer might have received from the Red Sox' improbable run? Would Karl Rove be jumping for joy at, say, a Mark Brunell plunge up the gut with two minutes to go in regulation to give the Redskins the game? Will President Clinton fire-up the low-calorie, fat-free nachos while tuning up his satellite dish to cheer on Brett Favre? And, of course, will either party try to tamper with the result by challenging the eligibility of players on either team, interfering with their telephone signals to the coaches up in the press box, or trying to water down the turf before the game begins? The possibilities are endless.

But is this football record the one that matters? Or is it better to compare the record of the football team from Kerry's neck of the woods against the team from Bush's neck of the woods? The former, the New England Patriots, are the incumbents in a sense, the defending Super Bowl champions, and they are undefeated. The latter, the Houston Texans, are 3-3 (and the Dallas Cowboys, for that matter, are 2-4). So, based upon comparative performances of home-state teams in the two national pastimes, baseball and football, is John Kerry the favorite? Are sports results so significant that they'll foretell who will win?

Or, do we revert to the superstition that things, of whatever shape, come in threes, and that Kerry is due because outside of winning a presidential election, the two toughest things to win are a Super Bowl and a World Series. If that's the case, then, is Massachusetts ready for a Hat Trick? A Triple Crown?

All I know is that what happens on Tuesday looks like a real horse race to me.

And if Brett Favre throws a few TD passes, the Redskins fans and Republicans everywhere only will wish that Sean Taylor had a designated driver so he could have been in the secondary to knock down a pass or two. But if Clinton Portis runs wild, he'll get invited to a state dinner, and those elephant-pin wearing pols will fete him well past election day.

Have fun watching on Sunday, although the better action may come on Tuesday night.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Sox Win! Sox Win! Sox Win!

They called their three-time Cy Young Award winner goofy, their star leftfielder an enigma. Their centerfielder, a young Charles Manson look alike (without the Harry Potter forehead decoration), called his teammates with great affection "a bunch of idiots." The winner of Game 4 was embattled all year, only to pitch the two most brilliant games of his life in series-deciding games. Their other ace, the master of preparation, pitched on an ankle that would have kept most executives out of their offices for a day or two. Their manager had never managed a good team before this year. And their closer has ice water in his veins.

The rest of the team was constructed out of the bricks and mortar that form the foundation of all great teams, guys with names like Millar, Mueller, Mientkiewicz, Reese, Cabrera, Varitek, Nixon, Mirabelli, Timlin, Myers, Embree, Arroyo, Wakefield, and, of course, Bellhorn. Guys who always seemed to get the hit with men in scoring position, guys who were very patient at the plate, and guys who hardly missed when they swung the bat. Pitchers who jumped into their slots and got their men out, players who overcame the heartbreak of last year and the tremendous pressure that all of New England had placed upon their beloved if frustrating Sox since 1918.

Guys with a decent sense of their team's history. Guys determined not to repeat it.

This is a team that suffered a long off-season, having to re-live countless replays of Aaron Boone's home run off Tim Wakefield in Game 7 last year. This is a team that had to endure the frustration of losing out on their attempts to acquire Alex Rodriguez from Texas and then had to deal with constant injuries to their one-time start shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra. This is a team that had to put the reigns on the statistical analysis that dominated their front office's thinking to find some better defenders in the middle of the season. This is a team whose tired pitching staff shut down the best offensive team in the National League, a team that one over 100 games in the regular season.

So now the curse is over. Productivity in New England will hit an all-time low tomorrow, and thousands of employees will be taking thousands of personal days, partying until dawn and toasting former Red Sox' heroes, from Babe Ruth, Herb Pennock and Waite Hoyt to Calvin Schiraldi and Bill Buckner, yes, even Bill Buckner, and many in between.

And after they wake up, in Bangor, Maine, Nashua, New Hampshire, Rutland, Vermont, Fall River, Scituate, Williamstown, Needham, Chatham and many, many other places, they will pinch themselves. They will run to turn on their televisions and their radios, and they'll make a dash for their morning papers. Because they'll have to have proof in some form of medium that they weren't dreaming. That what happened before midnight on October 27 was real. That the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.

In many of those towns, they'll call their family members in other states, they'll call kids they grew up with pretending to be Yaz and George Scott and Jim Lonborg, Fred Lynn, Luis Tiant and Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, and they'll talk, and talk, and talk, about every last detail. They'll talk of Damon's leadoff home run, Nixon's double, Lowe's pitching, Francona's managerial moves. And they'll do this for weeks on end.

They might not put this moment on a level with the day they got engaged, their wedding days, or the days their kids were born (unless, of course, they're still kids), but for the big kids out there this day is awfully, awfully close. And, as they did during some of those memorable moments, they'll well up and shed a tear or two of joy, the type of pure joy that most people don't experience that often in their lifetime.

Because the one thing in this country that they never thought they would see, that they doubted would happen, that previous attempts had broken their hearts, has finally happened.

The Boston Red Sox have won the World Series.

There aren't 9 words in the English language that a New Englander would rather hear.

Congratulations, Boston Red Sox, you gave us a great show.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Too Dumb, Too Greedy, Too Annoying (and Look at Them Now)

The ironies are many. Today the Philadelphia Phillies' baseball arguably is better off than it was say 5 years ago or so, when Terry Francona was the manager, Curt Schilling was the ace and Scott Rolen was the best position player. Today they have the fifth highest payroll in baseball, finished last season with a respectable if disappointing (and misleading) 86-76 record (misleading because the Phils went on a tear in September when they were practically out of the wild card race), and a new ballpark. Imagine what they could be if they had spent the big bucks they're trying to spend now to build a team around those two stars.

Five years ago they played in the decaying concrete saucer known as Vet Stadium, had a young manager who was enthusiastic and supportive of his players, who came recommended to the Phils by, among others, Michael Jordan (who had played for the skipper when he was a Birmingham Baron during one of the world's most famous sabbaticals), who tried to develop players and who did the best with what he had, which wasn't much. Okay, so Francona wasn't always the most adroit with his pitching staff, but given the fact that only five years have passed and the average Phillies' fan cannot remember who was on that staff besides Schilling, it's easy to give Francona a pass. I certainly have.

Because every day, he held his head high. Every day, he tried to do his best, and it was tough. He had outfielders who couldn't hit for power and infielders who weren't that good defensively, save Rolen, and even the huge third baseman had his share of physical problems owing to the unforgiving Vet Stadium astroturf. He didn't offer excuses, put up with a tough group of writers and media commentators, and went down with the ship. The Phillies under his watch just did not have a lot of talent, and, ultimately, the ownership, of whom I have been very critical before, decided to make a change. They went from an Uncle Robbie to a Muggsy McGraw, and well, they still haven't made the playoffs.

I don't recall that the media was that rough on Francona, but today there are talk radio show hosts in the Philadelphia area who put him in the same category with former Eagles' coach Rich Kotite, who was as eloquent in front of the media as the current president of the United States is and for whom their enmity is unmatched. Now, Kotite did have his blunders, and he had his battles with the media, so the comparison is most unfair. The talk show hosts, who, of course, are never wrong, just think that Francona was too dumb to manage a club to a championship. They posit that he didn't know anything, and that he got the BoSox job because he's buddies with Curt Schilling, that he's relied more on who he knows than what he knows to get his current gig.

And that's nonsense. A veteran club needs a skipper who treats the players like men and doesn't rant at them. A smart ownership team doesn't give the manager's job to just anyone after they fired a good baseball man in Grady Little for having made one fatal mistake. They were looking for a good fit, and it appears that they got one in Terry Francona.

But the Phillies just thought he didn't have what it took.

The ace was supposed to be too annoying, and he basically forced his own trade in the 2000 season, when the Phillies got four players for him -- Omar Daal, Travis Lee, Nelson Figueroa and Vicente Padilla. Daal lasted a season, bombed, ended up in Baltimore, and last I looked is out of baseball. Lee was too laid back for Larry Bowa, fielded great but hit badly for a first baseman, was released two years ago, ended up in Tampa Bay, got let go, and the Yankees picked him up in the off-season, but he got hurt (great pickups by the Yankees -- Travis Lee, C.J. Nitkowski and Tanyon Sturze). Figueroa didn't last long, and Padilla, an enigma (great stuff but mediocre results) remains. Great deal, huh? Ed Wade made it, and the following year Schilling combined with Randy Johnson to will the Diamondbacks to a World Series victory over the Yankees. The same guy who pitched so nobly as a 25 year-old in the 1993 Series was lights out in the 2001 Fall Classic.

After last season, Schilling wanted a trade again. The D-Backs were in the process of rebuilding, and they were looking to trade him for a bunch of prospects. Schilling wanted to come back to Philadelphia. He has a home in its suburbs, is beloved in the City of Brother Love for his willingness to step into difficult situations, and he wanted to be the opening day starter in the new ballpark and lead this team to a World Series. But the Phillies didn't really want him. General Manager Ed Wade, in perhaps his most famous line, once said of his former ace something to the effect of, "The thing about Curt is that every fifth day, he's a horse, but on all the days in between, he's a horse's ass."

Now, it might have been that Schilling was fated to go to Boston, but if the Phillies didn't make a serious play for him, history has told us that they were foolish. He's proven himself in Boston to be a horse, and you haven't heard any reports about being a part of the horse's anatomy. Who won 21 games? Who won 2 big post-season games on one leg? Mr. Ed? No, Curt Schilling. How good would those 21 wins have looked in Philadelphia this season? How good would Schilling have looked in the Phillies' red-and-white pinstripes instead of Kevin Millwood? The problem was that there was too much water under the bridge that the Phillies' front office refused to overlook. Schilling had been critical of their unwillingness to spend, and apparently he had hit a nerve. Which is usually what happens when one says something that is both challenging and true.

It goes without saying that Schilling has performed great in Boston, but he also had made one significant contribution beyond the wins and losses. He is a media magnet, which helps some of his teammates immensely. He's one of the best quotes in all of baseball, and because reporters are drawn to him, the heat goes to him and off his teammates. And many a Boston team has wilted under the withering scrutiny it has received in the New England media. Some teammates might get jealous, but no one can argue with the results. The BoSox are a win away from the biggest party in New England since Sam Adams and his pals threw tea into Boston Harbor.

And then there's Scott Rolen. Rolen was a second-round pick of the Phillies slightly over a decade ago, a kid from Southern Indiana who turned down college basketball scholarships to sign with the Phils. He progressed quickly through the farm system, and he excelled at 3B for a while. But he got tired of losing, got tired of seeing the ownership not extend themselves enough to field a roster capable of winning a pennant, and got tired of having a sore back because of the pounding it took from the Vet turf. He plays the game all-out, and he wanted out.

And he was absolutely right. Three years ago he turned down a huge contract, and then a war escalated in the media. Bowa blasted him, and Ed Wade did too, but after you cut through all the rhetoric one thing was crystal clear -- the well-mannered 3B was absolutely right. Management wasn't committed to winning.

Yet, somehow, some way, management won the media war. They painted Scott Rolen as a greedy ingrate, as a symbol of what was wrong with the modern ballplayer, and they traded him for a few boxes of baseballs and an old bus to use with their Rookie League team. Actually, they traded him to the best baseball town in America, St. Louis, for Bud Smith, Placido Polanco and Mike Timlin. Smith quickly went down with arm problems, Polanco is a good guy but it's doubtful he'll be leading a team to a championship any time soon, and Timlin, for whatever reason, they let become a free agent. Which was very interesting because the Phillies' bullpen always was a sore spot, and they let an excellent setup man go. Where is he today? In the bullpen of the Boston Red Sox, as the right-handed setup man. That sound is one of the collective raising of eyebrows of the ever-shrinking group called Phillies fans.

Of course, the spin was different. Because of the money they saved by not signing Rolen (reports were that they offered something like $100-$110 million for 6 or 7 years, I don't quite recall), they were able to sign Jim Thome (whose batting average with men on base this season was about .200 and whose 42 or so HRs were among the quietest in modern baseball history, but I like Thome as a player, so I don't want to be too critical) and David Bell, who has been hurt a lot and whose name doesn't immediately come to mind when you say, "quick, name me three slugging third basemen." Yes, you'd name Rolen, Blaylock and A-Rod, and not in that order. And, further, the Phillies' brass argued that with the money they saved, they were able to afford to pay Kevin Millwood, whom they acquired in a trade 2 years ago. The problem was that Millwood has forgotten how to pitch consistently, and the player they traded for him was all-star C Johnny Estrada (once regarded as a steal for the Phillies, the deal is now regarded as such for the Braves).

Terry Francona wasn't smart enough. Curt Schilling wasn't agreeable enough. Scott Rolen was greedy.

But all are still wearing their uniforms tonight, playing on baseball's biggest stage, making things happen.

And Ed Wade is sitting in his office in Philadelphia, watching his alumni play and wondering why.

And the Phillies' ownership is sitting in their mansions doing the same thing.

Sunday night is Halloween, and the Phillies' top brass should seriously consider what they are going to give out to their trick-or-treaters.

Because the Philadelphia fans won't be drinking their Kool-Aid this year.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The World Series (Again)

I am on the road at a professional convention (typing at an internet kiosk at a keyboard with a weak space bar), so I won't be providing my 5 posts a week this week (and, to boot, I left my Street and Smith's College Basketball magazine on the plane, thereby depriving me of the ability to write a bunch of good tidbits re: college hoops, but I promise those will be forthcoming shortly (including my Ivy hoops preview), including one about the irony of the Gloger brothers. At any rate. . .

Okay, you can marvel at Mississippi State's upset of Florida (congratulations to Sylvester Croom there), the Chiefs' awakening from a Van Winkle-like slumber to bring the Falcons down to earth, 56-10 (was Dick Vermeil crying after the game because he was happy or because they used too many onions in that fine K.C. barbecue), Harvard's scoring 36 unanswered points to remind the PrincetonTigers that perhaps they're not ready for Ivy football's first division (winning 39-14, which is starting to make Ivy fans think that even in the fair Ivies, there are basketball schools like Princeton and football schools like Harvard), or Iowa's decision over Penn State, 6-4 (there was an escape from the bottom position near the end of the match -- oh, this was football!). All of these (and, for example, Arizona State's late victory in a high-scoring game against UCLA) are wonderful stories. But, once again, this is the peak of the baseball season, and all of those stories do not combine to eclipse that of Major League Baseball's post-season.

First, the venue. Is there anything more cinematically fun in sport than watching majestic long fly balls get launched into the nightime sky, arcing high in the air, where you're left to wonder about their fate? Fair, or foul? Will the ball curve inside the foul pole or arc well beside it into foul territory? Will it go over the Green Monster or clank off it for a long single, or will it dance around the unique centerfield landscape like a pinball off the top bumper? The green, the fans in right, the fans atop the Green Monster, the posts in the lower level that hold up the upper deck? Every city can sponsor an old-fashioned stadium that is fun to take your kids to, that is much more fan friendly than the space-aged saucers that probably marked the nadir of modern stadium architecture, but the old, idiosyncratic classics are the best.

And it isn't even close.

Because this is where Ted Williams played alongside Dominic DiMaggio, and this is where Boo Ferris won 26 games for the 1946 Red Sox, where Jim Rice had that amazing season in 1975 when he amassed 406 total bases (a stat somewhat forgotten, but how many players hit those heights these days), where Fred Lynn won the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year award, also in 1975, where Luis Tiant twirled, where Carl Yastrzemski roamed left field and played the Green Monster like nobody else. Tons of great memories -- Doerr, Pesky, Lonborg, Fisk's home run, and lots of great opponents. You can get these sense that all of those who have gone before are trying to sneak out of Heaven's Gate just one more time, urging on a runner or encouraging a pitcher to go inside with the high hard one to jam the opposing team's cleanup hitter. Many modern stadiums provide great backdrops, but few provide the theater that this particular venue can.

Or perhaps none can.

Last night it was the Sox current answer to Fisk, their feisty catcher, Jason Varitek, who tripled home two early Red Sox' runs. And then it was Bellhorn, who is Tom Lawless, Bucky Dent, and Bernie Carbo all wrapped up in one, blasting in a few more. They waived the bloody shirt in many presidential elections in the U.S. after the Civil War, rooting on one former general after another to victory, and in Boston they'll waive the Bloody Sock through the rest of the first half of this century, and grandchildren will ask their grandfathers whether they watched Game 6 of the ALCS or Game 2 of the World Series and saw Curt Schilling pitch, and we'll just nod and say, as our fathers and grandfathers before us said about pitchers like Bob Feller and Whitey Ford, "Yes, son, he was that good." Only, perhaps, he was better.

This is a tale of two wonderful franchises. The Cardinals' stars are in a horrid slump, but it only takes one Johnny Damon-like burst of baseball fury to turn the tables on an opponent and a series. Who knows, a pair of back-to-back home runs by Rolen and Pujols just might prove to be the tinder in Game 3 that turns that mighty oaks that form the Boston bullpen -- Embree, Timlin and Foulke -- into combustible timber? Tony LaRussa's bullpen is deeper (in that LaRussa relies on more relievers) and perhaps, as a result, better rested, but he needs his starters to give the bullpen a chance to hold leads and save a game. So far, his mighty lineup has not done that.

So now the series moves to St. Louis, whose wonderful history includes a pitcher named Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean, a tough leftfielder named Joe Medwick, and an assembly of characters in 1934 who were dubbed "The Gashouse Gang." If there ever were a time for the Cards to draw on their history, it should be on the '34 team, which, led by Frank Frisch and an upstart SS named Leo Durocher, because the 2004 Cards, 70 years, later, need the gas. They need the gas to fuel their offensive engine, and they need the gas from their pitchers to neutralize Boston's tantalizing lineup. And, while they're at it, they should draw on the class of Stan Musial, perhaps the most underrated great position player in history, the fire of Bob Gibson, and the many others who have played since those greats, such as Ozzie Smith and Lou Brock.

And they might be able to use Gibson in the rotation, because there's little doubt that in his early 60's he still has the competitive fire.

But these games aren't about the alumni, at least not for the most part. They're for the guys on the field, the great-fielding Jim Edmunds, the great base-running (and fielding) Scott Rolen, the all-world hitting of Albert Pujols and the steady catching of Mike Matheny. They're about the command presence of David Ortiz, the potential of Manny Ramirez's bat to erupt at any moment like Vesuvius, the balky gloves of many Red Sox players, and the starting pitchers who have beaten back their share of criticism and risen to the occasion.

Yes, the Sox lead 2-0, but they've been in that position before and weren't able to close it out. Not that the players on this team had anything to do with the failures, but they've heard about them, read about them and even have witnessed them incarnate in the form of Aaron Boone (whose grandfather, Ray Boone, recently passed away at the age of 81, was a 2-time all-star and ironically, as fate would have it, spent a good part of his post-baseball careers as a scout with -- the Boston Red Sox). Some storied programs such as Notre Dame football continue to try to wake up the echoes with the hope that they'll carry the team to a greatness not felt, not embraced, since the 1940's. Others, like the Boston Red Sox, hope to put them to sleep for a very long time. Echoes, whispers, whatever, David Ortiz wants to hit them over the right field fence, and Curt Schilling wants to throw them through the Green Monster.

Can they do it? Stay tuned and enjoy every bit of the drama, because if you ever were to argue that baseball is boring and not made for TV, just dare to watch this series, if you didn't watch the NLCS or the ALCS. Weren't you hanging on every pitch, thinking that it could get hit to Toledo or burn through your favorite player's bat, killing a rally? Weren't you worrying about whether your team's (or adopted team's) pitcher was in the game too long, and weren't you at some point pulling for some team because you liked their grit and their effort? If you're a baseball fan, you were doing that.

And you'll be doing it again on Tuesday night.

Friday, October 22, 2004

The World Series

This year's Fall Classic promises to be a great one. With the Boston Red Sox, you have the disciples of Moneyball. They won't bunt, hit and run or steal that much, but they'll be patient at the plate (in stark contrast to the Yankees, who were too eager to swat at the first pitch in Game 7) and wait for the three-run home run and the one big inning, a la Earl Weaver. And, of course, they are brimming with confidence from their miraculous comeback against the Yankees. This is a team that will flat out pound you on offense and tantalize you with their pitching. Their bullpen rose to the occasion, and two starters who struggled all year -- Tim Wakefield and Derek Lowe -- found new life in the post-season.

With the St. Louis Cardinals, you have the GM who worked wonders in Oakland before Billy Beane got there (Walt Jocketty) and worked his Moneyball magic. You have the manager, too, in Tony LaRussa, who is back to the World Series for the first time in 14 years. This team not only bunts, it suicide squeezes. It not only fields, it makes plays that summon up images of Willie Mays in '54, where he robbed Vic Wertz of extra bases. And, this team hits. And hits. And hits. The Cardinals are built like an AL team on offense, and they have a bunch of good pitchers in the rotation. Their bullpen, though, is a little bit iffy. And, remember, that in a 7-game series, a team's strengths are magnified, but so are its weaknesses.

Ironically, it was the Red Sox who modified their Moneyball approach at mid-season, when they realized that they couldn't win with a pure Moneyball approach that threw caution to the wind and had glove-challenged players at the corners and even at SS, when an injured Nomar Garciaparra wasn't drawing comparisons to Ozzie Smith or, well, even Johnny Pesky. At mid-season they traded for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, to fine-fielding players, and their fortunes changed. They stopped allowing unearned runs, and they kicked their games into gear. Part Moneyball, part old-time baseball. Turned out it was the recipe for pure gold.

So who will win this rematch of 1946 and 1967? Will the BoSox run into a mad-dashing Enos Slaughter, who scored from first on an outfield single while Pesky, the beloved Johnny Pesky, allegedly held the ball while Slaughter ran around the bases? Will Scott Rolen play that role for the Cards this year, playing Slaughter to Cabrera's Pesky? Will Matt Morris or Woody Williams play the Gibson role? The former is more possible than the latter, although it's doubtful that a player could score from first on a single in this series or that pitchers like Morris, Williams or Jeff Suppan ever will mentioned in a sentence with Bob Gibson unless it's a string citation about who pitched for the Cardinals over the years. Hall of Famers they are not.

And Pedro Martinez is a Hall of Famer, and Curt Schilling might as well be. Will they make the difference? Or will the bats of a modern-day Murderers' Row of Walker, Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds prove to be too tough? Then again, will the Cards' bullpen hold up, especially in the late innings, when the BoSox are wont to strike. Will Jason Isringhausen prove to be up to the task, or, under the magnifying glass that is the post-season, will the Red Sox find a way to get to him often? And those bats are potent and clutch, too, lest anyone think that the Cards' lumber eclipses them. Johnny Damon caught fire at the right time, David Ortiz is one of the most clutch players in post-season history, and Manny Ramirez is due to knock in at least one more run in the World Series than the ALCS (where he knocked in none). While the offensive edge might go to the Cardinals, the 2004 Red Sox aren't the 1906 White Sox (known as the Hitless Wonders).

So I ask the question again? Who will win? You have two teams with fortunes in Games 7 of their World Series experiences that are polar opposites. The Cards have won all of their Games 7, the Red Sox have lost all of theirs. Both have great traditions. St. Louis is the best baseball town in America, and Boston is one of the most passionate. Two fabled franchises with rich histories of their own -- and together.

Will BoSox manager Terry Francona be up to the task, or will he have a Grady Little moment in the World Series (the way his critics argue he did in Game 7 of the ALCS, when he relieved Lowe to insert Martinez, whom the critics argue brought the Yankees and their fans back to life)? And it only takes one Grady Little moment in Boston to forever tarnish your reputation or to have the fate of Grady Little, a public guillotining if there ever was one. Will the Cards literally steal game one by running wild on Tim Wakefield's slow and unpredictable knuckleball? Or are the Red Sox on such a roll that they'll make the Series an anti-climax?

It says here that the Red Sox have come too far to lose now. It says here that the combination of great pitchers and a knuckleballer could tie the Cards up in knots. It says here that if the Sox get to game 6 up 3-2 and have Curt Schilling on the mound, they should bet their rent money on their horse, the guy they signed to take the heat in this precise moment and excel. Because if they get to the deciding game and Curt Schilling is on the hill, they will not lose.

Boston Red Sox in 6.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Greatest (Baseball) Story Ever Told

The headline writers will have a field day tomorrow morning in Boston and New York and all over the United States. You can guess that some New England paper will have a photo of the BoSox celebration with the huge headline, "Who's Your Daddy?" And you probably can bet that some columnists in Houston and St. Louis will lament that while the BoSox and Yankees got all the attention, they have a pretty good series of their own going on down in Houston. (And you also can venture that political pundits are hoping for a Houston-Boston series, with the victor proving, so they would hope, to be an omen for their party's candidate).

Yes, there was drama in St. Louis tonight, and yes, that's been a great series. But all of the focus has to be on what happened in New York the past two games, last night with Curt Schilling's inspiring pitching performance, and tonight with the redemption of Derek Lowe, who going into the game had a 9.75 ERA against the Yankees and who tossed as wonderful a gem as Schilling -- 6 innings, 1 run and 1 hit. The BoSox went out early and hammered the Yankees. First it was David Ortiz hitting a 2-run homer in the first stanza, and then it was The Johnny Damon Show.

Damon, who went into the game hitting 3 for 29 and had some fans wondering whether the BoSox would lift him for the fleet Dave Roberts, had his redemption too, knocking in 6 runs and helping the BoSox leave no doubt about which team in the AL was the best this year, which team had the most grit, which team was greater than the sum of its parts. In Alexandria, Virginia, I am sure that they will always remember their Titans, but in all of New England the fans will remember these Red Sox and their gutty performances for decades to come.

And the Yankee fans will take a long time to digest this bitter pill, the first time in the history of the national pastime that a team has come back from 3 games down to win a series. Ever. Even the jinxed BoSox had never managed to lose a series after being up three straight. You would have figured that the Cubs or BoSox would have beaten the Yankees to this milestone, but, alas, even the baseball titans fall from grace every now and then.

After going down 3-0, they wondered about whether the BoSox had any pitching left, whether they could hit in the clutch, whether their bullpen had any gas left in the tank, and whether their manager knew what he was doing. It turned out, they had plenty left, their manager was steady in the cockpit, their role players rose to the occasion when they had to, and their stars helped lead the way. Even if tonight's game lacked the drama of the past two and was, in fact, anticlimactic for the average fan, for the Red Sox fans it was the exclamation point on a dramatic comeback and an amazing series.

Derek Lowe, who had a great season a year ago, struggled this year and battled with the media who covered the Red Sox, pitched the best game of his life. Terry Francona trusted his relievers, and Pedro Martinez, after a shaky start, Mike Timlin and Alan Embree rewarded his confidence in them. Papi, David Ortiz, played the Pops role that Willie Stargell did so majestically for the Pirates of the 1970's, setting the tone early with a four-ply swat. And Mark Bellhorn, the defensively challenged, strikeout prone 2B, helped pad the lead with a jack off the screen next to the right-field foul pole.

No, the Red Sox just didn't come back against the Yankees, they didn't eke out a narrow victory tonight to edge the Bronx Bombers, they sprinted past them down the home stretch and left the Yankees scratching their heads as to why the best team money can buy simply couldn't push a button and win games 7 as they have done many times in their history. The Sox won Game 7 in a style befitting a champion, and in so doing they ignited a fire in New England that the loyal Red Sox rooters haven't seen in almost two decades.

I'm a big baseball fan, and there lots of memories I carry with me. Reggie Jackson's hitting 3 HRs in the '78 World Series. Kirk Gibson's HR off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 Series. The wonderful 1991 Series between the Braves and Twins, Luis Gonzalez's bloop hit to win the 2001 World Series, home runs by Dent, Lawless, Fisk, Joe Carter and many, many others. Year-in and year-out, memories are created. Some stay with you, some get erased and replaced with subsequent events. That's the way memories are. Some stay, some go.

And while memories are an individual thing, while the Mad Dog on WFAN might remember pitch counts while you might forget who was even on the mound, there is one thing that will stand, indelible, in the memories of baseball fans everywhere.

No matter where you live, no matter whether you watched the game tonight, no matter whether you're a National League fan or an American League fan, a Yankee fan, a Red Sox fan or a Chattanooga Lookouts fan, you will remember, for a very, very long time, the 2004 Boston Red Sox.


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

What You Must Watch on TV Tonight

The guys who wrote Rocky, Rudy, The Natural, Hoosiers, Friday Night Lights, The Iliad, The Odyssey, the Greek myths and much of what we consider to be the Great Books couldn't pump out scripts like this. Big talk at the outset from a premier player, only to have him fail and aggravate an injury. Intermittent worry about whether he was done for the year, whether he would (or should) take one for the team and gut it out, and how he would do after he decided that if this were going to be his last hurrah, he would go down with his boots. Bloody right ankle and all.

At the season's outset (and before I started this blog), I e-mailed my friends in the Red Sox nation after the BoSox had traded for Curt Schilling. "This is the guy," I wrote, "who you want in there with the big game on the line. He wants to come to Boston, and he wants to be the guy who helps lead his team to break the dreaded Curse." "You want him in the big game more than anyone else, more than Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson. He wants the ball like no one else." I've blogged on him here and here, mostly about how much of a gamer he is, and how, if he has a few more good seasons, he'll be a solid candidate for the Hall of Fame.

Schilling surely delivered during the regular season, putting up great numbers and winning 21 games. Again, he'll be a Cy Young bridesmaid, for as outstanding as he is, Johan Santana of the Twins put up such great numbers that he's a shoo-in for the hardware unless the writers decided to make the award a lifetime achievement kudo, which I'm sure they didn't do. He pitched well in the sweep against Anaheim in the ALDS, but he tweaked an already sore ankle in his one outing and limped into Yankee Stadium for Game 1 of the ALCS. Everything that he worked for -- to help get the Red Sox a world championship -- was in balance. Would he shine? Or would he suffer from the Curse too?

As it turned out, he put his foot and ankle in his mouth. Prior to the Game 1 start, he said that it would be a very satisfying feeling to get 55,000 Yankee fans to shut up. As it turned out, he was the one who had to shut up, as he gave up 6 ER in 3 IP, and his effort paled in comparison to that of another stellar pitcher (and one who doesn't get his total due), Mike Mussina, who had a perfect game going for a while. Curt Schilling was Rocky Balboa in the early part of Rocky III, the champ who went into the ring and got his lights put out by a formidable opponent. The question was how bad was his ankle, and whether he would be able to come back on it. Would he rise up to re-take his title, or would he go on the scrap heap of post-season history, the once mighty hero that time caught up to.

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com said after that game on ESPN Radio that it was the worst he'd seen Schilling pitch ever, and given that Stark covered the Phillies for The Philadelphia Inquirer before, he had watched Schilling pitch more than any other pitcher in the game. Schilling had no command, his fastball was a foot short at least, and, well, Schilling was the Schilling you had come to know. Yankee fans pooh-poohed comments like these, saying that if Schilling were really hurt, he shouldn't have been in there. Of course, these comments didn't come from the Red Sox or Schilling, who isn't one to give excuses. He felt that he had let his team down, and he wasn't happy about his effort. And that's the way it should have been. No excuses.

The great ones present interesting dilemmas. They always want to play, and they never want to come out of a game. They'll pitch when they're a little bit too tired, they'll stay in a football game with an aggravated hamstring that risks letting an opposing player blast by them, they'll stay on the basketball court with knees so sore that every step feels like a land mine is going off beneath them. Their managers and coaches face tough decisions -- can they really deprive the stars of the stage, will the stars disregard their ailments and rise to the occasion, or can some lesser-known replacement who is healthy do the job just fine? On paper, the decisions seem rather straightforward, but in real life they are about as difficult as they come. Because what makes the true stars shine so brightly is that they cannot be harnessed (only channeled), and that they simply won't quit fighting until the last out is made or, as the case may be, the clock runs out. So the decision is somewhat simple, but perhaps the reverse of what you might think -- you want those players on the field. Even if they're gimpy.

And Curt Schilling faced a dilemma -- a snapping ankle tendon that made it hard to push off from his back foot to get the command and velocity he needed to bedevil hitters. He looked at all sorts of remedies, from Johnny Unitas-like shoes to shots, and in the end he opted for the shot, a shot of something that made his ankle a bloody mess. Perhaps the Sox planned it this way, perhaps Schilling wanted to create an indelible memory of the bloody sock, or perhaps the blood came after the ankle was wrapped and there was no time to change the bandage, but no matter how it got there, it symbolized the effort of the entire Boston team. Bloodied, but not bowed, and they came back with a resolve that baseball fans hadn't seen in the game's history. Led by General Curt Schilling, who dared to step into the arena and risking tarnishing an almost unblemished post-season legend, risking further injury perhaps, the Boston Red Sox didn't pay attention to the numerous obituaries written about them and played as though it was the last day of their life. They kept on coming, and they came back.

And the peformance that Curt Schilling gave last night was an all-timer. Pitching on one leg, or at least one ankle, he mowed down a very formidable Yankee lineup that had bashed Red Sox' pitching for 19 runs only a few games ago. He didn't have his best stuff on this cold, damp night, but he had very good stuff. The stuff of a champion. The script writers wrote it so that Schilling's ankle didn't become Achilles' heel.

But he needed some help. He needed some hitting. He needed the Red Sox to take the lead. Because while baseball isn't a team sport the way football or basketball is, you do need your teammates to carry their share of the load and generate some offense. You can't win 0-0, and while Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore go down in baseball lore for pitching 21 innings apiece in a 1-1 tie, you want to be remembered for more than that. You want to be remembered for a great game, but you want to win that game. Above all else.

The Red Sox were patient at the plate, getting to Yankee starter Jon Lieber. And the great thing about baseball is that you never know where all the heroics are going to come from. In basketball, it would be hard to imagine the recent Lakers' teams mounting a comeback without Shaq and Kobe leading the way. The same in football with Tom Brady and now Corey Dillon of the Patriots. It's not like a third-string quarterback who sings in the church choir and hails from Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania and played his college ball at Beloit will come off the bench to lead the Steelers to victory. It's not as if the Division III guard from Bowdoin who has published a volume of haiku will be the twelfth man who helps the Lakers rebound from a 2-0 deficit against the San Antonio Spurs. How often does that happen?

Never.

But the rich textures that baseball gives us also on an annual basis give us an almost-perfect performance by Brandon Backe, a game-winning HR by Bucky Dent (and Aaron Boone), late game catches by Sandy Amoros and Al Gionfriddo, none of whom are or were the big names on their teams at the time. Far from it. It was Gene Larkin, a back-up 1B, whose sacrifice fly clinched the '91 series (one of the greatest) for the Twins, and a 23 year-old Johnny Podres who pitched the Brooklyn Dodgers to their only world championship in 1955.

And last night, it was Mark Bellhorn. Not the miracle worker, David Ortiz, or the locomotive who helped pull the Sox all year, Manny Ramirez. It wasn't their gifted leadoff hitter, Johnny Damon, who has had a miserable ALCS, and it wasn't their spiritual leader, as it were, catcher Jason Varitek. It was a bottom-of-the-order hitter who led AL hitters in strikeouts and who isn't that good a fielder. In the early innings, with 2 men on, the lefthanded-hitting Bellhorn lofted a fly ball to left field and barely made it over the left field wall. That three-run homer, and Schilling's effort, enabled the BoSox to win Game 6.

An unprecedented feat. No team in baseball history had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to tie a post-season series. The irony, of course, is that the cursed Red Sox are the ones who staged the miraculous comeback. Does this mean that they can shed the curse for good? Or does it mean that the turn of script writer tonight will be taken by the writers of Greek mythology, who will create some Sisyphus-like ending for the Red Sox, having them once again accomplish a significant amount only to fail to reach the top of the mountain. And, with Derek Lowe, who has gotten battered in 3 starts at Yankee Stadium this year (ERA 9.75), it may well be that the BoSox will run out of gas and fail to reach the top of the hill. Even if the Yankees' hurlers are tired, they are pitching at home. Edge: Yankees.

Or is that right? Or may it be that Lowe will summon one great effort, an unexpected effort, and pitch the game of his life tonight? After all, he won 19 games last season. Isn't that the way baseball works? The heroes hit .162 in a series, and the flawed role players muster up one great effort that helps their team win. Comebacks. Vindication. Redemption. Resurrection. Surprises. All wrapped up in one.

Regardless of who you are rooting for, it's a great, great series. These teams are maxed out, they are running on fumes, they are trying to summon up the last bits of their ability to defeat a worthy and stubborn foe. Tired bullpens, sore shoulders, bruised hands, hurt feet, streaky hitters, close calls, the potential sight of Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez walking out to the BoSox bullpen, together, in the fifth inning, and of Mike Mussina doing the same thing for the Yankees (the way he did last year). It's everything that a baseball fan could want.

And more.

So stay tuned tonight. If you're a baseball fan, you have to watch. If you're a casual sports fan, you should watch.

The trend today on TV is to move away from dramas and comedies and toward reality shows. Whatever you think about that trend and about TV in general, you'll have to agree on one thing:
the Yankees/Red Sox series is, by far, the best reality series there is.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Yankees-Red Sox (as the game enters the 12th inning)

If I were the people who run Major League Baseball, I'd make these guys play all the time. I'd make them trade for hurlers with questionable wings who are looking for redemption, failed projects with nasty stuff looking for one more chance to harness it, former top draft picks now role playing, starters walking toward the bullpen after nine innings are over, utility infielders delivering clutch hits and hard-hitting outfielders who run in on fly balls when they should be running back.

I'd cede two playoff spots to them unless they are purely awful during a given season, and I'd put less weight on games against relative bush league teams stationed in Kansas City and Tampa Bay that would have been worthy of busrides and overnight stays in rooming houses with leaky faucets and noisy, dripping window air-conditioning units a quarter-century ago. I'd let Schilling face Mussina, Martinez face a healthy Brown, and I'd want Arroyo in the pen for a key game and Loiaza getting a key double-play ball after failing miserably since his arrival after the trading deadline. I'd like lesser-known relievers named Myers (not Randy, Mike) strike out Godzilla in an extra frame, and I'd show the futility of Red Sox players trying to bunt a man along in extra innings.

I'd have matinee idol Johnny Damon, with the signature hair and a post-season batting average worthy of the nerdy kid on your little league team whose sigh of relief in getting a walk from the future felon wild kid pitcher created an indelible memory for you (the kid hit about .050), get the game winning hit in Game 5, letting the BoSox go back to the Bronx and resurrect Luis Tiant and Bill Lee to pitch games 6 and 7 because their pitching staff has few healthy arm/psyche combinations left. I'd have Damon take a curtain call to the clearly audible chants of "John-ny Da-mon, John-ny Da-mon."

Or I'd have seldom-used post-season defensive replacement Doug Mientkiewicz, a HS teammate of A-Rod, waltz by his HS buddy after hitting the game-winning HR. Or something like that.

Yes, I am tired. Yes, this game began at 4:40 in the afternoon. Yes, it's even possible that the NLCS game, which started 4 hours behind, might finish before this game does. And yes, I need to get up at 5 a.m. tomorrow to start my day.

But there's something so compelling about this rivalry, especially when one team can clinch a World Series berth with a win and an entire season is on the line. This is the Yankees-Red Sox, a rivalry with such a rich history.

I've written about baseball's successes, excesses, flaws, disappointments and pleasant surprises, as many bloggers are wont to do. I'm not a huge fan of Bud Selig, I express wonder at the talents of Carlos Beltran, I marvel at the consistency of Randy Johnson, and I like the class of the Yankees, the angst of the Red Sox and the talent of Vladimir Guerrero. I wish that Barry Bonds could be more likeable, hope that Jason Schmidt some day gets more meaningful recognition, and hope that Josh Beckett has one heckuva career. I root for Julio Franco to play until he is 60, Curt Schilling until he is 45, and Tim Wakefield until he is 50. I think that Barry Larkin deserves a happier ending than he's getting, that Buck Showalter knows what he is doing, and that perhaps Whitey Herzog might get one last hurrah as a manager.

There are so many thoughts about baseball, so many wonderful memories, and we all have our own, whether we root for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies or the Chicago Cubs.

But there is no spectacle greater, no sight more wonderful to behold in Major League Baseball than the Yankees and Red Sox facing off in October.

It just doesn't get any better.

Assessments of Football Talent

Overestimated (At this point)?

Click here to determine whether you agree that this guy still has anything left in the tank. He's had a great career, but he's far past his prime and looking for a team that can give him more playing time. His team has been playing terribly, he's not starting, and he publicly fretted about his personal stats while his team, two years removed from a Super Bowl performance, is foundering. Does he deserve another chance for the spotlight? Or has he had his (extremely great) run and should he hang 'em up, leaving the cleats at the 50-yard line after his final game? Will someone take a chance on him? How about the Ravens, which already have offered a final landing spot to Neon Deion? If Neon Deion got another chance after being out of football (other than talking about it) for three years, does this guy deserve one more hurrah on the playing field?

Mis-estimated (Also at this point)?

Click here for the report from the planet that is the BCS to see whether or not you agree with the first BCS Rankings, and click here for the numbers. You may recall after last season the BCS put out this great pronouncement that they were tweaking their system to ensure that what happened last season wouldn't happen again this season. My blogging yesterday was prescient, as I had foreseen that if there were more than two undefeated teams from major conferences, controversies would swirl. Little did I know that the controversy would start so soon, as, lo and behold, the top two teams in the BCS right now are not USC and Oklahoma. Go figure. Playoffs, please!

Underestimated?

But not by much. Most people thought this guy would be an elite player. They just didn't think that he'd be an elite player this soon. But he was heroic yesterday, and pretty soon the guy he replaced will become the answer to a trivia question. If he isn't already. Read here about yesterday's exploits.

Kissing Goodbye to the Ultimate Estimator?

You'd never believe it to be the case, but the talent scout, the prognosticator, the guy who you probably have a hard time believing makes a living at what he does, well, a serious part of his gig may disappear, at least on the day you're used to seeing him. No real word as to why, whether it's because he's not a trained journalist, he's not a former jock, he's been around too long (like your parents' ultrasuede living room set that you never were allowed to sit on as a kid), just that it might be a done deal. I still have a hard time believing it, but the guess is that he'll end up somewhere.

Needs to Report Precisely and Not Just Give Estimates. . .

They need a real one and not one of these to keep time at Texas Stadium. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter, but a real clock that times sporting events comes with a homer-proof switch that prevents a timekeeper from hitting the button too quickly to stop play while the home team is driving. Solution: Import the time keeper from another city, and have all stadiums use the same clock software or system so that you don't need a local guy to run the clock. But had the home team won the game yesterday on the last play, it would have been an absolute disgrace. I've tried hard to find a link, but ESPN TV showed clearly that the clock should have elapsed on what proved to be the second-to-last play of the Cowboys-Steelers game. Which meant that Vinnie Testaverde shouldn't have had the chance to throw his Hail Mary pass at the end of the game. The NFL should look into this; it was awful. Thankfully, the football gods smiled down on the visiting team in Dallas yesterday, showing everyone that while Texas hospitality may not be what it's cracked up to be, the Pittsburgh Steelers just might be.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

College Football Observations

It was another interesting weekend in college football, so here goes:

1. Virginia at Florida State. There were high hopes in Charlottesville going into this game. The Cavaliers were ranked in the top 10 with a 5-0 record, and they were heading to Tallahassee to face the #7 Seminoles team that had eked out a victory against a bad Syracuse team the week before. Spirits were high, but close observers who don't don orange and blue in their spare time had a few doubts. First, how strong was the Cavaliers' record going into the game? Had they really beaten anyone, when their toughest opponent was Clemson? Was the schedule solid enough to give them the proper confidence they needed going into this game, or was it a false indicator of what the future would bring? Second, how tough would it be to win at Florida State, where visiting teams get handled about as nicely as a matching luggage set at a regional airport in Paraguay. And third, could the Cavaliers beat a top-10 team, something, according to Beano Cook on ESPN Radio, they had not done in 52 years?

Here are the answers to the questions: Weak, no, obvisouly not, very and no. Bobby Bowden's Seminoles reminded the Cavaliers of a pecking order in the newly reconstructed ACC, and the Virginia Cavaliers return to the annual heap of pretenders that gets formed around this time of the year every college football season. A 36-3 thrashing in Florida's capital, proving that there still can be excitement in Tallahassee outside of post-presidential election challenges every four years.

2. Arizona State at USC. People like taking shots at front-runners, and who could blame them for at least questionining the invincibility of the Men of Troy after Cal came to Los Angeles last weekend and made the USC defense resemble that of a second-rate American Basketball Association team during the early 1970's? After that game, one commentator remarked that the Trojans' defense didn't have enough athletes at linebacker or defensive back (he might have said they didn't have any athletes). Leading up to this game, the commentators gave #19 Arizona State a legitimate shot. They were coming off a bye week, and in Andrew Walter, they have a play-making quarterback. The cognoscenti also said that Arizona State had some good athletes on defense, and they should give USC a battle in the Coliseum.

But it just didn't work out that way for Dirk Koetter's Sun Devils. The Sun Devils' running game was a question mark, and they started a third-string tailback who had a cast on his arm as recently as last Friday. Sure, the Trojans had lost wideout Steve Smith, but they have this 6'5" jumping jack of a freshman named Dwayne Jarrett, and all he did in the first half was catch 4 passes for 122 yards and 3 touchdowns. Arizona State was sent back to Tempe to lick its wounds, perhaps turning out to be the Virginia of the Pac-10. 45-7, Southern California, which sent a message that until further notice, it is the #1 team in the country.

3. Oklahoma at Kansas State. While one Manhattan is trying to re-assert its preeminence in one major sport, there was a big game in the "other" Manhattan yesterday, where the Oklahoma Sooners had Wild Wild West revenge on their mind after the Wildcats had thrashed them 35-7 in last year's Big 12 title game. This year's game might have had that kind of significance, but that probably should have been it, as going into the game the Sooners were 5-0 and coming off what seems to be a perennial "big" win over Texas, and the Wildcast were 2-3. So what happened en route to a revenge bloodbath? The Sooners made some mistakes, the Wildcats played tough, and Oklahoma had to rally to win 31-21. Which just goes to show you that the college game still is played by kids and that a BCS champ;ionship game match-up featuring USC and the Sooners could be quite enticing and, perhaps, a toss-up. Many might have been ready to cede the national title to OU after OU's impressive shutout of the Longhorns and USC's struggle to beat a very good Cal team, but after Saturday's games, the national title contest looks to be a dead heat.

4. Columbia at Pennsylvania. I viewed this as the barometer game for the Ivy League yesterday, and, yes, Ivy gridiron fans, you're not supposed to use a noun to modify another noun, so I'll correct myself and write that I viewed yesterday's game as a barometer for the remainder of the Ivy season. Why? Because going into yesterday's game, the Penn Quakers looked to be (once again) the class of the Ivies. Penn thrashed the University of San Diego by 43, whereas Princeton held on to win by 7 (although the game wasn't that close). Princeton, which is now 4-1 on the year (and they should be 5-0, but last week they led Colgate by 12 with 6 to go and lost), beat Columbia at the home of the Big Light Blue on an OT score. So, I had figured that the Quakers would paste the Lions by about 21 at Franklin Field, at least.

But the Quakers went into yesterday's game with some consistency problems, which showed at times in yesterday's game. They won the game, 14-3, and until someone knocks them off they are the team to beat in the Ivies. That said, the gap between the Quakers on the one hand and the Crimson and Tigers is not that great. All that said, I still look for Harvard-Penn game in Philadelphia on November 13 to decide the Ivy title. Right now, Harvard leads the Ivies with 183 points scored, while Penn has (by far) yielded the fewest amount of points, 62. You can heck out the Ivy standings by clicking here. Penn is 4-1 overall, having lost to neighborhing rival Villanova (which may be the best non-conference team an Ivy school has played this year), and Harvard is 5-0. Something will have to give.

5. Brown at Princeton. Unless, of course, the Princeton Tigers have something to do with it. The Tigers have quietly amassed a 4-1 record, with their only loss a 3-point margin at the hands of a Colgate team on the road that they led by 12 with 6 minutes to go. That loss was not only bad enough in and of itself, but it brought back nightmares of last year's season, where the Tigers were in every Ivy contest except a thrashing they got at Penn, losing four Ivy games by about a total of ten points, all in the final minutes.

The Tigers needed to recover from the disappointment in Hamilton, New York, and they needed to beat the always formidable Brown Bruins in Princeton Stadium in order to keep pace with Harvard and Penn. They did, winning 24-10, and the way they won said a lot about the team, as they finished off an Ivy opponent by scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter.

The Tigers' senior QB, Matt Verbit, has shown solid improvement this season. He has put up big numbers at Princeton and now is third on the all-time passing list, but up until this season he has been more prolific than successful. No one figured that heretofore underused RB Branden Benson would turn out to be a 100-yard a game rusher, and Tiger fans wondered who would catch Verbit's passes after rising senior WR B.J. Szymanski gave up his football eligibility to sign a contract for a $750,000 bonus (he was a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the Major League Baseball draft last June). Most of the pundits had the Tigers picked for sixth, figuring that the combination of an average offense, a team that couldn't hold off opponents in the fourth quarter last season, the pressure on the Roger Hughes' coaching staff to have a very good season in their fifth year or risking getting the axe would keep the Tigers mired in the second division. What they underestimated was the improvement of the Tigers' line play on both sides of the ball and a very tough back 7 on the Princeton defense, led by LBs Justin Stull and Zak Keasey and DBs Brendon Mueller and Jay McCareins.

The October 23 game against Harvard is the Tigers' biggest game in a long time, perhaps since 1996, as the last three seasons under Hughes' predecessor, Steve Tosches, were losing ones. Tiger Stadium should draw a big crowd on Saturday, and if the Tigers are going to take a big step in their league, they'll have a golden opportunity to do so in front of the home crowd.

6. Arkansas at Auburn. Last year, Tommy Tuberville's Auburn Tigers were a huge disappointment, so, perhaps, this year you didn't hear as much about them as other teams in major conferences and, even in the SEC. But, suddenly the Tigers are 7-0 and the best team in the SEC, and while I'm no huge fan of the SEC, I am rooting for the Tigers to make the lives of the BCS brahmins miserable. Why? Because right now, the pollsters, poll voters, cognoscenti and talk radio callers all have anointed a BCS title game at the Orange Bowl between USC and Oklahoma. Which certainly wouldn't be fair to Auburn, Miami and Wisconsin if those schools win out. Because you can bet that Tommy Tuberville, Larry Coker and Barry Alvarez won't concede for a moment that they won't be deserving at a shot at the title if they win out. Which will mean that there will be a huge hue and cry, and that the BCS powers that are will have to agree with the NCAA on something which could be extremely compelling, as it is for the other NCAA football divisions -- a national playoff. So, go Tigers. And 'Canes. And Badgers.

7. Lousville at Miami. The Louisville Cardinals had a huge game at the Orange Bowl on Thursday night for a variety reasons. Win, and the Cards would have been dubbed the favorite to be the non-BCS team to get a bid to a BCS bowl game. Win, and the Cards, under their (relatively) young coach, Bobby Petrino, would have taken a step "to the next level." Win, and the Cards would have shown everyone that this year's version of the Miami Hurricans, like Clubber Lang in Rocky III, "ain't so bad." Lose, and, well, you're just Louisville, you're a basketball school, Rick Pitino is the main focus, and while you might turn out a great player every now and then, remember that Kentucky just isn't a bona fide football state.

Well, Louisville did lose, but to a degree the Cards did take a step to the next level, and they did show, to some degree, that the Miami Hurricanes aren't the invincible team that they have been in past years. Because while Louisville lost the game, they threw a huge scare into Miami in its house. Up by 17 against an enigmatic QB whose name may be a synonym for one who could confuse activity with achievement, that same enigmatic QB recovered from adversity and led the 'Canes to a come-from-behind victory, 41-38.

So Miami remains undefeated, remains as a Top 4 team, remains as a team who, if they win out, will very much complicate the year-end conversation as to who is the Number 1 team in the nation. Because while Louisville gave them a scare, this isn't a top-tier Division III team or a third-tier Division I-A team. This Cardinals' team is the real deal.

And look for its coach, Bobby Petrino, to be the second name on the short list for all serious BCS school vacancies in the off-season. Rick Pitino may be the big name in Louisville right now, but he hasn't done much damage in the NCAA since his return to college hoops. Should Bobby Petrino stay at Louisville, he may well eclipse the legendary hoops coach in a matter of years.

8. North Carolina at Utah. This game was testimony to a few points. One, the law of gravity, or, put very simply, "what goes up, must come down." Because last week John Bunting's North Carolina Tar Heels upset #25 N.C. State, making people wonder what is the real personality of Carolina Football and whether the Heels could beat a ranked team for the second week in a row. 46-16, Utah, #10 Utah, which is now the top-ranked non-BCS team, making it the odds-on favorite to go to a BCS bowl because the Utes should win out.

More importantly, the Utes' win showcased once again Urban Meyer, another (relatively) young coach who will be the top name on the short list for all openings at BCS schools that want to take their programs to the next level (I write it this way because I doubt Meyer would leave Utah for a place like Vanderbilt or Duke, for example).

I hope Penn State fans, whose Nittany Lions were idle this week, watched this game and saw Urban Meyer in action. And I hoped they used their imaginations, envisioning how mellifluous and pleasing the chant "Ur-ban, Mey-yer, Ur-ban Mey-er" will sound in their huge stadium, the way "Joe PA-Ter-no, Joe PA-Ter-no" resonated loudly during the Nittany Lions' glory years. And, if they like that thought, they should conjure up whatever influence they have with the higher powers in State College and figure out the right way to ease their legendary coach to retirement.

Because the quicker they get someone like Urban Meyer into Happy Valley, Happy Valley will become happy again.

Quickly.

9. Wisconsin at Purdue. Lest we forget, the #1 ranked defense in the country went into West Lafayette, Indiana, and the Badgers staged a comeback to defeat the host Boilermakers, 20-17. We've written about this phrase from time to time, but while Kyle Orton's offense certain grabbed headlines and brought tons of attention to Purdue, Wisconsin's stifling defense has been winning football games. And, if the Badgers win out, this stifling defense will win the Big 10 championship and figure into the national discussion about who is the best team in the country.

And the reason for the latter point is that the BCS tried to reform its system so that you don't have the coaches voting for one team as national champion while the writers vote for another team. Right now you have 5 undefeated teams -- USC, Oklahoma, Miami, Auburn and Wisconsin, all of whom could figure into the conversation once college football's regular season concludes. So if any of these schools gets the shaft because writers and voters have pre-ordained an Oklahoma-USC faceoff at the Orange Bowl in January, the hue and cry for a playoff system (that seems to work well in the other NCAA football divisions) will hit its loudest pitch. So instead of considering whether to add a 12th game to the regular-season schedules of Division I-A college football teams, the NCAA should consider instituting a playoff system.

Which will let the two best teams standing compete for the national title.

Many people question sports that are judged -- boxing, gymnastics, figure skating. Because of the judging, some of us do not really believe they're sports the way baseball, basketball and football are, because those games are won on the field and not relying upon a dowager from Darien, Connecticut wearing her J. Crew ensemble and giving a thumbs up for a triple axel. But, right now, major college football depends upon coaches who can't possible see all of the teams and writers who can't either to, at a minimum, play a major role, and at a maximum, determine, who the national champion should be.

And that's not right.

Football is a collision sport.

Let the champion be the one who is the best at collision, not the product of a consensus by people who are not on the field.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Say It Won't Be So, Ed Wade

It's an election year, so I suppose it's appropriate to talk about the environment. When you think of the environment, in many states you think of recycling. You take your used newspapers, cans, glass and plastic containers and put them in a big receptacle and leave them on the curb. Once a week, your refuse hauler comes to take them away. I haven't had a chance to google this, but I think that I read somewhere that not all of these recycling efforts make money. Nonetheless, recycling is a noble thing. Or else, I'm sure, at some point our descendants all will be living in houses built on landfill.

And, in this election year, the issues of jobs has come up too, specifically the threat of jobs being outsourced to other countries. That is, other countries wil reasonably well educated work forces whose cost of living is so much lower that American companies decide to enhance their gross margins and mollify Wall Street by sending your help desk work to Bangalore. Which means, of course, that the workers in the U.S. who lose their jobs to Beijing and Bucharest need to get additional training, re-training, so that they can tackle jobs that are necessary here and that are not as vulnerable to threats from workers in other markets. That's, of course, another type of recycling, and a very noble proposition too.

This, though, is a sports blog, not a political blog, and you may be wondering what the connection is to the sports world. So here's the segue: it's one thing to re-train workers who lose their jobs to operations in India and China. It's another thing to fill your baseball team's managerial vacancy with guys who have had their chances and just haven't gotten the job done.

At least, for the most part. As with many situations in life, you cannot paint with a broad brush and come up with a one-size-fits-all rule. Because, if you did, the Yankees wouldn't have Joe Torre at the helm now, and they most certainly wouldn't have hired him in 1996. The reason: he had a losing record as a manager in stints with the Braves and the Mets. So, if you took my overall proposition literally, the response in the Bronx in 1996 would have been no Torre.

But Joe Torre is the exception, not the rule. And, with manaers, it's hard to find the exceptions, because it's hard to figure out how much difference a manager makes to a team (according to the stat guys, not nearly as much as, for example, a football coach). Managers don't have to come up with game plans and plays, don't have to decide what defense to play, when to press, whether to use the run to set up the pass, or vice versa, whether to emphasize the three-point shot or a post-up offense.

But I still would surmises that Joe Torre notwithstanding, it's not the best idea to recycle most managers. For example, let's look at the Philadelphia Phillies, who are in the midst of a process to hire a new manager. The Phillies' brass believes that the home nine is on the verge of making the playoffs, so they don't want to go for a new face, a potentially great manager (assuming, according to Phillies' skeptics, that the ownership and front office would know that manager if he came up and bit them on the rear end). Instead, they have offered up that they want a veteran manager who can help take this team to the next level.

So instead of looking for the new new thing, they're looking retro. They've interviewed Don Baylor (who looked old, tired, overweight and out of style at his post-interviewe press conference and who, the last time I checked, has never managed a team to a post-season appearance) and Charlie Manuel (who looks more robust in four year-old photos during his 2 and a half year tenure with the Indians as recently as four years ago than he does only four years later) and who is a buddy of the Phillies' Jim Thome, and Buddy Bell, another former manager who is the father of the Phillies' oft-injured third baseman David Bell, and whose career managerial record is, well, just awful (his teams got no higher than a third-place finish in his six years of managing). They're also due to talk with Grady Little, who made a glaring mistake last year that, in fairness, should not foreclose him from future managerial opportunities (he averaged 94 wins a season in Boston and was a successful and well-respected minor-league manager before that in the Braves' organization).

And, believe it or not, they are scheduled to interview former Phillies' manager Jim Fregosi, who had a rather lousy career in Philadelphia with the notable exception of the 1993 season, in which he guided Macho Row to the World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. I believe that was Fregosi's only winning season in his six or so in Philadelphia, and he had many losing seasons as a manager with the Angels before that. Yes, the same Jim Fregosi that insulted the Phillies' fans on WIP, the sports-talk radio station in Philadelphia.

Before I go into the reasons why hiring Jim Fregosi again is a bad idea, I want to note that I have nothing personal against Jim Fregosi. I have never met him, I think he's a reasonably bright guy, I think he's handled the historical misfortune of being known as the guy the Mets traded Nolan Ryan for rather graciously, and I think that he looked somewhat unhealthy wearing his plastic/rubber jacket in the Phillies' dugout on hot days in the summertime.

The thought of the return of Jim Fregosi leaves most Phillies' fans speechless. They'll recover from the disappointment of this season. They'll recover from the sacking of Larry Bowa, the disappointment of the new stadium (in that its dimensions are only slightly larger than those of your middle schooler's Babe Ruth team), the unclutch hitting of Mike Lieberthal and Jim Thome, the sophomore jinx of Marlon Byrd and even Kevin Millwood's public disappearing act.

And they have forgiven and forgotten a lot of woes during the rather uninspiring history of the franchise -- the running out of town of Richie Allen, the failure to sign their first African-American player until 10 years after the Dodgers brought up Jackie Robinson, the trade of a young Ferguson Jenkins, the horrific losing seasons that ran from the late teens until the late 40's, and even, perhaps, the rather dreadful record the team has had under the stewardship of Dave Montgomery, team president. A new stadium and a higher payroll made up, at least temporarily, for a lot of past sins.

But there's only so much a group of fans can take. And this group of fans suffered from one of the worst collapses in professional sports' history, when the 1964 team blew a 6 game lead with 12 games to play. When then-manager Gene Mauch, the best manager never to get to the World Series, so they argued, pitched Jim Bunning and Chris Short every other start down the stretch and faded down the stretch like a Yugo in a NASCAR race would have. That is the one event that they have perhaps forgiven, but it will forever remain the one event that they will never forget.

That one hurt.

And that group of knowledgeable, loyal fans, has been hurt a lot.

They would go to a cow pasture to watch a winner, and in 1993 the Vet was on its slow, tired slide into oblivion. The Phillies caught lightning in a bottle that year, they were a fun team with great role players, and it was a magical season. All that said, it will remain to be seen whether they'll continue to go to a palace to watch their home team if management doesn't fix the palpable ills this team has and if management hires the wrong manager to skipper this team.

If they hire Charlie Manuel, people might be okay because he's Jim Thome's buddy, he had a decent record in Cleveland, and people like Jim Thome. If they hire Grady Little, people might gasp that the team that gave you the 1964 Phillies hired another guy from that mold in Little, but ultimately they'd probably see the light and embrace him at least a little. If they hired Bob Brenly, whom I do not believe is a candidate, they would rationalize it that here's the guy who managed the 2001 Diamondbacks to a World Championship, but they'd probably quickly remind you that the D-Backs had the Big Unit and Curt Schillilng then, and they'll point out that Randy Wolf and Eric Milton don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of National League hitters. They'll publicly wish Brenly the best of luck in the world.

And in all these cases, some will be happy, and others will not be. But they'd still cross their fingers and go to the ball park.

But if the Phillies were somehow to hire Jim Fregosi, whom a local paper indicated is "highly respected" in the front office, the same Jim Fregosi who has had four managerial gigs in his career, the fans will have blood in their eyes. The media will have a field day, and even if the Eagles remain undefeated by the time this announcement is made, those who are baseball fans will call into the local talk shows and scream at the top of their lungs that the decision is madness, it is lunacy. And, like the character Howard Beale from the movie "Network," they will open their windows and shout at the top of their lungs, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

And they'd be perfectly justified.

Because while retro jerseys may be the rage among pro athletes, the hip-hop crowd and front-end of the baby boom lawyers and accountants whose wives gave them "Dream Week" as a 55th birthday present, retro managers like Fregosi will have the same effect of serving a palate cleanser of Ipecac at a five-star restaurant such as Philadelphia's famed Le Bec Fin.

I've read about Armageddon scenarios, probably watched a late-night movie about them, and never have given them much stock, especially after having read about all of the Y2K doomsday scenarios that never happened. And, of course, I've always hoped and prayed that something like that would never happen.

But now I wouldn't be so sure, at least in a baseball context. Because if the Phillies were to determine that Jim Fregosi is the guy to lead this current crop of players to the World Series, the noise from the City of Brotherly Love will be pure cacophony. Part of the noise will be middle-aged fans singing "We're Not Gonna Take It Any More," part of it will be the rippling chant of "Fire Ed Wade", and part of it will be of formerly loyal fans ripping up their mailers from the hometown team soliciting them to re-up for season tickets.

Because Jim Fregosi had his chance. Because Jim Fregosi had one or two good years in more than a dozen of managing. Because Jim Fregosi doesn't bring anything new to the table. Because it's hard to fathom that Jim Fregosi will be to the 2005 Phillies what Jack McKeon was to the 2003 Florida Marlins.

In 1993 the Phillies did catch lightning in a bottle with Jim Fregosi as their skipper. But it says here that that type of lightning doesn't strike twice.

Front offices everywhere have the right to recycle managers as often as they want.

Some are worthy of recycling. Some deserve a second (and even third) chance, because the circumstances they first faced just weren't the right ones.

But some are not.

And if the Phillies' front office recycles Jim Fregosi (a rather unheard of feat of bringing back a manager they fired years ago), they will do so at their peril.

And they'll blow away all of the renewed faith that they worked so hard to create with the building of the new park, the signing of Jim Thome and the trade for Billy Wagner.

Eagles' fans in the 1960's yelled "Joe Must Go" with so much vigor that they ran Coach Joe Kuharich out of town.

I can only imagine what they'll chant on Opening Day if Jim Fregosi is the manager.

That is, if they show up in the first place.