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, June 28, 2009

Bad At-Bat of the Week

Late last week the Phillies were playing the Rays in that place that once must have been a regional distribution center for Sam's Club when Rays' pitcher Matt Garza got a bit wild. The Rays had the lead, and Garza walked three straight batters. The Phillies are rather lucky right now, clinging to first despite losing 12 of their last 14 and resembling more the Bad News Bears than the defending world champions. So, you'd figure that the Phillies were going to score some runs.

Enter Jayson Werth, the Phillies' rightfielder, who promptly swings at the first pitch, a breaking ball that he pounds into the ground. Seconds later, its a 5-2-3 double play. Two outs, men on second and third, Garza gets the next hitter, and the Rays are out of the inning and go on to win the game.

Werth is a valuable member of the Phillies, a great athlete and a solid contributor. But on this particular night, he committed a bonehead baseball play. Why? Because Garza was so wild that Werth should have been taking until the Rays' hurler threw one strike. Sure, a contrarian view would be that Garza was so wild that he was desperate to throw a strike and would even have grooved one to try to get ahead of the hitters. While that's plausible, he threw a breaking ball that didn't look like a fat pitch. And he grounded into a double play.

That's when you know your team is faring poorly. The Phillies are suffering. #2 starter Brett Myers, who was off to a rocky start, is out for the year. #1 starter Cole Hamels is laboring and #3 starter Jamie Moyer can't fool hitters all the time any more. Thankfully, #4 starter Joe Blanton has been pitching like an ace, and #5 starter J.A. Happ looks like a keeper, but he hasn't pitched a full major-league season yet. The bullpen is ailing -- Brad Lidge hasn't returned to form, set-up man Ryan Madson had his confidence shaken filling in for Lidge, lefty reliever J.C. Romero hasn't returned to form after his suspension, Scott Eyre has spent time on the D.L., Clay Condrey, who excelled in long and middle relief last year, is on the D.L. and I heard yesterday that Chan Ho Park might be joining him. Jack Taschner has struggled. All of which, of course, makes MLB TV's reality show about the Phillies' bullpen compelling watching, but make sure that you have your programs handy, as well as your medical journals.

Still, for the Phillies, it's not even July 1, and the team usually waits until late summer to put itself into high gear and then blow past its opponents. Sometimes, though, that's hard to do, and it's hard to get into that gear when not a whole lot from your prior play tells you you're able to do so. Then again, expect Raul Ibanez to return soon, Jimmy Rollins to hit better than he's been hitting, the bullpen to get healthier and the team to add a top-of-the-rotation starter before July 31. Something tells me that guy will be the Indians' Cliff Lee, not that the team needs another lefty. It's just that Jake Peavy is on the D.L. and doesn't seem to want to pitch in a hitter's park, Chris Young also is on the D.L. and as a fly-ball pitcher probably wouldn't fare well in Citizens Bank Park, Roy Halladay is on the D.L., too expensive and probably unavailable, and Roy Oswalt might not be available (he's close to the Astros' owner, has a lot of $ left on his contract and has a no-trade; then again, the Astros have a bad farm system and might want to induce Oswalt to go so that they can get a few prospects to help fortify their system). Still, you have to believe that GM Ruben Amaro is working the phones.

I don't want to put too much emphasis on Jayson Werth's at-bat, only to say that when your team isn't faring well, it does things like that.

Joe DiMaggio Struck Out Only 369 Times in His Career

Which makes this article by ESPN's Tim Kurkjian compelling reading. Strikeouts are up significantly in the majors, and the numbers are staggering. DiMaggio's career numbers are astounding -- some players will take 1 1/2 seasons to strike out 369 times. True, the stat heads have figured out that on-base percentage and slugging percentage combined might mean more to a team than having a good contact hitter, but to what extent? And, yes, it's better to have someone who runs more like an arthritic steer fan with men on base than hit into a double play. But how healthy can it be to miss the ball as often as some players are doing? I still believe that if you have too many guys on your team who whiff more than 100 times a season, you won't score enough runs to contend.

Alternatively, I'm waiting for commentators to inform me that players like DiMaggio and Ted Williams were statistical outliers whose stats aren't likely to be replicated for a long time, and that we all should appreciate Adam Dunn -- who plays defense about as well as Denise Richards sings "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" -- more.

Have at it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Faith Renewed

I've been involved in many extracurricular activities over the years, trying to find some balance in life given the demands of the working world. Most have enabled me to contribute something to a group and make it better. Recently I've borne witness to a few where adults have acted in a less than stellar fashion, either acting out, being dishonest and showing poor character or tolerating those who do. I don't know whether such conduct has been a sign of the times, but as I shop for a new extracurricular, I have found great comfort in an activity in which my daughter recently participated.

She played on a tournament softball team, which differs from a travel team in that the roster gets chosen in the midst of a recreational league season and the team plays in a limited number of games before June 30. In contrast, travel teams get selected in late August and stay together for almost an entire year; the commitment is much greater -- for the child and the family.

I have posted in these ranks about my disappointment in certain rec league coaches, who act as though they're Tony LaRussa and seek every edge instead of Tony your neighbor who cooks a mean steak on a gas grill. That said, everything about this tournament team went well -- the coaches tried to teach as much as they could, they were a good mixture of seriousness and enthusiasm, and they stressed excellence, teamwork and harmony. Atop that, the girls were a great group -- earnest, hard working and supportive of one another. Even better, the parents were a good and supportive group, worrying more about the greater good of the team than the statistics of their children.

It was a successful season, even if the team lost many more games than it won and even if it didn't fare well in its tournaments. The team was together for only six weeks, but girls got better, girls learned new skills and made new friends.

The last time I checked, that's what this type of activity is supposed to be about.

The wins on the field will come.

But if you ask the parents, the entire season -- amidst terrible weather in the mid-atlantic region -- was terrific.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Nails is Getting Hammered

Read this article from the Philadelphia Daily News about the free fall of one-time Phillies centerfielder Lenny "Nails" Dykstra. It's sad enough to read about someone's demise, but worse when it appears that the person in question just doesn't get it. Lenny Dykstra's purported empire has crumbled, but he seems beyond denial.

And it appears that he's left a whole host of problems and people in his wake.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

You Don't Always Win Being Right All The Time

I don't know where I learned the proverb that is the title of this post, but I sometimes finding myself saying this to colleagues at work. It's along the lines of "pick your spots", "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em" and "you might win this battle but lose the war." The linked article is a recent column by Rick Reilly of ESPN the Magazine about a college softball coach whose team won a game because of a rule that she invoked. You should read the article and determine for yourself whether the coach was right (Reilly doesn't) or whether what the coach did is what's wrong with kids' sports.

Reilly's article, though, underscores a theme that has bugged me while watching my kids' baseball and softball games this spring -- coaches behaving badly. Mind you, I'm not indicting these people -- most of whom are solid members of their community -- I'm commenting on a troubling phenomenon that will teach our kids the wrong things. Here are a few examples:

1. In one game, the coaches are umpiring because it's a makeup game and no umpires are scheduled. The coaches are each calling balls and strikes for their own pitchers. One coach is aggressive, barking sharply at the opposing players that the balls he's calling are close and that the kids should be swinging. That conduct was troubling enough. His team was leading, but the other team was rallying and drew within one run with men on base. Then, there's a close play at second base. That coach's player is obstructing the baserunner's ability to get back to second base. The opposing player stumbled headfirst back to second and was safe. So what does the coach do -- in a demonstrative, almost theatrical, way, calls the baserunner out because the league has a rule that forbids head-first slides. Forget about the obstruction, forget about the fact that the season was young -- this (at least at the time) Tony LaRussa wannabe needed to win the game. Needless to say, the other teams' kids were crushed, their rally ruined because of a technicality. A high-school coach watching the action (and whose son was on the team that benefitted from the call told me) that the call was wrong, and most of the parents left scratching their heads wondering why the coach had to act the way he did.

2. In another game, the scorekeeper for one team that is in the lead, up four runs, announces with two outs in the last inning and the bases loaded that the trailing team was on its tenth batter. The rules allow for a maximum of ten batters in one inning. The trailing team's coaches shout from the other side of the field, "no, it's only the ninth batter." The scorekeeper for the leading team persists -- he had his facts straight. He walks toward home plate and politely says, "No, I can show you, it's the tenth batter." The opposing coaches continue to shout, "Ninth batter." The scorekeeper then walks all the way toward the opposing dugout, facts ready, to prove that it was the tenth batter. Only when he gets right near the dugout the other coaches relent and say, "You're right, it's the tenth batter." Needless to say, the coaches insisting upon "ninth batter" were trying to get as many batters up there to try to win -- and by breaking the rules.

3. In the same game as game #2, the tenth batter is up with the bases loaded. He hits a line drive down the first-base line that is foul by two feet. The trailing team's first-base coach shouts "fair ball" before the umps can say anything, and he has his players scurry around the bases. The leading team gets the ball into the infield, but after three runs have scored, the batter ending up on third. They wanted to count the runs, even though the ball was clearly foul. And, if they had gotten the batter home, they would have claimed a tie game. Again, what lessons are being taught by this conduct?

4. Games have time limits of about 1:40 (read: you cannot start a new inning after you hit that mark), and there have been several instances of coaches whose teams were in the lead trying to convince the umpires not to start another inning before the 1:40 mark has been reached (you can play past 1:40 if you start the last inning before 1:40). Sometimes their lobbying has prevailed, thereby depriving the other team of a rightful shot to win the game.

5. An opposing coach was heard yelling (in a bench-jockeying fashion) to the other team's 10 year-old pitcher who was struggling, "How do you feel about that?" after the pitcher had yielded a three-run triple.

6. A group of coaches insists upon pitching only their own kids. Another parent has been a coach in many leagues and at the high-school level. He volunteers to work with the team's pitchers, because he sees that their techniques are flawed. The coaches say "we have it under control", and the team finishes in last place, their pitching horrendous. All I'll say about this one is that if I were a coach and a dad or mom showed up with expertise that I didn't have and offered to help, I'd take them up on it in a second.

I had the occasion to talk to other parents about their kids' collective experiences, and I spoke to one woman whose son is an eighth-grader and who has umpired in these games. Her son has gotten heckled by parents while umpiring a game for seven and eight year-olds, most of whom don't know the strike zone, how to charge a ball and what base to throw to. Even in those leagues, where instruction is supposed to be emphasized, the umpires get grief and sometimes played by parents who purportedly know the rules better than they do. And all I can ask is -- for what purpose?

Why? Because these are kids' games that should be fun and shouldn't be decided because of over-aggressive behavior of some fathers who perhaps don't have as much balance in their lives as they should. Look, I'll be the first one to agree that all of us can have bad days and make mistakes, and some of the behavior I've seen and heard of has come from guys whose kids are friendly with mine and who have coached my kids. But most of it hasn't, and, collectively, the behaviors form a disturbing trend -- of winning at all costs, of winning dishonestly, and of winning in an undignified fashion. Those aren't the lessons we want to be teaching our kids.

What motivates the pattern of behavior is beyond me. Sure, some kids will play in high school and some might earn admission to colleges because of their ability, with even fewer earning scholarships or playing, and with only the once in a generation kid from these parts making the Majors, and, if then, for more than a cup of coffee. Yet, you would think that some parents believe that through being more overbearing than they realize they will develop the next Chase Utley. But the last time I checked, only San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic seemed to develop boatloads of kids at once for the Majors. One can dream, I suppose, instead of teaching the fun and rewards of clean and fair competition, the need for exercise, and the good things that can come out of activities like this -- instead of simply winning.

A friend went to high school with a guy who became an All-Star. This friend grew up in the Midwest, and the future All-Star was an also-ran as a kid. He was the smallest, not the most gifted, but he was among the most determined and worked harder than anyone else. His high school career was just okay, and the kid walked on at a junior college, where his work ethic and determination paid dividends. After two years there, he went to a Pac-10 school (I believe as not even one of their elite prospects) and again, through hard work and determination, stood out. He ended up playing for about 13 years in the majors, starring for two very good teams. Of course, the guy had talent, but he worked harder and wanted it more than almost everyone else. He made it for many reasons, but not because his father invoked a technical rule early in the season to kill a rally, heckled an opposing pitcher or tried to play games with the lineup card.

Perhaps all coaches of kids' sports and all sports parents should take a step back and remember that. Yes, you do play to win, but fairly and squarely, stressing competition, preparation, smart play, hustle, teamwork and comraderie along the way.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Phillies' Farm System is the Best It's Been in Years

Click here for a story about a Rice-educated pitcher who is 8-1 at AA (despite not having blazing stuff or having totally mastered his pitches).

Click here for a story about a more intriguing prospect, the very large and strong outfielder, Michael Taylor, a Stanford alum who doesn't strike out much and is in the top 10 in most categories in the Eastern League.

While Savery projects as a back-end-of-the-rotation guy, it's harder to tell about Taylor except that the numbers don't lie. What I mean by that is that I've read that the only two untouchables in the Phillies' organization are OF Dominic Brown and P Kyle Drabek. That said, it's hard to believe that the Phillies will dangle Taylor unless they get someone significant in return. And with Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Roy Halladay (the latter of whom would appear to be untouchable) on the DL and big bucks owed to Roy Oswalt, it's hard to see who that someone might be.

Read the very good articles from the Philadelphia Daily News and see if you agree with me about Taylor. Still having vivid memories of the Ivan DeJesus trade (which gave both the aging Larry Bowa and the unproven Ryne Sandberg to the Cubs), I shudder to think that you'd trade Taylor for the Pirates' Ross Ohlendorf, only to see the latter have a Dick Ruthven/Tyler Green type of career while the former goes on to put up Hall of Fame numbers. Then again, picture a lineup with Rollins, Utley, Ibanez, Howard and Taylor in it, and smile, at least at the prospects for that group.

FBI Answers Question Regarding Jimmy Hoffa

You all know the "coffin corner" jokes by now, that the remains of one-time Teamsters Union head Jimmy Hoffa were buried in the end zone of Giants Stadium. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought that with the imminent teardown of the stadium, would the FBI search for the remains of the former union leader.

The answer is no.

Read the whole thing, but the gist of it is that the FBI doesn't think that there's much to the tale. So much so that if they did think that there was something to it, they would have done some excavation work a while back.

Still, on the off chance that an FBI agent and Giants fan has the day off on the day that the end zone in question is torn up, might he show up, just in case, just out of curiosity?

Then again, if the FBI doesn't, what makes you think that the New York Post and New York Daily News won't?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Princeton's Austerity Measures: A Different View

This one is too good to resist, even if I risk violating one of the many eleventh commandments: "thou shall not be critical of a fellow Princetonian to others not in the Princeton family." That said, I have the utmost respect for the university's administration. Still, the university president's article about the university's austerity measures got me to thinking.

My wife drew my attention to the article by asking me if I had seen it. I confessed that I seldom read it (the class notes are usually the first draw, and sometimes the letters to the editor, which are a lot more tame now that you don't have crotchety old men writing about how the university was better before coeducation). I asked what was up, and she said, "well, it's kind of like save your can tabs." (She did not say Cantabs, by the way.).

The article is an expository essay on the measure the university has taken to save money. Raises for all but the lowest paid employees were eliminated ("reluctantly"), spending from the endowment was reduced, and each department was asked to reduce its budget by 7.5% over the next two years. The university also put all construction and renovation projects on hold. All sensible and understandable.

The president then went on to write about how her office received over 350 suggestions for cost savings, including many from alumni (I did not send an e-mail, but this post will suffice). Among the suggestions were cancelling the staff picnic, re-evaluating the policy of unlimited printing, sending faculty minutes electronically and setting up reunion tents so as to make them reusable. All well-intentioned, all creative, all from people who really care about the community.

And here are a few more:

1. Save your "boxtops for education" and give them to Princeton University. I don't know what percentage of your cereal purchases can be directed to Princeton, but you might as well make your contribution. So, when you think fiber, think Princeton.

2. Have the university sign up for a scrip program. Basically, the university can enroll, and it will earn 3% off all your purchases. So, for example, if you enroll and spend say $5,000 a year on food at your Super Stop 'n Shop, they'll send $150 to Princeton. Multiply this by say 5,000 alums, and you're talking real dough. Many institutions have programs like these. Why not the alma mater?

3. Auction off 5 seats in every freshman class. Let's face it, the Ivies would love to get the children of the wealthiest in the world (and it helps if they really can do the work). Now, each Ivy admits some of these very wealthy kids (and they can do the work) anyway, and I presume that they pay the normal freight (say $50,000 per year). Of course, the Ivies hope that the parents will donate big sums to worthy projects, and many do. But here's the thing -- they'd probably pay more for the admission, kind of like a seat license for their tickets to Giants games. So, get some hedge fund managers, Russian oligarchs (okay, so while they're holdings decreased in value, they're still worth more than most people on the planet), Saudi sheikhs, Silicon Valley venture capitalists, James Bond movie villains, banana republic dictators and the like and start the bidding. Of course, it would be discreet, with airtight security so as not to embarrass the kids. You have to figure that if courtside seats to Game 2 of the Lakers-Magic at the Staples Center went for about $50,000 per, the golden ticket to Princeton would go for $5 to $10 million easily. Getting between $25 and $50 million from the jump for a freshman class would help the university's cash flow immeasurably.

4. Put New York Times columnist, Nobel Laureate and economics professor Paul Krugman in a dunk tank. You'd figure that there are plenty of alums who've made the big bucks who find Krugman's unapologetic liberalism offensive enough to want to buy three chances at say $50,000. While Wall Street might have had a crash, it's still there, and there are enough money managers who'd pay for the opportunity to hit the target and dunk Krugman. You'd figure that you could get perhaps 500 alums to pay for this privilege and raise a cool $2.5 million annually (which is perhaps more than you'd raise if you tried to auction off a few lunches with the famous professor). Likewise, if you did the same with controversial ethicist Peter Singer, you'd probably be able to raise over $1 million. Forget the ability to name prizes, create awards and the like -- the carnival atmosphere is the ticket.

5. Create a major in poker and invest in a syndicate of poker playing undergraduates. Give them course credit for their exercises in probability and higher mathematics, and harvest a portion of their winnings. Figuring that you can give them disguises and send them to populate games with retirees on public pensions, you could raise another $5 or so million a year. Look, some of your undergrads make big bucks on on-line gaming anyway, so you might as well admit it and cash in. As one of my advisors once said, "they made sociology a major, and they got angry with me when I called it the science of envy." And he was pivotal in the Johnson administration.

Okay, so you get the point, times are tough everywhere, even in the Ivies, where the grounds are pristine, the buildings are well cared for, the undergrads are impressive, and the offerings are vast. It's good that all institutions are being careful with their dollars, and it's not fun when you don't get a pay raise. Everyone gets all that.

Still, if they tried some of these measures. . .

Observations: Little League, Princeton Lacrosse, NBA Officiating, OTA's and More

1. From the Little League (my post with the parade of horribles from this year's league will follow within the week): A friend of mine's son (he's 10) plays on a Little League team in our community. His team trails, 2-1, in the bottom of the last inning, men on second and third, two outs. The umpires are teenagers with little training or mentoring. The home plate ump was so challenged during the game that he switched positions with the base ump, and the opposing coach senses the weakness of the umpiring crew. He manifests this bit of intelligence by shouting out a call every time there's a play on the bases. And he does so before the umpire can make the call, so, intimidated by this coach, the umpire makes the same call that the coach (who is coaching on the bases does). So what happens?

Batter hits a grounder to shortstop, who throws to first. The first baseman drops the ball. Two runs score.

Game over, right? My friend's son's team wins, right?

Wrong. As the dust is settling, the opposing coach yells loudly, "He's out." Everyone looks at the base umpire, who, unbelievably, signals that the batter was out.

Game over, the final score is 2-1, and my friend's son's team wins. The losing team feels cheated -- rightly so -- and has many kids on the bench in tears. Why? Because they were robbed -- by an adult in a position of responsibility no less.

My friend went up to the coach after the game and politely told him that she thought what he did was wrong. She then sees a league supervisor and tells him what happened. The "victorious" coach happens to walk by. He says to my friend: "Losing sucks, doesn't it?"

My friend replied by saying that, no, that conduct like his was what was wrong with the league. To which he responded: "You're just being a sore loser."

This actually happened.

Footnote: The two teams played again a couple of days ago. This time the score was 15-2 -- my friend's son's team won. My friend is magnanimous not to have said to the coach who acted like a loser: "payback's a bitch." But it would have been interesting to see that happen. Hard to believe, but stuff like this goes on (more than you think).

2. Princeton men's lacrosse coach Bill Tierney is headed to the University of Denver after 22 years in Tigertown and 6 national titles. Tierney is a lacrosse legend and is moving out west to accomplish three things: 1) be closer to most of his family (who are west of Denver), 2) to work with his son Trevor (who, it appears, will be an assistant coach) and 3) to spread the lacrosse gospel out west. Click here to read Princeton's press release about Coach Tierney's departure. It will be interesting to see whether the Tigers promote 20-year assistant Dave Metzbower (and whether Metzbower is interested in the job) or whether they'll conduct a national search to find Tierney's successor.

3. I heard a good discussion of the NBA's officiating on "Mike and Mike in the Morning" last week. A listener e-mailed a good point: A-Rod doesn't get a special strike zone, and the end zone isn't widened for Peyton Manning, but why don't they call traveling on Kobe or why do they call more fouls on the people guarding him than they do on him? It's a good point and one that David Stern and the NBA leaders have failed (miserably) to address over time. That the officiating comes into play so often suggests (perhaps at times unfairly) that the league is more about entertainment than it is about the quality of play. I think that we're all onto something wanting the league to enforce the rules equally on everyone. Were that to happen, the quality of play would increase (and, correspondingly so would the entertainment value, even if at first blush the owners might shudder and Kobe drawing 3 traveling calls a game).

4. What's with the NFL and "OTA's"? Isn't that a bit silly? Whatever happened to the term mini-camp? Why all of a sudden are they calling these things "organized team activities" and abbreviating them by calling them "OTA's"? Get over yourselves, NFL, and find a word that captures what you're trying to accomplish. And the "O" is particularly ridiculous? Why do you need to use the word "organized?" Is that to distinguish these activities from the disorganized team activities that the use of the word "organized" implies you must also have?

5. The Phillies placed closer Brad Lidge on the disabled list today. Lidge, the team's MVP last season (according to the Philadelphia-area writers), has blown 6 saves this season and there was concern about his right knee. Presumably, set-up man Ryan Madson will step into the closer's role. This is a good move for the Phillies, who need to get Lidge healthy and straightened out. They have a deep bullpen, and with J.C. Romero back they have the option of a second substitute closer.

6. AC Milan agreed to send star striker Kaka to Real Madrid for the largest transfer fee in the history of soccer -- Euro 92 million. Kaka promptly signed a 6-year deal with Real Madrid. And I thought that the economy in Europe was worse than it is in the United States. Kaka is one of the best players in the world, and Real Madrid is one of the best teams. This transfer has to leave fans of English Premiership also-ran Manchester City baffled -- their team had been rumored to have been in the hunt for all sorts of international stars, from Kaka to Barcelona's Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o. Will Man City land anyone of note?

More later.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Smartest Guy in the Major Leagues

so says ESPN.com's Tim Kurkjian, is Pittsburgh's Ross Ohlendorf, who majored in a combination of math, science and economics and wrote his senior thesis on baseball's amateur draft.

It also helps that he can throw a 95 mph sinker and is one of the most competitive guys on the planet.

He's also well-liked in the clubhouse.

He's not jumping over buildings in a single bound.

At least not yet.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Why the Phillies Won't Trade for the Padres' Chris Young

Yes, he has a great story. Played basketball at Princeton, turned down a contract with the Sacramento Kings (or at least used the Kings' offer as leverage to get a good multi-year deal in the majors), has pitched well for the Padres after being in several other organizations (Expos, Pirates, Rangers) and can hit too (going into last night's game was hitting .300). But, no, Princeton residents, Princetonians who live in the Philadelphia area and Princetonians generally, I doubt that the Phillies will trade for Chris Young.

Yes, he's a righty, yes, he's still relatively young, yes, he hides the ball well.

On the other hand, he's injury prone, he has run out of gas late in the season (when the Phillies are just getting into gear), and, worst of all, he's a fly-ball pitcher who benefits mightily from the spacious, the-ball-has-little-carry confines of Petco Park, the best pitcher's park in the majors (last time I checked, Citizens Bank Park was the eighth best hitter's park in the majors). Baseball Prospectus is a primary source of my being a doubting Thomas (actually, he was three GMs before current GM Ruben Amaro), as they wax skeptical about the translation of Young's success into other parks (and that would have to worry most front offices). As a result, unless the pickings for the Phillies are so slim (it's doubtful they'll get Roy Halladay, Jake Peavy or Roy Oswalt, that they'd really want Erik Bedard or would dally by picking up former Phillies Vicente Padilla on waivers) or the price tag for young is so cheap (read: they won't have to give up any of the following prospects: Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, Kyle Drabek, Joe Savery, Michael Taylor, Antonio Bastardo or Dominic Brown), they won't be pursuing Young. It's a bit too risky. (On the other hand, the Mets might be interested because the only parks that are more forbidding are named Yellowstone and Yosemite).

On the other hand, if he had Derek Lowe's sinker, they'd be rushing to get him, but throwing fly balls in CBP is not a recipe for success for a team that will contend and perhaps go deep into the playoffs. I'm sure that Ruben Amaro and the Phillies' scouts are digging deep and looking at every other team's starting pitching staff, and while I like Young, I'm not so sure he'd be a good fit in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Bob Dukiet Dies at 61

Click here for his obituary in the Newark Star Ledger.

Bob Dukiet played for Bob Cousy at Boston College, was an assistant coach for Pete Carril at Princeton, was probably the most successful head coach in St. Peter's history, didn't fare so well at Marquette, then enjoyed success at Division II Gannon (in Erie, Pennsylvania). After his coaching days were done, he became a lounge singer in Florida.

Coach Dukiet coached some of my friends on the Princeton JV basketball team, and they enjoyed his coaching and sense of humor very much. In those days, coaches had to teach phys ed classes as part of Princeton's phys ed requirement, so Coach Dukiet taught a tennis class I took (believe it or not, I recall Pete Carril either teaching a squash or tennis class that I took). He was a nice, funny guy, a good coach and a good recruiter.

Friends visited with him in Florida several years ago and kept in touch, and I blogged about his being a lounge singer. In all my years writing this blog, Bob Dukiet has been the only subject of a post to e-mail me, and he told me he enjoyed what I wrote very much. That said a lot about him -- he had the good, common touch.

As the article points out, he did many things that he loved, and it's just a shame that he died so young at 61.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Talmud and Watching Girls' Softball

There's a proverb that goes something like this: "he who uses the world becomes it's slave; he who holds it back is his master."

So, I attended my daughter's playoff game tonight and stood far on the outfield sidelines with a friend whose daughter is on the team. The game was getting out of reach (with my daughter's team on the losing end), and the umpire was having a bad night. Physically, he resembled Sam Drucker, the proprietor of the general store in both "Petticoat Junction" and "Green Acres", but he moved with all the speed of "Uncle Joe" of the former show, about whom it was sung in the theme song, "And there is Uncle Joe, he's a movin' kind of slow at the junction."

Why that's relevant is because he didn't bend too much and had a strike zone the size of the average portable refrigerator, starting at the ground and moving up to a player's waist. Saying that he called the low strike is an exaggeration. He called strikes that would have been balls for groundhogs had an ump with a more reasonable strike zone been behind the plate.

Anyway, I held a penny between my fingers, as sometimes is my wont (reminding me to keep my thoughts to myself at times like these). My daughter came up, and the first pitch bounced either before the plate or on it and the umpire called it a strike. That called outstripped the boundaries of my incredulity, so from my far perch I bellowed, "C'mon blue, that ball bounced." My friend jokingly moved away from me (in an unfortunate incident not of his making last season, he ended up being suspended for a game by the league). (I should add that one of my daughter's coaches had been jawing with the ump most of the night about his strike zone and his calling of foul and fair balls). So what happened next?

The next pitch was worse. Not only did it bounce, but it was outside. The call?

"Strike two."

At that point I figured that either the ump had to get home for his Lawrence Welk re-runs on TVLand or he just wanted to get home. The fans gasped at the call, and my friend and I joked with each other that the ump was showing my daughter's team who was boss by compounding his first bad call with a second. On the next pitch, my daughter smacked a hard grounder, but the first baseman made a good play to get her out.

After the at-bat, my daughter, who has a good sense of humor, came out of the dugout and toward me, laughing.

"Dad," she said, "I heard you in the batter's box. You were right, the ball bounced on the plate, and the next one was outside."

"That may be," I replied, "but I cost you a strike."

"That's okay, dad," she said with a smile.

I suppose you had to be there, but the whole thing was pretty funny, as the strike zone was one of the most bizarre I had seen. And, yes, my daughter's team lost, but I'm reminding myself to keep that penny firmly in my hands and not say a word during my son's playoff game tomorrow night (where, as I will note in a future post after the season ends, there have been many examples of coaches behaving poorly).

So, back to the Talmud.

You don't get in trouble for what you don't say -- at least much of the time -- do you?

Booing in Philadelphia

I don't boo much at Citizens Bank Park, because my general belief is that the manager and players are trying to do their best. I didn't boo Barry Bonds during his steroids-induced batting binges, and I didn't boo the Tampa Bay Rays either. (At times I would have booed the ownership, but they have made amends, haven't they?).

The fans boo the Marlins' Wes Helms because he was a Phillie, which is odd because Helms is a likable guy. I suppose they boo because he disappointed during his tenure in Philadelphia (heck, they booed Rod Barajas when he was a Phillie, and he's redeemed himself with some decent seasons in Toronto and actual got my 25 All-Star votes this year). They boo Scott Rolen because he turned down a lucrative long-term deal with the Phillies (who ended up trading him for a pitching machine, a bag of baseballs and some AAAA (that's not a typo) prospects, but Rolen was right in his frustration with Veterans Stadium (which wore his body down) and the Phillies' front office (which had to have worn his psyche out).

Yes, booing is legion. And I confess that there are two and only two people I boo at Citizens Bank Park. The first is J.D. Drew, the well-traveled outfielder (whom Tony LaRussa openly disliked in Buzz Bissinger's good book Three Nights in August) because Drew (with Scott Boras as his agent -- and I suppose I would boo Boras if he were to show up at CBP) told the Phillies he wasn't interested in signing with them and opted for the independent Northern League before re-entering the draft next year. I mean, yes, Drew did tell the Phillies before the draft that they shouldn't have taken him (and Phillies' fans were rightfully frustrated with the front office for calling what turned out not to be a bluff), but Drew dissed the city -- he didn't want to come here. For that he deserves a loud, lusty boo.

The corollary problem, though, is that Phillies' fans don't limit their J.D.-derived derision to J.D. They actually boo his brother Stephen, the shortstop for the Diamondbacks, when his team plays in Philadelphia. I don't boo Stephen drew, even if at times I took some amusement from this form of creativity from the Phillies' faithful.

I also boo umpire Joe West. Apparently years ago he once body-slammed a Phillies' player, and, well, outside the great ball-strike calls of Dutch Rennert, I haven't appreciated umpires with a swagger. West has a swagger, and I believe over the years has drawn unnecessary attention to himself despite practicing a profession where the fans know you've done a good job precisely because you've done nothing to get you notice. So, because of his histrionics and one-time disrespect of the hometown nine, yes, I boo Joe West. Otherwise, the men in blue (they actually wear black) get a pass from me, but I confess that there are times when I do yell "C'mon blue" when I believe the home plate ump has missed a call. Then I remind myself that so long as he's missing calls for the other team in equal proportion, that's all I can ask.

This from a city where legend has it they once booed Santa Claus, but truth be told (or so the explanation has it), Santa appeared at an Eagles' game in the early 1970's drunk and disheveled, so the fans weren't actually booing Santa Claus, they were booing the young man who pretended to be Santa for disrespecting the institution. Yes, this from a city where the now-Governor of Pennsylvania participated in a snowball fight at the Vet where fans ended up pelting the Cowboys with snowballs.

I haven't attended many Eagles' or Flyers' games, and, of course, as a diehard 76ers' fan, one must boo the Boston Celtics because, well, we've booed the Celtics, despite some superlative artistry, for over half a century. Traditions like that, of course, must continue.

Still, like most fans, we love winning more than we hate losing. Prime evidence of that fact (it's not a contention) is the parade that followed the Phillies' World Series victory. As Charlie Manuel put it, the team didn't know how much they meant to the city until they participated in the parade, and it's something they'll never forget.

Cheering, after all, is a lot more fun that booing.

Observations from the Past Week

I've tried this before, so here goes:

1. I've been gathering vignettes about Little League coaches behaving overaggressively. At some point in mid-June I'll share with you stories about wanna be Tony LaRussas and Earl Weavers who only achieve showing their own players examples of poor sportsmanship and the other team as to how unfair adults can be at times. If you have any you'd like to include, e-mail me at sportsprof@comcast.net.

2. Did you notice on Sports Center that on the morning after the first Stanley Cup final playoff game both the Magic's ousting Cleveland and some baseball stories preceded the coverage of that game? If the NHL isn't sweating season-ticket renewals, it ought to be.

3. Did you see the box score and story about the NCAA playoff game between Boston College and Texas, which Texas won in 25 innings? And how about the Longhorns' Austin Wood, who entered the game in the seventh and didn't allow a hit until the 19th? That's pretty awesome under any circumstances and worthy of a big shout out.

4. I'm always interested in choices of words, and some of the Philadelphia-area media referred to Jamie Moyer's 250th victory as "historic." Well, I suppose it's a round number, but the Philadelphia-area papers listed those ahead of Moyer on the all-time wins list, and many (including Tommy John, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris) aren't in the Hall of Fame. My view is that all three of those guys deserve the Hall more than Moyer, who, while a great guy and accomplished pitcher, isn't in their league. I also think that Mike Mussina, winner of 270 games, deserves a spot in the Hall, as does Curt Schilling, who won about 215 or so games but was the biggest money pitcher of his era (with an honorable mention to Randy Johnson).

5. The Phillies need another starting pitcher now that Brett Myers is done for the year (or just about). And what unfortunate timing for Myers -- this was his contract year, so instead of having a good year and then getting a multi-year deal at more than $10 million a season, he's faced with inking a 1-year deal to show he still can pitch (at least that's the way I read the tea leaves). Myers' injury means that the cost of acquiring another starter went up for the Phillies, who have much more of a pronounced need now that Chan Ho Park has failed and Myers is out. It will be interesting to see what GM Ruben Amaro can come up with -- the fans would love to see Jake Peavy or Roy Oswalt, but their asking prices will be high (and both have no-trade clauses in their contracts).

6. The 76ers' selection of Eddie Jordan to be their head coach is a great one. Jordan is a good coach, but he'll be inheriting a limited team with a deficiency at guard and a center with a low-basketball IQ in Samuel Dalembert. And, while I won't be among Dalembert's defenders, 76ers' fans should be careful not to pin all of their disappointment on him. If the team doesn't re-sign Andre Miller and doesn't sign acquire a good PG to replace him, you'll have combo guards Willie Green and Lou Williams running the show. Both are reserve guards, and GM Ed Stefanski needs to upgrade the guard position.

7. The women's softball action on ESPN has, at times, been compelling viewing. It's a very strategic game given the power of the pitchers, but it's worth watching if you get the chance.

8. Phillies' skipper Charlie Manuel told the media that he's lost weight because he's been on NutriSystem, so I think that he should have a bet with Eagles' mentor Andy Reid (who also has gone on diets and, I believe, used NutriSystem) about who can lose more weight. The bet here is that both men could get legions of fans to make a dollar per pound pledge to a worthy charity if they opted to go on a "biggest loser" type of challenge. They could even call it, "Which Big Winner Can be the Bigger Loser?" or something like that.

Well, that's all for now. The weather has been great in the mid-Atlantic region, so get out there, ride a bike, go for a long walk or hike, or even a run.

Have a great day!