Monday, July 31, 2006

Deja Vu Phillies-Style: Trade Abreu

abreu farewell
Bye-bye Bobby Baseball; Phils subtract by subtracting

It must have been quite a sight to behold...perhaps something right out of the old west! Brian Cashman decked out in a Stetson cowboy hat, with a hankerchief over his face and a .45 pointed squarely at Pat Gillick's head. Pat Gillick quivering in fear, unable to reach his gun and offering Cashman, oh, just one of the best all-round players in the game today to spare him his silly life. And for good measure a mediocre right-handed pitcher who decided to become effective a week before the July 31 trade deadline. Phillies fans are lucky Cashman didn't gallop out of Philly with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley as well.

Well, it isn't the old west. In fact, it's real-life, present-day and it wreaks like deja vu all over again, the way only the Philadelphia Phillies can bring it to you. The Phillies trade a marquee player, coveted by basically every team in the league and get NOTHING in return. And this marquee player happened to be signed through next season. So it wasn't exactly like the Schilling and Rolen situations--the most recents scenarios in which the Phillies played Santa Claus in July and gave another team a marquee player. This trade feels particularly like the Schilling trade. Don't you get the distinct feeling that in five years Abreu will have won two or three World Series while the Phillies will still be spewing platitudes about "rebuilding"?

The core problem is Phillies management--ownership, GM and (this & last year) Manager--not the players, as is commonly believed. By and large, Phillies players deliver. One problem is, particularly this season, they have only one legitimate starting pitcher. How can a professional General Manager, in good conscience, allow a major league starting rotation to have only one legit Major League starter? It's incomprehensible. How many times this year have the Phils scored 6, 7 or 8 runs in a game and lost? If you throw just one more quality arm into the Phillies rotation, they would be leading the Wild Card race.

The next glaring problem is a winning attitude. The Phillies don't have it and that fault falls mostly on Manuel. He's not a great baseball mind, he's not a great motivator...frankly, he's not good at anything. He's proven that consistently.

If the Phils are bent on blowing up this season, then they should get rid of the actual problems: Bell & Lidle--which they did--Lieber, Nunez, Rhodes, Fultz and they should trade Rowand. Not because he's a problem, but because he has some decent value and he's wildly over-rated due to one spectacular catch. And deal Delucci, who also has some decent trade value.

"Baseball" people are saying that trading Abreu will free up the Phillies of $15.5 million next season. But, what about the gaping whole in the Phils' offense, particulary considering that they have only one starting pitcher? Look at Abreu's stats! Seems to me like the guaranteed 100+ RBI, 100+ Runs, 100+ Walks, 30+ Steals are WORTH the $15.5 million. Not worth the money: Lieber's $7.5 mil, Rhodes' $3.7, Lidle's $3.3, Bell's $4.7, Franklin's $2.6, Fultz's $1.2. Total bill: $23 million. Seems obvious.

Sadly, we knew that earmarked $23 million was a waste of money at the beginning of the season. The glaring question is: why didn't Pat Gillick know that was a colossal waste?

Were they smart, the Phillies could learn a lesson from the team that just robbed them blind. As hateable as the Yankees are, living in New York, I see it year after year. There's an expectation of winning and the front office does whatever it takes to put the team in the best position to succeed. Hence the Abreu acquisition. There's no reason the Phils can't do the same. They're in the 4th largest market, so crying Milwaukee Brewers is not an option.

Bottom line: the Phillies continue to alienate their fans by trading away top of the line talent for nothing. One can only wonder how long till they no longer have any fans left to alienate.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Time To End The Charlie Manuel Experiment

Don't let the door hit you on the way out of Philly, Charlie

After the Phillies embarrassing three game sweep at the hands of the division-leading Mets, the Phillies are 33-33, a .500 team, some 9 1/2 games out of first. After 66 games in the 2004 season the Phillies, at 35-31, weren't much better.

I distinctly remember thinking that was the precise time to fire Larry Bowa and bring in a new direction/philosophy to help revitalize the team and salvage the season. Of course, the Phillies, guided by former GM Ed Wade missed that opportunity and ended up firing Bowa two days before the season ended while the Phillies won 11 of their last 14 games for close but no post-season 2nd place finish. The 2006 Phillies are at a very similar fork in the road and fans can only hope that today's GM can recognize what yesterday's GM could not. It's time for Pat Gillick to fire Charlie Manuel and end this mindless experiment with "Manuel-ball"--futile, painfully mediocre baseball.

Burrel; Inexplicably missing from the lineup in game 2

Here are the most compelling and recent reasons Manuel should be terminated: Prior to the sweep Manuel said that a bad series against the Mets "wouldn't kill" the team. How can a guy with as much baseball experience be so ignorant. That series was effectively the season and Manuel not only didn't have the vision to recognize the gravity of the series, but didn't have the Phillies prepared for the series on any level. Game two of the series saw Manuel bench Pat Burrel--after they'd already lost on Tuesday! Why is a player that has 33 career homeruns against the Mets (who hit two more in Thursday's 5-4 loss, to make it 35) and is one of the team's top all-around power threats NOT in the lineup in a crucial game of the most crucial series so far this year?

The Phillies' defense and pitching is despicable and that is a direct result of poor managing/preparation. And, of course, Manuel's continued use of David Bell, who committed two errors in the two games that he played in this series.

If Charlie Manuel isn't fired, then clearly Pat Gillick is asleep at the wheel while this runaway train of a season careens out of control toward disaster. Anything less than Manuel getting the axe is UNACCEPTABLE. The time is NOW if the Phillies have any desire to play post-season baseball.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pitching Problems

Demote him!

The Phillies have serious pitching concerns that need to be addressed sooner rather than later if they have any instinct to make the post-season. First, they need to demote Gavin Floyd to the minor leagues. Amazingly, Floyd is somehow 4-3, but every other stat is laughable. His ERA is a bloated 7.29( and it's JUNE!), he's only got two more strikeouts (34) than walks (32), and he's given up 14 homeruns in 54.1 innings pitched. Newsflash for Charlie Manuel and Pat Gillick: these aren't major league numbers! Do something about it, now.

If the Phillies are bent on having a minor leaguer fill that spot in the rotation, then I say bring up another minor leaguer and give him a shot. Floyd has had more than ample opportunity this year. At the very least, it's time to give someone else a fair shot.

The only reason that the Phillies are hovering just above .500 is because of Brett Myers. He hasn't surrendered more than three earned runs in any of his 11 starts so far this year and at times he's looked downright dominant. Lately, it seems like the Phils lose two or three in a row and then Myers' turn comes up and he stops the bleeding. Myers is becoming reminiscent of what Curt Schilling did for the miserable Phillies teams of the mid/late 90s. Entering Sunday's start against L.A., Myers has a 2.80 ERA and only a 4-2 record to show for it.

I wrote it in my 2006 season preview: pitching would utlimately decide the 2006 Phillies' fate. The pitching staff HAS to step up for the Phillies--or they need to be replaced. Clearly the hitting isn't the problem, although their hitting with runners in scoring position could improve somewhat. The time is now for the Phillies to shake things up with this uninspired pitching staff. Get some hungry minor leaguers up here and see if they can do something. As long as the Phils are going to give up these large quantities of runs--Lieber, 5.79 ERA; Lidle, 4.86 ERA; Madson, 6.04 ERA--they might as well let a few younger guys get some ML experience.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Rowand: Full tilt baseball

13 out the last 14! It's been quite a run, just the type of resurgence the Phillies desperately needed following the dismal and unforgivable start. Surprisingly, the pitching was the key factor in the sweep of Cincinnati over the weekend. That and, of course, Ryan Howard's timely heroics on Sunday.

However, there is always room for improvement. The Phillies need to start getting some run support for Brett Meyers who has been their only legit starter so far. Currently, he has the second WORST run support in the league. That has to change. The guy deserves a few wins if for no other reason than his sanity. Also, missing Rowand has the potential to hurt the Phils. He's been one of their most consistent offensive players so far.

Another issue is that of Abreu. Once again, he's the subject of trade rumors. The team chemistry is delicate and trading him now--even though he's not playing all that well--would not be wise. Abreu is a proven run producer and is consistently on base. His average may be sub-par right now, but he still leads the league in walks.

Right now, the Phils look good and they're headed for a big show-down next week with the Mets where they can take first a make a statement in New York. Let's hope it happens.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

This Team Sucks

I thought I was being reasonable when I predicted a couple of weeks ago that the Phillies would finish in 3rd place. I thought the Nationals and the Marlins would be bad enough that the Phillies would be able to muster enough victories to be a middle of the division team.

It appears as if I am going to be wrong. This team sucks. Unless something dramatically changes, they won't be able to finish in front of anybody.

Here are the current ERAs owned by the pitching staff: Brett Myers at 3.06 (good), Corey Lidle at 5.00 (bad), Gavin Floyd at 6.75 (worse), Jon Lieber at 7.99 (and he's our #1 starter), and Ryan Madson at 8.36 (my five year old daughter could do better). Their combined ERA is 6.24.

The bullpen? Save Rheal Cormier and Tom Gordon, it isn't much better.

Four of the Phillies eight starting position players are batting over .300. Rollins is just below that mark after a recent slump. Sounds good, right? They are batting .186 as a team with runners in scoring position. Way to come through when it counts, guys.

Of course, there's our manager, too. How many times will Shane Victorino replace Pat Burrell in the last third of the game? How stupid must Manuel be? Compare the numbers. Burrell is batting .250, Victorino .182. Burrell has 6 homeruns with 13 batted in, Victorino hasn't registered one of either yet. Burrell isn't that fast. So what? How many times are you looking to run in a tight game anyway? The Phillies have only 3 stolen bases as a team this year. Manuel's in-game decision making is horrible.

This team sucks.

It's time for a fan strike. They are a whopping 2-8 at home. They aren't a product the city of Philadelphia should endorse. Don't go to the games! It's time we send a message! We won't stand for this any more! Let's unite!

What are our demands? Fire Charlie Manuel. Get some pitchers who can keep the team ERA under 4. OK- maybe 5. Well, even under 6 would be an improvement. Teach some of those guys in the lineup how to come through in a meaningful situation.

It's time, ladies and gentlemen. Enough is enough. Philadelphia is behind only New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston in market size. So why does our team continually perform as if they are from Pittsburgh or Kansas City?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Welcome To Feud-Adelphia from Philadelphia Magazine

Copyright 2004 Metro Corp. All Rights Reserved Philadelphia Magazine

April, 2004: Welcome to Feud-adelphia!


Harry Kalas vs. Chris Wheeler

The skinny: Fear and loathing in a cramped Phillies broadcast booth.

In a nutshell: Just before Christmas, Phillies broadcaster Kalas, revealing that he'd hired a big-time L.A. attorney to play hardball with the team in contract negotiations, dropped a surprising personal nugget as well: His relationship with longtime boothmate Wheeler had become "uncomfortable," and he didn't want to work with him anymore. Kalas and Wheeler both joined the team in 1971 (Wheeler in PR, becoming a broadcaster in '77). They were once fast friends, hanging out on the road together. But now it's much worse than uncomfortable: Kalas and Wheeler don't speak outside the booth, and their banter on the air, where Harry refers to Wheeler as "Chris" instead of the preferred "Wheels," is chilly. That's because Harry the K and Wheels can't stand each other.

The start: Rich "Whitey" Ashburn had been Kalas's broadcast "color man," and their droll repartee was very popular. But heading into 1997, Ashburn was nervous. David Montgomery had replaced the retired Bill Giles in running the team, and Wheeler and Montgomery, Ashburn believed, were "joined at the hip." Ashburn warned Kalas not to trust Wheeler any longer and vented to a friend that spring: "I think I might be in trouble when Montgomery officially takes over. You know, Wheels is Monty's boy. Maybe I'll just retire after this season--I've done this too long to get lowbridged by the likes of Wheeler." Wheeler did replace him as Kalas's late-inning color man that year, and Ashburn, Kalas's best friend, died of a heart attack in a New York hotel room that September, during a Mets series.

The wife: Harry Kalas went to his wife one day in '98 with a confession: He had been seeing other women on the road. "Chris took a lot of calls from women who wanted to talk to Harry," Eileen Kalas says. "When Harry told me what he was doing, that caused a problem. The party was over." The Kalases went into counseling, Harry quit drinking, and now, Eileen says, "All our problems are resolved."

But in fairness: "The girls didn't just call Chris," Eileen calls back to add. "Harry would call the girls also."

Why Harry went public: "We talked about it in counseling," Eileen Kalas says. "It comes from me, to say something and stand up for himself. He never does.

"Wheeler says: Nothing except a statement the Phillies have told him to stick with: "I consider it a privilege and an honor to be part of the Phillies broadcast team. Who I work with and what innings I work are not my decision."

In Wheeler's corner: "Chris Wheeler is one of the finest guys I've ever met," Tim McCarver, a former Phillies catcher and broadcaster, told the Daily News in December, after Kalas complained publicly. "To have his name sullied in this way upsets me."

But Harry has Eileen: "What Chris does on the air is very subliminal--explaining the game to Harry and interrupting him," Eileen says. "Harry put in a complaint to the Phillies about Chris last year and this year." ... "Chris used Whitey in life and uses him in death [by mentioning him on the air]."

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Charlie Manuel Quote of the Week

“You never know, ... You stay with it until the end. It's like Yogi Berra said, it ain't over until it's over and the fat lady sings.”

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Same Old Song and Dance...

0-4, Charlie. Larry Bowa did as well. Really, couldn't you have gone to Chicago with Jim Thome?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

2006 Phillies Prediction: 96-66 1st Place N.L. East

Myers needs to dominate

Being a Philadelphia sports fan I am naturally afflicted with the occasional inability to see the state of Philadelphia sports as they are and often instead see them as I wish they were. Therefore, take my prediction with a large grain of Philadelphia soft pretzel salt.

This will be the year that, perhaps despite themselves, the Phils will finally win the N.L. East and make it to the post-season for the first time since '93. They can do it because Bobby Abreu will be consistently on base and driving in runs. Whatever happens with Rollins' hit streak, he seems to have turned the corner and is, though not ideal, an effective lead-off hitter. Big things will come from both of them. However, the emergence of Chase Utley is going to make the real difference with the Phils this year. Utley is clutch at the plate, drives in runs, hits for power and is solid in the field. Why he was still platooning until the middle of last season is one of the inexplicable mysteries of the universe. Barring injury, a full season will allow Utley to realize his potential. Hopefully Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard can build on the success they had last year, though Burrell still hasn't proven he can do it consistently. And Howard won't see nearly the number of fastballs that he saw last season now that everyone knows he is a legitimate power hitter. If those two can have big years, along with the others, the Phils' offense will be able to overcome the inadequacies of the pitching staff and carry them into the post-season--even though conventional baseball wisdom says pitching and defense win championships.

What to watch for:

Keys To Success In '06: Myers' and Lieber's ability to emerge as effective number one and two starters, giving the pitching staff some needed stability; the return of an effective Randy Wolf sometime in the middle of the season to give the starting rotation (and the bullpen) more depth.

Glaring Weaknesses: David Bell at third base, and by David Bell I also mean Charlie Manuel who is deluded enough to play this double-play and clutch error machine if he's healthy. More time for Bell on the DL = more wins for the Phillies; the much down-graded bullpen and Charlie Manuel's questionable late-inning moves could do the Phils in this year.

Dark Horse Effect: Ryan Madsen becoming a quality starter, which hasn't happened in his limited starts over the last two years; new G.M. Pat Gillick's ability to pick up another veteran starter, so Madsen can be moved back to set-up man role in the bull-pen. David Delucci was a good last minute addition, but it came with the expense of Robinson Tejeda, a good, young arm. Manuel's lineup: figuring out how to best maximize production from Abreu and Utley while protecting Ryan Howard and even Pat Burrell will be a challenge.

If nothing else, it should be interesting season for the fightin' Phils. Can't wait.

Friday, March 31, 2006

What Does 2006 Hold For the Phillies?

The Good
Overall their lineup should produce plenty of pop. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand, and Jimmy Rollins provide six quality hitters on an every day basis.

The Bad
Third base is a major problem for the team if David Bell is “healthy”. No Phillies fan should have any confidence that Bell will produce much more than ends of rallies at the plate. His defense is fine, but replaceable.

Also, Charlie Manuel still manages the team. Somehow, he didn’t get traded to the White Sox with Jim Thome.

The Unknown
Can the pitching staff do their part? Jon Leiber and Randy Myers have shown their worth, but they only make up 40 percent of the rotation. Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson most definitely have the stuff, but they are unproven. And what about the bullpen? Tom Gordon is a significant step back from Billy Wagner. Can Arthur Rhodes be consistent?

The Three Things That Must Happen For The Team To Be Successful
1. Ryan Howard must be a force in the middle of the lineup.
2. Bobby Abreu must have a more consistent season at the plate from April through September.
3. Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson must produce many quality starts. This is the biggest question of all. Neither has shown at the big league level they are ready to be quality starters. If these guys falter, things could get real ugly.

The Prediction
Third place. Until Atlanta gets knocked off, they must be considered the division favorites. Also, one of these years, the Mets’ off-season moves are going to put them in the mix. Billy Wagner is a proven closer that will be 1000 times more reliable than Braden Looper ever was. The Marlins went through yet another fire sale. The Nationals should also struggle.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What Happens When the Unstoppable Force Meets the Immovable Object?

What happens when the unstoppable force collides with the immovable object?

It has always been a philosophical question. It is a question to which there is no real-world answer.

Until now.

While Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats probably weren’t aware of just how immovable the object really was as they entered this season, they found out on Sunday just how tough it is to represent the city of Philadelphia and reach the summit.

It is true in just about every sport we know and accept. Look at the Eagles. The 21st century has been good to the franchise (well, Terrell Owens and his crap aside). But, did we win a Super Bowl? No. We came close. And we only came close after years of finishing tantalizingly close to the big game. Remember Buddy Ryan? Yeah, those teams were good, too. But no big prize.

Baseball? For five years, we have been hoping to just make the playoffs. In four of the last five season, we were in the hunt until the end or near the end of the season. But no invitation to the playoffs.

Hockey? I don’t think I can count how many times over the past 30 years the Flyers were supposed to be the team to bring home the Stanley Cup. In that time, we made the Stanley Cup finals 7 times. But no Stanley Cup.

Basketball? Only one Finals appearance since the last Philadelphia championship. We even won the first game in that series against the Lakers. We lost in five. No NBA championship.

College basketball? Well, since Villanova won the whole thing in 1985, the city has had four teams make it to the round of 8. One was the 1988 Villanova team, which was as surprising as the success in 1985. But the others… Temple entered the 1988 tournament as a number one seed. St. Joseph’s did the same with Jameer Nelson just a couple of years ago. The Wildcats did it this year. Each time, these number one seeds were unable to make it to College Basketball Mecca- the Final Four. Each time, these teams just one victory shy of the big show.

Heck, we can even throw horse racing into the mix. Smarty Jones came within a few feet of winning the Triple Crown, only to see a lead slip away as they came down the stretch.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the immovable object. The Philadelphia Curse. Yep, I said it. Forget Boston. How many championships have they won? We have the curse. And the curse won’t move- very often. It takes some strange circumstances to make the curse yield.

There wasn’t much expected of the 1980 Phillies. Many predicted them to finish 4th in the 6-team National League East. But things just went really, really well. The Curse had to relent. Things weren’t quite as charmed for the 1983 and 1993 teams. The Sixers had the same kind of mojo in 1983. Ditto the 1985 Wildcats.

The immovable object has a firm plant on this city.

This year’s Villanova squad looked like the unstoppable force. The problems these guys had overcome in the past four years to be as good as they were this year… well… c’mon! They must have been destined to win the whole thing this year. From the phone card incident to the airplane back from Providence in which they thought they might land in the Atlantic Ocean to the devastating injuries to their two dominant big men (Jason Frazier and Curtis Sumpter), it would have been easy for this team to pack it in. Instead, they proceed to dominate a great many opponents this year. They were ranked in the top ten all season. They rightfully earned a number one seed in the tournament.

They looked like the unstoppable force. But that’s not how things work around the City of Brotherly Love. They ran into the immovable object.

And the immovable object won. Again. And we wait. Again.

My compliments to the entire Villanova program for a job well done this season. You did the city proud. You did the city as proud as any team is allowed.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Greatest Philadelphia Athlete Debate - Part 5

Obviously, it is no easy task to decide who is the best Philly athlete I’ve ever seen play. Except for Rocky (sorry, Mike), all of the athletes so far selected have crossed my mind, as have a few others: Reggie White, Bernard Hopkins, Ron Hextall. One reader mentions Wilt Chamberlain. Clearly, Wilt is the most naturally gifted athlete ever to come out of Philly, but for the purposes of this debate, he came too early – I never saw him play. Another reader mentions Brian Dawkins – a great call, which made my decision even harder. But in the end, everyone who enters this debate designs their own qualifications for the best Philly athlete, and while I think it’s cute how everybody so far has picked an athlete who makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside, I’ve chosen a winner. My selection is a man who was utterly focused on winning and didn’t care if he looked good doing it, didn’t care if anybody liked him for it, didn’t care how he’d be remembered. My pick is Steven Norman Carlton.

The stats are there: a 3.22 ERA over 24 seasons, 4,136 strikeouts, and 329 wins. The consistency is there: no less than six times he won 20 games or more, 8 times he struck out more than 200 batters in a season (and once more than 300), and 16 times he pitched more than 10 complete games in a season (and in one season he pitched 30 of them). The accolades are there: 4 times he took home the Cy Young Award, 10 times he represented the Phils in the All-Star Game, once he was granted a Gold Glove, and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. And, of course, the championship is there. In 1980, the only season in the history of Major League Baseball that ended with the Phils as World Series Champs, Lefty went 24 and 9, struck out 286 batters, and held down an ERA of 2.34. More than that, in the 1980 postseason, Lefty went 3 and 0, putting the nails in the coffins of both the Astros and the Royals.

And might I also mention that over the course of his career he cranked out 13 home runs and 140 RBI and once batted .291?

But the clincher for Lefty is that he excelled at the hardest position in sports – and, I don’t mind saying, a position at which Philadelphia is often sadly lacking. He didn’t care if he was a fan favorite, didn’t care how many Carlton jerseys they sold at the Vet, didn’t care if people were mimicking his style or talking about his accomplishments. All he cared about was winning, and he did it often and with authority.

Oh, OK. You want a little charisma? You want to know that he had a little fire in his gut? Fine. Steve Carlton remains the only man I have ever seen swing at a pitch-out. I’m unable to remember what bizarre circumstances once led to his being intentionally walked, but it happened, and Lefty was so furious that he actually stepped across the plate and took a chop at it. How can you not like that?

Plus, he was a lifeguard. Bet you didn't know that.

Sir Charles was a fun guy to watch and listen to, Schmidty remains the best third-basemen of all time, Rocky ended Communism by punching out a roid-stuffed Russian, and Dr. J ushered in the most exciting era in the history of the NBA. But Steve Carlton was the best Philly athlete of my lifetime.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Greatest Philadelphia Athlete Debate - Part 4

Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the debate.

Erving & Bird
The Doctor Is In; Circa 1984, opening a can of whoop-ass
By Tim Walton

They called him the Doctor for a reason. He fixed the problem the Philadelphia 76ers and the NBA were facing. The team couldn’t win and the league was becoming bland and they both needed a house call. My greatest athlete in Philadelphia History has a big afro and could hang in the air for at least the time it takes me to get off my ass and go get a beer from the ‘fridge. The Doctor did it all.

The numbers are all there; 11 All Star appearances, an MVP in ’81, NBA first team 5 times, 3rd all time in scoring (combining ABA and NBA), but the most telling statistic for me was the winning. In the 5 years before Dr. J got to Philadelphia the Sixers won 9, 25, 30, 34, and 46 games respectively. In his 11 years the team never won below 50 games other than his final season as he made his farewell to the NBA (they still won 45 games that year). And lest we forget our last championship parade was in 1983 as he led us to the NBA title. So, the man was a winner and as far as I am concerned that is the only way one can achieve greatness in athletics.

If winning is not good enough for you than think about the greatest play in Philadelphia sports history, the most graceful, the most athletic, and you will see Dr. J swooping underneath the backboard for an improbable basket. That is what the man brought to the game. As much as people credit Bird and Magic with saving the game, it was the Doctor who came first. He brought the above-the-rim style to a league stuck to the hardwood. Would there be a Michael Jordan without a Dr. J? He had a class and a style that transcended sports.

He was not all offense, though. He leads the 76ers in career blocks (blocked shots became an official NBA statistic in the 1973-74 season) and is second to teammate Mo Cheeks in career steals. Dunking from the foul line was his legacy but the history books will not forget his defense. He played the game hard on both sides of the court.

There is one particular thing that stands out in my memory that makes the Doctor special. November 9, 1984, the day Julius Erving punched Larry Bird in the head. He became not just a great athlete but also a great person. He had been such a good citizen and ambassador for the game of basketball but on that day in November of 1984 he showed his fire. And beat the hell out of that boy from French Lick.

So, if I were to say that this man bring the whole package of greatness it would not be a stretch. The ROUND Mound of Rebound is no name for greatness and Michael Jack doesn’t offer much either but The Doctor sure has a nice ring. He had the personality of Charles without the big ass and big head and the greatness of Schmitty without being hated by his own city. As for Rocky, well, if a 5’6” Italian stallion stepped into a ring with Julius Erving he would beat his ass just like he whipped Bird.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Greatest Philadelphia Athlete Debate - Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of the debate.

The greatest athlete in Philadelphia history was a hard one for me to iron out. Sure I thought about obvious choices like Mike Schmidt, Charles Barkley, Joe Frazier, Bobby Clarke and Dr. J, but none of them seemed to stand out above the other.

Then I started to think out loud, “what if I built a brand new stadium in town, and opened it live on national television? Who would be the one athlete above all that symbolizes the spirit of athleticism in Philadelphia?”

Well, someone did just that, and they settled on the same man I did, Rocky Balboa. Though the “Italian Stallion” is purely a work of (Oscar-winning) fiction, when the Linc was introduced to the world on ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” it was Rocky who kicked off the festivities. In fact, it was so important to have Sylvester Stallone playing his signature role that they used him despite him being in production for a show on another network (NBC’s “The Contender”).

Released in 1977, “Rocky” recently spawned its forthcoming fifth sequel titled, “Rocky Balboa.” The original film won three Academy Awards, including best picture, and was nominated for seven more Oscars.

I lived for few years in Los Angeles, and the first athlete people there associate with the city is Rocky. Growing up in the Philadelphia area, I was able to learn about all of the great players who’ve donned the uniforms of my favorite teams. But out west, the Philly squads don’t exactly turn heads (a championship draught can do that).

When friends visit from out of town, one of the first things they all seem to ask is where the art museum is. Not that the art inside isn’t outstanding, but their reason for going is to run up the steps made famous by Balboa. I'd be willing to bet that no other act by a Philadelphia sports star is as imitated as that scene.

When a friend of mine, a Cowboys fan, lost a bet to me a couple of years ago, his payment to me was dinner and a photo of him wearing Eagles garb while standing next to the Rocky statue at the Spectrum. Rocky is so important to Philly's sports psyche that he has a statue outside of one of our sporting venues.

So as the debate continues, I ask the questions: What Philadelphia athlete has five movies completed, a sixth on the way, and a video game? What star was tapped to open the Linc live on national television? What local sports figure is emulated more than any other by people from all over America? The answer: Rocky Balboa.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Greatest Philadelphia Athlete Debate- Part 2

Read Part I of the debate here.

While it is arguable that Charles Barkley is the best player to don a 76ers uniform over the past thirty years, the player to call Philadelphia his home over that time is former Phillies thirdbaseman Michael Jack Schmidt. The reasons for this are as follows.

1. Schmidt is the best at his position ever.

Schmitty is widely considered the best thirdbaseman in the history of baseball. More than any other sport, baseball compares its athletes to those of other eras. None to play the hot corner before and none since has rivaled Schmidt’s combination of top-notch defense with career numbers at the plate that rival the all-time greats. Defensively, he won 10 gold gloves. Offensively, he hit 548 homeruns (currently 11th all time), drove in 1595 (currently 26th all time), and is 15th all time in walks. He led the National League 6 different years in homeruns. On top of that, he won 3 MVP awards and was named to the All-Century team in 1999 as the thirdbaseman.

2. He was fun to watch.

Like Barkley, he was fun to watch. Whether it be one of his game-changing homeruns or an all-in-one motion to field a bunt barehanded and gun down someone at first, Schmitty made the game interesting. If you were at a game when he came to bat, you know that the crowd’s electricity level instantly rose.

3. He knew how to have some fun.

While he wasn’t on the same level as Barkley, Schmidt knew how to have some fun every once in a while. Don’t you remember the wig incident?

4. He won a championship.

While an athlete shouldn’t necessarily be disqualified from this debate if he hasn’t won a championship (a good thing, too. That wouldn’t leave us with too many people from whom to choose), it is most definitely a plus to have done so. Schmidt was one of the driving forces behind the Phillies’ one and only World Series victory. In fact, Schmidt was the MVP of the 1980 World Series. Additionally, the Phillies won their division six times during Schmidt’s 18 year career. Can you think of another time in Phillies history when this has occurred? Neither can I. Thus, Schmidt was a leader on some of the best teams the franchise has ever had to offer.
All in all, the choice is clear. In the past 30 years, Mike Schmidt is the best Philadelphia athlete.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Greatest Philadelphia Athlete Debate - Part I

Editor's Note: The following debate is a five-part series in which every member of The BSJ will make an argument for the greatest athlete in Philadelphia Sports history. Since everyone writing is 30 years-old or younger the list will be limited to only those athletes that we actually saw play. Let the debate begin!

The Good Old Days With Philly's Finest

The greatest athlete in Philadelphia sports that I've ever seen is one Sir Charles Barkley. Mind you, Barkley was not an easy decision to reach on this topic-I seriously considered Pete Rose, Allen Iverson and even Randall Cunningham among other more obvious options like Mike Schmidt or Julius Erving.

I settled on Barkley for several reasons: of the major team sports basketball requires the most "athleticism" to play at the game's highest level; Barkley redefined what people thought of as a power forward; his lasting reputation as one of the 50 greatest players in his sport; and his personality which embodied the spirit of Philadelphia.

Unfortunately Barkley only spent eight of his sixteen NBA seasons in the great city of Philadelphia and many will contend that because he didn't deliver a championship over that period that he shouldn't be eligible for this debate. Winning a championship is important, but (lest you forget) Barkley's tenure in Philadelphia was tainted by the ownership of Harold Katz, whose competitiveness was a mere fraction of Barkley's. Barkley did, however, lead the team to several playoff berths and his first year in Phoenix (following the infamous trade for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang) he led the Suns to the Finals and won the league MVP. Barkley may not have an NBA Championship on his resume, but he does have two Olympic Gold Medals, won in 1992 and 1996 with the USA Men's Basketball team. You want accolades? Barkley's got those too: 11-time All Star; All NBA First-team 1988-1991, 1993; NBA MVP 1993.

Forget all of that, though. Barkley is the greatest because he was one of the most electrifying players to watch. He was listed at 6'6'', but was really about 6'4" and played the game with a tenacity that, perhaps, is still unmatched in the game. Despite being well undersized for his position Barkley's tenacious play translated into dominating the paint and the backboard. He managed to lead the league in rebounding in 1987 with 14.6 rebounds per game. He also led the league in offensive rebounds for three straight years, 1987-1989. Furthermore, Barkley was a prolific scorer. His career high for points per game was in 1988, at 28.3. That's an exact tie for Julius Erving's NBA career high. All of that amounted to him being named one of the 50 Greatest Players of all-time in the NBA.

In addition to his prowess on the court, "the round mound of rebound" was an entertaining individual. Barkley had the charisma and sense of humor that many other great Philly athletes, like Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Randall Cunningham, Allen Iverson, lack(ed). Barkley was an unpredictable guy who delivered many an amusing sound-bite and even the occasional punch for for an opposing player that might've rubbed him the wrong way. Remember Barkley exchanging fisticuffs with Bill Laimbeer? That was vintage Charles Barkley, as was his Nike commercial in which he warned everyone,"I am not a role model."

It was that swagger that best defines Barkley as the quintessential Philadelphia athlete. Philadelphia sports fans aren't role models either and Barkley embodied that in his play and his attitude . If ever there was a perfect fit, it was Charles Barkley playing basketball in Philadelphia. Pure synergy. Inch for inch (okay, not pound for pound) Barkley delivered more points, more rebounds and more thrills than a player his size should have.

Whether it was Barkley throwing down one of his trademark thunder dunks or mouthing off to the officials or getting in a bar fight off the court, he is the single most important athlete over the last 25-30 years in Philadelphia. That shame is that the Sixers let him get away.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Genius is in the Stupidity

Phillies president David Montgomery is a genius.

Only a genius with the best marketing skills imaginable could have come up with this one. The public won't know what hit them. Montgomery devised the most clever of plans to cover the $94 million payroll that Phils have this season.

Before we get to the genius part, let's recap...

In 2001, the Phillies made a bit of a surprise run at the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. They were in the race until the last few days of the season and it was fun to watch specifically because it was unexpected.

Ever since, the organization has been, one would think, trying to improve upon that team to make it to the playoffs.

By the way, just about everything has gone wrong with that plan- in case you forgot.

Gone are Scott Rolen, Kevin Millwood, Jim Thome, Larry Bowa, and, of course, Ed Wade. Remember, Wade was the guy who shouldered much of the blame for the underachievement- especially for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. So Montgomery fired him and replaced him with Pat Gillick, a man with general mangagerial success in the past.

"Hooray," said the fans of Philadelphia. "Maybe this guy can turn things around!"

Since his hiring, Gillick has made several strange moves and comments. The Ryan Franklin thing still confuses me. He tried to move Abreu, but just this week said he didn't try to do it.
I, for one, have become confused. This guy sounds like Ed Wade! Wade was the problem. Gillick was the solution. How is it that they are sounding so much the same?

Let's also recall that the Phillies drew 600,000 fewer fans in 2005 than they did in 2004. They drew 600,000 fewer fans when they were in the playoff race until the final day.

Yes, Matt, you say, but where is the genius in any of this?

How do you get fans back in the seats, given all that occurred that is listed above? Do exactly what David Montgomery is doing this year. Put Chris Wheeler on the television broadcast for all nine innings every day.

That's right. Nine innings of Wheels each and every game covered by the local networks. How many innings of Harry Kalas will you get if you tune into a Phillies broadcast? Six. How many innings will you get of Scott Graham? Three. How many innings will you get of Larry Andersen? None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

"This is crazy! Wheeler is terrible! Kalas and Andersen are the best! They're the best anywhere! Why would they do this?"

All valid questions indeed. On the surface, it may appear as just another mindless move on the part of a team president who has done very little to remember during his tenure. But think about it a bit deeper. You are a Phillies fan. You go to a couple of games per year. Mostly, however, you like to tune in on the tube when you get the chance. But now, you are subject to more Wheeler, less Kalas, and no Andersen. It'll drive you insane. You'll turn off the game. You'll think that you will find other things to do with your time. But after a while, you'll start to wonder how those ol' Phillies are doing. Perhaps you give the television broadcast another try. Perhaps you don't. But what will inevitably happen is that your interest in the team and your loathing of Wheeler will come into conflict. How do you solve this problem? Hey, if you just go to the game, you won't have to listen to Chris Wheeler! There it is! There's my solution!

So more people feel compelled to go to games that to watch them. And ticket sales are on the rise...

Again, it takes a true genius to devise a plan such as this. David Montgomery should be commended. He has passed all blame for the franchise's failures onto Larry Bowa and Ed Wade. He already has Pat Gillick looking like he is confused. Now, this.

Only once in a lifetime does one get the opportunity for something so complex.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Bryant Gumbel or Rush Limbaugh?

"Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don’t like them and won’t watch them ... Because they’re so trying, maybe over the next three weeks we should all try too. Like, try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention. Try not to point out that something’s not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what’s called a kiss-and-cry area, while some panel of subjective judges decides who won ... So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they’re done, when we can move on to March Madness — for God’s sake, let the games begin."- Bryant Gumbel on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel


Thank you for your opinion concerning the Winter Olympics. I must agree that the ancient Greeks probably didn't spend much time ice skating or skiing. True enough. It is probably also true that the ancient Greeks didn't have a kiss-and-cry area. I wish we didn't either. (To be fair, those who were the earliest developers of football didn't know what hashmarks or the forward pass were, either, but let's not confuse the issue here.) Sure, there are some events that aren't all that interesting. I don't like any event that relies on judges to decide the outcome. So, there are some events I don't watch.

But let's get something straight. Most of the athletes in the Winter Olympics are not black because most of them come from countries that don't have too many blacks as their citizens. According to the CIA Factbook, most countries that send athletes to the winter games don't even have a percentage of black people listed in a breakdown of their ethnic groups.

So, Bryant, I ask you: if a country doesn't have black people living there, how are they possibly supposed to include them on their Olympic team?

But I suppose it would be more to the point to talk about the United States instead of the world in general since I suppose your comments were directed more at us than anyone else. Do you really think that the US Olympic team discriminates against any ethnic group? Do you really think they would sacrifice a chance at a medal just so their could be one more white face in the games? C'mon, Bryant. That's just dumb. The Olympics, at least in my lifetime, have always been about making political statements and inclusion more than anything else.

Remember Rush Limbaugh and his comment about Donovan McNabb? All he said was that he thought McNabb was overrated but the media gives him a pass because he is black. Wow! What an outrage! Fire the guy! Rush was hired by ESPN to stir things up. When he did, ESPN fired him. Your comment is more inflammatory than his, yet I doubt HBO is pushing you out the door. I wonder why?

But I digress. If you were trying to get people riled up, if you were hoping to boost your ratings/coverage, then kudos to you. The time I spent writing this piece is the most time I have thought about you or any show that you are/were on since you got caught mouthing the f-word about a conservative guest you interviewed on the CBS morning show a few years ago. But if your opinion about the Olympics and their ties to the GOP is you actual opinion, then you're an idiot.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tip of the Iceberg?

A story broke today that former Flyer Rick Tocchet funded a lucrative gambling ring that included a New Jersey state trooper and Wayne Gretzky's wife Janet Jones. According to the story on foxsports, New Jersey police found that the ring had processed in excess of 1000 wagers totalling over $1.7 million. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the ring also had ties to the mob.

Tocchet is currently employed as an assistant coach for the Phoenix Coyotes, so it is important to get to the bottom of this. The reports indicate that hockey players involved in the ring (and Tocchet) were not involved betting on their own games of fixing games.

What are the ramifications of this unearthing? It would be naive to think that there aren't many other athletes who are involved in gambling- whether it be legal or illegal. But the key for hockey- or any other sport- is that no links are found to betting by athletes on the games in which they compete (or coach). Anything else will be forgotten by fans. But if this leads to more athletes betting on a great many games and if there is any connection found to betting on their own games... well, this might just the tip of the iceberg. It's hard to imagine that the public at large would stand for evidence of game fixing, point shaving, or the like.

Athletes gamble? So what. A lot of us do and a lot of us like it. But if someone on my team bet either for or against his own team? Now there's a great deal more at stake than what he is letting on. I paid good money to watch this team and I want an honest game. The same would hold true if it involved someone on the opponent of my team.

I hope this is the end of it. But something tells me that with all of the pro athletes out there, the amount of gambling that occurs in our country, and the "nobody can touch me" attitude that many of these athletes now have, this just might be the tip of the iceberg.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Time To Get Those Trade-Winds A-Blowin'

Maybe McNabb wants out of Philly

I was going to write a column about how, now that the dust from the Eagles' worst season in six years has settled, the team should try to work through the issues with Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb and figure out a way to keep Owens and return to 2004 glory. But, instead this column is about why the Eagles should keep Owens and trade golden boy, Donovan McNabb.

McNabb is living a lie and the worst part about the lie is that he is lying mostly to himself. McNabb is not only a divisive force on the Eagles, but he is self-destructive and the Eagles should cut their losses now by trading him immediately. If you didn't see the McNabb interview on ESPN, you can read it right here--provided you're able to follow him aimlessly wandering from first-person point of view, to second-person and back to first-person. Granted, this is clearly another case of ESPN stoking the flames of disdain between Owens and McNabb to generate ratings, but try to see through the all of the propaganda and hear what McNabb is actually saying.

About the distraction that T.O. allegedly caused the Eagles this season, McNabb claimed it didn't bother him, but it negatively affected some of his less focused teammates. Hello! That's a back-handed, passive-aggressive criticism of his teammates. Yet the media portray McNabb as the model teammate. If McNabb has a problem with the way his teammates handled things this past season, he should have taken some of his own advice and spoken to those individuals face to face.

About the infamous Brett Favre comment (remember--T.O. didn't even make the comment), McNabb said that because Owens agreed that Favre (a white quarterback) would be better for the Eagles, that was some sort of black-on-black crime (a gross misnomer) and it was tantamount to McNabb having said that the Eagles would be better off with "Steve Largent or Joe Jurevicious." McNabb is wrong on so many levels it's difficult to decide where to begin skewering him. First of all, Largent has been retired since 1989. So, if Largent were actually a better player than Owens, then McNabb is still living in and commenting on the wrong decade. Apparently, in McNabb's twisted reality, it's politically incorrect to compare or contrast Donovan McNabb with a white quarterback. When the race card is played by someone else, McNabb is great at playing the poor little victim, but, McNabb has now conveniently used the issue of race, rather poorly I might add, to further his own agenda against Owens. His assertion, aside from being hypocritical, is preposterous.

McNabb goes on to divulge the details of a phone conversation he had with Owens in 2004. McNabb claims he told Owens, "I brought you here for a reason, for people to understand the chemistry that we have and the things we can do, which will lead us to winning a Super Bowl.'" Look at the tremendous ego McNabb has, all of a sudden thinking he is QB, coach and GM all at once. Get over yourself, Donovan.

McNabb is arrogant, insecure, passive-aggressive and (worst of all) an over-rated quarterback. It's no wonder a player of Owens' caliber couldn't get along with McNabb or deal with having to constantly defer to a player that shows up to camp portly from all of that Campbell's chunky soup his mom feeds him. If the Eagles have any desire to remain competive, in what is now a much stronger NFC East than the division they dominated for four years, they will keep Owens and trade McNabb for a quarterback who is a more accurate passer and who isn't nearly as self-absorbed.

In the interview, McNabb goes on ad-infinitum about how if you have a problem with him, go talk to him, face to face. I wonder if McNabb will have me over for a delightful little, face to face chat. Unfortunately, that's about as likely as the Eagles shipping him out of town.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


During the week leading up to last year’s Super Bowl, I was a wreck. I was nervous and I was excited. I was simultaneously steeling myself for soul-blistering disappointment and preparing myself for three liver-scorching days of celebration. It was great.

So it killed me this year to watch my Eagles stumble through one of the least impressive seasons imaginable. Contract disputes, injuries, heart-breaking losses, merciless poundings—we proud, stupid Philly fans suffered it all. So no one out there deserves to be as down this week as we all are. Patriots fans? No way. They’ve enjoyed more than their fair share of success. Bears fans? Ah, no one expected them to be there anyway. Colts fans? Close call, but at least they had fun during the regular season. We had it worst. So what bothers me is all these commentators complaining about how much they pity themselves having to cover this week’s championship bout.

Take Skip Bayless. This week he posted on’s Page 2 an article entitled “Wake me up when it’s over.” In attempting to articulate that this year’s Bowl will be a snooze fest, Skip offers up a whine fest, blah blah blahing about how Detroit will host a dud because this game “feels like a game without a favorite.”

Wait. You mean, the teams are evenly matched? The shame!

This is not only an idiotic op-ed piece, it is further evidence of the ESPN-ification of sports.

Exhibit A: He scoffs at the Steelers’ luck, making clear that they might not have beaten the Bengals if Carson Palmer hadn’t gone down, pointing out that they wouldn’t have passed by the Pats if they’d had to, noting that they wouldn’t have defeated Denver if Roethlisberger had been picked off more often. Then he likewise laughs at those lucky Seahawks.

Hmm, good points, Skip. Oh, but they did win those games? And they are in the Super Bowl? So all of that is irrelevant? I mean, has Skip ever seen a team get to a championship game – in any sport? Has he never noticed that a lot of things have to go a team’s way – and that that’s what makes it exciting? And what’s Skip cheering for here, anyway – a team to win every game on the road to the Super Bowl by more than 40 points?

Exhibit B: Not until paragraph 28 – 28! – does Skip even consider whether the actual game will be any good. When he gets around to it, he begrudgingly admits that “this matchup is pretty intriguing” and features “two very likable teams and coaches.” Up until this point, all Skip is concerned with is the potential lack of highlights, the various subplots, and who among the game’s players has a chance of becoming “this game’s breakout Madison Avenue star.” At one point he even says, “I’m starting to missing T.O.” Yeah, well, I’m starting to think Skip’s tuning in more for the Stones and the commercials than the Steelers and Seahawks.

Who said this game won't be exciting?!

The truth is that we football fans are lucky: a great Super Bowl is on tap, featuring two excellent coaches – one of whom has a chance to solidify a legendary legacy – and a smattering of some good players, young and old, whose refusal to offer up off-the-field antics allows us to concentrate on the game itself. In fact we’re so lucky that even I, a Philly fan, can see it.

And the bottom line is, if you’re not from Philly (or, OK, maybe Indianapolis) keep your complaints to yourself.

Oh, and if you’re the Worldwide Leader in Sports, maybe take an interest in the actual game, and suggest to your columnists they do the same.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Next up, Cecil Fielder!

Yesterday, ESPN said the Phillies have had "very preliminary" talks with those who represent Mike Piazza about signing the Philly suburb native. Shortly thereafter, a source hushed the story, pointing out that the Phils don't have an opening for Piazza.

May I say: I hope that guy's right.

Look, Piazza has put together an amazing career and I'm ready to admit there still might be a little juice left in his bat. Plus, I love the idea of signing a Cooperstown-bound local as much as the next guy. But to my mind, there are two obvious things that make this rumor a little tough to swallow.


That's right, they still don't allow it! Mike Piazza is one of the best hitters to ever ruin a pair of knees behind home plate. For his sake, I wish somebody had decided early on that, "Hey, maybe this really good hitter should play first base or outfield or something!" But nobody decided that, and his body has paid the price. Some people can continue to produce at Piazza's age. All signs indicate that -- though I don't blame him for it -- he can't. So I'm having trouble warming to the idea of the Phillies signing up a guy designed for a position that doesn't exist on their team. I mean, if they wanted to go that route, there are plenty of options -- Cecil Fielder...Jim Thome -- oh, nevermind that one.

Hey, you -- need a job?

2) He'd cost too much money.

The Phillies have plenty of holes to fill. Paying Piazza a ton of cash to fill none of them probably isn't the right approach.

It seems a distinct possibility that this is all just blather -- a rumor that will run its course and fade away. Let's hope so. If not, I daresay things suddenly seem a great deal more dire for the Phils.

Monday, January 23, 2006

What if ESPN Covered the Olympics?

Note: What follows is the second installment hypothesizing what the United States would suffer through if ESPN covered the Winter Olympics. In today's piece, the outgoing Sunday Night Football crew of Mike Patrick, Joe Theisman, and Paul McGuire cover ladies' figure skating...

Patrick: Hello everyone, along with Joe Theisman and Paul McGuire, I’m Mike Patrick. Tonight, the ladies take center stage in what is easily the most anticipated event of this entire Olympic Games. Ladies’ singles figure skating. It doesn’t get any better than this! Joe, in your mind, is there anything that can compare with ladies figure skating?

Theisman: Not in the context of the Winter Olympiad. For four years, all of us have been waiting for this moment. The fans, the coaches, the officials, and, of course, the skaters. Now the moment is here. The question is this: which of these skaters has the focus, the drive to bring home the gold medal.

Patrick: And, Paul, this is a unique night, indeed, as there are 12 different countries represented in the 12 finalists here tonight.

McGuire: But it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The U.S. has had a tough go of it so far. Two of the three skaters fell during the preliminaries, leaving only Sasha Cohen in the competition tonight. It’ll be interesting to see how she reacts to the pressure.

Patrick: Speaking of Sasha Cohen, she is on the ice and ready to go! She will be attempting a Triple Lutz and a Triple Sowcow during this performance. The level of difficulty is off the charts! If she is able to pull it off, she will be putting a lot of pressure on the other skaters to follow!

Theisman: The thing about Sasha Cohen is that she is a bit of a gunslinger. She never seems to do anything by the book.

McGuire: She’s the ladies’ figure skating equivalent of Brett Favre. She improvises when necessary in a sport that doesn’t traditionally allow for a great deal of improvisation.

Theisman: Speaking of Brett Favre… If you’re watching, Brett, PLEASE come back and play next year. The Packers need you and the NFL needs you.

Patrick: Brett, we need you. We love you. Please play some more football.

Theisman: Here comes the most difficult part of the program- the Triple Lutz/Triple Sowcow combination.

Patrick: SHE GETS THROUGH THE TRIPLE LUTZ! AND NOW… OH SHE JUST MISSED LANDING THE TRIPLE SOWCOW. That’ll definitely lead to a deduction in the scoring. Now her performance is over. While we are waiting for the scoring, we are unveiling a new wrinkle in the coverage of figure skating. It’s called ESPNJudge. Even though instant replay isn’t available to the judges here tonight, we will present the performance as though it were available. In this situation, Cohen’s coach would have thrown the red flag because there may have been some debris on the ice just at the spot where she was attempting to land the triple sowcow. So here is the replay of that moment, in extra slow-motion.

McGuire: See- she loses her footing right… THERE! That’s where she started to fall. I don’t see any debris. If this were a real situation, I think the call would stand.

Theisman: No, Paul, you’re wrong. Look a little closer. There is definitely an ice shaving there. That could be construed as irrefutable visual evidence to overturn the call and not cost her the mandatory deduction for the fall.

Patrick: Remember, the call on the ice would have been that there was NO interference by the ice. There must be irrefutable visual evidence, as according to the rules that ESPN has enforced on ESPNJudge, to overturn a call on the ice. The poll on indicates that 55% of you would let the call stand. Great job, loyal ESPN.comers.

And the beat goes on…

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Phillies to Raise Ticket Prices... Bad Move

The Philadelphia Phillies have announced their regular season ticket prices for the 2006 season and their announcement included a new wrinkle- variable ticket pricing. 45 of their 81 home dates will have tickets that cost more than the other 36. The increase occurs during the middle of the season, when the weather is warmer and more people are inclined to engage in outdoor activities. Tickets for the beginning and end of the season will remain at 2005 prices.

According to the Phillies, every other team in the National League East uses this method and the increase has nothing to do with who is on the schedule- just when they are on the schedule. The hikes represent an increase of between 6 and 10 compared to last year's prices (or even some of this year's prices).

While the Phillies have the right to charge any amount they wish for attendance to their games, it really doesn't look good to be raising prices this year. For the past five seasons, the hype has most definitely been greater than the results, which has led to a change in manager and general manager, along with some significant changes on the roster. The most notable of these changes is, of course, the departure of Jim Thome. Just last week, new General Manager Pat Gillick was quoted as saying that he realizes this team, at this point, is not a contender in their division.

What kind of message does this send to the fans of Philadelphia? "We know we have underacheived. We know we aren't in a position to take the division. But we want more money from you guys this year."

If people are willing to pay the increase, then this column is worthless. But I think the organization needs to reconsider this move. The team saw a significant drop in attendance between 2004 and 2005- about 600,000 people fewer in a year when they were in the playoff hunt even after they had concluded their last game. With fewer illusions of grandeur for 2006, it would seem that attendance should drop again. Wouldn't the more prudent action be to tell the fans that they are holding the line on prices this year (or, get ready for this... drop prices a bit) because we know we need more time to get this team where we want it to be? Wouldn't it be a good PR move to try to get fans back in the stands at this point?

Raising ticket prices is not consistent with the messages the Phillies have been sending this winter. They dealt Thome. They have been trying to deal Bobby Abreu for quite some time. The general manager has already said the team needs work. Everything they are saying indicates that they don't expect as many wins as last year. Why would fans want to pay more for a product they know is worse?

Esche is Back in a Big Way

On Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh, the Flyers defeated the Penguins by a score of 2-1. Their success on this warm January day can be summed up in only two words.

Robert Esche.

In his first game in a month due to a groin muscle problem, Esche faced 33 shots and stopped 32 of them. He was quick with the arms and legs and he was stingy with the rebounds. In short, he looked amazing on a day the Flyers needed their netminder to be as such. The lowly Penguins were fiesty and their goalie Marc-Andre Fleurry was almost as strong as Esche.

Flyers fans should be encouraged by Esche's performance. While the offense struggled to light the lamp today, they were still able to secure two points in what has quickly become a crowded leaderboard in the Eastern Conference. Even with the victory, the Flyers trail the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes in the standings. The difference between the top seed and the third seed in the playoffs could be only a couple of points in the standings, but could be huge in terms of opponents. The top seed will likely get a team who squeaks into the playoffs such as Toronto, Tampa Bay, or Montreal- each of whom are struggling in many aspects of the game. If the playoffs started today, the third seed in the East would get the New Jersey Devils, who have currently won 9 in a row and have a history of playoff success.

The Flyers have been playing good hockey since Christmas. They have done so without the help of Robert Esche. If he can continue to play the way that he did today, the Flyers should be in good shape come April.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A College Football Legend, a Bunch of Angry Women, and Two Lessons Worth Learning

The day before his Nittany Lions won the Orange Bowl, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was asked about accusations that Florida State middle linebacker A.J. Nicholson had sexually assaulted a woman. In answering, Joe said this:

"There's some tough—there's so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do?

"Geez. I hope—thank God they don't knock on my door because I'd refer them to a couple of other rooms. But that's too bad. You hate to see that. I really do. You like to see a kid end up his football career. He's a heck of a football player, by the way; he's a really good football player. And it's just too bad."

In reaction, Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization of Women, said she was “appalled” and demanded that Penn State can Paterno.

Not a JoePa fan.

At first I figured the story would disappear. Then I saw it on SportsCenter and reminded myself that the folks at ESPN can take a two-second clip of a high school soccer player picking his nose and turn it into a mini-series. So we might as well talk about it.

There is nothing funny about sexual abuse. It’s even less funny when it involves a seriously huge dude imposing himself on a woman. So I don’t know why JoePa felt the need to make a ha-ha. In fact, why does it happen so often that people speaking in public get themselves in trouble by flexing their funny muscles at the exact wrong moment? Remember that time President Bush showed reporters a picture of himself looking under furniture in the Oval Office and said, “Nope, no weapons over there.” See? Not funny. Of course, unlike the President, JoePa often is very funny. But not this time.

"Hey, this guy's even less funny than me!"

Lesson #1: When you speak publicly on tough issues, just say the right thing and shut up.

So I sympathize with Ms. Tosti-Vasey’s frustration at JoePa’s facetious remarks, but I also think it’s clear that she's off-base. It’s clear that the situation upsets Paterno. He’s devoted his life to working with young men—serving not only as a coach, but also as a father figure. Making a bad joke doesn’t make him a bad man.

Also, Ms. Tosti-Vasey is being ridiculous in calling for his dismissal. Does she honestly believe Penn State will fire the 79-year-old legend? Probably not. She probably figures, “To make as much noise as possible, you have to make as much trouble as you can.” The problem is that she’s undermining her understandable anger by making ludicrous demands.

Lesson #2: Don’t hurt your chances of achieving the things that matter by asking for things that don’t.

I think we all know that Joe’s not losing his job over this, but it’s one of those ugly incidences that easily could have been avoided—and should have been.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What if ESPN Covered the Olympics?

Note: The following is the first installment over the next few weeks leading up to this year's Winter Olympics hypothesizing that to which the United States would be subjected if the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports was the network covering the games...

SportsCenter following the Opening Ceremonies
hosted by Stu Scott and Mike Greenberg

Scott: Coming up on da 'Center- in depth coverage of the mayhem you just saw right here on ESPN! Winter Olympic Opening Cermony craziness like you've never seen before!

Greenberg: Hello, I'm Mike Greenberg along with Stuart Scott and you are watching SportsCenter. The opening ceremonies at the Olympics have never been known to be anything more than a waste of time, but that all changed in Torino, Italy tonight. For details, I turn it over to Stu.

Scott: This was wild-crazy. As the Russian team was entering the stadium, watch the fan in the crown waving a flag from France . He drops the flag, RUNS OUT ONTO THE CONCOURSE, and gives Vladimir Allyonov, Russia 's premier giant slalom skier, a HANDSHAKE. Then he tried to go back into the stands, but the security guards tackled him and brought him into custody! John Clayton was at the Opening Ceremonies tonight and joins us now LIVE for an update. John, could you please rehash what you saw?

Clayton: Well, actually, Stuart, I didn't see the event itself. I was attempting to get interviews with some members of the US team.

Scott: But, I mean, let's be real, didn't the whole place erupt when this went down?

Clayton: Not really.

Scott: But I mean, c'mon… what about all the security guards that just flat-out tackled the guy?

Clayton: Actually, there were only two security guards. And they didn't tackle the fan. They just led him out of the stadium into a holding area where he was later released after having his tickets for the games revoked.

Scott: John Clayton tellin' us how it is. For more analysis on this crazy story, we turn it over to our Winter Olympic expert desk and Mark Schlereth and Sean Salisbury. My boys, how will this incident affect Allyonov?

Schlereth: Allyonov is a giant slalom skier. And giant slalom skiers aren't affected by things like this. Giant slalom skiers see the mountain and take the mountain. Giant slalom skiers are only interested in one thing: giant slalom skiing. Opening ceremonies don't affect giant slalom skiers. Handshakes don't affect giant slalom skiers. Only things that happen on the giant slalom course affect giant slalom skiers.


Greenberg: Thank you, gentlemen, for your insight. Coming up after the break, we'll head back to Torino for more on how this could affect the rest of these Olympic Games…

Friday, January 06, 2006


"He's going to pitch better than 15 losses," Gillick said, speaking of the latest addition to the Phillies rotation, Ryan Franklin. "If he loses 15, I'd bet he wins 16 or 17. I think he's a better pitcher than the numbers indicate."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sixers' Missing Ingredient On Team They Just Beat

Iverson needs a better center to lead the Sixers deep into the playoffs

Now that the Eagles season is officially over perhaps Philadelphia will start paying attention to the 76ers basketball squad. At a glance the Sixers seem to have all the necessary components to run away with the mostly hapless Atlantic Division and even compete a little in the playoffs before they run into the steamroller that is Detroit. Yet after last night's 111-98 win over Sacramento the Sixers are hovering just one game over .500 at 16-15.

Despite Allen Iverson having one of his best seasons ever (33.7 points per game, 7.4 assists per game and 2.23 steals per game) and a healthy Chris Webber that has been putting up some quality numbers (19.6 and 10.4 per game) the Sixers can't seem to grab the division by the throat. The Sixers even have a few solid, young role players. Andre Iguodala is explosive and is on the cusp of being as good as, if not better than, Richard Jefferson. Kyle Korver is the perimeter shooter that the Larry Brown Sixers never had and other parts of his game are improving. John Salmons is a servicable player coming off the bench. Offensively, coach Maurice Cheeks has the Sixers scoring more points per game (102.9) than everyone other than Phoenix. The team has the veteran leadership and experience of Webber and Iverson.

Miller would look great in a Sixers uniform

The one glaring void is right in the middle. I want to love Samuel Dalembert, but he's just not the presence the Sixers need in the middle. Dalembert is an amazing shot blocker (third in the league with 3.17 per game) but he also racks up a lot of personal fouls and lacks the strength the Sixers need in the low post. Dalembert is great, but I'm not convinced he's a real center.

The type of center the Sixers need is the one who put up 36 points against them last night. Brad Miller. He's not an elite center, but he's physical, he runs the court well and he is fiercely competitive. Miller's personality would fit well with the Sixers and even though he wouldn't block as many shots as Dalembert, he would give the Sixers the toughness inside that they need to be a legitimate contender in the East.

Billy King and Cheeks should make a concerted effort to coax Brad Miller from Sacramento, a team that is underachieving this year and is in serious danger of missing the playoffs. He could give the team that push that Mutumbo gave the Sixers in 2001. Otherwise, Iverson can average 40 a game and the Sixers will continue wallowing in mediocrity.

Monday, January 02, 2006

It's Time to Figure Out What's Next

At long last, the 2005 season is over for the Philadelphia Eagles. For many fans, it was a season that stirred up old memories- memories of past regimes. It stirred up memories of seasons led by inept coaches such as Ray Rhodes and Rich Kotite. It stirred up memories of days when wins were hard to come by and games like yesterday were the norm. The Eagles had every opportunity to beat the Redskins, but they made sure to grab defeat from the clutches of victory.

The obvious question is this: what’s next? How do the Eagles go about preparing for the 2006 campaign that will feature games against the Cowboys, Giants, Redskins, Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Jaguars, and Colts? Andy Reid should be given every opportunity this off-season to show that he deserves to keep his job. This is the first seasonal step backward since he arrived in 1999. But it is obvious that some changes need to be made. Most of these changes need to be made on only one side of the ball- and it isn’t the side that grabbed most of the attention this year.

The Eagles’ offense was poor for the second half of the season, but most of the feature positions were filled by backups. Donovan McNabb will come back healthy. There should be no problem with the starting quarterback. But this season showed that the Eagles do not have a backup quarterback that is capable of being reliable for an extended period of time. More than anything else, Mike McMahon showed Philadelphia why he was unable to succeed in Detroit. For every instance where he showed his talent and potential, he followed it up with an inexcusable mistake. Koy Detmer has also shown over time that he can be a useful backup, but he also is not going to be someone who will lead a team to the Super Bowl. The Eagles need to find a better second string quarterback.

The Eagles might be OK at running back. The combination of Brian Westbrook, Ryan Moats, and Bruce Perry could work. Moats is not a threat in the passing game, but his speed should be enough to serve as a role player. The Eagles are high on Perry, and his performance yesterday could be enough to land him a spot getting some important carries next year.

At wide receiver, the Eagles are obviously not as strong without Terrell Owens, but they do have more talent at the wideouts than they did before Owens’ arrival. Reggie Brown, Greg Lewis, and Todd Pinkston will most likely be the first three on the depth charge. These three are not likely to run freely from all the defenses they face, but they should be adequate.

Overall, the Eagles offensive line is in pretty good shape. Jon Runyan is a free agent, but the Eagles should seriously consider letting him go. His play has started to deteriorate and he has committed some costly penalties recently. Other than Runyan, the line should be OK for next year.

The defense, however, will require a great deal more work. Remember that the offense lost McNabb, Westbrook, Owens, center Hank Fraley, and Pinkston this year. That’s a heck of a lot to absorb. On the other side of the ball, however, the injuries were not as severe. Brian Dawkins, Sheldon Brown, Michael Lewis, and Jeremiah Trotter played all season. Lito Sheppard was around for most of the season. Week after week, the Eagles defense would give up big plays. These were the same guys that were all chosen for the Pro Bowl last year. What Reid needs to determine is whether the problems on defense stem from the players having lost a step or from a lack of defensive play calling by defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Something went terribly wrong on defense this year. In order for the Eagles to reclaim a spot as one of the top teams in the NFC, that problem needs to be addressed first.

Except for Bill Cowher, all NFL coaches face a time when they need to show that they can handle adversity or they pay for it with their job. This is most likely that time for Andy Reid. It was only one bad season, but in this league and in this city, that is about the extent of a coaches’ margin for error.

2005 was a disaster. Andy, you better figure it out by next fall or else you might get a pink slip.