November 20, 2007

Captain Jimmy Rollins Puts His Butt on the Line and Delivers

It was announced today that Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He narrowly beat out Colorado Rockies leftfielder Matt Holliday who showed only class this afternoon when asked about his second-place finish by saying, “"It's Jimmy Rollins' day and I don't want to step on his day.”

Rollins had a tremendous year offensively, was recently voted the National League’s Gold Glove at shortstop, and proved prophetic in his Spring Training-statement that the Phils were the team to beat in the National League East.

Rollins’ MVP award is the second in a row for the Phillies’ organization. Last year, first-baseman Ryan Howard won the award. (This year, Howard finished fifth in voting).

I am excited.

Jimmy Rollins is just plain fun to watch. And he has the personality to match – see what he said about waiting for the call this morning.

Ken Mandel, writing on quoted Rollins as saying at his press-conference this afternoon, "When I woke up, I was trying to be nonchalant about it. At about five [a.m. PT], I jumped up and looked at the clock and was like, 'OK, I hadn't missed a phone call yet. At about nine, I was like, 'Oh man, I didn't get the phone call,' but it wasn't supposed to come for another hour and a half. When the call finally came, it was a great thing. I was thinking not to think about it, but you can't help but think about it in a situation like this."

Late this past season, ESPN's Peter Gammons worked a Sunday night Phillies game. He stood by the Phillies dugout for most of the entire game. Afterwards, he reported that Rollins - the entire game - was cheering and pushing the team onwards. Gammons said that he had never seen a player with so much energy pushing his team through all nine innings.

He is a constant ball of positive energy. He could lead this team to a World Series. Effectively, Rollins is now the captain. He put out his butt, staked his place, and led the team to the goal. Now the team is his.

And he is still positive and enthusiastic. He called Holliday and thanked him for inspiring him. And I get that it was not said in condescension or mockery. He genuinely carries himself and plays this way on the ball-field. He is a competitor – a warrior – and sans attitude.

The Phillies did something very interesting last year when they traded right-fielder Bobby Abreay to the New York Yankees.

Abreau was in his ninth-season with the Phillies, had made two All-Star teams, and placed six times in the National League Most Valuable Player voting. Abreau is a career .300 hitter, steals 20+ bases, and is good for more than 100 RBIs a year.

Yet the Phillies traded him and traded him for basically relief-pitcher Matt Smith, a serviceable reliever but certainly no All-Star.

A perception in Philadelphia was that Abreau was a pretty low-key individual, player, and clubhouse presence. At Philadelphia's harshest, we said that Abreau did not hustle.

My sense was that Abreau, for all of his talent, was just not a raw-raw leader personality. Which is how I think he fits so well on the Yankees where he can do his thing and is happy to play in the shadows of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and the carousel of All-Star and former-All-Star pitchers who come through Yankee Stadium.

But in Philadelphia, especially with Jim Thome's departure, Abreau was senior in the clubhouse and my theory is that his presence created a situation in which it might have been more difficult for the young blood of Rollins, Chase Utley, and Howard to rise such that their team leadership matched their leadership in offensive production.

The Phillies said good-bye to Abreau, put Shane Victorino in right-field, and watched the club thrive. Which may not have been all due to Abreau. But Rollins certainly took the opportunity to step into the role of team-leader.

Pat Burrell said it himself yesterday about Rollins, "This guy, he took us on his shoulders from Day 1, and did things in this game that never happened."

Rollins' achievement also stands-out alongside the awarding of the American League Most Valuable Player award to the Yankees' Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is fun to watch because he is so purely talented as a professional baseball player. He is a dangerous hitter and solid fielder. But boy does he come off as a jerk. Or at least as an individual not as conscious of his actions as one at the top could be.

What also delights me about Rollins winning the award is not just that he is the second Phillies in a row to win it, but he is the second Phillies player of color do win it.

I wrote a long piece on here a year ago, on November 28, 2006 called “Ryan Howard and the light of Dick Allen” after Howard’s award.

The Phillies have a troubled-record on race. I use the word “have” although it is an imprecise word in this case. It is not that they are still perpetuating the problem in so much as I believe an organization or person or nation can not run from its past, but be conscious and mindful of its past and image as it moves beyond it.

I cite this history as running from Jackie Robinson’s National League debut in 1947 through Allen’s departure from the team after the 1969 season.

I wrote last year how this history continued passively through the great teams and the 1993 National League pennant winners by virtue of the All-Stars on these clubs being primary white.

Hear me correctly: I do not judge the Phils to have been problematic on integrating players of color in these years. I do point out that the team’s history did not have a chance to be redeemed by virtue of the absence of players of color.

This is the first Phillies club where the faces of the club – the roles played by Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, and Mike Schmidt on the 1980 team, and Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, and John Kruk on the 1993 team – and in my book, a League MVP as face of the club – are African-American.

And as I wrote previously, the proper response to my noticing that Howard and Rollins are African-American is to say, “Who cares what color their skin is?! They are great players and that is all that matters!”

Exactly! The Phillies have come a long way as an organization and that is pretty awesome.

Viva la Jimmy Rollins! Viva la Jimmy Rollins!

November 06, 2007

If Alex Rodriguez Was a Rich Man

Alex Rodriguez, formerly of the New York Yankees, is now a free-agent.

It was reported on Friday, November 2 by that Rodriguez is seeking a minimum of $350 million for ten-years. This would be a yearly salary more than $10 million per-year above his current value as well as that of other top earners in the game.

Rodriguez was the second-highest paid player in Major League Baseball in 2007, slightly behind Jason Giambia and ahead of Derek Jeter, both teammates, according to figures on

Few argue that he is one of the best players in Major League Baseball.

He has played no fewer than 154 games per-season since 2001. In his career, he averages 44 homeruns per-162 games, 128 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, and a .306 average. At age 31, he has at least another five solid seasons and then maybe another five years where he is just good and not incredible. He could remain among the very best through the 2012 season.

Rodriguez chose free-agency with three years remaining on his current contract.

But not since, well, since Barry Bonds, has a player so good presented so many reservations for signing him. He enters the off-season having jilted the Yankees, and with fans, media members, and even the Commissioner of Major League Baseball angry at him for declaring his free-agency during the World Series.

The problem with all of our complains about Rodriguez is that it falls on deaf ears.

Rodriguez has a singular goal which is to make a lot of money.

Writing for the Associated Press on Sunday, Ronald Blum quoted Rodriguez as saying in Spring Training, “"I love being the highest-paid player in the game. It's pretty cool. I like making that money."

That is it.

He wants top dollar and cares less about the team for which he plays. In this sense, Rodriguez is the ultimate professional baseball player. I use “professional” not as a synonym for “class” but as the opposite of “amateur”. He is a mercenary of the truest type.

The problem is that the more he shows himself to be the mercenary he actually is, the less attractive he makes himself to potential employers.

On January 26, 2001, Rodriuez signed a ten-year contract with the Texas Rangers which would pay him $252 million. He was the highest paid player in Major League Baseball in 2001, 2002, and 2003. He hit no fewer than 47-homeruns per season with the Rangers and was named American League Most Valuable Player in 2003.

With Rodriguez in their lineup, the Rangers went 73 and 89 in 2001, 72 and 90 in 2002, and 71 and 91 in 2003. Figuring that they could lose without Rodriguez’s $22 million per-year salary, the Rangers traded him to the Yankees in February 2004.

Without Rodriguez, the Rangers won 89 games in 2004.

In the postseason, Rodriguez has been merely so-so. He hit .133 for the Yankees in the 2005 American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels and then hit .071 against the Detroit Tigers in 2006. He improved to .267 this season against Cleveland including one homerun that came too late to make any difference in the game or series.

In Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, Rodriguez swatted at Boston Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove to knock the ball loose. Not only is this interference for which he was automatically ruled out, it looked about as a professional as a second-grader playing t-ball.

The New York Times reported on May 31, 2007 that Rodriguez showed equal class in the previous day’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays when he shouted in distraction at Blue Jays third-baseman Howie Clark. The Blue Jays were furious at Rodriguez breaking one of baseball’s unwritten rules while Rodriguez stood on third-base grinning like, well, a second-grader.

Rodriguez originally played for the Seattle Mariners. His final year in Seattle was 2000 when the Mariners went 91 and 71. In their first year without Rodriguez, the Mariners won 116 games.

Playing for the Yankees, he had public feuds with team captain Jeter, and this year, a public feud with his wife. She filed for divorce after Rodriguez was seen at a Toronto strip club with a former Playboy model.

Rodriguez could not even leave the Yankees in a positive way.

The Red Sox played the Colorado Rockies in game four of the World Series last Sunday night, October 28. Rodriguez’s agent, Boras, announced that Rodriguez was leaving the Yankees during the game itself.

Major League Baseball has a blanket moratorium on its thirty franchise clubs on announcements of managerial hires and player trades during the World Series. It is a nice tradition because it keeps the focus on the World Series and the two competing teams.

Game Four of the World Series did take 3-hours and 35-minutes. This is inexcusably too long for many reasons. And, it is not too long to wait to alert the world that you are a free-agent. Rodriguez could have even waited until Monday morning. Easily.

Many blame the World Series announcement and the $350 million demand on agent Scott Boras. I do not because structurally, Boras is Rodriguez’s agent. This is to say that Boras represents Rodriguez and only Rodriguez is responsible for Rodriguez’s salary demands, departures, and character.

Writing in the Times on Sunday, Jeffrey N. Gordon sees the mid-Game Four announcement as a conscious strategic move. In “Yankees Should Opt In for Rodriguez”, Gordon argues that Boras knew that the Yankees would announce the hiring of new manager Joe Girardi at the conclusion of the Series. Had Rodriguez announced following Girardi’s hire that he was opting-out, it could have appeared that he was leaving the Yankees in direct response to the hiring of Girardi. By announcing his free-agency prior to Girardi’s hiring, Gordon says that he left greater room for himself to resign with the Yankees.

It is a reasonable argument and could be true. Still, Rodriguez comes off looking very bad.

But I did not come to bash Cesar, but to defend him. Really.

I do not count myself among those Philadelphia Phillies fans who look at our hole at third-base this past season with Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, and Greg Dobbs, and salivate at batting Rodriguez with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. I do not want Rodriguez on the Phillies.

One reason is that the Phillies had a lot of character this season. The team came together and seemed to enjoy playing together. At least the position players did. I am concerned about the team overspending for Aaron Rowand to return to play centerfield, and he was a tremendous on-field presence, and by all accounts, clubhouse presence as well.

The other reason is that $25 to $30 million per-year can buy the Phillies (and any other team), two very good players rather than one. I would take two-players hitting .300 per-season with 20 to 30 homeruns each over one-Alex Rodriguez.

Rodriguez chose to opt out of the last three seasons of his contract with the Yankees, forgoing $91 million in salary, because after his MVP-caliber 2007 season, he believes he can sign a new contract worth more money and for a longer period of time.

Rodriguez cares most for securing the richest pay-day and does not seem to value the particular team for which he plays, city where he works and lives, or championship prospects of the organization.

The only question therefore is about the nature of the market for him.

In 2001, the Rangers and owner Tom Hicks is said to have paid tens of millions more for Rodriguez than the next highest bidder. Now, agent Boras and Rodriguez are looking for the 2007-2008 Off-season version of Hicks.

The natural destinations for Rodriguez would have been, well, the Yankees and Rangers. The Baltimore Orioles love themselves high-priced big-name free agents. By signing with Baltimore, it would also ensure that Rodriguez could continue not winning World Series titles.

But he will not sign with Baltimore.

Pundits point to Rodriguez going to Los Angeles, to either the Dodgers or Angels. They both need big offense, have the financial resources to do a deal, and Rodriguez could hang out with David Beckham and be fabulous in SoCal.

He could also go upstate to San Francisco where the Giants need a new gate attraction to continue paying for their privately financed gem of a ballpark. Detroit is also a possibility if only because the Tigers are one of the few franchises that still have a positive working relationship with Boras.

If Rodriguez’s goal was to make more money over a longer time-period, he only needs one team willing to pay more than $91 million for more than three years to make his departure from the Yankees worthwhile.

All he needs is one team to sign him.

Remember, all he wants is to be the highest paid in Major League Baseball. Is that so wrong?

October 30, 2007

Report from Fenway Park and Game 1 of the World Series

by David Goldstein, Guest writer

In my 20-odd years as a sports fan, I’ve known mostly defeat, bitterness, dashed hopes, and self-loathing, so really it makes sense that my first World Series game should be in the stadium of a team I don’t like. Malcom Gladwell once wrote that rooting for the Red Sox or Yankees is like rooting for Microsoft or GE. I say it’s like rooting for Nitro or Turbo on American Gladiators. But hey, it’s the World Series, and I’m going for free, so I’m not complaining.

We get to Fenway about two hours before game one starts, and there are already hordes of people milling around Yawkey Way – scalpers, vendors, drunken fans, and a handful of homeless people, the latter two distinguishable by the presence or absence of Red Sox jerseys.

As a Phillies fan, I find the tenor at the park remarkably giddy and tension-free, almost like the outcome’s assured, the game serving more as the beginning of a formal coronation than anything. This is partially a testament to the transformative effect of the 2004 World Series – Boston’s aura of impending doom having given way to a breezy swagger – and partially a function of Josh Beckett, whose playoff dominance has basically put Colorado in a psychological 0-2 hole.

I’ve wracked my brain trying to come up with plausible scenarios in which Jeff Francis beats Beckett, but since scenarios that involve a 28 year-old well-conditioned athlete having a stroke or having an existential crisis about the evident meaninglessness of athletic competition when children are starving in Botswana, don’t really qualify as ‘plausible,’ we’ll say that games 1 and 5 have already been decided. (Which, given the inevitability of tonight’s outcome, raises interesting questions about how it can possibly be fun or interesting or entertaining to watch an event where the primary selling point is the supposed unpredictability.)

When I see a couple of fans stumble out of a stretch limo, it finally hits me what tonight’s festivities sort of remind me of – a prom, and not just any prom, but one where everyone knows he’s getting lucky. A Philadelphia World Series would be like a prom with self-conscious computer dorks and theater nerds, a prom where everyone is miserable and self-conscious, and just hoping to survive the night with a level of humiliation that won’t necessitate suicide.

Inside the ushers are handing out laminated sheaths so we can wear our tickets around our necks, kind of like a press pass. I’m really excited about this. I flash my laminated ticket at everyone we pass, which is fun, until it occurs to me that every single person in the stadium has the same laminated doo-hickey, and the idea of a universal status symbol is sort of contradictory…and worse, that taunting other people by showing off something that everyone has not only makes you look like an asshole, it makes you look almost unhinged.

Our seats are in the grandstand in deep foul territory in right field. One of my main gripes with Fenway Park is that the grandstand seats are arranged so that if you sit facing forward, you’re staring at the right fielder, which means that to see the pitcher and batter you have to crane your neck to the left for several hours. Also, there’s a stanchion in our sightline blocking the mound, so in addition to craning your neck, you have to lean at a bizarre 60 degree angle. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I call this twisted position an ergonomic holocaust.

I’ve come to the game with David Bernick.

Bernick’s initial reaction to our seats: Wow, this is a lot closer than I thought it would be. Bernick, evidently thought we’d be sitting in the parking lot.

Now, bear in mind that I am not complaining in the least, as Bernick paid for my very expensive seat and I’m getting to go to a World Series game in which the most dominant post-season pitcher of recent memory is starting for the home team. But these are truly bad seats. The only seats further away are in the bleachers, but the greater distance would then be offset by the far superior sightlines and seat angles. We’re in the worst seats in the house. These cost $500 (that again, I didn’t pay. I don’t intend for this to sound whiny or ungrateful, but journalistic integrity compels me to document the experience with as much precision as I can muster. And these are objectively terrible seats.) I can’t give any rational argument as to why this is preferable to watching a game in Hi-Def on a 50 inch LCD screen while stuffing my face with chicken wings, but it is. I can’t see anything. I’m incredibly uncomfortable. I’m sitting next to a snotty 14 year-old who keeps putting his elbows beyond his armrest, and just shamelessly violating my limited personal space.

Still, it’s weirdly exhilarating to be here. I’m at the World Series. This knowledge trumps all. (Which makes me wonder how uncomfortable I’d need to be for the physical discomfort to override the thrill of simply being here. What if someone were sitting on my lap? Or the person behind me kicked the back of my seat for three hours? Or if I was there, but in some kind of iron maiden type contraption?)

We’re sitting for a few minutes before I decide to try and kill the time by playing “spot the non-whites.”

At Boston sporting events, the degree of difficulty is off the charts. Factor in the obscenely expensive World Series tickets, and the game isn’t so much a game as a damning socioeconomic commentary on Boston - the demography of the crowd is about as diverse as a Klan rally. I assuage my conscience by resolving to vote for Obama in ’08. (And then again in ’09. I don’t play by your ‘rules.’)

About a half hour before Carl Yastremski throws out the first pitch, the PA guy announces a special Taco Bell promotion: If someone steals a base during the World Series, everyone in American gets a free taco. Tacos cost about $.75. I have not eaten a Taco Bell taco in five years. So why am I practically crying tears of joy?

A few minutes before game time the ’67 Red Sox totter out onto the field as the crowd cheers appreciatively. While everyone else is enjoying a moment of nostalgia, I’m studying the old-time players, scrutinizing their hunched backs and trembling hands, and just generally feeling depressed at what 40 years can do to once handsome and muscular athletes. Are the ’07 Red Sox watching this and thinking about how bad they’ll look when they’re trotted onto the field in ’47 (all except for Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield, who will both be 137)?

The game starts with Beckett running full counts on Willy Tavares and Kaz Matsui before striking both out. He then blows a 95-mph heater by Matt Holliday to end the first. In interviews Beckett has said that it takes him an inning or two to warm up, so if you’re gonna get to him, it’ll be in the first. The Rockies didn’t come close to putting a ball in play. I write ‘game over’ in my notes. (Bernick and I are both scoring the game. A strikeout looking is denoted by a backwards ‘K’ which is just insanely fun to write.)

I’m admiring my backwards ‘K’ when everyone leaps out of their seats and begins cheering wildly. I’ve missed Dustin Pedroia’s leadoff homerun. Dammit.

A drunken middle-aged man behind me starts a “Let’s Go Red Sox” cheer, which changes for each batter, i.e. it becomes a Let’s Go Manny, a Let’s Go Papi, and so on. The guy is red-faced and wears an expression of the dreamiest contentment you can imagine. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this might be the happiest human being I’ve seen in my life. I’d guess he’s in his mid-fifties, and he appears to have come to the game alone. So now I’m looking at the world’s happiest man, and pitying him, which seems odd.

Before the inning is over, the Sox will tack on another two runs. With Beckett on the mound, a three run lead may as well be 20.

(If you dislike pretentious rants, please skip this next paragraph)

One of the most uncomfortable parts about going to a baseball game in which you have zero emotional attachment to either team, is that it forces you to confront the sheer irrationality of being a sports fan at all. When I’m watching the Phillies, I’m too caught up in the game to think about my reactions, but here, I can watch with a certain detachment, and it’s unnerving.

J.D. drew smacks a double to the gap, and the fans erupt. A baseball player, whom you do not personally know, gets a hit, and this hit makes you incredibly happy, even though you don’t benefit from this hit in any tangible way. I thought I’d reconciled the irrationality of being a fan in the following way – even though it might not be rational to root for people you don’t know, if neuroscientists were scanning your brain during the game, they could track a very real physiological effect in response to your team’s success – the dopamine centers of the brain would be activated and so your ‘pleasure’ would not just be real, but experimentally provable.

So in effect, one can argue that while it might not make sense to hope a complete stranger has success in a game, it absolutely makes sense to root for a chain of events that will culminate in your brain’s releasing neurotransmitters that will make you feel good, and root against the chain events that will make you feel bad. Hence, it is absolutely rational to hope your team does well – you’re rooting for your own wellbeing.

Except this doesn’t solve anything, it just kicks the problem from philosophy over to neuroscience – if you’re not rooting for the team so much as hoping for the release of feel-good dopamine, why then does your team’s success trigger the release of dopamine in the first place? If you’re the kind of person who reads Steven Pinker books, you’d probably argue that this reaction stems from an evolutionary mechanism that favors tribal allegiance, and obviously, if you were witnessing a battle between your own tribe and a rival, you’d have a vested interest in the outcome of this battle, and would feel euphoria if they won, and despair if they lost (despair is probably putting it gently, as you’d be killed or enslaved or raped, etc. which, if you ever need a little perspective after a devastating loss, this thought works pretty well)

But now you have to deal with the dilemma of how arbitrary this tribal identification is in the age of free-agency. If the Phillies had played the Minnesota Twins this year, I’d have been booing Tori Huntert. If the Phillies sign Tori Hunter this offseason (stop laughing) I’d then be rooting for him. This because of a change of uniform. I think it was Seinfeld who once said that we’re not rooting for the players so much as we’re rooting for the uniforms.

Except this isn’t entirely true – I identify with the players on the ’07 Phillies to the extent that if the Red Sox and Phillies traded their entire teams, I’d have no choice but to be a Red Sox fan. But if the Phillies traded Cole Hamels for Josh Beckett, I’d stop rooting for Hamels and begin rooting for Beckett. In the first scenario, personality matters, in the second the uniform trumps all. How does that make any sense? Is there a critical mass of number of players you can change in one off-season before the team loses its identity, and the uniform no longer matters? What if the team is traded gradually over 10 years?

(rant complete)

The only question tonight is whether Beckett will throw a no-hitter, which is answered in the second when Garrett Atkins doubles high off the Monster in left.

Francis gets yanked in the fourth, having thrown over 100 pitches. It’s getting ugly.

In the fifth inning, with the sox already up 5-1, all hell breaks loose. The Sox bat around. Colorado relievers walk in three runs. It’s a 13-1 game, and it’s getting so bad that even the hometown faithful are actively encouraging the Colorado pitchers to throw strikes. My notes for this inning read as follows. “Jesus. Kill me.”

I’m still scoring the game, but it’s hard to pay attention in a blow-out. This leads to conversations like the following:

Sarah: Steal a base! I want tacos!

Me: Yeah! The Rockies are Americans. They can’t be mad. They’d get tacos too.

Sarah: Everyone would win. It’s anti-American to root against this.

Me: Wait…how does it work? Do we all get one taco if anyone steals a base, or do we all get one taco per stolen base?

Sarah: Ooh. I don’t know. Can you imagine if they stole four bases. That’s over a billion tacos!

Me: I bet they put less meat in each taco then.

I then start wondering if the ”everyone in America gets a taco” includes illegal immigrants, and if it doesn’t, if you have to bring proof of citizenship, and suddenly I’m picturing taco bell like customs at the airport, lines out into the street as people riffle through their fanny packs for their passports…which makes the whole promotion just way less appealing.

The game is so out of hand that Red Sox manager Terry Francona has Eric Gagne pitch the ninth. Bernick and I had a debate earlier in the game about how big a lead the Sox would need in order to pitch Gagne. Bernick said seven. I said 10. This, about a reliever who was once the most dominant pitcher in the game. The fans cheer him, and it’s unclear if they’re cheering because they’re giddy and in love with everyone on the team, or if they’re being sarcastic. I’m not sure if they know themselves.

Gagne pitches a perfect ninth to seal the 13-1 win. Drunken fans stumble around and high-five.

This was a game between two teams I don’t really care about. Our seats were bad. It was a bad game with zero tension. The fifth inning took 20 years off of my life. I had an existential crisis about the meaning of even being a sports fan at all. Perhaps worst of all, no one stole a base, which means no free tacos. And I had the time of my life. Go figure.

David Goldstein lives in Boston. Morris will return next Tuesday, November 6.

October 23, 2007

World Series 2007; Colorado Rockies vs. Boston Red Sox

The World Series begins tomorrow night, Wednesday. The National League’s Colorado Rockies will play game one at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. The Rockies have won 21 of their past 22 games but will have had an 8-day layoff going into the match-up.

The Red Sox tied for the most regular season wins in the Major Leagues this season with 96. Down 3 games to 1 in the best of seven American League Championship Series against Cleveland, Boston took the last three to win the series and the pennant,

In 2004, I really wanted the Red Sox to win the World Series. I watched more of that Series than any of the World Serieses in the past few years. They had come back in incredible fashion against the New York Yankees in the ALCS from a 3 to 0 deficit. They overcame 86-years of near-misses and what-ifs.

The 2004 Red Sox were playing for the 2004 Red Sox and for the city of Boston and for New England. They were playing for Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Wade Boggs, and Bill Buckner on the 1986 Red Sox who came one-strike from the championship against the New York Mets. They were playing for the 1975 Red Sox and Carlton Fisk who saved the team in game six with his 10th-inning homerun against the Cincinnati Reds, only to lose game seven. They were playing for the 1967 "Impossible Dream" Red Sox and the 1941 Red Sox.

I like these 2007 Red Sox. I like outfielder Manny Ramirez, who after the ALCS game four loss to Cleveland, declared that it did not matter if they won game five, and then went out and delivered a key RBI-double that he somehow managed to turn into a key RBI-single. They have an outstanding pitching staff in Curt Schilling, Josh Becket, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, all three of whom pitch so differently from the other.

And I am not really rooting for them.

My sister Ilana moved to Burlington in 1998 and has grown into a Red Sox fan, living in Red Sox Nation. She watches games on NESN, the New England Sports Network, and we text during Red Sox games. She is still a Phillies fan and despite interleague play, the Red Sox and Phillies rarely play each other and I have no issue with the dual loyalty.

I have my own American League leanings. I lived outside of Cleveland for five season and have a soft spot for the Tribe. I was hoping they would beat the Red Sox last week.

Rachel, my wife grew up in Boston sufficiently close to Fenway Park that we could take a long walk there on one of my first visits to her home when we started dating. It was not in the neighborhood and still, walkability goes a long way towards attachments.

We had our first child at the end of August. My other sister, Yael, immediately gave us a Phillies t-shirt for our daughter to wear next season and another friend sent a Phillies bib from They had decided that she would be a Phillies fan. Which is a fair guess given my loyalty.

The honest truth is that my daughter may not grow up to be a Phillies fan, let alone a baseball fan. My own father is no fan of baseball and it was not until I was seven years old that he relented and took me to my first Phillies game. He would take me once or twice a year and we would spend most of the game arguing over when we would leave. He voted for the seventh-inning to reduce his time there and to beat traffic. I pushed for at least after the final-out, if not until after the Phillies had turned off the Veterans Stadium scoreboard for the night.

Somehow, I still became a huge baseball fan.

Rachel declared that our daughter would be a Red Sox fan. I told Rachel that that was fine so long as Rachel could name two current players on the Red Sox roster.

Growing up, there was an ice cream store in her neighborhood called JP Licks. The store riffed on a Ben & Jerry’s flavor name and honored the then Red Sox All-Star shortstop by naming one its ice creams, Cherry Garciaparra.

“Uh, Garciaparra?” Rachel offered.

Nomar played for the Red Sox for eight and a half seasons, being traded away in the middle of the magic 2004 season.

The other morning, Rachel turned to me and said, “Ortiz!” “Great”, I said, “that is half; what is his first name?” She since come up with two players in addition to Ortiz whose first name, David, she did recall.

Now our daughter can be a Red Sox fan. Which is all academic, because she might be a Phillies fan or a Red Sox fan or – I should be so blessed – a fan of chess or classical music.

Paul Lukas, author of, believes that the use of the color purple is anathema to Major League baseball jerseys. The Rockies were the first Major League Baseball team to wear purple, when they joined the National League in 1993.

Purple is untraditional on the baseball diamond, but to me, far from heresy. Purple is a traditional color of royalty. Louisiana State University’s athletic teams have worn purple along with gold. The Los Angeles Lakers have worn purple and gold with distinction since the mid-1960s. The Minnesota Vikings have purple since their first season in 1961.

Team colors, at their best, are like the colors of a nation’s flag. They are the same year by year and are not changed. The Red Sox wear red and navy. The Yankees are midnight-navy and white. The Lakers wear purple and gold. Countries do not change their national colors and for the same reason, I would have teams keep their colors in perpetuity as they do in European basketball and soccer.

The Arizona Diamondbacks entered the National League in 1998 wearing purple, teal, gold, and white. I found the uniforms cartoonish at best, but those were the team colors. Before this 2007 season, they switched to bring-red, sand-tan, and black. I like their new uniforms. They are very sharp and are what I would have a team based in Phoenix wear. But the team already had colors; their colors are purple and teal! They even won the 2001 World Series wearing purple and teal.

The Rockies have worn the same logo on their black and purple caps since 1993. They have worn the same purple, black, and silver combination since 1993. When I visited Denver and walked to their home ballpark, Coors Field in the summer of 2005, I saw how the purple and black fits the environment. It works for me.

That the team for whom I support, the Phillies, plays in the National League, and the Rockies are representing the National League, there are those who say that I would be right to root for the Rockies in the World Series. Given the allegiance of my sister and wife, I would be in good company to root for the Red Sox.

As I wrote above, the Red Sox won 96 regular season games, tied for the most in the League. The Rockies won 90-games and it took them one extra game in the season to do it. I like the system used in European soccer and basketball leagues which awards the league championship to the club with the best regular season record. In this sense, the entire season is like a long playoffs.

When I am Commissioner of Major League Baseball, I will eliminate interleague play, again separate the National from the American Leagues, eliminate the wild-card and even the league divisions. The pennant winner will be the team in the league with the best regular season record who will then play the pennant winner of the opposing league in the World Series for the championship. It will be the best against the best.

With the Phillies out of the picture, I am taking a merit-based approach and rooting for the team with the better record to win. Go Red Sox! But let us have some fun and make it a long series.

October 16, 2007

2007 Predictions: How did the experts do?

March 30 this year fell on a Friday. Major League Baseball’s exhibition schedule was wrapping up. Most teams had already come north from Arizona and from Florida. The Angels were playing the Dodgers in their city series; Oakland played at San Francisco. Here in Philadelphia, the Boston Red Sox were in town for two games in what the Phillies called the “On Deck Series”.

The first game of the regular season was scheduled for Sunday night, April 1. The New York Mets played in St Louis against the then World Champion Cardinals. The Mets were a favorite to win the National League this year and the Cardinals were hoping to carry their 2006-post season success into the 2007 season.

With the regular season beginning on Sunday night and then on Monday, April 2, sports writers around the country had to have filed their 2007 predictions to be published by that Friday.

I find preseason predictions to be curious exercises. When a season starts, I think we have a good idea of who has the pieces to have a winning, if not a championship season. We can separate the wheat from the chaff. Yet there are a multiplicity of variables which appear through a season’s long course that make pinpoint predictions so precarious.

This has been my thought process so back at the end of March, I noted the predictions of 24 baseball writers. I took the predictions of 18 writers on, 5 on, and Murray Chass at the New York Times. Local writers trend to pick the local club. ESPN and SportsLine are more national in their orientation, and these are two sites to which I often look for my baseball news.

The pool of writers (in alphabetical order) were Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Peter Gammons, Pedro Gomez, Eric Karabell, Bob Klapisch, Tim Kurkjian, Keith Law, Sean McAdam, Amy Nelson, Rob Neyer, Buster Olney, Steve Phillips, Phil Rogers, Enrique Rojas, Alan Schwartz, Jayson Stark, and John Shea.

Writers from CBS’ included David Gonos, Eric Mack, Charlie McCarthy, Scott Miller, and Adriane Rosen.

Who did this panel of 19 professionals pick to win the divisions?

The consensus was that that Mets would win the NL East (14 out of 24); St Louis would win the NL Central (11 out of 24); the Los Angels Dodgers would win the NL West (19 out of 24); the New York Yankees would win the AL East (14 out of 24); the Detroit Tigers would win the AL Central (19 out of 24); the Los Angeles Angels would win the AL West (15 out of 24).

The panel picked one out of six actual winners, the Los Angeles Angels.

How did the writers back in March pick the winners for 2007?

I hate to say it but it looks like they picked the 2006 winners to repeat. In 2006, The Mets won the NL East, the Cardinals won the NL Central (and World Series), the Dodgers tied for the NL West crown; and the Yankees won the AL East; the Tigers won the AL Wild Card and made it to the World Series. Only the Angels were an original pick. They finished four behind Oakland last year.

The writers picked the winners like we are all warned in business school not to pick stocks based upon historical performance. It does matter how teams did last year but so much changes during an off-season.

The Phillies did win the NL East and received 7 of 24 votes; the Chicago Cubs did win the NL Central and had 4 of 24 votes; the Arizona Diamondbacks won the NL West and in March had 4 of 24 votes; the Boston Red Sox did win the AL East and were picked by 10 of 24 writers; and Cleveland won the AL Central and were picked to win by only one writer, ESPN’s Rob Neyer.

The best that any one writer in my survey did was pick four of the six division winners. Three of the 24 writers did this, ESPN’s Neyer, Buster Olney, and John Shea. Five of the 24 picked zero of the six; one of these five was ESPN’s Steve Phillips. The other was a writer whose prose I admire and enjoy, Murray Chass at the Times. He picked all of last year’s winners to repeat except for the Tigers who he said would win the AL Central.

As a reader of this entry, the question that I would be asking me is which teams I picked back in March to still be standing come October. I did not pick any.

I am not fond of specific picks for winners. Sports seasons are long affairs. There are primary variables which lead to winning seasons including the presence of All-Stars on a team, team-chemistry, and good managers. Ok, these are variables which we can all see and which general managers can affect, payrolls and scouting departments being equal.

But there are intangibles which are unseen. It was no surprise that the Yankees’ Johnny Damon would eventually break down as a player but it happened this year. It could have happened next year or last year. Pat Burrell had a brilliant second-half for Philadelphia which was not unreasonable given his health and skills but not exactly predictable. Chris B. Young emerged as a star for the Diamondbacks; one could have seen his skills but that he would blossom precisely this year was only a reasonable guess.

Then there are injuries. The Phillies lost All-Star second-baseman Chase Utley for a month mid-summer. One cannot predict such things. The Cardinals were struck by the early-season death of pitcher Josh Hancock which certainly contributed to a few of their losses in the days after the tragedy.

These are normal elements of a season for which a team cannot entirely plan and yet which the inability to address can mean the difference between a respectable second-place finish and a trip to the playoffs.

Before the season, I like to read discussions of a team’s strengths and weaknesses. I want to know what has to go right for the team to win and what variables will cripple a squad. There are stories for which we need the entire season to play out. This is the very drama of the season.

Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and Roger Clemens won a combined 32 games for the Yankees this year. This is not terrible but from this trio, the Yankees were counting on more. Even three more would have placed them ahead of the Red Sox at the top of the division.

It is easy to sit at my computer and critique these 24 writers and by extension, the entire business of predicting winners. It is especially easy (and fun) when I have not made myself vulnerable to the same deconstruction.

I do want us to be conscious of how we perceive a season from when it begins, being aware that like the stock-market, we have a strong tendency to judge the future on the past, and overlook the potential for so many unforeseen storylines to emerge.

October 09, 2007

O Howard Rubenstein, where art thou? On Joe Torre and George Steinbrenner

New York Yankees manager Joe Torre awoke Sunday morning to find that the The Times-Herald Record of New Jersey had quoted Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as saying, “I don't think we'd take him back if we don't win this series.”

The Yankees trailed Cleveland two games to zero in the best of five-game Division Championship Series. The Yankees were to host Cleveland Sunday night at home at Yankee Stadium and the message seemed to be clear: Win three straight games and the Series to save your job!

I am not so sure that the message was so clear and I have doubts that the Yankees will in fact follow through and dismiss Torre as manager.

I am thinking about the context in which Steinbrenner made these comments and how messages from his have made their way to the media in recent years.

These comments about Torre’s job-status were made directly by Steinbrenner to The Record. This in itself is peculiar in so far as Steinbrenner rarely makes Yankees-comments directly to the press anymore, let alone ones that would carry as much gravitas as Torre’s job status.

It is rare these days that any word comes out of Steinbrenner’s office that is nnot publicized by public-relations guru and official Steinbrenner-spokesperson Howard Rubenstein. The New Yorker published a profile of Rubenstein called, “The Fixer” on February 12 of this year. Any fan of baseball who has followed the Yankees in the Steinbrenner-era needs to read this piece to appreciate the communications coming from Yankees upper management.

Rubenstein himself has a profile on his own website by Michael Geffner in the Times-Herald Record on May 20, 2007. Geffner asks Rubenstein about how he works with Steinbrenner. Rubenstein describes the process as, “"If a p.r. issue of any sort comes up, we'll talk as a little group — George, myself, (Yankee president) Randy Levine, (team COO and General Counsel) Lonn Trost and sometimes (GM) Brian Cashman. After that, I'll chat privately with George and ask him what he wants to say. Then I'll write something and read it to him over the phone or I'll e-mail or fax it to him. Then he’ll edit it – he considers himself a very good editor.”

An ultimatum from Steinbrenner, issued to the field manager less than 24-hours prior to a decisive game, seems to me to fall under Rubenstein’s notion of, “a p.r. issue of any sort.”

I would put money that the reporter for The Record made it to Steinbrenner, or vice-versa, before Rubenstein could run interference, or at least, filter the quote for mass-publication.

With the shadow of Steinbrenner’s ultimatum towering over Torre and his loyal players on Sunday night, the Yankees beat Cleveland 8 to 4 to stave off elimination. It was almost fitting that they did so despite Steinbrenner’s $18-million-for-the year-Roger Clemens-rental going only 2 1/3-innings, before leaving with a 3 to 1 deficit and strained hamstring.

Torre was safe to manage another day in the Yankees’ dugout.

Monday night, the Yankees were unable to take a second win and fell to starting pitcher Paul Byrd and Cleveland 6 to 3. After the game, Torre sounded like a deposed elder reflecting upon a previous life as Ronald Blum quoted him in the Associated Press, "This has been a great 12 years. Whatever the hell happens from here on out, I'll look back on these 12 years with great, great pleasure."

The ostensible reason for Torre’s would-be dismissal would be the failure of his teams to make the World Series, let alone win the championship, since 2001.

Six seasons without a World Series appearance is a long time when the Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball. Their 2007 payroll was $195 million. This was over $50 million higher than the second-highest payroll, the Boston Red Sox’ $143 million. They were beaten by a Cleveland team with a payroll of $61 million, more than 1/3 the size of their own. For paying this kind of premium, I would also expect my players to deliver me a World Championship.

Steinbrenner’s comments to on Saturday night reminded us of the old-Steinbrenner, vintage 1980s. This was the Steinbrenner about whom we have forgotten as the man fades from public view in increasingly poor health, hidden behind Rubenstein’s statements and Yankees management. This was the shoot-from-the-hip Steinbrenner who made 20 – yes, 20! – managerial changes between 1974 and 1992 and went through an even greater number of pitching coaches.

That Torre’s 2007 Yankees won even 94 games is impressive and worthy of praise. Yes, he had Alex Rodriquez and his 54 homeruns and 156 RBIs. Derek Jeter hit .314 and catcher Jorge Posada had a career year hitting .338 with 20 homeruns.

But the pitching? Torre would have had killer top-three starters for 1997 with Roger Clemens, Andy Petite, and Mike Mussina. But in 2007, Pettitte is 35-years old, Mussina is 38, and Clemens is 44. Pettitte had the best year of the three winning 15 games with a 4.05 ERA. I love seeing Pettitte back in pinstripes but he is not the late-1990s workhorse that he once was. Mussina pitched so poorly that the Yanks removed him from the rotation late in the season. Clemens went 6 and 6 in 17 starts which works out to $3 million per-victory.

The Yankees used 15 different starting pitchers this season. The Yankees signed former Japanese-league star Kei Igawa in the offseason after losing the Daisuke Matsuzaka sweepstakes to the rival Red Sox. Igawa started 12 games, had an era of 6.25 and spent part of the season pitching for AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Phil Hughes showed promise but at age 21, was good only 5 wins and a 4.46 ERA. Perhaps current Yankees pitching coach Ron Guidry could have turned back his own clock to 1978 and pitched a few innings for the club. At age 57, Guidry is closer in age to Clemens than Clemens is to Hughes.

The Sporting News’ Gerry Fraley suggests today that this offseason may be a natural turning-over point for the franchise. Clemens will not return next year. Posada and closer-supreme Mariano Rivera are free-agents. Posada is 36 and Rivera is 38. Rodriguez could walk and the Yankees could apply this money to free-agent starting pitching, a new catcher, and make Joba Chamberlain the new closer.

Maybe they should and maybe they should not. I am not sure Posada is done and even playing a fewer games, he is a team leader. Rivera at age 39 will still be a superior closer than most of the league’s relievers at age 29. And, come on, has the word “spending-budget” ever had meaning for the organization?

Current Yankees bench coach Don Mattingly, and former coach and catcher Joe Girardi have been discussed as Torre-successors. Both would make fine managers of the Yankees. Or I should write, “will” make fine managers, because at age 67, Torre will not manage forever.

I am just not convinced that this is the end of Torre’s managerial career with the Yankees. My money is that Rubenstein issues a statement allowing Steinbrenner to save face, and allowing Torre to keep his job.

October 02, 2007

Mets who???? Ain't life grand at least for the day

This Phillies team is competing for the championship. They competed against the other 15 teams in the National League to reach the play-offs. Here they are in the play-offs and will have to best the seven other post-season qualifiers to win the World Series.

We measure and celebrate great teams not only within the season competition but against itself. That is, we ask how this Phillies team matches up against the other great teams. The Phillies teams with the best season record, the 1977 and 1978 teams, did not make the World Series. The one winner has been the 1980 Phillies who were great but did not have an exception one-loss record.

As if the competition of the 29 other 2007 Major League Baseball teams was not sufficient competition, nor even the historical legacies of the Phillies five previous pennant winners of 1915, 1950, 1980, 1983, and 1993 – the Phillies are also playing now for the hearts of the city of Philadelphia.

The Phillies are playing against the National Football League’s Eagles, the National Basketball Association’s 76ers, and the National Hockey League’s Flyers. Of America’s cities with teams in all four professional major leagues, Philadelphia has now gone the longest without a championship. The 76ers were last when they won the NBA championship in June 1983.

The city is championship starved. This hunger is a collective hunger that cuts across the loyalties of the particular organization or club.

The Eagles have had the inside track since 2001 on bringing a championship parade to South Broad Street. The Eagles went to four straight National Football Conference championship games. In three of the four they fell flat; in 2004, they waited until the Super Bowl to lay-down.

In the absence of Phillies, Sixers, and Flyers success in the past ten years, the Eagles have become Philadelphia’s team. This has in part been due to the on-field success as well as to the brilliant marketing by the team since Jeffrey Lurie purchased the franchise in 1994.

Lurie rebranded the team from logos to uniforms with midnight green, picking a distinct color used only by the Eagles in pro-sports. He banned the use of the traditional kelly-green and under his tenure, the Eagles created the “One” marketing campaign, linking the city itself with a team philosophy placing the entire organization above one individual player.

But I am not so sure that the Eagles have always been so clearly Philadelphia’s team as we might think today in the wake of the Eagles’ success. There were many lean years between 1961 and 1977, and then again in the 1980s. The Eagles played home games in the 1980s that were blacked-out on local television because the team had not sold out Veterans Stadium (which held slightly fewer fans than the current stadium, Lincoln Financial Field).

But in a sense, the Eagles have been playing a dangerous marketing games. The Eagles have come so close for so long that we look for confirmation that something is changing inside the beast – registering that this path isn't progressing.

The Eagles have looked over-matched in three of their four games so far this year and Coach Andy Reid says the same things he says after other losses. Where is the soul of the Eagles? Joe Banner and Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb are clearly talented but where is theexcitement? Yawn!

The Eagles lack fire which may be one reason they are now 1 and 3. They are not playing with any emotional intelligence. The Phillies play hard. I like the bragger of the offense even the pitchers finished with the third worst Earned Run Average in the National League.

The Phillies lost two starting pitchers to season ending injuries, lost another to the bullpen, watched Adam Eaton finish with the worst ERA of all starting pitchers in the league, and even had their ace, Cole Hamels, on the disabled list for part of the season.

The Phillies used 28 different pitchers this season including 13 different starters. They saw nine different pitchers record saves.

The offense plays as if they decided that they do not care about the pitching staff. That is, their hit as if their job is to go out and hit as many homeruns and score as many runs as possible. If the pitchers hold it together, even better, but the offense is showing leadership.

The Phils’ offense this season has come to resemble beer-league softball. They go out and hit homeruns over the short fences, and steal bases because they know that the percentages are with them. They play like a bullying high school squad, sniffing their noses at other would be champions.

This offense dares the pitcher staff, taunting them - we're going to win whether you pitch well or not. But what is great is that this takes pressure off the pitchers who can settle down and concentrate on pitching.

I had feared that the Phillies would only be in the playoffs because of the wild card - that we would sneak in the back. The play-offs are great, sure, but I wanted the Phils to earn their way to a championship
by making the playoffs because they were one of the best in the entire league – not because they were in weak-division.

When I looked up on Sunday in the light of the win, the Phils had 89 wins, tied for second in the league behind the Diamondbacks' 90 wins. Sure, 90 is fewer than the 96 with which Boston and Cleveland finished in the American League – but 89 is up there at the top of the National League. The Phillies really did hold their own and here we are, we made it.

Everyone made a big deal back in spring training about Jimmy Rollins declaring the Phillies the team to beat. The sportswriters rolled their eyes at each other, fans laughed on both sides, and we noted it when the Phillies stumbled through April and May.

Now, headlines read that Rollins follows through on his promise. He took a chance back in spring training and put his reputation among his teammates on the line. And he backed it up with such a superb season. He .300, hit for extrabase hits and hit for homeruns. Plus, he ran again, stealing 40 bases. Rollins set a goal, pushed for it in himself and in his teammates, and led the way to first-place.

Right now, this is Rollins’ team. He was the one who took the microphone at CBP on Sunday after the victory. Rollins was the one to work the crowd at Dillworth Plaza yesterday at the Phils’ rally. Rollins was the one to say that the Phillies were the team to beat. Rollins is the phone who will contend for MVP ahead of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

My feeling in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, was a feeling of waking up into a new view of a baseball team that was already in front of me.

All season, I was looking so close at Ryan Howard striking-out, Pat Burrell hitting .200 for three months, Freddy Garcia going-down with injury, the succession of closer Tom Gordan, and then his replacement, opening day starting pitcher Brett Myers, going down in injuries. Then the Phillies resigned Jose Mesa. Good gosh, this was a nightmare of a pitching staff.

I had not seen the sum of the wins adding up, slowly. I did not see the relief pitchers returning from the disabled list. I didn’t see JC Romero turning himself into a lights-out set-up man. I didn’t see Clay Condrey around his three melt-down appearances and Condrey’s sub-2.00 ERA in the balance of his innings.

Jayson Werth returned from an injury. Chase Utley returned and then Michael Bourn and then Shane Victorino. Everyone was back. September 17 the Phillies were back by seven.

The Mets began losing and the Phillies winning. A friend who is a Mets fan wrote me an email, “In the words of Moises Alou, ‘I hate baseball right now.’” The Mets were so harsh at the end. I was glad to see the Mets lose and I was unhappy to see them lose like they did. It was ungraceful as players stumbled and imploded and then disappeared. Billy Wagner gives the play-by-play through the press.

It was an ugly disintegration, as if they showed themselves with no fight even last week, when they still had a lead and fighting chance. Then last Thursday night came and the St Louis Cardinals were in New York for a make-up game and the Phillies hosted the Nationals. The Phillies won and the Mets lost and they were tied. By then, it was over. Yes, the Mets would be playing the Florida Marlins, the fifth-place team in the division, it did not matter, the Mets had given up. They quit right there in the homestretch. That is what makes their collapse so remarkable – they really could have stopped it had they shown a little fight.

The Phillies showed nothing but fight. Friday night, Cole Hamels struck out 13 batters and delivered the big-game performance which we always assumed he would master. Saturday afternoon’s loss to Nationals was maddening watching Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard make hurtful errors out of big-game jitters.

Saturday was the game the Phillies needed to win and when they were losing, they sat in nervous silence. The Fox sportscasters wandered at how quiet and sad they all looked. I was one of them Saturday afternoon, biting my shirt in fearful anticipation. The Phillies would blow it again!

The Mets’ game on Sunday afternoon began 25-minutes before the Phillies’. The Marlins came out punching against Mets starting-pitcher Tom Glavine and hit him for five runs before Glavine was pulled, recording only one out. Fans settled into watch the Phillies play when the score from Flushing came in, FLA 5 NYM 0. By the time the Phillies came to bat in the bottom of the first, it was FLA 7 NYM 0 after one inning.

Rollins started the game with a single. He stole second. He stole third. He came home on a sac-fly. The party was on. That was it. Philly fans started chearing.

It continued until 4:30 PM when Brett Myers closed out the Nationals in the ninth. At 4:36, my grandmother phoned me, crying, “I want you to know, I never gave up on them!”

Here they were, National League East Champions. We started thinking again about 1993 and Kruk and Dykstra and Daulton. We started thinking about 1980 and we thought about 1964 and 1950.

This team is different.

What is different about this team is that the color of its star players matches the colors of this city. Utley and Burrell are white and Rollins and Howard are black. “Big deal!” you say, “they are good for what they do on the field and the rest does not matter.”

Exactly! Which has not always been the perception of the Phillies in Philadelphia. The Phillies, of all the teams in 1947, were the hashest and meanest to Jackie Robinson when the Brooklyn Dodgers came to town. The Phillies were last team in the National League to integrate, in 1959. The star of the 1964 Phillies was Richie Allen who had popular (but racist) Frank Thomas pushed off the team. The top stars of the 1980 Phillies were white. The same was even more the case for the 1993 Phillies (Mariano Duncan does not count!).

Of course, the 1980 and 1993 were not deliberately composed in these ways. But given the legacy of racism in Philadelphia and around the Phillies in the critical years of 1945 to 1970, it is important that the Phillies have a star player of color – who is there because he is really good and not because he is black - as a tangible sign at the Phillies that times had thankfully changed. I think it was important for the soul of the city, as one small but important aspect of its long journey of racial conciliation.

The core of the current Phillies came up through the organization. Five of the eight starters came up through the organization, and a sixth, Shane Victorino, was rescued by the Phillies from the Dodgers’ minor leagues. Two of the play-off pitchers are farm-grown and a third, Jamie Moyer, is from the area.

The 2007 Phillies are looking more and more like the city itself, and playing hard dirty blue-collar baseball like we love here. They are doing so with all of the guts and courage that the Eagles are not showing. And they have a real shot, maybe not this year, but in the near future, of being champions and being the first since 1983 to parade down Broad Street.