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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Searching for Bake McBride

Philadelphia Phillies' fans and the local media are forever searching for a prescription to solve the hometown nine's problems.  The callers to the local sports talk show are rife with suggestions to help the team win a division title. 

The suggestions have been interesting.

"Fire Larry Bowa," advised one caller.  This suggestion has popped up the most frequently.  The problem with the suggestion, though, is that the Phillies' lackluster performance isn't Bowa's fault.  Yes, he has been combustible, but he hasn't been responsible for the construction of a strike zone-challenged lineup and an oft-injured pitching staff.  You can't even blame Bowa for the fact that the Phillies have lost 20 out of 23 to the Florida Marlins.  Larry Bowa may be a lot of things, but he isn't the reason the Phillies aren't in first.  Not this year. 

"Fire Greg Gross," suggested another caller.  Gross, a one-time pinch hitter extraordinaire, is the Phillies' hitting coach.  It is true that the Phillies' batting has been inconsistent, but are Mike Lieberthal's problems at the plate because Gross is a bad tutor or because Lieberthal has more injuries than an NFL offensive lineman on a Sunday morning?  Gross has helped Jimmy Rollins go from dismal to good, and Pat Burrell's slide back into the woes that befell him last year have to transcend the teachings of any batting coach.  Burrell could baffle the best of hitting coaches.  Gross shouldn't be sacked, at least not now.

"Fire Joe Kerrigan," suggested a third caller.  But you can't blame the pitching coach for injuries to Billy Wagner (who is heading home to Philadelphia from the road and probably back onto the DL), rookie phenom reliever Ryan Madson (who has something like a 1.19 ERA in relief but is now on the DL) or Vicente Padilla.  You can't blame Kerrigan for the pitching of Josh Hancock, Ryan Powell or Paul Abbott, or even for not figuring out how to help stubborn young thrower Brett Myers.  Kevin Millwood has proven he's not an ace, but is that Kerrigan's fault?  Kerrigan hasn't excelled, but his coaching isn't the reason the Phillies' aren't in first place.

"Fire Ed Wade," suggested yet another caller.  Wade is the Phillies' GM, and he looks more like the head of human resources who just announced that a 1000 manufacturing jobs in Peoria have just been outsourced to Bangalore than a GM.  After all, it was Wade who thought that signing over-the-hill (he should have read "Baseball Prospectus") reliever Roberto Hernandez was a good move (few others did).  And, it was Wade who signed disappointing 3B David Bell and seemingly through OF Doug Glanville as a back-up.  Of course, it was Wade who traded Johnny Estrada for Kevin Millwood (a trade that looked great through the All-Star game last year for the Phillies and since then has looked like a steal for the Braves) and who inked Jim Thome.  It's probably not Wade's fault either.

At least not yet.  The Phillies' have half a AAA pitching staff in the show right now because of injuries, and they desperately need a hitter.  Unfortunately, they haven't been in position to make the pre-trading deadline trade that will help put them over the top in a long time.  SportsProf remembers fondly the Pope, GM Paul Owens, and his penchant for pulling off magical deals in subtle ways that helped the Phillies.  In 1977, with the Phillies in need of some batting help, Owens traded Tom Underwood, Dane Iorg and another player to the Cardinals before the trading deadline for fleet RF Bake McBride, who was a balky knee away from superstardom.  McBride became a mainstay for the Phillies for several years, and his brilliant season in 1980 (89 RBI on 9 HR) contributed mightily to the Phillies' only World Series victory. 

And it's been slim pickings after that.  And it's been even slimmer pickings under Ed Wade.  Right now, the Phillies' fans are expecting that nothing will happen.  They've heard that the Phillies fanned on re-acquiring Terry Adams and that the Diamondbacks' Steve Finley doesn't want to come east.  They've read that the Pirates don't want AA homer machine Ryan Howard for Kris Benson, and they're basically frustrated that despite all of the hoopla surrounding their new ballpark, the Phillies appear to be headed to rolling the dice with who they have.

And who they have just aren't good enough.  There was talk earlier today that they might participate in a three-way trade with the Yankees whereby the Bombers would get Randy Johnson, the Phillies would get Kenny Lofton and the D-backs would get some of the Phillies' prospects because the Yankees have none.  Sounds like a deal for everyone but the Phillies. 

And then there's the lightning that could strike if Drayton McLane has decided to throw in the towel in Houston.  Carlos Beltran beckons.  And while reaching financially for a player of Beltran's caliber would be something that the Phillies' wouldn't normally do, it's somewhat logical that in another effort to please their hungry fans, they might just do it.  Ryan Howard could be a logical candidate to caddy for Jeff Bagwell for a while, and young pitcher Elizardo Ramirez has some serious stuff.

How about this lineup:  Rollins, Abreu, Beltran, Thome, Burrell etc.?  Now that would be really something.

But you still have to get people out.  You still need another starter and at least another reliever.

And, guess what?  Jose Mesa is available.  The Pirates are peddling him to the highest bidder.

It should be a fun time until midnight on July 31.