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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Cat Ate My Homework (And Other Tall Tales)

I've lived in the Philadelphia area for a long time now, and the one thing I've learned is that you have to have neverending patience with the local sports teams. Philadelphia has four "major" sports teams, and they can be categorized as follows:

76ers: Stuck in the mud with a superstar who doesn't make his teammates better and a GM who should have been fired several years ago. They haven't won a title since 1983.

Phillies: Always finding a way to take one step forward and two steps backwards. They never seem to have enough to contend seriously, so much so that we had to take some joy out of their finishing one game out of the wild card chase last season. Ownership has usually been out of touch, with the exception being the Ruly Carpenter years from the mid-1970's to mid-1980's. the Phillies won their only World Series in 1980.

Flyers: Aggressive and not usually befuddled, although the owner/chairman is so enthralled with the player who put him on the map (Bob then Bobby Clarke) that he hasn't been able to see through his GM's shortcomings. The team spends the bucks, but last year they loaded up on some lummox-like players when the rules changes dictated a need for quickness. They're not guilty of being cheap -- like the Phillies were until a few years ago (once upon a time then chairman Bill Giles claimed the Phillies -- who play in the fifth largest media market -- were a "small market" team, and the fans haven't forgiven his ownership group ever since), just wasteful and misdirected at times. The Flyers won back-to-back titles in the '73-'74 and '74-'75 seasons but have been looking for the right combination ever since (okay, so they've made it to two Stanley Cup finals since then, but, that's a small consolation, right?).

Eagles: The City of Brotherly Love is a football town. When you combined the decline of the Phillies in the mid-1980's with the baseball strike of 1994, Buddy Ryan's obnoxious attitude, the Reggie White-led defense and the clinical way the Lurie-Banner-Reid regime fields teams, you have the recipe for a solid football town. The collapse of the Phillies and the advent of Ryan's defenses pushed Philadelphia into football territory, and the Lurie regime cemented the reputation. This team is a team that seems reluctant to spend that little bit of extra to put its team over the top, even though the teams up until last year have been outstanding in the past decade or so. The Birds are still iffy at WR and RB (where they're also thin), but the defense is going to revive itself bigtime this year, and from Chris Mortensen to Joe Gibbs, many are predicting an excellent year for the Birds. They won their last title in 1960.

Yes, Philadelphia suffers the distinction of being the city with four major sports teams to have the longest drought from its last title -- 23 years and running.

Patience is truly a virtue when you're a Philadelphia sports fan. You have to endure questionable decisions by ownership and the stupidity that can come forth on talk radio, much of it by the callers, but sometimes by the hosts. Yet, there are times when ownership and management just cannot get out of its own way.

Such as yesterday.

One-time Phillies' managing partner Bill Giles sat down and spoke with the media about the local baseball team. He didn't offer up many gems, he didn't give the manager a vote of confidence (saying that he would refrain from comment), he didn't seem to give the average fan any reason to believe his ownership group has a clue about how to win a title (even though they hate losing, he says), he gave the current managing partner (Dave Montgomery) a vote of confidence even though Montgomery has presided over losing season after losing season and was the one who hired Ed Wade to be his GM, the same Ed Wade who lost Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen to bad trades, gave bad contracts to Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal and David Bell and who let the farm system virtually collapse, and, yes, he offered up a gem about the Brett Myers incident.

Brett Myers was trying to help his wife. (Scroll down to the first two questions and read this for yourself).

And a Phillies' employee saw the whole thing.

Let's see, Myers was offering Jungian psychotherapy to his wife on the streets of Boston, was gesticulating wildly with his arms and balled up his fist, only to have his much shorter wife walk into it by accident. He pulled her hair because when he studied eastern philosophy at Beijing University while on his Rhodes Scholarship, he became a practioner of Chinese medicine and learned the arts of tonsorial healing (not to be confused with the tortures that Chairman Mao's regime inflicted on tens of millions of people). So who cares if Myers' shaves his pate? Tonsorial pulls are the new tai chi.

The italicized remarks were said notwithstanding the fact that Myers' wife filed a complaint against him, that Myers publicly stated he acted inappropriately, and that the Phillies admitted they handled the Myers affair inappropriately. Giles hid behind the cloak of "it's a legal matter, so I can't say more."


Remember, this is the same guy who said Philadelphia is a small market.

Perhaps he meant that the ownership group is either small-minded or small-brained.

Later today, Phillies' president Dave Montgomery clarified the situation, saying that his mentor was basically well-intentioned but got it wrong. You can click here to read the wagon circling and click here to read Phil Sheridan's take on the situation (Sheridan is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer).

Montgomery, by all accounts is a good and smart guy. But if he were running a company outside a monopoly situation, he would have been canned long ago (that is, if he hadn't run the team into bankruptcy first).

The pundits in Philadelphia are offering a bunch of solutions, from firing the manager to trading a bunch of position players to blowing up the team to going only with young pitchers the way the Braves did in the late 1980's to getting the ownership to sell the team and admit that it just couldn't figure out a way to win.

The view here is that if you do any of the first three, you're attacking symptoms. If you do the last thing, you're hitting the cause. Hard.

Bill Giles' latest public utterings rub salt into the wounds that the fans have carried for years. The Giles regime -- and this ownership's regime -- has an easy report card to look at over the past 21 or so seasons -- 1 World Series appearance, and overall losing record and through the 2005 season 142 games under .500. That's progress? How patient do we have to be?

Here are some other excuses that the Phillies could offer this year:

1. Ed Wade signed the catcher and third baseman to no-trade contracts.
2. The team gave too much money to Jim Thome when they signed him as a free agent, thereby hamstringing their ability to do other teams.
3. They got little in return for Scott Rolen.
4. They got even less in return for Curt Schilling.
5. The corner outfielders cannot play defense.
6. They gave Pat Burrell way too big a contract before he strung a few good seasons together.
7. They cannot develop pitching.
8. They brain-cramped on the design of their ballpark and instead of building a neutral park built Coors Park.
9. Despite their manual for doing things, too many of their hitters swing at first pitches, even after watching the other team's pitcher miss the plate with some frequency.
10. Their farm system offers little in the way of help.

Do the math: Add up numbers 1 through 10 and determine who is responsble for the sterling record of this franchise.

Bill Giles, Dave Montgomery and friends.

Do the public a service, gentlemen, please -- and sell the team. After 20+ years at the helm, what past experiences other than the lightning strike in 1994 give you encouragement that your group knows what it's doing? What successes are you really building on?

Want to know what it's like to be a Phillies' fan? Just read the interview.

And then reconsider your view of Phillies' fans. The fact that the keep coming back is not a testimony for the Phillies, but a statement that these fans love the game and refuse to let local management ruin it.

And given Bill Giles' statement about their being no intent to sell the team, the current ownership group will get the chance to run the franchise into the ground.

Where's a strong commissioner invoking "the best interests of baseball" clause and compelling incompetent management with a losing record over 20 years to sell the team?

For the good of the game.

And the sanity of an underrated and earnest group of fans.


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