Friday, May 28, 2010

Donate to the Fugees Family Soccer Program in Georgia Now

Here's a link to their website. (There's a link that will enable you to donate).

If you're curious about the Fugees (a team of refugees from war-torn countries around the world), read my previous post.

I donated $250 the other day. It would be great if you could donate what you could to help this worthy cause.

Book Review: "Outcasts United" by Warren St. John

The actual title is "Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference."

The town: Clarkston, Georgia.

The refugee team: Now known as Fugees Family.

The woman: A Smith-educated Jordanian named Luma Mufleh.

Warren St. John tells the great tale of refugees in this Atlanta suburb who emigrated to America from hellholes of lawlessness and violence that 15-second sound bytes once a month on the national news couldn't begin to do justice to. Burundi. Liberia. Rwanda. Ethiopia. Mozambique. Somalia. Kosovo. Serbia. Iraq. Many are from single-parent homes, their fathers imprisoned on flimsy political pretexts or killed. Many fled their countries in harrowing ordeals with no possession or money, spending years in refugee camps in Africa before applying for asylum elsewhere in the world and beating steep odds to get a chance at a better life (because most applications get turned down). The single parents frequently work the night shift in chicken-processing plants, traveling over an hour each way to provide for their families.

The kids were left alone, with teenagers sometimes cooking meals for their siblings and taking care of toddlers.

And yet, they have a great sense of family, while working hard to prevent their kids from falling victim to the violence and despair that can befall kids from poor families in the United States -- dropping out of school, drugs, gang violence. These kids didn't come from bad domestic situations (actually, their families were/are close-knit) -- just countries with deep-seated and disturbing problems and corrupt, immoral and violent leaders. Their families, save the Liberians, who speak English, came to America without knowing the language, and the kids themselves were behind in their education because in war-torn places kids don't simply get up, have a good breakfast, walk to school and learn. What they left wasn't a pretty picture. What they came to was grey, uncertain, and not the most welcoming. The social lifelines only extended only so far and then only for so long.

(Imagine, for a moment, if some calamity such as what happened to some of these kids happened to yours, and you ended up wandering around your continent, living in a refugee camp and then settled into a different country with unfamiliar customs and a language you didn't speak.)

Enter Luma Mufleh, born into a wealthy Jordanian family, athletic, smart, stubborn, curious. Luma went to Hobart College, transferred to Smith, played intramural soccer, and then wondered for a while what she was going to do with her life. She ended up in Atlanta, started a cafe, went bankrupt, and on her drive noticed refugee kids playing soccer in Clarkston. She started coaching a group of them, and then another team of them, and then another. She spoke with the kids at all hours, organized tutoring sessions, brought food to their families and helped the families solve a variety of problems. She also had to deal with the goverment in Clarkston, which wasn't all that willing to provide a field for the Fugees to practice and play on.

In short, Luma Mufleh was indefatigable, determined, unwilling to be defeated, generous, stern, tough, forbidding, kind, helpful, perceptive, protective -- about a group of refugee kids that the world seemed to have forgotten and then put them in a place where one of the most caring societies offered more than anywhere else, but then still seemed willing to forget them rather quickly.

A Jordanian woman, estranged from her parents because she elected not to go back to Jordan, alone in Atlanta, with a former doctor turned helper in a Nebraskan named Tracy Ediger.

Only in America.

This is a most heartening story. It's a story about sadness and loss, about determination, communication, teamwork and making one's own path despite many obstacles. The boys were lucky to have Luma Mufleh, and, I'm sure, Luma Mufleh and Tracy Ediger, among others, are thankful that they have the boys who play on the Fugees.

If you're looking for an inspirational story, this is it.

How Bad is the National League?

The defending champion Phillies have been shut out in 4 of their past 5 games and are still 2 up in the NL East.

Memo to the Nationals: If you call up Stephen Strasburg and he succeeds, make a big play for Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt in July. You might just win the wild card or take the division.

The Yankees and Rays must be salivating at this point over their prospects to win the World Series.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Meet Your U.S. World Cup Soccer Team

From the pages of USA Today.

It would be interesting to compare this roster with rosters from years past in terms of the international experience of the players and the roles those players play in premier leagues around the world. I've hypothesized that until the U.S. has dozens of players playing in the top European leagues -- with several starring -- the U.S. won't have enough firepower to compete with the historically outstanding teams in the World Cup (some of which have the opposite problem -- too many stars, an unwillingness for some to subordinate themselves and share, and, consequently, disappointment come World Cup time.

Still, the U.S. is headed in the right direction and should emerge from its group into the elimination round.

Is Ubaldo Jimenez the Best Pitcher in Baseball?

Fastball: Mid-90's.

Breaking Stuff: Mid-80's.

Change-up: Mid-70's.

Ability to fool hitters: Priceless.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Secretary of the Treasury Can Hoop

This from his trip to China.

Now if only he can figure out a way to help revive the economy. (Ouch, that was pretty harsh, wasn't it?).

Good that he can hit the corner jump shot.

He's got that going for him, which is nice.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Looking for a Way to Fire Up Your Team? Teach Them This

My daughter's travel softball team sometimes comes out flat for their first game of three on the Saturday of a tournament weekend. It's not that the kids stay out late or have trouble waking up. It's more so the case that they go to different schools, aren't all in the same grades, have different personalities, different levels of maturity and, well, the team is losing more than it's winning. Today, they didn't fare so well in the elimination round of a tournament. After the game, the coach talked to me and wondered what it would take to get them to come out with more fire.

Confidence is a funny thing with 12 year-olds, and what makes them wow you on a Saturday at 3 p.m. with great baserunning or fielding will frustrate you Sunday morning at 10:30. They're still growing, they're still learning the game, and they're still figuring out who they are. So, I did suggest that the coach come up with a routine that would include some loud, roaring, fire-me-up cheers wherever they do their warm-ups (but not too close to the opposing team so as to look overconfident), just something to get the juices flowing.

And then I thought of this.

Now that would be really cool. Perhaps it would be a confidence booster -- win the pre-game cheering with the New Zealand Haka dance and set a good tone. Of course, it would help if your play could back up the dance, and given that the dance is a tribal warrior dance, it's probably a good idea to do it not all that close to your opponents. Tournament officials might get nervous, but you have to figure that if the girls can nail down a cheer like this, they can do almost anything.

Yes, I'm kidding, but if you have any suggestions for pre-game, early morning rituals, please send any and all comments my way.

Required Reading: Stephen A. Smith's Column on John Hardnett

"Who," you might ask. "Who was John Hardnett?"

Read Stephen A.'s column to find out more.

I've always wondered about the lifeblood of institutions, what makes them tick, what makes them endure over time. It's not usually about the leadership, because most institutions that rely upon charismatic leaders fail once either the leader leaves or dies or the charisma fades. The reason is simple -- all that held the place together was the charisma.

But institutions, in the true sense of the word, endure because there are those who are not presidents or members of the board of directors or the talent that faces the public, but those who contribute mightily to the place in less heralded roles, that make the place endure. Think of brand names you like and/or trust -- sure, great leadership and management had something to do with it, but over time it's because there are people involved who care so much and who don't need the glory or the big bucks. We know who they are -- they're your neighbors and acquaintances, people who cut the grass on little league fields, help churches and synagogues prepare for services, tell newcomers at companies how the place really works, shovel walkways at work when those contracted to do it show up late. . . you know who they are.

And that's where John Hardnett comes in. You see, basketball is an institution in Philadelphia in a unique way, a way that it's hard to put your finger on. It's part of the sinew and muscle of the city, a place very deeply rooted in excellence going way back to about 100 years ago with the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, continuing on through to the days of Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia's Big Five, the Public League/Catholic League championship game, to names like Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Hank Gathers, Andre McCarter, Gene Banks, Lewis Lloyd, Rasheed Wallace and so many more. So many, many more.

We remember the big names, don't we? The stars. But how do the stars get there? Who coaches the youth leagues? Who mentors them? Who pushes them, challenges them, keeps them honest, humble, working hard to improve their game? Do we remember them? Honor them? Could we recognize them?

And that's where John Hardnett comes in. Coach, mentor, teacher. Read the article, see who is quoted, and you'll realize the legacy that John Hardnett left -- of mentoring, of giving something back. He might not be remembered the way some of the big-name stars are, but he might have touched more lives more deeply than they did. Everyone has a Wilt story, an Earl the Pearl or Gene Banks story. But my bet is that while fewer have John Hardnett stories, there are stories of a different type. Deeper, richer, more meaningful to the teller.

He might not have been a marquis name in Philadelphia basketball, but without guys like John Hardnett, there might not have been a marquis for Philadelphia basketball.

Could the Phillies and White Sox Make Another Trade? reports that the Phillies are scouting White Sox relievers.

Not much is mentioned in the Philadelphia press about the Phillies' efforts to fortify their bullpen, but much has been written about how thin the bullpen is. If the ChiSox fall out of the AL Central race in the next couple of weeks, the Phillies could thicken up their bullpen -- literally and figuratively.

My Old Flyers Jersey

As the previous post indicates, I don't follow the Flyers all that often. That's not an indictment of the Flyers or the NHL, just a showing of my interests. Of course, now that the Flyers are on the brink of going to their first Stanley Cup final in over a decade, the entire Delaware Valley is getting more interested. And, if the Phillies keep up their futility at the plate, the fan base will get even that more interested.

Today my mother had an interesting suggestion -- that I pull out my old Flyers jersey (and this is from both my personal and the Flyers' Jurassic period) and give it to my 10 year-old son for him to wear to school. Boy, did that comment bring back some memories.

As the Flyers marched toward the Stanley Cup, the kids at my junior high school became more and more interested (this was in the spring of 1974). Some families had Flyers' tickets, most did not, and the novelty of their winning, the flamboyance of their methods (they fought like hell), and the scarcity of the sport (ESPN didn't come into fruition for at least 5 more years, and merchandising wasn't what it is today) compelled great interest in a city that was starved for a winner.

The 76ers did win the title in 1967, but in 1964 the Phillies, still without a World Series title, blew a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games to go (and finished third), the A's blew town in 1954 for Kansas City, and the Eagles were terrible. Atop that, the once heralded Sixers set an NBA record a few years earlier -- for posting the least amount of wins in a season (9, a record that still stands today). While Villanova's and Penn's men's basketball teams were faring well, there was a void in Philadelphia -- the fans were starving for a winner.

So there came the Flyers. They were en route to the Stanley Cup finals, and lots of kids were getting jerseys. But here was the thing -- there weren't any Modell's, Dick's or Sports Authority's where you could get a jersey. There were family-owned businesses -- Pearson's, Poly Brothers and Mitchell & Ness (which by today has transformed itself into a premier maker and seller of vintage jerseys priced beyond a day's pay for most Americans). And, the jerseys weren't sold off the rack -- they were made for you.

I don't remember whether my father asked me if I wanted one or if I asked for one, but those sporting goods stores were in Center City Philadelphia, near where my father worked. So, one day at lunchtime, he went to Mitchell & Ness and stood in line. I had asked for an Andre "Moose" DuPont jersey, because a) most kids had Bobby Clarke's or Rick MacLeish's and b) DuPont was one of the Flyers' four fighters (and he had a nifty little jig that he danced after he scored a goal). My father waited for over an hour in line as people at the store affixed the number 6 on the sleeves and back of the jersey. Dad brought it home with great pride, the way a hunter would bring home his quarry to show the family that the day had been successful. Like many other kids, I wore mine to school.

And to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals against Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman, Gerry Cheever and the Boston Bruins. A friend of my dad's sold him 2 tickets five rows behind the Flyers' bench (face value at the time was about $12!), and despite his not being a hockey fan, we took the subway from Fern Rock Station to the Spectrum to watch the game. The Flyers had a big surprise in store for us that afternoon, as they brought out Kate Smith to sing "God Bless America." Five years earlier, Flyers' executive Lou Scheinfeld started playing a tape of Smith singing "God Bless America" before key games, and going into Game 6 the Flyers were 35-3-1 when they had played this song before a game. They rolled out a carpet, and a robust Smith gave a great performance -- the place was electric.

The Flyers scored only one goal in that game -- Rick MacLeish re-directed a slapshot by Moose DuPont in the first period, but the Bruins didn't score at all. Flyers' goalie Bernie Parent "stood on his head" and played a great game, and the Flyers were Stanley Cup champions. My father and I stood and cheered, and then I made my way toward the bench, just as it was emptying out onto the ice. For whatever reason -- remember, I was in junior high -- I was looking for a souvenir and grabbed a water bottle off the bench. I'm not sure whether it's still at my mother's house, but I showed it to friends who visited the house days after the game, along with my ticket stub (I still have that). That night, people emptied out of their houses and onto the streets -- in the city and in the suburbs -- to celebrate the improbable rise of a team that had been formed less than 7 years earlier.

I hadn't given that jersey much thought over the years, except that I preserved it for some unknown reason. How much stuff from years ago do we discard in the name of avoiding clutter and in the name of moving and not having a place to put things? Since that victory 36 years ago, I've gone to college and to graduate school, lived in eight different residences, and, somehow I still have that jersey. Today, I pulled it out of a storage container and gave it to my son, because my mom relayed a story that parents were pulling out their old jerseys and giving them to their kids.

I gave my "Moose" jersey to my son, who promptly went to the Flyers' web-site to check if a current player wears #6. No one does, and it isn't as though someone might confuse what's now a vintage jersey with what they wear now, which is probably a good thing. I looked at it, wear and tear and all, and thought of a different era, a different team, and an excited father happy that he could locate a jersey for his son after most of the other kids had theirs.

Sharing championships is an exciting thing for families and towns to do. Perhaps if the Flyers can keep it up, people in Philadelphia can share one more.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On the Flyers

The team is playing great.

The comeback against Boston was one for the ages.

The team played very well on Sunday against the Canadiens.

It's compelling hockey, and drawing more interest in Philadelphia by the day.

But to confess, last Friday night, for Game 6, I was as interested (if not more) in how the short-handed Phillies were faring in Milwaukee in an early-season, regular-season game than how the Flyers were doing in Boston. (To fully confess, I started my evening by watching the second episode of the fourth season of Friday Night Lights).

That probably says more about me than about hockey, but I do think that if you were to peel back the onion on the viewership a bit, the Flyers don't draw attention all that well outside their very loyal circle of fans.

Which, for the purposes of the past series against Boston, was a shame.

Great hockey, great theatre, great reality TV.

The bet here is that if the Flyers make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, they'll draw a lot more attention in Philadelphia very quickly.

Until, perhaps, the next Eagles' Organized Team Activity takes place.


The Integrity of LaSalle's Basketball Program

Good news in college hoops doesn't travel as fast as news of renegade coaches getting their teams put on probation. This is one of the good stories. Coach John Gianinni is graduating his players, and he's winning more games, too.

Sometimes we forget that the word "college" is the more important of the two words forming "college basketball."

This group of five LaSalle men's basketball players won't let us forget that.

The Pittsburgh Pirates Do Have a Plan

And team president Frank Coonelly is a smart guy. Read here for the details.

You have to figure that if Pirate fans have endured 17 straight losing seasons they can endure a few more. One of the bright spots is the rising farm system, which now ranks 15th out of 30 teams in Baseball America's rankings. Coonelly knows that the fans have the right to be fed up, but in the article he points to bright spots within the Pirates' system.

Read the whole thing and decide for yourself whether you believe this Pirates' regime is en route to turning things around or not. Right now, the big club doesn't look so good, but if you're a Pirates' fan and can draw analogies to the Rays, you might have reason to hope.

Talk-Show Host Michael Smerconish and Ipecac

I can't tell whether he wanted his listeners to get cavities or vomit, but Michael Smerconish's puckering up to Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter this morning was a pretty awful way to drive to work (and, yes, I had the freedom to change stations, which I did).

Monday, May 17, 2010

How Tough Are the Phillies?

Their starting shortstop missed a month.

Their back-up shortstop has missed at least 10 days with a hamstring injury.

Their starting catcher has missed the past week with a strained knee ligament. When he got hurt, their back-up catcher was on the DL. The guy who started this weekend's 3-game series in Milwaukee was a 34 year-old journeyman who had started only 21 Major League games prior to this weekend.

Their #3 starter missed the first 6 weeks of the season. Their #4 starter, a rising star, has been on the DL for about a month.

Their closer missed the start of the season with an elbow problem, came back, and just went on the DL again. Their top righty set-up man kicked a chair after blowing a save and is now out for 2 months after toe surgery. Their top lefty set-up man missed the start of the season, too, but he has returned to the bullpen.

Atop that, their starting left fielder and center fielder got off to bad starts (which they are beginning to rectify).

So, where is this team? 10 games over .500 with the best record in the NL and the fourth-best record in all of baseball.

They obviously are doing something right in the front office and at Citizens Bank Park.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Can John Calipari Bring a National Championship to Kentucky?

I don't think so.

And it's not because of speculation that he'll become LeBron James' hand-picked coach, wherever LeBron ends up.

The reason I don't think that Calipari won't win a championship at Kentucky is, ironically, because he's great at recruiting the best players to whatever school that he coaches. That may cause you to scratch your head, but when you combine that ability with the NBA's "one and done" rule (that requires HS grads to go to college for one year or play overseas for a year before they are eligible for the NBA draft) combine to create problems for Calipari. Why? Because the best kids want to go to the NBA as soon as possible, so if they go to play at Kentucky they might only stay for a year. Get 2-3 kids a year who only stay for a year, and they won't have a chance to come together as a team. Also, it's hard to win it all with freshmen, no matter how talented they are.

So, get 2-3 of the top 20 players each year, and suppose you lose 2-3 of them each year after their freshman year. Then what? The returning players are role players (and perhaps fourth and fifth options), but your nucleus will change every year. Which means that it will be hard to win a title.

Unless. . .

some of them stay for 2-3 years, instead of the obligatory one. Change the "one and done" rule to a more baseball-like "3 and done" rule, and Calipari could win 5 titles in a row and build the next best dynasty after John Wooden's UCLA teams.

But with the rules the way they are now, the Kentucky faithful might get great players, but they might not get the titles they seek.

And their patience will Coach Calipari, for whom they opened the vaults, could run thin. For the money they're paying, the fans won't be happy with regional final or Final Four appearances. They'll want titles.

And the irony is that the players they get might be, of all things, too good to deliver.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Greg Golson Now on the Yankees

This is not a misprint.

For years the Phillies have drafted 5-tool players whose careers fizzled at AA ball. The reason -- great athletes, but bad knowledge of the strike zone, too many strikeouts, bad on-base percentages, the same old tale.

Before the 2009 season, the Phillies swapped disappointing former first-round draft picks, getting John Mayberry, Jr. from the Rangers in exchange for, yes, Greg Golson, who somehow ended up with the Yankees and now got a call up because of an injury to Nick Swisher. Lest Phillies' fans fear that they let a superstar get away too early, Golson was hitting .242 in Scranton with an on-base percentage below .300.

So, Yankee fans, if the team's spin doctors are calling him a good-fielding outfielder who has potential, it means that the team has doubts whether Golson could hit Jamie Moyer (or his American League equivalent, velocity-wise) with an oar.

Could Scott Mathieson be the Phillies' Insurance for Brad Lidge?

Several seasons ago, my family and I were at a Phillies' game where Mathieson, a big, promising righty starter, blew out his arm (this might have been as far back as 2007). Since then, he's had Tommy John surgery twice, and he opened the season at AAA Lehigh Valley, as a closer. His record has been good, and you have to figure that he'll figure into the Phillies' bullpen mix before too long, especially if Brad Lidge ends up on the disabled list.

It's too early for the Phillies to push the panic button (although the experts on WIP sounded like they were doing that yesterday, at least a bit), but without Ryan "Mensa" Madson and Lidge, they'll need some help. This development might mean that when J.A. Happ returns from the disabled list, the team will put Kyle Kendrick in the bullpen instead of Jamie Moyer, thereby giving the team another righty arm in the bullpen.

It's not a great situation, but, then again, the team has dealt with adversity before (translated: suffering through Lidge's hellacious 2009) and gone pretty far (Game 6 of the World Series). This development bears watching, because Phillies' fans expect this team to return to the Series for the third year in a row.

Roy Halladay to Pitch on Roy Halladay Bobblehead Night!

The Phillies' rotation now sets up for Halladay to start on Tuesday night, May 18, at Citizens Bank Park.

As luck would have it, that's Roy Halladay Bobblehead Night.

So, fans going to the sold-out game will experience Hallday on the mound while his bobblehead is bobbling in the stands.

Pretty cool!

(Yes, I will be there).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fran Dunphy's Coaching Tree Expands

Former start point guard Andy Toole is now the head coach at Robert Morris. At 29, he'll be the youngest coach in Division I.

Former Dunphy assistants Fran O'Hanlon (Lafayette), Gil Jackson (Howard) and Steve Donahue (Cornell) are head coaches. Former Dunphy players Toole and Jerome Allen (Penn) are also Division I head coaches. Matt Langel, a former Dunphy player, is Dunphy's top assistant, and he'll be a Division I head coach some day too.

World Cup Head Throws Brazil's Coach Under the Bus

If managers in Major League Baseball thought they had it rough. . .

The reason for the controversy is that Brazil's coach indicated that once uber-popular Ronaldinho would not be part of the squad playing in South Africa.

Coaches are paid to make tough decisions.

The head of the World Cup is paid to sell tickets.

Do the math.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Redskins an Old Age Home for the Eagles?

Brian Westbrook will visit the Redskins.

Yes, the same team that already has 3 aging running backs.

Yes, the team with Donovan McNabb.

What makes the report amusing is that unless I'm missing something, Westbrook's brother, Byron, played for the 'skins last year. Why is that significant? Because Chris Mortensen's report suggests that Donovan McNabb was the lure. And that's interesting, because there also were rumors that McNabb was lobbying for Terrell Owens.

Who's next?

James Thrash?

Freddie Mitchell?

Hugh Douglas?

Westbrook was a warrior in Philadelphia, but he's pretty nicked up and has a recent history of concussions. Andy Reid wouldn't have let him go if he still thought that Westbrook had enough juice in the tank to contribute. Sure, people wax romantic about Brian Dawkins and what a stupid decision it was for Reid to let him go, but the truth was that Dawkins was at least a step too slow two years ago and arrived late more often than not. Yes, the Eagles missed his leadership, and yes, he drew mention on some all-pro rosters. But that mention derived more from sentiment than outstanding play.

I hope that Brian Westbrook can have a last hurrah or two in the NFL. He deserves one more cameo.

The Phillies Will Play on the Road at Home

That's not a misprint. Because of the G20 Summit that draws radical protestors to it the way a Star Trek convention draws nerds, Major League Baseball has decided to move the Blue Jays-Phillies' series to Philadelphia (it's scheduled for June 25-27).

Bummer for Jays' fans, who don't have a ton to cheer about and who would have looked forward to a) the return of Roy Halladay and b) the drawing card that the Phillies are. Instead, the Jays will be the home team in Philadelphia, wear their white home uniforms and bat last. Yes, there will be a DH.

Make no mistake, though. There will be 45,000 fans at Citizens Bank Park -- mostly all of them cheering for the Phillies.

Now for the fun part -- attention to the details:

1. Whose public address announcer will be featured?
2. Will the Phillies be able to turn the Phanatic loose on the field?
3. How do the proceeds get divided?

The Phillies have 56 straight sellouts. The bet here is that these 3 games will sell out too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Phillies and Jayson Werth -- Will They Re-Sign Him?

On the one hand. . .

Werth is off to a great start, he's a 5-tool player, and he's been terrific in Philadelphia. The Phillies will free up $7.5 million after this season assuming that they don't bring Jamie Moyer back, and they'll free up an additional $24 million after next season because I doubt that they'll bring back either Brad Lidge or Raul Ibanez after 2011 (they might want to shed either of them before then, but they'll find few takers who will be willing to take on their full salaries). So far, so good, and that could mean that they could stretch for 2011 (that is, go more toward $160 million in payroll) before getting back to a more "normal" payroll for 2012 and beyond.

Except. . .

Jimmy Rollins' and Cole Hamels' deals are up after the 2011 season, too. They'll want more money, and Hamels might not be affordable if he returns to form this year and next. Rollins is part of what Baseball Prospectus calls the "Core Four" (Howard, Utley, Halladay and Rollins). So, the monies going to them will push the payroll upward, more towards $140 million (plus, I believe that Howard's, Halladay's and Utley's contracts are back-loaded and will escalate the payroll too). Atop that, you cannot have a team where the average age is 33 and expect to win, and you cannot have a team where most of the players are around the same age. You have to find some youth, and, as GM Ruben Amaro said earlier this year, not every player can make over $10 million. Plus, Werth might get Jason Bay-type money and 6 years, and that would put him under contract until he's 37. Given that Raul Ibanez started to show his age in the first year of the three-year, $36 million that he signed when he was 37, the Phillies most assuredly will tread carefully. And, I doubt that Werth might be interested in giving the Phillies too big of a discount for agreeing to stay with his buddies.

Now, the Phillies have a few promising prospects. Scott Mathieson, a re-tread coming off two Tommy John surgeries, is looking sharp as a closer at AAA Lehigh Valley. If the Phillies cannot find a replacement for Ryan Madson or if Madson falters, look for Mathieson to join the 'pen, and, yes, he's a future closer. More importantly, top prospect Domonic Brown is tearing it up at AA Reading, so look for a mid-season promotion to Lehigh Valley to help get him ready to join the big club. My guess is that Brown will be the starting right fielder for the Phillies next year, and that the club will use the $15 million in savings (Moyer's expiring contract and what Werth made in his last year) to give Rollins and longer deal and add some competition for Kyle Kendrick at the fifth starter's position (assuming that Kendrick proves to be little more than a .500 innings eater).

It's hard to see the Phillies keep Werth for several reasons. First, the money. How many players can they have making $10 million or more? Second, the age. How many players can they have who are in their early 30's and who will age together? Then again, it's worked out okay for the Yankees with their group, hasn't it? Third, the need to get younger and work some younger players into the mix. The logic isn't totally consistent or 100% sound or foolproof, but the conclusion seems to be inescapable -- Werth goes.

And hopefully not to the Braves, Mets, Nationals or Marlins (little worry as to the latter).

Ken Griffey, Jr. and Petticoat Junction

I'm dating myself, but when I was young there was a TV show called Petticoat Junction. One of the characters was Uncle Joe (played by Edgar Buchanan), and the show's song showed Uncle Joe sitting on the porch of the Shady Rest Hotel, asleep in a rocking chair. The song had a line in it that said, "And there is Uncle Joe, he's a-movin' kind of slow at the junction. . .."

Well, read this about Junior Griffey and draw your own conclusions.

And, to think, they fired the hitting coach because the team wasn't hitting well.

Skipper Don Wakamatsu has some work to do.

This Football Player/Baseball Player IS a Hero

Read here about Villanova athlete Matt Szczur, who donated bone marrow last week to help save the life of a 19-month old.

At a time when Ben Roethlisberger jerseys were on sale at a Reebok outlet in Jackson, New Jersey for fire sale prices, perhaps it's time for Villanova and a major apparel maker to hold a charitable fundraiser (assuming that the NCAA doesn't get in the way) to advocate bone marrow transplants and participating in match programs -- sell commemorative Matt Szczur jerseys (or, for a less expensive alternative, jersey t-shirts). I couldn't think of a better tribute and fundraiser than if a stadium full of Villanova fans were to show up in those shirts at Villanova's home opener.

Because it's rare when you get to honor a real hero.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Zduriencik's Folly

In the movie Wag the Dog, a presidential media advisor suggested a military action to distract the attention of the electorate away from domestic problems. In the short film, Seattle Mariners 2010, GM Jack Zduriencik elected to fire the team's batting coach, Alan Cockrell, because the team is hitting .225. Here's the problem: all of my pre-season reading suggested that the Mariners' GM built his team around pitching and defense; he didn't pay much attention to offense.

Which means that Cockrell gets canned because instead of being a hitting coach, he's expected to be a magician. Ouch!

So Cockrell takes the fall because of Zduriencik's bad planning. That doesn't make a lot of sense, except in professional sports. You can add the best hitting coach to the Mariners' coaching staff, and I doubt he'd make that much of a difference. If the next hitting coach falters, and, perhaps, the one after that, Mariners' fans will have to wonder whether they just don't have enough hitters on their team. Heck, they're wondering about that now, and they just might be wondering about the savvy and intellectual honesty of their general managers. It says here that you could give the heart of the Mariners' order oars and the best hitting coach, and it wouldn't make much of a difference.

I hope that the next hitting coach rents his home in Seattle.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

First Episode of Friday Night Lights

Okay, here goes:

1. The Dillon School District screwed Coach Taylor. I mean, he has won a state title and lost by a point in last year's game, so what do they do? They bend over backwards because Joe McCoy, the uberwealthy, prepossessing father of the star quarterback, J.D. McCoy, pressures them to do so and install his own puppet, Wade Aikman, as head coach. The body language of Taylor's one-time assistants who now are stuck at West Dillon High School says it all -- they don't like Joe McCoy, period.

2. They also shafted Coach Taylor's wife, Tammi (I hope I spelled her name right, but I figure that I get three guesses depending on how traditional or flaky her fictional parents were when she was born). Why? Because she's the principal at West Dillon and stuck in a school and school district that she cannot be comfortable with. And she's stuck with Joe McCoy, Wade Aikman and J.D. McCoy. But Principal Taylor is principled and nobody's fool. If Joe McCoy thinks he can mess with her, he's mistaken. Oh, he might win a few battles, but he won't win the war.

3. J.D. McCoy has transformed himself from an unsure kid in need of friends to an entitled, selfish lout who is crusing for a bruising. He was rude to Matt Saracen, a legend at West Dillon if not for his play but for his unselfishness and for the struggle that has been his life so far. He sexually harassed Julie Taylor, Matt's girlfriend and daughter of the principal and coach, and so far he got away with it. True, Matt came to her rescue, but he lost his cool a bit.

4. East Dillon High is where Coach Taylor landed, along with Landry Clark, Matt's best friend, founder of the heavy metal band Crucifictorious, whom Coach Taylor used to refer to as Lance and of whom Coach Taylor was suspicious (perhaps because Texas football coaches stereotypically view intellectuals as poison for their players) until Landry went out for football and busted his gut for the team. East Dillon is what you would imagine the high school on the road to hell would look like. Awful facilities, some kids who would be better suited for juvenile hall than a football field, and not enough football players at that. Coach Taylor got off to a terrible start at East Dillon -- the field and facilities are terrible, the one assistant he hired has a personality disorder that either will get him fired or poleaxed (by Taylor), and after a lecture from Taylor a bunch of kids quit. East Dillon ended up suiting up 18 kids in their first game -- with disastrous results. There was one positive development -- one of Taylor's assistants from West Dillon joined him at East Dillon at the end of the first episode.

What does the future beckon? Somehow, I think that there is a volcano brewing at West Dillon that will cause the high-school football equivalent of molten lava spew all over the McCoys and Aikman, with the scenario at the end of the TV season that long-time (and hard to dislike, even though he's hard to tolerate) West Dillon booster Buddy Garrity will beg Eric Taylor to come back to West Dillon to save the program. So, the biblical-like Coach Taylor will be faced with an awful dilemma -- stay at decrepit and struggling East Dillon, or, once again, come back to West Dillon to play the hero.

It will be interesting to see how East Dillon high's football program develops under Coach Taylor. You would think that some of the hammerheads who quit the program would realize that they have a unique opportunity to play for a coach who won a state title and that would be cool. But so far, they'd rather not. It also will be interesting to see what becomes of last year's star fullback, Tim Riggins, who quit college in September and returned to Dillon, but who already got kicked out of his brother Billy's house. Here's a plot line -- will somehow Riggins end up pursuing the beautiful and nice daughter of Coach Taylor? That's hard to see, given that Matt Saracen is around, but where there's Tim Riggins, there is drama.

So next week East Dillon needs to pick up the pieces after it's horrid opening day, and Principal Taylor will have to continue to deal with the McCoys. My guess is that things will get worse for the good guys before they get better.

Great, great show!

Shouldn't the Best Action at the World Cup be on the Pitch?

Security will be an issue in South Africa in July.

Remember, most people won't tell you whether they can really step up and deliver on a big task or not. They want to believe they can, and they want you to believe that they can, but deep down they might be sweating bullets whether they can.

The South African government finds itself in this predicament.

3 Pieces of Wisdom from Sports that Also Bode Well for Life

My kids call these dad-isms. They're not original. One, I know, comes from John Wooden. I'm not sure who said the second one, and the third one is repeated every year by defensive backs who get burned for long touchdowns in stadiums that are packed to capacity. But I think that there's some truth to them, so I figure that I'll share them with you. They might come in handy -- at work, at home, or in an activity that you're engaged in.

Here goes:

1. "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." John Wooden, the legendary UCLA men's basketball coach, authored this line. I say this at home a bunch on the value of studying or practicing, and it obviously worked for Coach Wooden, who won a bunch of NCAA titles. The other day my son had to recite a few lines at a public gathering, and when we went for the dress rehearsal he started giggling and had trouble saying them. The reason? He hadn't practiced as much at home as he should have. So, he practiced diligently over the next two days. The following morning was the event, and he noticed when we arrived that the main hall was empty. He asked me if he could go in and practice. We went in there, and when it was his turn, he nailed it. I told him once again that's why everyone practices, but it's good when kids can see cause and effect.

2. "The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back." In other words, you need to work well within the team concept if you expect to have a chance to win -- it cannot just be about you. I've seen people forget this concept time and time again -- at work and in extracurriculars particularly -- and with disastrous results. Yes, you must excel at what you do, but not if it destroys morale or fails to achieve the team's goals. Sometimes you'll be asked to play a key role, others, a subordinate one, but you must remember that it's the team or the institution that matters more than your individual glory. And, for what it's worth, if you remember that and your institution or team achieves its goal and excels, there's plenty of glory and exhiliration for everyone to share. Be selfish, and, well, that's what you'll be remembered for. And I'll tell you what -- if you're consistently selfish and don't work for the greater good of the team or the organization, you're not going to be a pretty site when you're a senior citizen. Just old, grouchy and full of complaints.

3. "If you're going to take on challenges, you had better have a short memory." Excellent hitters make outs 70% of the time. The best defensive backs get burned for touchdowns. Star quarterbacks throw incompletions and interceptions. The list is endless -- sales people lose out to the competition, product development engineers have failures -- but if we learn from what went wrong or didn't work and don't dwell on the past, we have a good chance at the next challenge. You cannot undo the long touchdown that the other team just scored, but you can not let it eat at you, stay focused, and then make a play during the next defensive series that will give your team a chance to pull ahead. The same holds true in school or on the job. You might not get the grade on a test, but you should learn quickly from the experience -- did you prepare well enough, did you not understand something, should you have asked more questions -- and then move on and do a better job preparing for the next test. But you have to have a short memory, too.

So those are some of the adages that we talk about in our house. What are some of yours?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Friday Night Lights Returns Tonight

Great, great show. If you haven't watched it, start watching. You also can buy the first three seasons' worth of DVDs and get caught up. You'll be glad that you did.

"Clear eyes, full hearts. . . can't lose!"

Thursday, May 06, 2010

On Philadelphia Fans

Yes, the police tasered a rambunctious 17 year-old.

Yes, some goofball twenty something intentionally puked on the daughters of a Northeastern Pennsylvania police captain.

Yes, they sell a lot of beer at Citizens Bank Park, and, like most parks, sell it through the seventh inning.

Yes, they've sold out 55 straight games.

Yes, the place is electric.

As an alternative, you can be a Pirates fan. They've had 17 straight losing season, play to an empty house, and don't generate much excitement because the team has very little chance of finishing over .500, let alone making the playoffs. They probably don't have the same incidents as they do in Philadelphia because they have many fewer fans and, as a result, many fewer chances of having incidents. That doesn't excuse what happened in Philadelphia, but let's be careful of painting anyone -- and I mean anyone -- with a broad brush. That means Met fans, Democrats or Republicans, Goldman Sachs employees or people who borrowed much more money than they could have repaid, members of any ethnic group, race or religion -- anyone. It's dangerous, and it's not right.

I've gone to Phillies games for a long time, and I've felt safe at all of them. Sure, there are knuckleheads there, but there are knuckleheads everywhere. Most fans want to have a good time with their friends, watch good baseball (okay, so they haven't always watched good baseball), and have a nice night out.

And most do.

Could the Phillies do a better job of policing the place?


Should they turn off the taps after the fifth inning or instill a two-beer limit per fan?

They should explore it.

But should anyone take two data points and draw conclusions about the almost 4 million fans who cheer this team loudly and loyally?

Not a chance.

Philadelphia fans are passionate, knowledgeable, loyal (there's no more evidence of that than the rain we had to endure in the 2008 World Series) and as human as any other group of fans. Fans in other cities are entitled to their own opinons of Philadelphia fans -- but not their own facts. Those two fans misbehaved, for sure, but that doesn't make the rest of the fan base felons or incorrigibles.

Not a chance.

Money in the Bank

The Phillies enjoyed their 55th straight sellout today.

With this type of revenue, the possibilities for continuing to build the roster are promising to say the least.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Then Again. . .

The Phillies don't have much of a bullpen right now, they went limping into a 3-game series against the red-hot Mets, took a beating on Fri night and emerged with a series sweep.


Because Johan Santana had the worst outing of his career.


Because Jamie Moyer drew a two-out walk with the bases loaded. The guy is older than Betty White, for Pete's sake.

And he's a pitcher.


Because after that, the $5 million dollar man, Shane Victorino, hit a grand slam off Santana.

This team wins because it finds ways to win with guys like Kyle Kendrick and Moyer still in the rotation. This team wins because it keeps plugging away until the last out is made.

The Phillies made a small statement this weekend. They still need better pitching overall, a healthy Jimmy Rollins and a Raul Ibanez who doesn't swing the bat like Betty White. Despite their current warts, they're still the team to beat in the NL East.