By Bill Campbell
That Golden Pitching Rotation is starting to fray a bit at the edges.
You’ll remember the baseball headlines of last winter: “Pitching rotation for the ages,” the headlines proclaimed. How will they ever lose, was the question. Individually, the Phillies produced memories of Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. And there was Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain who were helped out with days of rain. But to place four pitchers of similar talent on the same staff was almost unheard of. The Phillies managed it — at least until now.
Halladay, Lee and Hamels have been brilliant. But the fourth guy is starting to show the wear and tear. Some unsettling comments are coming out of the Phillies’ sanctuary and they are upsetting to say the least. “I came here to win,” says Roy Oswalt, the fourth member of that once glittering rotation, “I haven’t felt like I’ve given enough to the team and I’m trying to do what I can to get back. But if you can’t pitch, you have to retire.” He clearly has a disc problem and his future seems to be in the hands of team physician, Michael Ciccotti, and a surgeon in Dallas named Andrew Dossett, who treated Oswalt before he came to the Phillies. Oswalt has admitted that lingering back pain has gone down into his knee on occasion, which has prevented him from properly preparing for his next start. Ryan Madson, who has enjoyed a banner role as Brad Lidge’s successor, as chief saver, was hit by a batted ball on his pitching hand on May 20th and it’s still causing him some problems. He has trouble gripping the ball for certain pitches and has some numbness and inflammation in his right hand. He does anticipate a quick recovery but the incident has lingered longer than expected. On the plus side of the ledger, people like Vance Worley, Mike Stutes and Kyle Kendrik appear capable of taking up most of the slack. But Oswalt’s problems continue. The Golden Rotation for the Ages is a bit on temporary hold.
There have been a couple of other baseball developments in the past week or so that might relate to the fan. The first was the designation of Jack McKeon as the interim manager of the Florida Marlins. How many 80-year-old guys do you know who has suddenly been appointed in charge of anything? To make the final decisions as to whether or not your institution fails or succeeds? Would you question that a manager has those shoes to fill on a baseball team? Jack McKeon was once retired by the Marlins when he was 74, only to make a return to the same responsibilities as he turned 80, if only on an interim basis. There are still some 40 games left in the baseball season before the Marlins move into a new stadium, escaping the football field where they currently reside.
The other fascinating development also involves a manager and an ex-manager. Jim Riggelman of the Washington Nationals. He had his team playing well, had won 11 of his last 12 games and also had the National Leagues’ best record for the month of June. He had his team over the 500 mark for the first time ever at this point in the season. Riggelman was working on a one-year contract (this year) and he wanted to have a little conversation with his superiors about next year and his future. Jason Werth, one of his players, had signed a long term deal for $126 million so Riggelman anticipated no problem. Was he ever wrong! General Manager Mike Rizzo was not interested in any
such conversation and he definitely wasn’t interested in his manger’s future. So Riggelman quit, figuring he was not the guy they wanted for the long haul. Maybe not even for the short one. His celebrated quote was memorable, “I know I’m not Casey Stengel but I do feel like I know what I’m doing and it is not to continue on with such a short leash.” He added, “I wanted a commitment, I wanted to have a conversation, a meeting in Chicago on Friday. They wouldn’t do that. I may never get another opportunity to manage in the major leagues but I never again will do it on a one-year deal.” Self respect comes high. It will be interesting to see where Jim Riggelman lands next year. Personally, I hope it’s somewhere in baseball.
The time of Jack McKeon’s stint as interim manager of the Marlins was pretty brief. It consumed all of three days. The Marlins appointed 68-year-old Davey Johnson as their manager for the rest of the season. Charlie Manuel, who began this season as the oldest manager in the majors, winds up as the third oldest appointed to that job. And they say it’s a young man’s game. Charlie says he plans to stick around for the long haul. He says, “I wouldn’t know what to do without baseball.”
A hockey note: the consensus is that the Flyers became younger, faster and bigger during the three days of the draft doings in Minnesota. And many seem to think that their dressing room became a more congenial place to visit. Their big acquisition was Ilya Bryzgalov, the new goal tender for whom they had to find salary space to stay within money guidelines. But the big surprise was the exit of both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. That move can cost the Flyers some offense but everyone involved, from the chairman on down, seemed determined to get a new front line goal tender at whatever cost.
That will be a subject for another day.