By Bill Campbell
Baseball is back in the news with the start of spring training in Florida and Arizona. That means we can start talking again about Charlie Manuel.
Manuel’s ninth season as the on-field boss of the Phillies started last Saturday as the team held its first 2013 full-scale workout. Charlie had more to say than ususal that day and most of it had more to do than usual with Charlie Manuel. And he spoke with Ryne Sandberg – whispered here, there and everywhere to be Manuel’s replacement – in close proximity. All of which made the rumor mongering that much more interesting so early in the season. In fact, it all caused Skipper Charlie to vent more than usual at what he perceived to be an excessive focus on his future with the Phils. Sandberg may, indeed, be the heir apparent but Manuel seems to thinks it’s time to change the subject. After all, he is the winning-est manager in Phillies’ history and he has the longest tenure in the job as the 2013 season begins. But we can’t forget that The Skipper will hit age 70 this year.
Responding to the many questions that were raised about his future, Manuel recently said, “I shouldn’t have to explain my status to anybody: the players, the team or President Obama or anybody. I’m not worried about my contract. I’ve been in baseball 51 years and right now I definitely plan on staying in the game and I plan on managing.” As a follow-up to this statement, Manuel added that this would be his final and last comment on the subject. But the topic will surely be raised again if the Phils get off to a shaky start or hit an early rough patch in the season.
Manuel’s potential successor, Sandberg, currently is on his staff coaching third base and it’s rumored that he’s ready to take over direction of the team if needed during the year. But Charlie isn’t looking over his shoulder. Manuel noted, “At the end of the year, David Montgomery and Ruben Amaro, Jr. and I will most likely have a conversation and that’s how I see the entire thing.” But the fact that Manuel has even addressed the matter at all more than suggests that his future with the Phillies is on his mind too.
When the players were asked how they see Charlie Manuel’s future unfolding as the season begins, there was no problem getting their reaction to the possibility of the manager’s departure in the nearer future. Pitcher Cliff Lee saw it as nothing to be concerned about. “Charlie has been here for a while. You have to respect what he’s accomplished. But if we win and that will help him, that’s fine. Because we want to win too.” Sounds they want to keep playing for The Skipper.
Do you find it as difficult as I do to believe that Michael Jordan is fifty? This past weekend was All Star Weekend in the NBA and the game’s past and current All Stars were assembled in Houston for their annual meeting. Among all of the generations of All Stars – and there are some great ones – it seems to be the prevalent opinion that the greatest of them was Jordan.
Michael Jordan hasn’t played since 2003 but his influence still can be felt whether it’s at the All Star Game or at any regularly scheduled game anywhere. Such is the effect of Jordan. Nobody could dribble, pass, shoot or defend like him or do it with a flair that players still try to imitate on the court every night. He won six NBA titles and was ordained MVP in the league five times over a career that began in 1984. He was named scoring champ ten times, All Star MVP three times and played twice in the Olympics where he led the American team to gold medals. He retired with more than 32,000 points scored. Jordan’s singular basketball IQ permeates the game, the NBA and the men still playing today. “Be Like Mike” was more than a marketing campaign: it was a dream, an inspiration, for those who aspired to play in the NBA. For most basketball junkies, there never will be another Michael Jordan.
Jordan, who retired twice and finally left the game at age 39, was in Houston last weekend for a pre-birthday celebration at the Museum of Fine Arts. Among the guests for his fiftieth were current stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard – just a few of the many guys who’ve admired Jordan for years. As Howard put it, “He’s one of the reasons why we play this game of basketball. Mike was the idol of most of the players on the court today.” He’s the reason why they play the game, vie for the All Star title and participate in the All Star Game.
LeBron James and Jordan often are mentioned in the same breath. But Jordan ignited a little controversy last weekend when he said on one NBA program that he would choose Kobe Bryant over James for his personal MVP based on the number of titles that Bryant has won. “If you had to pick between the two, that would be a tough choice,” Jordan said, “But five (Bryan) beats one (James) every time and James won’t get five – although he may get more than that.” Time will prove whether or not he made the right choice.
Michael Jordan still is involved in the game. In addition to his Jordan Brand Apparel, he owns the Charlotte Bobcats. But it’s his mark on the game that runs deep. “He changed the way the game is coached,” said the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, “He influenced that way the game is taught, let alone played, as well as motivated kids to work hard and play hard.” Quite a legacy. To some who don’t remember his amazing accomplishments on the court, he may be as well known for his name-sake shoes. But to most of us he was and always will be “Air Jordan”, the consummate basketball player. It’s hard to believe he’s fifty.
With the Flyers still struggling and failing to realize their lofty ambitions for 2013, there have been reports that one or, possibly, more team executives may lose their posts. But Peter Luukko, Ed Snider’s Man-Friday, has denied those rumblings particularly as they refer to Coach Peter Laviolette and General Manager Paul Holmgren. Asked whether the Flyers’ poor start could result in putting both executive positions in jeopardy, Luukko replied, “Absolutely not. We just need to be patient.” We’ll see.
Team captain, Claude Giroux, has gone on record with some pointed criticism in which he placed the blame on the whole team for its listless play saying, “We’re just going through the motions.” Their dismal all-around play last Monday in New York was enough to fill most rumor mills and to underscore Giroux’s remarks.
The team’s overall record of 6-9-1 before beating the Islanders was terrible. As is their record on the road, particularly against the Jersey Devils They are 2-8 on the road and 3-7 in games played consecutively. Overall, the Flyers have lacked discipline as shown by their NFL high of 81 minor penalties for the season. The offense, which has scored two or fewer goals in 11 of 16 games, has played well below par. Maybe Giroux was right about his team just going through the motions. But when they go all out there’s a big difference as demonstrated in their 7-0 rout of the Islanders over last weekend. And last night they won a wild one over the Penguins in Pittsburgh, 6-5, with Jake Voracek scoring a hat trick. Maybe Captain Giroux’s remarks hit their mark.
As for “going through the motions”, the same could be said of the 76ers who need Andrew Bynum badly. Some one-time supporters who have patiently waited for Bynum to put his shoulder to the wheel and help pull the club together are now calling for the Sixers to cut their losses and declare Bynum free. Some feel that the team has provided Bynum with a pass/fail exam and that he clearly has failed. There is the probability that Bynum’s knee problem is so serious that he won’t ever be able be of service to the 76ers or anyone else. The Sixers have reached the All Star break at 22-29, four games out of play-off contention and just 31 games to go. They are playing for a very disappointed coach in Doug Collins. Jrue Holiday has averaged 10 points per game and has totaled 418 assists in 47 games. But he’s trying to carry a team that, like the Flyers, has been severely limited by injuries, particularly with Jason Richardson who is gone for the season. It doesn’t sound like the team is planning on any trades at the moment but they are searching for a solution. If Bynum isn’t it, who is?
The best team in the City Six continues to be the LaSalle Explorers. John Giannini is now in his ninth season at LaSalle and his teams seem to play better with each passing season. At this writing, LaSalle is 18-6, the top college team in the Philly area at the moment – at least until they meet Temple on Thursday night. A win against the Owls would really give a boost to the Explorers’ tournament hopes. We all should be tuning in to that one.
The usually arrogant Roger Clemens was again himself when describing his reaction one month after being bypassed again by the Baseball Writers Association in requirements for consideration for the Hall of Fame. A quote from Clemens: “If those guys feel I deserve to be there, then I deserve to be there. If they feel I don’t, that’s OK too. I’m not going to lose sleep over it.” Makes you wonder what he does lose sleep over.
Former Texas Ranger outfielder Josh Hamilton says the Dallas-Fort Worth area isn’t a true baseball town. Hamilton is now with the Los Angeles Angels and probably will hear his fair share of boos whenever the Angels play in Texas this season. But he also said that Philadelphia is one of the four baseball towns in the country along with New York, Boston and Chicago. No praise for LA? Kind of strange.
Remembering Jerry Buss
The NBA has lost one of its true champions. Jerry Buss, who grew up poor in Wyoming and went on to become wealthy enough to buy the Los Angeles Lakers and win ten championships, died on Monday at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in LA of kidney failure after suffering from cancer for the last eighteen months. He was 80 and in his years he had been one of the most important and successful team owners on the American sports scene. During his tenure, the Lakers became Southern California’s most beloved sports franchise, introducing to the fans stars like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard among others. But Lakers’ fans didn’t just root for the stars – the stars were among them in the seats, every night. As Kobe Bryant put it, “Few owners in sports can approach Mr. Buss’s accomplishments. He was a great owner with a great heart.” During the 34 Jerry Buss years, the Lakers made the NBA finals 16 times and won 10 titles between 1980 and 2010. Longtime General Manager, Jerry West, a basketball star in his right said of Buss, “He was without a doubt one of the most humble men I’ve ever been around. His vision was second to none.” Kind words about a good guy.
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