By Bill Campbell
There were a couple of baseball incidents last weekend that managed to escape much attention. They happened about a thousand or more miles south of Philadelphia and to teams other than our own. They probably don’t rate with the news about the condition of Roy Halladay’s right arm. But they merit some mention here.
One such incident certainly caused a bit of a panic in the Toronto-Tampa Bay game. Last Tuesday night in a game where Toronto beat Tampa Bay 6-4, Blue Jays pitcher, J.A. Happ, was hit in the head by a line drive and taken off the field on a stretcher. In a frightening scene at Tropicana Field, a liner off the bat of Desmond Jennings caromed squarely off the left side of the former Phillies pitcher’s head with a loud “thwack”. The ball went all the way into the bullpen in foul territory, halfway down the right field line. Happ was transported to a hospital for tests and a press release from the team later reported him to be in stable condition. And it makes me wonder why this kind of thing hasn’t happened more often.
Happ’s injury made me recall from my days as an old-time Phillies broadcaster. I used to see Richie (aka, Dick) Allen frequently hit the ball through the middle with much authority, whizzing it close to the guy on the mound. I remember predicting to fellow broadcaster, Richie Ashburn, “Whitey, someday we’re going to see Allen peel a pitcher.” Fortunately, I don’t think it ever happened with Allen but it did in the old Connie Mack Stadium when pitcher, Bubba Church, was felled by a liner which caused him permanent vision problems. I saw it happen. Church was never the same pitcher. J.A. Happ was once a sterling Phillies prospect but he never realized his potential here. Now that he’s had this encounter with a liner, we’ll have to see how he recovers.
The sports pages will be filled in the upcoming weeks with news of Roy Halladay and his aching right shoulder. But J.A. Happ’s future is equally questionable now. He may have just pitched 1 1/3 innings on May 6th, but fans in Florida will remember that line drive – and it’s sobering thud – forever. Just as I remember it with Bubba Church. That this type of incident happens so seldom is my biggest baseball surprise and one for which I am most grateful.
The Umpires Blew It
A few other incidents happened too last week.
Umpiring in major league baseball has left more than a little to be desired lately. The overall status of umpiring has lacked much quality of late. But it reached a new low in the last two weeks. In the Toronto-Cleveland game about ten days ago, a home run was hit with two out in the ninth inning. The umpire looked confused although everyone else in the park, especially the fans, were certain the drive had been hit over the home run line and backed down on the field. The umpire ruled it an in-field double. Fans went crazy and much argument ensued, so the umpire called for a meeting of all four. The dispute continued but they still refused to change the call and erroneously ruled it a double — which was quickly followed by the ejection of one of the managers. The office of Major League Baseball, headed by on-field representative Joe Torre, decided to back the umps, ruling that nothing could be done about once it was in the books. I’m disappointed in Joe.
A week later, what was already a tough time for umpires got worse. Last Saturday in Kansas City, one of them issued an intentional walk to a batter on just three called balls with two outs in the seventh. Royals batter Lorenzo Cain was awarded first base on the seventh pitch of his at-bat after the Yankees’ pitcher, Andy Pettitte, buried a pitch in the dirt. Home plate umpire Mark Wegner called the pitch Ball 4, setting off a controversy. In the Yankee dugout, Manager Joe Girard thought the count was 2 – 2. Pettitte said he wouldn’t have buried the pitch if the count had been 3 – 2, which it should have been. Statisticians in the press box said the confusion apparently came on the first pitch which they initially counted and called a strike. Later, the call was changed to a ball. The Yankees won the game 3-2 but the repetition of umpire errors sustained its second man of the week.
The Eagles’ Mother’s Day Miracle
Chip Kelly, the new Eagles coach, says that Michael Vick and Nick Foles are running very even for the 2013 Eagles starting quarterback job at the moment. Even former Oregon QB Dennis Dixon, who played for Kelly at Oregon, also has entered the picture. The start of rookie camp last week brought in close to 50 players and we saw the debut of former USC quarterback, Matt Barkley, at the Nova Care Complex. The camp will run for only 3 days and wont be open to the media or public. However, Jeremy Maclin, the sometimes brilliant receiver, seems to think that Vick has the inside track. When asked by observers on hand, Maclin replied that Vick, in his judgment, would ultimately be the Eagles’ starting QB.
Through is charitable foundation, Maclin just hosted an event at Lincoln Financial Field, his first annual “Maclin’s Mothers Day Miracles” gathering, which chose 5 local 12-year-old boys who surprised their mothers with gifts, dinner certificates, tickets to a future Eagles game and pledges of good behavior to their mothers. So more than a few good things may be happening at The Linc.
Vick getting a nod over Foles this early, at least according to Maclin, comes as no surprise because most of those who are following this competition expect the 33-year old veteran to win the job. Kelly, who will make the final decision, has said that the role is still undecided and Foles is still very much in the running. When Barkley came into the picture, it was presented as a real wild card, adding another entry into the final decision. We’ll see how this pans out. Barkley was taken in the fourth round of the draft and will be making his first show at Nova Care. The full 90-man squad will convene for its first practice which will surely produce some more clues about the make up of Kelly’s final starting team. As far as the quarterback drama goes, Kelly said, “I’m not going to get all caught up in that.” He knows a guy like Vick has already made his mark in this league. Foles stepped in last year to some extent and the college achievements of Barkley are off the wall and he has pretty good guys here from which he can learn as a rookie.
Last Look at the NFL Draft
The first day of rookie camp at the Nova Care Complex should have been called “Matt Barkley Day” since Barkley was pretty much all that was talked about. Barkley is from Los Angeles but no visiting celebrity from Hollywood could have received bigger or better treatment. It might have been the best ever accorded to a fourth round selection in recent drafts. Which makes me wonder why the Eagles didn’t pick him with a higher selection. They might have missed him completely. The Birds failed to choose Barkley on the first round and he might have gone second or third but didn’t. They took their chances waiting it out. But in the final analysis, Barkley really has 3 days, the length of rookie camp, to merit that fourth round status. The Birds are loaded at the QB position.
The Eagles’ first round draft pick was a lineman named Mane Johnson, which brought forth this comment from Barkley: “I just feel I have to work hard every day and, if I do, that then good things will happen.” We’ll see. The Eagles reportedly had been thinking of Lane Johnson from the start which is the reason he was a Number One pick. Those chosen fourth or a lit lower are classified as almost an afterthought, and if they make it the difference in their draft number will neither be noted nor long remembered. Barkley made it a point on his first day at the Nova Care Complex to seek out seventh round pick, Zach Ertz, who later said that Barkley “looked great” on the practice field and was “the same Matt Barkley I saw for 4 years.” Barkley says he’s here to compete for playing time. “You’re going against the best now, we won’t be playing against scrubs anymore. So you have to be perfect.”
It’s interesting to note that of the 7 top-5 picks, 4 went on to become Pro Bowl players: defensive back Shaw Ferguson in 2006; Joe Thomas in 2008, Trent Williams in 2010 and Leni Brown in 2007 because a regular back, Jason Smith, flamed out. In 2012, Matt Kalk appeared to have a solid future. But no matter where they were picked, they all started from the same get-go. Number One pick Lane Jordan has 4 months to figure everything out. None of these kids must show enough to pass inspection in the next 3 days.
The NBA Playoffs
Though Philadelphia is not represented in the NBA playoffs, a wild and wooly weekend is ahead. The Heat, the Knicks, the Spurs and the Thunder are 4 of the league’s top 5 winning road teams – which is important. Winning on the road is a big deal in the playoffs, news that probably isn’t being received with joy in places like Chicago, Indiana, Golden State and Memphis. There will be lower-seeded clubs which will be hosting those pivotal third games, which are always so tremendously important when NBA playoff action resumes towards the closing days of the current week. Golden State seems to be a very confident team at the moment because the Warriors have out-shot and out-rebounded their opponents during the last 2 games of their Western Conference semi-final, after collapsing in the first. They would be coming back home with a 2-1 game lead in the best of 7 series instead of being merely tied.
Here at home, we have a new guy in the driver’s seat: Houston Rockets’ assistant GM has taken over as the 76ers general manager. Seems like the Sixers are going to try analytics now. Desperate times call for desperate moves.
The Dad Vail Regatta
The 74th Dad Vail Regatta was held over the weekend down on the Schuylkill at the intersection of Kelly Drive and Hunting Park Avenue, just before the Columbia Avenue Bridge span. Saturday’s finals aired on line on 6-ABC and were streamed on ESPN3.com. We should recall that Harry Emerson “Dad” Vail was one of America’s early inspirational college rowing coaches. He coached at the University of Wisconsin from 1911 to the late 1920′s and his crews competed against great odds since there was little rowing taking place in that state. But he set the bar for crew teams across the country and this race is rowed in his name every year.
Michigan was looking for its third straight title and Mercyhurst was trying for a record-setting fifth in men’s lightweight eight. Bucknell was after a third straight women’s lightweight title as well while Duke defended its women’s heavyweight eight title. The regatta involves 3,500 athletes, 128 schools from the USA and Canada and is the largest collegiate rowing event in the country, taking place on a 2,000 meter course with 6 lanes of standard Olympic length.
When it ended, the Drexel crew won the overall team title, the men’s point trophy and the Men’s Varsity 8 Gold medal. The Dragons sent 12 boats to the semis on the last day with 9 advancing to the grand finals and 6 reaching the medals podium.