By Bill Campbell
A Look at the Record
Younger baseball fans who’ve come along in the last decade or so think that the Phillies have always been winners. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those of us who have been around for a while have weathered many years of varying storms with our baseball team. Younger fans have a difficult time dealing with the crises that seem to be behind every door during these current days. But they don’t know that such things used to be daily and weekly occurrences back in the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Those of us with some “snow on the roof” know all about it.
The kids don’t know about the days of Pinky Whiting and Chuck Klein and Claude Passeau and Jimmy Wilson and Dick Bartell. They all were pretty good ball players individually but, when they all got together to try to form the nucleus of a successful team, they had a devilish time getting the job done and their fans suffered through some very lean years. That truth keeps resurrecting itself in me these days, when there’s almost daily trouble for the Phillies. Even when they win, you worry. But when you’re lived through those tough times, even broadcast some of them, you know you have to wait out the injuries and struggles for the better days that eventually come. The younger fans are just a bit spoiled.
The lengthy record reminds us that the dog days of yesteryear were full of darkness – the darkness of the second division without playoffs, year after year. Long winters without good trades made to recharge the team for the next season. When you haven’t lived through it, you have a more difficult time trying to stick it out through the losses that come with injuries to guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Roy Halladay. The suspension of Carlos Ruiz at the start of the season didn’t help either and he’s injured now too. But if you do a little research, you’ll find that the Phillies were far from frequent or consistent winners in the past and this win-lose thing goes in cycles no matter who’s on the roster. Things do ultimately turn around. Modern fans, at least most of them, may think the Phils always have been contenders. Not so. They didn’t live through the not-so-good old days.
The baseball draft which will be conducted over the coming weekend tells an interesting tale of how the game has changed – and how the Phillies have changed too. The league was pretty much run by the Phillies for 5 or 6 years, from 2007 through 2012. That was when the Phils were not only contenders in the Eastern Division of the National League but the dominant team more often than not. This was due to their higher level of play but also the opening of a new place to play the game. The Baker Bowl, Shibe Park and The Vet gave way to Citizen’s Bank Park — maybe the best baseball park in the country. Fans streamed in every night and profits were high. But recently, a team arrived in Washington, D.C. – the Nationals – which became not only a contender but the winner of the NL East last season. They did it with a positioned draft advantage and a huge budget. That started the shift of the balance of power in the East. The Atlanta Braves also put together a powerful team and are leading that division this season. Those two developments have done much to change the game and the status of the Phillies as the draft looms ahead.
From 2007 to 2012, the Nationals, according to Baseball America, spent $51 million on draft picks. Their franchise alone selected 8 players for their 25-man roster – most of these stars — eclipsed only by the Pittsburgh Pirates, at $52 million. Now the Pirates, a non-division contender, are also beginning to show some light. Washington used good people with good judgment to enjoy probably the best drafts in the game. Steven Strasberg was their first pick in 2009. Ron Detweiler and Jordan Zimmerman along with Bryce Harper. On Atlanta’s roster these days you see the names of Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Andrelton Simmons and others, all drafted between 2007 and 2010. During that same timeframe, the Phillies tried to stay afloat by trading away some good prospects and a lack of high picks has hurt the team’s farm system. Guys like Jonathan Singleton went to Houston and Travis d’Arnaud to the Mets. They were among the top 100 entering last season and they will be missed. Right now Jesse Biddle, a native son, seems to be the Phillies’ top pick this season. We’ll see what happens in the days ahead.
The Mess at Rutgers
Apparently, Rutgers University has decided to ignore the mess it has on its hands in the Athletic Department – or at least to avoid it until forced to do so. The hiring of Julie Hermann, its first female Athletic Director, which should have been a positive moment in the school’s history, has thrust a past personal squabble of hers front and center. And Rutgers doesn’t seem prepared to settle the issue quickly or cleanly.
Ms. Hermann brought with her a mess from her days coaching volleyball at Tennessee. Before it is untangled, we’ll surely hear some more comments from the governor of New Jersey. Rutgers may even introduce a replacement for its president. But not yet. A series of meetings was scheduled last week between Hermann and the athletic administration but not all of the invitees were able to attend and the sessions were temporarily cancelled. In the interim, when asked how Ms. Hermann’s past record wasn’t examined more closely before her hiring, Rutgers President Robert Barchi said that the school undertook a search for a new Athletic Director that was “deliberate at every stage”. But that search seems to have ignored Hermann’s conduct at Tennessee where in 1996 her coaching conduct was labeled “abusive” and led to her being named a defendant in at least 2 lawsuits filed by some members of that team. She was accused of calling her team members “whores, alcoholics and learning disabled” and creating a hostile environment, with 15 members of that team signing a publicly released letter attesting to their version of the facts. Hermann eventually resigned as coach and became an athletic department administrator but a jury awarded the group of 15 a verdict of $150,000.
This was public information. And let’s not forget that Rutgers was searching for an Athletic Director because of allegations of similar abuse against the men’s basketball coach, downplayed by the then-AD who was later fired. Yet when members of a 26-person search committee delivered biographical material about Hermann to Rutgers, it appears that those who were to make the selection either considered such facts unimportant or uninteresting. Now Rutgers has another mess on its hands. Julie Hermann has refused to resign her appointment and no one else is making a move to oust her at least for now. Fears of more lawsuits? We’ll keep watching.
The Eagles and Nick Foles
Nick Foles wore a faded blue University of Arizona cap pulled down low on his head and a red Wildcat polo shirt to match, and he appeared to be just having fun at a game last week. The young Eagles’ quarterback was at RPL Park in Chester, supporting Arizona in the USA Seven Collegiate Rugby Championship, where he said, “Anytime I can go watch my alma mater, it’s pretty special.” After attending Michigan State for his freshman year, Foles transferred to Arizona and started 10 games a season during his first two years there. He finished his college career with the Wildcats’ racking up 10,011 passing yards and 67 touchdowns. He says he doesn’t get to see his old school play very often and when Dave Sifton, the Arizona rugby coach, asked him to attend he jumped at the chance. Foles never played rugby. “You’ve got to be a tough dude to play it,” he admitted. “No pads. They do what they do. I like throwing the ball down field. I don’t know if I could throw it side to side.” So, he says, “I’ll stay with football.” I continue to think that we will see more of Nick Foles at QB for the Eagles in the 2013 that many seem to predict at the moment.
The Phillies win last Sunday over Milwaukee was one for the books. Cliff Lee and his team mates led by 5 after the first inning. They led by 7 after the second thanks to a Domonic Brown homer in the first and a triple in the second. Brown is on fire these days. The game stayed that way until the eighth inning and then the pleasure of watching Cliff Lee really began. He struck out 11, walked none before cramping up in the heat wave and leaving with 2 outs and a 701 lead. Justin DeFrates came on to give up a grand slam to Jonathan Lucroy that was later changed to a triple. The bullpen was battered and shaky, the availability of pitchers was questionable. Antonio Bastardo restored some kind of order to the game and everyone left the field in a state of exhaustion. The Phillies and Lee escaped with a 7-5 victory. A game to remember? I’d say it was one to put in the archives.
As we await the big golf tournament at Merion East, a look at the LPGA doings of last week down at the shore sets things up pretty well. Thirty-eight-year-old Karrie Webb won on the Ladies’ Tour for the first time in a couple of years, taking the LPGA Classic at Seaview in Galloway Township by 2 strokes. It was her career win Number 39. She had to overcome tough conditions as she took the Shop Rite Classic with the wind whipping at about 20 m.p.h. around the Stockton Seaview Hotel, making it very tough on the Hall of Fame player. She came from 5 strokes back to win, shooting a 3-under-par 68. Her rounds were 72, 69, and 68 for 209 including at least 6 putts in the 5 to 8 foot range. Meanwhile, Matt Kuchar won the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, sinking 2 putts from 20 feet to defeat Kevin Chappel. Kuchar joined Tiger Woods as the only players with more than one win this year on the PGA Tour. Woods had won 3 times in his last 4 starts but couldn’t handle the Memorial this time at Muirfield Village.
Eagles wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, changed agents during the past week, ending his relationship with Drew Rozenhaus and, possibly, signing up with RocNation Sports. He has to wait 5 days after he files papers with the players union before he can meet with other potential agents.