By Bill Campbell
Buyers or Sellers
The question of whether the Phillies will be buyers or sellers in the trade market is no longer of major importance. The real question has become, Will the Phillies remain stable enough to be somewhat competitive this season? Their hopes of competing in the 2013 post-season have dimmed for several reasons. Ineffective pitching, poor hitting, injuries and attitudes have combined to diminish the team’s chances of making it into the play-offs and, based on what we’ve seen so far, there doesn’t seem to be much real talent down on the farm that an come in and help. So the answer to that questions seems, more and more, to be No. The organization is experiencing a period of prolonged agony but it also appears to be avoiding making some very hard decisions about how to confront it. In the past week, a period when they needed to make up a deficit with the NL-East-leading Atlanta Braves, the Phillies stumbled into an eight-game losing streak. The Braves even created a slight opening when pitcher Tim Hudson broke his ankle on a freak play at first base. But the Phils failed to react positively and take advantage of it. Hudson is an established, battle-scarred veteran of many baseball wars, a starting pitcher who has kept the Braves at the head of the pack. If the race should tighten as the teams head into the stretch, Atlanta will miss him – yet we know that Braves have a history of rising to such occasions. We can’t say the same about the Phillies. Not anymore.
A contending team must respond to any opportunity that presents itself when the baseball season is heading into August. At the moment, it doesn’t appear that the Phils will be making a serious challenge. Yes, they have had injuries to key players and problems with the pitching staff all year. The schedule hasn’t done the team any favors either. Wherever a possible opening has appeared, the Phils have gone on the road and faced things like back-to-back series against St. Louis and Detroit, both first place teams. But a good team has to rise to these challenges. The Phils fall short. Ben Revere started coming into his own only to foul a ball that hits his foot – and he went off to the DL with a fracture. They traveled part of the recent road trip without him as well as Domonic Brown and Ryan Howard. Cliff Lee suffered a stiff neck and missed a game. Week after week, they’ve scored double figures in runs but the pitchers can’t throw. Cole Hamels shows signs of pitching like Cole Hamels but the team doesn’t hit. It goes on and on.
Someone wrote about doubt creeping into areas of the team, which never should happen to a contender. It’s true. Even Charlie Manuel seems to have started having some shaky thoughts, acknowledging when the losing streak reached 6, “Guys think about that. They want to know where they’ll be. It bothers them. I understand that. But the good way to handle that is to get some hits and win some games.” He may be right but we haven’t seen that happen. Manuel, as we know, is without a contract for 2014. The Phillies could miss the post-season altogether, a reality that increases with each lost game. Manuel knows it and says, “I’m going to be somewhere. It’s OK. I’ve got good options.” At this writing, his options look a lot better than his team’s. The Detroit Tigers, headed for the play-offs, found a way to win when Perez, Santiago (batting average 161) and Avila got to Hamels for 2 runs in the 5th last Friday. Perez, who was picked up in the first week of the season, Santiago and Avila (both hitting under 200) combined for those runs and sank the Phils’ fortunes even deeper. The standings shed no light for 64 days and the season runs deep into September. Even if it were to end tomorrow, around here we can all agree that it’s been a long one.
Elena Delle Donne
Saturday’s WNBA All Star Game was supposed to be Elena Della Donne’s coronation as an All Star. She was due to start in the classic, the first rookie ever to earn a starting selection as well as the first rookie ever to receive the most votes. The WNBA has a brilliant collection of marketable young stars this year, the most impressive in its brief history. But earlier in the week Delle Donne suffered a concussion and announced on Friday that, in response to her doctor’s orders, she would not play. In fact, she made the announcement on Wednesday and did not play in a regular game on Thursday. The League projected starter, Brittany Griner, announced she also would miss the All Star competition following a sprained knee. So the All Star Game would have to wait. “It’s upsetting,” said Delle Donne, who plays for the Chicago Sky, “not only for me and the Sky but also for the fans who voted for me.” This has been the first problem in what has been an almost perfect rookie season for the former Delaware star. The Chicago team drafted Delle Donne number two overall behind Greiner and she’s looking for a house in Chicago where she seems to be quite comfortable. She even thinks that the WNBA will be easier for her than the college game. “The WNBA will give me some freedom,” she said. “In college, I saw double and triple team every night. “ Critics scoffed when she made that statement until they saw her play. Her coach, the ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck, says she already ranks among the game’s elite. Her brother and agent, Gene, says her ambition is to do for basketball what Mia Hamm has done for women’s soccer. She’s only 23 and has her whole career ahead of her.
As Delle Donne grew up in Delaware, she became a folk hero of sorts. When she was 3 she removed her bike’s training wheels and taught herself to ride. After 7th grade, she was offered a scholarship to North Carolina – that’s before she ever played a high school game. She once scored 50 points in a state championship game. She went to Connecticut as the nation’s top recruit but couldn’t bear having left behind her older sister, Lizzie, who suffers from cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness and autism. She quit and went to the University of Delaware where, as her coach Tina Martin put it, “She hardly missed a shot” during the years she played for the Blue Hens. At 6’5” Delle Donne led her college team not only in scoring but in rebounding and assists. After graduation, the Sky drafted Delle Donne, Baylor’s Griner and Skylar Diggins to make up the WNBA’s “Three to See”. The trio could do for the women’s game what Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan did for the men’s. Tim Thompson of the Seattle Storm called Delle Donne the “WNBA player of the future” and her fan following supports that prediction. Recently, a young girl cried uncontrollably at the chance to meet her. For a recent game last week against the New York Liberty at 11 a.m., 13,000 people showed up. Much of the excitement was about Delle Donne. She is taller than most WNBA players and shoots as well as anyone in the league. In her first game ever as a pro she took the first shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the corner for a resounding swish. Three minutes later she had the ball, took her defender off the dribble, created the open space and made an open jumper. The Sky led throughout the game and by as much as 25 points entering the 4th quarter. They won by 20. Delle Donne scored 23 points and smiled and laughed with her team mates on the bench. We haven’t heard the last about Elena Delle Donne. I suspect she’ll make it to more than a few All Star Games.
It’s football time indeed. All 90 players have signed into Eagles training camp without issues of any kind. Coach Chip Kelly is getting more serious every day. When you have 5 legitimate quarterback candidates and the coach apparently no closer to making a decision, you realize it’s time to start paying attention to things at The Linc. You know, you have to think about the matter of Trent Cole and Todd Herremans being the longest-tenured Eagles. Where have the years gone? Coles and Herremans are 30 and are said to be studying hard because September 9th and that opening game against the Redskins in Washington will be here before they and we know it. As training proceeds, our thought will shift from the Phillies buying and selling to considering whether the cost of the Birds new coach was worth it. And the answer will be found, at least in part, in what Kelly does about a quarterback.
Most people still are betting on Michael Vick as the starter, if for no other reason than his experience. Personally, I’m not ready to write Nick Foles out of the competition yet. DeSean Jackson thinks that Vick will prevail but we also can’t ignore the efforts of Matt Barkley or Dennis Dixon who wowed the fans at open camp on Sunday. Another prime receiver, 25-year-old Jeremy Maclin, refused to get caught up in the QB controversy before he went down with a torn ACL on Saturday and was carried off the field for the rest of the season. Before the injury, Maclin was entering the last year of the 5-year deal he signed as a rookie. His future is up in the air for now and the coaching staff has to contend with replacing Maclin before the season even starts.
These decisions are for Chip Kelly and his staff to settle but it will be interesting to see who spends the most time at QB during the pre-game schedule. Kelly appears determined not to give us any meaningful clues until he has made up his mind. He’s reported to favor an up-tempo offense with more running the football than we’ve seen recently. He pushes to move the ball forward as wide receivers coach, Bob Beckhill, puts it. The defense will be of equal importance as it should be. Many believe that the defensive holes led more to last season’s dismal 4-12 record than the offensive errors, although Vick committed far too many turnovers last year. Whatever decisions are made, whoever has the ball in his hands at the first snap, it really is getting close to football time again so plan to be involved.
The 76ers Comedy
The 76ers have taken more than 3 months to find a coach who can “fit” the role. If last season’s Andrew Bynum saga wasn’t the sports comedy of the season, certainly the post-season’s ludicrous search for a coach has to be. The list of candidates interviewed since Doug Collins left, all of whom have previously coached in the NBA, is incredible: Jay Larranga (Boston Celtics), Ed Pinckney (Chicago Bulls), Quin Snyder (Atlanta Hawks), Ken Atkinson (Atlanta Hawks), David Fizdale (Miami Hear), Melvin Hunt (Denver Nuggets), Chris Finch and Kelvin Sampson (Houston Rockets). You have to wonder what the 76ers talked about with these guys. There were also ex-college coaches whom the SIxers chatted with along the way, like Brett Brown and Mike Curry, who’ve served as assistant coaches for San Antonio and Philadelphia, respectively. But no deal has been struck with anyone. What will the reaction be if the team doesn’t hire Curry who has been in charge of the team since Collins left? The latest rumor is that the job will go to David Vanterpool from the Portland Trailblazers. He’s said to be in town. The Sixers have changed faces in the front office but they’re nowhere without a coach.
I can’t speak for you but, for me, I’m really glad that the Eagles are in camp.