Sunday, April 26, 2009

Two Important Firsts

In today's game, the Phillies are going for two (or rather three) important firsts for this season.

1. First game where the starting pitcher did not give up a home run. (already achieved)
2. First game where the Phillies did not have to come from behind for the win.
3. First game where the Phillies pitchers as a whole do not give up a home run.

Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Replacing Harry? Impossible. So, don't even try.

Although I've had a few conversations about who will be the next lead broadcaster for the Phillies, I haven't wanted to organize my thoughts enough for post (even a brief one). Instead, I wanted to spend a few days casually reading through the remembrances and obituaries; and thinking back on my own fond memories, including listening to the replay on radio of the shootout in Chicago (1979's 23-22 victory) as Harry described the action.

And of the pieces I've read so far (the sheer volume of the memories speaks to how beloved Harry was), the ones by Doug Glanville in the NYT and ESPN's Jayson Stark are my favorites.

I'm willing to contemplate the future without Harry in the booth. I'm just not willing to look forward to it.

Of the current announcers, it's clear that Tom McCarthy has the voluble personality, easygoing manner, and love of the game to be successful for a long time. Indeed, Fox Sports has already identified him as an upcoming star by tapping him for national broadcasts. And that's great. He'll probably have a very fruitful career, but I just don't see him as a Philadelphia guy, even if he stays here for 40 years. Maybe it's his time with the Mets. Maybe it's his easygoing, open personality.

We're just not as nice as Tom McCarthy is seems to be. And that niceness will always seem to a Philadelphian (and especially a Phillies fan) like a lack of passion. So, he feels like a bit of an outsider to this Phillies fan. Of course, time can change that perception. And certainly, Tom's pairing with Gary Mathews on the telecasts has dramatically improved Sarge's performance in the booth.

Chris Wheeler is now the elder statesman of the group, and I'm hopeful that somehow all of this will dampen the (to my mind) inexplicable venom he has generated among a small group of fans. I'm not a huge fan of Wheeler, but I respect his willingness to call out a player who's underproducing, and I refuse to blame him for not having the same rapport with Harry that Richie Ashburn did. That's just not fair to Wheeler. As for succeeding Harry, well, obviously that won't be Wheeler. First, he's a color guy who sometimes does play-by-play. Second, that small minority of fans who hate Wheeler is very vocal, and especially following such a loss, the Phillies family doesn't need a feud.

In the interim, I expect McCarthy and Wheeler to pair up for the 7th-9th stint, but long-term neither mantel will truly inherit Harry's spot.

There's been talk, of course, of bringing in Harry's son, Todd (who calls the Tampa Bay Rays' games), and while baseball announcing has become something of a family business in the past few years, I don't know whether Todd would even be interested in the position. It certainly would be a characteristic move by the Phillies to keep things within the family, but I've always thought sons who follow in their fathers' footsteps too closely are burdened with the dual curse of being loved by half the fans solely for reminding them of the father and being written off by the other half as the beneficiary of nepotism who never quite measures up to the old man.

The Phillies might, of course, go out and scour the country for a new voice, finding some youngster from a town as unlikely as Naperville, IL, to become the next voice of the Fightin's.

I do hope, however, that they'll give consideration to the remaining duo inside their current staple of broadcasters. Scott Frankze and Larry Andersen certainly have all the makings of a new generation of Harry and Whitey. The grizzled veteran who isn't afraid to speak his mind with a quick wit seems to thrive on the radio with Franzke's youthful exuberance. Great friendships (especially professional ones conducted largely in public) take time to develop, and this pair seems to have done just that over the past few seasons.

Of course, I haven't seen them broadcast a televised game together, and many (if not most) fans don't listen to the radio; so this pairing is relatively unknown in the area. But I'd like to see the Phillies try out this pair in prime time. If it works, all's the better. And if it fails, well, I hardly think Whitey or Harry would have objected to the attempt to re-create one of the great professional relationships in baseball broadcasting history.

Monday, April 13, 2009

RIP Harry

Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn provided the sound track to my childhood.

And now Harry also has left.

I am happy, though, that Harry was finally (after having to wait a mere 28 years) was able to call the final out for a victorious Phillies team in the World Series, and that he died as it seemed he was determined to, working up to the last minute to broadcast a game that brings joy to so many.

Thank you, Harry, for all that you gave to us.

And thank you also to Harry's family. You gave up time with your husband and father so that we could have a bit of him. My condolences on your loss, and my thanks for all of that time.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Madson Makes Me Laugh

It's been so much fun watching Ryan Madson develop as a pitcher. From a gangly youngster who looked awkward on the mound, he has gradually evolved into one of the premier set-up men in the game.

And with the addition of a 96 mph fastball that came from out 0f nowhere last August, Madson's combination fastball-change-up can make the best hitters in baseball look silly. What he just did to Fowler was classic.

Following two 90+ mph fastballs, Madson then threw an 81-mph change-up. Fowler swung...sort of. It was more waving at the general vicinity of the plate as Fowler was just eaten alive by that change-up. It made me laugh.

Now, let's get that go-ahead run and bring in Lidge to close this puppy out!

Coste's Stance

Chris Coste is not standing up as much this season. The past two seasons Coste has stood up almost straight and then bent over forming an upside down L. This season he's crouching much more. He's getting his head to the same place, but doing so in a very different way. He's also having difficulty this season. Perhaps, it's related.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Coste Auditioning for Back-up

With Carlos Ruiz injured and Lou Marson joining the team, the announcers mentioned before the game that Coste would be given an opportunity to secure a grip on the starting catcher's position. Play well and you keep playing. What they didn't mention is the flip side.

If Marson shows he can play in the Majors and Coste struggles over the next two weeks, it just might be Coste who heads back to Allentown when Ruiz recovers.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rockies 4-10-09

Impressions during the game.
1st Inning: It was nice of the Rockies to run themselves out of the inning. Instead of having a runner on second with one out after two batters, they wound up with no one on and two outs because of bad baserunning and a really nice play by Howard.

It's way too soon to say anything definite, but it is worth noting as something to keep an eye on that this is the second really nice play by Howard in less than four games. He has shown occasional great fielding in the past, but the play today (unlike the dive to snag a ground ball in the 8th inning of Wednesday's game against the Braves) was the result of fundamentally improved technique. When Spilborghs took off from first too early, Howard continued to move toward Hamels to receive the pickoff throw. That put him in a much better position to throw the ball down to Rollins at second. He had the inside angle to throw the ball rather than having to throw the ball over top of the runner. Frequently during the past few seasons, Howard has thrown that ball directly into the back of the runner going to second. Howard's always been a great athlete, and most of his good fielding plays have been a result of that pure athleticism, but his technique has been terrible. So, it's really nice to see the improvement in the technique.

3rd Inning: Marquis should have scored from second on the double by Spilborghs. He must have been watching the ball instead of watching the third base coach. It, unfortunately, didn't cost them anything, but it's bad baseball.

The inning Cole unraveled. No jump on his fastball. Poor control. Still in Spring training form.

4th Inning: Werth hitting a right-hander (two doubles) is a very good sign.
A bit surprised that the double switch was to bring in Bruntlett to play third instead of Dobbs. Could be a sign that Charlie wants Dobbs off the bench as a pinch hitter. Could be that he wants to get Bruntlett some game time.

7th Inning: I'm surprised Coste was brought in. No mention of any injury to Ruiz, but it's odd to pull your catcher mid-game without an injury.

Ruiz is injured. No word on how severe. Lou Marson might get a shot this year after all.

8th Inning: On the bright side, the bullpen continues to shine. Do I need to knock on some wood?

OK. I should have. Long day. And another bad outing from Durbin. Not good.

9th Inning: Really stretching the bright side, this is a remarkably fast game. 12 runs in less than three hours.

Werth having a great game. My fantasy team is happy. I think this might be the lineup for the season. Werth in the 5 hole and Ibanez batting 6th.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Great Win

I'm hopeful that today's unconventional victory will help get the Phillies bats back on track. Taking those walks in the 7th inning was a very good sign, and with a few well hit balls sprinkled in, it turned in to quite a rally.

I'm still a bit concerned about the starting pitching, but so far it's just one bad outing from three different guys. Unfortunately, all three happened in a row, but it's much nicer to leave home 1-2 than 0-3. If nothing else, it will make Cataldi shut up for a day. Well, that's not gonna happen, but we can dream.

And I loved Charlie's press conference after the game. When asked about pinch hitting Matt Stairs for Carlos Ruiz in the 7th, Charlie said "To tell you the truth, I was worried about Chooch grounding into a double play and I wanted to make sure Stairs got to hit with the bases loaded."

Stairs, of course, took the walk. But it's fascinating that even with Chooch off to a good start (3-9 after today), Charlie still trusts Stairs off the bench more when the game is on the line. Stairs is definitely a Charlie kind of guy. I hope, though that this year will see Chooch put together better offensive numbers so Charlie does trust him in those situations.

Charlie is slow to change his opinion of guys. It took Chad Durbin a long time last year to establish himself as a reliable guy out of the 'pen, and then it took a long time for Madson to replace him as the setup man. That's part of the key to Charlie's success. He trusts his gut and his guys to produce the way they have in the past. He doesn't change those opinions lightly. And guys seem to like that.

Clearly, 9 at-bats haven't turned Chooch into an offensive star in Charlie's mind. It'll be worth watching this season to see when (or if) he can do so.