Friday, October 30, 2009
Major League Baseball decides the World Series and both League Championship Series with best-of-7 game series that utilize a 2-3-2 home game format. This means that one team is at home for two games, then the other has the middle three at home, and finally the first team hosts the final two games.
Often, and the results of this decade prove it out, any team which opens with two games on the road, manages to win at least one of those road games, and then comes home for the next three has a serious advantage. That is the position that the Phillies now find themslves in after splitting two games at the Yankees home ballpark.
Since the year 2000, counting all World Series, NLCS, and ALCS matchups, there have been 30 different series played. In 16 of those series a team opened by either gaining a split or actually getting a sweep of the first two games on the road, returning home for the next three games at least tied. Of the 16 teams doing so, 11 went on to win their series.
Most of the instances where a team split on the road only to eventually lose the series happened in the American League, where it happened four times. The '00Mariners split but lost to the Yankees in 6 games. Each of the '03 Red Sox,'07 Indians, and '08 Red Sox gained road splits only to eventually lose in 7 games.
Three times a team opened on the road and won both games: the '00 Mets in the NLCS, '01 Yankees in the ALCS, and '02 Giants in the NLCS. As you might imagine, all went on to win their series. Only twice has a team managed a split, gone home for three, and been swept out at home: the '01 Braves in the NLCS by Arizona, and the '05 Angels in the ALCS by the White Sox.
In the World Series played over the past decade, no team has been able to gain a sweep on the road in the first two games, as the Phillies tried to accomplish last night. But there have been four series that featured a team gaining a split to open on the road, including last year when the Phils split the first two games in Tampa.
Only the 2002 San Francisco Giants, who gained a split with the Angels, went on to lose the series. In fact, those Giants even came home and won 2 of 3 to go up by three games to two. The Angels rallied to win that epic California series in 7 games, including a dramatic late-game rally in Game Six, dashing Barry Bonds only hope of winning a World Series.
In 2003, the Florida Marlins split against the Yanks in New York and went on to win the series in 6 games. In 2006 it was the Saint Louis Cardinals gaining a split in Detroit, going on to win the series in 5 by sweeping at home. The Phillies then did their part, splitting in Tampa in 2008 before coming home to win in 5 games by also sweeping at home.
What you have done by managing to at least gain a split of the first two games on the road in a series is that you have stolen away the 'home field advantage' from your host. The Yankees were scheduled originally to host 4 games of a 7 game series. With those first two split, the series effectively starts over again in Philly, and the Phillies will be home at Citizens Bank park for 3 of the 5 games left.
All the Yankees need to do is win one game here in Philadelphia, and they regain their home field advantage. They also would ensure that even in a worse-case scenario where the Phils win the other two, they will get to return to Yankee Stadium for at least one more game. But the Yankees will find that win difficult to come by, with the home crowd and field conditions helping the Phils to an 11-1 record in their last 12 home playoff games.
The Phillies on the other hand did what they had to do, they got that split in New York. The now return home with the knowledge that, if they win their home games, they will not have to go back to New York at all. At the very least, the odds of them getting knocked out at home are very long. Again, only 2 of the 16 teams to gain a road split have been subsequently swept at home. In fact, 10 of the 16 teams went on to win at least 2 of their 3 home games.
The odds are in the Phillies favor to take 2 of 3 and move within a game of a repeat title. By actually winning all three of the middle three games at home, the Phillies will repeat as World Series champions in front of a delirious home crowd. It is that very home crowd that they are hoping helps provide the difference in these games.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
The Fightin' Phils received a magnificent performance from Cliff Lee, who has been superb throughout these 2009 playoffs, and a "you ARE the man" 2-homerun show from Chase Utley to lead the way to a big 6-1 victory and a one game to none lead in last night's Game One of the World Series.
For the Phillies that means an awful lot. Much has already been written and spoken in other venues this morning relating to the fact that the last 6 teams to win Game One went on to win the World Series.
Some have even pointed out that, even more ominously for that loser of the opener, 11 of the last 12 teams to win that first game have gone on to win the Series.
The GMen took the opener that year, lost the next two, then won games four and five to take a 3-2 series lead back to Anaheim.
There they took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the 8th before the Angels rallied to win, then won the 7th game and the franchise' only-ever World Series.
But tonight when Pedro Martinez takes the mound at the new Yankee Stadium he will be trying to tie an even tighter knot in the collar around the Yankee necks.
The World Series began in 1903 and has been held every year with the exceptions of 1904 and 1994, making this the 104th Fall Classic. Only 11 times has a team fallen behind by 2 games to none and gone on to rally and win the World Series. Do the math - that's an 11% success rate.
So if the Phillies can somehow, in any way, fight their way to another victory tonight in the Bronx and take that 2-0 lead in the series, they odds tilt enormously in their favor with an 89% probability that they will win the World Series.
Those numbers would actually likely be even a bit higher considering that the next three games will move to their home field at Citizens Bank Park.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Like the vast majority of folks here in Philly, I grew up with a certain intense dislike for New York sports teams, even though the vast majority of the time they were not the biggest rivals of our local Philadelphia pro teams. One thing that I can tell you for sure, World Series against the Yankees or whatever, I don't hate New York.
The Phillies became regular contenders during my pre-teen and teenage years, but the Mets were rarely a good team in those days. The main rivals for the Phillies were the Pittsburgh Pirates, who played in the NL East division at that time. It seemed as if the Phils and Bucs were battling every year between 1975 and 1980 for the supremacy of the division.
The Yankees, once baseball's glorious dynasty, had fallen on hard times as of the mid-70's, but they began to emerge again as contenders at the same time as the Phillies. Though the Phils and Yanks made the playoffs in both 1977 and 1978, the Phils and Yanks would never meet. The Phils lost in the NL playoffs to the Dodgers despite being favored both seasons, and there was no Inter-League play during the regular season in those days.
Over the next couple of decades, baseball changed it's divisional format, and the Pirates moved away to the new Central Division, effectively killing the once-great intra-state rivalry with the Phils. But the Phillies and Mets still did not develop much of a rivalry because the two teams were almost never good in the same seasons. That truly ended in 2007 and 2008 when the Phils ran down the favored Mets from behind to take the NL East crown both years, winning the World Series a year ago.
In other sports there have been more bitter rivalries. As the 'Broad Street Bullies' version of the Flyers developed into Stanley Cup contenders in the 1970's, the Rangers and Islanders each turned out to be frequent playoff opponents. In football, the Giants and Eagles have had a spirited rivalry, highlighted by the Birds "Miracle in the Meadowlands" victory.
Again though, those rivalries have not been the primary focus of Eagles or Flyers fans. There is no hiding the glee that Birds fans take at beating the Dallas Cowboys, even in seasons when the Eagles may not be contenders, which has not been often over the past decade. And right now the Flyers simply do not have a primary heated rivalry going. The Devils and Penguins have filled the role, but it seems to change with each season on the ice.
New York's other sports teams have never been true rivals of the Philly teams, or at least not for a long time. Even when the Sixers and Knicks were both good, it always was the Sixers-Celtics rivalry that was far more prominent. The Jets and Nets? Forget about it. Even these Yankees have never been Philly rivals, despite the teams having met in one World Series previously.
That previous World Series meeting was in 1950, between Philly's lovable "Whiz Kids" bunch led by Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts and the Yankee dynasty of the day which was led in that incarnation by Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. The Yanks swept those Phils, winning each of the first three games by just one run. But while the Yanks continued their dynasty, those Phils never returned to the Series.
So with all of this, it has been hard for me personally to work up much of a sports hatred for New York, outside of those 1970's Rangers and the recent year Mets rivalry. Some say that Philly has an inferiority complex about New York due to the Big Apple's population size and it's financial, cultural, and artistic importance combined with being so close in proximity to The City of Brotherly Love, but I never got that feeling.
After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, I promised myself that I would never again "hate" New York, and would never express hatred towards the city or it's people in a sports context or any other. My genuine feeling is that New York City is completely representative of everything that makes America great, and I will not allow some sports rivalry to change that feeling. But that's me. I know and accept that every Philly fan is not going to be quite so magnanimous.
None of this is to say that I'm going so far as to slap on an "I Love NY" button. I hope that the Phils sweep the Yanks, and in fact am now picking the Phillies to win the World Series in five games. But I am glad that it is the Yanks we are facing, not because it's New York, but because their team was the best in the AL this season, just as Tampa was the best in the AL last season. You always want to beat the best in order to be called the best.
The Yankees play the game similar to the way our Phillies play it: hard for 9 innings with a no-quit attitude. You may not like Alex Rodriguez, but you must acknowledge that he is one of the three best baseball players of the past decade. In Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett they have some of the most talented players in the game.
To me, this World Series is only about the Yankees insofar as they make for a more interesting opponent. It is more about rooting on an extremely exciting, talented, and lovable band of Phillies players. Chase, Chooch, JRoll, JayDub, Lights-Out, Rauuuuul, the Flyin Hawaiian, the Big Piece, Hollywood and the rest have legitimately won the hearts of this sports-crazed city. This is about rooting them on and cheering their exploits, not rooting against anyone else. It really doesn't matter who is lined up across the diamond, the story is on our side.
So I am rooting hard against the New York Yankees this week, and rooting for my own beloved Philadelphia Phillies to bring home their 2nd consecutive World Series championship. But I'll leave it to the idiots at the New York Post and the crazies in the Yankee Stadium stands the next two nights to do the hating. My belief is that when the Series returns to Philly for the weekend, there is gonna be a whole lot more love for the Fightin' Phils expressed than hatred for any New York team.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Pedro Martinez. Cliff Lee. Cole Hamels. One righthander and a pair of lefties. Three different levels of experience. All have filled the role of a true 'Ace' for their respective baseball organizations in the past.
And now together, these three aces represent the absolute keys to the Phillies repeating as World Series champions.
There is much being said and written about the two team's offenses in this matchup. The top offense in the National League featuring Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Raul Ibanez. The top offense in the American League featuring Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, and Hideki Matsui.
There is talk about the importance of the bullpens, especially the Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, possibly the best at his craft in baseball history and the Phillies closer Brad Lidge, last year's hero turned this year's goat, but now apparently born again hard. And pitchers such as Phil Hughes and Ryan Madson will certainly play a big role in at least a couple of games.
It says here that no matter who the Yankees run out to their mound, from starters C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte to Rivera, this Phillies offense will find a way to get to them. The Phils will score enough runs to win four games in this series. The key will be keeping the Yanks' offense from outscoring them. That will fall largely on the shoulders of Martinez, Lee, and Hamels.
Friday, October 23, 2009
You may have noticed from the title of this article that I didn't say the greatest "Phillies" team of all-time, but instead the greatest "Philly" team of all-time. That was on purpose, because as of right now, despite what might be stated on local sports talk radio or television, this current 2009 Phillies team is not that greatest team.
At least they are not that "Greatest Philly Team of All-Time" in the opinion of this educated fan of almost four full decades, a fan who loves the Phillies more than all of the other local teams combined, and who believes that this team has a chance to be mentioned in the same breath as that greatest team. At some point. But not yet.
Before I name and describe that team, let me state what my personal criteria are for becoming the greatest. First, the team needs to be a professional sports team, competing at the highest levels of competition against the greatest athletes in their sport. Second, the team needs to be a champion. So to be in the conversation, teams need to have been a pro sports champion at the minimum.
Enough of the pussy-footing around, since the picture accompanying this article likely gave it away to you already. For my money, the title of "Greatest Philly Team of All-Time" as of right now has to belong to the Broad Street Bullies, specifically the incarnations of the Philadelphia Flyers teams running from 1973 through 1976.
The current Phillies team has a ton of young fans who have been flocking to Citizens Bank Park ever since it opened for the 2004 season. They have fallen in love with the current team led by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins. But it is only those of us born in the 1960's and prior who truly remember with clarity and a sense of reality, only those who experienced it first-hand, who can tell you about how great, exciting, and beloved those Flyers teams really were.
The Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Finals all three years, winning back-to-back Cups the first two seasons before falling to one of pro hockey's all-time greatest dynasties, the Montreal Canadiens of the late 70's. Those Les Habitants would win four consecutive Cups beginning with the '76 win over the Flyers. Those Flyer teams were not only great, winning teams on the ice, but they were also exciting, and they captured the hearts of this town the same way today's Phillies have captured it.
But not only would those Flyers beat the best professional teams that money could put together, they also would beat the acknowledged best team in the world at the time, a team that no other NHL club could defeat, including those Canadiens. I am talking of course about the Flyers legendary winter 1976 victory over the Soviet Red Army team. But let's come back to that game and begin with the first Cup.
Going into the 1974 Cup Finals, the Flyers were prohibitive underdogs against the Boston Bruins. That Bruins team had legends skating for them all over the ice. They were led by Bobby Orr, perhaps the most exciting player in hockey at the time, who had recorded an astonishing 122 points from the defenseman position. Their leading scorer, center and captain Phil Esposito, had scored 68 goals and recorded 145 points during the season, leading the NHL in scoring for the 4th straight year.
Esposito's right winger, Ken Hodge, had scored 55 goals. The Bruins also had two other 30-goal scorers in forwards Wayne Cashman and John Bucyk, rugged defenseman Carol Vadnais, tough guy enforcer Terry O'Reilly, flashy forward Derek Sanderson, and a steady goaltender in Gilles Gilbert. They had won the Cup just two years earlier, and had led the NHL standings in both wins and points. And that dominance extended to the Flyers, whom they had fashioned a 17-0-2 record against in their previous 19 games dating back for years.
The Flyers were known for three things: scrappy center Bobby Clarke, shutdown goalie Bernie Parent, and for fighting. The nickname 'Broad Street Bullies' was well earned, with 7 individual players recording more than 100 penalty minutes. The 'Bullies' were led by 'The Hammer', Dave Schultz, who had an unreal 348 penalty minutes and would fight at the drop of a hat. They also included Andre 'Moose' Dupont (216 mins), Don 'Big Bird' Saleski (131 mins), and Bob 'Hound' Kelly (130 mins) among their colorfully nicknamed members.
The Bruins took the first game in a spirited contest by a tight 3-2 margin, and the second game at old Boston Garden was just as close. Entering overtime, the Flyers faced the possibility of a sudden-death loss and an almost insurmountable 2-0 series deficit against a team they hadn't beaten in years. And then it happened, perhaps the single most important moment in Flyers history. Clarke took a rebound and slid it into the net for a game-winner that stunned the Beantown crowd, and the joyous Flyers mobbed their captain in celebration of the series being tied.
The Flyers gained considerable confidence from finally beating the 'Big Bad Bruins', and that confidence was bolstered with their return home to the Spectrum and their maddeningly loud and partisan home crowd. In the pre-game ceremonies, the team's official anthem of "God Bless America" by singer Kate Smith was played in place of the national anthem. The Flyers had an unreal record of winning when the song was played, and it remains a team good-luck staple to this day.
Behind their hometown crowd and with the new found confidence, the Flyers outplayed the Bruins in both games at the Spectrum behind some stunning goaltending by Parent. They won both games by scores of 4-1 and 4-2, and suddenly the impossible seemed within reach. A return to Boston Garden showed that the Bruins were far from dead, as they recorded a huge 5-1 drubbing. With the series now headed back to the Spectrum for Game #6, the Bruins seemd to regain momentum and hoped to tie things up and force a Game 7 at the Garden.
I clearly remember the day of Sunday, May 19th, 1974. My dad had driven myself and my brother, Mike, down to Wildwood, New Jersey for the day, and we were watching that 6th game of the Stanley Cup Finals at a house that my family had on Leaming Avenue in the little Jersey Shore community. It was there that I watched as in the pre-game ceremonies, Kate Smith stepped out onto the Spectrum red carpet for a live rendition of "God Bless America" that whipped the crowd to a fever pitcher.
When center Rick MacLeish tipped home a shot in the first period, the Flyers had a 1-0 lead, but no one thought that goal would hold up and be enough against the Bruins fire power. But time and time again, a Bruins scoring rush would be ultimately thwarted by Bernie Parent, who split and dove for one acrobatic save after another. As the game moved towards it's conclusion, the Bruins threw a desparate pass towards the Flyers end of the ice, and a historic countdown began.
The puck reached Parent, who lightly tipped it behind the net as the television screen flashed the countdown to 7 seconds remaining. Defenseman Jimmy Watson skated in to pickup the puck, raised his head to make sure that no Bruins players were near, and handled it with his stick as the clocked ticked down and the crowd counted off "...four, three, two, one..." On radio, Flyers legendary broadcaster Gene Hart (whose daughter Lauren now often sings before games) shouted out the dramatic moment: "Ladies and gentlemen, the Flyers have won the Stanley Cup! The Flyers win the Stanley Cup! The Flyers win the Stanley Cup!" The team mobbed one another and the crowd went delirious.
The mighty Bruins had been vanquished. Philadelphia was celebrating it's first pro sports champions since the 1967 Sixers had won the NBA title. Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent skated around the Spectrum ice with the Stanley Cup raised, the ice flooded with fans who had streamed out of the stands. Little did anyone know that it would not be a one-time fluke, but the beginning of sustained greatness.
In 1975, the Flyers returned to the Stanley Cup Finals to defend their title. This time they had another weapon in right winger Reggie 'the Rifle' Leach, an amateur hockey teammate of Clarke who came to the team in a trade and became a prolific goal scorer. Their opponents this time around would be the upstart Buffalo Sabres, who had missed the playoffs the year before with a losing record.
The Sabres were led by one of the most exciting and prolific scoring lines in history. Known as 'The French Connection' line, Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert, and Rick Martin were dynamic scorers and playmakers. But it was the Flyers who had the championship experience, and more importanly who had Parent on their side. With Bernie playing at his acrobatic best, standing on his head for save after save against the high-scoring Sabres, the Flyers took the first two games at the Spectrum by 4-1 and 2-1 scores.
Seemingly on their way to an easy Cup repeat, the Flyers took that 2-0 series lead to Buffalo. But something happened on the way to the party, and that something was fog. In an incredible set of circumstances, faulty air conditioning and unseasonably warm weather resulted in fog conditions developing inside of the Buffalo arena. Though both teams had to play through it, it seemed to be the Flyers who were rattled, and the Sabres took advantage to gain first a dramatic 5-4 overtime win that kept them alive, and then a 4-2 win that evened the series at two games apiece.
Returning to the Spectrum ice, the Flyers regained their composure in front of the home fans and the normalcy of the Spectrum playing conditions. They romped to a 5-1 victory that left them one win away from another Cup title. Back in Buffalo, the two teams skated through the first two periods without scoring. I will always remember how the scoring opened for a very unusual reason. I missed the Stanley Cup-winning goal.
There was a Phillies game vs. the San Francisco Giants being televised at the same time as the Flyers. The Phils were finally exciting to watch in just their 5th season at Veteran's Stadium with young homegrown players like Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, and Bob Boone emerging in the season before they would win their first division title and begin their own winning tradition. I flipped to the Phillies game between the 2nd and 3rd period of the Flyers game on the television at our family home on American Street in South Philly.
Now remember, these were the days before remote controls and cable television. You had to actually get your butt up and go over to the television, and then flip a dial to change the channel on the TV set. I tried to time my return to the Flyers action, but the Phillies game was at the Vet, and with nothing at all going on in the ballgame, the Phils' crowd suddenly let out a roar. I knew what I had missed. Quickly, I jumped up, ran to the TV, and turned back to the Flyers game. There the team was congratulating Bob Kelly for having scored a goal just seconds into the 3rd period to put the Flyers on top 1-0.
Late in the 3rd period the Flyers added a breakaway goal by Bill Clement to seal a 2-0 win and clinch their 2nd consecutive Stanley Cup championship. It was just the third time in history that a Philly pro sports team had repeated as champions, following the 1929-30 Athletics in baseball and the 1948-49 Eagles in football. It is also the last time that any major pro sports team from Philadelphia has won back-to-back titles to this day.
So let's take a break right here, and make a point. Those great A's and Eagles teams deserve acknowledgement for winning consecutive titles. However, their accomplishments have to be honestly evaluated against the fact that minorities were basically black-balled from the competition. There were tons of great amateur baseball and football players, including black 'pro' players in baseball's Negro Leagues. Other great Philly teams such as basketball's 76ers of both 1967 and 1983 and the 1980 World Series champion Phillies only managed one title. The Flyers ability to not only become champions, but then to repeat, has to rank them higher.
But it is not the end of the line for those great Philadelphia Flyers 'Broad Street Bullies' era teams, and not the end of the argument for their ranking as "The Greatest Philly Team of All-Time". Those Flyers returned to the Stanley Cup Finals for a 3rd consecutive season in spring of 1976. However, their run at a 3rd straight Cup ended with a four game sweep at the hands of a budding dynasty in Montreal. But that run at the top of the hockey world did not end before the Flyers put an exclamation point on their greatness.
On January 11th, 1976, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers, the best team in North American professional ice hockey, took to their home ice at the Spectrum to take on the seemingly unbeatable Red Army team from the Soviet Union. This was at the very height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviets, and the game took on incredible social and political implications, as well as taking on the unofficial title of 'World Championship' of hockey.
That winter, the Soviet Union had sent two teams over to North America to play a series of games against teams from the NHL. One of those teams was the 'Soviet Wings', the defending championship team from the Russian Superleague, considered at the time to be the 2nd best league in the world behind only the NHL. The Wings were scheduled to play a '2nd level' tier of NHL teams, and won 3 of their 4 games. But this was only the appetizer in what was known as the 'Super Series' of world hockey.
The main event involved the top Soviet team, the 'Moscow Central Red Army' team, a veritable all-star team stocked with the very best players in the Soviet Union and considered by many to be the best hockey team in the world, certainly the most dominant team in all of Europe. This team was sent up against the NHL's elite. They beat both the New York Rangers (7-3) and the Boston Bruins (5-2), and tied the Montreal Canadiens (4-4). Winless against the Soviet powerhouse, with the pride of the entire NHL on the line, for one of the rare times in their history during the 'Bullies' era the Flyers found themselves being supported by fans across North America.
The game was not only for NHL pride, but was frought with personal tensions. Flyers star Bobby Clarke had become infamous in the Soviet Union for a slash against Russian star Valeri Kahrlamov during an earlier 1972 series between the Russians and and Team Canada. Before this game, thanks to Clarke and the 'Bullies' reputations, the Soviet press portrayed them as goons in it's writing and editorial cartoons. Clarke famously stated that he "really hated those bastards."
When the game began, the Flyers took the play to the Soviets, hitting early, often, and hard. The Soviets, used to a more wide-open and creative pace, were frustrated. The tension finally came to a head and ironically it was the same Kharlamov, whom Clarke had slashed four years earlier, at the center of it all. The Soviet star skated into the Flyers zone, and in a perfectly clean move Flyers' veteran defenseman Ed Van Impe laid him out with a tremendous mid-ice check. Kharlamov lay prone on the ice for an extended period, and when he finally was able to arise the Soviets coach pulled his team off the ice in protest of the Flyers rough play.
The Russians left the ice to tremendous booing from the notorious Philly 'boo-bird' crowd, and remained in their locker room for an extended period as a huge international TV audience watched in shock. Finally lured back by threats of witholding their pay, the Soviets returned to the ice and the enraged and inspired Flyers played with almost reckless abandon, taking the play to the Soviets at a furious pace.
Within moments of the resumption of play, Reggie Leach tipped a shot past legendary Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak for a 1-0 Flyers lead. Before the period was out, Rick MacLeish would drive home another goal. The Flyer lead grew to 3-0 before the delirious crowd when low-scoring defenseman Jimmy Watson scored a short-handed goal. The Soviets got on the scoreboard in the 2nd period, but then defenseman Larry Goodenough fired in a shot from the point in the 3rd to complete the scoring. The Flyers had outshot the unbeatable Russians 49-13, beaten them on the scoreboard 4-1, and secured a legendary victory for the franchise.
With their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, three straight Finals appreances, and historic win over the Soviets, the 1973-1976 Philadelphia Flyers have earned my own personal ranking of "The Greatest Philly Team of All-Time". Anyone who does not consider them in the conversation is a fool not worth listening to for sports advice or conversation. Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain. All great. All Philly champions. But in this category, all take a back seat to Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent and the 'Broad Street Bullies'.
The current Philadelphia Phillies, a team beloved and respected by myself and the entire Philly region, are putting themselves into that conversation. Their rousing victory in last year's World Series is really what makes that at all possible, but it is strongly supported by the club having won 3 straight NL East titles as well as back-to-back National League pennants. But this team still has that one more step to go to overtake the mid-70's Flyers champions.
Win the upcoming World Series, especially if it is a 'signature' type win over a legendary New York Yankees organization featuring stars such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Mariano Rivera? Do that, and these Fightin' Phils would almost certainly have to move to the top of the heap, and take over the title of "The Greatest Philly Team of All-Time" for themselves.
NOTE: As always, the title of this article is a link to more information on the topic. In this instance, click on the title and you can enjoy all the highlights of that first Flyers Stanley Cup victory!
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
It was one week and one year ago today, Monday, October 13th, 2008. The Philadelphia Phillies led the Los Angeles Dodgers by two games to one in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series. But headed into the top of the 8th inning of that Game #4, the Dodgers held a 5-3 lead and the Phils bats seemed lifeless.
With just six more outs, at least three of them from fireballing closer Jonathan Broxton, the Dodgers would even up the NLCS and would have Game #5 right here at home in Dodger Stadium. Ryan Howard singled to begin that 8th inning, and LA manager Joe Torre brought in reliever Cory Wade, a decision that would set into motion a chain of events that would turn both this 2008 NLCS and a year later the 2009 NLCS around in dramatic fashion.
It started well for Wade as he coaxed Pat Burrell to pop out to new 2nd baseman Angel Berroa for the 1st out of the inning. Then Shane Victorino stepped to the plate. To that point in the playoffs, Victorino was on fire, his 11 rbi setting a franchise post-season record. Wade started 'The Flyin' Hawaiian' out with a first-pitch curveball, and Victorino shot it on a line out to right field and just over the fence. The bolt-of-lightening homerun had just that suddenly and dramatically tied the score at 5-5, and the Phillies had new life.
Pedro Feliz followed by smashing a line drive to left field, but the ball was right at Manny Ramirez for the 2nd out of the inning. But then Carlos Ruiz followed with the third straight hard-hit ball off Wade, a ground single to left, and Torre decided to make his next move, the move that would directly resurface in last night's Game #4 of the 2009 NLCS. He brought in dynamic closer Jonathan Broxton, he of the 100-mph fastball fame.
With the hard-throwing righthander Broxton now in the game, and with the pitcher's spot coming up in the batting order, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel turned to pinch-hitter Matt Stairs. The lefty-swinging Stairs had been acquired in an August trade from the Toronto Blue Jays for just this type of situation. Stairs is a powerful dead-fastball hitter, and Manuel figured that if anyone could catch up to Broxton's heat and not be intimidated by the situation it would be the 40-year old, 16-year veteran.
In one of the most memorable Phillies post-season moments of all-time, Stairs uncorked a mighty swing and drove a flaming Broxton fastball high into the Los Angeles night. When the ball finally came crashing down into the midst of the stunned Dodgers crowd way up in the right field stands, the Phillies had taken a 7-5 lead. They would hold that lead, and rather than being tied they instead took a 3-1 lead in the series, which they closed out two days later.
Flash forward now to last night's Game #4 of the 2009 National League Championship Series. The same Phillies and Dodgers were meeting again, and again the Phils had taken a two games to one lead. But again, the Dodgers seemed in control of this game and were poised to tie the series. The two biggest differences this time were that the game was being played at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, and that the Dodgers this time were holding a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the 9th inning.
As in 2008, Torre had again turned to Broxton in the 8th inning. This time the flame thrower had gotten his team through the inning. When he began the 9th by getting Raul Ibanez to pop up, there was one out with nobody on base. The Dodgers were now just two outs away from tying the series and shifting the momentum to their side. The Phillies desperately needed someone to put a big swing on one of Broxton's big fastballs, and when Manuel looked down his bench there was really only one place to turn.
Grabbing his bat and heading to the plate as a pinch-hitter was that hero of the 2008 Game #4, Matt Stairs. The regular season had not been kind to Stairs overall, but he had demonstrated that he was still capable of catching up to fastballs by launching a handful of homeruns. It was very, very obvious that Broxton was well aware of who was stepping to the plate, of his own inability to intimidate Stairs, and had replayed Stairs mammoth '08 playoff homer hundreds of times in his head.
Knowing full well that Stairs possessed the ability to turn a 100-mph fastball into a tie game with one swing of the bat, Broxton either intentionally stayed away from the big lefty's bat, or was himself intimidated by Stairs and the memories. Broxton started with a fastball way inside, perhaps as a feeble attempt to back Stairs off the plate. It didn't work, and the next three pitches were way outside. Stairs couldn't have hit any of them with an 8-foot long bat, and instead drew a 4-pitch walk to put the tying run on base.
Manuel immediately sent Eric Bruntlett in to pinch-run for Stairs, but the big burly lefthander had done an important job. Perhaps he didn't take Broxton deep, but he had reached base, giving the Phillies a chance to tie the score. Broxton seemed to still be a bit shaken when he delivered a pitch to Carlos Ruiz that nipped the catcher on the elbow, putting Ruiz on first and moving Bruntlett to 2nd base representing the tying run. Broxton then overpowered pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs for a soft pop to 3rd base, and moving within one out of tying the series.
The final obstacle to Broxton's redemption was Phillies shortstop, leadoff man, and de facto team captain Jimmy Rollins. With the count at 1-1, Broxton powered a 99-mph fastball right down the middle of the plate. Rollins quick-stroked his bat through the zone, the head of his bat squarely meeting the ball, immediately turning it around on a line towards right-centerfield.
Rollins' liner hit the grass and found a gap between outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, and began to bounce towards the centerfield wall. Bruntlett and Ruiz were off with the crack of the bat, and it was obvious immediately that Bruntlett was going to score to tie the game. But as the fans attention turned from the ball to the baserunners, it also became obvious that Ruiz was motoring, and there was no way the Dodgers were going to get him. The catcher slid home with the winning run, and the entire team mobbed Rollins near 3rd base as the hometown fans went wild with joy.
With fireworks exploding and the crowd roaring at a deafening level, Jonathan Broxton walked off the mound past a Phillies team that was piled in a celebratory heap. For the second straight year in the NLCS, in the second straight Game #4, Broxton had blown a save chance. He had blown a chance to get his team even. And he has likely blown any chance they had at stopping these Phillies from advancing to the World Series.
There were a number of key moments in that Phillies comeback rally, not the least of which was Rollins' clutch game-winning hit. This was Jimmy Rollins moment, he is the hero this time, and no one can take that away from him what may even be a career highlight if this team goes on to win another championship.
But it should also be remembered that when Matt Stairs came to the plate against Jonathan Broxton, the 2008 NLCS visited this 2009 NLCS, and that Broxton's memory of that night a year and a week ago led directly to the tying run reaching base, and once again to the Phillies taking charge of a playoff series.
Monday, October 19, 2009
When former Phillies lefthander Randy Wolf takes the mound in tonight's Game #4 of the NLCS against his former team he will be trying to duplicate the World Series-winning accomplishments of a number of former teammates, and now of the Phillies themselves.
It's not at all surprising that once he had an opportunity at free agency, that the pitcher affectionately known here as "Wolfie" would choose to move on to southern California. Wolf was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, and became both a high school and collegiate star pitcher there before being drafted in the 25th round by his hometown Dodgers in 1994.
However, Wolf chose not to sign with his childhood dream team and instead went to college. When he was next eligible, Wolf was chosen by the Phillies in the 2nd round of the 1997 draft. Within two years he rose through the ranks of the club's minor league system, and made his Major League debut with the Phils on June 11th, 1999, recording a victory against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Wolf would go on to pitch for 7 more full seasons in Philly, becoming a fan favorite at Veteran's Stadium where a particularly colorful group of patrons began to don wolf masks and show up at his games. The 'Wolf Pack' grew larger and larger over the years, and they would do a little dance in celebration of each strikeout and victory by their hero.
Randy Wolf had much success in town, but would not see ultimate team success during his time in Philly. Though the club was a contender in a number of his seasons, and though he was here long enough to see the first few years at Citizens Bank Park and play with teammates who would become the core of the current title team such as Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, he would leave right before the good times began to roll.
Wolf now finds himself in the position that some other former teammates found themselves in, once heroes for their exploits at the Vet, but left to seek their ultimate World Series fortunes elsewhere before the Citizens Bank Park bunch finally matured into champs. It is the same position, in fact, that outfielder Bobby Abreu finds himself in as he plays in this year's ALCS with the Angels vs. the Yankees.
Abreu was the Phillies main hitting star during Wolf's pitching tenure. He was a regular .300 hitter who swatted 30 homers, drove in 100 runs, and stole 30 bases almost every year. But 2006 was, like Wolf, his final season with the Phils. Both left the year before the Phillies won the first of what has been three straight NL East titles, and of course before the 2008 World Series win. Both continue to chase their own elusive championship on the west coast. Other of their former teammates have already experienced that World Series championship thrill.
Curt Schilling was a teammate with Wolf and Abreu on the 1998 and '99 Phillies. After being traded away to Arizona, Schil shared the '01 World Series MVP Award as he helped lead the Diamondbacks to the title. He then moved on to Boston where his legendary 'bloody sock' pitching effort helped the Bosox break the almost century-old 'Curse of the Bambino' with a World Series win in 2004. He would add another with the Bosox in 2007 before retiring this season due to injuries.
Scott Rolen was supposed to be the 2nd coming of Mike Schmidt, and early in his career he lived up to the hype. Rolen was every bit Schmidt's defensive equal, a human highlight film with the glove. He was a tremendous baserunner. As a teammate of Schilling, Abreu and Wolf in 1998, Rolen hit .290, clubbed 31 homers, and drove in 110 runs in just his 3rd season. He seemed destined for superstardom.
Rolen very nearly led the Phils into the 2001 post-season, banging a pair of memorable homeruns as the Phils beat the Atlanta Braves to tie for first place on the first night back after the devastating attacks of 9/11 had stopped baseball for a week. But ultimately Rolen departed in acrimony, never embracing the town fully. He would finally win his own World Series title, starring for the Saint Louis Cardinals as they took home the 2006 World Series title.
Schilling and Rolen, as well as Schilling's Boston manager Terry Francona who skippered those 2004 and 2007 Red Sox to their World Series titles after managing those late 90's Phillies teams, all followed in the footsteps of another Phils legend who had to leave to get his ring. Longtime catcher and team leader Darren Daulton, who spent every season of his 13+ Major League career in Philly, and who was a teammate of Schilling, Rolen & Abreu before being traded late in 1997, went to Florida in that deal and won a World Series title with those Marlins.
Randy Wolf will finally take the mound at Citizens Bank Park in a National League Championship Series game that is pivotal for the Phillies hopes of advancing to the World Series. But fate has it that he will be trying to thwart the hopes of the Phils and the rowdy fans, who will not be rooting him on. That includes the old 'Wolf Pack' members. I spoke to one just last week and he told me that Wolfie understands, their loyalty lies with the home team.
So tonight when Wolf takes the mound versus the organization that was his home for almost a decade, he will be trying to tie the series and give his hometown Dodgers a shot at getting him what his former teammates Schilling and Rolen, his former manager Francona, and now his former mates Rollins, Utley, Howard, and Burrell all have - a World Series champions ring.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
For the 5th time in the history of Major League Baseball, two of it's storied franchises are now meeting for the championship of the National League. The Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers have split those first four matchups, each winning a pair.
Most Phillies fans are well aware of who their own team is and what it's history has been, but who are these Dodgers? A brief lesson on the history of the franchise, and a closer look at the current team, and a recap of those previous four Phils-Dodgers matchups should make this a far more interesting series for all Phillies fans.
The first thing that the Phils and Dodgers have in common is that the two franchises were formed in the same year. In 1883, a team from Worcester, Massachusetts in the National League moved to Philadelphia and became known as the Phillies. It is now the oldest continuously named franchise in all of professional sports. That same year, a team that became known as the Dodgers were born in the borough of Brooklyn, New York.
At that time, Brooklyn was not officially a part of New York City, and the team for many years went by a number of different nicknames. The name 'Dodgers' evolved slowly over time before finally becoming official in 1932 or '33 when it began to appear on the team uniforms. The name derived originally from New Yorkers refering to Brooklyn residents as 'trolly dodgers' due to the vast network of trolley cars in the area, and the fact that residents frequently had to scramble in the streets to keep from getting struck by one.
In the early part of the 20th century, Brooklyn sports writers took a character from the play Oliver Twist known as the 'Artful Dodger' who had a street person nature and began using the link to give the team an affectionate nickname of 'the Bums' based on this character. As the team went decades without winning a championship, this alternate nickname stuck as well.
The main rivals for the Dodgers franchise since those earliest days have been the Giants franchise. Both teams were from New York, and this battle for the hearts of the citizens there led to the rivalry. The rivalry continued even after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, because the Giants moved out to San Francisco at the same time, leaving the teams to fight over professional baseball's new west coast fans.
Before moving west, the Dodgers franchise made baseball history when famed General Manager Branch Rickey signed and brought to the Major Leagues the first black player. For decades the Negroe Leagues had existed for black players, who were discriminated against and intentionally segregated. For the 1947 season, Rickey brought Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers and formally broke the color barrier.
An informal Phillies-Dodgers rivalry broke out over the next few years in a way very unflattering for the Phils team and its fans. The Phillies were notoriously discriminatory. Some of the team players specifically went out of their way to disparage and play 'dirty' against Robinson in his first few years, the Phillies fans yelled obscenities and insults at him, and the Phils ended up being the last Major League team to finally employ a black player in 1957.
What has now become a famous sports saying, "Wait 'til next year", began with Dodgers fans as they waited frustratingly for a championship. In the 1950's, the team was victimized by two of baseball's immortal moments. In 1951, the hated rival Giants beat the Dodgers in a playoff for the NL pennant thanks to Bobby Thomson's famous 'Shot Heard Round the Word' homerun. In 1956, Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series to help beat them.
1955, the Dodgers franchise finally did what many of its fans thought might be impossible. That year the team defeated the New York Yankees in 7 games to win their first World Series championship led by stars like Robinson, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, and Roy Campanella. Also members of that team were future Dodger and baseball legends Tommy Lasorda, Don Zimmer, and a 19-year old kid pitcher named Sandy Koufax.
Little could Dodgers fans have realized that two years later their beloved 'Bums' would be gone forever. Following the 1957 season, after failed plans to build a new ballpark to replace their aging home at Ebbetts Field, the Dodgers franchise helped initiate baseball's westward expansion by moving to Los Angeles. The Giants moved west the same off-season, and the two club's rivalry continued out west, leaving New York solely to the Yankees of the American League.
In just their 2nd season in their new home, the Dodgers won their 2nd World Series title in 1959, and baseball became solidified in southern California as a result. The team opened Dodger Stadium for the 1962 season, and it remains home to the team and one of baseball's most beautiful ballparks to this very day. A Dodgers team dominated by the pitching of Sandy Koufax, perhaps baseball's greatest left-handed pitcher of all-time, and Don Drysdale helped the team add two more World Series titles in 1963 and 1965.
For two decades stretching from their final years in Brooklyn beginning in 1954 and continuing through the first half of the 1970's, the Dodgers had been managed by the legendary Walter Alston who guided the club to 7 pennants and 4 World Series titles. When Alston finally retired, he was replaced by a man who would himself become a legend. Longtime Dodgers player and coach Tommy Lasorda, a man who claims to "bleed Dodger blue", took over the helm and would remain as manager into the 1996 season. Between these two men, the Dodgers had an unimaginable string by modern practice of 43 seasons of managerial stability.
Lasorda's early Dodger teams were led by the vaunted infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Ron Cey, and catcher Steve Yeager, who would play together for almost a full decade. It was this club that first became the Phillies playoff rivals. As the Dodgers came back to contender status in the late 1970's, so did the Phillies team developing with players like Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, and Steve Carlton. The two teams would meet in playoff showdowns for the National League pennant in both 1977 and 1978, and again in 1983.
The 1977 result turned out to be one of the most frustrating and dramatic post-season results in Phillies history. That year the Phillies won 101 games and were considered by many to be the best team in baseball. Gaining a split of the first two games of a best-of-5 series in LA, the Phils returned to Veteran's Stadium and took a 5-3 lead into the top of the 9th inning of the pivotal 3rd game. It was then that what has become known as 'Black Friday' in Phillies history began to unravel.
After the Phils got two outs with nobody on base, and with the fans roaring in anticipation of a 2-1 series lead, and with ace and future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton set to pitch the next game, the Dodgers devastated the Phils and their fans as they scored three runs in excruciating fashion. The Dodgers incredibly won the game 6-5, took the 2-1 lead, and the following day Carlton was defeated in a rain-marred game by Tommy John to advance the Dodgers into the World Series.
In 1978, the Phillies won their 3rd straight eastern title, but again the Dodgers frustrated them with a four-game win in the NLCS. The Dodgers lost the World Series both years to the Yankees. The Phillies finally broke through and won their first World Series in 1980, and that Dodgers core finally won their own the following year in 1981. In 1983 the two teams again met for the pennant, and this time the Phillies prevailed before losing the World Series to Baltimore.
It would be a quarter century before the two clubs would hookup for another National League pennant. In the interim years the Dodgers went though the 'Fernandomania' years of the 1980's when pitchers Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser kept them in contention, culminating in the team winning a dramatic 1988 World Series highlighted by Kirk Gibson's legendary 9th inning pinch-hit homerun to win the first game against Oakland.
The Phillies used a rousing 'Worst-to-First' team in 1993 to return to the World Series themselves, but lost on the legendary Joe Carter homerun for Toronto. It would be an oasis in a 2 1/2 decade playoff drought for the Phils. The Dodgers won western titles in 1995, when they were led by a Philly-area native in catcher Mike Piazza, and again in 2004 but could not win in the playoffs. Finally a year ago, the two old playoff rivals met again for the 2008 NL pennant.
Most Phillies fans are well aware of what happened last season. The Phils held a 2-1 series lead, but LA appeared poised to tie it up as they led 5-3 heading into the top of the 8th inning. With the next game also scheduled for Dodgers Stadium, it appeared that LA was in excellent position to take charge of the series.
The Phillies had other ideas, and fashioned their own revenge for 'Black Friday' by devastating the Dodgers and their fans with an incredible rally. Shane Victorino drilled a 2-run homer to tie the game at 5-5. After a base hit by catcher Carlos Ruiz, Dodgers manager Joe Torre brought in his flamethrowing closer, Jonathan Broxton. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel countered with powerful veteran pinch-hitter Matt Stairs.
In one of the most memorable moments in the Phillies post-season history, Stairs blasted a mammoth 2-run homerun to right field to put the Phils up 7-5. They went on to close out the series in five games, advancing to the World Series where they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays for just the 2nd championship in team history.
Now the two teams are back, meeting once again for the 2nd consecutive season for the National League pennant. While the Phillies have brought in new key faces such as outfielder Raul Ibanez and pitchers Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, the Dodgers are largely the same cast of characters, but with their youngsters a year older and more experienced and a refurbished starting rotation.
Dodgers young stars such as pitchers Jonathan Broxton and Clayton Kershaw (who lost the first game), 1st baseman James Loney, catcher Russell Martin, and outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are all talented and now are more seasoned. Add in returning veteran outfielder Manny Ramirez, 3rd baseman Casey Blake, shortstop Rafael Furcal, a pair of new infielders in veterans Rafael Belliard and Orlando Hudson, and Japanese import pitcher Hiroki Kuroda (who will start on the mound in Game 3), as well as former longtime Phillies lefty starter Randy Wolf (who will start Game 4) and the Dodgers are once again a formidable, worthy obstacle as the Phils attempt to repeat.
The first two games have seen the two clubs split the results, and the series now shifts to three games at Citizens Bank Park over the next four days. The Phillies stole the homefield advantage by taking the opener behind an offensive outburst and the return to effectiveness of closer Brad Lidge, but the Dodgers tied it up with an 8th inning rally in game two and a tremendous start from Phillies castoff pitcher Vicente Padilla.
Citizens Bank Park will be rocking over the next few days as the team returns home for the first time in 10 days. In the interim, the fans have watched on television through some of the most emotionally and physically draining games that range from a controversial late start, frigid weather, and a miracle rally against the Rockies to the up-n-down split in Los Angeles.
For the Phillies and Dodgers, these next few days will go a long way to deciding, and in fact may actually finalize, who will win the 2009 National League Championship Series pennant and advance to the World Series. It will either be a return trip for the Phils to defend their title, or the Dodgers first trip in over two decades. One thing that is almost certain based on the history is that these two clubs are about to make dramatic history for baseball fans on both coasts.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The overt radicalism of President Barack Obama was on full display once again this past weekend as he gave a speech to a group known as the 'Human Rights Campaign', the largest gay rights group in the nation. In this speech, Obama laid out his thought process and his intended direction for a war on the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
In his speech, Obama fired his administration's opening shots in what promises to be a harrowing war on the God-given institution of Marriage that the Bible clearly states is between man and woman, husband and wife. The President presumptuously stated that there were still "hearts to open" on gay issues, and told the organization that he was "here with you in that fight."
Once again, Obama is fundamentally wrong on the key underlying point here. The fact is that there are no closed "hearts" that need to be opened. There are quite simply a huge number of Americans who disagree with him on many of the issues surrounding "rights" for gay people, particularly regarding Marriage. It is not we who are lacking in 'heart', but Obama and those like him who are lacking in moral understanding, vision, and courage.
Obama laid out his thinking as he prepares his ultra-liberal army for an eventual all-out assault on the Marriage sacrament when he urged Congress to repeal the 'Defense of Marriage Act' and stated that gay couples should have the same rights as "any married couple in this country."
What Obama and all liberals ignore is that Marriage is not some state-sponsored civil union between two people, but a sacred bond between a man and a woman. In the Bible, Matthew's gospel states that "..he who made them from the beginning made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."
Support for homosexual marriage ignores the fundamental reality that the practice is intrinsically disordered. It is an abuse of our human nature. For one man to lay down with another man and insert his penis into the other males anus is unnatural any way you describe it. Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a diagnostic disorder. It was removed then only due to the political pressures of the day, not due to any change in medical evidence.
This does not mean that we should discriminate against homosexuals or treat them as anything less than the image of God in which they have been created as human beings. They have fundamental human and spiritual rights that should be defended. But a defense based on their humanity does not extend to all areas of their nature and conduct.
To further clarify for the ultra-liberal and uber-sensitive: being gay is not being un-American, but supporting gay marriage is going against traditional American norms and values; being gay is not un-Godly, but yielding your life to a 'gay' lifestyle is going against the will of God for humanity; being gay is not inhuman, but practicing gay sex is immoral and irresponsible on a human level.
President Barack Obama has taken up the banner of the homosexual marriage cause fully. He has clearly stated that he will make every effort to force America into an immoral situation where the nation allows anyone to marry anyone else regardless of sexuality. It is hard to see how any thinking Christian can support a politician who continuously and vigorously supports attacks on Marriage and the murder of babies.
Open ideological war is breaking out in American society. This is not an overstatement or exaggeration based on strong religious beliefs, but simply the reality of the current state of affairs in our nation. Which side will ultimately win out? Obama's 'anything goes' side, or traditional Judeo-Christian American values? And which side are you on?
NOTE: as always, the title of this article is a link to more information on the topic
Friday, October 9, 2009
It was announced today that President Barack Obama of the United States had won the once-prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. Obama was awarded the prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."
There was no accompanying 'rimshot' sound effect to the announcement. This was not a joke.
Obama was nominated for the prize within a couple of weeks of being sworn in to the office of the Presidency. A couple of weeks during which he earned the nomination by, uh, doing...er, uh. Well, he made a couple speeches, right? Uh, he, er, uh said some pretty good things, I think?
A year ago, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Martii Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland who after leaving that office had established the Crisis Management Initiative in 2000, a non-governmental group that helps mediate and resolve crisis around the world. Ahtisaari had worked for decades in places like Kosova, Iraq, and Indonesia to promote peace.
Barack Obama, in just a couple of weeks in office, made some "extraordinary efforts" that got him the same award. What it took Ahtisaari and all other Nobel laureates a lifetime to achieve, Obama managed through those extraordinary efforts to achieve in mere weeks.
For his part, Obama on one hand seemed to understand that his nomination was out of place saying "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures who've been honored by this prize." However, Obama went on to say that he would accept the prize anyway as a "call to action" and "as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."
Come on, folks, this is an organization that honored Al Gore with a straight face. This was nothing more than a purely political endorsement by a European organization that has found a sympathetic figure it hopes will further bolster the EU's efforts to undermine American strength and drive us closer to a new Socialist world order.
CBS news chief Bob Schieffer, a liberal spokesperson for a liberal news organization, believes this was purely a slap at the Bush administration's aggressive policies in the world, and suggested that the award may have been a prize "for winning the election." The conservative National Review wondered if Obama would next be honored with Major League Baseball's prestigious Cy Young Award as it's top pitcher.
Alfred Nobel himself is probably rolling over in his grave right now. In his will, Nobel stipulated that the prize should be awarded to someone "who shall have done the most or the best work" on behalf of peace. Man, that Obama sure is something, getting all that work done in just a couple of weeks in order to be nominated.
To use boxing terms, if giving Al Gore a Nobel Peace Prize for what is at best a controversial and at worst a fraudulent global warming presence was the 'left hook' then giving Barack Obama the award is the 'right cross' and the final blow that knocks the Nobel Prize out of the credibility fight.
Barack Obama noted when he took office that America is "at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred" and yet he has done nothing since taking power to keep America safe from these Islamist terrorists. In fact, his words and actions have undermined that process and made America even more vulnerable today, and set up the processes by which we will become increasingly more vulnerable going forward.
Obama stated in his inaugural that "earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions." What he failed to state was that there are no longer nations with the moral backbone to stand up for their convictions as allies for true freedom, only cowards who surrender to maintain peace, hiding behind the apron strings of socialism as they await the onrush from the forces of Islamism.
The legacy that Barack Obama is forging here at home is certainly not one of peace among Americans. It is one of being a divider, not the uniter that he said he would become. He is a partisan leader of a partisan political party in a partisan environment in which roughly half of the people of his own country do not support him or his policies.
Be it at home in the United States among fellow Americans, or within our own hemisphere in dealing with situations in places like Cuba and Venezuela, Obama has done little or nothing to forge peace. In the Middle East with our friends in Israel, or with or Islamist enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has done little or nothing to forge peace. In relations with major powers such as Russia and China, Obama has done little or nothing to forge peace.
Webster's defines 'noble' as "possessing outstanding qualities" and "possessing, characterized by, or arising from the superiority of mind or character or of ideals or morals." Combined with the Gore award, today's awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama can only leave us with the notion that the award is now purely political, and the Nobel organization has surrendered all nobility.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Anyone can tell you after the fact why something happened, and say that they knew it would happen that way and could have told you before hand. Well me, I'm actually going to tell you before hand how one educated baseball fan - me - thinks that the 2009 MLB post-season will play out.
Let's start closest to home, with the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies and the National League playoffs. In the NL Division Series, the East Division champion Phillies host the Wildcard Colorado Rockies and the West Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers will play host to the Saint Louis Cardinals.
Back in 2007, the Phillies had completed a furious late-season rally to overtake the New York Mets and win their first division crown in 14 years. That team was quite obviously just happy to be there, and they were steam-rolled by a red-hot Rockies club in three straight Division Series games.
This year will be different for a number of reasons. First, the Phillies are a better team today than they were two years ago in both the starting lineup and in the starting rotation. The additions of Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, and rookie J.A. Happ provide that improved talent.
Perhaps more importantly, the club's home grown nucleus is not only more experienced, but the quality of that experience of winning a world championship cannot be understated. The confidence gained by Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, et al will prove invaluable.
The Rockies have a good team and finished strong, making a late run at the Dodgers in the west. They have some excellent players in shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, outfielder Brad Hawpe, and closer Huston Street. They have outstanding young talents in outfielder Dexter Fowler and infielder Ian Stewart, as well as pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge de la Rosa (lost for the series due to injury). And they also have their iconic 1st baseman Todd Helton.
The Phillies supplement their big three of Howard-Utley-Rollins with perhaps the most potent attack in the National League. Outfielders Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino were both deserved All-Stars and join Ibanez and 3rd baseman Pedro Feliz in providing the Phils with legitimate weapons through the first 7 hitters in the batting order.
The Phillies depth and overall talent will combine with the fact that they are the best defensive team in the game to be the difference here. Unlike some other pundits who like to give every team it's 'props' by at least assuming they will win one game, I'm not going that route. I see no reason why the Fightin' Phils can't sweep this series, and so I am going to call it a 3-0 series win for the defending champs.
The Cardinals have become the popular pick for many in the other NL series. They have marquee talents in newcomer Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols, perhaps the best hitter in baseball. With a pair of legitimate aces at the top in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the Cards have a definite advantage. But it's not as if these Dodgers come into the series with nothing. There is a reason they won 95 games and compiled the best record in the league.
The Dodgers come at you with a balanced attack led by emerging star outfielder Matt Kemp and clutch-hitting outfielder Andre Ethier, and including 1st sacker James Loney, catcher Russ Martin, and future Hall of Famer Manny Ramirez. The Dodgers also have an excellent trio of middle infielders in 2nd basemen Orlando Hudson and Rafael Belliard and shortstop Rafael Furcal. I think that the LA pitchers will find a way to keep the club close enough in enough games to give the Dodgers a tight 3-2 series win.
Over in the AL, the East Division champion New York Yankees are clearly the class of the league. Their Division Series opponents, the Minnesota Twins, last night won one of the greatest games in recent baseball history, defeating the Detroit Tigers in 12 innings to win the Central Division title. I have to believe that the Twins left it all on the field in that game, and I predict the Yanks will storm to a 3-0 sweep here.
In the other AL series, the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim?) will face the Boston Red Sox. The Bosox have made a habit of knocking the Angels out in the opening round of the playoffs, but this year it is going to be different. These Angels have the talent and experience. They just need to win a key game early in the series and gain some confidence, which I believe they will in what should be a hard-fought 3-1 series win for the Angels.
In the ALCS, the Yankees have too much firepower for the Angels, and I see the Yankes taking it by a 4-1 margin. In the NLCS, the Phillies proved last year that they are better than the Dodgers. Nothing much has changed other than that the Phils have gotten better while the Dodgers are arguably the same team. I see the Phils taking the series by a 4-1 margin as well.
This would set up a fascinating World Series between what I believe are clearly the two best overall teams in baseball. A star-studded affair featuring names like Howard, ARod, Jeter, Utley, Teixeira, Werth, Victorino, Damon, Ibanez and a number of other talented hitters and defenders. Pitching battles featuring C.C. Sabathia trying to overcome the horrible defeat he suffered in the playoffs a year ago at the Phils hands while a member of the Milwaukee Brewers rotation.
Here it comes, the absolutely complete and utter 'homer' call: Philadelphia Phillies in six memorable, exciting games over the New York Yankees and a repeat parade down Broad Street for the first back-to-back MLB champs in a decade. But it's not a complete homer call. The Phillies have the talent to do it again. At some point in the playoffs the bullpen will have to overcome it's struggles. But I believe the previous post-season experience will be enough to carry the club through to glory.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
On the final night of September, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel again demonstrated why he is probably the single best manager in professional baseball today as far as the handling of personalities goes.
With his defending World Series champions holding a commanding 10-3 lead over the Houston Astros, he had sent lefty reliever Scott Eyre to the mound to finish up the game. A win would clinch the 3rd straight National League East Division title for Manuel's team.
Sounds like relatively tame and uninspirational stuff, right? But another factor, a key to the dynamic of this specific Phillies team, was about to take over. Eyre did a nice job in securing the first two outs of the inning. With the team now just one out away from victory, one out from that 3rd straight division title, Manuel made his move.
Charlie Manuel walked up the steps of the home team dugout as the fans roared in anticipation of the clincher. He strode out to the mound while those fans whipped their white and red 'rally towels' furiously around in the air above their heads, creating a scene that has become a happy tradition at Citizens Bank Park in recent years.
And then Charlie Manuel looked out to his bullpen in centerfield and made a quick motion with his right hand. With that motion he summoned into the game and on to the mound embattled closer Brad Lidge. The crowd, seeing Lidge emerge from the bullpen door and begin making his way toward that mound, roared even louder. To understand, you need to know the background.
Brad Lidge was signed prior to the 2008 season by the Phillies to be their new closer, the man who comes in at the end of games in the most highly pressurized situations to put out the opponents final threat and secure a win for the Fightin' Phils.
Lidge had previously held that position with these same Houston Astros against whom he was being summoned last night. At first, Lidge was a fireballing setup man behind Astros closer Billy Wagner. When Wagner left via free agency and came here to Philadelphia, Lidge took over as the Houston closer. He had great success, but also suffered a miserable playoff failure as well. He lost confidence, fell out of favor, and also sustained injury.
His signing with the Phillies was a show of confidence by the club that the Phillies felt that with his physical health now secured that a change of scenery could be just what he needed to return to dominant form. Lidge did not disappoint. He was perfect as the team closer, never blowing a save opportunity all season.
At the apex of the 2008 baseball season, it was Brad Lidge slipping a slider past Tampa Bay Rays hitter Eric Hinske for the final out and the Phillies 2nd World Series title ever. Lidge sank to his knees and raised his arms to the sky, his eyes filled with the same awe and euphoria that the entire Philadelphia region was feeling. He was met quickly by his catcher, Carlos Ruiz, and then mobbed by his team in a celebratory pile that will not be soon forgotten in these parts.
A parade and an off-season of rewards and celebrations followed, but time marches on, and eventually a new season rolled around. For Brad Lidge, it would not prove to be as perfectly magical. Within the first couple of weeks, Lidge blew his first save as a Phillie. Within a month, Lidge's performances were becoming a concern. By the end of the summer, the Phillies were finally looking around at other closing options as Lidge's failures became more numerous and ever more frustrating.
For the vast majority of the season, Lidge received support from both the Philadelphia fans and from Manuel despite persistent failures. But those failures became so frequent, and the results began to affect the team in the standings to the point where Lidge was finally removed from the closer role by Manuel.
So when Charlie Manuel made that gesture and called Brad Lidge into the game to finish it off, it was a move made from a pair of thoughts. First, Manuel wanted Lidge and his team to know that he still believed in the closer, that he still felt that Lidge was important. The symbolism of the move was that every single player on this team can and has gone through a rough time. Manuel will not give up on them when they have shown success in the past and are working hard to continue it.
The other reason that Manuel called Lidge out was competitive. He wanted Lidge to again get that feel of standing on the mound in a key moment with something on the line. He wanted Lidge to feel the adrenaline of that moment, of those roaring fans and waving towels. He wanted Lidge to succeed and secure the final out that would win the division title.
Brad Lidge did not let Charlie Manuel or those fans down last night. In fact, he made short work of the Astros' Lance Berkman. A nice first-pitch slider was grounded to first baseman Ryan Howard, who trotted to the bag and recorded the final out of the game. Howard then turned towards Lidge, who was noticeably pumped up, and the two exchanged a high-five and an embrace as they were mobbed by their celebrating teammates and showered with applause and cheers from their fans.
Charlie Manuel had succeeded in the moment. There is every possibility that Lidge will take this adrenaline, this confidence, and run off a string of successes that will make the difference as the Phillies again enter October, this time to defend a championship. If that happens, no one will be able to argue that what happened last night was the turning point.
Even if the post-season ends in some other way for these Phillies, and with a number of other strong teams there is a chance that will happen, the significance of what Manuel did last night will reverberate into 2010 for the Phillies as they regroup. This team is built for the long haul. They will contend again next season, and likely for a couple more at least. It will be the leadership of their manager, something that Charlie Manuel would downplay himself, that will continue to play a huge part in that success.