Monday, November 30, 2009

If Tiger Crashes in the Woods....

Tiger Woods is not having an affair with stunningly beautiful New York nightclub manager Rachel Uchitel, a woman who has been described as a 'professional homewrecker' after sleeping with actor David Boreanaz while his wife was pregnant. Just ask them.

Tiger Woods was not intoxicated when he crashed his car this weekend at almost 2:30am while leaving his home either. Tiger Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren, 'rescued' him by smashing out the rear window of his SUV with a golf club after the accident. Really. No, seriously. She was, uh, rescuing him when she smashed out the window of his car. Res-cu-ing, thank you.

There are more holes in this story than in a block of swiss cheese. But one statement that is coming out of the Woods camp is beyond dispute. Tiger Woods has said that this is a 'private matter' within his family, and beyond a possible police interest involving the nature of the car crash, that is absolutely true.

The good folks at the National Enquirer and TMZ would like you to think differently, but what happens in the private home life of a celebrity is no one's business. Not when the events, incidents, or happenings of that life are not affecting your life directly, or society in general.

The arguments and discussions have gone on for as long as there have been human beings. Are other people's business in any way our business? The question is raised legitimately not just in reference to celebrities, but with your neighbors as well.

How many of us have been guilty of gossiping over the happenings in someone else's family, home, or marriage? Are we ready to have our own situation become fodder for some similar gossip?

We all have a right to privacy. Every single one of us, whether we are a world-famous celebrity like Tiger Woods or a simple ditch digger, is going to have familial problems. We are going to have a marital spat or worse. We are going to have a kid who does something crazy. We are going to become involved in an accident after leaving a party. Something.

My bet is that every single person who ever reads this little blog entry has done something in their lives that they are very happy never got out into the public domain. Perhaps there are some who have not been as fortunate, and who have had some scandalous or embarrassing or personal situation become the source of such public gossip.

The fact is that Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren have a young child. They have the normal stresses and strains on their family and relationship that we all feel. Sure they have tremendous financial resources that make some things much easier. They also spend a great deal of time apart with his constant travels to golf tournaments, sponsorship commitments and other events.

The very last thing that the Woods family needs if there has indeed been a sexual indiscretion, or an auto accident, or a marital fight, or any type of misstep in their family is all of our eyes watching them, hungry for ever more sordid details, thirsting for more insider knowledge. It's hard enough to overcome familial trauma under normal circumstances.

Every single one of us who stays tuned in to one of the gossip television programs, or reads some gossip article online or in a tabloid, everyone who thinks that they for some reason deserve access to the Woods family personal troubles is pouring gasoline on the fire. Sure, maybe Woods lit the match. But he and his wife deserve the opportunity to put their fire out, if that is what they wish. They don't need us dumping that petrol into the mix.

The next time that someone says to you "What do you think about Tiger Woods and that girl?", or perhaps "So, I heard Susie down the block is having an affair with Joe at the gas station, whatta ya think?" why not make your response "Do they care about what's happening in my family? Because that's what matters to me."

It's only a matter of time before you or one of your own slips up big time, and the very last thing that you will want is a bunch of nosy neighbors, or worse, the news media, sticking those big noses into your business. None of us could survive much of an in-depth prying into our personal affairs. We should not be doing the same to the Woods family, or any other family or individual for that matter.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Join the 912 Project

The picture accompanying this story might look like a scene out of some late 1960's, Gump-esque, anti-Vietnam War rally with counter-culture hippies, radicals, and others disenchanted with the actions and policies of their government protesting those actions and policies.

However, the picture, one that many of you likely have never seen because the former mainstream media does not want you to know about these events and thus fails to cover them or under-publicizes them, is not from the 'Summer of Love' but rather it is from the end of this very past summer. September 12th, 2009 to be exact.

The Americans in this counter-culture demonstration, the new generation of 'radicals', gathered in the National Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and all over Washington, D.C. to demand fundamental change.

You might have heard that before somewhere, the "Change" idea? The one word slogan was deftly used in last year's U.S. presidential campaign by Barrack Hussein Obama. It was meant to galvanize those sitting on the fence in the election to support a change from the policies of the George W. Bush administration which had governed for the previous eight years.

But while Obama and his people sold that idea as a change from Bush policies to what they described as some new, more enlightened and peaceful era, what they were actually selling was a bill of goods. Their real motive was a change in the very fabric, culture, and traditional values of America.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank You, God

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who takes the time to read these thoughts of mine. Anyone who cares enough about the way you think and express yourself to actually use some of their valuable time to bother reading is certainly worth thanking.

There are many others in my life for whom I am thankful that they are a part. There are many things, situations, events, objects, opportunities for which I am particularly thankful this year. But there is one above all others to whom I am grateful for providing the blessings of all those others in my life.

Thank you, God.

Thank you for the wife whom you directed into my life more than 17 years ago. Thank you for providing to her the gifts that have enabled her to grow with me, forgive me, love me. Thank you particularly for the gift of the time we've spent together all these years. Most particularly, for bringing us together in an understanding and acceptance of faith in your son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you for my daughters and my grandchildren. They have provided incredible love, color, and depth to the experiences of my lifetime. Thank you for all they have taught me and brought me, more than they probably know or could understand. Thank you for the gift of continuing to enjoy them as they all grow and mature, and I will continue to offer special prayers for their increased spiritual growth.

Thank you for this home that you have provided for my wife and I, and for the opportunities that we have had over the years to improve and secure it for ourselves. Thank you for the enjoyment of our family and friends here, some as their home, some as regular visitors, some as infrequent guests. All as welcome today as they have ever been at any time previously.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The 'Other Football' Championship

Even though there was an important game yesterday evening for my hometown Philadelphia Eagles on national television, there was another sports event on television at the same time which stole most of my attention during the whole night.

That event was the MLS Cup Final between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. To the rest of the world, that event would be considered the football championship of America. They would consider the Eagles game to be a contest known to them as 'American football'.

To most of America, the MLS Cup would decide the champions of a sport we call 'soccer'. For the uninitiated, 'MLS' stands for Major League Soccer, which represents the professional level here in America of the game that is the most popular in the rest of the world.

One of the reasons that pro soccer has very little profile or coverage here in Philadelphia is that we haven't had a local team for whom to cheer. The last time that Philly had a true soccer team for which to root was way back in 1980 when the Philadelphia Fury played their final season.

For much of the 1970's, pro soccer was a part of the local sports scene. The Philadelphia Atoms started things in what was a generally successful competitive four-year run from 1973-1976. In their very first year of existence, the Atoms won the NASL (North American Soccer League) championship. The team regularly would draw more than 20,000 fans to their matches on the pitch at Veteran's Stadium.

After winning the title, Atoms goalkeeper and local player Bob Rigby became the first soccer player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Then in 1975, midfielder Chris Bahr, a Penn State product, scored 11 goals in 22 games and was named the league's Rookie of the Year in his only season playing pro soccer. He would go on to star in the NFL as a kicker for 4 teams over 14 seasons.

The Atoms were unable to sustain their success, and eventually folded. In 1978 the NASL moved back into Veteran's Stadium with the Fury. That team never really caught on thanks to three straight seasons of losses, folding after 1980 having compiled an overall 32-60 record.

The NASL, formed back in 1968, finally folded in 1984, and professional soccer became largely a non-entity in the United States.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Remaining Thankful in the Worst of Times

If we live long enough here on earth, every single one of us is going to experience difficult times. Some of those are going to overwhelm us, challenging us to the limits of our ability to recover feelings of joy, peace, and thankfulness.

This coming week here in America we will celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving Day, a day specifically set aside for us all to give thanks for those blessings that we have received in this life. Though it may indeed be difficult, it is important that we remain thankful in the worst of those difficult times.

As this wonderful holiday approaches, I have been reminded recently of a pair of heartening messages, the first taught by Jesus Christ and the second by the apostle Paul: "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world" and "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

In the first of these statements, Jesus let's all of us know in no uncertain terms that we are indeed going to experience difficult times in this world. We are going to experience physical illness and injury. We are going to experience other people in our lives, at times the very closest and dearest to us, letting us down. We are going to experience death, both of our loved ones and ultimately our own.

But also in no uncertain terms, Jesus declares that He has overcome the world. We have all been promised that if we remain strong in our faith, that one day we too shall overcome the world and join Him in His kingdom in Heaven.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Palin's People Power

As someone who is completely sold on her, it is very difficult for me to understand how anyone outside of absolute liberal ideologues can not get the whole Sarah Palin thing and not like the woman as much as I like her.

The self-described 'hockey mom from Wasilla' has more real world human substance and experience to her than the vast majority of U.S. Senators and Congress persons, and had more executive experience at the time of last year's elections than the Democratic presidential candidate and ultimate victor Barack Obama.

The fact is that Sarah Palin is viewed publicly through two lenses, the two that have the American public as polarized as they have ever been at any time in the nation's history since the Civil War.

On one side are the former mainstream media outlets such as the majority of the nations daily newspapers, weekly news magazines, and it's network television outlets such as ABC and CBS. These outlets became partisan shills for the Democratic Party in general and ultra-liberal, sometimes communist and socialist world views decades ago.

On the other side are large swaths of the new media, including talk radio and much of the internet. Ultra-conservative talk hosts like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and conservative websites such as TownHall.com present Palin favorably, sometimes heroically.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Heaven Can't Wait

One of my all-time favorite songs is the beautiful ballad "Heaven Can Wait" recorded by the artist 'Meatloaf' from his classic "Bat Out of Hell" album and written by his longtime collaborator Jim Steinman.

The message of the song is that the singer has found such a deep, fulfilling, passionate love in their life here on earth that, despite it's promise of eternal beauty and peace in God's presence, as far as they are concerned heaven can wait.

I'm not going to waste any time in bashing the song or it's lyrics. This is one of the most simple and timeless love songs in modern music. But it does provide an opportunity to take a closer look at one of the most wide-spread mistakes that we as humans make. The mistake is in not understanding and accepting that no matter the beauty or peace provided us by anything or anyone here on earth, it pales in comparison to what is promised in Heaven.

The vast majority of us operate within the framework of our daily lives as if this is it, that this life is the only one that we get, so we need to live it to its fullest. How many times have you heard the phrase "life is short" or "life is meant to be lived" in defense of some course of action that someone is taking.

The truth of the matter is that, while a human lifespan on earth is relatively short, our promised existence in God's presence in Heaven is eternal. And while we certainly should strive for happiness and peace in our time here on earth, and strive to spread those to others, life is not meant to be lived to the point that we experience every sensation, good or bad, in our human lifetimes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Islamism Series: Call a Spade a Spade

The man shouted "Allahu Akbar!" as he pulled out the FN Herstal tactical pistol which he had purchased back in the summer from a gun store in Texas.

He then proceeded to methodically assassinate 13 Americans and injure dozens more in what has been described as everything from a 'crazed attack' to a 'shooting rampage'.

In fact, last week's attacks at the Fort Hood, New Jersey army base have been called everything but what they were: a terrorist attack by a radical Islamist, the first on U.S. soil since 9/11/2001.

39-year old Nidal Malik Hasan is a psychiatrist by trade, a trade which he learned as an enlisted man in the United States Army.

How could an American soldier shoot fellow soldiers and others? Was he simply mad? The obvious answer to anyone looking with clear vision is that Hasan was not mad, at least not clinically insane. What Hasan wa,s and continues to be, is an Islamist terrorist.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Movie Vets Help the Rest of Us Appreciate

Like most Americans, I have never experienced the honor of wearing the uniform of one of our brave military branches in service to my country. I have heard it from many who are my same age. We turned 18 years of age in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

There was no war raging at that time, unless you count the Cold War. Sadly, in many homes the tradition of military service was not passed along.

I have always felt it missing from my own set of life experiences and from my professional resume. An opportunity to experience that sense of duty and honor, and of service to my country and community, is certainly one of the many reasons that I joined the Philadelphia Police Department almost two decades ago now.

If I didn't make the choice as a kid to put on the uniform of my country, then at least I could put on a uniform here and help protect our homeland.

Still, it would be hard for most of us to ever appreciate what real soldiers, sailors, and pilots have experienced as they have defended both our nation directly and the cause of freedom around the world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

From the Halls of Montezuma

The United States Marine Corps today celebrates the 234th birthday for the American fighting force that has spearheaded victories in battles from Mexico's 'Halls of Montezuma' to Africa's 'shores of Tripoli' and thousands of locales in between.

Whether in the Middle East today, or in the pre-Vietnam War days when my father, Matthew Veasey, served in the Corps, or in the World War II days, when my father-in-law, Robert Marshall, served in the Corps in the Pacific theatre, Americans have served their country in this elite group of warriors and marksmen.

On November 10th, 1775, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the 2nd Continental Congress resolved that a military group be formed to be known as the Continental Marines. The group would eventually consist of 131 officers and approximately 2,000 enlisted Marines.

Five days earlier, the Congress had commissioned Samuel Nicholas of Philadelphia as a 'Captain of Marines', the first officer commissioned for the group. He would become accepted in tradition as the first 'Commandant of the Marine Corps', the highest ranking officer.

Tradition also holds that much of the recruitment efforts for the group were held at Philadelphia's Tun Tavern. The tavern was a nearly century old gathering place at Water and Tun Streets, with a restaurant having been added a few decades earlier. The proprietor during the Revolutionary period, Robert Mullen, became the chief Marine recruiter.

The primary service of this Marine force would be to serve as on-board security for naval Captains and their officers. They would also position Marine sharpshooters at the tops of the ships' masts during naval battles with the assignment of taking out the opposition officers and other important ship personnel.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tearing Down the Wall

Twenty years ago an amazing event happened, one that two generations of Americans and lovers of freedom the world over had a hard time imagining would ever happen in our lifetimes. On November 9th, 1989, at the crest of a wave of liberty sweeping across Eastern Europe, the East German government announced that its citizens could openly visit West Berlin.

The problem with such visits for decades had been the presence of one of the single most blatant symbols of political and cultural oppression in modern history, the Berlin Wall. The Wall was not just symbolic of socialist and communist oppression, it was a literal wall that encircled the 'free' city of West Berlin and included a thick concrete wall, barbed wire, guard towers, and patrolled trenches that would become known as 'the death strip' in history.

During the period of the Wall's existence between 1961 and 1989, estimates show that a couple of hundred people were killed in approximately 5,000 attempted crossings. All were trying to move one way, across the 'Iron Curtain' from the oppression of the Eastern Bloc to the freedom of Western Europe.

The roots of the Berlin Wall stretched back to the end of World War II, when what remained of Nazi Germany was divided by the Potsdam Agreement into four 'occupation zones', each controlled by one of the victorious Allied powers: the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.

Despite the fact that the capital city of Berlin lay entirely within the Soviet zone, that city was also divided into four controlling zones for the Allied powers. Within short order, rifts began to appear between the Soviets and the others on a number of post-war issues regarding reconstruction of Germany, as well as political and ideological differences between the nations.

Almost immediately after the war, Soviet leader Josef Stalin began to orchestrate the creation of and control over an 'Eastern bloc' of nations including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Soviet-controlled section of Germany which he envisioned as a buffer zone of protection for the USSR against the influence or advances of the European democracies.

In 1948, Stalin began to finalize his ultimate plans of a complete takeover of Germany by instituting a blockade of West Berlin, the section controlled by the other Allied powers. His hope was to see the others withdraw from control over and interest in the city. But the Americans and British responded with the 'Berlin airlift' efforts that kept the free section of the city supplied with goods and materials. After almost a year, Stalin finally lifted the blockade.

In October of 1949, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was declared and would become known as East Germany. This section of Germany was highly influenced by the Soviets and was oppressive to its people. West Germany developed as a capitalist nation in alliance with the United States and the other western nations. Over the years, West German economic growth and political freedoms became increasingly attractive to hundreds of thousands of East Germans, who fled their nation for the freedom and prosperity of the west.

In the first few years, nearly a million people fled the Eastern bloc to West Germany as people began to recognize the oppressive tactics and governing principles of socialism and communism. What became known officially as the 'German inner border' but was more popularly christened as the 'Iron Curtain' by Winston Churchill was the response. Initially a recognized but open border between the post-war zones controlled by the Soviets and the western powers, the 'Curtain' was formally closed with the erection first of barbed wire fences and later more substantial security in 1952 and 1953.

With this major path to freedom blocked, more and more citizens of East Berlin began to flee into West Berlin, the only remaining bastion of freedom behind the Iron Curtain of Soviet and East German oppression. The East German authorities attempted many measure to thwart the massive emigration that ensued, as approximately 20% of the entire GDR population escaped to the freedom of the west up until 1961.

Finally, Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev gave the East Germans the orders to build a physical wall separating East and West Berlin. At midnight on August 13th, 1961, the police and units of the East German army began to close the border. Streets were torn up and barbed wire fences installed to prevent passage. By August 15th, construction of a concrete wall had begun. Many families were literally split apart suddenly, and people were unable to travel to their jobs.

The Berlin Wall was ultimately built up and strengthened over decades in four main elements. The initial 'Wire Fence' effort of 1961 was followed quickly by improvement to that fence between 1962 and 1965. A concrete wall was completed and extended between 1965 and 1975. Finally, the 'Border Wall' was built, extended, and improved between 1975 and 1980, but was continually improved right up until the end in 1989. In the end, the Berlin Wall was more than 87 miles long.

In the beginning, no crossings at all were allowed for over two years between 1961 and 1963. Negotiations between the powers allowed for Christmas visits over the next four years. There were ultimately 8 different official border crossing points between East and West Berlin which were all heavily secured and controlled. It was far easier for West Berliners to cross into the east than vice versa. For the most part, no East Germans were permitted to cross into West Berlin until the fall of the Wall in 1989.

Located near the center of West Berlin, the 'Brandenburg Gate' is one of the main historic symbols of Germany in general and Berlin in particular. On June 12th, 1987, American president Ronald Reagan appeared there and made a speech to help celebrate the 750th anniversary of the city of Berlin. Reagan had throughout his presidency challenged the ideology and authority of communist and socialist regimes, publicly calling the Soviet Union an 'Evil Empire' at one point.

In his speech that day, Reagan directly addressed Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev: "..we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!"

Inspired by events such as Mr. Reagan's speech, citizens and governments across the Soviet sphere of influence began to crack. In August of 1989, "red" Hungary removed its border fence with a free Austria, and 13,000 East German tourists escaped to freedom. This set off a chain reaction of similar activity in Czechoslovakia, and finally in East Germany itself. Mass demonstrations resulted in the resignation of the East German president in October 1989.

These generally peaceful demonstrations continued to build throughout East Germany, culminating in what was known as the "Peaceful Revolution" and the gathering of a million people in East Berlin on November 4th. In response, the East German government and its puppet-string pullers in the USSR had little recourse but to loosen their grip, and when some pieces of a plan to do so were leaked to a German television network, the story was run on November 9th that "the borders were open to everyone" on what was called a historic day.

After this public announcement on television, which was actually a complete jumping-of-the-gun by the network, Germans began gathering at the Wall, completely surprising and overwhelming the guards. In contacting their superiors for orders, the guards were given no direction, and became overwhelmed by the throngs. The gates were opened and people flocked from both sides, embracing one another in glee. Over the ensuing days and weeks, people gathered daily to climb the Wall, break off pieces, and begin to informally demolish the structure.

Over the next few months, restrictions on crossings became officially lifted, including at the Brandenburg Gate on December 22nd. The following day, visa-free travel began between the states. On June 13th, 1990, official dismantling of the Wall began, and continued until being completed in November 1991. Only a few guard towers and portions remain as memorials.

For three decades, the Berlin Wall stood as a wall of oppression, keeping people from seeking their freedom and liberty and entombing them inside a world of failed communist and socialist ideologies. It was ultimately the will of these freedom-seeking and loving peoples, aided by those of us around the world who share these ideals, that resulted in the awe-inspiring events which began on November 9th, 1989.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It's Flu Season, Get Vaccinated

In the past couple of weeks I have had a couple of interesting exchanges regarding both the H1N1 and the seasonal flu, and the idea of being vaccinated against each.

During one exchange a friend said to me: "I'm always afraid of getting sick from the vaccine, because I had a family member who got really sick from it once." During another exchange, a family member said to me: "I don't believe in them (vaccines)."

It is illogical, unwarranted, paranoid, delusional, or sometimes just plain misinformed thought processes such as these that help contribute to the spread of flu each year.

These irrational fears could also make the current H1N1 'Swine Flu' situation worse than it needs to be. It's flu season, vaccines are safe and effective, and you need to get yourself and your family members vaccinated.

Let's begin by talking about exactly what the 'flu' is and is not. It is a contagious respiratory illness caused by any number of influenza viruses which spread from person-to-person and can cause symptoms ranging from mild to deadly. Here in America, the flu usually breaks out in the fall and lasts into the following spring.

Anyone can get the flu, but kids are particularly vulnerable because their immune systems are not fully developed. Kids also tend to have poorer hygienic habits than adults, and they also can remain contagious for twice or three times as long as adults. This means that they are highly vulnerable to the spread of influenza at schools, day cares, and even just among kids within that same family at home.

Others at increased risk of contracting the flu include senior citizens, infants and toddlers, and anyone with a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, asthma, or any heart or lung disease.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who Should Start Game 7 for the Phillies?

The Philadelphia Phillies team, and particularly manager Charlie Manuel, are approaching their current situation in this World Series in exactly the manner you would expect. They are taking things one game at a time with the announcement that the starter for Game 6 of the series back in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium will be veteran Pedro Martinez.

Once the Phils won the 5th game and cut the Yanks lead down to 3-2, that was pretty much a forgone conclusion. Martinez started in Game #2 and pitched effectively, and also has the experience and mental makeup to thrive in that pressurized atmosphere. So the Phillies will once again put the ball in the hands of the man who has stated that he is the Yankees' "daddy", hoping that he can help force a decisive 7th game.

What Manuel has not done is announce who his starter would be for that 7th game. That is likely because he really hasn't fully committed to a final decision in his own mind, simply wanting to focus on getting the series tied. But that hasn't stopped the talking head 'experts' on both television and radio, or the armchair managers in homes across the Delaware Valley, from both speculating on the choice and tossing in their own two cents worth of advice.

Depending on how Game #6 plays out and what pitchers might have to be utilized to get through that game, and assuming that the Phillies are even able to win and get things tied up, the choices are somewhat limited. Many of those chiming in from the outside are calling for the choice to be rookie lefty J.A. Happ, who was one of the Phillies' best starting pitchers this season and who at this point is well-rested. Happ has not pitched since going 1 1/3 innings in Game #3 on Saturday night. He would be pitching with a full four days of rest if not used in Game #6.

However, my choice to start that Game #7 would be possibly the next-to-last man that many Phillies fans would want to see make the start, particularly in light of his struggles during much of the 2009 season and the results of his start in Game #3, as well as his comments following that start. My choice would be to have Cole Hamels make what would be his normal start on normal rest.

There are a number of reasons that I think Hamels both deserves and would be the best choice to make this start. First, Hamels would indeed be on his normal pitching day with four full days of rest. Second, he only threw 69 pitches in Game #3 over just 4 1/3 innings. He has had plenty of rest, is healthy, and would be physically capable of giving the Phillies a strong starting effort.

Further, I don't think that Hamels was very far away from a strong start in Game #3. He no-hit the Yankees for the first three innings, and allowed just a hit and a walk through the first four. Overall he had a 49-20 strikes-to-balls ratio. Of course, he imploded in the 5th inning, allowing small things to bother him and snowball into a 3-run inning and a 5-3 Yankee lead that they would never relinquish.

This has been Hamels downfall throughout the entirety of the 2009 season, and particularly in the post-season. He is throwing well and then something - not getting a perceived strike call from an umpire on a close pitch in an important situation, or a rare fielding miscue from one of his usually sure-handed teammates during an important situation - gets him upset and throws him off his game. He allows the situation to control him rather than keeping his composure and plowing through the setback.

This is a maturity issue for the still-young and possibly still-future staff ace. Last post-season, Hamels was on top of his game and gained confidence with each strong outing. He rolled through lineups like a machine, and was named both the NLCS and World Series MVP as his club won a championship. This year he has struggled through injury, inconsistency, bad weather, and just plain dumb-luck. There is every reason to believe that in the future he will rebound nicely.

But right now, most fans don't think that the team can trust Hamels, particularly in a winner-take-all pressurized 7th game of the World Series scenario at Yankee Stadium in front of hostile fans against a potent lineup with his psyche so fragile. Frankly, I believe that their thinking is all wrong on the situation.

Hamels has indeed been fragile and inconsistent. He has also, however, shown tantalizing glimpses and even whole games where he was his dominant self, including his most recent start. The important thing to remember here is that this would be the final game of the season for every Phillies pitcher. Every single active pitcher on the staff would be available for some length of time, with the possible exception of Pedro, and even that would depend on how long he goes in Game Six.

So you can start Hamels in the familiar role, but it is not a typical start. You hope that you get the Hamels who started Game #3 and who controls the Yankees early while the Phils bats get on the board. But you don't have to depend on Cole to go deep into the game. At any point at which he looks like he is losing control of either his pitches or his emotions, you get him out of the game. Maybe that doesn't happen until deep. Maybe he rolls along and gains confidence and gives you a shutdown performance.

The important thing is that, with no more games on the schedule, everyone is in the bullpen. Happ is ready early. Game #4 starter Joe Blanton is ready with 3-days rest to give you an inning or two. The usual bullpen arms like Durbin, Eyre, Myers, Park, Madson, and Lidge are all ready. And with the circumstances of this game, all are ready for situational relief at any point in any inning. Finally, Cliff Lee is even available for an inning. It will be his usual 'bullpen' day anyway, so he should be fully capable of giving you at least one full inning.

So the bottom line is that you start Cole Hamels and hope for the best, and the odds are that with the spotlight on him and with something to prove, he will give you a solid performance. If not, you not only have a short leash, you have absolutely no leash if you see him start to get into trouble in any way from the start of the game onward. Happ is ready to go at the outset in case something happens early, and everyone is ready during the game if they are needed.

Of course, that is all for fan and media discussion at this point, because the focus of the team will be right where it should be, on winning Game #6, whatever that takes. If that means you need Happ to throw a few innings, then you use him and you do what it takes to tie the series up. Because without winning this next game, a decisive and penultimate Game #7 will forever remain a "what if" scenario. Cole Hamels should start Game #7 for the Phillies, but they still have to get there first.

Monday, November 2, 2009

It's Happened Five Times

The Philadelphia Phillies find themselves trailing the 2009 World Series by three games to one to the New York Yankees after last night's disheartening 9th inning defeat in Game #4 of the Fall Classic. Can a team come back from this kind of deficit on Major League Baseball's ultimate stage in a best-of-7 games format?

History shows that it can, and has, five different times to be exact. So let's take a walk down the memory lane of baseball history with stars Pie Traynor, Max Carey, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Al Kaline, Eddie Matthews, Enos Slaughter, Willie Stargell, and George Brett, each of whom played on teams that came back from 1-3 down to win the World Series, and each of whom went on to immortality in baseball's Hall of Fame.

In 1925, Traynor and Carey played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and their club may have had one of the toughest roads to travel of any comeback team. The Bucs trailed the defending World Series champion Washington Senators by 3-1, and despite rallying to even the series things did not bode well for the Pirates chances of actually completing the comeback and winning the series.

The reason that the odds still seemed stack against Pittsburgh was the presence of one man, Senators pitching legend Walter 'Big Train' Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. Johnson had already pitched and won the 1st and 4th games of the series by 4-1 and 4-0 scores. Now here in the decisive 7th game, the Sens bolted out of the gate with a 4-run first inning.

Staked to that 4-0 lead, Johnson coasted through a couple of innings before the Bucs rallied for a 3-run third. The Sens got a pair back in the 4th, and the Pirates scored one in the 5th, but entering the bottom of the 7th, the Senators led by 6-4. The Pirates tied it up with two in that inning. Washington went back up with a run in the 8th, but then Pittsburgh scored 2 in the bottom of the 8th and incredibly led 8-7 entering the 9th. Red Oldham closed out the Sens, and the Pirates had completed the amazing comeback for the first time in baseball history.

It would be 33 years before the Pirates feat was repeated. This time it was Mantle, Berra, Ford, and the New York Yankees who found themselves trailing the defending World Series champion Milwaukee Braves by 3-1. Both the Giants and Dodgers had moved to California and played their first seasons out west, so this was the first year ever that the Yankees had all of the Big Apple on their side.

Bob Turley tossed a 5-hitter at old Yankee Stadium to keep the team alive, and the series shifted back to Milwaukee. Here in Game 6, two of baseball's immortal arms dueled as both Ford for the Yanks and Warren Spahn for the Braves twirled gems. The two teams went into extra innings tied at 2-2. The Yanks scored a pair in the top of the 10th for a 4-2 lead, but the Braves answered when Hank Aaron knocked in a run in their half and eventually moved to 3rd as the tying run, but future Yanks's skipper Joe Torre's brother Frank lined out to end the game.

In the decisive 7th game in Milwaukee, the two teams seemed like a pair of tired boxers, each trying to hang on and outlast the other. They entered the 8th inning tied again at 2-2, and Braves pitcher Lew Burdette quickly got the first two Yanks out. But then suddenly the Bronx Bombers awoke with 4 straight hits capped by a Moose Scowron 3-run homer. They would coast through the final two innings for a 6-2 victory, completing the series comeback.

A decade later the Detroit Tigers with Kaline and Matthews found themselves trailing the defending World Series champion Saint Louis Cardinals. Mickey Lolich had started Game Two for the Tigers and recorded a complete game 8-1 victory. Down by 3 games to 1, the Tigers again turned to Lolich. Again he recorded a complete game victory, this time by a 5-3 margin.

Detroit's big bats exploded for a 10-run 3rd inning in Game Six, and the Tigers coasted into the decisive 7th game. Here, Lolich was brought back on just two days rest to face the great Cardinals intimidating right-hander Bob Gibson. For the third time in the series, Lolich met the challenge by tossing a complete game. The Tigers broke a scoreless tie with three 7th-inning runs and completed the comeback with a 4-1 victory.

It was another decade before I had my own first experience with a team rallying from 1-3 down. That team was the 1979 'We Are Family' Pittsburgh Pirates. During the regular season, those Pirates had beaten out the 3-time defending NL East Division champion Phillies for the eastern title. Moving on to the World Series, they found themselves trailing the pitching-rich Baltimore Orioles.

The Pirates big bats, nicknamed 'The Lumber Company' with stars like Stargell, Dave Parker, and Bill Madlock leading the way, erupted to win the 5th game by a 7-1 margin. But then the series shifted back to Baltimore, and there the O's would send their own legendary righthander Jim Palmer to the mound. Palmer was incredibly out pitched by Bucs youngster John 'the Candy Man' Candelaria for a 4-0 Pirates win that tied the series.

The decisive Game 7 saw the Orioles carry a tense 1-0 lead into the 6th inning. It was here that Stargell broke out with a mammoth 2-run homer that put the Pirates on top. That narrow lead was carried into the 9th inning, where Pittsburgh put the game and the series comeback away by scoring a pair of insurance runs.

Just six years later a comeback from down 1-3 in the World Series happened again, this time thanks largely to one of the most controversial umpiring calls in baseball history. It was also significant that this series would mark the final time that it would be played with no 'DH' in the AL park games, and would be the first played with all night games.

The 'I-70' series would feature a pair of perennial contenders of the day, both from the state of Missouri, the Saint Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. The Cards bolted out to that 3-1 series lead, and it appeared that the Royals all-time great hitter George Brett would again face post-season frustration. But the club responded with a solid 6-1 victory that returned the series to Kansas City.

Game Six of that 1985 World Series would be one of the most controversial in history thanks to a pair of umpiring calls. A scoreless pitchers duel was broken up by a Cardinals run in the top of the 8th, and they took that 1-0 lead into the bottom of the 9th, just three outs away from clinching the series title. It was then that the craziness began.

Royals leadoff man Jorge Orta bounced a routine grounder to Cards' 1st baseman Jack Clark, who flipped the ball to reliever Todd Worrell who covered the bag and clearly beat Orta for the first out (pictured). Everyone in the ballpark, including every television angle, saw that clear first out. Unfortunately for the Cards, 1st base umpire Don Denkinger didn't see it that way. He ruled Orta 'safe' in what has become possibly the single most controversial umpiring call in the modern television era.

The next Royals batter, Steve Balboni, lofted an easy foul pop, but the ball fell between the Cards defenders giving Balboni new life. He promptly took advantage by singling. With two on and no outs, the Cards seemed to gain momentum when Worrell made a great play to field an attempted sacrifice bunt. He fielded, whirled, and fired to 3rd to get the lead runner.

But the drama was far from over. A passed ball by St. Louis catcher Darrell Porter made up for Worrell's great play, allowing the two runners to move into scoring position. After an intention walk, pinch-hitter Dane Iorg looped a game-winning 2-run single to right field. The stunned Cardinals returned to their lockers after the series-tying 2-1 loss to find the lockers covered in plastic and bottles of champagne on ice. They would never get to pop those bottles.

In the decisive 7th game, young Royals ace Brett Saberhagen tossed a 5-hit shutout on the day after becoming a father for the first time. The Royals had completed the incredible comeback from down 1-3 in the World Series and became the first team to do so after losing the first two games at home. Amazingly they had also trailed by 1-3 to the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS and rallied to win that series as well.

The 1903 Boston Americans, who later became the Boston Red Sox, also trailed in the World Series by 3 games to 1 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Those Americans rallied to win four straight games and take the 2nd-ever official World Series by 5-3 in what was then a best-of-9 event.

So the moral of the story for our Fightin' Phils is that the task ahead of them can be accomplished successfully. It hasn't been done now in 23 years, and it will take them focusing on one game at a time, some heroic pitching and hitting efforts, and possibly a little bit of fortune at some point. But it can be done. The series is best-of-7, and the Yanks haven't won a thing until they win that 4th game.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

1993 World Series

The Phillies reached the World Series, then got their fans all excited at the prospects of winning against their high-powered and favored opponents by splitting the first two games on the road. Coming back to Philly, emotions were high and the city was primed for the excitement. And then the visitors put on a baseball clinic, swamped the Phils, and went up 2-1 in the series. Last night? Nope. 1993 actually.

I have been a Phillies fan for most of my life, and I have always been able to say without any reservation that from start to finish, the 1993 Phillies were the single most fun team that I have ever watched. The varied and colorful personalities on that team combined with the fact that they had finished in last place the previous year and so were pulling off a rare 'worst to first' season were the main reasons.

That Phillies team was led by a 'Macho Row' contingent, nicknamed as such because of the section of the locker room in which they sat. Darren 'Dutch' Daulton was the catcher with movie-star good looks, the longest-tenured player, and the de facto team Captain. Dutch banged 24 homers and knocked in 105 runs after he had survived a major car crash a couple of seasons earlier with another one of the team's most colorful characters.

That other player in Daulton's car accident was known alternately as 'Nails' or 'the Dude', and he was the team MVP. Lenny Dykstra was the prototypical leadoff hitter who worked the opposing pitcher for deep pitch counts, then provided speed and daring on the base paths. Combined with some power pop in his bat, the Dude had put together a .305 average, .420 on-base percentage, 19-homer, 37-steal, 143-runs season that led to a 2nd place NL MVP finish behind only Barry Bonds.

The first baseman was perhaps the most colorful of the bunch. John Kruk was one of the best pure hitters in baseball. The rolly-polly and scruffy-bearded Kruk was asked by a female reporter what it was being a pro athlete, to which he famously replied "I ain't no athlete, lady, I'm a ballplayer!" And could he ever hit, that season going .316 with a .430 on-base percentage, 85 rbi, and 100 runs scored.

Macho Row was filled out by scary-crazy 3rd baseman and team enforcer Dave 'Mikey' Hollins and Pete Incaviglia, who looked like a mafiosa enforcer himself. The 'straight guys' in the lineup were veteran outfielder Milt Thompson, Tourrets syndrome-inflicted outfielder Jim Eisenreich, steady infielders Mickey Morandini and Mariano Duncan, and baby-faced rookie shortstop Kevin Stocker, who had come up to the team from the minors late in the season and provided an irreplaceable spark.

On the mound the team was led by outspoken eternal optimist and breakout ace Curt Schilling, talented young righthander Tommy Greene, and veterans Danny Jackson and Terry Mulholland. The bullpen featured a colorful veteran in current Phils broadcaster Larry Anderson, but was anchored at the back end by one of the most flamboyant, inconsistent, maddening, lovable, flame-throwing closers of all-time, Mitch 'Wild Thing' Williams.

The manager of this crazy bunch of castoffs and cartoon characters was baseball lifer Jim Fregosi, who a couple of years later would hit on my wife right in front of me. But that's another story for another day. That summer of 1993, Fregosi was the perfect fit for this bunch, a man who had seen it all, or so he thought.

The 1993 Phillies started out hot and never looked back, leading the NL East division wire-to-wire and finishing 97-65 to win the division title by 3 games over the Montreal Expos. In the NLCS they were prohibitive underdogs to a 104-win Atlanta Braves team that was about to start their own dynasty. But the Phils battled to a 4-2 series victory with Mitch Williams striking out the final Braves hitter and setting off a wild celebration at Veteran's Stadium as the Phillies advanced to the World Series for the first time in a decade.

Most baseball people had them as big enough underdogs to the Braves, but in the World Series that status would rise to another level. The Phils were going to be facing the defending World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays, a team laden with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers like Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson, Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Dave Stewart, Al Leiter, and John Olerud.

The Jays opened at home by scoring three 7th inning runs to break open a tight game and take an 8-5 win that left many thinking they would sweep the Phils. But this mentally tough Phillies team came back in the 2nd game with a big 5-run 3rd inning that they used to coast to a 6-4 win and a 1-1 tie in the series. When the team returned home for three games, the raucous crowd at 'The Vet' was hoping to help make the difference and spur the team to the upset.

Game 3 was a complete damper for the Phils and their fans. The Blue Jays bats came alive by scoring three first-inning runs en route to a huge 10-3 victory that demoralized the Fightin's and their fans. Most baseball people though the Phils had stolen their one win from these champs, and that the Jays would now coast to the series victory.

Game 4 of that 1993 World Series would turn out to be one of the most incredible games in baseball playoff history, and a dark day in the annals of Phillies history. The Jays bolted out of the gates hot, again scoring three in the first. But this time the Phils answered, scoring four of their own for a 4-3 lead after one inning. Two more in the 2nd put the club up 6-3, but the Jays answered with 4 in the 3rd for a 7-6 Toronto edge. The Phils tied it in the 4th, and then rallied for 5 runs in the 5th to take a 12-7 lead. Things looked good for a 2-2 series tie, and the Phils would have their ace Schilling on the mound the next night.

The Jays scored 2 in the 6th to get back within 12-9, but the Phils scored once in the bottom for a 13-9 lead and once again in the 7th to stretch it to 14-9, a lead which they took into the 8th inning. It was there that things fell apart. The Jays scored six runs in what seemed like a never ending rally, taking back the lead 15-14. The champs held on to that lead, and the Phillies had a completely demoralizing loss, down now by three games to one.

The Jays were just one win away from their repeat title, and the Phils were down. They needed someone to step up and be a hero, someone to give them reason to believe that they could actually beat this Jays team. Their ace did the job, as Curt Schilling tossed a 5-hit gem of a shutout and the Phillies won 2-0, forcing the series back to Toronto. With the Jays lead down to 3-2, the Phils hoped to just squeeze out a win any way possible and force a 7th game.

In Game 6 back at Toronto, the Jays methodically built a 5-1 lead which they took into the 7th. The Phillies appeared dead, and the Jays fans were celebrating their apparent World Series repeat early. But the Phillies bats suddenly rose from the dead, scoring 5 runs in that 7th highlighted by a Dykstra clutch homerun. With a 6-5 lead, the Phillies moved into the 9th looking to tie the series.

Williams came on to get the Phils even, but he walked Henderson to lead things off. He came back to get Devon White for the first out, and the Phils were two outs away from evening the series. Molitor battled to get a 2-strike single. Joe Carter stepped to the plate. Williams got him to a 2-2 count, one strike away from getting the Jays slugger, one ground ball away from a game-ending double play.

Instead it was Carter who ended the game, and the World Series. Williams came in with a low, hard pitch and Carter got his bat around quickly on the ball, driving it on a line towards the left field corner. The ball sailed just over the fence, and the Toronto fans erupted as the 3-run homerun won the series for the Jays. Carter lept for joy and was mobbed by his teammates at home plate at the conclusion of one of baseball's most dramatic moments.

Those 1993 Philadelphia Phillies have lived on in sentimental favor with the fans. Even Mitch Williams, branded a public enemy for awhile in the town, has become a cult hero. He fully accepted responsibility for the loss, and ultimately the fans embraced the fact that he never shrunk from his role. He is now a popular TV analyst with the team. Kruk has gone on to become a national baseball analyst as well.

The 1993 World Series was not a win for the Phillies, and one of the biggest reasons in looking back was their failure to put away what should have been a win in that 4th game which would have tied the series. Tonight the current Phillies have that same opportunity, to tie the series up with their ace going tomorrow. This time, the club must get it to 2-2 and give Cliff Lee a chance to put them back up.