The Eagles and their “quarterback problem”

Mark-Sanchez-Eagles.trade.final

Mark Sanchez

During last Sunday’s game, Philadelphia Eagles fans took a collective gasp when Nick Foles went down heavily under the weight of Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus.  But in this case the gasp was hardly accompanied by dread for a season lost to an irreplaceable cog in the football team’s fast break offense.  Truth be told, a lot of Eagles fans were becoming a bit jaded with Foles’ performance over the first half of the season.

Personally, I do not understand that sense of dissatisfaction with a quarterback who has been central to the growing success of Chip Kelly‘s high octane offensive scheme.  In this Nick Foles seems to be the victim of his own success.

So too are those cynical fans …

But of course the local sports media immediately turned Mark Sanchez‘s re-appearance into a quarterback controversy!  And they do so for a team that stands 7-2 and atop the NFC East!

Foles enjoyed an almost flawless season in 2013, throwing for 2900 yards, 27 TDs, and just 2 Interceptions.  Those are not superhuman numbers; but it was that last data point … just 2 INTs (317 pass attempts) that really paved the way for this season’s excessively high expectations for Foles 2nd season.

And yet, even I have to admit, Mark Sanchez piqued my interest in the pre-season. He was acquired as a free agent after being dumped by the Superbowl-bound New York Jets

(Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention!)

You had to like what you saw of Sanchez in those pre-season games, if you bothered to watch.  Quick reads, sound decisions, strong and accurate arm … He seemed extremely comfortable in Kelly’s fast paced offensive system.  The first question that came to mind then was, “Just how bad are the New York Jets?”

Questioned answered …

Sanchez for his own part stepped in last Sunday against the Texans and performed admirably.  But face it, Sanchez stepped into a good situation with an offensive line finally stabilized for better protection and an improved running game to boot.

Nick Foles

Nick Foles

Foles spent the first half of the season playing behind a patched-up offensive line, beset by an early season injuries.  If you pay attention to offensive line play, you could see how the O-line struggled against the pass rush; could not provide a suitable pocket for Foles to step into and throw; and how often Foles was forced to throw passes off his back foot.

The poor throwing posture and mechanics caused many of Foles’ problems.  And of course, Foles threw some passes a bit early due to the constant pressure and resulting hits.

In one of Foles’ better games against those New York Football Giants (also not Superbowl-bound), he enjoyed the benefits of an improved O-line, with the return of Lane Johnson; was able to step into many of his throws; and played much better as a result.

No mystery there …

Regardless, any team that relies so heavily on QB performance (and what team does not?) is in a much stronger position having two players who can be plug-and-play ready.

The one factoid to keep in mind is that for all our Monday morning quarterbacking and opining about who should be playing QB for the Birds, Sanchez signed a one-year deal … the product of his miserable Jets exit and Sanchez’s desire to get a second chance at being The Top Guy.  Regardless of what happens this season, Sanchez could very well take whatever success he may have and move on to a QB-desperate team next season!

Or maybe Sanchez will not be as successful over the long term as he has looked so far.

The good news is that the Eagles seem to have found a great second option at QB in Sanchez.  It’s a “problem” of the best kind for the Philadelphia Eagles!

UPDATEVery interesting article in The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning about how Chip Kelly and Mark Sanchez crossed paths very early in Sanchez’s football career.  Coincidences like this are often hard to shake off.  Will Fate play a role in how this plays out?

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A Fathers Day … Fifty years ago …

bunning5I was all of eight years-old, riding home from a family visit to relatives on my father’s side of the family.  It was a different time then, illustrated no less than by the way we stood on the floor of the back seat – unbuckled – to watch as Dad drove us home with all the windows rolled down in a car that knew not of air conditioning on a hot, humid Sunday afternoon.

The date is – in the interest of honesty – seven days short this Fathers Day of a full five decades of baseball history … June 21, 1964

Dad decides to spend the trip homeward listening to the Philadelphia Phillies playing the lowly New York Mets at Shea Stadium, which had opened for business just two months before.  Jim Bunning was on the mound that day in a game already in progress, the first game of a double-header.

For those baseball fans not born or baseball-aware before the turn of the century, a double-header is a scheduled event on a Major League Baseball team’s game calendar deliberately requiring the play of TWO games of baseball in one sitting. 

Baseball used to actually schedule double headers as a normal part of every team’s calendar, repeated several times a year … until they caught on to the concept of gate receipts and their effect on earnings and profitability.  You only see them nowadays when rain outs and tight scheduling require doubling up; and even then, they almost always require the fans to leave the stadium and buy additional tickets to see the second game.

They call this the Day-Night Double Header.  But you can refer to them as Double-Dipping-the-Fans-Because-You-Can Header!   

It was late that afternoon … around 4:00 when Dad turned the game on.  I was yet to reach the point of my full Phillies awareness.  That would be – rather traumatically – that following September when the renown ’64 Phillies would spiral in flames from 1st place in the National League with 12 games remaining …

Oh hell, I don’t want to go there!

My point being, I was hardly paying attention to the game as I bounced around the back seat, most likely in some sort of competition or conflict with my younger brother, Pat.  So I remember very little of the actual game, except for the conclusion when Dad mentioned that Jim Bunning had pitched a PERFECT GAME!

I knew not what that even meant at the time.

Bunning’s Father Day feat was most appropriate.  He was the father of seven children at the time (eventually having 12!!), only one of which was there in New York that day.

bunning1Bunning’s performance still goes down as one of the Top 10 perfectos in Major League Baseball history.  He threw only 89 pitches to complete the game, only 21 pitches were thrown as balls.  He struck out 10.  It was the first perfect game in the National League since 1880!  And Bunning became only the second pitcher at the time to throw a no-hitter in both the National and American Leagues.

The other pitcher to throw no-hitters in both leagues?  Cy Young

Bunning tortured his dugout mates by constantly talking about his developing perfecto, breaking a major baseball superstition.  He later recounted losing a no-hitter three weeks before against the Houston Colt .45s after keeping silent and decided he would not avoid the subject this time around.

What I remember most about Bunning was his wild follow through.  When he threw his hardest, he would fall off on his left side, often finishing with his left arm on the ground, his body almost parallel to the pitching mound.  Not exactly how the youngin’s today are coached.

Other interesting trivia from Bunning’s Very Special Fathers Day celebration:

    • Bunning’s first no-hitter was pitched on July 20, 1958 against the Boston Red Sox.  He was pitching for the Detroit Tigers and remarkably enough the game was also the first game of a scheduled double-header.
    • After the game, Bunning negotiated an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show for all of $1000., but it was enough to build a pool and pool house at Bunning’s Kentucky home!
    • Bunning struck out pinch-hitter John Stephenson for the last out throwing nothing but curve balls after recalling a similar game earlier in the season when Phils manager Gene Mauch told Bunning in at on-the-mound meeting that Stephenson “… can’t spell curve.”

Bunning went on to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.  His post-baseball career took him from local Kentucky political offices to an unsuccessful run for Governor to successful campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives and eventually to a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Bunning left the Senate in 2011.  He continues to reside in Kentucky at the age of 82.

bunning4

 

 

It’s how you say it, even when saying nothing at all

Photo from sportsnation.com

Photo from sportsnation.com

Much angst has plagued Philadelphia sports fans the past several weeks over the words or behavior of some the city’s biggest sports stars.  As with just about every other situation in Life, there are lessons to be learned and subtle insights into truths that can lie just below a stormy surface.

Two recent cases-in-point need no introduction to any Philly sports fan not lying in coma the past month.

The first incident was the very public benching of Phillies shortstop, Jimmy Rollins.

Rollins was benched – somewhat stealthily – by new manager Ryne Sandberg, a Hall of Fame player who earned his plaque from both Production and Effort.  Although it was obvious that Rollins had wandered into Sandberg’s doghouse, it was only slightly less obvious the likely reason was Rollins “Who cares?” remark to questions about his slow start to the Spring Training season.

I have always been a big Jimmy Rollins fan.  Even more so since his 2007 statement that the National League East Championship passed through Philadelphia.  Not only was this an aggressive statement in a season following several where the NL East was dominated by the Atlanta Braves, Rollins walked the talk; won the 2007 National League MVP; and ensured the Phillies first Division Title in string of division titles!

Yet, no one found fault with Sandberg’s public – though muted – benching of the team’s senior statesman during the spring lead-up to Sandberg’s first full season in the Phillies captain’s chair.  He needed to set a positive attitude, including a mindset where caring mightily about wins and losses would be paramount.  So even though it was “only Spring Training”, Rollins was sent a message about Leadership, Substance, and Mentoring.

HMC03_ChaseUtleyNow read the views on Spring Training ’14 as uttered by Chase Utley, the Phillies second baseman in The Philadelphia Inquirer’s April 5 article on Utley’s hot season start in contrast to his quiet spring.

“Obviously, you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing.”, Utley said.  “The most important thing is getting your rhythm going into the season.”

First off, no one is going to confuse Utley and Rollins in either personality or demeanor on the field.  Utley is all business all the time.  Rollins enjoys the game and is not afraid to show it.  Personally, if blessed with the ability to play the game at their level, I would prefer Rollins approach to enjoying the game as much as possible, if not necessarily his undervaluing the Power of Words.

In reality, Utley was expressing the very same mindset Rollins expressed when it comes to Spring Training success … or lack thereof.  The difference is that Utley’s quote was not issued in the midst of a slump – even if only a spring training slump.  Secondly, it’s not like Utley to be so flippant as to reduce his well-stated sentiment into two words certain to curdle the milk in Ryne Sandberg’s corn flakes!

Moral:  It ain’t so much what you say as how – and when – you say it.

Photo from the source.com

Photo from the source.com

Sometimes what’s not said that says all you need to know …

By now most of us are a bit sick of hearing about the Desean Jackson Philadelphia Eagles debacle.

When I first heard the rumors about the Eagles shopping Jackson, I chalked it up to off-season football beat writers being a bit bored waiting for the April college player draft.  No way could I see the Eagles wanting to jettison a skilled player that yielded 1300 yards and 9 TDs in just the previous season.

How could they be so stupid?!?

But then the stories – or rumors for all we really know – began to come out.  A lot of it was disturbing from a team unity/distraction-avoiding point-of-view … The most incriminating pieces of evidence coming from Jackson’s own Instagram account.

Until the whole story comes out – if it ever does – no one will really know what the Eagles knew and when they knew it.

The Big Aha! – for me however – was not what was being said; it was in what was NOT being said … by those in the Eagles locker room.

Where were the players when “one of their own” was being pilloried in the press and set adrift by a team that lives or dies by the profligacy of its Offense?!?  Why was there no circling of the wagons, no outward signs of support from those still with the team?  Where was the All for One and One for All?

Only LeSean McCoy came out in tacit support of Jackson, but that was only after the deed was done.

To me, that said so much more than all the stuff that was being said about the character of Jackson.  It was apparent that his standing among his team and teammates was lacking significantly.  It was obvious that there was certainly something behind what was being said, even if we never really know for sure what it was.

Moral:  Sometimes saying nothing says it all!

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcA

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read mhttp://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

“Obviously you’re looking for results in spring training, but being around for a while, I know that’s not the most important thing,” Utley said. “The most important thing is to try to get your rhythm going into the season.”
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20140405_Utley_s_hot_start_after_a_cold_spring.html#S1tuCu8BqfwcAGQh.99

Christian Laettner, I still hate you!

Laettner cutting out my heart

Laettner cutting out my heart

I never win anything even remotely related to skill or the ability to analyze complex data sets to project a likely outcome.  Gave up on sports wagering years ago after – finally – coming to the realization that I sucked at it.  Could never even begin to understand horse racing and handicapping odds.  Nor could I fake the slightest understanding of a daily racing form …

Recent years I gave up on one of my last remaining weaknesses … the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets (for entertainment purposes only). I have always enjoyed the tournament, especially the early rounds where upsets lie in deadly ambush.  But winning “entertainment purposes” from my finely honed college basketball acumen?

Not gonna happen …

Funny how most people I know rarely ever watch pre-March Madness college basketball, yet they believe they can reasonably predict the end result of the sport’s 66-team, rabidly emotional, magically unpredictable, championship-determining tournament.

I was one of those wackadoodles once; but it hasn’t been the same for me since 1992.

That was the year the East Regional was held in Philadelphia’s Spectrum.  It was the year of Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and Ohio State as the top ranked teams.  It was the year Michigan made the run from a 6-seed to runner-up, losing to Duke in the National Championship game.

It was the Year of Christian Laettner.

I know the feeling.

I know the feeling.

Normally the NCAA Tourney was just a reason to spend several afternoons in a public establishment amply equipped with televisions in the company of friends.  But in the early rounds of the 1992 tournament bracket I was en fuego!  As the Round of 32 ended, I realized I had a pretty good bracket collection going … through no fault of my own.

As luck would have it, I had ridden Michigan as my surprise entry into the Final Four.  I had the potential – with a Kentucky win over Duke – of having three of four Final Four survivors! (Kansas and Ohio State having been ousted earlier by University of Texas – El Paso and Michigan respectively.)

So, like any other stat geek with a finely developed obsession common among baseball fans and fantasy sports addicts (Guilty x2), I spent hours analyzing the various permutations and likely results from the conveniently supplied Excel spreadsheet provided those like-minded “entertainment purposes” fans who had ponied up the $10 donation.

And I quickly realized that if Kentucky won its Regional Final matchup against Duke, I would be in the primo “entertainment purposes” driving seat heading into the Final Four and almost unbeatable due to a significant “entertainment purposes only” point lead!

I was on top of the world!

And then this happened …

For a more rounded, less suicidal (mine) version of this History of Misery event watch Ric Bucher‘s video report of The Carnage that left me with a nervous facial tic for years whenever I glimpsed the basketball floor at the Spectrum.

Of course, I don’t really hate Christian Laettner.  I simply hated what his exceptional skills on the court contributed to my wakening realization that fortune did not await me as the result of my keen sports betting insight.

So yes, I guess I hate Christian Laettner for saving me untold fortunes in the 20 years or so since.

It’s a complicated anti-relationship!

Birth of a Phillies fan

(In celebration of Opening Day 2014, a trip down my baseball memory lane …)

My first recollections of Philadelphia Phillies baseball came during that Season From Hell – 1964!  You really do not have to explain that reference for most Philadelphia baseball fans, especially those over the age of 55.  Most long-time Phillies fans and – due to generations of legend sharing – even many of those newer to the game can recite the scenario that played out that year.

Gene Mauch

What I remember is my father sitting at the kitchen table; the radio playing; listening to By Saam, Bill Campbell, and Richie Ashburn (in just his second year as a broadcaster with the Phils); smoking cigarettes with a quart bottle of Schmidt’s or Ballantine’s beer, a glass sitting on the table beside him.  He would sit there throughout the game listening and visualizing the game being played.  In those days games were rarely televised during the week.

So some of my first Phillies memories were the turmoil and angst being lived and endured – one game after another – as the Phillies frittered and fumbled away a 6 1/2 game lead over the rest of the National League with only 12 games to play.

(Of course none of this in any way led me to feel sorry for NY Mets fans who went through two straight years of this in 2007 & ’08!!) 

It was difficult watching Dad going through that September.  He lived for his Phillies, much more so than the football Eagles.  He would just shake his head, when he wasn’t yelling at a botched play or a wasted at-bat.  But he was hardly the only one suffering from Phillies Depression in my young 8-year-old universe.  Neighbors – both young and old – could find little else to talk about.

When the end finally came, there was a sense of disbelief, then anger … anger at Phillies manager Gene Mauch especially.

That was a HUGE part of my introduction to Phillies baseball.

The Phillies didn’t make it easy for their young, impressionable fans in the 1960s and early ’70s.  From 1965-1974 the Phillies posted just three seasons with winning records.  Among the more abysmal campaigns were losses that totaled 99 (’69), 95 (’71), 97 (’72) and 91 (’73).  It’s hardly the kind of performance that builds loyal fan followings in most cities.

And yet they remained Our Phillies … Dad in particular never lost his love for the game, especially his affection for the Home Team.

Bobby Wine

The players I remembered from my first years paying attention to Phillies baseball were Clay DalrympleTony Taylor, Johnny Callison, Jim Bunning, Bobby Wine, Chris Short, Wes Covington, Frank Thomas, Cookie Rojas, John Briggs, Rick Wise, Jack Baldschun, and of course Richie Allen.

My biggest thrill as a young Phillies fan was my first visit to Connie Mack Stadium as the Phightin’s took on those Houston Colt .45s.

Back in the day, we only saw baseball and all our sports on TV in black & white.  I can remember sitting down next to Dad as he watched a football game (most likely Notre Dame) and asking him which team he was rooting for, the “white” team or the “dark” team?   Whichever one he picked – for some contrarian reason – I would say I was rooting for the other team.  Maybe my sense of fairness demanded someone root for the ‘other guys”.

Clay Dalrymple

That night at Connie Mack I can remember entering the stadium bowl from the tunnel and being absolutely stunned by the colors.  The bright green grass especially … the red and white uniforms … the grays of the visiting team … the colorful billboards … the right field “spite fence” … the brown dirt of the infield … When you are used to seeing an event purely in blacks & whites & grays, you suddenly realize what you have been missing; what color and natural sound add to the spectacle.

To top it off, as we took our seats in the upper stands along the third base line, I was horrified at the steepness of the grandstand seating.  For the first three innings I was so afraid  that, if I leaned forward too far in my seat, I would go tumbling down the rows of seats and be thrown from the grandstand to my untimely – though spectacular – death.

The images and sounds are memories still so vivid I doubt they’ll ever fade.  For me, there was no turning back.  I was hooked.  Hooked forever …

For that, Dad, I cannot thank you enough!

(Joseph Vincent Shortall passed away in August 2001.)

Failure to launch

Sydney Cricket Grounds

Sydney Cricket Grounds

Mission Plan:  Awaken at 0330-0345 hrs and catch Major League Baseball‘s first game of the 2014 season, between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks from the Sydney Cricket Grounds in Sydney, Australia.

Mission Status:  Failure, Complete & Utter

I finally woke up at 0550 hrs, well past the 0400 hrs starting time, and figured I might as well fahgettaboutit.

So in the tradition of Great OverSleepers such as Jean-Paul Jean-Paul, what do you think did in my ambitious plans for MLB’s Australian Opening Day?

Was it the …

  1. Snooze button
  2. AM/PM confusion
  3. Radio alarm volume control

Answer will be posted tomorrow!

Flattery, thy name is …

DarrenTwissell_Old man ring_thI must be looking good at the gym!

I had completed the first half of my grueling cardio workout (OK … a slightly grueling 20 minutes on the elliptical), and decided to take advantage of an open basketball court instead of Part II on the treadmill (normally 25 minutes).

My gazelle-like movements on the court (Picture a very old, slightly overweight gazelle.), abundance of old-guy energy, and my deadly accurate, quick release was obviously turning some heads.  I’m pretty sure I sealed the deal when they saw my signature Jabbar-like sky hook.

That would be Maurice Jabbar, a 75 year-old I once saw play in the Smithsonian Geriatric League.  He owned that guy in the wheelchair! And maybe “sky hook” is a bit of an over-sell; but it sounds a lot sexier than “hop hook”!

No, it looked nothing like this ..
No, it looked nothing like this ..

Anyways … I’m working up a good sweat and in mid turn-around jumper (Picture … Well, you get the picture already.)  I sense someone behind.

“Hey, want to play two-on-two?”

It’s a guy about half my age.  (OK … Half my age 10 years ago …. maybe 15)  Obviously he was impressed.  Or maybe just really desperate for a playing partner.

What he doesn’t realize is I’m very near passing out; everything south of my waist (Yes, everything!) is groaning for me to stop; and I feel one sudden move away from a major muscle spasm.

I must have looked at him like he had six heads, because he suddenly looked alarmed and glanced around … probably to locate the nearest portable defibrillator.

I took in a huge breath; mustered all my remaining strength; and very slowly told him, “Thanks, but … I’m … almost done … here.  And … have to … go soon.  Besides … you guys … are … way … too young … for me …”

He looked either disappointed or relieved that he wouldn’t have to administer CPR.  It was tough to tell through the gauzy haze of my overheated, sweat-drenched face.

“But you’ll be on my side.”, he said.

My guess is he was an ER doc.