Prescription for 2016 Philadelphia Phillies fans

0730franco2jpg-a1bd4b2d7f9fa0b7

Maikel Franco

Spring is in the air!

OK … not so much today with temps in the 30s. But somewhere they are playing Major League Baseball, and that should be close enough to prove that the Spring has sprung.

With this baseball season, comes many conflicted emotions for Philadelphia Phillies fans.  After two seasons of barely watchable baseball, the organization has turned over a good chunk of the roster, including highly-respected, World Series contributors (Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley); opened the gates to its minor leagues prospects of the Future; and hired a manager – Pete Mackanin – befitted to let the Future develop under an appropriately watchful and instructive eyes.

Led by an infield of Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernendez with the compromise platoon of Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf, the Phils should bring the enthusiasm and hunger of youth ready to prove to all they belong in The Show.  And at some point this season, the Phillies look to get even younger and – as a result – LESS experienced.

063015-mackanin-600

Manager Pete Mackinin

As Phillies fans, we just have to be patient, understanding, resisting the urge to be overly critical or incessantly accommodating like Little League helicopter parents.  There will be bumps, lumps, and frustrations along the way.

The Future looks bright if the organization’s prospects pan out, especially on the pitching mound.  And the Phillies will have to find out who can play, who can hit, and who can pitch.  It’s a process that can alternate between Promise and Disappointment.

Now, the 2016 Phillies might just surprise us all and jump out to a fast start … Yesterday’s come-from-ahead loss aside.  They could make a run at contending or at least make a run at looking like contenders.  But those odds are long and smaller than a Kerwin Danley strike zone!

thompson_1200

Pitching prospect Jake Thompson

For the 2016 season, Phillies fans should fall back on the tried and true concepts of baseball as the best way to spend a Summer’s evening or a Saturday afternoon.  Harken back to days when you visited minor league stadiums and marveled at how hard hungry young men playing a kid’s game can be as you watch this young flock of Phillies go through their growing pains.  Maintain perspective when young mistakes and journeyman veterans kick away a Win.  Look at each Loss as a learning opportunity that just might make 2017 or 2018 a bit more interesting … and promising.

As the saying goes, it takes a few broken eggs to make omelet.

And who knows, maybe these kids might surprise us all!

pba_629x225

Remember the joy of kids playing a kid’s game

Has my Absence made your Heart grown Fonder?

mccainofflawnThis Winter has been a killer – motivation-wise.

Not sure exactly what the problem has been; but I have a few suspicions with which I will not bore those who still care enough to open those Cranky Man’s Lawn e-mail notifications they may wish they never requested.

Tough darts there, my friends!

I’m back, baby!  And I will be imposing my beliefs, viewpoints, and advice in your general direction regardless of your silent trepidations that – one day – I might rediscover my keyboard.

Here are a few ideas I am working on for near-future proselytizing:

  • A return to my roots – so to speak – with a renewed season-long look at keeping your lawn Cranky Man worthy!  Only this time I will reveal what I really do instead of what the Lawn Bible preaches.
  • a Trump dump … Not to be confused with a “Dump Trump” movement, this will only be my attempt to lance a boil I have been struggling to understand.

(Big Hint:  If it’s Hillary as the Democrat nominee, I would likely vote for just about any one or thing rather than to see her in the Oval Office unopposed by my guaranteed Right … even if I have to hold my nose the entire time I’m working the polls in early November.)

  • a look at the upcoming Phillies season with a different twist on what looks to be a painful, disheartening, glamour-less baseball season for Philadelphia’s faithful.  Now, doesn’t that make you want to run out and buy a Phillies season ticket plan?!?  Could be worse … They could be playing in 76ers jerseys!

So hang in there kiddies!

Rumors aside … The Cranky Man isn’t lawn fertilizer yet!

Chuck Bednarik: They don’t make them anymore!

2Chuck “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik, legendary figure in Philadelphia sports history died yesterday at the age of 89 after a short illness.

Playing for the Philadelphia Eagles for 14 years, Bednarik was the last of the “two-way players”, on the field for both offense and defense and routinely playing 55-58 minutes in a 60 minute game.

That kind of playing time is unheard of now in a sport where hard hitting is no longer the backbone of a game built on speed and athletic ability.

Bednarik’s life – football aside – was a microcosm of The Greatest Generation.

  • Born in Bethlehem, PA, Bednarik spent his entire life living in Pennsylvania.
  • Bednarik_CorpsJoined the Army Air Corp right out of high school with World War II in full swing. Flew 30 bombing missions over Germany as a waist gunner in the B-24.
  • All-American footballer at the University of Pennsylvania where he played linebacker, center and also punted. (In 1947, Bednarik’s junior year, Penn was ranked #7 in the nation.)
  • Philadelphia Eagles signed him for a $3000 bonus, $10,000 salary. He never made more than $27,000 a season!

Bednarik is most widely known for his hard, legal hit on NY Giants running back Frank Gifford, of Monday Night Football fame and Howard Cosell in a 1960 game.

Bednarik separating Frank Gifford (16) from the ball (1960).

Bednarik was an outspoken critic of the modern football player in his later years, bemoaning the end of the two-way player, then laughing at the likes of Deion Sanders when he decided to play “two-way football” at the cornerback/wide receiver positions.

They don’t make them like that anymore.

The inconspicuous news

The stories that might escape your attention for any number of reasons.

A Greek warning to Peace and Democracy

alexis-tsiprasTracy Rubin, a regular contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board, posted an interesting article on the recent election in Greece and its potential ripple throughout the European Union.  Rubin phrases her warning as one to the European elite, but the effects of widespread dissatisfaction throughout Europe, largely due to financial struggles and large-scale disenfranchisement, should be am alarm to every EU citizen.

Greece’s new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, won the government’s top post by promising to renegotiate the austere economic measures imposed by the EU and International Monetary Fund in its 2010 bailout of the bankrupt country.  The causes of the collapse are not much different from those in the U.S. in 2008.

Free-wheeling borrowing and lending were the primary cause; but Greece’s overly generous public benefits programs were also a huge factor in the collapse.  Unfortunately austerity measures imposed on Greece in the bailout left many without jobs and even without heat .  Youth unemployment, always a catalyst for populist revolt and even the attraction of political extremism, reached 60%. Many of the same conditions can be found in Spain, Italy, France and other less well-off countries.

One only need refresh their 1920-40s European history to understand what the potential is for such widespread austerity, and the disillusionment it breeds, and to realize the kind of extremist behavior can result.

Boys and our toys

Yes, Virginia, some of us never, ever grow up completely.  Let’s just get that fact out of the way!

So what could be more appropriate on a Superbowl Sunday, than to relive one of those epic memories from those days before animated electronics and computer-generated graphics!  Those days of wiffle ball, street hockey, and electric football!

20150201_inq_fitz01-aThe game was tabbed as the closest a kid could get to real football without the risk of concussion or the need for future hip replacement surgery.  Until you flipped on the power and – as the author notes, the field looks like “a jarful of crickets had been released onto a hot skillet.”

Good memories surround the hours needed to properly set up one’s squad and maybe play a full quarter of football.  More time was wasted than in any other childhood activity that fascinated for reasons that puzzle us to this day.  But the memories? Irreplaceable!

Now for some really crazy numbers.  In 1947 over 40 million sets were sold.  But if you think interest in the game has died in those 70-plus years … An electric football newsletter currently has over 20,000 subscribers.  In 1999 a group from Philadelphia hosted an electric football competition and attracted 1500 participants!

Yep, us boys are loyal to our toys!

Moderates start pulling GOP a bit their way

The political reality in the Philadelphia suburbs is that, if you are a Republican looking for wide, cross-party appeal and win elections, you must present a more Moderate political view.  The same probably holds true in a lot of suburban communities surrounding large concentrations of urban Democrats.

Charles_W._Dent,_official_photo_portrait,_color

Congressional Rep Charlie Dent (PA-15)

Such an approach helps to explain the popularity of such local talents as Congressional Representatives Charlie Dent and Patrick Meehan.

But another factor to consider is the political weight these Moderates might pull in a Republican Congressional caucus looking to grow their national appeal.  In recent weeks, Moderates in the delegation have been able to blunt some controversial legislation and political moves.

As Dent mentioned in a recent debate, “Week One, we had the vote for Speaker. Week Two, we debated deporting children. Week Three, we’re debating rape and incest. I can’t wait for Week Four.”

The rise of the Moderates might be worth watching.

Inconspicuous news

The video he wishes he never shared

Ahmed Merabet

Ahmed Merabet

The most disturbing piece of video shot during the Charlie Hedbo massacre was perhaps that shot by man across the street from the assassination of French police officer, Ahmed Merabet, a 42-year-old Muslim himself.

Engineer Jordi Mir described the terror and panic he felt after having just witnessed the cold blooded, merciless shooting as Merabet lay obviously wounded on the sidewalk. Alone and feeling isolated in his flat, Mir fled to his computer and posted the video to Facebook.

After but 15 minutes, he thought better of his decision and took the video down; but it was too late. Within an hour he was mortified to see it being replayed across the world on hundreds of media sites and broadcasts.

No one – in my opinion – could blame Mir for what he did, given that moment in time and the terror he must have felt. The story does not go into why he felt posting it was a mistake he regrets. But it is a lesson in the unforgiving nature of today’s instantaneous “share it” culture.

Krauthammer: Boost the gas tax

Political commentator Charles Krauthammer, never one to be mistaken for a “tax and spend” liberal, is championing a $1.00 boost in the national gas tax. But he’s not pushing it as a way to fix the transit infrastructure.

Krauthammer wants the tax boosted to continue the psychological pressure on the consumption of petroleum products and as a way to relieve the pressure – even if only a little – on those consumers living day-to-day in everyday America by reducing Social Security taxes among other options.

He makes several valid points on the both the psyche of the American automotive consumer and his fickle relationship with overseas oil. lying just below the surface is the same mistrust all should feel about the obviously selfish motives of the Saudis, who are driving down the cost of oil (now below $50 a barrel) in a blatant strategy to corner market share and render economically less feasible the hunt for and development of alternative energy sources.

If, as some sources suggest, this artificially low price of foreign oil persists for two years, exactly how much damage will be done to efforts to wean us from the oil nipple?!?

Louie and the Quarterback

If you know the story of Louie Zamperini, you know of the extraordinary trials he went through in his early life. I haven’t yet seen the movie, “Unbroken”, but I plan to. I did thoroughly enjoy Lauren Hillenbrand’s book by the same title. If you haven’t read it, you really should, especially if you can squeeze it in before seeing the movie!

From all accounts, Zamperini is an extremely likeable man. A close family member had several chances to meet Zamperini at public events in a law enforcement role in his native home of Torrance, CA. He had nothing but praise for the old WWII hero.

Zamperini died this past July.

But another interesting friendship Zamperini encouraged was with former USC quarterback, Matt Barkley. Barkley, third string QB for the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles, met Zamperini as a USC freshman in 2009.

Barkley describes how no one know who this “old guy” was as he addressed their class. But by the end, Barkley was listening intently and was so struck by his story that he hung around to talk to “Unbroken” hero afterwards.

Matt Barkley and Louie Zamperini

Matt Barkley and Louie Zamperini

And a friendship was born.

Barkley shares that “Louie embodied what it means to push through your mental limits and even the physical limits of what your body can do.”

It was a lesson that served Barkley well in his struggles to make the transition to the NFL. The two men, roughly 70 years apart in age, conversed regularly. Zamperini even invited Barkley to watch the U.S.-Canada 2010 Olympic Games hockey matchup in his home.

Spoiler alert: Zamperini became such a gracious man in his later years, when he was given the opportunity to carry a torch for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan he sought a media-arranged meeting with the former Japanese soldier who tormented him in the WWII prison camp. The offer was rejected by Mutsohiro Watanabe.

J-Roll and Me … since 2007

jimmy-rollinsNot often do I feel genuine admiration for professional athletes.  It’s rarer still that I become a dedicated fan.

If you give a twit about professional sports, you quickly learn that pro athletes come and go, sometimes on a whim and always regardless of your affection.  Pro athletes are a special kind of mercenary … Keen to their value and the limited horizon of their earning potential, they tend to move where the financial grass is greener after a few years in any one city for any particular team.

There are of course exceptions; but the best approach to avoiding repeated disappointments and that goofy fan version of “loss”, when a favored player departs, is to remain a distant and objective fan, dedicated only to statistics and the calculus of how individual players will – or will not – help your preferred team addiction.

Jimmy Rollins is one of the few players to so ingratiate themselves in my view of the professional athlete should represent to become a player  an individual I respect.  As a partial season ticket holder, I have enjoyed watching Rollins play the shortstop position in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park.  But now that he will move on in an unsurprising trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, it’s time to look back at his 15-year Philadelphia Phillies career.

He had his faults, don’t get me wrong.  He could have been a better hitter (.267 career average); never walked enough (averaging just 50 BB/season); and had fleeting issues with the concept of hustle on the base paths.

Through all of that, Rollins was still able to earn what I like to think is my difficult-to-earn Sports Admiration by what he accomplished in 2007.

That season he set career marks in Games, At Bats (716), Plate Appearances, Runs (139) and Triples (20).  With 17 games remaining in the regular season and the Phillies facing a 7.5 game deficit in the National League East, Rollins batted .309 with multiple hits in 15 of those games, 3 Homeruns, 12 RBI.  Leading the Phillies past the Mutts and grabbing the first of 5 consecutive NL East crowns!

St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies - Game 2But what really set that season apart in my mind was what he said a few weeks before the first meaningful pitch of 2007 was thrown, before a single at-bat, even before spring training started.  Following a season where the New York Mets dominated in winning the NL East by 12 games, James Calvin Rollins declared the Philadelphia Phillies “the team to beat in the National League East” for that upcoming 2007 season!

Certainly I wasn’t alone in finding Rollins’ proclamation cringe-worthy for a team that hadn’t shown much life or distinction in preceding seasons.  But that’s what impressed me most in 2007, that Rollins had the confidence to proclaim how good his team was, and then have the career season to make sure it happened.  In the end, Rollins won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, a Gold Glove (his first of four), and a Silver Slugger (his only) in what was the best season of his career.

From that 2007 season forward, I could overlook those isolated hustle-related incidents because of the confidence – even cockiness – and Leadership he provided a team that would win just its second World Series MLB championship a year later.

In his 15 years in Philadelphia, Rollins set franchise career marks in Hits (2306) and Doubles (479); appeared in 3 All-Star Games; and finished 3rd in Rookie-of-the-Year voting (2001).  At the crucial position of shortstop, he won the aforementioned four Gold Gloves; but even more impressively he ranks 3rd in Fielding Percentage (.983) among all shortstops in modern Major League Baseball history.

No doubt this places him among the best defensive shortstops ever to play the game.

In addition, Rollins was a community philanthropist whose charity, The Rollins Family Foundation, benefitted the Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis Foundation and Prevent Child Abuse PA.  Most recently, his charity has worked to educate and promote access to fresh foods for low-income families.  He and his wife also founded The Johari & Jimmy Rollins Center for Animal Rehabilitation in Woolwich Township, NJ.

However, from this day forward Jimmy Rollins will provide his special kind of Leadership and defensive play in a uniform other than the red pinstripes of a Phillie.  It will be weird seeing him play in another uniform, let alone the blue of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  But such is the nature of the tenuous pro athlete-fan relationship.

You only get to enjoy watching them play for your team for only so long.  Hopefully for Phillie fans, 15 years was long enough.

May the baseball gods be fair to you, Jimmy Rollins!  May you have the chance to recapture that elusive championship feeling once again.  Just please, not with the Dodgers … or the Mets, Braves, Yankees, Nationals or Red Sox …

Just sayin’ …

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?