Sep 30, 2019

The Snake And The Caveman

Glenn Hubbard
1984 Fleer - Card #182
Former infielder Glenn Hubbard turned 62 years old this month.  He played for the Atlanta Braves and Oakland Athletics from 1978 to 1989, and he returned to the game following his retirement in 1999 to coach.  He never played for the Phillies, but he does have one of my favorite Phillies-related baseball cards of the 80's in the 1984 Fleer set.

There's so much happening on this card.  First of all, the 1983 All-Star second baseman has an eight foot boa constrictor draped around his neck.  I'd like to think that a young Jake Roberts saw this card and stole the gimmick when he debuted in the WWF two years later.  However, the snake is just the start of the story.

Eagle-eyed card collectors may have noticed the Phillie Phanatic on the right hand side in the background.  He appears to be peering over the shoulder of the Braves infielder.  The less obvious personality on the field is Barney Rubble.  The cartoon icon can be seen staring off into space in the background to the left of the snake draped around Hubbard's shoulder.  So, what the hell was going on at the ballpark?

In his Cardboard Corner series, Baseball Hall Of Fame columnist Bruce Markusen investigated the history of this card.  He found an interview that Hubbard once did with the Carolina Sports Network which revealed some information about this peculiar card.  The photo was taken at Veterans Stadium in 1983 prior to a game between the Phillies and Braves.  Barney Rubble and the snake were present as part of a pregame celebration for the fifth birthday of the Phillie Phanatic.  Hubbard held the snake and asked a photographer to take his picture without knowing that the man was a freelance photographer who worked for Fleer.  The rest is baseball card history.

Philadelphia Daily News - 4/15/1983
The revelation that the photo was taken at the Phanatic's fifth birthday helped me to discover the game where the infamous '84 Fleer card was born: April 17th, 1983.  Hubbard went 0-3 with a walk that afternoon, but the Braves beat the Phillies by a score of 3 - 1.  Barney's neighbor Fred Flintstone, along with Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and Scooby Doo were in attendance that day, and kids 14 and under who were at the ballpark that night went home with this Phillie Phanatic growth chart.

Sep 29, 2019

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

2019 Philadelphia Phillies Season
photo credit: Peter Miller

The Phillies ended the 2019 season with a loss to the Marlins and a record of 81-81.

It all looked so promising in the Spring.  Bryce Harper signed a contract to spend the rest of his career in Philadelphia.  The front office made bold trades to acquire an All-Star shortstop and the best catcher in all of baseballAndrew McCutchen brought his energy to the city which now included the 2013 and 2015 NL MVPs in the corner outfield with a young star on the rise in center field.  First base was locked down by home grown talent who came up from the minors and hit home runs at a historic pace less just over a year ago.  Heck, our 6-7-8 hitters in the lineup were our 1-2-3 hitters in 2018, and that team was in first place until August.  We all had the spirit of Harry Kalas, with high hopes that the Phillies were back.  It's safe to say that we didn't expect a .500 record and a fourth place finish.

It all started according to plan with a sweep of the Atlanta Braves and four straight wins to begin the 2019 season.  Sadly, that would be the longest winning streak of the year for the Fightins as it all started to fall apart.  So, now that the last pitch has been thrown in Citizens Bank Park until the Spring of 2020, we can take a deep breath, look back at the season and figure out what happened and where the team goes from here.

I wasn't a big fan of Gabe Kapler being hired to manage the Phillies.  His defenders have made excuses for his poor decisions by saying that he's still new and he's still learning, and they're correct with that assessment.  However, the place in this organization for a rookie manager who is learning on-the-job is Clearwater, or Reading, or Allentown.

Gabe's brand of micro-managing, outsmarting himself, and the excuses disguised as positivity in the post-game interview have worn thin.  His use of the bullpen over the past two seasons give the impression that he's quick to forfeit today in the hopes of winning tomorrow.  He and John Mallee emphasize walks over hits with the misguided opinion that driving the opposing starter's pitch count up is more important than putting together a rally and scoring runs.  I know this is sacrilege to the church of analytics, but drawing a walk should not be the goal when a major league hitter stands at the plate.  It's cowardly, and it doesn't work.  Take the walk when it's there to take, but for god's sake, don't be afraid to swing the bat and hope for a walk.

In addition to being a heavily flawed tactician, he's a questionable leader.  Throughout the season, he has repeatedly failed to hold Jean Segura and Cesar Hernandez accountable for a lack of hustle.  He paid lip service in the post-game interview and called it "unacceptable", but no one got pulled from the game or benched.  That is, of course, until months later when it was used as an excuse to bench and demote Maikel Franco.  It's hard to ignore the fact that punishing Franco opened the door for Sean Rodriguez, a friend and former teammate of Kapler, to get more playing time.  Franco is by far the superior hitter and defensive third baseman.  I would have respected Gabe for benching Franco for failing to run out a grounder if he applied those same rules to Segura and Hernandez.

As poor of a manager as he has been to this team, he has been dealt a bad hand with injuries and situations that are beyond his control.  However, it's really difficult to give the guy the benefit of the doubt when you hear him speak, particularly after a loss.  He reminds me of Jerry, the mother's boyfriend from the Jim Carrey movie Liar Liar because it's hard to tell if he's full of crap, or if he really is that clueless.  This is Philadelphia.  A big part of why this city values players like Dick Allen, John Kruk, Darren Daulton and Chase Utley is because they are real.  We didn't always agree with Charlie Manuel, but he was genuine to the degree that fans still call him Uncle Cholly.  Larry Bowa was like our angry uncle who starts a fight at the dinner table on Thanksgiving, but he was never phony.  Kapler doesn't feel like he's part of the family.  He's more like the insurance salesman who calls us during dinner to try to sell us on the benefits of earthquake insurance.

Until this summer, I was a big fan of Matt Klentak.  I was happy with most of his signings and trades, and I genuinely felt bad for him for the ones that didn't work.  When he first became the Phillies GM, he acquired Charlie Morton in a trade.  Morton tore his hamstring less than a month into the 2016 season and was out for the year.  The next year, he went on to have an incredible season with the Astros and was on the mound when they won the World Series.  A very similar thing happened when he acquired Clay Buchholz before the 2017 season.  He lasted even less time than Morton did.  He tore his flexor less than three weeks into the season and had season ending surgery in the middle of April.  The next year, he went 7-2 with a 2.01 ERA for the Diamondbacks.  This year, he picked up one of the most dependable relievers in all of baseball when he signed David Robertson.  He was one of the most important signings of the winter, but he mysteriously didn't appear much during Spring Training.  Sure enough, he had a grade 1 flexor strain and was out for the season after April 14th.  Needless to say, Klentak has been the victim of a lot of bad luck.

When it comes to the start of the 2019 season, I made the same mistake Klentak did.  I thought the rotation would be good enough for the Phillies to win a Division Championship on the strength of the offense.  I thought Arrieta had enough left in the tank, that Pivetta and Eflin could take steps forward and live up to their potential, and that Velasquez could settle down and figure it out, and if not, there was always Eickhoff.  None of those things went according to plan.  Even Nola seemed to have taken a step backwards in the first half.  However, it was clear that the rotation was a problem well before June, and they could have signed Dallas Keuchel.  I totally understood why they didn't go after him in the winter when he was looking for a ridiculous amount of money and years, but he was only looking for a 1 year deal by June, and it wouldn't take any prospects to trade.  All it would have cost would be money.  However, the Phillies didn't even meet with him or watch him pitch.  I can think of only two reasons for passing on Keuchel that make any sense: either they didn't want to go over the Luxury Tax threshold, or they weren't interested in a pitcher that doesn't adhere to the current coaching staff's extremely narrow philosophy of pitching.  Either way, it's simply not acceptable.

There were some pretty damning reports from reliable sources close to the club that they weren't willing to go all in this summer because they didn't expect they could compete with the Dodgers.  I can understand this being a justification to not trade away prospects that could help the Phillies in the future, but it's absolutely no excuse for allowing a quality starter to walk away and join your division rival mid-season.  Refusing to even watch a guy throw who could help the team in an area of need is a slap in the face to everyone who supports this team.  How can you look season ticket holders in the face and ask them to renew their plan when you sit on your hands and accept defeat in June?  How do you look Bryce Harper in the eye and tell him that he did the right thing by committing the rest of his career to Philadelphia?

The Phillies have never gone over the Luxury Tax threshold.  In all likelihood, Klentak wanted to go after Keuchel and was prevented by the ownership group who felt that they spent enough and were unwilling to pay the penalty for adding extra payroll.  That certainly seemed to be the case by mid-season when team president Andy MacPhail said "if we don't, we don't" when he was asked about the Phillies making the playoffs.  However, it's all speculation when it comes to pointing the finger of blame.  I don't know who is responsible, but the decision to not go after Keuchel was foolish.  They might have saved a little money in the short term, but the half empty stadiums for the second half of the year suggest that they're alienating fans and that they'll lose far more money than they saved.  If you don't believe in this team enough to support them, why should the fans?

When the trade to acquire Jean Segura was announced, I was totally in favor of it.  I hated to lose Carlos Santana, who was one of my favorite Phillies last year.  It was also a gamble to lose J.P. Crawford, who was under team control for quite a while, and at an affordable salary that would free up money to spend on pitching.  However, the trade took Rhys Hoskins out of left field, where he was the worst defensive outfielder in recent memory, and it upgraded our offense at shortstop.  Also, the Phillies got Juan Nicasio and James Pazos thrown in to bulk up the bullpen (Pazos was flipped to the Rockies for Low-A utility player Hunter Stovall).  It looked perfect on paper.  Then the 2019 season happened.

Crawford still hasn't been able to stay healthy or hit major league pitching consistently, but Santana is another story.  After acquiring the veteran first baseman, the Mariners flipped him to Cleveland where he went on to have an All-Star season with a slash line of .282/.397/.517 with 34 HR.  It's hard to not imagine how that would have looked hitting cleanup behind Bryce Harper, especially when you consider the anemic production of Rhys Hoskins in the second half (see below).  Had the Phillies decided to keep Santana and trade Hoskins last winter, the Phillies would very be going to the playoffs right now.  Plus, it is very likely that the team would have gotten a better player than Segura by trading the younger, less expensive Hoskins who is under team control through the end of the 2023 season.  Hindsight is always 20/20, and first base is a huge question mark going into 2020.

As for Segura himself, we've seen a few hints at the reasons why he was traded four times in six years.  He set a career high in errors with regressed offensive production and a drastic reduction of stolen bases.  He didn't have a bad year, but he was definitely not as good as he was in Arizona and Seattle from 2016 - 2018.  Hopefully, he will bounce back in 2020, but until then, this trade is going to be examined as one of the reasons that we failed to make the playoffs instead of a deal that brought an All-Star shortstop to Philadelphia.

Rhys has been one of my favorite members of the Phillies organization since the days when he and Dylan Cozens were mashing home runs at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading.  I was in attendance for his first major league hit two years ago.  Afterward, he went on a historic tear through big league pitching that resulted in numerous records for production:
  • Fastest player in MLB history to hit his 9th through 17th career home runs.
  • Fastest player in MLB history to hit 45 RBI (41 games).
  • Most home runs in MLB history by any player to make his season debut after August (18).
  • Franchise record for most home runs hit in one month by a rookie (11 in August, 2017)
  • Tied a franchise record for most consecutive games with a home run (5 games).
  • Third player in franchise history to have an extra base hit in six consecutive games.
  • First player in franchise history to initiate a triple play from the outfield since 1964.
  • Finished the season with a slash line of .259/.396/.618 with 18 home runs and 48 RBI in just 170 at bats.  He finished 4th for the NL Rookie Of The Year award despite not playing in the Major Leagues until the Phillies 112th game of the season (August 10th).
How crazy is it that this same guy is being talked about by fans and the media just two years later as someone who could potentially be traded for a middle of the rotation starter?

Have National League pitchers learned how to get him out, or is the Phillies coaching to blame?  It's hard to ignore the contrast in the offensive production of Carlos Santana after he left Philadelphia in comparison to Hoskins under the tutelage of hitting coach John Mallee.  His production has fallen off of a cliff in the second half (.180/.318/.361 after the All-Star break), and it's gotten to the point where he looks completely lost at the plate.  Additionally, though he's better defensively at first base than he was at left field, he's not winning a gold glove any time soon.

Even though I speculated that the team would have been better off had they kept Santana and traded Hoskins last winter, I don't want to see him traded now.  His trade value is at an all-time low, and I think the chances of getting someone of value for him in a deal are lower than the chances that he can figure out where things went wrong and get back to being the player we have all seen him be.  Thankfully, John Middleton took action and went over Klentak's head to fire Mallee as hitting coach and replace him with Charlie Manuel.  Uncle Cholly will be 76 years old at the start of the 2020 season, so I don't know if he would even want the job for a full year, but I'm hopeful that he does and can continue to work with Hoskins to repair the damage that I suspect the Phillies coaching staff has largely contributed to.

If you find a random Phillies fan on the street and ask them where the 2019 season went wrong, I suspect they'll tell you that it all started when Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL on June 4th.  The Phillies were in first place at the time, and the loss at the top of the lineup of his production and leadership were a big blow.  However, I don't think a healthy McCutchen would have made the difference in the Phillies making the playoffs this season.

Two days before Cutch was out for the year, Matt Klentak made a trade with the Mariners to bring Jay Bruce to Philadelphia.  It's not talked about much, but it was one of the most savvy moves of the year from any general manager.  The Phillies gave up a 24 year old Class A minor league third baseman who is doubtful to ever make the major leagues, and they received 18.5 million dollars in cash from the Mariners to pay the majority of Bruce's contract, which expires at the end of next season.  Bruce was brought on board to be a power bat off of the bench, but was soon asked to fill in as the Phillies starting left fielder.  He picked up right where Cutch left off, batting .381 with 4 home runs and 11 RBI in his first week.  Though he also got hurt and wasn't the same player in the second half, he finished the 2019 season with 26 home runs.  There's every reason to believe that he can be the power bat off of the bench that he was meant to be for the 2020 season.

At the trade deadline, Klentak made another incredible trade when the Phillies acquired left fielder Corey Dickerson from the Pirates in exchange for... nothing at all.  Seriously!  All they gave up was international bonus money to bring in a .300 hitting gold glove outfielder with power.  It was arguably the best mid-season acquisition of any team during the 2019 season.  Not only did Corey replace the injured Jay Bruce, but he was the most productive left fielder the Phillies had all season and one of the most dependable bats in the lineup.  Unfortunately, he was unable to escape the curse of the Phillies left fielders as he fractured his foot with just under two weeks remaining in the season, but his value to this team is clear.  Dickerson is a free agent this winter.  You have to believe that the Phillies want to keep him, but with two more years left on McCutchen's contact, it is doubtful that they'll have a starting job available.  Ideally, the Phillies convince the left-handed Dickerson to stay with the team to platoon with the right-handed McCutchen, but it would take a pretty darn good argument to convince a guy to give up a potential starting job with another team to stay with a 4th place team as a part-time player.

The Phillies entered the 2020 season with a surplus of outfielders and found themselves scrambling to find someone to play center field.  In a move that the team likely regretted (if for no other reason than position depth), the Phillies released the light hitting Aaron Altherr on May 4th.  By the end of that same month, the team would lose Odubel Herrera to a suspension for the season due to domestic violence.  This left second baseman Scott Kingery to share center field with Andrew McCutchen, until Cutch got hurt and Kingery was forced to take over the position.  Not wanting to end their obsession with trying to make Kingery the next Ben Zobrist, the Phillies called up 2017 first round draft pick Adam Haseley on June 4th.

Haseley has proven that he has what it takes to hit major league pitching.  He's also been a phenomenal defensive center fielder.  I both expect and hope that the Phillies have enough sense to release Odubel as soon as they're legally able to and to allow Haseley to continue to grow into his role with the big league club.

Bryce Harper has been the leader we hoped he would be.  His first year as a Phillie has been incredibly successful and unquestioned by anyone with even a basic understanding of this sport.  He set a career high with 114 RBI and hit .260/.372/.510 with 35 HR.  He has also been phenomenal in right field; something the skeptics assured us was his weakness.  He has also responded to the pressures of playing in Philadelphia with savvy grace and appreciation for the fact that he's finally playing in front of fans who know and care about baseball.

Now, it's up to the front office to honor the promise they made to Bryce when he agreed to spend the rest of his career in Philadelphia by addressing the needs of the team to contend for a championship.

Signing J.T. Realmuto to an extension this winter will be priority #1 this winter.  He is by far the best defensive and offensive catcher in baseball, and he has expressed a desire to stay in Philadelphia.  I expect that an announcement to be made before Thanksgiving.  While keeping Realmuto is absolutely necessary for the success of this team as we enter a new decade, he is not a new addition that will help this team improve from a 4th place finish.  It can't be the only big move that the front office makes.

Photo Credit: Ian D’Andrea
If you wrote a book about the 2019 Phillies bullpen, it should be called Murphy's Law.  Everyone not named Hector Neris went on the disabled list for significant stretches of the season, and the Phillies lost six relievers to season-ending injuries.
  • Victor Arano - total innings: 4.2 - last appearance: April 18th
    Elbow injury - needed arthroscopic right elbow surgery - out for the season.
  • Tommy Hunter - total innings: 5.1 - last appearance: July 13th
    Unable to pitch until June 28th due to injury.  Forearm injury to right flexor tendon required surgery - out for the season.
  • David Robertson - total innings: 6.2 - last appearance: April 14th
    Grade 1 flexor strain - out for the season.  Tommy John surgery will cause him to miss most, if not all, of the 2020 season.
  • Edubray Ramos - total innings: 15 - last appearance: September 23rd
    Unlike the rest of the names on this list, Ramos did not see his 2019 season end due to injury, but he lost most of the season to bicep tendinitis.  He was unable to pitch from May 11th to June 13th, and again from June 23rd to September 21st except for a single inning on July 15th in which he gave up two home runs and went right back to the injured list after the game.
  • Pat Neshek - total innings: 18 - last appearance: June 20th
    He was actually unavailable to pitch after May 19th due to injury.  He came back on June 20th to pitch 2/3 of an inning and then immediately went back on the IL with a Grade 2 hamstring strain that required surgery - out for the season.
  • Seranthony Dominguez - total innings: 24.2 - last appearance: June 5th
    Ulnar collateral ligament damage in his right elbow - out for the season.  Questionable to start the 2020 season.
  • Adam Morgan - total innings: 29.2 - last appearance: July 31st
    Left flexor strain - out for the season.
The Phillies first tried to call up number of minor league pitchers, including J.D Hammer, Drew Anderson, Yacksel Rios, Edgar Garcia, Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez and Enyel De Los Santos.  Although there were moments that gave us reason to hope that some of these guys could develop into major league contributors, they simply weren't ready.

In July, they picked up a handful of pitchers who were let go by other teams, including Blake Parker, Mike Morin, Nick Vincent and Jared Hughes.  Again, there were moments that inspired optimism (particularly from Parker and Hughes), but at the end of the day, the Phillies were left to rely on castoffs from the Twins, Reds and Giants to get outs in high leverage situations, and the rotation wasn't doing them any favors by pitching deep into games.

Frankly, when you look at the Phillies overall performance out of the pen in 2019, it's remarkable that they were as good as they have been, but it's pretty damn hard to win a playoff spot when the vast majority of the bullpen is out having surgery.  There aren't a ton of options available in the free agent market, so if the Phillies hope to contend in 2020, they're going to need at least some of these guys to bounce back.  Unfortunately, in the case of David Robertson, we already know that won't be possible.

This is the keystone reason why the Phillies are not a playoff team.  There were plenty of other things that went wrong, but nothing went as horribly wrong as the rotation - not even all of the injuries to the bullpen.  The fact that no one in the rotation could be relied upon to pitch deep into a game compounded the struggles of the bullpen.

I expect that the negative impact of Chris Young will be debated all winter.  It certainly cannot be ignored that that Zach Eflin didn't find success until he stopped listening to Chris Young and the staff and started doing what came natural - throwing a sinker and inducing weak contact.  An article published by The Atlantic two days ago cited several sources that all tell the same story - the Phillies coaching staff lost the trust of the pitchers, and they're going to have one hell of a hard time undoing the damage that has been done.  Unless the Phillies make significant changes, both to the roster and the coaching staff, I won't expect a playoff run in 2020.  This one-size-fits-all stubborn adherence to flawed analytics is a recipe for failure.

It's difficult to know what to make of Nick Pivetta.  He didn't just take a step backward in his development.  He took several giant leaps backward and fell flat on his ass.  He is said to have a bit of an attitude problem, but if the coaching is as inept as many sources have suggested, it's not hard to understand why he would have a chip on his shoulder.  It wouldn't surprise me a bit to see the Phillies release him only to watch him find success with another club and stuff it down our throat.

Quite frankly, I don't want any of the 2019 starters back next season except Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin, and I want everyone associated with Chris Young and the Phillies pitching coaches to be shown the door - today.  Nothing short of a complete teardown and rebuild will be acceptable.  I know that this isn't realistic from a talent perspective.  We're likely going to be stuck with Jake Arrieta, for better or for worse, but if he's expected to be anything more than a #5 starter, this team is going to be in a lot of trouble.  But there's absolutely no excuse for Chris Young, or for any member of this coaching staff who is responsible for their heavily flawed approach to this game, to be associated with the Philadelphia Phillies, or any other team for that matter.

2020 Opening Day is March 26th.  The Phillies home opener is April 2nd.
So, now we have all winter to figure out where we're going from here.  What needs to happen between over the next 179 days to take this club from .500 to a World Series?  I'm far from an expert, but here is what I'd like to see happen:
  • Acquire at least two, or potentially three starting pitchers.
As great of a pitcher as Gerrit Cole is, I would prefer that the Phillies not put all of their eggs in one basket.  Keep in mind, this franchise won its last World Series with a rotation that included Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick, while it came up short with the "Four Aces". 
If I had the choice, I'd like to see the Phillies sign Cole Hamels and Zack Wheeler and open the season with a rotation of Nola, Hamels, Wheeler, Eflin and Arrieta.  If they can add a third starter, I wouldn't mind seeing Madison Bumgarner for the right price.  I would be in favor of finding a trade partner before the deadline to move Arrieta and bring Spencer Howard to the majors.  The Phillies would probably have to pay most of his contract, but I think it might be worth exploring.  I'd have Howard start the season in Lehigh Valley where they use the same ball that they do in the majors so that he'll have time to adjust before facing MLB batters for the first time.
  • Retain Charlie Manuel as hitting coach, and replace Chris Young as pitching coach.
John Mallee and Chris Young have each been an unmitigated disaster for their inability to communicate with the young talent on this team.  The Phillies corrected half of the problem by showing Mallee the door, and they need to do the same with Chris Young as soon as possible.  I don't have a strong preference for anyone in particular (John Farrell and Bryan Price come to mind as possibilities), but the sooner they can rectify the gross incompetence of Chris Young by removing him from this organization, the better.
  • Sign Joe Maddon to replace Gabe Kapler as manager.
I don't put all of the blame on Kapler for the things that went wrong over the past two seasons, but he does share at least some of the blame, and it doesn't seem like he's willing to acknowledge it.  Even when his decisions blow up in his face and cost the team, his primary interest seems to be in explaining why his decision was correct, even though it doesn't pan out.  It appears that Gabe is more concerned with winning the game on paper instead of the game on the field.
Kapler is an analytical manager, but he's one-dimensional.  From his very first game on Opening Day when he pulled Aaron Nola much too soon, it feels as if Kapler's strategy is to sacrifices the game in front of him for the good of the big picture.  However, over the past two seasons, it has become clear that his way of thinking is not good for the short or long term.  He gives up too soon, and he has shown a failure to hold his players accountable in a real and meaningful way.  Additionally, he and his coaching staff seem to be disconnected from the human element of this game, preferring to rely entirely on data, and possessing little to no ability to make in-game adjustments unless a computer printout could be found to defend it later on.

In recent months, it has become fashionable to criticize Cubs manager Joe Maddon.  I'm not about to claim that he's infallible.  He has flaws, and he has made mistakes.  However, he also has an impressive resume of balancing the use of analytics and old school methods to connect with his players and lead his teams to success. 
It's easy to forget that Maddon didn't waltz into winning teams and ride their coattails. The Cubs were a last place team with a record of 73-89 the year before Joe Maddon took over.  Two years later, he led them to their first World Series Championship in 108 years.  The year before he took over in Tampa Bay, the Devil Rays were dead last with a record of 67-95.  In fact, they had a losing record every year that the franchise existed, and they finished dead last every year except 2004 when they were second to last.  Within three seasons, Maddon took this team of underdogs from the basement to the World Series.  He has a winning record with every franchise that he managed (the Angels, Rays and Cubs), a pennant in both the American and National League, two World Series rings (2002 and 2016) and is a three time Manager Of The Year. 
The criticism that Maddon gets from some Phillies bloggers and fans on Twitter is asinine and without merit.  The Phillies would be extremely fortunate to have Maddon who has the experience, the personality and the ability to become one of the greatest managers in franchise history.  He is the right man for the job.
I don't know if keeping Dickerson is a realistic possibility, but if he's willing to stay with the Phillies to platoon with McCutchen, I would be thrilled to have him.

Jay Bruce also has a role to play as the Matt Stairs power bat off of the bench.

Brad Miller is the Ben Zobrist player that the Phillies wanted Kingery to be - a versatile talent who can play everywhere on the diamond except catcher and has proven to be a valuable bat off of the bench with pop.

Finally, although it seems that the front office is ready to move on from Franco, I think there's still something there.  He's still young, having just turned 27 this August, and he can hold down 3B until Alec Bohm is ready to be called up.  After that, he can either be used as a pinch hitter, or to give Bohm and Hoskins the occasional night off.  He's an excellent defensive player even when his bat goes cold, and he can contribute to this team in a meaningful way.
I like Cesar, but the time has come to allow Scott Kingery to play his position and focus on sustained success at the plate instead of being deployed all over the diamond.  He has the potential to be great, but I don't see him reaching his full potential without a regular position and place in the lineup.  If they see an opportunity to tender and trade Cesar, that would be my first choice.  Otherwise, the time might be right to non-tender him and part company. 
Nick Williams seems to have fallen out of favor with the Phillies.  I don't know if something happened that hasn't found its way to the media or if they just don't have a place for him, but the recent decision to use Franco instead of Williams as a pinch runner speaks volumes.  I suppose they could always stash him in Lehigh Valley in case of injury, but I don't think that would be fair to him. 
Roman Quinn is an intriguing talent, but he can't stay healthy.  He's had enough chances, and we've seen him enough to know what he's got.  I wish him the best of luck in staying healthy and catching on with another club, but it's time to close the chapter on his time in Philadelphia.

I have nothing to say about Odubel Herrera other than the fact that there's no place on the team for someone who abuses women. Moving on.

Sean Rodriguez wrote the end of his career in Philadelphia with an interview in late August that was taken out of context.  Personally, I don't blame him for what he said.  However, his presence is a needless distraction to the culture of this team.  He was booed at every home game since the interview up to and including the last game of the season earlier today.  If he was a more productive player, it might be something that could be overlooked, but he's a bench player who hit .167 the past two seasons and managed to eek out a meager .227 with the Phillies.  Even if he wasn't such a polarizing figure, the Phillies can do much better than this.

I would be open to the idea of using Vince Velasquez as a long reliever, but I don't want to see him starting another game for the Phillies unless he's needed to fill in for an injury.  We've seen him enough to know what we've got - a man with potential, but if he hasn't put it all together yet, there's not much reason to believe he's suddenly going to figure it out in 2020.

Finally, there's Nick Pivetta.  He's has had numerous opportunities to prove himself and earn a spot in a big league rotation, but he simply hasn't done so.  He has lots of potential, but his temperament is not that of a major league pitcher on a team that has any interest in contending for a championship.  Unlike Velasquez, who might have value as minor league depth or out of the bullpen, I think the time has come to rid the franchise of the distraction and say goodbye to the man that we got in exchange for Papelbon.
  • Focus entirely on pitching, unless there's a chance for Anthony Rendon.
My gut tells me that the Phillies shouldn't add any new position players to the lineup.  It's not that I don't think they could use an upgrade, but there's frankly not much available in free agency this winter and the Phillies don't have any top prospects that I'd be in favor of trading.  That being said, I would jump at the opportunity to sign Anthony Rendon if he becomes available, especially since doing so would take a key player from a division rival.  If that were to happen, it may start a domino effect.  Would the addition of Rendon mean that Alec Bohm would be available in a trade for pitching?  Would the Phillies consider moving Bohm to first base and make Hoskins available in a trade for pitching?  There's not much doubt that Rendon would be a valuable addition to the lineup, so if he could be added for the right price, it would be foolish not to.  However, the top priority this winter should be pitching, pitching and more pitching.  If Rendon is off the table, I'd be just as happy if the Phillies didn't spend any money on a position player this off-season.

The season is over. Time to relax, enjoy the playoffs, and dream about tomorrow.

Sep 28, 2019

Farewell To The Fair

2019 Bloomsburg Fair
Bloomsburg, PA
Tonight brings the end of another year of fun and food at the Bloomsburg Fair.  I still have a lot of photos of food and other things from the Fair that will be mixed in throughout October with the Halloween posts and analysis of what went wrong with my beloved Philadelphia Phillies, but the fair itself is over for another year after tonight.

Sep 27, 2019

A Bloomsburg Fair Classic

Roast Beef Sandwich
Top Of The Beef - Bloomsburg Fair
No meat-eating patron of the fair can go without a stop at Top Of The Beef for a thick sandwich that is piled high with roast beef (or ham) and as much horseradish as you're brave enough to add.

Sep 26, 2019

This Pudding Is Bananas

Down Home Rice Pudding
Bloomsburg Fair
I usually bring some pumpkin rice pudding home from the fair, but I decided to go with the banana rice pudding this time.  It doesn't photograph particularly well, but it's very tasty.

Sep 25, 2019

Beef. It's What's For Dinner.

Sandwich With The Works
Lora's Grilled Beef & Cheddar - Bloomsburg Fair
There is always a massive line at this food stand, and for good reason.  They make a very large and very delicious grilled roast beef sandwich with cheddar cheese, onions, mushrooms and barbecue sauce on thick Texas toast.  The sandwich is larger than the plate that it's served on, and you can get a carton of Farmer's Iced Tea to go with it.

Sep 24, 2019

Another Night Slowly Closes In

Cheap Trick
Bloomsburg Fair - Bloomsburg, PA
I just got these tickets at the fair on Saturday.  The price and the timing worked out, and it's hard to pass up the opportunity to see rock legends perform at one of my favorite places in the world.  I'm not overly familiar with the Cheap Trick discography, but they performed a great set that was a hell of a lot of fun.

Sep 23, 2019

Pump Up The Funnel Cake

Pumpkin Funnel Cake
Pump My Funnel Cake - Bloomsburg Fair
The photo doesn't do justice to the size of this sugary snack.  It's as large as a dinner plate and loaded with pumpkin.

Sep 22, 2019

Feeling Crabby

Soft Shell Crab Sandwich
Crabby John's Seafood - Bloomsburg Fair
My first fair food of 2019 was extremely tasty!  I've never eaten at this stand before, but I'll definitely be back later this week.

Sep 21, 2019

The Return Of The Macho King

San Diego Padres @ Cincinnati Reds
September 21, 1989 - Cincinnati, OH
Thirty years ago today, the Cincinnati Reds were having a rough time.  Manager and franchise hero Pete Rose was banned from baseball for life less than a month earlier, and the team was on a nine game losing streak.  They were also saddled by owner Marge Schott, an open and unapologetic bigot whose behavior cast a negative shadow over the team until from 1984 until she was forced by Major League Baseball to sell her stake in the team at the end of the century.

In an effort to bring a little fun to the ballpark, Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman invited former WWF World Heavyweight Champion "Macho Man" Randy Savage to the broadcast booth to do some color commentating.  Savage was in the peak of his career at the time.  His match with Hulk Hogan headlined Wrestlemania V earlier that year.  It was one of the most memorable feuds and main events in the history of professional wrestling.  Savage showed up to the stadium in full gear, including his crown and scepter that he used in his villainous "Macho King" gimmick that had just begun earlier in the month.

At first, the guest appearance was a huge success.  Although many fans that night may not have known it, Randy was a professional baseball player prior to his wrestling career.  In fact, he spent the 1974 season with the Tampa Tarpons, the Reds minor league affiliate in the Florida State League.  Everyone was having a great time with Randy in the booth, including the fans, the umpires and the players.  All-Star center fielder Eric Davis even flexed his muscles at Savage from the field.  Naturally, toxic owner and all-around horrible human being Marge Schott had to butt her nose in and spoil the fun for everyone in an incident that was reported by the Dayton Daily News the following morning (click here to enlarge).

Sep 20, 2019

You Brought A Message And The Message Was Clear

BerlinOrchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - The B-52's
40th Anniversary Tour
The Mann Center - Philadelphia, PA
I ordered tickets to this show as soon as I knew that they went on sale.  The chance to see three bands that I've listened to for literally my entire life was too good to pass up.  The 40th Anniversary Tour of Berlin, OMD and The B-52's did not disappoint.

At the beginning of the show, lead singer Terri Nunn commented that she had last performed at Mann Music Center on a tour with Thompson Twins in 1984.  That must have been an amazing show, but I can't imagine that it was any better than this.  Terri is two years younger than my dad, but her voice sounds just as striking and powerful as it was the first time I heard "Take My Breath Away" when I was five years old.

Berlin began with No More Words and Metro - two of my favorite synthpop dance songs.  They're on my KROQ playlist that I listen to at least once a week.  Later, after their performance of Take My Breath Away, Terri told the audience about the new Berlin album and the song she was about to perform.  It's called Transcendence.  She wrote it about the last days that she spent with her mother before her death, and how she looked at the end of her life as a great adventure that she was waiting to begin.  It's a beautiful song that was performed with home videos of Terri and her mother on the screen that truly touched my heart.  I'm looking forward to hearing the whole album.

Their set closed with Sex, an underappreciated classic from the early 80's that was many years ahead of it's time, and an awesome and unexpected cover of AC/DC's Highway To Hell.

"Do not be afraid of middle-aged men from Liverpool.
We have come to kick your collective asses with synthesizers."
                                                                           - Andy McCluskey

With this quote, one of my favorite new wave groups of all time began their part of the show.  I never thought I'd have the opportunity to see Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, and I'm grateful that they've gone back on tour and that I've had the chance to see them.  This is my favorite of the three bands that performed tonight, and the one that I most hope I get to see again sometime.  They began with one of the greatest new wave songs ever recorded, Enola Gay.  It's not often that a song can make you dance and feel good while thinking about the tragedy of nuclear war, but such is the brilliance of OMD.

Enola Gay was immediately followed up by two of my other favorite OMD songs, Secret and Tesla Girls, the latter of which he teased the crowd with by saying he was about to do a song that they wrote for a movie.  Naturally, everyone was thinking Pretty In Pink, but Tesla Girls was on the Weird Science soundtrack.  However, they got to play If You Leave just a few songs later.  So much god damned beautiful synth; I loved every minute of it!  Their set ended with two of my favorites, So In Love and Dreaming, followed by Locomotion (not the song you're thinking of) and Electricity.  Perfect!

The B-52's are one of the most interesting and distinct bands in the history of rock and roll.  They have their own unique style that blends surf rock, sci-fi, new wave and the 50's and 60's for a sound that is unmistakably theirs, crafted out of sheer, unadulterated fun and madness.  You may understand it completely when you first hear it, but you will remember it, and it will work its way into your brain and light up all the happy feelings that we sometimes forget are there.  Once that happens, for as long as you live, when you hear someone say "You're what", that little happy part of your brain is going to cue up Cindy Wilson to sing "Tiiiiiin Roof.... Rusted".

Their set began with a video teaser that started with Legal Tender.  It gave me a sliver of hope that they'd be playing it tonight.  Sadly, they did not, but the show didn't suffer a bit.  Like Berlin and OMD before them, their set began with a smash - Private Idaho.  A few songs later, they performed another one of my favorite, crazy songs: Whammy Kiss, with Fred Schneider singing the echos of his own lyrics in the callbacks to Kate Pierson.

Fred disappeared for the next song, which gave Cindy and Kate front stage for Deadbeat Club and Juliet Of The Spirits.  After that, in a high, ethereal voice, they sang "I hear a wind..." and I jumped to my feet.  No one else around me did, and I got a few looks like I was nuts, but a few seconds later when they recognized the start of Roam, they were all joining me and bopping along to one of the most infectious pop songs of the 80's.

They closed the show with Love Shack and the place went absolutely bananas.  When they came back out, they had a two song encore with Planet Claire and Rock Lobster, the latter of which saw them joined on stage by Terri Nunn and a giant dancing lobster.  Pure, wonderful madness!

Philadelphia Parking Lot Shirts

Over the past four decades, I've been to quite a few shows and events across the country, but it only occurred to me yesterday that the army bootleg t-shirt sellers in the parking lot after the show may be unique to Philadelphia.  In fact, I can't think of a single concert, baseball game or pro wrestling event that I've seen in Philadelphia which didn't end with twenty different people yelling "half price" at the people who are exiting the show.  I've also never noticed this anywhere outside of Philly.

The shirts are never direct copies of the official merchandise sold in the venue, but they're much cheaper.  The "half price" shouts are deliberately vague, probably in the hopes that you'll give them $20 bucks for a shirt at a show where they're being sold for $40.  You've got to haggle.  Your best bet is to start the conversation by offering $5.  They'll likely counter with $10, and you're already settled on a reasonable price to pay for a concert shirt.  It'll be a quick negotiation and transaction, as the sellers don't want to get popped by police or security for selling bootleg shirts.

You might be tempted to pass by with the assumption that it's lower quality merchandise.  Granted, it's not fancy.  They're usually just bulk Hanes t-shirts with screen printed graphics, but it's not going to fall apart after one wash or anything like that.  The designs are often quirky and weird, but that adds to their charm - particularly in the shirts available in the parking lot after a Phillies game.  Do you want a snazzy "Jesus Hates The Cowboys" shirt?  Look no further.

This shirt came from the B-52's / OMD / Berlin 40th anniversary concert in Philadelphia last night.  I wasn't planning on buying a shirt at all, and I certainly wan't about to drop $35 on one after paying $25 just to park the car, but ten bucks for a shirt in my size with a simple design on the front and all three bands on the back.  Sure, why not?

Sep 19, 2019

Childhood Drinking Games

Kool-Aid Secret Decoder Game (1983)
Source: Gregg Koenig and The Haunted Closet

Sep 18, 2019

UFO Yeah!

Intergalactic Green
Kool-Aid (2019)
Only 900 glow-in-the-dark canisters of this limited edition UFO-Yeah Kool-Aid have been produced.  They're being given away in a Twitter contest in tribute to the people who have attempted to organize a raid on Area 51.  After all, it's important to stay hydrated when you're dodging gunshots in the desert for a chance to see an alien.

For a chance to win, post a tweet @KoolAid tomorrow that includes #UFOYeah and #promo.

Update: the flavor is sour green apple, and they're already being sold on eBay for over fifty bucks.