Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Let the Skepticism Begin

Second-guessing in baseball is as much a part of the game as players adjusting their cups on national television. Even we uninformed civilians, those of who stopped playing organized ball after, say, ninth grade, to pick a random time, get into the act despite our formal expertise in matters other than what happens between the lines.

And second-guessing Larry Bowa is much a part of Philadelphia as finding a great corner cheesesteak shop. Bo provided a lot of fodder tonight:

First, he stuck with Kevin Millwood for one batter too many in the seventh. On a hot, humid Miami night, a sweat-drenched Millwood walked the first two batters of that inning and was clearly laboring all the while; Jeff Conine then took Kevin over the left-field wall.

Second, how do you hit your 44-homer guy fifth in the lineup? I know that against the tough southpaw Dontrelle Willis, you might want to go left-right-left, as Bowa did with Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal, and Jim Thome hitting 3-5, respectively. But don't you want your team's best power hitter in 20 years to get as many at-bats as possible, regardless of percentages? With Willis long gone, Thome was in the on-deck circle when Lieberthal grounded to first to end the game.

Third, I like David Bell -- he seems like a professional guy who does his job well and adds value on and off the field. His failure this year was not due to lack of effort or talent but injury. So I was as glad as the next guy to hear he was healthy and back with the team. But was it wise to start him against a power pitcher like Willis when he had just a few Instructional League games under his belt? Was he really the Phils' best option at third tonight?

My feelings on Bowa are no secret. For a different view, check out this Thomas Boswell piece I missed while on vacation. (Thanks to the politically tiresome blogger who runs (Not-so-Vast) Right-Wing Conspiracy: Music, Culture, Politics, Baseball for the link.) Boswell, one of the country's most estimable baseball writers, was in Philadelphia for last Thursday's hurricane special against the Fish, and filed a column lauding Bowa and Marlins manager Jack McKeon as old-school skipper who properly kick ass when necessary. Never mind that this is 2003, not 1953 or even 1973; the dynamic of player-manager relationships, like that of all employee-employer relationships, has changed. To expect it to remain the way it was is foolish and naïve. And how would Boswell react if his editor bitched him out in front of his newsroom colleagues for missing a comma?

Anyway, elsewhere in baseball blogland, Baseball Musings calls tonight's game in Miami a "tough loss for the Phillies" and observes interestingly that the Phils "now need to win the next two games to get their destiny back." Destiny is an intriguing word to use, for, indeed, the signings of Thome and Bell and the trade for Millwood had me salivating for the start of the season last December. But this is the Phillies, remember? Enough whining from Red Sox fans -- it is the Phillies, truly, who do only well enough to break your heart.


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