Friday, January 30, 2004

Hard to Believe, Harry | A brief story by Paul Hagen in today's Daily News reports that Harry Kalas and the Phillies seem to be close to a deal that would enable Kalas to inaugurate Citizens Bank Park from his rightful place in the broadcast booth. It sounds as if Harry the K might lose his battle to avoid calling games alongside Chris Wheeler, which is too bad, because to hear them together is to know the difference between professionalism and ass-kissing, between calling 'em like you see 'em and sucking up to the guy who signs the checks.

Writing about the dispute, Bill Conlin seems to want desperately to unload on Wheels, but his own professionalism gets the better of him:

It is not for me to enumerate personal issues that might or might not have undermined the Kalas-Wheeler relationship over 27 seasons they have worked together. That would be telling tales out of school. It would violate the confidentiality that is a cornerstone of any working relationship between a sports reporter and sources he collects over time -- particularly on a 24/7 beat like a major league baseball team. Suffice it to say, there are buried bodies, but you will have to go elsewhere for a time line or the gory details.

Conlin praises Wheeler for his preparation, which seems to me like praising a journalist for knowing how to type. I mean, why shouldn't a broadcaster, especially a full-time employee of the team, be as prepared as possible? Unfortunately, Conlin only hints at the whiny, undeniably biased attitude which makes Wheels so grating to listen to.

Why David Montgomery doesn't give Kalas anything for which he asks that is reasonable -- and wanting to work only with Larry Andersen and John Kruk is reasonable -- is completely beyond me. For so many years when they were scraping along the bottom of National League East, Kalas was the Phils, as much as Harry Caray was the Cubs and Ernie Harwell the Tigers. Every Phillies fan within earshot of a radio on a humid summer's evening has a fond Harry Kalas memory. No one has a similar Chris Wheeler memory.

R.I.P., Ed Sciaky | Ed Sciaky died yesterday, and if your musical coming of age happened in the Philadelphia metro area in the 1970s or '80s, you know what a tough thing that is to hear.

Sciaky was a longtime Philly DJ, but that only tells half the story. First at WMMR and then at WIOQ, he literally helped to define the FM sound by discovering and advocating for new artists whom no other stations were playing. Amidst the noise of overblown junk like ELO and the meaningless, coked-up disco scene, Sciaky was befriending and playing literate, passionate singer-songwriters -- storytellers, really -- such as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, and Bonnie Raitt. Those acts are same old-same-old now, but before Sciaky, they were hungry unknowns that deserved a following.

It's easy to ridicule Sciaky's roots and to forget just how significant a role he played in the development of what became an influential and important time in American music. After all, the album-oriented rock movement that he helped to pioneer eventually slipped into the death spiral of today's dreadful classic rock tripe, with reformed stoners playing lots of hoary, anthemic, Skynyrdesque stuff and pledging to fill your Floyd void and get the Led out. After leaving 'IOQ, Sciaky went on to work at WYSP and then, later, WMGK, after 'YSP veered into the even more unfortunate modern rock nonsense that pollutes so many airwaves now. He no longer was breaking new bands, but when you have the Boss and the Piano Man as lines on your resume, there's probably not much more left to do.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Lesson of Jack McKeon (and Pat Corrales) | If Larry Bowa thought he was under a microscope last year, he ain't seen nothing yet. The Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers joins Jerry Crasnick and Tim Kurkjian in predicting, many weeks before any games are to begin, that the Phils' skipper has been given all the tools he needs for the team to succeed -- and that if it doesn't, he might be held accountable. Writing today's "Hot Stove Heater" column on, Rogers observes of Bowa:

Baseball's most combative manager has enjoyed professional immunity under GM Ed Wade. That could end if Bowa winds up having to stem another rebellion in spring training or during the first half of the season. There will be a great deal of focus on Bowa after Wade added Billy Wagner, Tim Worrell and Eric Milton to the pitching staff as the Phillies move into Citizens Bank Park. The National League East seems eminently winnable for some team other than Atlanta, as it did a year ago. But Bowa has not proven himself to be the right man for the job. The addition of Kevin Millwood, Jim Thome and David Bell only led to an increase of six victories from 2000, when the Phillies had a losing record. The 86 wins matched the most ever for a team managed by Bowa, whose lifetime record is 27 games under .500. In his defense, he inherited bad teams in Philadelphia and San Diego. But this team should be very good. If it is not, Bowa will pay the price.

Which is as it should be. As Rogers indicates in his piece, I'm not the only one who thought Bowa should have gotten much more scrutiny than he did for his role in last season's collapse. Rogers uses the Marlins' midseason hiring of Jack McKeon as the peg for his story, and wonders whether it will lead to a renewal of a trend of two decades ago, when more than a few teams -- including the 1983 Phillies -- switched managers after the season had started and went on to find success. In the Phils' case, Paul Owens sacked the in-over-his-head Pat Corrales -- while the team was in first place (!) -- installed himself as manager, and helped lead the Wheeze Kids to the National League pennant.

As a baseball guy, Bowa has been underwhelming, mishandling his pitching staff and unable to motivate the closest thing he has to a protege, light-hitting shortstop Jimmy Rollins. As a motivator, he's been a disaster, mistakenly assuming that he can will his team to burn with the same kind of intensity with which he once played. The problem for Wade is that the Phils aren't likely to stumble so hard out of the gate that a managerial change becomes the obvious solution. As with Owens's firing of Corrales, Wade will probably need to determine whether his team is playing up to its potential, regardless of its place in the National League East standings. Maybe Larry Bowa won't be the only Phillie management type on the hot seat in 2004.

T3 + X2 = ? | The holiday resurgence in movie viewing in the Shallow Center household has fallen off in recent weeks with the return of real life, but I still found time recently to check in on a pair of sequels, X2: X-Men United and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

Many critics and viewers felt X2 was better than the original (which I liked), and it's not hard to see why. Thematically darker than its predecessor, X2 brings the good mutants and bad mutants together to fight a politically connected military goon, a certain Colonel Stryker, who's hellbent on destroying all of them. The kicker is that the good mutants' mentor, Professor Xavier, spends much of the picture in a trance and being manipulated by Stryker, leaving Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, & Co. in a wary alliance with Magneto and Mystique.

Director Bryan Singer again keeps things moving along nicely, and the story provides much more depth than the standard comic-book movie. There are significant musings on faith, for example, and, in a satisfying twist, the X-Men must overcome their own prejudices while dealing with many humans' uneasiness and mistrust. Additionally, X2's climax provides the kind of surprise not seen since Spock went nuclear at the conclusion of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Alas, as in X-Men, the sequel contains a clunky attempt to equate mutants with another victimized group. Whereas the original draw a comparison between mutants and Holocaust victims, X2 links them with teenage homosexuals struggling to find acceptance. Folks, we get it, already. Let's move on. Fortunately, Singer makes up for this misstep by finally allowing us to see Mystique take on a human form. Considering the form is that of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. . . .

When it was released last year, most critics thought T3 had made a satisfying return to the B-movie roots of the original Terminator. It seems absurd to call a film with Arnold Schwarzenegger, state-of-the-art visual effects, and a huge budget "B-movie," but Jonathan Mostow infuses the picture with the same kind of lean, no-nonsense tension that made Breakdown and U-571 winners.

John Connor has moved from being a teenage prick to a twentysomething slacker living off the grid and working under the table. Having averted Judgment Day in T2, he's now haunted by nightmares that the cyborgs will return and force him into an unwanted destiny of leading the human resistance against the machines. Pretty prescient guy, that John Connor. Soon enough, a smoking-hot female cyborg, the T-X, is wreaking havoc, and the Governor himself has returned from the future to keep the peace.

The flip side of "B-movie," of course, is "cheesy," and there are some spectacular dairy moments in T3 -- thuddingly awkward dialogue and really misplaced slow-motion shots, in particular. The Arnie act is wearing thin by now, and certainly the filmmakers should have given Claire Danes more to do -- abuse James Cameron all you want, but at least he directs interesting female characters. Only once does Danes's Kate Brewster approach the feral intensity that made Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor so damn compelling in the first two movies. It's not enough.

Still, Mostow and writers John Brancato, Michael Ferris, and Tedi Sarafian manage to avoid the confusing temporal pitfalls that trip up so many time-travel movies, and they deliver a finished product that is sturdily made and gleaming with perfect continuity -- no mean feat when you're building on a pair of sequels made by a different guy. T3 is a competent last -- one hopes -- word.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Weight Loss and Whiff Loss

Perhaps the Atkins Diet folks should consider the Phillies for celebrity endorsements. Last week Bobby Abreu showed up at a media event in much better shape than his puffy spring training form of last year. Today, both papers note that new pitcher Eric Milton has dropped 30 pounds in hopes of reducing the stress on his repaired knee. Count those carbs, fellas!

Paul Hagen's short profile of Milton in the Daily News notes that the 28-year-old lefty will bring a variety of storylines to Clearwater next month:

A hardy perennial spring-training story is the one about the accomplished veteran who is trying to resurrect his career by bouncing back from a serious injury.

Another is the one about a player new to the organization and how he adapts to his new surroundings. Add extra points if he's also changing leagues.

And then, of course, there's the one about the player who can be a free agent at the end of the season for the first time, looking at how he might handle the pressure that comes along with that prospect.

Jim Salisbury has the news about Milton's weight loss in the Inquirer and adds that Jimmy Rollins promises, on his dead dog's grave -- yet again -- that he's going to cut down on his strikeouts. The 5-8, 167-pound shortstop whiffed an almost unbelievable 113 times in 2003, his third straight season of 100 or more Ks. Once again Rollins has been tutored in the offseason by former hit machine Tony Gwynn, and this time, reports Salisbury, he "seems sincere in his wish to transform himself into a player who gets on base frequently and creates excitement once he gets there."

Why the change? Well, apparently Rollins finally realized the need to alter his approach in a series with Florida late last season when Ivan Rodriguez and the Marlins kept him flailing at off-speed stuff in fastball situations. (Insert sound of Shallow Center banging his head against wall here.)

The Phils have been on Rollins for, oh, about forever to get him to see the light. With Abreu, Jim Thome, and Pat Burrell comprising the meat of the order, there's no reason for Rollins to be anything but an on-base guy. And it should not have taken something as obvious as opponents' pitching strategies for him to realize this. It sure must be nice to have the kind of job in which ignoring your boss's instructions doesn't get you pink-slipped in about 10 seconds.

Then again, maybe Bowa should just make Rollins drop and give him 20 pushups for every infield popup he hits. Hey, it worked for Willie Mays Hayes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Wheels in Motion?

The Harry Kalas/Chris Wheeler feud just won't die. Kalas, you'll recall, is the Phillies' bourbon-smooth play-by-play guy, a Hall of Fame broadcaster without a contract, who's hired a heavy-hitting West Coast agent to represent him. Word got out recently that Harry the K. no longer wanted to do games alongside suck-up team P.R. guy Wheeler, whose limited baseball insight is lost amidst a whiny demeanor and hopeless sycophancy. Writing on the Commentary page in today's Inquirer, local sports observer B.G. Kelley argues that Kalas's status as a local institution should give him all the leverage he needs:

As harsh as it may seem to say so, Kalas deserves to get what he wants, even if it means separating him and Wheeler in the booth. Kalas has been a loyal ambassador for both the Phillies and baseball. Wheeler will do fine without Kalas; he and [Larry] Andersen enjoy a healthy chemistry and camaraderie in the booth.

But a Phillies broadcast without Harry Kalas? Without that gravelly delight, the slow, rich comfort he is able to establish with his pace and rhythm? No way. Give him what he wants. Sign him immediately. No Phillies fan wants the new Citizen's Bank Park to be christened April 12 without the easy and familiar voice of Harry Kalas.

Kelley really soft-pedals it, calling Wheeler a "good guy" who's "gabby, conversational, a tale-teller" and adding unhelpfully, "I think that grates on Kalas." Actually, it grates on all of us. If Kelley's half the fan that I think he is, he's cutting Wheeler way too much slack. Regardless, only in Philadelphia, perhaps, could a broadcaster's contract dispute invoke this many column-inches. You'd think the Phillies had finally done enough on the field to focus sufficient attention there.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Preaching the Gospel of Ed

Count the Daily News's Sam Donnellon among the converts to the Church of Wade. Expanding on yesterday's "Wonder what Scott Rolen is thinking" piece by Jim Salisbury in the Inquirer, Donnellon notes that the Phillies have earned his trust thanks to the way they've managed their affairs recently:

The Phillies have done almost everything we have asked them to do over the last two seasons, starting with the crafty and consolidated wooing and signing of Jim Thome, the pricey acquisition of Kevin Millwood, the signing of David Bell to fill the void Scott Rolen left at third. You can hammer them for not seeing Jose Mesa's meltdown coming, and for their weak trade-deadline pursuits of another closer (Mike Williams?) and another bat (nobody). But if you do, then realize the improbability of this offseason's conquests, when prospects and young arms were dealt to obtain Billy Wagner and Eric Milton, two arms with impressive pedigrees.

Some of those prospects would have been gone if general manager Ed Wade were more aggressive at the trade deadline last July, as people like me wanted him to be. "We made baseball decisions that people didn't agree with," Wade said the other day. "And obviously people can now say we were right and you guys were wrong."

Wade even explicitly addresses the belief of Rolen and others a few years ago that the Phils were a big-market team with small-market purse strings. In what amounts as a "Nyah-nyah, told you so," the GM recalls what happened when he'd talk about the reality of Veterans Stadium as a revenue source:

"He didn't believe we were portraying it accurately at the time," Wade said of Rolen, who forced a trade to St. Louis. "Or that we were going to do what we said we were going to do. Well, lo and behold, we're in a new facility, we're anticipating the revenue streams and we've already spent a chunk of it last offseason ... We're spending another chunk of it this offseason."

Lo and behold, Rolen's new team in "heaven," St. Louis, is cutting payroll as it prepares to finance its own new stadium. And wasn't it surreal this winter when Curt Schilling targeted the team he once deemed cheap and uncommitted as one of the teams to which he would be traded?

Props to Donnellon for having the stones to admit he was wrong, and props to Ed Wade for swinging for the fences when he finally got the green light. But before everybody tears a rotator cuff from all the back-patting, it bears remembering that the Phillies for years did in fact allocate resources more like the Twins and the Royals than the Astros and Diamondbacks (two teams in markets comparable to Philadelphia). The Phils would slap band-aids on top of wounds that required major surgery, and pronounce themselves ready to compete, when even a casual observer could conclude easily that that was a bald-faced lie.

Yes, I understand that ownership's hands may have been tied by the Vet -- but should the fans have been made to pay for that? David Montgomery & Co. should have been prepared to act like a big-league team regardless of the stadium situation -- and if they weren't, they should have rung up the good folks and Comcast to see if they were interested in entering the baseball business. I'm glad the Phillies are acting like a real team now, but management shouldn't get a pass on prior years' behavior. We deserved better than we got.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Speculating on Scott

Underwhelming roster additions. A front office that wants to tighten the belt while a new stadium gets built. Deep-pocketed division rivals boosting their lineups with bold offseason moves. As Jim Salisbury writes in today's Inquirer, Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen may be having some bad flashbacks to the end of his tenure with the Phils:

. . . [T]he situation in St. Louis is a lot like the one Rolen lived through in Philadelphia.

The Cardinals have a new stadium coming in 2006, and they are footing a big portion of the bill for its construction. This winter -- and probably next, as well -- they are watching what they spend, not only because they will have a mortgage to pay, but because they have to deal with the big contract of a star player at the same time.

As the Phillies' plans for their new stadium got off the ground several years ago, they were always mindful of budgeting to re-sign Rolen. (Obviously, it didn't work out, and Rolen became Jim Thome.) Everything the Cardinals do these days is played out with Albert Pujols in mind.

Armed with salary arbitration rights for the first time, the 24-year-old superstar recently let it be known that he won't take any hometown discounts, that he expects to be paid and paid well. . . .

Huge financial obligations to Pujols and Rolen, as well as the team's role in paying for the new stadium, could prevent the Cardinals from bringing in the final pieces needed to keep up with the Cubs and Astros not only for this season, but over the next couple of seasons as well. Things could change when the new park opens and revenues increase.

Stop us if you've heard this before, Scott.

Salisbury's piece is interesting initially, but ultimately becomes meaningless without any kind of reaction from Rolen himself. Yes, Rolen famously accused the Phillies of failing to upgrade, but surely he wanted to leave Philadelphia as much to escape blustery management types -- Larry Bowa and Dallas Green -- as for any other reason. By most accounts, Rolen has the kind of temperament better suited to a family-oriented Midwest team than a chronically underachieving Northeast club with a demanding fan base. In other words, he may be cutting the Cardinals much more slack than he did the Phillies simply because he enjoys playing in St. Louis more. By not even attempting to find this out -- by instead writing such phrases as "Rolen must feel. . ." and "Wonder what Scott Rolen is thinking. . ." -- Salisbury engages in the same kind of sloppy journalism that makes Stephen A. Smith largely unreadable.

Welcome to the Show

Shallow Center's South Jersey correspondent, apparently dazzled by the fame and fortune accrued by his two older brothers once they started blogging, has gone ahead and launched his own effort. There It Is, "a collection of mostly unedited rambles on sports, pop culture and -- a little -- politics," launched Thursday. The early returns are promising -- intelligent and passionate musings on hockey and the Phillies thus far. The real fireworks should happen, though, when he turns his attention to movies and politics. Check him out -- and ask him why he hasn't yet credited the person who named his blog.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Family Matters

Mark Twain is reputed to have written, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Whether or not those words were scratched by Twain's pen, they certainly ring true to this 34-year-old. If anything, the thought is too limiting -- I'd apply the sentiment to both parents, and I'd include humor to go with wisdom.

For example, Shallow Center's deputy South Jersey correspondent, known colloquially as Mom, responds to my post on the recent renewed Phillies coverage with a smartly written and very funny e-mail:

Gee, if the starting rotation is expected to go seven innings, won't they expect a bonus for doing that? I hate that complete games from starters are almost unheard of now, almost as much as I hate the designated hitter. But, that's another story for another time.

Regarding Darren Daulton joining the team, he should be a really good influence on the young guys -- not!

Hard to disagree with Mom on either point. Seven innings used to be rule, not the exception, and at this point the troubled Daulton has undergone more perp walks than intentional walks.

Meanwhile, the news that his third son has joined his first and second sons in penning his own online musings (more on that later) leads my father to, naturally and as expected, bust our chops after a friend suggest we simply combine our efforts:

That would be like watching, or in this case reading, The Three Stooges.

--Father of The Blog(s)

This is high comedy, folks. And from Mom and Dad Shallow Center, no less. Perhaps they should start blogs of their own. . . .

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Winter Phever

As disappointing as the Eagles' loss was, it ushered in baseball season two weeks sooner, at least here in Philadelphia, so it wasn't all bad. The Inky and Daily News were chock full of Phillies coverage yesterday. As Jim Salisbury put it in his piece, about the Phils' launch of their annual winter caravan:

Let's make this clear right out of the gate. This article was originally supposed to appear back near the tire ads. It was supposed to be a little taste of baseball wedged in with a smorgasbord of copy dedicated to the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles.


One team's misery is another team's chance to bathe in choice newsprint. So, on this cold January morning, we reintroduce you to the Phillies, whose championship window is as wide open as the Eagles' was before the local football team literally dropped its chance Sunday.

Like many of us, Salisbury took a clear-eyed view of the team's overall situation and ended up with an positive conclusion:

Yeah, there are questions about the Phils, such as David Bell's health and the number of strikeouts and stranded runners the team had last year. The Phils need [Pat] Burrell to hit, and they need their rotation to give them seven innings a game. If all that happens, they won't be going home in September.

It's not a reach to predict these things will happen. On paper, in January, in a city suffering from football heartbreak, the baseball team looks pretty good.

In a sidebar, Salisbury reported that team chairman Bill Giles, after reading three-quarters of Pete Rose's book, doubts that Rose will make the Hall of Fame; that the Phils have exchanged salary arbitration figures with Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, and Placido Polanco; and that team president Dave Montgomery will begin talking soon with Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas, who's currently without a contract and has said he will not do games alongside uber-weenie Chris Wheeler.

In the DN, Sam Donnellon visited the caravan and offered an interesting comparison between the on-the-come Phillies and the perpetually what-the-hell-happened Eagles. While the salary cap-conscious Birds parse every nickel and allow popular veterans to walk after performing bloodless cost-benefit analyses, he writes, the Phils have spent the last couple of years identifying holes and then ferociously pursuing the best available players to fill them, cost be damned:

Clearly, from a fan's standpoint, the Eagles have become the Phillies and the Phillies have become the Eagles. Remember when it was the Phillies who seemed proud of their tight fists and their long-range plans? Now your football team talks that kind of talk. Every frustrating year.

There's another thing. Ownership has gone out of its way to alienate the fans who financed a big chunk of the Eagles' futuristic edifice. From the cash-only ticket policy last winter to the Reuben Missile Crisis last summer, they have managed to mend the forked tongues of the Phillies group. Ed Wade and Dave Montgomery now seem like kindly kinfolk compared with Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner.

Donnellon even raves about how much better the Phillies treated Veterans Stadium than the Eagles did in their respective final seasons in the soulless concrete bowl:

That feeling, watching Tug McGraw jump on that mound one more time, watching Jim Thome embrace the great Phillies of the past, will carry into the new stadium. The Phillies have our love, and after this offseason, our trust.

The bats are in your hands now, Phillies.

Swing hard.

Elsewhere in yesterday's DN, Paul Hagen profiled a trim Bobby Abreu, who finally admitted he reported to spring training overweight and out of shape last year, and who acknowledged that he wasn't satisfied with his performance in 2003. Hagen's notes column included the arbitration figures, news that Darren Daulton will serve as a spring-training catching instructor, and this interesting supplement to the Harry Kalas story: "The Hall of Fame broadcaster's contract is up and he said last month he did not want to work with Chris Wheeler anymore. Indications are that the team is not willing to give in on that point." Of all the things for David Montgomery to go to the wall on, a defense of Chris Wheeler would be at the very bottom of that list. Maybe Scott Graham and Larry Andersen should refuse to work with Wheels, too.

Paging Page 3 introduced a new section, Page 3, this week, and at first glance it's difficult to tell why. After all, the site's freewheeling and fun Page 2 already seemed to ply the combined waters of sports and entertainment very effectively.

Let's go to the source. According to the news release announcing the creation: "With roots in Page 2, the new Page 3 will differentiate itself by focusing exclusively on the two often-overlapping spheres of sports and scene. Page 2 will remain as the place that turns an edgy, humorous eye towards the world of sports. Page 3, incorporating some of the pop-culture-centered elements originally found on Page 2, will also now be on deck to talk to the Cavaliers' Darius Miles about his upcoming movie debut, or to give the low-down on a new CD featuring an athlete as a guest performer."

The whole thing leaves Salon's King Kaufman scratching his head: has a new site, Page 3, which, a press release says, "focuses on the crossover of sports and pop culture." You may have thought that the popular Page 2 focused on the crossover of sports and pop culture, but that just goes to show how you don't know anything, and neither do I. ...

If you don't understand how the CD changer of dreamy actor Gary Dourdan is about the crossover of sports and pop culture, not to mention how photos of Britney and Pink in gladiator bikinis are sports-related, you're not very smart. Neither am I.

Page 3 appears to be a marriage of front-of-the-book People magazine photo features with Maxim dude snarkiness, with a nod, when convenient, to sports personalities. Bottom line: Call it "The Jay-Z and Beyonce Take in a Knicks Game Page." If it's your bag of doughnuts, enjoy.

What I'm wondering is how far ESPN can spin off this sports-pop culture thing. "While Page 2 will continue to turn an edgy, humorous eye towards the world of sports, and Page 3 will keep focusing on the crossover of sports and pop culture, and Page 4 will go right on probing the intersection between extreme sports and porn, and Page 5 will persist in examining the nexus of athletes who make bad hip-hop albums and hip-hop stars who are jock wannabes, and Page 6 will persevere in delving into the convergence of fashion and sports in the oeuvre of Nelly, Page 7 will survey the confluence of PDAs and MP3 players in the lives of developmental-league basketball players named Andre."

My gut reaction was to agree with Kaufman. I love watching Jim Thome play, but I sure as hell don't care what's in his Netflix queue. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a service Page 3 will be to readers like me. By weeding out Page 2's completely irrelevant, if occasionally amusing, entertainment content and ushering it to a section of its own, ESPN can return to what should have been Page 2's mission all along -- a smart, sharp look at sports that is devoid of sportswriting's all-too-typical breathless reverence. The 19-year-olds who care that Carolina Panther Jarrod Cooper is dating Christina Aguilera can bookmark Page 3 and read it all through the night while they chug their Red Bulls.

Full disclosure: Readers of Shallow Center may notice that it is a blog containing a smart, sharp look at both sports and pop culture (he wrote modestly). If anyone in Bristol, Connecticut, is reading this: Yes, I would love to write for Page 2. Just e-mail me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

In Other News

After two days of hand-wringing over the Eagles' ass-kicking, the papers wake up today and realize that, yes, Virginia, there are other sports to write about.

In the Inquirer, Ashley McGeachy Fox offers "a look at 10 things you might have missed while cheering -- and jeering -- the Eagles." There are some deserved jabs at the sorry state of the Flyers and Sixers, but her uniformly positive Item No. 1 is something near and dear to my heart:

Hoops, Part I.There's a terrific guard in town. He's shorter than his listed height of 6 feet. He leads his team in scoring and, get this, is unselfish, self-deprecating and able to hit a game-winning jumper.

You guessed it. His initials are not A.I. He is J.N., Jameer Nelson, the leader of St. Joseph's 15-0 team that this week climbed to the No. 3 ranking nationwide.

On Saturday against Xavier, Nelson was unfazed playing in front of representatives from 17 NBA teams, including Larry Bird. A front-runner for the Wooden Award, given annually to the nation's best collegiate player, Nelson is averaging 20.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.

Perhaps best of all, Nelson contemplated entering the NBA draft last June. But when it became unclear whether he would be a first-round pick, he thought better of it.

And just think. He shoots nearly 50 percent from the field.

The Daily News puts Nelson and his backcourt mate, Delonte West, on its front (!) cover. The accompanying story by the paper's Hawks beat writer, Dick Jerardi, lavishes even more praise on Nelson and the rest of the team than Fox does and concludes:

If this were a decade ago, this St. Joe's team, as good as it is and as fun to watch as it is, would not be a national factor.

Almost all the great players were still in college then. The last great college team was Kentucky's 1996 national champion. The days of really great college teams are over.

Almost every big man with any potential either never goes to college or is gone quickly.

Obviously, St. Joe's, with its lack of facilities, is not going to attract All-America big men.

With so few quality big men at the major powers, schools like St. Joe's, with a transcendent point guard like Nelson, a great off guard in West, terrific coaching and an unusual style, really can make a national impact.

It might be a once-in-a-generation impact, but it is there, nevertheless. My suggestion to everybody, even the knockers, but especially the purists, would be to just to sit back and enjoy it.

Amen to that.

By the way, fellow Saint Joseph's alumnus Boats Against the Current beat Fox and Jerardi to the punch yesterday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

So Much for the Concert

This was to have been a post on last Thursday's show by the Thrills at Mount Airy's North by Northwest. But when my brother-in-law and I arrived at the front door, we found a note announcing that the show was a sellout -- and there we were, shivering and ticketless in the cold Philadelphia air.

Which is a shame, because the Dublin quintet has put out such an intriguing and fun debut album that the prospect of seeing them live had enormous appeal. Dotted with songs about various California towns and packed with sparkling harmonies and jangly guitar work, So Much for the City is a suntanned valentine to the Thrills' years in the Golden State. Indeed, in his review of the show, Inquirer freelancer Patrick Berkery described the band's sound as a cross between the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Beach Boys. Given the Thrills' penchant for some occasional effective banjo use, not to mention City's youthful missteps, the mark of a group still finding its way, I'd throw in the splendidly ragged Philly band Marah as well.

On our way to a nearby watering hole to lament our missed opportunity, my brother-in-law said, "This is gonna put a dent in our hipster cachet, Tom." Thankfully, half of nothing, as they say, is still nothing. While we drank our beers, our night came to an eerily appropriate close, as out of the jukebox came B.B. wailing, "The thrill is gone. . . ."

Monday, January 19, 2004

Coming Soon. . .

No, I'm not gasping for breath over the stomach punch-like end to the Eagles' season. (Well, maybe a little.) Day-job responsibilities and the cold being suffered by the youngest member of the Shallow Center household have kept me on the shelf lately. I should be back soon. Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Beery Eyed

When even single chicks are ridiculing the concept of low-carb beers, you know they're destined to join the minimally selling ranks of ice beers and Zima. Lauren McCutcheon, who pens a weekly column on the single life for the Daily News, writes today of watching Sunday's Eagles game at a Center City watering hole with her girlfriends. After quaffing some Pabst Blue Ribbon, she decides to switch brews:

Michelob Ultra tastes like beer-flavored fizzy water, which might not be terrible if you've already had several better beers. But it's terrible after a single PBR.

The first-time Ultra drinker realizes the plain truth: Carbs and calories make beer taste good.

Then she thinks: Why would I ever think that beer will taste just as good if its maker removes the stuff that made me like it to begin with?

If you watch or read about sports of virtually any kind, you've seen the Michelob Ultra ads. Very, very fit people, people whose abs are as defined as comic-book superheroes', people for whom the word ripped was invented, are shown brutalizing themselves in exercise, and then enjoying a cold Ultra as a reward.

Do any beer drinkers you know look even remotely like these people?

Do any fitness freaks you know drink good beer?

Didn't think so.

There's a Seinfeld episode in which Tim Whatley, the dentist who pops up on the show now and again, converts to Judaism, and Jerry is convinced it's solely so that Whatley can tell Jewish jokes. Jerry goes to confession -- it's a sitcom, people; roll with it -- and the priest says, "This offends you as a Jew." Jerry replies, "No, it offends me as a comedian."

When I see commercials such as those for Michelob Ultra, which actually try to link the beer and toning up, I get agitated. You might say, "This offends you as a fitness enthusiast." To which I'd reply, "No, it offends me as a beer drinker." Actually, just about any commercial for a big, bland beer -- think Coors Lite or Bud Light or Budweiser or Miller Lite or even Heineken (don't think it gets a pass just because it's an import) -- makes me start screaming about the folly of spending so more on marketing than on production or product development.

Why? Well, as a good friend of mine says, "Life's too short to drink bad beer," and I can't think of a much better mantra by which to live.

Tubular: A Cold Draught of Reality

Shallow Center's South Jersey correspondent wrote to discuss a West Wing rerun, the two-part "20 Hours in America," in which Josh, in a bar in Indiana with Toby, seems to be drinking a bottle of Yuengling Lager, our beloved, Philadelphia-area beer. There's a running joke among my brothers (SCSJC and Shallow Center's Washington correspondent) and me regarding the local custom that allows patrons to order Yuengling not by its brand name but by its type. That led to this little Aaron Sorkin parody from SCWC:

And I'm sure the conversation went a little something like this:

Josh: Bartender, I'd like a Lager.

Toby: You can just say "Lager"?

Josh: You can just say "Lager."

Toby: I didn't know you could just say "Lager."

Josh: You could, and I just did, say "Lager."

Donna: What's a "Lager"?

Josh: What's a "Lager"?

Donna: I'm asking you. What's this "Lager"?

Toby: Donna, you can just say "Lager."

Josh: A "lager" is a type of beer, which is an alcoholic beverage brewed from malt and in this case flavored with a relatively small amount of hops. The "Lager" -- that's with a capital L -- is a product of the oldest working brewery in the United States.

Toby: It's a working brewery?

Josh: It's a working brewery.

Toby: Because it would be awkward if it didn't work.

Josh: It would be awkward if it didn't work.

Donna: I like ponies.

Even casual viewers of Sorkin's West Wing work -- not to mention his superlative and tragically underviewed dramedy Sports Night and even TBS staples A Few Good Men and The American President -- will recognize SCWC's jabs as accurate. Still, to me, the rapid-fire dialogue, the frenzied, walking-and-talking pace, and the respectful, intelligent treatment of complex topics (really, most of Sorkin's work isn't about beer) are strengths, not weaknesses. They are points of differentiation, ways to separate his stuff from standard-issue, sex-obsessed, sitcom drivel and underwhelming cops-and-robbers junk.

By the way, when he's not being ironic (and often uncomfortably perceptive) in e-mails to me and my other brother, SCWC spends time being ironic (and often uncomfortably perceptive) on his excellent pop-culture blog, Boats Against the Current.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Bell's Back; Gaining Glanville

Squeezed in among all of the Eagles-related column inches in today's papers are a couple of Phillies stories. In the Inquirer, Todd Zolecki writes of David Bell's return for 2004. Back problems severely limited Bell's ability to contribute last season; his regular presence in the lineup would go a long way toward restoring some much-needed consistency to the Phillies' offense as well as some quiet leadership in the clubhouse. The Daily News's Paul Hagen plays catch-up to Zolecki's story last week on the imminent signing of free-agent centerfielder and former Phillie Doug Glanville. For several seasons, the Phils struggled to fit square peg Glanville into the round hole of the leadoff spot. He's a good defensive outfielder and a decent hitter with a little bit of pop, but lacks the kind of plate discipline necessary to set the table effectively. Still, Glanville's a good guy and should be a valuable reserve outfielder to have around.

Green is Good

As with so many Eagles games this season, yesterday's victory over Green Bay in the NFC divisional round was wincingly ugly yet rendered a work of art by the final result. There's lots of coverage in the papers, of course; Bill Lyon's front-page Inquirer piece is a perceptive and deftly written summary of an extraordinarily exciting contest. But what I found most interesting was Phil Sheridan's column in the Inky linking this year's Birds to a certain recently deceased left-handed reliever:

"Ya gotta believe," safety Brian Dawkins said. "I don't believe I'm the first person in Philadelphia to say it. I do believe there was another professional athlete in this town who said it first."

Yes, Tug McGraw, you're still winning friends and influencing sporting events.

"I want to erase every bit of doubt in this stadium," Dawkins said. "I want every single person in here to believe in this team."

In the Daily News, Bill Conlin files a rambling but entertaining effort that includes a nifty Pulp Fiction reference and a dangerous echoing of the kind of "team of destiny" nonsense in which the Packers got themselves all wrapped up:

But if you are old enough to remember the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, Kirk Gibson's one-legged homer in the bottom of the ninth off Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley. . .

If you believe a higher power connected the celestial dots between [Joe] Montana and [Dwight] Clark, caused [Bob] Boone to instinctively realize [Pete] Rose was out of position to catch the foul popup. . .

Then you will be as certain as you are of your children's beauty and talent that this is the one omen, the one megaton of foreshadowing that will blast the 5,000-pound monkey off the Eagles' swayed backs.

Look, the Birds won because they made more plays. Talk of higher powers and celestial intervention is nothing but an ill-advised swipe at the football gods -- something Tuesday Morning Quarterback reminds us weekly is decidedly not wise.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Wilting Rose

Responding to yesterday's post about the Pete Rose fallout, Shallow Center's deputy South Jersey correspondent, known colloquially as Mom, writes:

Also in [yesterday's] Inquirer is a quote from Mike Schmidt. When asked if he is going to read Rose's book, he replied, "I don't have to read it, I lived it." Leads one to believe that old Petey did indeed bet on baseball while with the Phillies. Why would anyone believe differently?

One of his former bookies claims that, contrary to what Rose says, he placed bets from the clubhouse after talking to various managers and coaches. Would this be considered baseball's version of "insider trading"?

While recognizing the merits of Rose the ballplayer, Mom was ahead of the curve when it came to loathing Rose the man. Given all of the unsavory allegations that have been made -- as well as what Rose himself has confirmed in the last few days -- it is indeed interesting (and more than a little sad) to wonder just how large is the stain that he has left upon the game.

Friday, January 09, 2004

All Bets are Off

You can rest easy, Phillies fans. In an interview today with the Inquirer's Jim Salisbury, Pete Rose says he never bet on games while he played in Philadelphia. (Talk about localizing the story.) In the Q&A, Rose, ever the huckster, attempts at every turn to deflect attention back to his new book by saying he doesn't want to return to past "allegations." It's like the scene in EDtv in which Ray, promoting his new book, about how his brother, Ed, stole his girlfriend (on national television, no less), appears on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. Maher asks whether the book's title, My Brother Pissed on Me, is a literal description of what happened. Ray, played by Woody Harrelson with gleeful cluelessness, looks back stupidly and says only, "It's all in the book."

Regardless of what's in the shamefully titled My Prison without Bars, and regardless of what he says on his own book tour, a lame, too-little, too-late attempt at damage control, the problem for Rose, one which he remains stunningly incapable of comprehending, is one of credibility -- specifically, that he has none. After a career of making it all about him (remember those grim Expos years, when he was engaging in his pitiful death march to Ty Cobb's hits record?), and after 14 years of rampant lying, Rose has absolutely nothing to trade on when he says he didn't bet as a Phillie. (Or when he says anything else, for that matter.) This fading memory would be a study in pathos, if only he possessed a molecule of self-understanding. Instead of being pathetic, Pete Rose is an embarrassment, a spectacle worthy of the public's highest ridicule. Please go home, Pete, and don't come back, at least until you've made a real attempt at redemption. See Stan Hochman's column in today's Daily News for a similar take.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Stormy Weather

Inquirer TV critic Jonathan Storm files yet another non-review review today, this time a sneering dismissal of Mark Burnett's new reality show The Apprentice, premiering tonight on NBC. In Storm's entire 814-word snarkfest, here's the gist of his review: "As with most of the Peacock's 'reality' TV, The Apprentice offers some amusement, but not a whole lot, to recommend it."

If you're, oh, I dunno, a discerning Philadelphia-area TV viewer who might look to the region's paper of record for some concrete, defensible reasons to watch or not watch a new show, you're SOL here, baby. Storm never explains exactly why he finds "not a whole lot" to recommend The Apprentice -- his piece isn't a review, it's a junior high lunch-table crowd spitting out, "Looks stupid, dawg." I've noted Storm's unfortunate tendency to mail it in before, and today's review is just the latest example. Bitter and lazy is not a good combination for a critic who want to write stuff that matters -- a complaint similar to one Boats Against the Current has lodged against his paper's critic, the Washington Post's Tom Shales.

A sample, you say? Here is Storm's third paragraph, after he explains that in tonight's show, Apprentice contestants are charged with selling lemonade on the streets of Manhattan:

Actually, The Apprentice isn't about lemonade. It's about Donald Trump seizing yet another opportunity to make himself more famous than he should be, and NBC -- in the desperate throes of persuading people to watch for any reason, just a little while, pretty please, so we don't drop out of the ratings lead, and we've already run every derivation of Law & Order 10 times this week -- putting on some dumb thing that'll carry some buzz at least for a minute or two.

There's a very simple dynamic at work here: TV shows (and films and novels and gallery exhibitions and so on) should be judged on their merits. Storm clearly slid the cassette into his VCR having already made up his mind that he was not going to like what he saw, and his review reflects it. For a different, better take, check out Alessandra Stanley's review in today's New York Times. If anyone had a reason to be tired of Trump, it's New Yorkers, yet Stanley cheerfully takes his presence in stride, praising him as "perfectly cast as the hammy boss" on the show and adding:

January is crammed with fresh contortions on the reality genre, from Fox's "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance" (a woman has to pass off a horrible boor as the love of her life to family and friends) to "Can You Be a Pornstar?" a self-explanatory reality show on adult pay-per-view cable channels. But "The Apprentice" stands out as one that takes a modest twist on the "Survivor" formula -- from jungle to urban jungle -- and improves on it.

Stanley's smartly written review lays out a case for The Apprentice. Understand, I have little intention of actually watching it, but the important thing is that she made a case. For his part, Storm spends nearly all of his piece not delving into what's good or bad about the show, but simply describing -- in as grumpy-old-man a manner as is possible on newsprint -- the game and its contestants, such as local gal Heidi Bressler. In his roundup to the players, he writes with unnecessary bile: "Besides Bressler, 30, a sales rep who has worked with the FBI (and who -- no offense, Heidi -- might not have gotten any ink here if she weren't a Philly resident). . . ."

Well, no offense, Jonathan, but your editor should have told you that Old Media isn't allowed to just lob hand grenades without a reason. Who do you think you are -- a blogger?

Wednesday, January 07, 2004


Besides the many reactions from reporters and columnists in today's papers, the Daily News's coverage of Tug McGraw's death includes an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Ya Gotta Believe! My Roller-Coaster Ride as a Screwball Pitcher, Part-Time Father and Hope-Filled Brain Tumor Survivor. McGraw writes devastatingly about his World Series revelry while the son he had yet to recognize -- some country singer, apparently -- was watching with a pal in a basement in Louisiana:

When I threw that final strike, Tim was loving it. He knew I was his dad -- even if I hadn't acknowledged it -- and I was sitting on top of the world. He was enjoying the moment with me.

Then, as the champagne was flowing in the clubhouse and the reporters were circling around, I was asked on television how I felt about the moment. I babbled on and on, then ended it by saying I couldn't have done it without my family. "I want to mention them," I said. "Thanks to my wife Phyllis, my son Mark and my daughter Cari. You're the best!"

Fifteen hundred miles south, Tim got up quietly, walked over and turned the TV off. He went to bed without saying a word to Lance. I had crushed him once again.

As one might expect, the coverage of McGraw's passing has been uniformly respectful, and occasionally reverential. After all, dictators aside, you don't generally publicly flog those no longer around to defend themselves. Yet McGraw himself, who eventually reconciled with his son, seems to have recognized the immense pain he caused, and took what must have been very difficult steps to atone for his shameful behavior. Are you paying attention, Mr. Rose?

The Day After

There's lots of follow-up in today's papers to yesterday's big baseball stories, concerning Pete Rose's non-apology apology and Tug McGraw's death.

In the Daily News, reporter Dan Geringer talks with an interesting collection of local folks -- two noted defense attorneys, a pair of clergy, and a psychologist -- to gain their perspective on why Rose waited 14 years to stop telling whoppers.

On the McGraw front, feature writer Rose DeWolf checks in with a look at Tugger's much-noted optimism, Marcus Hayes provides a chronicle of his final months, and Paul Vigna compiles reader reaction.

In the Inquirer, Jim Salisbury reports on Hall of Fame selections Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor (check out the great anecdote at the end of the story), while Frank Fitzpatrick files a nicely worded appreciation of McGraw.

Additionally, Salisbury and Stephen A. Smith offer varying views of the Rose situation. As usual, Smith obscures an interesting take -- give Rose another a chance; he's paid his price, and, besides, it's the American way -- with a dreadful writing style (exclamation points and condescending references to his readers, as in "The man has lied for 14 years, folks"). Salisbury predicts that Rose will eventually reach the Hall of Fame, but notes that the blatant cash grab that his new book represents may delay that a bit, and he concludes:

It's kind of sad that yesterday was one of the best days on the baseball calendar -- two new Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley, were announced -- and here we are dealing with Pete Rose's sordid tale. But maybe there's a message in the timing. Molitor and Eckersley both had their problems, Molitor with illegal drugs and Eckersley with alcohol. They both faced their problems, truthfully, and triumphed.

Pete Rose is finally facing his problems with some truth, but this hardly feels like a triumph.

Providing lovely, if sad, overviews are the Inky's Phil Sheridan and the DN's Sam Donnellon, who lament much of what has happened over the last few weeks.

Donnellon's elegiac piece links McGraw's passing with that of Veterans Stadium, whose stripping is complete and whose demolition begins today:

It still must amaze those who were around for its debut that it will come and go while older structures like Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and even Shea continue on with no end in sight.

It's another thing the old lady shares with the player who gave her his heart. McGraw would have made a great, salty old baseball man, the kind of entertaining storyteller we used to take for granted in this sport. For sure, he did a whole lot of living in his 59 1/2 years on Earth, a whole lot of entertaining. There were some messy parts, of course, but the end came, as it too often does to people, when the rest of his life had fallen so nicely into place.

That never happened for the old lady. She was loved most by the family-oriented Phillies, and it is fitting they were the ones to close her doors officially in September. It is fitting that they will be the last ones out tomorrow, too. And then the old lady will wait alone for the inevitable switch to be pulled. The new date for that is sometime in late March, but the Vet is already a comatose skeleton, stripped of its seats, its famous bell, even its infamous railings. The bunting that appeared in its final season and featured the stars that played here -- Schmidt, Luzinski, Carlton, etc. -- is gone too, save one strip. The strip with McGraw on it, the one freezing that 1980 championship moment, is still attached to the old lady like, well, a vital organ.

"I've asked around and nobody seems to know why,'' [Phillies spokesman Greg] Casterioto said. "But I don't think there are any plans to take it down. It was our greatest moment. And it's going down with the ship.''

Sheridan, who has developed into the city's best sports columnist, focuses on the 1980 World Series clips that have run virtually nonstop on local and national sportscasts in the wake of yesterday's news:

Our televisions have shown us the highlights over and over, as if they weren't burned into our memories already. And why? Not because of an anniversary, or because there is another championship to celebrate. No, we are reliving 1980 because of a run of cruel, cruel events.

Paul Owens, the man who built that team, died late last month.

Tug McGraw, the man who completed the journey with an unforgettable pitch, died Monday.

And Pete Rose, the man whose warrior heart pumped fresh blood into a previously suspect group of underachievers, has dragged his personal disgrace back into the headlines. . . .

There is a message, a hidden truth, in those images from 1980: That's the end of the story. For McGraw, the tragedy was his death. For Rose, the tragedy is his life. For those of us who were touched by both men, and by the championship they won together, there is something to be learned from each.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Losing Hands

They were key parts of the only Phillies team ever to win a World Series, and even if they hadn't had stellar, decades-long careers, Pete Rose and Tug McGraw would have been remembered for decades to come in this city for what they did in one half-inning.

If you're a Phillies fan over the age of about 30, the video of the bottom of the ninth of Game 6 of the 1980 World Series is burned onto your soul. You see Rose, playing first base for that team, and catcher Bob Boone converging in front of the Phils' dugout as they pursue a pop foul. You see Boone take his eye off the ball a half-second early. You see the ball clang off his mitt. You see Rose, ever vigilant, never taking a play off, react instantly, shove his glove downward, and snare Boone's misplay.

You see McGraw, long hair flying from under his cap in the cold October breeze, slamming his glove on his thigh as he strides in from the bullpen, tapping his heart after close plays. You see him push a weak, chest-high fastball past Willie Wilson, who can do nothing but wave feebly at it. Strike three, third out, the Phils take the Series from the Royals, and Philadelphia explodes with joy. You see McGraw throw his arms in the air, tiptoe off the mound, and then catch Mike Schmidt, who has soared in from third, in a rapturous embrace.

And then you pick up the papers today and read in sadness and anger that both men, players who approached the game and even the world from vastly different directions, have made the front page, for all the wrong reasons.

McGraw, as loopy as the screwball he threw so effectively, succumbed to brain cancer yesterday, 10 months after being diagnosed. A walking advertisement for the benefits of a positive approach, he helped the Mets and the Phillies win championships, but more than that, he was a civic icon here -- a battler, sure, but a lover of life as well. Tug McGraw knew he was privileged to be playing a game, a concept that too, too many of his fellow players, past and present, could never wrap their arms around. He was one of us, and he will be missed, as heartfelt efforts from the Inquirer's Bill Lyon and the Daily News's Bill Conlin point out today.

Recognizing that he's not growing any younger himself, Rose finally admits in his new book that, yes, he bet on baseball games -- including Reds games when he was Cincinnati's manager. As baseball transgressions go, of course, this is beyond the pale, an egregious attack on the one thing -- integrity -- that separates sports, with all of its flaws, from con games and professional wrestling.

Even when he was playing, before Bart Giamatti and the Dowd Report and such, Rose was a difficult guy to like. Not many players would hurl himself toward the catcher in an attempt to dislodge the ball in an All-Star Game, but Rose did, breaking Ray Fosse's jaw in the process. On the night his 44-game hitting streak ended, Rose was all sour grapes, bitterly spewing that Braves reliever Gene Garber wouldn't throw him a fastball in his final at-bat. As if it were Garber's job to put Rose in a better position to hit safely.

Even in fessing up to his gambling, though, Rose remains defiant and unable to accept that he did anything wrong. Remember how your mom used to listen to your mumbling, careless apology to your brother and then order you, "Say it like you mean it"? Well, Rose is incapable even of that. From Larry Eichel's story in the Inquirer this morning:

Anyone expecting Rose to express remorse for his lying and his gambling on his own game -- behavior forbidden by a rule posted in every baseball clubhouse -- is likely to be disappointed by the book and the other aspects of his public relations offensive.

"I'm sure that I'm supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty now that I've accepted that I've done something wrong," he wrote. "But you see, I'm just not built that way. . .

"So let's leave it like this: I'm sorry it happened, and I'm sorry for all the people, fans and family it hurt. Let's move on."

In other words, to paraphrase yet another sports malcontent, just throw me in the damn Hall!

There are about as many opinions on what to do with Rose as there are baseball fans. The Inky's Phil Sheridan came out swinging Saturday with a sharp, effective piece, and Conlin, doing double duty today, muses that maybe, just maybe, MLB knew what it was doing when it resisted the many calls to get off Rose's back:

It is beginning to dawn why commissioner Bud Selig has made no move to reinstate Rose from the 14-year-old lifetime ban -- even though more than a year has passed since a meeting with Rose attended by Hall of Fame teammates Mike Schmidt and Joe Morgan. The Lyin' King admitted he bet on baseball at that meeting. He offered the Pete Rose equivalent of "I'm sorry," which is to say he blamed a gambling addiction he has denied for years, bad advice and the loneliness that engulfs a former batting champion reduced to flashing bunt signs.

Selig's silence since the meeting has been deafening. But it should become even more significant as Tell-Almost-All Week unfolds, as Rose's sound bites dance across prime-time TV, as he is written back into the monologues of Leno and Letterman, as his dwindling cadre of apologists cling to an unraveling strand of failed spin.

Conlin also offers a decent compromise on separating the player's achievements from the man's disgrace:

How would I deal with Rose? Well, his admission that he bet on the Reds burns his reinstatement ticket. Let him eat royalties. But those orphaned 4,256 base hits still need a home in Cooperstown. They need to highlight a plaque that chronicles Rose's suspension and the reasons why. Fay Vincent has a problem with that.

"If you've been the commandant of a Nazi death camp, you can't get into the baseball Hall of Fame," Vincent said. "But you can get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

How will Cooperstown resolve the delicate Rose character issue? Several veteran ball writers I talked to yesterday don't think Pete can score the required 75 percent if he gets on a ballot his final 2 years of eligibility.

How about this: Figure Pete lied just about every day for the past 14-plus years -- it will be 15 years Aug. 24. Let's round it out to 5,000 lies. Subtract 4,256 hits from 5,000 lies, and we get a remainder of 744.

Make Pete eligible for Cooperstown election in 744 days from the date of his forgiveness: That would take us into early 2006. Let the Hall of Fame conduct a one-time special election.

Meanwhile, let's turn off the sympathy engine. A great ballplayer got down with slimeballs and the Hit King became the Lyin' King.

Opposites who shared a special season and an enchanting autumn in a city starved for some magic, Tug McGraw and Pete Rose are, respectively, a man who left too soon and a man who can't leave soon enough.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Kicking the Hobbit

Has there been a more well cast or better-adapted movie in the last couple of years than The Fellowship of the Ring? I've never read Tolkien, and I managed to make it through junior high having played Dungeons & Dragons only a handful of times, so I can stake no special claim as to what Middle Earth and its inhabitants should look like. But the first entry in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy sure seemed to get it right.

The production design is immaculate; the actors are all spot-on, each and every one of them; and Jackson paces his film nicely, so that its nearly three hours feel rather trim. Fellowship is a sweeping epic, cinematically gorgeous and benefiting from state-of-the-art effects, but its characters' humanity gives you something more substantial to root for besides the mayhem and destruction of the next big battle scene. As Shallow Center's Washington correspondent noted on the phone yesterday, George Lucas could learn a lesson here.

Then again, Jackson is working with some pretty good source material. (Or so I'm told.) Regardless, he deserves much, much credit for eliciting such sterling performances out of his diverse cast and for providing such a stunning visual outlet for Tolkien's vision. I'm eagerly awaiting a Netflix delivery of The Two Towers, and look forward to completing the trilogy by catching The Return of the King on the big screen, where pictures such as these should be seen.

Part II of last week's movie watching was a viewing of the breezy soccer picture Bend it Like Beckham. Pleasant if insubstantial, Beckham is less about European football, actually, than about teenagers' attempts to forge their own identities in life. Such an approach likely would have dragged the film down into After School Special territory if not for the considerable charms if its two leads, Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley. As Jess, the Indian girl whose hyper-traditional parents can't understand her fascination with sports, Nagra offers just the right mix of teenage rebellion and trying to please her folks, while the adorable Knightley, as her friend Jules, sprints through the movie with a lanky exuberance.

There are other, lesser issues -- a forbidden romance, misconceptions of lesbianism, teammates' jealousy -- and of course the whole thing is tied up in a ridiculously neat bow at the end, but that seems something like quibbling. Bend It Like Beckham has been rather overpraised -- a 2004 Golden Globe nomination for best musical/comedy, among other nods -- but it has a sweet, big heart and doesn't try to be something it's not. It is, in other words, the perfect rental.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Around the Web

Writing on's Insider page, Jerry Crasnick posits that Larry Bowa will be under the gun this year. Gee, do you think? Frankly, Bowa got quite a free pass last year. The Phillies scored a fair amount of runs, and the pitching was mostly serviceable, and still the Braves cleaned their clock and the Marlins edged them out for the wild-card slot. While a few of the dailies' columnists poked at the body as the season's missteps gave way to failure, mostly they failed to conduct the sort of rigorous, CSI-style autopsy that would have led them to conclude that the team's cause of death was mismanagement from the dugout.

Indeed, after the signings of Jim Thome and David Bell, and the trade for Kevin Millwood, how could Bowa not have been on the spot last season? The ruinous August road trip and the self-destructive final week of the season had the manager's fingerprints all over them. While eventual world-champion Florida played with verve and delightful recklessness under Jack McKeon, the Phillies were gripping their bats too tight, releasing talented pinch-hitters due to clubhouse mutiny, and sticking with Jose Mesa well past the point when it was obvious he was shot.

The substantial differences this year will be a real closer and an adequate fifth starter, but the kind of wholesale changes that should have put the manager on the spot happened last off-season, not this one. Posting on the Sports Frog, Memphis Bengal agrees with me that Bowa is not the right guy for this team right now.

Elsewhere,'s Ken Mandel likes what the Phils have done, asking (in his way-too-early season preview): "[W]hat's not to like about the 2004 edition of the Phillies, a team that many have predicted will win the competitive NL East, despite the presence of last year's division-winning Braves and World Series champion Marlins?" The Philling Station, while optimistic, is slightly less enthusiastic than Mandel, writing amusingly of the off-season dealings: "[O]utside of the Wagner acquisition, there was nothing thrilling. They had a Kelly Ripa offseason, not a Jessica Alba offseason." Given the choice between Ripa and Alba, though, I'd take Ripa every day of the week and twice on Sunday, which I guess means that I'm totally okay with the moves Ed Wade has made since the World Series ended. Um, did he trade for Kelly Ripa? If so, Shallow Center's South Jersey correspondent and I may need to upgrade our Citizens Bank Park season-ticket package.

Meanwhile, Todd Zolecki chronicles last night's viewing for former general Paul Owens in today's Inquirer. Owens was the most successful GM in Phillies history, spearheading the sole golden age -- 1976 to 1983 -- in team history. Five division titles, two pennants, and a world championship in the course of eight seasons -- not too shabby for the saddest of baseball's sad-sack franchises. Owens was by most accounts the kind of character that seems to populate baseball less and less these days; he will be missed, by both the Phillies and the game. Rest in peace, Pope.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Pitch and Moan

Happy New Year to all! Allow me to open 2004 with some housecleaning from 2003.

Defending a recent column in which he called Oakland's Rich Harden, and not the Phils' Brett Myers, the best No. 5 starter in baseball, Rob Neyer last week called the Phillies' rotation "pretty impressive . . . [but] not that impressive" and certainly not "the best the majors":

The Phillies' rotation last season -- and next season, most likely -- is distinguished not by its high quality, but rather by its general quality. I expect improvement in 2004, because [Kevin] Millwood should pitch a bit better and the young pitchers (Myers and [Vicente] Padilla) still have some room for improvement. But the strength of this team is not pitching.

Indeed, Neyer goes on to write that the Phils' offense, despite an abundance of whiffs (and, he should have added, maddening inconsistency), had a pretty good 2003 and will be what makes the difference for the team this season:

In 2004, the Phillies will remain in the middle of the pack in runs allowed. Oh, they might move down a tick, or up a couple of ticks. But it's the lineup that's likely going to make them the best team in the division (no, I'm not officially picking them yet; it's too early to predict second place for the Braves). Pat Burrell is going to bounce back with a decent (at least) season, and whoever's playing third base -- David Bell or Placido Polanco -- will do better than Bell did in 2003.

Before last season, I predicted the Phillies would explode, and lead the league in runs scored. Instead the Braves exploded, and the Phillies didn't come close. However, the Phils
did score plenty of runs, and in terms of runs scored and allowed they played significantly better than their record.

Conventional wisdom says the Phillies are headed for great things. And as much as it pains me to go along with conventional wisdom, I have to agree. There are just too many reasons to think the Phillies will get better, and almost none to think they'll get worse.

(Thanks to Shallow Center's South Jersey correspondent for passing along the link; I've been online much less than usual over the last week.)