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.


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