Sunday, October 31, 2004

They Can't Handle the Truth!

With yesterday's parade in Boston, baseball fans have closed the books on the 2004 season. Yes, there will be plenty of talk over the next few months about free agent signings and trades and managerial changes, but all of that is about next year. We're done with this season.

A final note about the World Series champs and their many supporters: As much as I wish I could believe Bill Simmons's frequent, fervent assertions that all Red Sox Nation wants is to be treated like all other baseball fans, Boston's ability to channel its own supposed victimhood in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary makes me skeptical. The Sox hadn't won a Series since 1918, but they were a hell of a lot more competitive in the intervening seasons than a lot of other teams -- including, say, our own hometown nine -- and meanwhile the Patriots were winning two Super Bowls in three years while the Celtics are the NBA's most storied franchise. Yet all you ever heard about was the woe that had befallen Fenway Park and the surrounding area since Babe Ruth was peddled to the Yankees.

My suspicion is that Red Sox Nation is going to need some expert therapy to deal with the sudden disconnect between perception and reality. Boston doesn't want admit it, but I think its fans find some sort of perverse comfort in the heartache they believe they've had to endure. As Col. Nathan Jessup barks in A Few Good Men:

You don't want the truth because, deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall -- you need me on that wall.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Dogs and Cats Living Together

In the space of less than a week, the Boston Red Sox managed to do something no team had done, ever, in well over a century of Major League Baseball, then won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.

Now that the impossible apparently has become routine, I will be:

  • Submitting Shallow Center for a Pulitzer Prize

  • Awaiting Mia Hamm's impending divorce from Nomar Garciaparra so that I can ask her out, with my wife's okay

  • Entering the Mr. Universe competition

  • Barging into David Montgomery's office and demanding to replace Ed Wade

  • Subsisting entirely on a diet of sausage pizza and Stoudt's American Pale Ale, and not gaining an ounce or seeing my cholesterol levels rise

  • Acquiring the powers of X-ray vision, clairvoyance, and flight

and expecting it all to come true.

As gripping as the two League Championship Series were, the World Series had an air of inevitability about it. The Red Sox jumped out to the lead in every game, and while the Cardinals occasionally were able to draw close, this was clearly Boston's show.

And so the Sox have exorcised the most infamous of baseball demons, sent Babe Ruth's ghost careening west on the Mass Pike toward Albany. Theirs has been a truly remarkable performance -- a blistering close to the regular season, an easy divisional series win over the Angels, the historic vanquishing of the Yankees, and the ultimate triumph over St. Louis. They are due every congratulations which comes their way. Including mine.

Managed Care

While the baseball world zeroes in the Red Sox' impending World Series victory -- man, is that a weird phrase to type -- intriguing things happened in Phillies City-State yesterday. Jim Fregosi was in South Philadelphia yesterday to interview for the Phils' vacant managerial post, and Ed Wade confirmed that Jim Leyland would be a candidate as well.

As Wade prepares for the most important decision of his career -- at some point doesn't his job have to be on the line for a nearly $100 million failure? -- he'd do well to heed these words from Phil Sheridan in today's Inquirer:

Watching the Sox buzz through the Cardinals is a breathtaking example of design in action. [Sox GM Theo] Epstein wanted a lineup of smart, aggressive hitters. He wanted players with asbestos-covered psyches who could endure the heat of playing in Boston. He wanted depth (the money really helps there). And he wanted a manager with the right temperament to keep it all together.

Also Sam Donnellon in the Daily News:

A year after watching Aaron Boone's home run send his hard work home early, Epstein is one game away from emancipating Red Sox Nation from an 86-year-old curse because he outworked and outthought George Steinbrenner's baseball people in the offseason and inseason, and because he spent more wisely than they.

While the Yankees added two big bats to a lineup already full of them in the offseason, Epstein added another ace in [Curt] Schilling and a reliable, two-inning closer in [Keith] Foulke. While the Yankees assembled a team of aloof professionals who came and went separate from each other, Epstein has, over the past two seasons, constructed a team lauded for its cohesiveness and chemistry.

It's ridiculously easy to point to a winning team and say, "Just do that." But it doesn't hurt to draw some parallels. The high-priced Phillies have spent the last two seasons punching in, playing a lifeless nine innings, and then punching out. Wade's disastrous hiring of Larry Bowa was both a poor baseball decision and a poor "people" decision -- as you watch the Red Sox romp joyfully through the postseason, sucking it up even when things are going badly, you realize that Bowa's Phillies would have imploded immediately when faced with even a fraction of the adversity with which Boston has had to contend. Then there's the Sox' amazing ability to work pitchers through every spot in the lineup (a hallmark of the Fregosi Era, by the way), something the hacking Philadelphians are brutally incapable of.

Yeah, a $125 million roster helps. But $93 should be enough to buy you a team that does better than a 10-GB second-place finish.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Ashlee to Ashes

As much as I enjoy Ashlee Simpson's pleasant little pop tune "Pieces of Me" -- oh, c'mon, like you don't have any guilty pleasures -- I can't help but cringe at her glaringly inept attempts to control the damage of her disastrous appearance on Saturday Night Live last weekend.

Most PR pros would advise owning up to bad news and speaking with one voice, especially when a national television broadcast reveals incontrovertible evidence of the screw-up. Yet patriarch-slash-freak Joe Simpson, removed from the journalistic security blanket that is MTV News, couldn't decide which lie to trot out and so decided to flood the market with as many as he could manufacture. First Team Simpson attempted to deny Ashlee's blatant lip-synching, blaming the band for playing the wrong song and then pointing to a computer glitch. A day later, the Simpsons relented and admitted the obvious, but still managed to trip over themselves in the process. First there was some nonsense about needing to lip-synch because of acid reflux, then a statement on Ashlee's Web site saying her overworked voice needed a break.

Understandably absent, perhaps, was the truth -- that Ashlee's voice when unassisted by a crack studio production team is too poor to be heard live in a small venue.

The news that a young pop singer lip-synchs is hardly earth-shattering. Simpson's problem is her vehement denouncing of the process in a recent magazine interview. Lying about it after being caught red-handed -- much as another Simpson, Bart, says "I didn't do it" despite being nabbed with a can of spray-paint in his mitt -- isn't helping any, either.

Or maybe the Simpsons are smarter than we all think. Perhaps Joe is angling for a reality series of his own. After all, playing dumb while counting her millions has worked for his other daughter, right?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Wan Helsing

Talk about typecasting. As the dreary and too-long Van Helsing labors toward its conclusion, Hugh Jackman, whom you may recall played Wolverine in two X-Men movies, gets all hirsute and turns into, well, a werewolf.

At one point, Van Helsing actually howls at the moon. I think that was probably in the script, though Jackman may have been expressing his regret at agreeing to appear in this piece of crap. Few things are more frustrating than a big-budget, FX-laden thriller that plods dully along for two-plus hours; by the time VH ended, I was calculating what I could have done with the 132 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. Writer/director Stephen Sommers throws elements of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, religion, and camp into his blender, but instead of a smooth and delicious puree, the result is a chunky mess of badly contrasting flavors. Worse, it's wicked boring.

As the title character, Jackman gives it a game performance, but the uneven script allows his considerable charm to sneak through only occasionally. Sommers, who helmed The Mummy so ably, offers a confusing mishmash of a film here, and without someone as offbeat as Brendan Fraser to set the pace, the actors stumble their way along. Jackman and David Wehnam, his little sidekick, wink their way through the film, but Kate Beckinsale mistakenly plays it straight away, only with a weird Eastern European accent. As Dracula, Richard Roxburgh channels his inner cheese and delivers an out-of-place performance lifted straight from Adam West-era Batman.

And what on earth is the lovely and talented Beckinsale doing in this piece of crap? She went from promising Indie It Girl (Cold Comfort Farm, The Last Days of Disco) to Just Another Blockbuster Babe (Pearl Harbor, Serendipity) in about 30 seconds flat. In Van Helsing she doesn't even look like herself -- buried underneath layer after layer of makeup, she is completely and sadly generic.

Which is, perhaps, an apt description of the entire movie. A lot of folks cashed some very impressive checks in making it, a disquieting thought to anyone who ponied up nine bucks to watch Jackman go to the dogs.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A Nation Divided

Why do the Red Sox get a "nation" rooting for them? Go to any big American city outside New England and you'll see at least as many New York caps than Boston ones -- so why no "Yankees Nation"? Surely there's a substantial Chicago diaspora spreading out across this great land, yet you never hear of "Cubs Nation." And God forbid such nonentities as the Royals' and Rockies' fan bases be granted nation status.

Indeed, there's something uncomfortably elitist, and a little un-American, about Boston's die-hards referring to themselves as Red Sox Nation. It's yet another way of setting themselves apart from the rest of us mere baseball fans, like the annoying and indefensible bemoaning of sporting woe simply because the Red Sox haven't won a World Series since, what, 1918, right? (You'd think I'd remember the year more clearly, what with Joe Buck having it scrawled in Sharpie across his forehead and all.)

Yes, I've fallen for the Sox, especially after that kidney punch to the Yankees last night, but the way their fans -- with an enormous assist from such writers as Bill Simmons and Peter Gammons -- set their suffering apart as something special and unique is annoying.

Philadelphians, of course, wouldn't know elitism if it walked up behind us and clobbered us with a Louisville Slugger; we're far too insecure to refer to ourselves in such noble and self-obsessed terms. And, well, we don't tend to go anywhere. No, we're notoriously parochial, and much more likely to remain close to home base.

"Phillies Nation"? I don't think so. More like the Phillies City-State.

Yankees Go Home

They've been playing baseball for a long time -- well over a century -- so for a team to do something that's never been done in the history of the game is a supreme accomplishment.

It would be incredible enough for the Red Sox to have overcome a 3-0 series deficit. But to do it against the Yankees, with the final two games at the Stadium?

You gotta be kidding me.

Satan must have been dropping some serious coin throughout New England. I sure hope he kept receipts for all of those souls he bought. He'll need them if the Red Sox falter in the World Series.

But that's for later. For now, Boston and all of its fans rightly should revel in what's happened over the last week. Good luck to the Sox in the Series.

Is there anything happening in the National League?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A Leg Up

He's got a mouth the size of Boston Harbor, and an ego to match, but, boy, Curt Schilling sure can back it up, can't he? Pitching on one leg and in obvious discomfort, he called upon all of his skills to shut down the Yankees for seven innings last night, and then the overworked Red Sox bullpen reached into its bag of magic tricks to conjure up two innings of relief that sealed the deal. Schilling's performance was a masterpiece forged of guts and sheer will; can you even imagine Kevin Millwood in a similar situation having the stones to make it through the first inning, let alone seven? Me, either.

Simply by forcing Game 7, the Sox have made baseball history. An even more historical achievement would be attained with a win tonight -- Terry Francona managing in the World Series. Think about that while the Phillies plow through managerial candidates.

My in-laws, residents of the Boston metro area, report living on adrenaline and little sleep. How I envy them.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Every Time I Try to Get Out ...

How did this happen? How, after a second straight season of bitter disappointment by the hometown nine, am I again transfixed by playoff baseball? Two weeks after writing, "I actually am looking forward to the break," I find myself completely immersed in the league championship series. So much for time off until spring training.

Indeed, I couldn't tear myself away from the Red Sox-Yankees ordeal last night, and damn them, the Sox have me rooting for them yet again. And it's an honest cheering -- not my usual "Please, God, let Boston win for once so that all of the tiresome self-pity that enshrouds New England every autumn stops." And there's a hell of a series going on in the National League, too, and damn if I'm not pulling for the scrappy Astros and their Jesuit-educated GM to overcome "baseball genius" Tony La Russa and the Cardinals, whose coronation has been, thankfully, put on hold. As Paul Hagen notes, Gerry Hunsicker and Houston can thank our guys for that.

And then there's -- sigh -- the Phillies. If I think of them at all right now, it's with a wistful longing. The anger of this last lost season has been replaced by sadness at what might have been. When I see Fenway packed with yearning, pleading fans, bundled up in their scarves and gloves and faded Red Sox hats, I imagine, briefly, what it must be like. I was at the 15-14 game of the '93 World Series -- 11 years, a lifetime, ago. The memories are starting to recede. I want them back. Check that -- I want new memories.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Will Nearly Everybody Still Read?

Considering the ubiquity -- and ratings -- of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, conservatives have some nerve whining about the "liberal" media. Even locally, right-leaning Michael Smerconish has becoming something of a civic presence thanks to gigs on a local talk radio station and as a Daily News columnist, and the Inquirer has made a point to run regular op-eds by conservative columnists. But there's no Philadelphia equivalent to the Washington Times, so former Main Line Times editor Kevin Williamson is stepping in to fill the void.

Williamson -- not to be confused with his more famous namesake -- appeared on Smerconish's show Wednesday, reported the Inky and the DN, and announced that he would begin publishing a new paper, the Evening Bulletin, Mondays through Fridays beginning next month. As for the paper's political bent? The Daily News's Dan Gross wrote:

On Smerconish's show, Williamson likened the paper to the Fox News Channel, which he called an alternative to mainstream media.

Williamson, 32, is a motorcycle-riding former Texan described by a former colleague as "scary"-looking, and also "Catholic, very conservative, very bright, very hard-hitting, with a shaved head, and leather pants."

On Smerconish's show, Williamson said Narberth-based investment banker Tom Rice would be the publisher and financier.

Rice is also said to be conservative. He could not be reached yesterday for comment.

In an era when many more newspapers close up shop than crack open a new printing press, the Bulletin's launch is welcome. (Love the name, too -- nice nod to Philly tradition.) Chances are there are a lot of its politics with which I'll disagree, but that's okay -- contrasting voices are a healthy and necessary component of democracy. Best of luck to Mr. Williamson and his partners.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Is Johnny Podres Available?

While the blogosphere puts its money on Charlie Manuel as the Phillies' next manager, Bill Conlin chips in with some interesting perspective on Jim Fregosi, the skipper of the fabled and beloved '93 squad, who will interview in a couple of weeks.

If Larry Bowa perfected the art of reducing a team to something less than the sum of its parts, surely Fregosi accomplished the opposite, at least in 1993. Talk all you want about lightning in a bottle, but those Phillies possessed both a remarkable chemistry and a penchant for maximizing talent. Conlin suggests those traits didn't simply evolve on their own:

The thing was, [Fregosi] gave the appearance of letting the clubhouse police itself, and he knew he had a strong sergeant-at-arms out there, sitting in that rocking chair in front of his locker. At the same time, though, the clubhouse door was always open to anybody who needed to get something heavy off his chest.

Everybody on that club bought into the theme of taking pitches, working counts and making pitchers work from the stretch. For a team that didn't have a lot of home run hitters and lacked overall speed, it was an approach that led to a club record for walks and runs scored. It was no accident.

Look, Manuel probably would be a fine choice. He said all the right things in the papers today. But Fregosi -- who earned points by me with his frank, off-the-record, and fully accurate trashing of WIP and its serious listeners -- is a very intriguing figure. One shouldn't forget that all of the baggage with which he left Philadelphia included a National League championship trophy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Plug and Play

With interviews for the Phillies' managing vacancy beginning today, Phil Sheridan tucks his tongue firmly into his cheek and offers all of the candidates some unsolicited advice in this morning's Inquirer. Humor aside, the real reason for the perilous situation into which the next manager enters can be found in Don Steinberg's Sports Business column today.

Steinberg writes about Confidence, a new book by Harvard Business School faculty member Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who has an interesting take on one of Philadelphia's teams:

Kanter's book is about winning streaks, losing streaks and turnarounds, and she uses examples from the corporate and sports worlds to examine what makes them happen. ...

[S]he found the Eagles, whose tale opens her section on turnarounds.

The book would have you believe that the Eagles' salvation predates the 2004 arrival of Terrell Owens, and that this currently undefeated season has resulted from 10 years of planning. Kanter describes how [Jeffrey] Lurie bought a mediocre team in 1994 for $185 million -- then the most ever paid for an NFL franchise -- and was stunned by how bad it was behind the scenes.

When he first entered the team's Veterans Stadium facilities as the new owner, he thought: "This is an NFL franchise? ... I saw no windows, lighting that could put you to sleep, rats walking across offices, and a lot of unenergetic expressions."

Lurie and Banner set out to instill confidence, which Kanter defines as "positive expectations for a favorable outcome ... . Confidence influences willingness to invest -- to commit money, time, reputation, emotional energy."

They made employees and players feel appreciated with changes such as improving the salary-review process and spending more on player amenities. They hired Andy Reid, who, according to Banner in the book, "plans every minute of every practice" and "doesn't care how much anyone second-guesses him." Reid found player leaders at each position and began meeting with them regularly. ...

The Eagles also built Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex, where, Kanter said, "the beauty of the place affects the spirit of winning."

Compare Kanter's rhapsodic description of the Eagles to the state of the Phillies these days and you begin to understand the last two years of vast underachievement. More than, say, a hard-ass manager and a failure to secure a true No. 1 starter, what besets the Phils -- what is their most significant obstacle to success -- is a systemic organizational dysfunction. It's as if they're hardwired to fail. And I don't think Don Baylor or Grady Little or Charlie Manuel is a sufficiently talented electrician to change that.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Screen Door Slams

The great WXPN and its listeners pride themselves, rightfully, on a cosmopolitan musical worldview that belies Philadelphia's often frustrating parochial mindset. Even if the station gets a bit too impressed with itself (especially at pledge time), the list of superb artists whose work can be found only on 'XPN is staggering, exhaustive, and very, very impressive.

Give 88.5 props, though, for acknowledging its Philly roots, as Terry Gross's Fresh Air does. That's why it was a surprise, but not an overly large one, when 'XPN's weeklong countdown of the 885 greatest songs of all times, as voted on by listeners, ended with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's "Thunder Road" claiming the top spot early Friday evening. Bruce and the boys edged out the song David Dye said many station insiders predicted would win, John Lennon's lovely "Imagine."

Quantifying the greatest songs of all time is impossible, of course, but you could do a lot worse than "Thunder Road." Classically old-school Bruce, the song delivers a typically direct Springsteenesque lyricism that meshes beautifully with the arrangement, which alternates perfectly between wistful and powerful. Less bombastic than "Born to Run" (No. 6), more substantial than "Rosalita" (No. 22), "Thunder Road" is early Springsteen at his best -- hungry, romantic, and tough. Kudos to WXPN's listeners for their nod to Jersey.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Destiny's Children

What's the over-under on number of times Fox and ESPN will replay the shot of Pedro Martinez grasping Don Zimmer's head like a cantaloupe and flinging him to the grass? There's going to be an unbearable amount of newspaper ink, broadcast time, and bandwidth devoted to how the Red Sox and Yankees have been "destined" to meet since last year's bloodsport sent New York to the World Series and Boston home to fix its problems with Terry Francona. Whatever. Once again I'll be rooting for the Sox to take it all, in the hopes that a Series victory would finally shut up all of the townies who somehow overlook two Super Bowl championships in three years so that they can engage in a massive, woe-are-us, civic self-pity that has been annoying the rest of America for nearly nine decades now.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Lawrence R. Bowa, Will You Please Go Now?

Well, so much for not burning any bridges. Larry Bowa never was any good at keeping his pie hole shut, and for the last few days he's been blubbering to any fool with a camera about his supposed mistreatment at the hands of his former employer, the Phillies. And then he does an about-face and admits that, yeah, he'd probably fire himself, too, if he were in Ed Wade's shoes. One wonders whether he employed this kind of consistent communication in his own clubhouse.

The WIP-type phans are completely correct that Wade needs to go -- but they are dead wrong when they think that Bowa will ever find success as a major league manager. Does it really matter whether he was a "fiery sparkplug on the franchise's only World Series winner" (as the wire reports of his firing surely noted)? Does that have anything at all to do with his ability to manage a team?

The Padres and the Phillies have discovered the answer to those questions the hard way.

Man Bites Man; Film at 9:40

If you don't already have a brother-in-law, I highly recommend that you go out and get one. Among various other necessary duties (furniture moving, beer drinking, video-game playing, etc.), he will accompany you to devastatingly bad movies that your spouse doesn't want to see.

Like, oh, I don't know, Resident Evil: Apocalypse. We caught the late show last night, along with four other hardy patrons, and emerged into the chilly air stunned at the awfulness of the experience.

Look, we knew going in that we weren't exactly about to see Kurosawa. That's the point of our outings, to see bad movies. But there's bad-good, and then there's bad-bad. RE:A was bad-sucky, even by our abysmal standards.

Milla Jovovich is back as Alice, and she's stuck in the middle of a city full of flesh-eating zombies. Or undead. Or Dick Cheneys. Anyway, she and a small band of uninfected survivors pick their way through the city in an effort to locate this scientist's daughter, which will allow them to ... oh, hell, it doesn't matter. Nothing about the movie is worth seeing except for Milla's brief nude scene at the end; the plot is choppy, the writing is laughable, and the acting is sub-community theater. At the very least for a film like this, you hope for decent effects, but judging by all of the blurry camera shots, especially during the many fight scenes, the budget on that ran out about halfway through.

Then again, I didn't see the first Resident Evil, so maybe I shouldn't be so judgmental without having the requisite background to go on. Surely there was some critical nuance that I missed, some character shading that would have better illuminated my viewing, right?

Nah, I didn't think so, either.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Wait 'til Next Year. Please.

Larry Bowa is gone, the Phillies have hunkered down to discuss his replacement, and the mainstream media and blogosphere alike have fingered everyone but Steve Bartman as the cause for yet another doomed season. It's all so ... numbing. Backward, clueless, and incapable of innovative thinking, the Phils squandered an absolutely golden opportunity to reintroduce baseball to Philadelphia. Most years I can overlook the futility, enjoy postseason action, and eagerly anticipate next year; now, though, I feel so beaten down by the drudgery of the season, after such high expectations, that I actually am looking forward to the break. I'll be back at Citizens Bank Park next year, of course, but with a much more guarded enthusiasm. I wore my heart on my sleeve this year -- new ballpark, new closer, returning stars, etc. -- only to get it broken like a high school sophomore's. Not next year, boyo. Next year I'm playing hard to get.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Bo Goes; Phils Fall; Suds Sought

There, now, Ed Wade, that wasn't so hard, was it? After yesterday's reports that Larry Bowa would be jettisoned next week -- file under "No S---, Sherlock" -- Bowa stomped into Wade's office and demanded to know his status. This was hardly a new phenomenon during this lost season, but this time Wade finally found some stones and told Bowa what he should have told him this time last year -- take a hike.

Jayson Stark's piece on last night sums up the situation very nicely, though I continue to be perplexed by his and others' perception that Bowa maintains some sort of mystical aura of popularity that allowed him to hold on for as long as he did.

The Gary Varsho-led Phillies then went out and dropped a 4-3 game to the Marlins. I was among the 36,000 or so in attendance, and found the experience depressingly familiar. Had I closed my eyes and simply listened -- to the complacent boredom of the crowd, to the occasional Eagles cheers, to the booing when John Vukovich and Tomas Perez botched a play at the plate, helping to squelch a ninth-inning rally -- it would have felt like the Vet all over again, yet another meaningless late-season game in front of disinterested fans who were present simply because they had prepaid for their tickets.

Sadly, my final visit to Citizens Bank Park left me with a sour taste in my mouth. While Bob Ford delivered an assessment in yesterday's Inquirer that was hard to quibble with, I was stunned to find dozens of concession stands closed last night. Especially distressing was that so many of the shut-down counters were the wonderful Brewerytown stands, where several outstanding microbrews were sold during the course of the season. And this was on the main concourse -- upstairs, where my brother and I have our seats, the only open concessions were bunched around home plate. I know the Phils packed it in early this year, but the Park should have been an exception. But this is the Phillies, of course, a team that has elevated the concept of not getting it to an art form, both on and off the field.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Drinking from the Half-Empty Glass

The Daily News yesterday asked its three baseball guys, Bill Conlin, Marcus Hayes, and Paul Hagen, how to fix the Phillies. Their respective responses left me wondering not how the team should be fixed, but whether it even can be.

Conlin, examining the front office, flat-out advises fans to "get used to the odor of serial failure." He notes that Ed Wade, who's failed thus far to get the job done, will not have the largesse of additional revenue streams to count on, as he did the last two off-seasons; the list of potential replacements for Larry Bowa is "underwhelming"; big boppers Jim Thome and Pat Burrell failed to deliver the huge seasons expected of them; and the farm system has been critically stripped of usable parts in failed attempts to land patches for the holes that appeared in 2003 and 2004. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Hagen looks at the pitching staff and counsels Wade to consider retaining Kevin Millwood if the price is right, let Eric Milton walk, try to deal the erratic Vicente Padilla, hold on to Brett Myers, wait for Randy Wolf to bounce back from his injury-marred 2004, give Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson shots to start, bring back Billy Wagner, Tim Worrell, Rheal Cormier, and Felix Rodriguez; and wave bye-bye to Todd Jones and Roberto Hernandez. On the Cory Lidle question, Hagen puts his arms up in the air and says he doesn't know what to do. Left unsaid is that these recommendations do nothing to address the glaring lack of a No. 1 starter which so plagued the Phils this year.

Hayes, taking up the lineup, offers this gem: "You hope."

With seven of eight position players locked into roles that make them either cornerstones or untradable (Mike Lieberthal), you have what you have, with Chase Utley an immediate insert for Placido Polanco at second and Mystery Player X in centerfield: Maybe Jason Michaels, but more likely a low-cost veteran free agent whose offensive input will be coincidental.

"We're not prepared to dismantle the lineup and make wholesale changes," general manager Ed Wade said. "We need the players we have to perform at the level we've seen them perform at in the past."

If this sounds familiar, it's because Wade has said these very words countless times over the last two seasons. I'll bet he simply clicked "Play" on his tape recorder when Hayes asked the question so that he didn't have to actually say the words yet again. Maybe these last two years haven't reflected underachievement; the sample size of games is sufficiently large now to wonder whether what we've seen out of the Phillies is not a failure to play to potential, but as good as it gets.

As Hagen observes today, the Phillies absolutely must convey an impression of urgency to the repair task. There are way too many recent examples of teams that moved into beautiful new parks, stumbled immediately, and now play in front of acres of empty seats. Should the perception become that David Montgomery & Co. are content to sit back and count their money instead of roll up their sleeves and fix the mess, Hagen writes,

nobody will blame fans if they approach any moves made this time around, no matter how glittering and promising they appear on the surface, with a certain amount of skepticism.

The Phillies have to find a way to spiff up their image, to convince people that they really do care more about winning than counting their money after yet another sellout.

And, frankly, they haven't done a very good job of that this year.

Consider the first week of August. Eagles owner Jeff Lurie showed up at training camp one day to deliver his annual state of the team address. He said he was "obsessed" with winning the Super Bowl.

In the meantime, the Phillies had just lost six out of seven to begin a 2-week road trip that looked at the time as though it could define their season. And what did club president Dave Montgomery think? "If we don't make the postseason, our fans will be disappointed and we'll be disappointed," he told the Inquirer in San Diego.

Disappointed? At that time, the fans were distraught, dismayed, disgusted and disconsolate. To suggest they were disappointed was a huge understatement.

The clock starts ticking at about 4 o'clock on Sunday afternoon.