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Archive for the ‘Phillies’ Category

Green stood tall

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 25 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Fisher column logo2It always seemed strange that someone who so perfectly epitomized Philadelphia was named Dallas.

Dallas Green was blunt. He was tough. And he was passionate. He was Philadelphia.

Green, who guided the Phillies to the first World Series title in franchise history, died Wednesday at age 82. But Green didn’t guide the Phillies to the World Series title as much as he drove them to it.

The team Green took over in 1979 with a little less than one quarter of the season remaining had won three straight National League East titles, but hadn’t reached the World Series. Despite adding superstar Pete Rose through free agency, the Phillies were below .500 when Green took over.

Success wasn’t instantaneous. The Phillies finished fourth in the NL East in 1979 and were traveling a bumpy road toward another finish out of the playoffs in 1980 under Green’s stern leadership. Many of the veterans blanched at Green’s willingness to criticize them, both in the private confines of the locker room and the public forum of newspapers and other media. Green’s tactics generated scorn from, among others, fiery shortstop Larry Bowa, slugger Greg Luzinski and superb center fielder Garry Maddox.

But Green wasn’t at the helm to make friends. He ripped players for acting “too cool.” He implied they cared more about themselves than the team. He expressed concerns that they would quit.

The 6-foot-5-inch Green didn’t simply yell. He bellowed. His booming voice was impossible to confuse with anyone else’s voice. His messages were delivered loud and clear.

The players received the message. Or, as has been speculated, perhaps they rallied around the idea that they had a common enemy: Green.

They wanted to prove their manager wrong. They wanted to show him that they hadn’t quit. They wanted to show Green that they were winners.

The Phillies, of course won started a run in mid-August that elevated them to the NL East title. They won an epic 5-game National League Championship Series with the Astros, with the final four games of the series going extra innings.

There were so many heroes in the NLCS. Even if we limit our memories to Game 5, there are a plethora of heroes. The Phillies entered the eighth inning trailing, 5-2, with great Nolan Ryan on the mound for the Astros. After the Phillies loaded the bases and pushed one run across, chasing Ryan from the game, the Astros appeared to find a way out of the inning, recording two outs while allowing just one more run. But Del Unser’s 2-out single tied the game and Manny Trillo’s triple gave the Phillies a 7-5 lead.

Maddox flied out to center field to end the rally, but, after Tug McGraw coughed up the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, Maddox doubled home Unser with the winning run and series-clinching run in the 10th inning. Veteran starter Dick Ruthven retired the side in relief in the 10th inning to secure a trip to the World Series.

Trillo, who batted .381 and cut down a runner at the plate with a relay throw while playing his customary excellent defense, was named MVP. Luzinski’s 2-run home run in the sixth inning of Game 1 gave the Phillies the lead in a crucial 3-1 victory. Bowa batted .316. Rose batted .400. Pinch-hitters Unser and Greg Gross were a combined 5 for 9.

There were more heroes during the World Series triumph over the Royals. After a terrible NLCS, Mike Schmidt was named MVP of the World Series. McGraw earned a win and two saves. Catcher Bob Boone batted .412. Bowa batted .375. Unser went 3 for 6 with two RBI and scored two runs. Ace Steve Carlton continued his usual excellence while winning both of his starts.

Green wasn’t popular among his players, but he brought out the best in them. And that’s a manager’s job.

He also brought the Phillies their first championship in their 97-year existence. If it weren’t for the 2008 Phillies, we would still be clinging to the 1980 team as our one shining moment on the baseball stage. And we owe Green a huge debt for his huge role in making that happen.

Green was a baseball giant, literally and figuratively. He didn’t make much of an impact as a player after being drafted out of Delaware by his beloved Phillies. But he spent 62 years in professional baseball, 46 of them with the Phillies. He was a player, scout, farm director, manager and adviser with the Phillies.

After leaving the Phillies to become general manager of the Cubs, he reversed their fortunes and helped them win a division title. An important step in Green’s turnaround of the Cubs was stealing Bowa and future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg from the Phillies in exchange for shortstop Ivan DeJesus.

Green’s style never changed. He battled with Cubs ownership. He fought with tradition to get lights in Wrigley Field, even threatening to play games in another location. He stood up to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, which made his tenure as Yankees manager a short one.

My lone reporter experience with Green was in 1990 at a charity golf tournament. The setting was unusual because, as Green told me that day, he doesn’t play golf. He was there to help raise money for the medical expenses of his former Phillies teammate Chris Short, who was in a coma from which he would never recover. Green’s presence alone tells you a lot about the man.

Because Green wasn’t playing golf, we had time for a relaxed conversation about his thoughts on baseball-related issues and what he’d like to accomplish during the rest of his career (he was intrigued by running an expansion franchise). We were outside, but Green used his “inside” voice. It was a voice that commanded attention, but it wasn’t booming the way it would be in a baseball setting.

In hindsight, because I was in “reporter” mode, I don’t think I ever thanked Green for the joy he brought me by pushing the Phillies to win the 1980 World Series. And I was a spoiled Phillies fan. They had been winners for most of the years I had followed the team. There were generations of Phillies fans who had suffered through decades of losing seasons. They had suffered through the agony of 1964.

Green was a pitcher on the 1964 team that infamously blew a 6½-game lead with 12 games to go. He gave up five runs in relief during a 14-8 loss to the Milwaukee Braves that knocked the Phillies out of first place on Sept. 27, 1964.

Having played for the Phillies and worked in the organization, when the Phillies won the franchise’s first championship, Green knew how much it meant to the fans.

The World Series title also meant a lot to the players. For many of them, including Hall of Famers Schmidt and Carlton, it was their only World Series title.

Although many Phillies resented Green during his tenure as manager, they respected him and, as time passed by, even revered him. He made them better. He made them champions.

Phillies fans respected and revered Dallas Green the manager.

Those who knew him best respected and revered Dallas Green the man.

We lost a great man and a great manager on Wednesday.


Few positions up for grabs

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 14 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

For a team that won 71 games last year, the Phillies’ roster seems remarkably settled as spring training begins.

The starting infield looks the same as it did when last season ended. The starting infield consists of Tommy Joseph at first base, Cesar Hernandez at second base, Freddy Galvis at shortstop, and Maikel Franco at third base. Andres Blanco is the backup at every infield position.

Cameron Rupp returns as the starting catcher, and Odubel Herrera starts in center field. The only new faces in the starting lineup are outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders, with Kendrick slated to start in left field and Saunders in right.

Barring an injury, the starting lineup listed above is nearly set in stone. There are, however, questions about the pitching staff and the bench.

With pitchers and catchers reporting Monday, and the rest of the players scheduled to report to Clearwater by Thursday, the following are 10 questions to consider during spring training.

Who will be in the starting rotation?

This seems almost as easy as projecting the starting lineup. If Aaron Nola is healthy, the rotation should consist of Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Nola. But that’s a big “if.” After being shut down last summer due to right elbow problems, Nola has a lot to prove this spring.

If Nola’s elbow is not sufficiently healed, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher and Adam Morgan will be waiting in the wings. Of course, Eflin had offseason surgery on both knees and Thompson has had wrist soreness, so Nola isn’t the only pitcher with health concerns.

Will the starting rotation be the same during the second half of the season as the first half?

The Phillies hope not.They don’t have anything against Clay Buchholz or Jeremy Hellickson, but the Phillies would be pleased if these veterans pitched well enough to be attractive to contenders at the trade deadline.

Who will be the closer?

This is one of the storylines to watch closely during spring training. Jeanmar Gomez is the incumbent. He saved 37 games last season, but he faded down the stretch. If Gomez falters, Hector Neris and Joaquin Benoit will be waiting to pounce on the opportunity to be the closer. Neris spent most of the season as the eighth-inning setup man, but he has a better arsenal – a fastball and splitter – than Gomez to be a closer. Phillies general manager added veterans Benoit and Pat Neshek to the mix during the offeseason. Benoit split his season between the Mariners and Blue Jays last season. He was awful with Seattle; he was terrific with Toronto. Edubray Ramos, Joely Rodriguez, Sean Burnett and Luis Garcia are candidates to round out the bullpen. Adam Morgan could also earn a bullpen spot as a long reliever.

Are there any young players who could crack the lineup or the rotation?

Not without an injury, and not at the start of the season. It’s possible that J.P. Crawford could supplant Freddy Galvis at shortstop midway through the season, particularly if Galvis doesn’t improve his horrendous on-base percentage (.274). It’s also plausible that a young outfielder earns a starting role if the Phillies can get good prospects for Howie Kendrick or Michael Saunders at the trade deadline.

Which young outfielders could be on the roster at the start of the season?

Aaron Altherr is likely to start the season as the fourth outfielder. Veteran Chris Coghlan could be a valuable left-handed hitter coming off the bench and making spot starts. It makes more sense to have Coghlan in that role than a young player such as Roman Quinn or Andrew Pullin. The Phillies also have Tyler Goeddel, a Rule 5 pickup who stuck around all of last season.

Will Matt Stairs make a difference?

Stairs moves from the broadcast booth to the dugout, where he serves as the Phillies’ hitting coach. It’s difficult to measure situational hitting during spring training, where pitchers throw just a few innings and the score doesn’t really matter, but seeing Phillies hitters taking more pitches and working deeper counts would be a positive sign.

Speaking of working deep counts, what should we look for from Vince Velasquez?

Look for the opposite of what we’re looking for from Phillies hitters. If Velasquez can limit the number of pitches he throws, he might last longer than the fifth inning more often. Because opposing hitters might have a different approach than the regular season, spring training isn’t the perfect barometer, but it would be encouraging to see Velasquez keep his pitch count down.

Who will be the backup catcher?

Andrew Knapp could be the backup, especially with Jorge Alfaro requiring playing time at Class AAA Lehigh Valley, but veterans Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday are in training camp.

With the starting positions seemingly filled, who else could make the roster as a backup?

Brock Stassi is a left-handed bat and has a reputation for being terrific defensively at first base. Stassi also can play outfield. His versatility is a positive in terms of making the roster.

Will people overreact to events during spring traing?

Of course. That’s what people do during spring training. Remember that when you read about a prospect batting nearly .400 or a pitcher putting together a streak of shutout innings.

(click on logo above for 2012 season schedule)
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