Archive | August, 2011

The $100 Million Man: With a Big New Contract and a Target on His Back, Vick Vows to Bring Lombardi Trophy to Philly

31 Aug Eagles quarterback Michael Vick had to cancel a book signing in Atlanta because of death threats. Photo by William Z. Foster

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

In the days before quarterback Michael Vick inked a six-year, $100 million ($40 million guaranteed) deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, the national football pundits expressed their collective skepticism that he could duplicate the brilliant performance the led to his finishing second in the NFL’s Most Valuable Player voting.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick fielding questions from the media about his $100 million contract. Photo by William Z. Foster

Considering that Vick just three short years ago Vick was in a federal penitentiary with little hope of ever returning to an NFL field, much less walking onto one with a multimillion dollar contract, playing with the pressure of being one of the league’s highest paid quarterbacks and the expectations of bringing the Birds their NFL championship since 1960 is something he welcomes with open arms.

“Everything I’ve been through over the last three or four years of my life has just been a challenge mentally to see how I was going to respond to it, that’s how I feel. And I responded in the right way with the help of a lot of people because I couldn’t have done it by myself, ” Vick said.

“No, to be honest I never thought this day would come. Again, in my career I just, like I said I wanted to play a game just to prove myself; to this magnitude I didn’t think it would happen this way. You know. [I] just keep pressing forward and keep believing. I think faith is something that we all have to have at the end of the day. And I’m living proof that if you believe in yourself and commit yourself to doing certain things, you can do them.”

With all the hopes and dreams of Eagles fans, coaches and front office folks heaped upon him as the face of the franc

hise, Vick comes into the 2011 season having to work with a patchwork offensive line that includes two rookies and a veteran in right guard Todd Herremans moving into the right tackle spot.

After his dazzling performance last season in which he had career highs in completion percentage (62.6) passing yardage (3,018), passer rating (100.1), teams around the league are geared to stop his strong arm and his ability to avoid the rush. In 2011, he became second player in NFL history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 500 yards (676).

“I’m always going to have a bulls-eye on my back,” he said. “Teams are always going to game plan to figure out a way to stop me, but it’s my goal, it’s my job to not let that happen. I think it’s all about preparation, my dedication, and my commitment to this sport and to my position not to let that happen. So that’s never going to change. But like I said I’m confident in what we can do as a team.”

Vick’s teammates said they were proud of him and feel that’s an indicative of how the team feels about him as a leader on the field.

“It shows how much confidence they have in Mike and the leadership that he’s shown. With the support, it shows that the franchise, players, coaches, and everybody is behind him 100 percent,” said running back LeSean McCoy.

When Vick came to the Eagles back in 2009, fans and media people were critical of the team bringing him to Philadelphia. Upon his arrival to the Birds Nova Care practice facility, he was greeted with protest signs from animal rights activists and from people who abhorred his involvement in dog fighting, which led to him spending 24 months in a federal prison.

At the start of the 2010 season, the Eagles, certain that Kevin Kolb would be their starter, tried to trade Vick. But in what turned out to be a grand quirk of fate for Vick, Kolb was sidelined with a concussion at halftime of last season’s opener against the Green Bay Packers.

Once Vick got into the game, the human highlight reel that he was in Atlanta took over in the second half. He threw for 175 yards with one touchdown pass and rushed for 103 yards in a comeback that ultimately fell short. Team vice president Joe Banner said it was a combination of that performance and his leadership qualities on and off the field that convinced the team he was their man of the future.

“It was not until Kevin got hurt and Michael went on the field and you saw what happened,” Banner said. “I think from a character perspective we were starting to see that, but from an actual taking charge and handling all the pressure and everything that comes with it, sustaining the performance at that level, I think he had to actually get on the field and deal with all things that come with that as a team leader—dealing with the media, dealing with the public, dealing with the charity work that he was doing and that point we felt like it maybe it was possible.”

While Vick credited a number of people such as former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy for his transformation as a person on and off the field, head coach Andy Reid said it was Vick’s work ethic and attitude even before he became a starter.

“But the hard work that went into doing this, and this was Michael, and he’s had [offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg and [former quarterbacks coach] James Urban and [quarterbacks coach] Doug Pederson now to work with, but if it wasn’t his attitude and his want to and his work ethic then none of this was possible,” Reid said. “So I think it’s really a tribute to him more than us and how he’s come back and the effort that he’s put forth.”

Off the field, Vick has been a model citizen and has become one of the biggest advocates against dog fighting and has been visiting a number of schools around city of Philadelphia and throughout the country, educating young people about the importance of staying in school and staying out of trouble. He has also contributed his time and money.

Vick said realizes that in spite of all of his charity work that he’s never going to win over some fans that will never forgive him for the dogs he killed when he financed a dog fighting operation in Virginia.

“I’m just trying to be the best person that I can be. You know, I can’t control what people think, their opinions, or their perception. I think that’s personal and that’s for them,” Vick said. “But the only thing that I can control is what I can control, and that’s trying to be the best person I can be, the best citizen I can be, best father that I can be, and I think that speaks for itself.”

 

Phillies can’t Overcome Oswalt’s Bad Sixth Inning in 6-5 Loss to the Marlins

27 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

All it took was one bad inning and a misguided slider that hung over the plate for a grand-slam homerun by the No. 8 hitter in the Florida Marlins lineup for the Phillies to be buried in a five-run hole from which they never recovered.

The Phillies managed to make a game of it, but in the end did not have enough firepower to pull out a win as the Marlins came away with a narrow 6-5 win in front of 45, 523 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

Even on a night where starting pitcher Roy Oswalt was having problems staying ahead of hitters , he only trailed 2-1 coming into that fateful sixth inning. But then he gave up three straight singles to the Marlins Greg Dobbs, Gabby Sanchez, and Mike Cameron.

The final blow of the inning came was a grand-slam homerun by catcher John Buck to give Florida what looked to be an insurmountable 6-1 lead. Manuel said Oswalt, who gave up six runs on 12 hits in five and two-thirds innings of work, had trouble with getting first pitch strikes and with location.

“It also looked like he was having a hard time getting the ball inside on the guys or he wouldn’t get nothing when he threw in there. That’s basically what I saw,” Manuel said afterward. “When he’s aggressive, he gets ahead in the count. Tonight, he was having trouble throwing a first pitch strike.”

Oswalt said for him it came to down the one bad pitch he threw to Buck in the sixth inning. He said he didn’t he think he had any problems with his velocity, but he was having problems getting his slider over for strikes.

“The slider kinda came back over the plate and it didn’t come down like I needed it to,” Oswalt said. “My other pitches wasn’t what they needed to be. My changeup was okay, but I threw more sliders than normal. I threw some close pitches here and there, I was missing up (in the strike zone). I been working on my sliders a little bit. It felt decent in the (bullpen), but in the game it started getting flat.”

For about five and two-thirds innings, the Phillies could not solve Florida starting pitcher, Clay Hensley (2-5), who held the Phillies to just one hit, a solo-homerun by Phillies shortstop Wilson Valdez in the third inning.

“(Hensley)was throwing slow breaking at 68 miles per hour, he had an 80-81 change up and an 86-mile per fast ball. We had trouble getting to him,” Manuel said. “He was moving the ball around and he was mixing his pitches up. He was mostly slow to us. He attacked us with secondary slow stuff.”

The Phillies finally got to Hensley in the sixth. A two-out three-homerun by Ryan Howard cut the Marlins to 6-4.

In the ninth, the Phillies got a one-out RBI double from Michael Martinez, who came into the game for Wilson Valdez during a double switch in the sixth inning. His hit cut the lead to 6-5. With Martinez at second with just one out, Shane Victorino flied out to left and third baseman Placido Polanco ground out to short to end the Phillies rally and the game.

Eagles Need to Improve Offensive Line Before Regular-Season Opener

26 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

If the third game of the preseason is supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the opening week of the season, the Eagles still have a whole lot of work to do, especially on their offensive line.

That the Eagles came away with a 24-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns in front of 69,144 rain-soaked fans at Lincoln Financial Field had more to do with how not so good the Browns are than anything that the Birds did Thursday night.

On offense, the Eagles starters did put up 17 points in the first half. The first score of the game was set up by a fumbled muff on a punt return by Cleveland’s Jordan Norwood. Jon Dorenbos recovered for the Birds at the Browns 13. Two plays later, Ronnie Brown scored on a 13-yard run to give the Birds a 7-0 lead.

Vick, who was sacked just once for 14 yards, had blitzing Cleveland defenders in his face throughout the first half. He was 10-for-18 for 98 yards. Seven of those passes went to running back LeSean McCoy on check downs. On plays that were designed to go down field to a wide receiver, Vick often found a Browns defender trying to slam him into the ground.

Ironically, it was a hard hit from Cleveland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson on Vick that kept alive a drive that led to points for the Eagles offense midway through the second quarterback. On first and 10 at the Eagles 35, Jackson’s helmet and body crashed into Vick’s chest a second after he threw a pass that was intercepted by a Browns safety. But Jackson was called for roughing the passer and the Eagles eventually got an eight-yard touchdown run from Vick to cap a 10-play, 77 yard drive to give the Birds a 17-0 lead.

Granted, the Eagles were playing with two rookies in center Jason Kelce and right guard Danny Watkins and inexperienced player in third year right tackle King Dunlap. Kelce said there were some issues with communication early in the game.

“Physically, I thought we were there the whole time. I think the stuff that was killing us was the mental aspect. It’s not any one person getting destroyed on the pass rush,” Kelce said. “Whatever it is there are some little things that add up and create some big problems. I think that’s the biggest thing about being new to an offensive line and being new to a situation is being all together, every single play consistently.”

Only one Eagles wide receiver caught a pass and that was a 14-yard completion to Jason Avant. Tight end Brent Celek managed to catch two passes during the starters’ tenure on the field in the first half.

“A lot of times you think that’s it the offensive line, but sometimes it’s the receivers,” Avant said. “Everything has to work together as one unit has to work together. If we’re not getting open it in time makes the offensive line look bad and vice-versa. I won’t blame everything on the offensive line getting pressured. Sometimes we’re taking too long to get open and other times I think with the new system that offensive line has it’s going to be some mistakes here and there. Hopefully, we’ll get them ironed out so we can go to St. Louis with full preparation.”

Even with the shakiness of the offensive line, Vick didn’t try to force anything in the passing game. When he couldn’t find his primary receiver, he stayed in the pocket and went through his progressions and found McCoy open in the secondary.

“In this game you have to take what the defense give you,” Vick said. “If they’re playing 30 yards off then you’re not going to be able to go deep. You have to take advantage of what you’re able to get underneath. You just have to let it develop.”

The Eagles, if you look at both the starters and the backups, did a good job of running the football and that seemed to slow Browns a little bit. All of the Eagles touchdowns were scored by running the football. As a group, the Eagles rushed for 147 yards.

Leading with the running game, something that Reid doesn’t necessarily like to do, might be thing that could keep his starting quarterback off the injury list.

On a Tear: John Mayberry Jr. Shows Phillies Fans What He Can Do with His Bat

24 Aug

 

John Mayberry Jr. hot bat is helping get more playing time

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun

Before the Phillies picked up right fielder Hunter Pence shortly before the July 31st trade deadline, Phillies right fielder Hunter Pence in a trade with the Houston Astros, Phils back outfielder John Mayberry Jr. wanted to be that big right-handed slugger through what he was doing with his bat.

“I’m definitely excited about being a Phillie long term and hopefully I’m in their plans as such,”

Mayberry said last month.

And the Phillies organization feels the same way after watching Mayberry tear the cover off the ball for the last month.

While Pence has made a big difference for the Phillies hitting behind Ryan Howard, Mayberry is on a huge tear for the Phillies. In his last two games alone, he has hit two home runs and has driven in six runs including a three-run shot he hit in Tuesday 9-4 win over the New York Mets. In his last 27 games, he has batted .346 with eight home runs and 29 runs batted in.

“I think he’s earned the right to stay in there for a little while to see what he can do,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “That’s how you win jobs. I’ve said it over and over. He looks pretty good. He’s a good looking hitter right now.”

The 27-year-old Mayberry is currently on a six-game hitting streak with a .455 batting average. Twenty-one of his last 33 hits have been for extra bases.

“I’m ready and hopefully I will continue to be ready whenever Charlie calls,” Mayberry said. “I just come ready for whatever my role in the game will be that day. Lately, I’ve getting more opportunities to start. … I’ve been feeling like I can really follow the ball.”

Manuel said Mayberry worked on his game and his batting stance during the off-season and worked on it during spring training along with a rigorous off-season workout.

“He’s changed his approach,” said Manuel. “He’s spread out a little bit, he’s a little bit lower. He’s really concentrating at getting over his swing. He’s definitely worked on shortening his swing. His swing is more compact and he stays on the ball better. He’s more smooth and he’s hitting the ball real good.”

Both Manuel and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said this season was a crucial year for Mayberry, who came to the Phillies via trade for Greg Golson in 2008. He came up with the team briefly in 2009 and even hit a home run off then New York Yankees lefthander Andy Pettite and spent last season at Tripl- A Lehigh Valley.

“This was an important year for John because he’s gotten some opportunities and at some point you have to start producing,” Amaro said. “To his credit, he’s worked very hard and he’s starting to gain some confidence in himself. He’s done some good things for us.”

Amaro said that he and special consultant to the general manager Pat Gillick met with Mayberry during the off-season and told him that he had the opportunity to compete for right field or one of the other outfield spots.

“As an extra outfielder or an extra player or a bench player, you never know what kind of an opportunity you’re going to get until someone says something to you,” Amaro said. “Rather than leading him in the dark, we said ‘you have a chance to be on our own club and we’re hopeful and we’re counting on you to step your game and seize the opportunity. … To his credit, he was prepared and he was one of our best players in spring training.”

Mayberry said after his conversation with Amaro and Gillick that this season was probably his best chance to get some time in the Phillies starting lineup and to really show what he can do on the field for the Phillies.

“I definitely felt like the opportunity was better this year than in years past and Ruben and Pat Gillick’s visit kind of reiterated that,” Mayberry said. “It was a goal of mine to make the team I achieved it and I went into spring training ready to go.”

But things weren’t all that easy for Mayberry. He was sent back down to the minors in June to get some more playing time, but he took things and stride until he had another chance to come back.

“It’s disappointing anytime you’re sent down, but you just try to continue to work hard, be ready for the next opportunity that the team needs you,” Mayberry said. “It’s seeming to work out thus and so it can’t be that bad.”

Manuel has often compared Mayberry’s situation to that of Jayson Werth, who came to the Phillies as a bench player in 2007 and eventually ended his time in Philadelphia as a starter and a free agent, who got a big $127 million contract with the Washington Nationals. Mayberry said he wouldn’t mind getting to that level.

“Well, why not, Werth has obviously done very well for himself, If I can do anything like that would just fine,” Mayberry said with a smile. “If ($127 million) came to me, I wouldn’t be upset.”

Sabermetrics My A—! Ryan’s Howard’s True Value to the Phillies

21 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

From 2006-10, No one in the National League has driven in more runs than Ryan Howard

As a sports writer and columnist,  I’ve always  thought that statistics have  been useful at breaking down the reasons why teams or individuals win or lose. They don’t always tell the whole story, but some illustrate things better than others.

But there are times when statistics can be a pain in the rear end. Baseball has been one of those sports where sometimes folks can take mere numbers and turn them into something they’re not or draw too many erroneous conclusions.

Case in point, Sean Foreman, the man who runs the site Baseball Reference.com, wrote an article in the New York Times that said Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who leads the National League and is tied for the Major League lead in runs batted in, is not the elite hitter that his ability to drive in runs implies based on sabermetric statistics. The term sabermetrics is derived from the acronym Society for American Baseball Research.

According to Foreman, the goal of sabermetrics is to “separate the effects of teammates from our evaluation of a player’s performance.” Er… isn’t baseball a team game where if all nine guys perform as a unit the team wins?

Foreman also states that Howard ranks 23rd in the National League in o.p.s (on-base-percentage plus slugging percentage), the Phils first baseman also ranked below 12 of his fellow first baseman in that category. In other sabermetric gobbledygook, Howard never ranks in the top 10 in hitting,defense, base-running and another bizarre stat—Wins Above Replacement or WAR-which measure how many more wins a player would give  a team opposed to a backup player at his position. Foreman writes that Howard is only the seventh best player on his team based on sabermetric stats.

So how does Foreman explain Howard’s ability to knock in runs?

Well, it’s because Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Placido Polanco, when he was batting second in the lineup all have high on-base percentages. Foreman writes, “the Phillies’ 1-3 hitters reached base 547 times, the eighth most in the majors. But as a group, they ranked 17th in extra-base hits, so they get on base but leave more runners for Howard to drive in.”

Huh? What? Isn’t that the job of the no. 4 hitter, your cleanup man to drive those guys in? When Rollins and Victorino get on base, their job is to get in scoring position and be on base for Utley or Howard to drive those guys in. That’s Baseball 101.

“Go look and see how many guys you can find who drives 120 runs and hits 40 home runs and hits like he does from the seventh inning on in a game,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “There’s a reason why he hits fourth and the reason is that he’s earned the right to be there. He is that big guy, he’s a carrier. He carries your lineup.”

I will take Manuel’s word because he sees Howard everyday and because some of his former pupils include folks like Jim Thome, who became one of eight players to hit 600 homeruns in his career, and recent Hall-of-Fame inductee Roberto Alomar, both of whom said the Phillies manager was responsible for their development as hitters.

With all due respect to Foreman, whose site is like the bible of baseball statistics, the whole sabermetric stat thing has nothing to do with the game of baseball itself on a daily basis. You can’t say that Howard or any other slugger would have so many RBI if their teammates don’t get on base. It’s a team game you can’t separate one individual from his teammates to prove some statistical point.

That’s like saying Peyton Manning would suck as a quarterback if wasn’t for his receivers catching balls. The reason why Howard has been in the top five in the MVP voting for the past four years is because he does drive in runs and if you score more runs and your pitchers keep the other guys from scoring runs, you’re going to win. That’s baseball. So please saber stat geeks back away from the calculator and put down the slide rule.

But if Foreman needs more evidence of how dangerous a hitter Ryan Howard is, all he has to do is look at how teams overshift the infield to where you have the third baseman up the middle near second base, the shortstop is positioned to the left of the second base bag and the second baseman playing in the right field behind the infield. You can also look at the numerous times Howard get intentionally walked when a base is open and the game is on the line.

Or better yet, just ask Hank Aaron, one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history. I spoke to him back in 2008 during the World Series about Howard’s ability to hit the ball.

“Ryan is a great ball player and people have to realize that he may not ever hit .270, .280 or .290, but he’s going to make a vital contribution to his ball club,” said Aaron, who hit 755 home runs and is second on the all-time list. He may strike out twice tonight and then go out the next night and hit two home runs. That’s the kind of ball player he is. He’s a great ball player.”

Granted, Howard definitely has some flaws in his game. He doesn’t hit for average, batting just .255 and he has 135 strikeouts, the most on the Phillies. While he has improved in the field, he is not be as good as his contemporaries.

But as a hitter, he is hitting .338 with runners in scoring position with two outs and that ultimately helps your team to win.

“His importance to our team is huge,” said Phillies color analyst Chris Wheeler. “I’m a proponent of I want to watch a guy and what they can do for you. What he does for this team is he’s productive. He’s in the middle of the lineup. When you look up he’s hit 40 runs and driven 120,. 130 runs and makes you pitch differently to other guys.”

It’s one thing for Foreman to use all kinds of number to show why Howard may not be this elite hitter in terms of average or ops, his slugging percentage or on-base percentage. You can certainly twist numbers to mean anything.

But the reality is for Foreman and the rest of sabemetric bean counters, the game is still played on the field by flawed human beings and not in a laboratory speculating on some bizarre mathematical baseball theory. It’s not rocket science.

If number-crunching sabermetric folks really want to know how good Howard or any other hitter is, put the calculators down, go to the ball park and talk to those who are around the game on a regular basis or better yet talk to the people who actually play the game.

Cliff Lee gets help from Mayberry and Valdez in Phillies win over Diamondbacks

18 Aug

By Chris Murray

After watching Roy Halladay come away with a painful loss despite pitching a masterpiece of a game the previous night, the Phillies offense made sure that Cliff Lee wouldn’t meet a similar fate.

For a team that rarely loses two straight, bouncing back from a loss has become routine.

“I think that’s just a tribute the talent we got, we expect to win every game,” Lee said. “I think anytime you got Halladay on the mound in the ninth inning with a lead you pretty much got that one won, too. It was kind of a fluke deal to lose yesterday. We expect to win every game no matter what happened yesterday. We expect to win.”

Led by the bottom of their lineup, the Phillies scored seven runs in the final two innings and came away with a 9-2 over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizen’s Bank Park.

After allowing a second-inning two-run homer by Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Lee finally settled down and kept Arizona from scoring the rest of the game. Tonight, he allowed just three hits and struck out seven before the leaving the game after the seventh inning.

“I was just erratic in the first two innings,” Lee said. “For whatever reason, I wasn’t commanding pitches. I made some mistakes walked a guy (Chris Young) right before the homerun, got 3-2 on him and threw a ball that cut back over the middle of the plate and (Goldschmidt) hit a homerun.

“After the second inning, I commanded the ball a lot of better, stayed out of the heart of the plate and they didn’t score after that.”

The Phillies opened the game with a lead-off homerun by Jimmy Rollins. It was the 37th career leadoff homerun in his career.

With the game tied at 2-2, the Phillies exploded for three runs in the seventh on an RBI double by Wilson Valdez that bounced off the 431 foot sign in center field that scored rightfielder Hunter Pence and John Mayberry Jr. Valdez scored on a sacrifice fly by Ben Francisco.

“That’s what I’m here for,” said Valdez, who was 1-for-4 with two RBI. “To help the team, get the Ws and that’s my goal every time I come on the field.

First baseman Ryan Howard said Valdez’s big hit was just the tonic their offense needed, considering how they were struggling to score runs. Diamondbacks starting pitcher Joe Saunders kept the Phillies at bay for most of the night.

“Saunders was pitching pretty well the entire night, but the way that was he pitching, I just felt that we were just one big hit or big inning from breaking it open,” Howard said. “Wilson getting that hit to center field helped break it open and everything open up even more from there.”

Another player having a good game for the Phillies was John Mayberry Jr. who had a career-high three hits in four trips. It was his RBI single in the second that tied that scored at 2-2 in the Phillies half of the second inning.

Mayberry has been taking advantage of his opportunities when he’s gotten the chance to be on the field. In his last 10 games, he is batting .318 with three homeruns and six runs batted in.

“The more playing time I’ve gotten, the more comfortable I’ve gotten,” Mayberry said. “I’ve become more accustomed to the role that I’ve had a couple of years to prepped for. I’ve gotten a few starts against lefties and I’ve been fortunate to get some hits here and there.”

Howard said that Mayberry has been a big contributor to the Phillies whenever he’s had the chance to start or come in as a pinch-hitter dating back to spring training.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he sees himself giving Mayberry more chances to play as long as he keeps swinging a hot bat.

“I plan on playing John more when the opportunity arises,” Manuel said.

“He’s been huge-both offensively and defensively,” Howard said. “Whatever he did this off-season hitting wise has definitely worked for him. It’s been a dramatic change since last year. Now he’s more relaxed being up here.”

The Phillies picked up four more runs in the eighth to close out the scoring.

Arizona Rallies to Score Two in the Ninth off Phils Ace: Should Manuel have Pulled Halladay?

17 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

For all you wanna-be Major League managers in cyberspace who like to second-guess managers here’s your big chance to do so based on the Phillies 3-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday night at Citizen’s Bank Park.

Should Charlie Manuel have taken Roy Halladay out of the game?

Coming into the ninth inning, the Phillies had a 2-1 lead and Halladay (15-5) had struck out 12 while throwing 101 pitches and had retired 12 in a row. Under most circumstances, this is Halladay’s inning. Throughout the year, he has been his own best closer even when he has struggled to finish off games.

When Arizona’s Justin Upton and Miguel Montero reached him for a pair of singles, you were probably thinking Manuel would bring in Antonio Bastardo and Ryan Madson, who warming up in the bullpen, to close it out.

Knowing that Halladay has come through in situations like that all year long, Manuel stuck with his ace, who struck out Chris Young who bunted the ball foul with two strikes. But then Arizona first baseman Lyle Overbay crushed a Halladay pitch into the gap between center and right field driving home Upton and pinch runner Collin Cowgill for what turned out to be the winning runs.

“It was a poor pitch,” Halladay said. “The two hits (Overbay) had were on poor pitches. I left a curve well up and cutter on the plate. I feel like if we make the pitches we’re supposed to make, the results aren’t guaranteed, but this is a guy we’re not supposed to pitch around.

“It can be a little tougher to swallow in the ninth than if you can get blow out in the third inning. . . .It’s definitely feel like it’s your responsibility to finish out the game, but I didn’t do it. I didn’t make two good pitches.”

After the game, Manuel said he had no regrets about leaving Halladay in the game in that situation. He was going to go with his best pitcher win or lose, come hell or high water. Halladay finished the game with 14 strikeout, but allowed three runs on eight hits.

“It’s kind of his game isn’t, he’s my ace,” Manuel said. “If I was going to make a move, I would have it done it to start the inning. … That’s going to happen sometimes. That’s baseball, that’s the way it goes. A guy hits the ball in the right spot and they scored two runs and they ended up beating us. There’s never been a perfect pitcher, there’s never been a perfect player.”

In a real sense, it probably should never come down this if the Phillies had scored more runs. The only offense the Phillies mustered in this game was a two-run homerun by Shane Victorino in the bottom of the fifth. For the game, the Phillies were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base in six and two-thirds innings of work.

The Phil had a difficult time solving Arizona starting pitcher Josh Collmenter mixed his pitches well enough to keep the Phillies off-balance by allowing just two runs on eight hits with eight strikeouts.

“We wasn’t able to get a big hit when we had a guy in scoring position,” Manuel said. “(Collmenter) did a pretty good job I thought. He used all his pitches, he changed speeds good, he mixed them up. His ball had a little movement, a little hop. Even though he’s throwing 88 or 90 (miles per hour), he had some movement.”

Perhaps their biggest opportunity to push across a lot of runs occurred in the bottom of the third with the bases loaded, but Collmenter struck out Hunter Pence swinging to end the threat.

“It was a good opportunity to come back, but it was one of those things where I was fighting him off, but I wasn’t really getting the best swings off him because he’s got that funky delivery and he got the best of me the day. We had a lot of opportunities, but we didn’t get the big hit.”

Strangely enough, Halladay himself was 2-for-3 at the plate including a double in the seventh with no outs, but the Phillies could not bring him home as the next three Phillies hitters-Jimmy Rollins, Victorino and Chase Utley were retired in order.

Hall of Fame Selectees Should Be Chosen For What They Did on the Field

15 Aug

Pete Rose's gambling addiction led to his ban from baseball and the Hall of Fame. He is baseball's all-time hits leader.

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

With Hall of Fame ceremonies for Major League Baseball and the NFL taking place within two weeks of each other within the last month, the big topic that always seem to get my goat is that player who has all the requisite numbers and requirements to get in, but is held out because of some reason other than their accomplishments on the field.

For example, baseball’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose will probably never have an induction ceremony in Cooperstown because he gambled on baseball while he was a manager of the Cincinnati Reds and for a long time refused to admit it. In 1989, then MLB-Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti banned him from the game.

When Rose finally admitted he bet on baseball in 2004 while promoting his book, it was seen as self-serving and not being contrite enough for “forgiveness” by some members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Rose’s issues with gambling, which is considered to be as addictive as doing drugs, did not occur during his career as a player but while he was a manager. If it was up to me Rose would be in the Hall of Fame because of what he did as a player on the field, period.

As far as I’m concerned Rose has long paid his debt to society and baseball for his gambling addiction. He will never a manage a game and that’s his real punishment. To me, Rose’s continued denial into the Hall of Fame is nothing more than a sanctimonious form of piling on, especially when you consider that the Baseball Hall of Fame is full of scoundrels whose lives have been less than pristine.

And that’s the problem I have with institutions like the Halls of Fame because they are subjective to the whims of those doing the voting, namely by journalists like myself .Some guys are held out or have their entry delayed because some beat writers did not like an athlete who happened to be a jerk off the field or didn’t have a good relationship with the media.

To be sure, there are lot of athletes that I have interviewed who I thought were not good people off the field. But when they were on the field, they were among the best I’ve ever seen play at their individual sports. I would vote a guy in even if was a jerk off the field and even got into trouble like in the case of Orlando Cepeda, who was kept out of Cooperstown because of his brush with the law? Isn’t that the reason we have Halls of Fames because that player was great at his sport?

Perhaps another guy who had an outstanding career in his sport, but has a bad off the field reputation is former Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Charles Haley.

Charles has won five Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers

During his NFL career, Haley recorded 100.5 sacks, he was a five-time Pro Bowler, a two-time All-Pro and is the only player to own five Super Bowl rings. More importantly, Haley was one of the more dominant defensive ends of his era. Those who covered the game during the time he played acknowledge that his trade to the Cowboys altered the balance of power in the NFC in the early 1990s.

But Haley was not such a “good boy” off the field. He got into fights with his teammates and was a horse’s ass to the media. Since the Pro Football Writers are the ones who decides who get enshrined in Canton, Haley will have to wait for awhile because his antics, which reportedly include him touching his private parts, did necessarily endear himself to “polite” society.

Again, this is not the “Gentlemen’s” Hall of Fame—it’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Haley played the game of football pretty darn well. Just ask his former 49ers teammate and Hall-of-Famer Ronnie Lott.

“If that has anything to do with the bearing of the stature that has to do with his being associated with making this, what a travesty,” Lott told ESPN Dallas last February. “How dare we judge someone because of who they are and not judge them for what they did and what they accomplished? We are not in the game of judging people for their character. We are in the game of judging people for their accomplishments, and his accomplishments are second to none.”

Oddly enough, Haley was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame for his play at Div I-AA (now Division I Football Championship Subdivision) James Madison. I think eventually Canton will open its doors to Haley, but to hold him out or delay putting him because a few sportswriters didn’t like how he approached the media is just downright petty.

When I think of a guy who is being held out of the Hall of Fame for something other than his play, Curt Flood comes to mind. On the field, Flood was definitely one of the better players of the 1960s. He batted .300 six times from 1960 to 1968 in era dominated by pitching with guys like Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal on a mound that was 15 inches higher than it is today is amazing.

Curt Flood batted .300 six times during the 1960s against some of the game's best pitchers.

Flood also won seven gold gloves playing centerfield competing against the likes of San Francisco Giants star Willie Mays.

But Flood’s legal challenge of baseball’s reserve clause that bound a player to a team for life made him an outcast in the sport and forced him to sacrifice the remainder of his baseball career. Though he ultimately lost his case in the U.S. Supreme Court, Flood’s fight against the reserve clause opened the way to free agency in baseball.

At the end of the day, Flood should be in the Hall of Fame because of what he did on the field as a player and because of his principled stand against the reserve clause changed the course of baseball’s labor relationship. That was his impact on the sport.

I just hope in the years to come that we select our Hall-of-Famers for what they did while they were in uniform not because of their relationship with the media or what they did off the field. No one is perfect whether they are great ball players or great writers.

Afterall, who are we as flawed human beings to judge other flawed human beings for their foibles and imperfections.

The Real Decision: Curt Flood’s fight against MLB’s Reserve Clause Opened the Door to Free Agency

15 Aug

Last year, millions of viewers were glued to ESPN for LeBron James’ “The Decision.”

Curt Flood's lawsuit against baseball's reserve clause paved the way for free agency in sports

When James, who was a free agent at the time, announced that he was going to join the Miami Heat, his “decision” was met with scorn and derision from sports fans, especially those from Cleveland who thought his departure from his old Cleveland Cavaliers squad was the ultimate betrayal.

Still other sports fans were outraged by him announcing his decision to play in Miami into an nationally-televised spectacle. But I think somewhere in the heavens there was somebody nodding his head in approval for James’ ability to pick and choose his own team.

That was something that the late Major League Baseball great Curt Flood could not do during his playing days with the St. Louis Cardinals. But his valiant, yet unsuccessful fight against the baseball’s reserve clause, in which a player was not free to negotiate with another team, ultimately paved the way for free agency not just in baseball, but in all sports.

The story of Flood’s fight against baseball’s reserve clause and his outstanding career was the subject of a recent HBO documentary, “The Curious Case of Curt Flood.” It’s something that I hope that sports fans of this era can put into a historical context the move that James made to join the Heat even if you weren’t happy with his decision.

What made Flood’s fight for free agency came at the cost to what was an outstanding career. He is one of the top center fielders of his era (1956-1971) when he challenged the legality of baseball’s reserve clause. He was a three-time All-Star, a seven-time Gold Glove winner, and batted .300 or better six times. He left the game with a .293 life-time batting average. As far as I am concerned those numbers definitely warrant Hall of Fame consideration.

The doors to Coopers town for Flood have been closed because he dared to challenge the baseball establishment. It’s also the reason why he should be in the Hall of Fame.

Flood’s place in baseball and sports history goes beyond what he did on the field. His legal challenge against baseball’s system of binding players to just one team for the life of their career galvanized the Major League Baseball Players Association to insist that free agency be included in the collective bargaining agreement with the owners. Five years after Flood challenged MLB in court, the reserve clause was lifted and free agency became the norm in baseball and in all sports.

In October 1969, Flood, along with three other players, were traded to the Phillies for legendary slugger Dick Allen and two other players. Because Philadelphia at the time was a team with a poor record and a fan base with a reputation for being belligerent and racist, Flood refused to report to the Phillies. In a letter he wrote to then MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn:

“After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States. . . . “I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.”

Rather than play for the Phillies, Flood, 31 at the time, courageously pursued his legal battle against MLB and sat out the 1970 season. In his legal challenge, Flood’s attorneys asserted that baseball’s reserve clause kept wages down and bound a player to just one team and violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act . Kuhn said what Flood was doing was not good for the game.

The case eventually went all the way to U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 5-3 with one abstention in favor of Major League Baseball. Oddly enough, Flood’s challenge of the reserve clause exposed the exploitative relationship that existed between the baseball owners and its player. It spurred people like then MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller tho aggressively push for free agency in baseball.

Flood’s courageous fight against MLB was about athletes having some control over their destiny. His fight was also a reminder to the professional sports establishment that the fans come to see the players perform at a high level and the players should be treated not just as devalued property, but as a viable partner  Athletes like James owe a great deal to Flood because he radically redefined the relationship between players and owners. And that’s the reason that Flood should be enshrined in Cooperstown.

While many of you, especially those who live in Cleveland, may despise James for jilting the Cavaliers, it was ultimately about his freedom of choice to find the best place for him to enhance his career.

That’s something Flood would definitely appreciate.

Vince Young Wants to Take Advantage of Second Chance with the Eagles

15 Aug

Vince Young says he's happy to be in Philadelphia

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and CM Report

The last time Eagles backup quarterback Vince Young donned an NFL uniform, it was not definitely not the best of times.

Young’s season came to an unceremonious end last November when he walked out on his former team the Tennessee Titans after he was benched in a loss to the Washington Redskins. He reportedly threw his shoulder pads into the stands out of frustration. In the locker room after the game, Young and then-head coach Jeff Fisher got to an argument. Young walked out on his teammates and told his coach, “I’m not running out on my teammates, I’m running out on you.”

As blatantly immature and petulant as Young’s action was, it was also emblematic of the fact that his former head coach never really wanted him as his quarterback. The decision to draft Young from various reports came from Titans’ owner Bud Adams, a University of Texas alum like Young. Apparently, Young felt that Fisher never had his back during his time his time in Tennessee.

And so now Young is in a new situation here in Philadelphia, not as a highly-touted starter, but as a backup to Michael Vick. After not feeling like he was wanted in Tennessee, Young said he likes his surroundings in Philadelphia thus far from his coaching staff to to his teammates.

“From a team aspect and coaching aspect, I really feel like it’s been an easy transition because they’ve definitely been helping me out,” Young said. “They’ve been helping me to stay on top of things , making sure I’m in the right places.”

You would think that a guy who was the 2006 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and a two-time Pro Bowler would come off as a guy with a sense of entitlement with the expectation to be a starter.

Instead, a seemingly more relaxed and perhaps a more mature Young said he’s content to be here to back up Michael Vick and to learn from head coach Andy Reid and the Eagles coaching staff.

“I’m just happy, man. It’s an opportunity, a learning experience. Once you have an opportunity, you better take dead aim at it because you never know when you’re going to get another one,” Young said after playing in his first preseason game as an Eagle. “That’s pretty much how I looked at it. I had the opportunity to play with one of the best coaches in the NFL that I have a lot of respect for. I just took dead aim at it.”

Young got limited action in the Eagles first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, completing 3-of-5 passing for 45 yards. On third and 14 from the Eagles 33 early in the second quarter, Young showed he still has the ability to make a play when things go wrong when he scrambled out of disintegrating pass pocket to hit wide receiver Chad Hall for a 32-yard gain.

Not bad for a guy still trying to learn the Eagles complex offense. Reid said he was hesitant to put Young in the game, but likes the progress he was making thus far and decide to let him get in a few plays and he liked what he saw.

“We’ve thrown a lot at him. It is like learning French in four days. He’s hanging in there and digesting everything,” Reid said. “He has a great attitude, and you saw that he loves to play. He will do nothing but get better with more practice. He’s so willing and he wants to learn, and he’s studying and doing everything he’s supposed to do.”

For all the criticism that Reid has received in Philly over the years, the one thing he has been good at is developing quarterbacks like Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and more recently Michael Vick.

There are quite a few football observers who are saying that Young, a No.1 draft pick back in 2006, has been a bust at worst and a disappointment at best.

But how much of a bust can you be when you are 30-17 as a starter with a group of receivers that didn’t scare anybody? After all, this is a guy that has seven fourth-quarter comebacks and has led his team to victories on 12-game-winning drives.

By the time he played his last game for the Titans, Young was showing signs of improvement. He had a 98.6 passer rating with 10 touchdowns passes against three interceptions and was completing close to 60 percent of his passes. Still, Young’s career completion percentage is less than 60 percent.

“I made a lot of progress when I was (in Tennessee) and I’m making more progress as well here. It just comes with years with years and reps, but mostly years. It just comes when you’re paying attention and listening. I feel like the coaches are doing a phenomenal job of getting me ready to play.”

But for everything that has happened to him, Young said he has no chip on his shoulder or something to prove. He wants to learn the offense and be a good teammate.

“I’m just older. I’m 28-years-old, I’m growing into my age …I’m just happy to be here, there’s a great guys and a lot of great leaders here,” Young said. “I’ve just got to stay ready. I want to push Mike (Vick) to be the best that he can be to lead his team to a Super Bowl. The things that he’s doing, you saw it (against the Ravens) with great throws and big plays to lead the team to a championship.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,795 other followers