Archive | April, 2011

Phillies Grinding Out Wins When Offense Slows Down

30 Apr

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel likes his team to score a bunch of runs coming from those four and five-run innings that also include Ryan Howard knocking a few balls into the center field bushes at Citizen’s Bank Park.

But in the harsh reality of a 162-game grind of a season, the Phillies will be more than happy to be on the upside of those 3-2 and 1-0 games as well. With their powerful starting rotation, the Phillies are going to win a few more of those games this season.

“You have these one-run games to test the character of your team,” Howard said.

Thanks to his second complete game of the season and some clutch hitting in the late innings, the Phillies came away with a 2-1 win over the New York Mets Saturday afternoon at Citizen’s Bank Park.

Halladay was simply superb with eight strikeouts, one run allowed and just seven hits.But as good as Halladay was on the mound, it took the Phillies seven innings to get some offense against going to pull this game out. Manuel was happy with the win, but would rather see his team smack the ball out of the park and have the big inning.

“When a pitcher keeps you in close games like that, it gives you a chance, but there’s two sides to the coin, too,” Manuel said. “If you can score some runs every now and them that givess the starting pitcher some breathing room, too. It gives them room to work. We’ll keep trying to improve on our offense and try to get consistent.”

The Phillies would get all the runs they would need in the bottom of the seventh thanks to a solo home run from John Mayberry Jr. and a sacrifice fly from third baseman Placido Polanco that scored Shane Victorino for what turned out to be the winning run.

“You can’t just go out, as nice as it would be, to blow everybody out every single game,” Howard said. “These are those character building games, these are the games that when you’re down 1-0, it looks everything is bleak, how are you going to respond? With Mayberry getting that (homerun) and able to manufacture that other run was big.”

Meanwhile, Halladay had just one bad inning, if you want to call it that, when he gave up an RBI single to Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran that scored David Murphy in the top of the fourth.  But that’s all the Mets could muster as Halladay shut them down the rest of the way.

When he’s on the mound, Halladay said he doesn’t worry about run support because he’s confident in his team’s ability to figure out ways to win game. It’s something he’s witnessed for the last couple of years in Philadelphia.

“That’s what winning teams do and they’ve done it for a long time here,” Halladay said. “Long before I got here they were doing it that way. You hear talk about offense and not scoring runs,but we’ve found ways for the most part to get it done. I think as long we can do that and continue to find ways in which we can get better, we’ll take it. We’re finding different ways and that’s all that matters.”

Don’t get it twisted, the Phillies will have those days when balls will fly out of the park just as it did in the last two games coming into day where they scored 18 runs including their 10-3 win over the Mets in Friday’s game.

A is a win whether its 1-0 or 12-1. Ironically, it was those grind it out,  one-run games that the San Francisco Giants won in the National League Championship Series in 2010 against the Philllies that ultimately led them to the NL pennant and a World Series title.

After Playoff Exit, Sixers have Plenty of Upside and Questions for Next Year

30 Apr

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If someone had told you that the Philadelphia 76ers were going to be a playoff team after a 3-13 start and winning just 27 games last season, you might have thought that person was not only crazy, but out of his “bleepin’” mind.

But the Sixers put up a good effort against a much better Miami Heat team in the first round of the NBA Playoffs before succumbing in five games. That playoff series reflected how far the young 76ers have come and also how much further they have to go.

Head coach Doug Collins lead the team to a 41-41 record during the regular season—a 14-game improvement over the previous year. Some might argue he should be Coach of the Year. He has a lot of reasons to be optimistic for next year, but there are some question marks.

To start, the Sixers have a pretty good nucleus of young players like Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner. With the exception of Turner, those young players scored in double figures and hit key buckets for the Sixers throughout the Heat series.

Power forward Elton Brand, who scored 22 points and pulled down six rebounds, played like a beast during the Miami series, scoring 15 points per game and pulling down eight rebounds per game. This year, he played in 81 games and gave the Sixers some stability in the low post.

If there’s a question mark with this team it’s with veteran forward Andre Iguodala. During the regular season, Iguodala averaged 14 points, 5.8 and 6.3 assists per game. During the playoffs, he averaged 11 points per game.

Beyond his stats, Iguodala didn’t play like the Sixers go-to man when the team needed his scoring in the clutch. It wasn’t until Game 5 of that series that Iguodala started playing with any sense of urgency in the minds of some fans. In the game five loss Iguodala missed a key shot down the stretch. And of course, Iggy’s critics came out of the woodwork saying that he’s not good enough to be the team’s go-to player when the team needs someone to come up big.

Now in Iguodala’s defense, he did have tendinitis in his knee and that may have kept him from aggressively taking the ball to the bucket in the first four games. In game five, Iguodala took the ball to the basket and made things happen. He was 10-of-14 from the field and scored 22 points, had 10 rebounds and added four assists.

Fans are looking for Iggy, who has an $80 million contract, to do that on a regular basis and especially in the playoffs. We are still waiting on him to be to the go-to player that Allen Iverson was sans all the baggage that drove folks crazy when he was here.

If you listen to the general managers on sports talk radio and in the stands, Iguodala must go. I’m inclined to agree with the mob on one level. But who do you get and are other teams willing to take on his salary? I don’t think that Iguodala is going anywhere unless someone makes the Sixers an offer they can’t refuse.

One thing is certain is that the Sixers need a player with the killer instinct of a Kobe Bryant or a Kevin Durant. Whether they pick that player up in the draft, through free agency or via a trade, the need is a pressing one.

Can you see that in Williams, Holliday, Turner, Young, Jodie Meeks or even Iguodala?

Along with some depth at the low post position and some guys who can hit three-pointers, the Sixers need a scorer who can close the show if they want to go beyond the first round in the playoffs. One of these guys has to say this is MY team.

Historically, this franchise has always had that player or players that take over games in the clutch whether you’re talking Julius Erving, Andrew Toney or Iverson. Will be the Sixers version of the Messiah, the Chosen One—be someone currently in that locker room or someone they’ll bring in next year?

Stay tuned. See you in October.



Negro Leaguer Stanley Glenn Always Kept His Joy

21 Apr

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Philadelphia lost a sports hero and ambassador for baseball when Stanley “Doc” Glenn, former catcher of the Negro League’s Philadelphia Stars died of natural causes last Saturday He was 84.

Glenn, a graduate of John Bartram High School, played for the Stars from 1944-1950, shortly before Jackie Robinson’s debut in Major League Baseball led to the end of the Negro Leagues. Glenn served as president of the Negro League Players Association.

In 2006, Glenn wrote the book, “Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Joy Away: An Inside Look at Negro League Baseball and Its Legacy.” That title speaks to what a true joy it was to talk to Glenn during my years as a sportswriter here in Philadelphia. He was never bitter or angry about the racism he experienced while traveling through the South playing baseball for the Stars.

“Ignorance doesn’t claim any one in particular. If you’re ignorant and your dumb, then you’re just plain ignorant and dumb,” Glenn said.

Mr. Glenn, as I called him, had always been one of my favorite interview subjects because he loved telling all the stories about his days in Negro League baseball and he was a passionate griot of the African-American experience in baseball. I don’t think anyone can truly experience the color of the things that he and I talked about by simply reading his words.

Like his good friend and former Kansas City Monarchs manager Buck O’Neil, you had to sit with Glenn in person or talk to him over the phone to really to appreciate his passion for baseball and the history of Negro League baseball. I thank God for the times I had the opportunity to just sit and talk baseball with him.

As a journalist, you always like to interview subjects to that are interesting and at the very least talkative enough to give you a good quote in print or a good sounbyte in broadcast. Sometimes, you have to ask questions to get it out of people. With Glenn, I only had to turn on my tape recorder and break out my note pad to get him to talk. All I had to do was listen.

Glenn’s fondest memories were of playing at the old ballpark at 44th and Belmont in West Philadelphia. The park was next to a rail yard that often spewed out thick black coal to the point where the games had to be stopped periodically while the smoke cleared. Still, he said Black people were big baseball fans back then and came out clad in the suits and dresses they wore to church to watch the Stars.

“Let me tell you something, fella, Negro League baseball was a happening in the Black world,” Glenn said in an interview we did in 2005. “Women came to the ballpark dressed in their Sunday best, high heel shoes, silk stockings and they had hats on their heads on their hats and long-sleeved gloves … Let me tell you something we married some of the girls. They would be there dressed to kill. You would think you were at a cotillion.”

As a player, Glenn played with and against players like the great Satchel Paige. He said liked catching for Paige because he was always around the plate.

The thing I most respected and admired about Glenn was his honesty and his passion for the history of Negro League baseball. The thing that probably bothered him the most was that today’s generation of African-Americans have very little to no knowledge of Negro League Baseball.

“It ticks me off that our young Black kids don’t know that there was a Negro Leagues and so they don’t know any of the players and it’s not taught in schools,” Glenn said. “I am hoping that one of these books that will come out is going to make a history so that it can be taught in schools.”

Glenn was one of the great griots in the great African-American oral tradition and he will be sorely missed. Now, he’s in heaven hanging out hanging out with Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and Buck O’Neil laughing, joking and telling tall tales of their exploits as players.

Stanley “Doc” Glenn

Dr. Longball Makes a House Call for Slumping Phils in Win Over Brewers

20 Apr

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

With the Phillies inability to score more than four runs over their last four games has folks around these parts, including Phillie manager Charlie Manuel, worried and wondering when will this power outage end.

In Wednesday’s win over the Milwaukee Brewers in the final game of the their six-game home stand, it was the return of that ongoing, longest running Phillies TV series, “Dr. Longball.”

The Phillies rallied from a 3-0 deficit and came away with a 4-3 win  on the strength of a three-run homerun by Placido Polanco in the sixth and a what turned out to be a game-winning solo shot by Shane Victorino in the bottom of eighth.

“That’s the quickest way I know to score runs, especially if you’re getting four or five hits,” Manuel said with a smile. “We have to hit and we will hit some homers if we have good at-bats. It’s just a matter of us being consistent in our hitting. We got off to a slow start and we werent’ playing very good at the start. We got a big homerun from (Polanco) and that definitely changed things in the game around.”

In the first two games of their three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Phillies  managed just one extra-base hit. Things might have hit the proverbial tipping point when not even their great starting pitching could rescue them from a 9-0 shutout and their first two-game losing streak of the season.

After a 17-inning scoring drought, the Phillie finally ended their scoring drought in dramatic fashion with homeruns from Polanco and Victorino. For this upcoming West coast road trip, the win was a huge shot in the arm for a struggling Phillies offense.

“With a doubt we turned a page, we lost (Tuesday) and we won (Wednesday),” Polanco said. “Hopefully, we’ll keep it going.”

Because it’s only April, it’s too soon panic or to be in crisis mode if you’re a Phillies fan. As the same time, the Phillies current lack of power is reflection of the temporary loss of Chase Utley and the permanent loss of Jayson Werth to the Washington Nationals.

It’s something that none of the Phillies players want to talk about these days, but the reality is that their current lineup hasn’t shown so far that they are capable of producing runs and getting those big hits on a consistent basis.

“We’ve definitely given up some power with Utley being out of the lineup,” Manuel said earlier this week. “When he’s good, he’s a 25-30 homerun guy. We can talk about small ball, big ball whatever you want to talk about when you have 170, 180, 200 homeruns up, that kind of hitting would help our lineup.”

Last season, Werth batted 296 with 27 homeruns, 46 doubles and 85 runs batted in. Meanwhile, Chase Utley, whose return is uncertain at this point, was averaging over 20 homeruns per year until injuries slowed his 2010 season down.

Someone other than Ryan Howard has to come forward and be a consistent power hitter on this team.  Actually, the Phillies do  have a few guys capable of coming up with some extra bases hits and some homeruns, but they haven’t so far.

“We do have guys in our lineup that are capable of hitting anywhere from 10, 15 and 20 homeruns and of course we’ve got Howard and some can hit even more than that,” Manuel said.

Right now, Manuel is not getting much from guys like Raul Ibanez, who’s batting .219 so far with just one homerun and 10 RBI. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins has just one run batted in hitting from the No. 3 spot in the lineup.

For the last two games, Manuel has started John Mayberry Jr. on nights where he replaced Ibanez and  Ben Francisco, who has cooled down considerable since his hot start. He said he is hoping to get hot enough to convince the Phillies him to keep in the starting lineup. In his two starts, Mayberry was 1-for-6 with a double.

“I think if you get consistent at-bats the obviously there are some advantages,” Mayberry said. “I guess my role is undetermined. I’m just looking forward to getting out there and contributing and being productive more often than naught.”

While panic may not be setting in about the Phillies offensive woes just two weeks into the season, there is a tendency for players, especially players hitting around Howard, to try to hard to come up with the big at-bat to win.

“I think the only that’s changed is trying to make things happen instead of just letting them happen as far as the guys that are hitting around me,” Howard said. “I would say that guys are trying to take it upon themselves to go the extra-mile to make something happen instead of letting come to us.”

Manuel: Small Ball is Nice, Phils Need to Score More Runs

17 Apr

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel would have been an excellent spokesman for that old Nike  ad, “Chicks dig the Longball.”

Scoring runs in bunches with a couple of three-homers thrown in for good measure is something Manuel would prefer even in the midst of his team winning close 3-2 victory over the Florida Marlins on Sunday afternoon.

Manuel said winning with small ball and a minimal amount of runs is nice, but he wants to see his team score more runs and not allow teams to hang around in the late innings.

“I think it’s something that’s going good for us right now,” Manuel said. “I think in the last four games I think we’ve got to be able to hit the ball and be able to get more runners in scoring position because we definitely got to be able to score more runs.”

Against the Marlins on Sunday, the Phillies needed a sacrifice fly from Carlos Ruiz that scored Ryan Howard in the bottom of the eighth inning and a solid effort by closer Jose Contreras to pitch his way out a tense situation in the ninth inning to pull out the win.

But as much as Manuel wants Howard and company to knock the ball out of the park, the Phillies shouldn’t take a gift horse in the mouth and ought to be happy that they are able to come away with wins.

I can remember back in 2008 when the Phillies were jacking the ball out of the park on a regular basis when Manuel used to complain about his team inability to score runs on ground outs and other small ball situations during times when they were going through times when they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

And so when Manuel was expressing his worry about his team not scoring runs in droves like his previous teams, that prompted me to say really, Charlie—didn’t you guys like win the game? It should be good that you have the ability to pull out games like that when you’re not launching balls into the seats at Citizen’s Bank Park.

“We don’t take nothing from winning the game if we win ugly or beautiful,” Manuel said. “Anytime you win it’s good.”

It definitely says something about this team’s ability to win when you consider the firepower this team has lost over the years. Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth, a couple of guys who are capable hitting 25-30 homeruns per year, are gone. Chase Utley is on the diabled list. Jimmy Rollins, who hasn’t a good year hitting homeruns since his MVP season back in 2007 when he hit 30, has just one run batted in so far this season.

“We’ve definitely given up some power with Utley being out of the lineup,” Manuel said. “When he’s good, he’s a 25-30 homerun guy. We can talk about small ball, big ball whatever you want to talk about when you have 170, 180, 200 homeruns up, that kind of hitting would help our lineup.”

Oddly enough, the Phillies players have been talking about their renewed to commitment to not relying on the the longball or the big inning to win games, especially considering the strength of their starting rotation with their famed four aces and Joe Blanton.

“The mentality is that you want to go out and try to score as many runs as you need to win the game,” Howard said. “Everybody’s got to realize you’re not going to put up seven or 10 runs every single night. Sometimes, it’ll take three runs or it will take 10. For us as long as we have more than they do, that’s all that matters.”

In a long 162-game season, the Phillies are going to have their peaks and valleys in terms of scoring runs and as much as Manuel wants to outscore the Philadelphia Eagles offense (Yeah, I know it’s football) winning more games like Sunday’s squeaker over the Marlins helps you to get through times when you’re not tearing the cover off the ball.

“Those are character builders, character testers for guys coming out of the bullpen, those close games,” Howard said. “You gotta have those to see where you are.”

A Thing of the Past: Complete Game Pitchers are Few and Far Between

16 Apr

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
If you were expecting another complete game by a Phillies starting pitcher, you were sadly disappointed.
In the Phillies 4-3 loss to the Florida Marlins Friday night, Roy Oswalt pitched just 6 innings, threw 89 pitches and allowed two runs on four hits before leaving the game with back spasms. He left the game with a 3-2 lead before the Phillies bullpen allowed the Marlins to score the two runs in the seventh to give them the victory.
In a world of middle relievers, set-up specialists, individual matchups with hitters, and closers, what Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee did this week in pitching back-to-back complete games is a rarity and an exception to the rule. In fact, the idea of pitchers completing games is almost as antiquated a notion in baseball as hitters not wearing batting helmets.
When I first started watching baseball back in the 1970s (to let you know how old I am), your ace starting pitcher was expected to go the whole nine innings. Today, if your starter goes six innings and throws about 100 pitches it’s considered a quality start.
Can you imagine some manager walking up to Bob Gibson or Nolan Ryan telling them they have to give up the ball after 100 pitches in a game that they’re leading 5-2 or 4-3 in the sixth inning with about 12 strikeouts? Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said it’s a different g

Roy Halladay pitched a complete game against the Washington Nationals

ame today.
“Baseball has changed in the aspect of what’s a quality start,” Manuel asked rhetorically. “What is a starter in his mindset. If he gets to a 100 pitches, he’s already thinking that he’s near the point where he’s already tired. It seems that way to me.
“If a pitcher has a mentality that he’s going to throw nine innings, that’s much different than saying someone pitched six innings, he gave up six runs and he had quality outing. I definitely see the way bullpens are handled nowadays. You got one innings guys and a closer, or it’s geared for a starter to go seven or six.”
With the million dollars teams into getting that strong-armed pitcher who can toss the ball at about 100 miles per hour, teams are not going to risk potentially burning out that young superstar before his time.
“Right now, you have to go with the pitch count for the average pitcher because organizations are conditioning these pitchers go six innings in the minor leagues,” said former Phillies reliever and current radio color commentator Larry Anderson. “Once they hit six innings, they’re tired, they’re not used to going farther. That’s the way they were brought up. Thirty years ago, guys were throwing 300 innings . Now the bench mark is 200 innings.”
This is true in even in the world of video games. If you’re a baseball video game geek, you’re probably playing Sony’s MLB The Show or MLB2K11. I haven’t played 2K11, but I have played MLB The Show and right around the sixth or seventh inning, I notice that the energy meter is on low when they’ve reached 80 or 90 pitches. The pitcher often gives up a lot of hits and runs when they reach the sixth or seventh innings.
But as they say if it’s in the game, it’s in the game.
Like every rule, there are exceptions. If guys like Halladay or Lee are just hot with over a 100 pitches and are still mowing folks down are you going take them out of the game?
“The opposing hitters are going to dictate when to take them out,” Anderson said. “If somebody’s at a 130 pitchers and they’re still dealing and their velocity is still the same, I don’t agree with the fact that you have to take them out because he’s at a high pitch limit. I don’t buy that.”
Anderson said that it all goes back to the work ethic of guys like Halladay, Hamels, and Lee. Speaking of work ethic, Ryan, who is now the president of the Texas Rangers, does not buy into this whole pitch count thing at all.
Echoing what Manuel said about having the right mentality, Ryan has banned the pitch count and is stressing conditioning by implementing a year-round conditioning program for his pitchers. Last year, Ryan told the Dallas Morning News that if a pitcher wants the ball on that fifth day, he better be in shape and have the mentality that he’s going to be able to pitch deep into game.
I believe Ryan might be on to something there because if you ask for something, you just might get it.

New Jackie Robinson Statue is Looking for a Home

16 Apr

Sculptor Brian Birrer stands next to his wooden statue of Jackie Robinson that was recently on display at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

During his playing days with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the late 1940s and 1950s, Jackie Robinson was known for his ability to steal home, a little something he brought with him from his days in the Negro Leagues.

Today, a colorful, life-like handcrafted 100 percent wooden statue of the man who broke baseball’s color barrier is looking to find a home. As a part of the Jackie Robinson Day Ceremonies at Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia, the statue was on display in Ashburn Alley on the concourse behind the scoreboard in left field.

Brian Birrer, who spent over 900 hours working on the statue made of three types of wood, is looking for a place to display the statue permamently. So far, he has contatcted several places including New York’s Citi Field and the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, which he said it would display the statue for a month in August, but hasn’t found any takers on a permanent basis.

“I want this statue to find a home, ideally here (at Citizen’s Bank Park) where people can enjoy him and kids see it and if they don’t who he is, they can ask questions about him and who he was,” said Birrer, who has a full-time job as an information systems consultant. “I want people to take pictures with it and keep (Robinson) in everybody’s consciousness. He belongs at a ballpark. This one or another one.”

Building this statue, which stands six-feet tall on its three-foot high base and weighs 273 pounds, was no easy task for Birrer. He used three different types of wood to craft the statue. Robinson’s socks on the statue are made of walnut, the body of the statue is made of pine. The head and hands are made from basswood, which is often used in carving. The bat on the statue is an authentic baseball bat—the only thing Birrer didn’t make with his own hands.

The difficult part for him was having to carve the statue without having a model to pose for him. It came as result of finding old photographs and film of Robinson.

“I don’t have a live guy modeling for me I had to get as many films clips as possible,” he said.

Birrer said out of all the emails he’s sent out so far, the Phillies have at least allowed to display his statue at Citizen’s Bank Park. He’s hoping that the statue will be on display at this summer’s All-Star Game in Arizona.

The irony of his Robinson statue finding a permanent home in Philly would be apparent to older baseball fans who can remember the hostile reception that Robinson received from Phillies fans.

From a historical standpoint, Birrer said giving the Robinson statue a final resting place in Philadelphia would be ideal because of the racism that he experienced her. Itt was at that point that Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers teammates rallied behind him and it was the beginning of his acceptance by other players around baseball.

“This was where Pee Wee Reese, who is from Kentucky, which was considered the South, put his arm around Robinson to show the Phillies dug out and the fans ‘this is our guy, we’re not backing down, you gotta knock it and apparently that went a long way to easing him in during his first year,” Birrer said.

For Birrer, who grew up in northern New Jersey, the inspiration to erect such a monument was really quite simple as an ongoing effort to keep alive the memory of Robinson and what he contributed not only to baseball, but to society as a whole.

“I think he’s an important figure,” he said. “I think kids should know the story and understand what happened and all the things that he did because it wasn’t that long ago. He’s a Hall of Famer, he changed society, everything. I knew a guy who saw him play and so all those things came together and I thought it was time to do this guy.”

Sculptor Brian Birrer stands next to his wooden statue of Jackie Robinson that was recently on display at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia