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Black Girl Magic, LeBron James, Deaths of Sports Icons Defined 2016 Sports Year

30 Dec
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Simon Biles won gold medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The Last Hurrah for Ryan Howard and Bernard Hopkins, LeBron James-Male Athlete of the Year 

By Chris Murray                                                                                                                 

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If there’s one thing that everyone can agree on about 2016, it was a year where the one constant was death.

While the pop culture world got hit the hardest with the losses of such icons as Prince and David Bowie, the Sporting World got knocked around a bit as well. We lost boxing icon

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Muhammad Ali Shook up the world with his stunning upset of Sonny Liston in 1964. His death in 2016 highlighted was the most visible in  year when a number icons in sports and entertainment passed away.

Muhammad Ali this year. The General of Arnie’s Army, golf legend Arnold Palmer, also left us. So did basketball coach extraordinaire Pat Summit and former Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan.

Even sports media felt the sting with the losses of John Saunders, host of ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” and Craig Sager, easily the most colorful man in the NBA.

Although we’re still in mourning over the loss of these shining stars, and cherishing the memories of their brilliance, the Sporting World gave us more than a few reasons to cheer in 2016. It was an up year for some and a down year for others, but one thing it wasn’t was boring.

Here’s a look at 2016 in Sports…

One Last Hurrah for the Big Piece: Ryan Howard

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Ryan Howard played his last season in a Phillies uniform in 2016. Photo by Webster Riddick.

This year, we said goodbye to a man who played a big part in breaking Philadelphia’s longtime championship drought, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.

Because 2016 marked the end of his contract, Howard will be a free agent and will most likely leave the team that he led with his bat from 2005 to 2016.

During his tenure with the Phillies, Howard’s ability to hit towering home runs and drive in runs helped lead the team to the 2008 World Series title, two National League pennants, and five consecutive National League East titles.  Howard was the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 National League Championship Series and was also winner of the National League Rookie of the Year, and National League MVP awards.

Unfortunately, a combination of age, injuries and a team in rebuilding mode mandated that Howard and the Phillies part ways. Howard will most likely play for someone else and while it’s a shame that he won’t be allowed to retire here, Phillies fans will always appreciate the Glory Days he brought to the franchise.

The Year of Black Girl Magic

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Claire Smith is the first woman to receive the Baseball Hall of Fame’s A.G. Spink Award and will be honored during in Hall of Fame weekend in July. Photo courtesy ESPN.com

In December, former Philadelphia Inquirer baseball columnist Claire Smith became the first woman to win the prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award from Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. She was honored for her pioneering work, which included paving the way for women to enter MLB locker rooms to do interviews, just like their male counterparts.

That Smith received the award this year makes perfect sense because 2016 was the year that the Sporting World was hit with all kinds of Black Girl Magic.

Black female athletes from Africa and the African Diaspora (which includes the United States and the Caribbean), served notice to the world that they were a force to be reckoned with, most prominently during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

There, Black women excelled in everything. And I do mean everything.

Gymnast Simone Biles was named the Associated Press’s Female Athlete of the Year.

If you watched one minute of her gymnastic performances during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the reason she won this award became obvious.

The diminutive Texan was the darling of the games, leading the Final Five—Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Aly Reisman, and 2012 Individual all-around Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas—to a team Gold Medal and also winning three individual gold medals including the individual all-around. Biles stunning performances in the floor exercise dazzled audiences around the world and her grace and athleticism were definitely a joy to watch.

But while she responsible for a nice chunk of the Black Girl Magic on display in Rio, Biles was only the beginning. Black women also showed that they could excel in places they’re not normally associated with like the swimming pool and fencing ring.

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Simone Manuel became the first Black American woman to win a gold medal in swimming at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,

Stanford University’s Simone Manuel became the first Black woman to win a gold medal in swimming when she tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak to win the 100-meter freestyle, setting Olympic and American records in the process. She also helped the 4X100 meter medley relay team take home a gold medal and won silver medals in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4X100 meter freestyle relay.

Elsewhere in the water, Ashleigh Johnson, the first Black woman to make the U.S. Water Polo team, helped lead the team to a gold medal. In the gold medal game against Italy, Johnson, the team’s goalie, had eight saves.

Ibtihaj Muhammad made news when she competed with the U.S. Sabre Fencing team while wearing the hijab of her Muslim faith. The team took home a bronze medal and Muhammad’s performance showed that you can be an observant Muslim and an athlete simultaneously.

But while Black women in non-traditional sports took center stage, that didn’t mean that Black women didn’t continue to excel in places where they’ve traditionally ruled, such as in track and field. Led by the United States, the Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica and the African continent, Black women won gold medals in all but three track and field events at the Olympics.

From Michelle Carter’s gold in the shot put to Brianna Rollins, Kristi Castlin and Philadelphia’s own Nia Ali sweeping the 100-meter hurdles to the exploits of the Jamaican track team, Black women showed, to paraphrase Emmy-award winning actress Viola Davis, that all that’s needed for them to excel is opportunity. They made the most of it…and then some.

All Hail The King (James)

LeBron James

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, center, celebrates with teammates after Game 7 of basketball’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 19, 2016. The Cavaliers won 93-89. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

With the Cleveland Cavaliers went down 3-1 in the NBA Finals to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, LeBron James put his Cleveland Cavaliers on his back and helped them win three-straight elimination games to give the City of Cleveland its first pro sports title since 1964.

James, the Associated Press’s Male Athlete of the Year, became the Finals Most Valuable Player by performing the historical feat of leading in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocked shots, and assists. What makes this feat even more remarkable is that it’s something that neither Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson nor the athlete James compared to most often, Michael Jordan, was able to do.

They’re all Hall of Famers. This year, his achievements put LeBron James in the same rarefied air.

No Joy In Mudville

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Can Ben Simmons lead the 76ers back to glory? He was the Sixers No. 1 draft pick in 2016.

Because the Philadelphia Eagles, the Phillies, the 76ers, and the Philadelphia Flyers are all in some form of rebuilding mode, the closest that Philadelphia sports fans got to the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup was the couch in front of their television sets.

While the Eagles, who will miss the NFL playoffs for the third straight year, made some noise when rookie Carson Wentz went undefeated in his first three starts, they came back to earth with a deafening thud after the bye week. Coming into the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, Wentz has completed 62 percent of his passes for 3, 537 yards with 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

The Sixers also gave their fans hope by picking LSU’s Ben Simmons with their first-round lottery pick. The good news is, Simmons can handle and pass the ball like Magic Johnson.

The bad news is, and this should be no surprise to Sixers fans, he’s injured. And as if often is in Sixers World, it’s a foot injury.

But there is some hope for optimism now that Joel Embiid has finally recovered from his foot injury and has emerged as the team’s best big man.

Villanova Wins the National Championship, Penn Wins Ivy League Crown, Penn State Temple Football Bowl Bound Again

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Villanova won its first national championship since 1985 with a buzzer-beater win over North Carolina.

In one of the most exciting games in the history of the NCAA Tournament, the Villanova Wildcats won the men’s basketball national championship on a last-second three-point shot by Kris Jenkins.  It was probably the greatest championship game of all time and they were honored by the city with a parade down Broad Street. Although I know one Philly sports fan who thinks that parade should have gone to an actual Philly team, but the Wildcats do play some of  their games at the Wells Fargo Center and they were embraced by the entire Delaware Valley during their run to the title.

Like, for example the University of Pennsylvania Quakers and the Temple University Owls.

For the second straight season, the Quakers won a share of the Ivy League football title. They became league co-champs with Princeton by defeating Cornell University 42-40. Junior running back Tre Solomon gained 173 yards to lead the 7-3 (6-1 in the Ivy League) Quakers.

The Owls proved that the team’s 2015 football season was no fluke by winning the American Athletic Conference championship with a 34-10 win over Navy and notching it’s second straight 10-win season. The effort was enough to get head coach Matt Rhule noticed by the Big 12’s Baylor University, and he left to try and salvage a program that’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last couple of years. The Owls also lost the Military Bowl to Wake Forest when the comeback they were mounting fell short.

But this doesn’t take anything away from an outstanding year for the Owls. If anything, it gives new Temple head coach Geoff Collins something to shoot for.

The much-maligned James Franklin became the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year by leading the Nittany Lions of Penn State to the Big Ten Football Championship. The team scored a come from behind win against Wisconsin thanks to the performance of running back Saquon Barkley and a stout defense. While many thought that Penn State should have gotten into the College  Football Playoff thanks to its victory over Ohio State, the teams two losses mean they’ll be going to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day against the University of Southern California.

Bernard Hopkins Falls to Father Time

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Bernard Hopkins looked as old as the 51-year-old man he is in his loss to Joe Smith Jr. Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

After getting literally knocked out of the ring by Joe Smith Jr. in his most recent fight, some say it should be.

From the moment he turned 40, Hopkins has waged a valiant and sometimes successful against Father Time.  But in the end, the 51-year-old Hopkins found out what every athlete eventually does: time is undefeated.

While Hopkins hasn’t said whether or not he’ll retire, the prevailing hope is that he will. To do otherwise will probably do him more harm than good long term.

Like I said, 2016 has been an up and down year. But now that it’s over, it’ll be interesting to see what 2017 will bring to the Sporting World.

No matter what it is, I’ll have it for you.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

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A Class Act: Ryan Howard Led Phillies to a Championship While Helping to Heal Team’s Troubled Past with Black Fans

6 Oct

 

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Ryan Howard was one of the most proflic sluggers in Phillies history and was the face of the Phillies five-year playoff run from 2007 to 2011 that included a World Series title in 2008. Photo by Webster Riddick

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report  and  the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Since 2004, I’ve had the pleasure of covering sports in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.

Through that experience, I’ve gotten to talk to many of the city’s greats including former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, Phillies MVP shortstop (and World Series champ) Jimmy Rollins, and even newly minted NBA Hall-of-Famer Allen Iverson.

But one of the people I’ve enjoyed covering the most was Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard played his last game with the Phillies last Sunday.

I regret missing the chance to wish him a fond farewell due to other commitments, but I will say that covering Howard and the Phillies during the team’s run to five straight NL East titles, two National League pennants and the run to the 2008 World Series title was probably one of the best experiences of my journalism career.

On the field, Howard’s ability to hit homers and drive in runs was larger than life.  In a game against the New York Yankees during his MVP year in 2006, he drove all seven runs—including two home runs and a triple—in a 9-7 loss to the Yankees.

I remember being in the Yankees locker room where legendary Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was so awed by Howard’s performance that he jokingly told reporters : “We battled back. … We beat Howard.”

The way Howard would carry the Phillies during those championship years almost felt as if he was a one-man wrecking crew, especially during the month of September when it was time for the Phillies needed him to close out the division. He always seemed to hit the key home run hit needed to win a crucial game.

Sure, he wasn’t alone in his efforts. Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley, (now with the Dodgers) outfielder Shane Victorino (who won another World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox)  and Cole Hamels (now pitching for the Texas Rangers) were also crucial parts of those teams.

But if you take away the “Big Piece” I  don’t think the Phillies would have been as successful.

What was memorable about Howard in 2008 was that he still led the league in home runs and RBIs and batted over .300 with runners despite a low batting average and leading the league in strikeouts. Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel used to refer to Howard as a “carrier.”

Off the field, Howard never hesitated to talk to the media whether the Phillies won or lost. He was rarely, if ever, standoffish or surly. Even when he was the in midst of hitting slumps or a bad game, Howard still came back and talked to the media.

He was a class act.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Howard’s success with the Phillies was that between he and Rollins, brought Blacks back to the ballpark. African American fans both young and old back to the ball park.

That was something that former Phillies chairman of the Board Bill Giles told me back  during an interview I did with him back in 2006.

“We’ve had a bad history in the African-American community, going way, way back long before I was around,” Giles said at the time. “To have him be successful is a plus-plus for us. The fact that he’s African-American is helpful because I do see more African-Americans in the stands.”

By becoming the face of the franchise, Howard helped to heal a longstanding rift that existed between the team and the city’s Black fans over how the Phillies had treated Jackie Robinson and Phillies icon Dick Allen.

When I interviewed Allen for the Philadelphia Tribune in 2006 during Howard’s Most Valuable Player run, he talked a little bit about that.

“A lot of the adversity has been cleared from the Jackie Robinson days to the Dick Allen days where those things have subsided and (Howard) can concentrate just doing what he’s doing now,” he said. “It’s almost a healing kind of thing, it happened back then unjustly. But it’s setting a tone where it will make it easier for your grandson or my grandson.

“It got around the world,” Allen continued. “’Oh no, we don’t want to be with the Phillies! Look what they did to over there to this person! Some of them didn’t want to be here.’ That’s the biggest change and the most important change to make players even want to come here. Howard and fellows like that can change all that.”

Allen was right. Two years later, the Phillies were on top of the baseball world thanks to Howard.

Since 2012, it’s been tough to watch Howard go through being injured and  getting old. There were times when he got some undeserved scorn from Phillies fans considering all he’s done for the franchise. I hope he can revive his career with a team that can appreciate what he brings to the table.

I’ll end with a personal Howard memory,

In 2009, I won the Sam Lacy Award from the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City for my coverage of the Phillies 2008 World Series run.

In addition to other luminaries like outfielder Curtis Granderson (currently playing for the New York Mets) and Cliff Lee (who pitched for the Phillies), Howard was being honored.

I got the chance to meet Howard and his family. They were all so easy to talk to and he didn’t even mind people asking for pictures with him or autographs.

It’s often rare that “great athlete” and “nice guy” in the same sentence.

We could definitely do that when talking about Ryan Howard.

Good luck “Big Piece”…and thanks for the memories…

 

The Contract That Broke The Color Line

3 Jun

Jackie Robinson’s history making contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers is on display at the National Constitution Center until June 5.

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Jackie Robinson’s Contract on display at the National Constitution Center. Photo by Chris Murray

 

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they did so without taking the rights and freedoms of African-Americans into consideration.

The tumultuous journey of African-Americans from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to the current cries of Black Lives Matter has been about making America live up to the lofty ideals of freedom and equality those documents imply.

When Jackie Robinson signed a contract to play Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers, that contract became an influential document not only for sports fans, but also for the nation as a whole.

Even the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King took notice. In a conversation he had with Hall of Famer Don Newcomb, King expressed his appreciation for Robinson’s willingness to lead the charge.

“You’ll never know how easy you and Jackie and (Larry) Doby and Campy (Roy Campanella) made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field,” King said.

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Robinson’s signature on this contract changed the face of sports and American back in 1947. Photo by Chris Murray.

From now until June 5, you can see the original contract that Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the National Constitution Center.

While there are a lot of important documents on display at the Constitution Center, the Robinson contract is equally as compelling as all the others. Robinson’s contract symbolized the first major confrontation with a segregated America and was part of the ongoing battle to make the country live up to it’s ideas of equality and justice.

Robinson’s entry into major league baseball was met with violent hostility both on and off the field. He was spiked by his opponents and jeered by hostile white fans who were offended by the mere presence of African-Americans in what was supposed to be the American game.

In his first two years with the Dodgers, Robinson had to take affronts to his personal dignity for a cause that went beyond the box score. Eight years later, ordinary African-Americans from students to janitors were peacefully sitting in at lunch counters, boycotting segregated public transportation and education facilities.

When you think about it, Robinson striking down baseball’s color barrier preceded President Harry S. Truman’s executive order to integrate the military, Brown versus Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Freedom Rides, lunch counter sit-ins, Birmingham movement, the March from Selma to Montgomery and the March on Washington. Dr. King described what Robinson went through:

“A pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”

It’s actually kind of fitting that Robinson’s contract is hanging out here in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia didn’t live up to that name when it came to him. Robinson had to deal with racism and hatred, he couldn’t stay in the same hotels as his teammates, and that’s on top of having to deal with a hostile Phillies squad led by manager Ben Chapman.

Black folks didn’t forget that hostility. An entire generation of African-American baseball fans refused to root for the Phillies even when they started signing Black players to the team and Black players, including free agency pioneer Curt Flood, didn’t want to play here either.

Recently, the Philadelphia City Council issued a resolution apologizing to Robinson and his family for the harsh treatment he received here as a baseball player.

So like the Constitution, Robinson’s contract is a piece of paper that symbolizes how far we’ve come and how far we’ve got to go in race relations in America.

The National Constitution Center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $14.50 for adults, $13 for seniors, students and youngsters 13-18, and $8 for children aged 4-12.

Pete Rose Should Be in the Hall of Fame, But Needs to Admit Gambling Addiction

15 Dec

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Pete Rose was recently denied reinstatement to baseball by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. Photo by FoxSports.com.

Pete Rose was recently denied reinstatement to baseball by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. Photo by FoxSports.com.

Pete Rose’s bid to get reinstated by Major League Baseball and restore his eligibility for Baseball’s Hall of Fame has come to a bitter end.

Baseball’s all-time hits leader was denied reinstatement back into MLB after being banned for life in 1989 for betting on baseball.

In a three-page statement, Manfred concluded that Rose “has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing, so clearly established by the Dowd Report, or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989.”

There are a couple of disturbing, tragic things here in which there are no real winners here and it’s just sad for baseball no matter how you slice it.

Rose’ Hall of Fame career which includes a record-breaking 4,256 hits, a lifetime .303 batting average, three World Series rings, and 17 All-Star appearances is now and perhaps forever persona non-grata in baseball. Rose’s ongoing refusal to admit that he bet on baseball, which is typical of someone with an addiction, has always been the deal breaker.

While Rose has been rightfully banned from working with a team as a manager or in any other capacity in baseball, it’s just wrong to keep him out of Cooperstown. To me that’s the compromise that should have been made in this situation.

I think we all get the message that gambling in baseball is wrong. Rose’s non-participation in baseball for the last 26 years makes it very clear that if you compromise the integrity of the game you will not be in the game in any capacity.
Rose has paid the price for committing baseball’s ultimate sin and he needs to admit to himself that he has a serious mental health problem.

For all of Rose’s flaws and transgressions, he was one of baseball’s greatest players and that’s something you can never take away from him. Rose earned all those hits for what he did on the field. The man gave his all on the field and didn’t shortchange fans by not running out routine ground balls. Rose played the game with the same passion and fury as a Roberto Clemente and a Ty Cobb.

As far as I am concerned sports Halls of Fame whether it’s baseball, football, hockey or basketball, should be monuments to what that athlete did on the field or in the arena. It’s all about the contribution to the sport and nothing else should matter.

Given that the Baseball Hall of Fame has its share of disreputable characters, jerks, and knuckleheads who just happened to be great players, great broadcasters and great sportswriters, Rose would be in great company. This isn’t the Vatican and we are not canonizing saints.

American sports fans need to wake up to the notion that one’s ability to excel in sports doesn’t mean that they’re going to be people of high or low character. They are human beings who reflect the best and the worst of us.

All that said, it’s been long overdue for Rose to come clean and admit that he has a gambling problem. It’s an issue of Rose’s mental health and well-being. That’s something far more important than his reinstatement in baseball and the Hall of Fame.

One of the things that came out of Rose’s meeting with the commissioner was that he was still betting on baseball. Manfred’s report also said that Rose tried to deny it, but then admitted he was still doing it. That spoke volumes and it showed the commissioner that Rose is still denial of his problem.

People recovering from drug or alcohol abuse don’t show up in places where drugs and alcohol are present. A Las Vegas casino is the last place you should ever see an addicted gambler.

For his exploits as a player, Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, but for his own good he needs to acknowledge that he has a problem.

Rebuilding the Colossal Wreck That is the Phillies

8 Jul

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

New Phillies Team President Andy MacPhail has the monumental task of making the Phils a contender again.

New Phillies Team President Andy MacPhail has the monumental task of making the Phils a contender again.

PHILADELPHIA—During the Phillies run to five straight playoff appearances, crowds packed Citizens Bank Park and wondered what newcomers might be in red and white pinstripes at the July 31st trade deadline.

All was right in South Philly as Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley led a potent offense and a young Cole Hamels was part of a group of aces that shut down hitters right and left and included Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.

Fast forward to the present and the 2015 All-Star Break.

Today, the Phillies once mighty empire is in ruins. They have the worst record in baseball, finding a seat at Citizens Bank Park isn’t hard and the fans that do come see the team don’t have a lot to cheer about. In fact, as football season draws closer and the losses continue to mount, expect to hear E-A-G-L-E-S chants.

The star players from the team won the World Series in 2008 are shadows of their former selves thanks to a combination of age and injuries. Howard is batting just .218 with 14 homers and 41 runs batted in, boy wonder Utley is batting just .179 with just four homeruns and 25 RBIs, and catcher Carlos Ruiz is hitting .225 with one homer and 15 RBIs.

Heck, on Monday night, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the former MVP that proclaimed the Phightins “The Team To Beat”, added insult to injury by helping his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, win the game by driving in two go-ahead runs.
Before that at-bat, Rollins was batting a paltry .208.
The Dodgers, contenders in the NL West, are probably in search of additional pieces to help them make a run at the post season.
Maybe they need to bring their shopping list to Philadelphia.

It’s time for the Phillies to start moving folks. Howard has only one year left on a large contract that probably sounded like a good idea at the time. Meanwhile, Hamels is 5-6 with a 3.02 ERA that includes several outings where run support was hard to come by.

And contenders like the Dodgers and the New York Yankees could use a closer like Jonathan Papelbon to get them over the postseason hump.
You see, the Phillies need prospects. They need good, young players to bolster a thin farm system. And you can’t get those prospects when you have a bunch of guys that are not only a part of the past, but have become a pretty ineffective part of the present.

The long-term rebuilding process of turning the Phillies back into a contender will come under the watch of new team president Andy MacPhail, a man who comes from a long line of Hall of Fame front office guys. MacPhail was the general of the Minnesota Twins during their 1987 and 1991 World Series championship teams season and most recently reviving a moribund Baltimore Orioles team.

The challenge for MacPhail will be to find a general manager that really knows talent because I get the feeling that Ruben Amaro Jr.’s contract will not renewed.

You’ll also need a good manager to turn a bunch of young players into a contender. With all due respect to Ryne Sandberg, who resigned as Phillies’ manager last month, a laid-back, milquetoast approach won’t get the job done.

From what I understand, Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a Philadelphia-area native, is in the final year of his contract. He has a World Series ring and the Angels have finished no worse than third during his 15-year tenure as a manager. If I’m MacPhail or the new GM, I am on the phone with Scioscia at the end of the season.

When he assumes command, MacPhail needs to definitively show Phillies fans some that there’s going to be light at the end of what has been become a dark and gloomy tunnel.

Or the only memories that the Phillies will have are those of an empty stadium.

Phillies Start 2015 Season on the Wrong Foot in Shutout Loss to Boston

7 Apr
Cole Hamels gave up four solo runs in the Phillies 8-0 shutout loss in Monday's 2015 Season-Opener.

Cole Hamels gave up four solo runs in the Phillies 8-0 shutout loss in Monday’s 2015 Season-Opener. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—The 2015 season opener for the Phillies was simply a continuation of the seasons since they last won a division title in 2011—a slow start by the starting pitcher and little run support from the offense.

Cole Hamels allowed five hits, four of them solo homeruns—Dustin Pedroia had two of them while centerfielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who also hit a game-clinching grand-slam home run in the top of the ninth inning off Phillies relief pitcher Jake Diekman.

On a sunny, picture postcard day in front of a sellout crowd at Citizen’s Bank Park, the Boston Red Sox came with a 8-0 shutout of the Phillies.   Well, so much for optimism and hope on opening day. What this game did was reinforce for fans why there will be little to cheer about this season.

“It definitely didn’t go the way we all envisioned,” Hamels told reporters after the game. “I know I’m one of the big culprits of that. You put a team down 1-0 in the first inning, it’s not really setting a good tone or positive message to be able to get the momentum to your side, so that’s a lot of my fault.”

Hamels had five strikeouts and allowed three walks in five innings on the mound. Giving up those homeruns put the Phillies in an early hole and considering how the Phillies offense struggles to score, it might as well be a 40-run deficit.

“Cole didn’t get away with any high fast balls,” said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “His command was not sharp at all and that resulted in the home runs. …No explanation for Cole, he was throwing 94 and he had his fast ball. He seemed to have long counts, they fouled off a lot of balls, they extended at-bats, he threw a lot of pitches and really didn’t into a rhythm of getting ahead of the hitters.”

It took the Phillies offense four innings to get their first hit of the game—a double by Ryan Howard. In the seventh inning, the Phillies actually got two more hits from catcher Carlos Ruiz and right fielder Grady Sizemore.

Ruiz eventually reached third, but was stranded there when shortstop Freddy Galvis struck out to end the inning. That was as close to scoring as the Phillies would get.

Sandberg said his team has to come up with ways to manufacture runs and get timely hits moving forward. For the Phillies, putting hits together and scoring runs will be far easier said than done.

“We’re just going to have to grind out at bats and make the most out of base runners,” Sandberg said. “The games that we played well and won in spring training we would do that and do some other things to advance the runners. We need to hit more and take more walks.”

Meanwhile, Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Bucholz bedazzled Phillies to the tune of nine strikeouts and allowing just three hits—two singles and a double—in seven innings on the mound for Boston.

While Philadelphia sports fans have their usual cynical, pessimistic view of the Phillies lack of hitting prowess, Phillies leftfielder Ben Revere shrugged it off and reminded folks that there are a whole bunch of games left in the season.

“It’s only one game, so it’s 161 to go. We have an off-day and we’ll be back on Wednesday,” Revere said. “It’s a long season. We have to think about Wednesday. We’ll starting getting the groove back, especially with me and (Odubel) Herrerra creating havoc on the bases.”

 

Spring Training 2015: Phils Begin the Painful Process of Rebuilding

20 Feb
Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn’t get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last years. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last year.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

 Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—With pitchers and catchers reporting to the Phillies spring training headquarters in Clearwater, Florida this week, fans would like to believe that there would be some hope onthe horizon.

But, the Phillies are a team facing more uncertainty now than they did at the end of last season’s 73-89 finish.
Don’t get too attached to the Phillies current 40-man roster because it’ll probably change by the July 31st trade deadline or when the season ends. Heck, it may not be the same when the Phillies open the season against the Boston Red Sox on April 6 at Citizens Bank Park.

During the offseason, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to move veterans like Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard.

But the offers weren’t there. So guys, along with second baseman Chase Utley and his un-waved no-trade clause, remain on the roster.
While most of those guys will be gone eventually, Hamels is already looking at moving companies. The team’s ace pitcher told USA Today: “I want to go to a place where I can win again. I know it’s not going to happen here.”

On the other hand, that’s not to say Amaro didn’t make any moves this off season. He managed to jettison the team’s all-time hits leader, shortstop Jimmy Rollins (Los Angeles Dodgers), rightfielder Marlon Byrd (Cincinnati) and starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (Colorado Rockies).

The most notable addition of the Phillies offseason was former Los Angeles Dodgers Chad Billingsley, who hasn’t pitched in nearly two years because of elbow surgery. He missed all of last season and a good chunk of the 2013.

That one was a bit of a head scratcher. I guess that Amaro is hoping Billingsley will be healthy enough to be a functioning part of the rotation or better yet be good enough to be a tradable commodity. From 2006 to 2013, Billingsley has an 81-61 record with a 3.65 earned run average.

Health is also concern for lefthander Cliff Lee, who is scheduled to make $25 million this season. Lee ended the 2014 season on the disabled list with an injured left elbow, something that scared off potential trading partners. Amaro is hoping Lee can give teams the illusion that he’s still good enough to get some young prospects for him.

Speaking of possible pieces to trade, a big question is will Ryan Howard be healthy enough to be the slugger that struck fear in the hearts of pitchers from 2006 to 2011. If Howard has a hot start in the spring and summer, Amaro might find some willing trade partners, especially in the American League where he could help a team as a designated hitter.

But the team that does it is going to have to swallow the last two years—and $60 million—of Howard’s contract.

Rebuilding is obviously the Phillies ultimate goal. Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg want to know if guys like Freddy Galvis, Ben Revere, David Buchanan, Cody Asche, Domonic Brown, Maikel Franco and Darin Ruf are ready and good enough to eventually become perennially contenders in the National League East.

The next few seasons will probably tell Phillies fans whether or not the light at the end of this rebuilding tunnel is attached to an oncoming train.