Tag Archives: Ryan Howard

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

30 Dec
simonebiles

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

ImustbetheGreatest

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

Ryan Howard

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

ben-simmons

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!

 

 

 

 

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…

 

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.

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.

Ryan Howard’s Lawsuit Settlement Another Example of How Athletes and their Money are Soon Parted

21 Nov

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

Ryan Howard not only had a tough year on the field and but a difficult one off the field after being embroiled in a lawsuit with his twin brother. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard not only had a tough year on the field and but a difficult one off the field after being embroiled in a lawsuit with his twin brother. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—To say that 2014 hasn’t been a good year for Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard would be an understatement.

Not only did he have a bad year on the field, Howard’s off field life became a bit of a mess due to a series of dueling lawsuits he and his twin brother Corey filed against each other.

The recently settled lawsuit was sparked by Ryan’s decision to terminate the personal assistant contract he had with Corey in 2013. It was a decision spurred by the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Broke” and based in the desire to let his family be family, not employees.

It did not go over well.

Ryan was paying his twin $7,975 every two weeks for handling his business affairs through his RJH Foundation so that they he could concentrate on baseball. Their parents Ron and Cheryl Howard, his brother Chris and his sister Roni Cowley, were also members of the foundation’s team despite having no financial stake of their own in it.

Prior to Ryan taking control of the foundation in 2012, family members enriched themselves to the tune of over $2 million, some of which was poured into luxury cars and other items, according to the counter suit Ryan filed against his twin.

It’s sad to see that things got this bad for the Howard family because I remember how close they seemed during happier times.

I met Howard’s family in 2006 when he won the MVP Award and again in 2009 in Kansas City when I was receiving the Sam Lacy Award from the Negro League Baseball Museum. On the surface, they seemed like your typical middle-class family and you could understand why he would trust them with his finances.

The problem was that none of Howard’s family members had experience in the business of sports and the greed bug bit and bit hard.

Or as Mase and Diddy put it “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”

Multimillion dollar athletes often find themselves not knowing who to trust. For example, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, whose story was featured in “Broke” talked about how trusting family with his money nearly ruined him financially.

Sound familiar?

No one was really qualified to handle all that money. Seemingly nice people like your family members end up becoming greedy when millions of dollars are on the table. Family members can sometimes end up becoming as unscrupulous as one of those knuckleheads an athlete meets in the streets.

“Getting money sometimes is like turning the lights on in a dark house in the ghetto,” said former Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott during his segment in “Broke.” “It exposes all the roaches and the rats.”

While his family may not like him in the short term, Ryan Howard may have saved himself from further heartache and even worse relations with his relatives by taking control of his foundation.

Howard, who will make $50 million over the next two years, needs to find someone he can trust to manage his money. He’s 35, injuries are taking their toll, and another contract like the one he currently has with the Phillies probably isn’t in the offing.

The obvious lesson here is that even the people who love you, people who are seemingly grounded and have the noblest of intentions, can become people you don’t recognize when millions of dollars are involved. I hope that Howard and his mom, dad, sister and brothers can heal and go back to being “just family.”

After all, blood should be thicker than money, right?

Phillies Need to Face the Reality of Rebuilding

1 Oct

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

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

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

PHILADELPHIA—During the early part of the 2014 season, the Phillies left you with the impression that they could just have timely hitting, good defense and good pitching on a consistent basis, they were close to being a contender in the National League East.

It was something General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believed and it was something manager Ryne Sandberg talked about even after nights when the Phillies offense came up short or the starting pitching put them in a deep hole from which they could not recover.

That was not only wishful thinking on part of Amaro and Sandberg, it was downright delusional.

Instead, the Phillies did what bad teams usually do, play well in one aspect of their game and suck in some other part. That was the most consistent aspect of the Phillies in 2014 and it resulted in the team’s last place finish (73-89) in the NL East.

To be honest, this season was doomed from the start, going back to the off-season when the most significant free agents signings were aging, over 30-something veterans like pitcher A.J. Burnett and outfielder Marlon Byrd.

While the latter actually had a decent season, the former pitched like the 37-year-old man he was during the season.

Burnett won just two games after the All-Star break and finished the season 8-18 with a 4.59 earned run average. The team also didn’t have left-handed starter Cliff Lee, who finished his season on the disabled list, for most of the season.

Right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (now a free agent) was hot and cold, often struggling to get out of the first inning.

The only bright spots for the Phillies in 2014 were Cole Hamels, who got little help from his offense, and the young bullpen. Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but finished 9-9 and often lacked run support. He also had a no-hitter he shared with two other pitchers.

The Phils offense was a constant problem all year outside of Byrd, who led the team in home runs and lead-off hitter Ben Revere, who batted .307 and tied for the National League lead in hits.

Unfortunately, Amaro’s resurgence of the “Wheez Kids” was a monumental failure and it’s painfully obvious that change has to come, especially on offense.

That means that it’s time for the Phillies to come to the realization that Amaro has been avoiding for a long time—it’s time to say a fond farewell to the now 30-something guys who won the 2008 World Series whose best days are collectively behind them.

Ryan Howard struggles hurt the Phillies offense in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Ryan Howard struggles hurt the Phillies offense in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Of course, the hardest player for the Phillies to move will be first baseman Ryan Howard, who will be 35 in 2015, because the team still owes him $60 million. No one around baseball wants to take on that salary.

Howard is coming off a season where he batted just .223 with 23 homeruns and 95 runs batted in with a league-leading 190 strikeouts. It was the first time since 2011 that Howard has played more than 150 games in a season.

After struggling through a myriad of leg injuries over the last couple of years, it was an accomplishment for Howard to finish the season. While those injuries are fully healed, I don’t think Howard was ever 100 percent back to himself from a baseball perspective.

That said, I think a change of scenery to an American League team where he can be a designated hitter might do him some good and even bring about resurgence in his career.

Meanwhile, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley have no-trade clauses in their contract. Rollins, the Phillies all-time leader in hits, told reporters back in June that he would be open to a trade if the team goes into complete rebuilding mode.

Guess what? That time is here.

Utley, who struggled in the second half of the season, should consider waiving his no-trade clause as well because it’s going to be a long time before this team is a contender again. I don’t know if Utley will like playing for a young, rebuilding team.

Out of the Phillies younger players that have come out of their system in the last year or so, third baseman Cody Asche was the only one who solidified a starting spot next year in the Phils starting lineup. There’s also talk that prospect Maikel Franco could be on the roster next year.

The Phillies will likely part ways with Domonic Brown, who had an awful season and regressed as a hitter. He batted .235 with just 10 home runs, 63 runs batted in and an on-base percentage of .285. In 2013, Brown had a .272 average with 27 homers, 83 RBI, and a .324 on-base percentage.

The Phillies will have a solid bullpen next year with a solid corps of young arms led by hard-throwing righthander Ken Giles, who will be the team’s next closer if they can’t find a suitor for Jonathan Papelbon, who served a seven-game suspension near the end of the season for an obscene gesture. He saved 39 of 43 games in 2014.

Giles, whose fast ball was clocked at 100 miles per hour, had a 1.18 earned run average in 44 games and had a 3-1 record with one save.

Amaro himself is on the clock in 2015—the final year of his contract. He has to figure out a way to get this ship going in the right direction for next year and beyond.

If he doesn’t, Amaro will be given his walking papers the same way former assistant general manager for amateur scouting Marti Worlever got his near the end of the 2014 season.

A Heroes’ Welcome Home for Taney Dragons by the City of Brotherly Love

29 Aug

Thousands of Philadelphia sports fans gathered near the Kimmell Center to welcome home the Taney Dragons  and hear the Philadelphia POPs Orchestra salute to the team for their successful run to the Little League World Series. Photo by Chris Murray.

Thousands of Philadelphia sports fans gathered near the Kimmell Center to welcome home the Taney Dragons and hear the Philadelphia POPs Orchestra salute to the team for their successful run to the Little League World Series. Photo by Chris Murray.

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

After the Parade down Broad Street, the Taney Dragons were honored by Ryan Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizen's Bank Park before Wednesday's game against the Washington Nationals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

After the Parade down Broad Street, the Taney Dragons were honored by Ryan Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizen’s Bank Park before Wednesday’s game against the Washington Nationals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA –A lot of people who would normally be hard at work in their Center City offices were instead gathered on the streets of Philadelphia in support of the Taney Dragons Little League team as part of a parade honoring the Mid-Atlantic Little League champions Wednesday.

Waving signs that said, “We Love Taney,” “We’re on the Dragon Wagon,” and “Let’s Go Taney,” a crowd of thousands took part in the parade, which also featured performances by the Philly POPS orchestra in front of the Kimmel Center and the Mummers at Broad and Washington.

In the midst of a tumultuous summer on the streets of Philly and around the world, the Dragons, a multi-ethnic team of 12 and 13-year-olds, gave everyone something to smile about during their Little League World Series run in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, said Mayor Michael Nutter.

“We’ve had a number of tragedies this summer just in Philadelphia involving children, very tragic situations, so we mourn all of those losses and it really hurts our heart when bad things have happened to our children,” said Nutter said. “To have a few weeks, a month or so of this kind of incredible joy around children just playing a game, just having a good time, I think it was really exciting for the whole city and people responded.”

Taney Dragons pitcher Mo'ne Davis and her teammates took a victory lap around Citizen's Bank Park.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Taney Dragons pitcher Mo’ne Davis and her teammates took a victory lap around Citizen’s Bank Park. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Taney Dragons were one of two inner city teams to play in the LLWS, and the first from Philadelphia. They, and the U.S. Champion Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago, became favorites of fans around the country and garnered a lot of media attention in the process.
Taney manager Alex Rice applauded his kids for how they’ve handled it.

“It was an honor to be associated with this team for the past two months,” Rice said. “They’re talented, wonderful, high character, smart, funny wonderful kids. They played terrific baseball.”

Though the Taney Dragons finished third, they received a heroes’ welcome from a grateful hometown on Wednesday in a parade that went from downtown to Franklin D. Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia.

“The parade was awesome,” said Taney Dragons slugging outfielder Zion Spearman. “I wish we had another one, but this was awesome. I think it was nice seeing all the people. It was fun. It was pretty good because it was, I don’t know, exciting.”

Taney Dragons second baseman Jahli Hendricks looks out into the crowd during the parade down Broad Street. Photo by Chris Murray.

Taney Dragons second baseman Jahli Hendricks looks out into the crowd during the parade down Broad Street. Photo by Chris Murray.

After marching down Broad Street, Mayor Nutter and Second District City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson honored the team with a proclamation and announced plans provide more resources to recreation programs in the city and repair the city’s baseball fields.

Later in the day, the team went to Citizens Bank Park where the Philadelphia Phillies honored them and let entire team threw the ceremonial first pitch. They also got some encouragement from Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who spent time with them in Williamsport.

“This is the epitome of Philadelphia right here,” Howard said during the ceremony. “I felt like a little kid when I was hanging out with these guys. They were full of life and full of energy and just plain fun.”

For the kids, it has been a whirlwind last couple of weeks with games and celebrations. This is especially true for 13-year-old pitcher Mo’ne Davis, who thrilled fans and dazzled with her 70-mile per hour fast ball and became the darling of the Little League World Series.

Davis was the toast of the morning TV talk shows including ABC’s Good Morning and became the first Little Leaguer to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. By the time the parade ended, a visibly-tired Davis talked to reporters about the run through the Little World Series.

“It’s been half and half. I like it sometimes, but most of the time I don’t. I’m looking forward to school,” Davis said. “What sticks out to me is being on (the cover) of Sports Illustrated, throwing my shutout and making it to Williamsport. … It was very cool.”

Taney Dragons manager Alex Rice fields questions from reporters with his team gathered around him after the Phillies tribute to his team. Photo by Webster Riddick

Taney Dragons manager Alex Rice fields questions from reporters with his team gathered around him after the Phillies tribute to his team. Photo by Webster Riddick

The solid of performance of both the Taney Dragons and the all-Black U.S. champion Chicago Jackie Robinson West squad marked the comeback of urban baseball. The Taney Dragons squad was a multi-ethnic squad that looked more like America.

“I ran with my kids from Philadelphia, they were a perfect cross section of Philadelphia and I was thrilled with ther talent that made the team and I loved them,”  Rice said.