Wake Me When an Owner Goes Yard

WITH MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL’S most recent collective bargaining agreement having expired, and negotiations on a new CBA stalled, the league’s owners have imposed a lockout on its players. Instead of an off-season filled with trade rumors and free-agent signings, we are forced to read about revenue sharing, minimum salaries, luxury taxes, and the like. MLB has even taken the absurd and childish step of scrubbing all references to current players from its and its teams’ websites.

The knee-jerk reaction, and one I freely indulged in when the players went on strike during the 1981 season, is predictable: “These men get paid truckloads of money to play a kids’ game, and they have the temerity to demand more? How dare they!”

An important stipulation here: Yes, compared to other, more essential professions, many (most?) professional athletes are wildly overpaid. Cops, firefighters, nurses, teachers — teachers especially — are among those whose responsibility for the well being and health of a functioning society demands that we pay them more. The grotesque absurdity of a ballplayer raking in tens of millions of dollars a year while teachers have to reach into their own pockets to provide basic supplies for their students is a searing indictment of our society’s prioritization. Obscene doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Here’s the thing, though. The bigger obscenity, by far — and that’s saying something — is sports owners’ unbridled greed. They attempt to squeeze every last penny out of every last player, not caring or even noticing that their wallets grow ever fatter by the year. And you want to talk about a failsafe investment?

In 2000, David Glass purchased the Kansas City Royals for $96 million dollars. Over the next 20 seasons, the Royals were among the worst teams in baseball, making the playoffs just twice, losing 100 games or more six times, and finishing last in their division seven times. Yet just over two years ago, Glass sold the Royals for a reported $1 billion. That is a one-thousand-percent markup if you’re keeping score at home. I’m neither a sports economist nor a labor expert, but if you ask whether it’s the owners or the players whom baseball’s money structure benefits more, the answer is inarguable. And it’s not just baseball.

Baseball is my first and best sporting love. I have watched it literally for as long as I can remember. I have gone to countless games, worn the t-shirts and caps, contributed mightily to the owners’ coffers with many, many purchases of laughably overpriced beer and tepid hot dogs. And in precisely zero instances have I parted with my heart or my cash because of who owns the team.

Ruly Carpenter, Bill Giles, and John Middleton are the names at the top of the Phillies’ org charts over the years, and bully for them. But my allegiance and love belong to Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa, Tug McGraw, Garry Maddox, Pete Rose (I know, I know), Gary Matthews, Al Holland, Sixto Lezcano, John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Curt Schilling (I KNOW, I KNOW), Jim Eisenreich, Terry Mulholland, Mitch Williams, Scott Rolen, Mike Lieberthal, Jim Thome, Aaron Rowand, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Brad Lidge, Roy Halladay, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, J.T. Realmuto, and Bryce Harper. They belong as well to every last fringe player, every utility infielder, fifth outfielder, left-handed relief specialist, and set-up man, every guy who had the smallest cup of coffee in red pinstripes.

They’re the ones I’ve lived and died with. They’re the ones I’ll always live and die with. So more power to them. Spare me the tears for the miserly, rapacious sharks who sign their checks through gritted teeth with one hand while counting their towering piles of dough with the other. | DL

Dear Baseball: Please Don’t Play This Season


These are the names I remember.

Yes, yes, of course I recall Schmidt and Carlton and Bowa and Maddox and Luzinksi and Boone. But when I think back on my earliest — and I mean my very earliest — sports memories, the Phillies of the mid-1970s, it was players like Twitchell and Harmon and Jerry Martin who lodge in the back recesses of my mind, where more important things should rest.

On lazy, endless summer days, theirs were the names Harry Kalas smoothly announced on radio broadcasts — on KYW 1060, I believe. I’m back in Upper Darby, playing step ball in the center of a block-long strip of row homes, AM radio squawking, drenched in treble, Twitchell and Harmon toiling on the brutal, sizzling Veterans Stadium artificial turf.

And, yes, I also distinctly remember watching afternoon NLCS games in 1977 and 1978, Phils and Dodgers, and night games, too, Lefty slipping off the mound in the pouring rain, Bowa snaring a carom and throwing out Davey Lopes only to have the first-base ump mistakenly call him safe, the Bull fumbling a fly ball against the left-field wall.

When Tugger somehow threw a limp fastball past Willie Wilson, securing the Phils’ 1980 World Series win, I can still see where I was: in the family room in our South Jersey home, wearing a Richie Ashburn bucket hat that my dad and my brother and I were handed before a Sunday-afternoon giveaway game a season or two before. Tug leapt off the mound, bouncing on his tiptoes, and Boonie arose triumphantly from home plate, hands raised high in victory, and Schmitty leapt onto the pile at the mound, and I grabbed my hat and tossed it high toward the tilted ceiling.

I remember this. I remember it clearly.

This is to say that I love baseball. It has been my sport since the very beginning, even through high school, when it was never the cool sport. I played Little League ball for six years, made the freshman high school team, and still regret not trying out for the varsity squad.

Major League Baseball is cranking up to start an abbreviated, 60-game season in a month, and I think it’s a potentially tragic mistake. I love baseball, and I want it to shut down until next spring.

Seven Phillies players have tested positive for the coronavirus.


Several team staff members have also tested positive.

COVID-19 is not the common cold. It is a vicious, often lethal disease, even among those who are otherwise healthy. And it spreads like mad in close quarters … such as locker rooms and clubhouses. There is, of course, no effective treatment. There is no vaccine.

Is it worth playing a 60-game season for our entertainment if players and front-office members die?

I love baseball. I love it. Which is why I don’t want it played this season. | DL

COVID No. 9: I Am Not an Epidemiologist, So Take My Optimism With a Grain of Salt

DON’T ASK ME HOW IT HAPPENED, and please don’t come at me tomorrow to see if it’s still there. But somehow, someway, to paraphrase the great Marshall Crenshaw, I found not simply acceptance today but optimism.

Maybe it was the dawning hope that a major project unexpectedly handed to me at my new job will be seen through successfully; maybe it was hearing R. cheerfully FaceTime with her cousin this afternoon; maybe it was the bracing 2-mile walk I took while it was still dark this morning; maybe it was the sun-soaked stroll around the neighborhood I took just before lunchtime. Whatever it was, the existential threat of the last several weeks just didn’t seem as looming today.

I’m under no illusions that the next several weeks won’t suck. But it’s … several weeks. Not years, not a lifetime. Several weeks of sucking it up, being there for each other, rolling with it. Yes, me and my family, we’re lucky. For now, and hopefully for as long as this lasts, we can do these things. We can afford to do these things. I hope that as a country, one assaulted by a sickness that cares not for race or age or status, we can close ranks and do the right thing by everyone.

I have sadly little confidence our government can do this. And this is not a both-sides-need-to-get-it-together thing; there’s a party that controls half of the Congress and the White House, and unfortunately it’s the party that has patted science, research, data, and evidence on the head and sent it strolling down the garden path while it catered to the shrinking, shriveling demographic of old straight white guys.

My hope is that the united will of the people — because, again, this is an illness that is striking down the high and the low; COVID-19 doesn’t play the us-versus-them game — can win the day.

Blind optimism, perhaps. But I believe there will come a time, a time not so long away, when I will hug my extended family and my dear friends, when I will shake hands with colleagues, when I will sit in the stands with a cold beer and cheer on my beloved Phillies, when I will go to work — actually go to work, not step into the home office and turn on my laptop. I do not envision this time as a dream or as a hope, but as an eventuality.

He said, eyeing a half-full glass. | DL

Take Me Out to the Fall Game

Or, Why September Should be a Hell of a Lot of Fun in Philadelphia


ON THE LAST OF 2018’S DOG DAYS, they’re only three games out of the division lead. There’s a whole month of baseball left to play. But conventional wisdom has it that the Phillies are toast.

The pessimism is understandable. After their surprising surge to the top of the National League East, they’ve become an inconsistent, stumbling team. Losers of 7 of their last 10, the Phils, with a few notable exceptions (hi, Aaron and Rhys!), suddenly look lost.

Inexcusable base running mistakes. Bullpen implosions. Head-scratching managerial moves.

In other words, the usual for a young team that found itself where no one, probably them included, expected them to be — first place — and didn’t know how to play once they got there.

I’ve found my emotions pinballing back and forth since the beginning of the season. There were enough flashes of decent play last year to warrant some modest hope for 2018. The Phillies stumbled out of the gate, with manager Gabe Kapler floating around in his own private Idaho, and I took care to keep my optimism at reasonable levels. Then came the summer run, the sprint to the division lead, and I could envision playoff baseball at Citizens Bank Park. I dared to hope more intentionally and visibly.

The past few weeks have served as a reality check. That’s one of baseball’s defining features — the sample size of games is large enough produce accurate results. In the Phillies’ case, that means their contention in the division race is no fluke; they’re legitimately good enough to be where they are. It also means they may not be quite good enough. Yet.

I’ve made my peace with that, I think. They’ve given us more fun than we had reason to expect this season, and they’re clearly on the upswing. September will bring meaningful baseball, and hopefully more fans, to Citizens Bank Park for the first time in quite a few years.

If they recover their mojo and chase down the Braves, that’ll be great. But if not, 2018 will remain a successful year for the Phillies. They’re young, they’re fun to watch, and they’re talented. General manager Matt Klentak has done a fine job rebuilding a team that had fallen hard from its lofty perch of the late aughts, and there’s no reason to think he can’t or won’t land the necessary supplemental pieces in the off-season. Imagine this year’s team with a consistently big bat in the middle of the lineup, someone to give Rhys Hoskins and friends a little cover, and a consistently big arm at the back of the bullpen.

Be bold, as Kapler likes to say — in September, over the winter, and in 2019.

Can’t wait to see what happens. | DL

Rants and Faves, or Why Modern Sports Introduces Cynicism to Fans Far Earlier Than It Should

ShadyTHE WORST PART of the Eagles’ purge of LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin (and, last year, DeSean Jackson) isn’t the torrent of drivel it has unleashed on sports talk radio and Twitter. It’s having to explain it to the girls.

“Why would the Eagles get rid of those players? I thought they were good!”

Well, they are, but their cap hits were too big–

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‘Silver Linings Playbook’: A Struggling Pair Face Their Own 4th-and-26

SILVER LININGS Playbook is about football in the same way that Bull Durham is about baseball. Each sport plays an important role — it’s almost a secondary character — but never obscures the larger themes of relationships between damaged people. You don’t even have to be a fan to enjoy each film for the achievement it is.

Bradley Cooper’s Pat is just out of a mental health facility, where he spent eight months being treated for bipolar disorder after he kicked the ass of the guy bonking his wife. He’s living in his parents’ house in the Philadelphia suburbs, trying to jump-start his life and win back his wife. Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is a young widow trapped by her own demons. She, too, is back with her folks; her salvation is a dance competition for which she’s training. Their uneasy alliance stumbles haltingly into a wobbly friendship in which each tries to help the other.

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Other Things for Which I’m Thankful

Yes, of course I’m thankful for my family, my health, my friends, my job, and my house. But there are other, less obvious things for which I am grateful on Thanksgiving Day 2012:

  • “Lonely Boy.” The guitar-crunching, beat-driving, blessedly economic anthem celebrating unrequited love was my gateway to the Black Keys, and the best rock song of the year. (Yes, I know it was released in 2011, but I didn’t hear it until this year.) A staple on my iPod.
  • Cole Hamels. The suave southpaw would have commanded a massive contract on the free-agent market, but instead signed a massive extension to stay with the Phillies. No, he won’t be hurting, but Hamels’s deep ties to Philadelphia–he and his wife are among the most visible and outspoken philanthropists in the region–seem to be genuine. Here’s hoping a few Cy Young Awards and World Series titles are in No. 35’s future.
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Put Me In, Coach! I’m Ready to Pl–Oh, Wait, Is That a Butterfly?

They still sometimes need to be told to run to first base. They still sometimes need to be told where first base is. They still sometimes need to be reminded that the game they’re here to play is t-ball, not “Play With the Stray Leaf on the Ground.”

But a funny thing happened over the last couple of months. The seven 5- and 6-year-olds I coach have become better ballplayers.

Now, as noted above, they are still very much athletic works in progress. But where they are doesn’t matter; how far they’ve come does.

Firecracker is one of my players, and as much as I want her to approach the game with Utley-level intensity and focus, she’s among those who need to reminded that staring at the game two fields over is a good way to whacked in the coconut by a ball she should have been prepared to catch. Nevertheless, she, too, has begun picking up how things go.

Our last practice of the season was last night; our final game is tomorrow night. By the time we exchange the final high-fives, I’ll be ready for the break. But I’ll also be damned proud that a group of little girls most concerned with whose mom was bringing the post-game snack somehow learned a little bit about playing ball. | DL