Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In Pat We Trust

By Tim McManus

If the song remained the same, Tuesday, May 30 would have marked the end of the Philadelphia Phillies’ 2006 campaign.

Amid reports that Yankees’ scouts were at Citizens Bank Park to observe outfielders Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell, General Manager Ed Wade would have emerged from his bunker to defiantly dismiss any trade rumors:

“I like the group we have assembled,” Wade would say, in the cry that marked his reign and guaranteed his downfall. “We have a strong, young nucleus, and both Pat and Bobby are a major part of that. Neither player is available.

“I think once we get healthy and Wolfy and Lieby get back on the mound, we’ll be in good shape.”

The trade deadline would come and go, leaving the team once again deflated and without the necessary cog or two that could have solidified them as contenders.

According to several accounts, Wade was hot-tempered and known for berating both players and media members alike. This personality trait seemed to surface the most in July, when it was perennially intimated that the team he put together might need some tweaking via a trade. One reported incident has the former GM, when asked if there was anything in the works, taking a verbal shot at the reporter before telling him to kiss where the sun don’t shine.

With this defensive, dismissive and even aggressive side of Wade revealed, it is not a stretch to suggest that his non-action before the deadline was in part to service his ego, and it even helps explain why many blue-chippers in this organization (Schilling, Rolen, Wagner) were quick to flee.

There’s a reason why Wade is now just a scout for the San Diego Padres.

In his place stands Pat Gillick, who admittedly hasn’t pushed all of the right buttons to date. He sent the erratic but at times sensational Vicente Padilla to Texas for Ricardo Rodriguez, who was promptly released. And free agent acquisitions Abraham Nunez and Ryan Franklin have been busts.

Washing all of that away, however, was Gillick’s ability to receive value in return for Jim Thome. Even though the slugger hit just seven home runs in 59 games last season and was suffering through chronic back problems that threatened to derail his career, Gillick was able to pump his value high enough to get World Series champion Aaron Rowand in return. Whereas Kenny Lofton would have likely still been gimping around center under Wade, Gillick acquired a man who has become the (albeit broken) face of the team; a player that single-handedly won one game for the Phils with his already legendary grab, and helped propel the winning streak that put his squad in contention.

Where Gillick becomes even more valuable is in the here and now. Realizing that a front-line pitcher trumps even the most sensational of field players in terms of importance, he openly shopped the likes of Abreu in the offseason, obviously to no avail. Now, with some teams (specifically the Yanks) in need of a high-caliber outfielder, the market appears ready to bear just what Pat is looking for.

The rumored three-way trade that would send Burrell or Abreu to the Yankees and bring left-handed ace Dontrelle Willis to Philly probably won’t happen. As history teaches us, the first reported blockbuster is rarely announced because it’s going to go through, but rather to gauge and enhance market value.

The beauty, though, is that the Phillies organization, led by Gillick, is openly in the thick of this ongoing positioning. The lines of communication are wide open; no player this side of Cole Hamels is off-limits; and there is a definite feeling that something, at some point, will get done.

Wade never seemed to grasp the importance – both to the health of his team and the sanity of his fan base – of getting into the mix.

Pat’s in it. And there’s something beyond hope that tells us that his next press conference will not be to deny rumors before telling us to collectively kiss off, but rather to introduce the missing piece of a championship puzzle.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Get a Grip Philly

By John McMullen

How the mighty have fallen...

Jimmy Rollins began this season hounded by the media and chasing the ghost of Mr. Coffee himself, “The Yankee Clipper” Joe DiMaggio.

Of course, placing the name of a deeply flawed hitter next to DiMaggio is folly.

Joe D. was a legend and I am not talking about any 56-game hitting streak or multiple World Series rings. Yeah, those things are nice but DiMaggio was married to Marilyn Monroe!

Talk about greatness....

But what the heck? -- We all needed something to write about, myself included. No one really thought Rollins had any shot of sniffing 56 -- unless it was popping out in 56 in a row.

That doesn't mean Jimmy isn't a good ballplayer. In fact, in this watered down product that masquerades as Major League Baseball, he’s an All-Star type player.

Now, as his batting average heads south of the .240 mark and he has been jettisoned from the No. 1 spot in the batting order, Rollins is no longer looking for a place in history -- he’s just looking for his stroke.

His replacement in the leadoff spot (for now), Shane Victorino, is just the latest flash in the pan that the fickle Philly faithful have embraced. Listen to the zealots and Shane is Rickey Henderson incarnate, the best leadoff hitter in the game.

Sometimes I think the average Philly fan can sell a line of B.S. better than Anthony Robbins or L. Ron Hubbard ever could. Problem is, they don’t know it’s B.S.

So, it’s time to apply the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep it simple stupid) to this issue.

Victorino is to Rollins what Rollins is to DiMaggio...

Charlie Manuel has already said he would "probably" put Rollins back in the leadoff spot when Aaron Rowand returns from the disabled list. Meanwhile, Victorino will be on his way back to the bench, where he belongs.

For once, Uncle Charlie is right...Whether you like it or not.

-You can reach John McMullen at jmcmullen1@comcast.net or john@phillysportsline.com

Beat it, Bobby

By Steven Lienert

Bobby Abreu wouldn't bat lead off for Larry Bowa, but now he'll do it for Charlie Manuel?

Man, that's the straw that breaks the camel's back.

From his post home-run derby slump to the farce of his Gold Glove, Abreu is now Public Enemy No. 1.

And Manuel is No. 1A.

New general manager Pat Gillick got rid of Vicente Padilla in the offseason for a bag of balls he later discarded. It was addition by subtraction. Despite all of Abreu's talent, it might be time to Padilla him as well.

Why the sudden change of heart, Bobby? And since when are you a "team guy"?

"It's different," he said. "Now, we've got guys who can drive in runs."

Yes, he's the most productive right fielder in recent Phillies history, but he has the emptiest stats this side of Von Hayes. Batting lead off just isn't the answer.

The answer is to trade him immediately -- if not sooner -- preferably to the Angels for Bartolo Colon. Or to the Indians for Jake Westbrook. Or to the Giants for Jason Schmidt.

This would have a two-fold effect on the Fightin' Phils.

First, it would bolster the rotation. Any one of those three hurlers would fit nicely in front of Jon Lieber and Brett Myers.

Second, it would allow Shane Victorino to play everyday and bat lead off, followed by Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Rowand, David Bell, whomever's catching and whomever's pitching.

Sure, the Phillies' outfielding depth would be compromised, but Chris Roberson has proven to be a fine defensive replacement at the least, and Dave Dellucci played over 100 games in each of the past two season in the outfield for Texas.

Abreu is what Jim Thome was at the end of the last season: in the way of progress.

Speaking of progress, how much longer are Phillies fans going to be subjected to Uncle Charlie?

Last year, fans anxiously waited for the ax to drop on Ed Wade.

Different year, same story. It's not a question of if he will be fired -- it's a question of when.

What is Gillick waiting for? Manuel is an outright joke, especially when he says things like he wanted to see what Rollins could do in the lead off position. That's after watching him bat lead off for about the last 200 games.

Manuel is overmatched on a nightly basis, and with a guy like Lou Piniella still available, it's not too late to make a strong playoff push.

But it's going to take a couple of moves.

Deal Abreu. Fire Manuel.

Steve Lienert can be reached at stevel@phillysportsline.com

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Chronology of a Loss

By Jared Trexler

Welcome to Wednesday. Five hours and 21 minutes after Tuesday's pivotal NL East showdown began, a weary Ryan Madson stared at dangerous left-handed hitting thumper Carlos Beltran. The slugger was thinking one thing.

I want to go home.

One swing of the bat later, Beltran got his wish and the cruel fate of baseball handed out its penalties. Madson was a loser for stats purposes only. The real loser of the marathon with the Mets was manager Charlie Manuel.

Think I'm oversimplifying the loss? Think I'm taking the easy way out?

Judge for yourself. It is all in a nice, neat log for your reading pleasure. The Phanatic proudly presents, "The Chronology of a Loss."

7:19 p.m. (et): Pat Burrell knocks in Chase Utley with a solid single to right. It's a good sign when Burrell drives an outside pitch the other way. Ryan Howard follows with a towering sacrifice fly, staking young right-hander Gavin Floyd to a 2-0 edge. The long, loud out would be the high point of possibly Howard's worst game as a pro.

7:50 p.m. (et): Floyd gives one of the runs back, as David Wright drills a belt-high fastball over the wall in left-center field. Wright will be doing that for a long time in a Mets uniform.

8:15 p.m. (et): The anatomy of the Phillies. Utley and Bobby Abreu single then Burrell walks to load the bases with nobody out. Steve Trachsel doesn't throw Howard a strike. Not one. The first baseman swings at two eye-level heaters and haplessly whiffs at a splitter that was closer to the Garden State Parkway than the strike zone. Shane Victorino then chops the ball back to Trachsel for a force at home. David Bell flies to center. RED MEANS GO.

8:40 p.m. (et): Stephen King's Desperation is on ABC. I desperately want Floyd to throw a changeup, a splitter, a slider. Any third pitch will do. He instead decides to torture me with a middle-in heater to Cliff Floyd, who deposits the pitch over the right-field wall to tie the game.

On "Deal or No Deal," some lady is throwing away her chance at starting a bakery. She is offered $71,000, but decides to ignore the advice of the rational minds and take the gamble. She walks away with $50, so instead of making granny's homemade Boston cream pie, the 50 bucks will go a long way towards buying the complete Celine Dion collection to drown out her tears.

9:15 p.m. (et): Trachsel is unfairly slow. I mean it was comical at first. But I believe (though I have no research to back up this claim) that the Mets' attendance has to suffer when he pitches. Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled program.

9:17 p.m. (et): The Fightin' Phils engineer a two-out rally. Burrell and Howard walk. Victorino singles to right and the high-stakes gambler Bill Dancy continues the windmill. Burrell is out by four steps, but the curse of Endy Chavez helps the Phils. His throw short hops Paul Lo Duca and Burrell slides in safely 30 minutes later (it felt that way). Bell then drops the bat head (Chris Wheeler would be proud) on a down-and-in fastball, driving a three-run homer into the left-field seats. 6-2 PHILLIES.

10:22 p.m. (et): We are moving ahead because, well....it gets very interesting. Holding an 8-5 advantage, Arthur Rhodes cruises through the seventh frame. Fellow lefty Cliff Floyd, switch-hitting Kaz Matsui and Chavez are sitting on the docket for the Mets. Manuel goes to Ryan Franklin because, in Charlie's paraphrased words (adjustments to resemble the English language), Rhodes is the eighth-inning guy, and we (the brain trust) switched it up for the seventh...so we went to our seventh-inning guy in the eighth.

EXCELLENT. Franklin should have juiced up prior to the game. Jose Reyes looks like Corey Pavin, as he golfs a low-and-in pitch for a two-run homer thatties the game. BRILLIANT CHARLIE. RHODES BARELY THREW ANY PITCHES. HOW ABOUT FLASH GORDON FOR A FOUR-OUT SAVE?

10:30 p.m. (et): Burrell singles in the ninth then leaves the game for pinch-runner Chris Roberson. Sweet. Manuel is about to play small ball, put Roberson on the move and make something happen. Except Roberson pulls his best Burrell impersonation. He stays anchored at first base to, as Wheeler aptly points out, "keep the hole open for the left-handed hitters." How about having Roberson steal second and one of our prized lefties hit him home?!?! Oh well, at least Roberson was just a pinch runner. SO WE ALL THOUGHT.

The Next Two Hours: The French version of "Where's Waldo" begins. The Phillies muster little offense inning after inning. Madson keeps going out to the mound. Where's Rheal Cormier? Madson's pitch count reaches 90, highlighted by a few long outs (Harry K thought at least two of them were game-winning homers).

Bench coach Gary Varsho bumps Charlie. Where's Cormier? (turns out he was unavailable because of a cortisone shot. Ok, then why did Manuel use Geoff Geary for only ONE out).

The game seems to have no end. Manuel misses his midnight medication. He also appears to be in a hurry, because he continually glances at his watch. Madson is tiring.

Well, at least the Met-killer Burrell is getting his hacks in the middle of the lineup during all of these extra innings. Oh, wait. Roberson finishes 0-for-3.

Manuel seems determined to get some sleep. There should have been no rush. It appears Manuel hasn't made a noticeable move from his perch for at least three innings.

Madson's pitch count boils over 100. He leaves a pitch up. Go get some sleep Charlie. You have another game to destroy tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sick of being sick

By Steven Lienert

Just two weeks removed from an emergency appendectomy, the last thing I needed was to get sick to my stomach. But if Ben Roethlisberger is the new face of the NFL, this has become one ugly league.

Who cares about Pittsburgh? People from Pittsburgh don't care about Pittsburgh.

Steeler fans, though, should be thankful Roethlisberger isn't on the cover of Madden '07. That would have just guaranteed a season-ending injury to Pittsburgh's savior. So go look at yer shiny trophy and pretend everything's all right in the world...

After his game-winning, face-crushing catch against the Mets, Phillies outfielder Aaron Rowand deserves to be on a video cover more than Roethlisberger. As long as he doesn't say anything disparaging about Donovan McNabb, Rowand will never have to pay for another beer in this town...

By the way, since when did Red Sox fans become like a swarm of chowdah-slurping, funny-talking locusts? There were more Tom Brady jerseys at Citizens Bank Park last week than there were at Boston's Patriot's Day festivities. Who dresses these people? ...

Speaking of dress codes, what happened to the NBA? Three of the four conference semifinals went to pivotal Game 7s, yet I couldn't care less.

Since 1980, the NBA has had seven, count 'em, seven different champions. Granted, there's a 75 percent chance that an eighth NBA team will crack the ranks only the Lakers, Bulls, Sixers, Celtics, Rockets, Pistons and Spurs have achieved in the past 26 years. But, let's face it: Detroit will win again. Wake me up when somebody different wins the title...

While we're talking championships, I'm rooting hard for Edmonton to win the Stanley Cup. First, it would be significant for a Canadian team to regain the Cup after a 13-year drought. Second, it would give underdogs everywhere renewed hope: an eight-seed that just got into the playoffs in the last week of the season going all the way to capture a title...

The WNBA season just started back up, and there's more interest than ever before. That was until men found out that the 'N' didn't stand for naked. And I thought the NBA was bad...

One last note: In all seriousness, I hope Barbaro lives through his ordeal. No one, man or animal, deserves to die from a sports injury. This is all just entertainment after all.

Steve Lienert can be reached at stevelienert@hotmail.com

Monday, May 22, 2006

The new face of the NFL

By Jared Trexler

Shaun Alexander will stiff arm defenders on the cover of Madden '07, following the likes of Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Daunte Culpepper on the front of America's top video game.

The selection of Alexander is fitting. It stays with the game's tradition of taking a marquee name to attract massive sales. It also, possibly by pure luck or maybe the beginning of a scary trend, continues the selection of players who haven't "Won."

And I don't mean the lowercase word ("won") that signifies a player who is part of a division-winning club that makes constant cameos in the postseason marked with the improbable trip to a Super Bowl. These players leave the field season after season as a loser, despite gaudy numbers and lofty praise.

The above names are all great players, superstars of the country's most popular sport. They've all won.

Tom Brady has "Won." While the stats or the highlight-reel material may not reach the standards of Vick or McNabb, Brady has that instinct, the team-first personality, the "it" that is preached up and down a league with few players to fit the mold.

Until now.

Brady has become a grizzled (literally) veteran with multiple Super Bowl rings, a permanent vacation spot in Honolulu and his pick of the glamorous "I'm hot and I know it" litter.

The NFL thought it had its new face in Eli Manning -- a quarterback with a signal-caller's pedigree playing in the bright lights of the league's top media market.

The league was close. It had the right draft but the wrong player.

If Madden '07 was searching for the NFL's new face to don its cover, it was close. It had the right game but the wrong player.

Ben Roethlisberger has the cannon. The stats. The wins. The ring. And he is two years into a career in Pittsburgh that will rival the success of Terry Bradshaw.

Before I get attacked by my trusted colleagues for galloping on my high horse, let me finish. I'm not calling Roethlisberger the best quarterback in the NFL. I think he belongs in the league's top 10, but is several years away from grabbing Brady's mantle.

However, no one can argue that Big Ben wins, and does so in a way that pales in comparison to EVERY quarterback in the league other than Brady.

And in the end that's what the NFL is all about. It's how legends are made. Winning embodies excellence, and the league foams at the mouth for success stories.

Those players are not only marketable, but vital to the league's vitality. They are few and far between.

Big Ben is one of those players. Players around the league know it. Coaches know it. The big wigs of pigskin know it.

Roethlisberger is the new face of the NFL.

A rookie-record 98.1 quarterback rating. 34 touchdowns to 20 interceptions in two seasons. Steelers receivers, running backs and tight ends have caught 64.7 percent of the passes thrown in their direction from Big Ben.

Those numbers only scratch the surface. The quarterback is 28-4 as a starter. He is 5-1 in the playoffs. His arm was the difference in three straight playoff road victories in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver. He throws blocks (on Antwaan Randle El's Super Bowl touchdown toss to Hines Ward). He makes tackles (saving Pittsburgh's season with a shoestring stab at Colts cornerback Nick Harper).

Even when he doesn't play his best (i.e. the Super Bowl) he is involved in game-changing plays. He ran for a score in that game and improvised his way to a long completion to Ward that set up that touchdown.

The team is just 3-3 in games he hasn't started the last two seasons. If winning and losing doesn't knock the unjust criticism that Roethlisberger is a product of the system, I'm not sure what will.

The Steelers were a good club that needed Roethlisberger's touch to put them over the top.

I just don't understand the voice of unreason that loudly proclaims that Pittsburgh was a team bursting from its seams with talent. In the Super Bowl, its backfield consisted of a retiring bruiser and an undrafted speedster. Two ex-college quarterbacks started at receiver.

Ben made it work.

"He is one of our leaders," said Ward.

Now that Jerome Bettis has driven the Bus into the sunset, Pittsburgh is Roethlisberger's team.

And the NFL couldn't be happier.

He, like Brady, will watch McNabb's latest soap opera or Vick's newest rant about the west coast offense grab the headlines. But when the NFL needs a face for its product, it will call Big Ben.

The reason?

He just wins, baby.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The knock on Abreu

By Tim McManus

A man whom we did not recognize smiled broadly, draped in a Venezuelan flag on that July night as he raised his hat toward a roaring crowd.

“This is something amazing,” said Bobby Abreu, his Phillies cap drowned out by a pungent orange All-Star jersey and the oversized Home Run Derby trophy cradled in his arms. “I don’t know if I can sleep tonight.”

The pure-swinging, base-ravaging outfielder was lauded by the national press as an incumbent superstar, destined to elevate above the hometown boos and into the elite class of Major League Baseball.

Back at the ranch, hope sprang through the weeds. Never before had Phillies fans seen No. 53 consume the spotlight with such authority. His passion for the game had always been hidden behind level lips, monotone mutterings and unchanging mannerisms. Finally his true persona shattered the statue, announcing the emergence of the player we’d always wished him to be.

This was the start of something big.

As is the fate of this city, things did not go as envisioned. The man who shattered the Home Run Derby record managed just six homers in the second half of the season, hitting just .260 over those games thanks to a prolonged slump. Once the pinstripes were placed back on the body the free-spirited, inspired demeanor devolved into the business-like personality of old.

Though the fans waited and waited, Abreu never expressed feelings similar to the ones he exuded during All-Star weekend. He didn't forecast any more sleepless nights.

As defenders of Abreu and outsiders alike will quickly point out, his numbers in 2005 still read: .286 BA, 24 HR, 102 RBI, 31 SB. He has put up similar if not superior figures for seven years and counting, and will likely continue to for another fistful of seasons.

He is a model of consistency. And while that is reason for applause on some level, it is also the reason why he gets showered with negative criticism in this town.

For an example, look no further than Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Following Chase Utley’s two-run double in the bottom of the seventh, Abreu came to the plate representing the tying run. In a spot that demands aggressiveness, Abreu approached his at-bat like any other and ultimately struck out looking to end the rally.

While it is true that he was the most productive Phillie over the evening as a whole, finishing 2-for-3 with a double, it is undeniable that his backwards K cemented that game’s outcome.

And that is not to pin the blame on Abreu. Other batters could have come through when he was on the base paths earlier in the contest, Lieber could have pitched better, etc. And the knock on Abreu, on a larger scale, is not even that he is un-clutch (He is, after all, leading the team in hitting with runners in scoring position).

The point is that baseball is a situational game, and when defining moments arise, there are certain players in the league that zone in accordingly. This is what has made Derek Jeter, for instance, a sure-fire hall of Famer, while players with similar or better numbers overall will not even be considered.

For a more direct reference, players like Utley and Ryan Howard have demonstrated an ability to produce in big spots during their short time in the majors, leading to an overwhelming amount of fanfare while Abreu remains the focus of criticism.

Some say it’s a lack of effort on Abreu’s part; others contend that he is simply a choker.

Ultimately, neither of those arguments are valid.

In the end, the only thing that’s truly missing from Abreu’s arsenal is a killer instinct, an ability to realize when the game lies in his hands alone, and the desire to crush that moment into the right-field seats.

As evidenced during that All-Star weekend in ’05, there is superstardom in this man, a character that oozes passion and charisma and a hunger for center stage.

The boos are nothing more than a plea for him to assume that lead role for a town desperate to embrace him.

You can contact Tim McManus at tmcm1997@yahoo.com

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bring Brown Back?...Yeah, Right

By John McMullen

Larry Brown will be available to coach another basketball team very soon.

Only the terms of a buyout between the New York Knicks and Brown, terms that could be worth $40 million for the gypsy of the basketball world, stand between Larry and yet another coaching stop.

And that has to make you think...Can Brown fix the Sixers for a second time?

Perhaps...he's the best pure basketball coach in the world and he certainly understands how to build a team around Allen Iverson.

His protege, Billy King, hasn't been able to figure out how to accentuate Iverson's unique talents, even though Brown left him the blueprint.

Most thought King was nothing but a yes man for Larry and forced to fly on his own, he has been a colossal failure as the head of the Sixers' basketball operations.

Larry could come in tomorrow and build another a contender with the team's meal ticket, Iverson. You could bet the next generation of role players like Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Tyrone Hill, Raja Bell and Bruce Bowen would be earmarked for Philly while one-dimensional clods like Chris Webber, Kyle Korver and Willie Green would be booking flights out of town.

Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert would start utilizing their vast defensive talents or they would join the aforementioned flotsam in other cities.

But, it's all just a dream...There is just too much baggage.

Everyone who comes in contact with Brown eventually grows to dislike him.

And Ed Snider is at the front of a very long and ever-increasing line in that regard.

So we are stuck with Snider and King, one executive who doesn't care about anything that isn't orange and black and another who rivals Isiah Thomas' incompetence.

-You can reach John McMullen at jmcmullen1@comcast.net

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Oh No!

By John McMullen

You have to hand it to him...Terrell Owens is good at what he does.

No, I'm not talking about catching footballs...That's T.O.'s hobby.

His real passion is destroying things.

I've said it before....Owens is "Leon" from those Budweiser commercials come to life. He is simply the most selfish teammate in the history of professional sports.

And that covers some serious ground since, last I looked, Major League Baseball was still going strong and guys like Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, Jr. are always at the ready to ruin a franchise in a single bound.

But, Owens is a breed apart.....He can poison a team from halfway across the country.

Yep, poor Donovan McNabb can't forget about Owens and he showed up at mini-camp crying like the wimpy kid in kindergarten.

Oh sure, the tears weren't overt. It was the kind of passive aggressive stuff that women have evoked into an art form.

Sporting a T-shirt that read -- "If you can't trust your family, who can you trust?" -- McNabb seemed to be challenging and threatening his teammates at the same time.

Yet, the politically correct members of my brethren still want you to believe that McNabb is a smart guy .

Come on!

Smart people don't act like he does and they also don't throw balls directly to Roy Williams. Nope, it's time to be honest and dig up those Wonderlic scores and question the veracity of that orange-tinted degree.
The uber-sensitive McNabb just keeps droning on and on about being treated unfairly by the entire world and he is losing his locker room. When 19 Eagles actually attended a party thrown by the suspended Owens in Atlantic City last season , it was a direct slap in the face to the Chunky Soup star.

Why would a group of Eagles defend a cancer like Owens with their actions?

It's simple...Because football players don't like female dogs! (Don't make me say the word)

The sane of us know, the only black on black crime in this entire saga is what Donovan has done to himself.

And with that in mind, I would like encourage Mr. McNabb to finally seek the professional help he so desperately needs.

I think Dr. Phil is on UPN 57 at 10:00 p.m.

-You can reach John McMullen at Jmcmullen1@comcast.net

Monday, May 15, 2006

Rebuttal: When the dust settles, Abreu should remain a Phillie

By Jared Trexler

The Philadelphia Phillies are baseball's hottest team. They aren't its best squad.

The Phillies aren't the pitching-deficient 10-14 team that showered its way through a frustrating April. They also aren't the 12-1 team that has received contributions from 1-to-25 on the big-league roster and blossomed during May.

However, my trusted colleague is slightly misguided in his analysis that the Phillies are both of these teams. Because of a season's length, even the best clubs run hot and cold. The Chicago White Sox built a large lead in the AL Central last season, then held on for their dear lives as the clutch hits and incredible pitching disappeared in the regular season's last month.

The White Sox ended up showing the season-ending slump was a mirage. They were truly the team that stormed out of the gates so fast. They have the rings to prove it.

I have asserted from the season's first pitch that the Philadelphia Phillies are the best team in the National League East. Thirty-seven games into the season, I remain firm in my convictions.

The Philadelphia Phillies have flaws. Every team, including the New York Yankees, has deficiencies. However, the Phillies make up for such flaws with the game's best hitting second baseman. The game's best fielding shortstop. A young and promising slugger. And a right-hander who seems to have finally resolved the mental/emotional issues that at times have overshadowed enormous physical talent.

As is, the Philadelphia Phillies can make the playoffs. They can win the division. They can advance one round in the playoffs. They can't win the World Series.

So naturally, fans seeing a team in need of a push dream for a player that can put a talented team over the top.

Fans fantasize a trade that will finally bring a championship-starved city another crown. They assert that one player (or more) needs to pack their bags, with a high-profile pitcher brought in to sew up the Phillies greatest weakness.

The player leaving should not be Bobby Abreu. And the player coming in should not be Randy Johnson. PERIOD.

Five wins to four losses. An earned run average of 5.13. A fading fastball and a slider that just doesn't slide anymore. A 42-year-old arm that is showing alarming signs of wear and tear.

Are those numbers significantly better than any of Philadelphia's starters? Jon Lieber was brilliant on Saturday in Cincinnati and seems to be settling into his comfort zone. Cory Lidle, minus one start against the Mets, has been a dependable innings eater. Gavin Floyd, he of the baseball magic act, gains confidence with each win. Cole Hamels is the supposed savior. Brett Myers has been electric.

That staff is not great, and an upgrade would boost the club's chances of success come late Fall. However, the answer is not a 42-year-old power pitcher who has lost movement on his out pitch and five miles per hour off a once feared heater.

The worst part of my colleague's trade is the player the Phillies would be trading in return for the aging acne-covered hurler.

BOBBY ABREU. BOBBY "ON-BASE MACHINE" ABREU. Abreu is not only the best hitter on the club, but he is also the most important part of the lineup.

Without Abreu penciled into the third hole for the last two games in Cincinnati because of back spasms, the Phillies offense scored four runs in 21 innings. Two of them came on solo shots by an ill Ryan Howard.

The lineup lacked pop. More importantly, it lacked discipline. Abreu leads the league in walks and sees more pitches than any player in baseball. That's important for a lineup that features Jimmy "Willie Mays Hayes" Rollins at the top and free-swinging David Bell and Mike Lieberthal at the bottom.

So even when Abreu is in a slump, (like the 4-for-32 struggle he is in now) he still is getting on base. During the last 12 games, the All-Star right fielder has scored nine runs. His OBP is still well above the National-League norm despite struggles at the plate.

No team trades it's best overall batter for an aging arm, even if pitching is both a priority and a weakness.

Do I think the Phillies will make a move by the deadline? Absolutely. General manager Pat Gillick's wish list will include Jason Schmidt, Barry Zito, Livan Hernandez, Dontrelle Willis, Brad Radke and Greg Maddux, who while up in age pitches with the finesse necessary for a 40-something pitcher's survival.

My feeling is Gillick will nab one of those arms. My guess is either Schmidt or Radke depending on the package he is willing to part with. Lidle will bedangled (who believe it or not is a perfect trade piece to send to a non-contending team -- veteran, cheap arm in a contract year), as will David Delucci and minor-league prospect Daniel Haigwood.

Any combination of Lidle, Delucci and one or two minor leaguers should be able to nab one of the above-named arms.

My colleague is a Phils fan and of course wants to see them succeed. Now imagine a starting staff in September of Myers, Schmidt/Zito/Radke, Lieber, Hamels and Floyd.

Scary. Do you know what would be even scarier about that team?

Abreu would be batting third.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Let's Make a Big Move

By Tim McManus

Phillies' fans have every reason to be happy about the recent surge, one that has moved the club to within striking distance of the Mets in the NL East.

Just don't be fooled into thinking it's going to last.

It's easy to get sucked into the moment, to think that all of the Phils' problems are solved. They're not.

Truth is, right now everything is going right. The bats are producing in big spots, the starters have been pretty magnificent, and the bullpen has been close to flawless. The result is a 12-1 record in the month of May.

Just in the rearview, though, is an image that is every bit as representative of this team as the one currently in front of you. In April, the Fightin's were hitting about 50 points lower with runners in scoring position; the starting pitching bordered on atrocious; and the bullpen (Tom Gordon aside) labored in mediocrity. That combination led to a 10-14 record to start the season.
The lesson isn't even that the true Phillies' identity lies somewhere in between; it's that they are both of those teams.

By nature, hitting is streaky, particularly when home runs are such a major part of your makeup. This offense is quite capable of putting up big numbers, and will be one of the top producing units in the majors when all is said and done. There will be stretches, however, when they go collectively cold.

This is where pitching comes in.

The good teams -- you know, like the ones who don't go 13 years between playoff appearances -- garner their strength from the mound. This way, they are sustained even in the times when the offense whispers rather than roars.

Without pitching as a backbone, a team is vulnerable to sudden streaks --sometimes toward the heavens, sometimes toward the sewer.

And that brings us to our 2006 Philadelphia Phillies, who find themselves with a rare opportunity in front of them.

The New York Yankees, as you may have heard, are in the market for a right fielder. The Phils, it just so happens, have a rather productive one whom they have been unabashedly shopping since Pat Gillick assumed the role of general manager.

So here's my thought: Trade Bobby Abreu for Randy Johnson.

I know, I know, he's 87, appears lost in the weeds despite his 7-foot stature, and has a gigantic contract. This, and a chill-invoking image of having Bubba Crosby roaming the outfield on a daily basis, could make Johnson expendable in the Yankees' eyes, especially with Carl Pavano set to return in the near future.

In any other year, a playoff-caliber team would never think of trading a five-time Cy Young winner, even amidst struggles. This is why the Phillies should pounce, and pounce now.
If money is your concern, know that Johnson makes only $2 million more a year than Abreu does.

If Johnson's recent woes are your focus, I gotta say, you have a point. Maybe he is washed up, and Philadelphia in turn would be saddled with a monster contract and a lifeless arm for the next several years.

But what if he rounds into form? Getting a No. 1 of Johnson's caliber would not only propel the Phillies into the postseason, but give them a legitimate shot at winning the World Series. For a rotation of Johnson, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and/or Jon Lieber, backed by this offense and a filthy-deep bullpen, is quality enough to go toe-to-toe with any club in the National League.

At best, Johnson will thrive minus the New York pressure and guide this team into the playoffs while tutoring Hamels, a fellow lefty. If this is the case, you can hold onto Johnson for another year or ship him in the offseason while his stock is high.

At worst, Johnson will be a sub par hurler who, if nothing else, teaches the young pups a trick or two en route to an unspectacular end to his career.

If this happens, the Phils would likely miss out on the postseason.

That, however, would be nothing new. So in essence, there's nothing to lose and a potential World Series to gain.

Knowing that Abreu is on his way out regardless, isn't that a risk worth taking?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Winning Isn’t Everything

By John McMullen

We all know this city’s history and how long we have been waiting for a championship.

But, winning isn’t everything.

I can't express how much I agree with my colleague's recent assessment of the Philadelphia Phillies’ woes.

As Tim McManus so eloquently stated, the team has spent far too much time sacrificing arms at the expense of lumber. And, I think we all understand if the Fightin’s acquiesced to demands of Curt Schilling, they likely would have brought home some hardware in the past decade.

But, it wouldn’t have been worth it.

If there were an award for the most hated man in professional sports, Barry Bonds would likely win in a landslide. The undisputed champ in my mind is Schilling.

I'm in the minority but I celebrate the fact that the Phils jettisoned this jackass, fully aware he has garnered two world championships.

Anything that saves me from listening to this insufferable lout on a daily basis is a positive. Having seen a couple of Curt’s blowups behind the scenes, let’s just say there is a gap between the true nature of the man and the image he likes to project in public.

Schilling’s self-serving rhetoric during the congressional steroid hearings last March was just the tip of the iceberg. If you want a few laughs, pick up the issue of GQ that actually rated the 10 most hated athletes in professional sports and you might begin to realize what a hopeless fraud we are talking about.

On days Schilling doesn’t pitch, he is famous for paying homage to Adam Copeland by striking a series of five-second poses for the benefit of those with flash photography and of course, the TV cameras. His manager with the Phillies, Jim Fregosi, actually christened him with the nickname “Red Light Curt.“

In fact, Schilling’s need for attention is so overwhelming that many (including yours truly) doubt his legendary “Bloody Sock” performance in the 2004 postseason, when this bastion of physical fitness supposedly pitched on an ankle tendon sutured back in place.

You may be able to ignore the fact that pitchers in pristine physical condition couldn’t have pulled that off and Schilling‘s next career move will likely be pitchman for Krispy Kreme. But, during the game, as cameras continually focused on the red stain on Schilling’s sock, it, curiously, never spread.

Well, as the Red Sox headed to New York this week, Schilling was back at it, calling the New York press “bad people.”

Nothing like a generalization to bring home intellectual inferiority.

And after getting shellacked by an overrated Bombers team, Curt left Yankee Stadium before Thursday’s game in full uniform to go to the hospital for a “personal matter.” Of course, he made sure to leave through the press exit so all those “bad people” saw it and had to write about it.

The malady confronting Schilling was so serious, he was back on the field 45 minutes later. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Curt just wanted that picture of him coming out of the Stadium and getting in the car in uniform,” a Boston official told the New York Daily News.

Yep, his own people are fully aware of what a phony Schill is.

Winning isn’t everything...

Let low rent towns like Boston celebrate pariahs...We are better than that.

-You can reach John McMullen at JMcmullen1@comcast.net

Friday, May 12, 2006

Rolling out the carpet for King Cole

By Jared Trexler

Make sure you packed more than a travel kit, Geoff Geary. If Cole Hamels and the Phillies brass has anything to do with it, you won't be trading destinations with the prized lefty phenom ever again.

Geary ironically was the first player to greet the lanky pitching prodigy onhis initial trip to the Phillies clubhouse. And Geoff has been pitching well lately, but the time-honored management cop-out of a player's available options reared its ugly head.

I hear Lackawanna County Stadium is beautiful in mid-May.

The immediate future also looks fairly beautiful for the Phillies, who embark on a six-game road trip starting Friday night in Cincinnati after winning 10 of 11 and two out of three against the division-leading New York Mets.

Now, the best young pitching prospect in the game will make his major league debut Friday night for the hottest team in baseball.

Hamels' fastball tops out around 92 miles per hour. His curveball is 12-to-6and slightly above average. The left-hander's changeup is downright filthy. He also hides the ball well throughout his delivery, exploding a pitch on a hitter at the last possible second.

I'm not a talent evaluator by any stretch, but the numbers don't lie: A 2-0 record with a 0.39 ERA and 36 strikeouts to one walk in 23 innings over three starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Hamels throws strike one. He's walked just one hitter. He has given up just two homers during his brief minor-league career.

Got the money for those playoff tickets?

(Settle down Jared).

I need to catch myself at times because these are the Phillies. They show peaks of greatness, get a fan base excited and then disappoint before thetrue fun of a pennant race begins.

And the only numbers that will ultimately matter for Hamels are the ones that start from pitch one at Great American Ball Park on Friday night.

Regardless if he's going to be sensational or just good, however, moving Hamels into the rotation and Ryan Madson back to the bullpen improves the team. And when an organization can improve a club as hot as the Phillies from within in the middle of May, well...teams just don't get that fortunate very often.

Especially the Phillies.

So find the local bar. Call off the graveyard shift. Cancel plans with the wife. The Phillies have the look of a division contender with the pitching savior toeing the rubber for the first time on Friday.

The following words are rarely uttered, so savor this moment:

Friday night is a good time to be a Phillies fan.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


By Tim McManus

I don't think we should be all that surprised that Philadelphia hasn't won a championship since 1983, given that each organization tends to work against the practical philosophies for bringing a title home:


In baseball, pitching obviously reigns supreme. The Phillies, by their actions, couldn't disagree more.

They watched their club reach the World Series in 1993 with Curt Schilling as the ace; saw the team spike downward upon his departure; glared longingly as he won titles in two different cities; then ultimately decided Robert Person/Kevin Millwood/Eric Milton/Jon Lieber were adequate replacements.

Don't give me the money excuse, either. The organization has dipped down deep for plenty of bats (Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal, David Bell, Jim Thome) over the past few seasons, yet chose not to buck up for the only essential position in the game.


The Eagles have the defense and quarterback parts down pat -- hence the reason why they've been the most successful franchise in town in recent history --but have ignored the running game. (Did you know that they haven't drafted a RB in the first round of the NFL Draft since Keith Byars was taken 20 years ago?)

They actually have two above average backs in town now (Brian Westbrook and Ryan Moats), but have yet to properly utilize them. You can't use their size as an excuse to not work them; there's two of them, after all, so they can split the load. And what exactly are we saving them for, anyway?

A pass-first offense is fine and in fact commonplace in the NFL, but the domino effect from not mixing in the run is disastrous: The opposing defense only has to key on one element of the game...They begin to shut it down...The offense racks up a bunch of three-and-outs, with hardly any time milked from the clock...Your defense makes more trips onto the field...The defense gets worn down...The other team begins to own time of possession, and keeps lighting up the scoreboard...You lose.

Stop out-thinking yourselves. Run the ball. Even when it doesn't work.


Bobby Clarke is stuck in the 70s. We know this. We know that he tries to build teams in the mold of the Broad Street Bullies, and that said teams (though entertaining) eventually come up with air when they try and lay bodies on a faster team, leading to more breakaways than a Wizards-Cavs game.

The biggest mistake is Clarkie's tenure, though, is his failure to put heavy emphasis on goaltending. Since Hextall, how many seasons of platooning netminders have we sat through? How many soft goals, choke jobs and meltdowns?

As far as this season is concerned, another Philly organization failed to employ logic. You have two goalies -- one that won a silver medal as a stalwart in net during the Olympics, and another who was a THIRD-STRINGER for an American team that got bounced before the ice even had a chance to get scuffed up. And which one did they choose to go with in the playoffs? Right.

Identify a top-flight goalie, play him regularly, and build your team around speed. I beg of you.


There's actually so much wrong here, I'm having a tough time sorting it.

This team's way too easy to pick on, seeing as they can't play defense, have no inside presence, get outrebounded more times than not, don't run any kind of systematic offense, and have next-to-zero financial wiggle room to fix all of these ailments. Otherwise, the sky's the limit with this club.

The bottom line from all of this, though, is that without a game-changing big man, a team can rarely thrive. The Sixers have won championships or gotten close when they have had a dominant inside presence, and fell short without one. Pretty much all of the other teams in NBA history can say the same, except for the ones that had Michael Jordan on their side.


And so, my fellow lowly Philly fans, it becomes clear that we are not in a championship drought because we have angered the gods, but rather because our teams ignore the rules that they set forth at the dawn of each sport.

Observations from inside the Bank's Vault

By Jared Trexler

Here are 10 of the more interesting findings from the Phillies' 8-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Bank Park on Friday.

1) A $10 parking pass not only gets you a space on the plush concrete with a sight line to all three multi-million dollar sports complexes (Lincoln Financial Field and the Wachovia Center along with the Bank), but also brings together a Phillies fraternity that includes a hour of free, cheap bear and a scantily clad college girl with a fake Spring Break tan and a massively flirtatious personality (Fine by me). Also, we received Club Risque coupons for after the game. Normally the cover is $20. For just us (at least that's what we told ourselves) it was free. Sweet.

2) The seats in right-center field are among the best in the park. Walk a few rows to the right and you can spit off profanity-laced insults at Armando Benitez. Walk a few rows back and a plethora of food options await you. Walk a few rows to the left and a certain sorority at LaSalle University is well represented.

3) The seats in right-center are also a prime location to snag a home-runball. Barry Bonds crushed a pitch just to our left during batting practice. Randy Winn, Omar Vizquel and Chase Utley went deep down the right-field line. Ryan Howard and Utley crushed pitches into the bullpens. Howard went yard for the second time into the seats in left-center. Aaron Rowand's homer hugged the line in left. Okay, perhaps we were unlucky to see seven homers and not sniff one ball.

4) The Crab fries are too big. I love them, don't get me wrong. But a five-gallon tub of cut potatoes covered with Old Bay seasoning is a bit excessive. Lower the portion and lower the price. I needed a $5.75 beer to saturate the taste of the $5.50 fries.

5) The sausage sandwiches are by far the best sandwiches at the park. I know, I know, Philly is the city of cheesesteaks. However, by the time I wait in line at Tony Luke's, half the game is over and I have an empty feeling when the sandwich is consumed in four or less bites.

6) Fans just have an incredible hatred for Bobby Abreu. After a looping single by Mark Sweeney just fell over Utley's head (yes, the second baseman), a man in front of me shouted, "Why don't you hustle a little more Bobby?!" WHAT?!?!Oh, it gets better. With runners on second and third early in the game, Giants starter Matt Cain threw four pitches well out of the strike zone, basically unintentionally walking Abreu on purpose. The same "fan" then shouted, "Leave it up to Pat (Burrell). Never want the pressure on yourself." OKAY.

7) Some of the "I hope Barry Bonds dies" signs were creative. I liked "Roids-a-Roni: The San Francisco Treat." And the slightly corny "I make tons of money off of stocks. But I hate Bonds," was entertaining at first glance. A few signs made in obvious haste with marker and old poster board that plainly stated, "Cheater!" just weren't that funny. Either prepare something creative or throw on your Howard jersey. And oh, in case people don't know this already (and by the judge of the abundance of them in the stadium last night, I'm not sure everyone does), Jim Thome plays FOR THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX. STOP WEARING HIS JERSEY TO THE BLEEPIN GAME. THANK YOU.

8) Utley and Howard are going to be beloved in this city for many seasons to come. Both are incredible hitters, Utley is always busting it down the line, and Howard is a large man. Nothing hits home with Philly fans more than the love of food and the joy of getting dirty.

9) Gavin Floyd's success over the last two starts is a mirage. And everyone in the stadium knows it. The kid throws a great curveball that he can't harness and a straight four-seam fastball that approaches 92 miles per hour on the gun. No change-up. No splitter. No cutter. A starter with two pitches is doomed to eventually fail.

10) The Giants really don't impress me. With Moises Alou now on the shelf after spraining his ankle while running down a fly ball in foul territory last night, Bonds has zero protection. The starting eight are card-carrying members of AARP and the pitching staff is nothing to write home about. That being said, a win is a win. The Phillies are playing better and I'm cautiously optimistic.

-Jared Trexler will provide a Top 10 List for every Phillies game attended this season. Read his next installment after the May 27th game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Not in our house

By Steven Lienert

Philadelphia fans will make national news this evening.

And, once again, it won't be for the right reasons.

Barry Bonds will man left field at Citizens' Bank Park tonight, his first venture to Philadelphia since the congressional hearings on steroids and the BALCO investigation.

He may want to don a batting helmet while playing the field, because an empty syringe is the least of his worries tonight.

The stands behind Bonds will be packed with fans that have ill intentions toward him. They will incessantly heckle him to the brink of tears. Things will be thrown at him. He will get booed in a very malicious manner.

Oh, yes. Things will not be pleasant for Mr.Bonds this evening.

The fact that ESPN replayed the syringe incident over and over again almost cemented the fact that Bonds was going to have more things thrown at him in the future.

And the infamously emotional Philadelphia fans will let Mr. Bonds know -- one way or another -- that his march toward Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron is an empty one.

Personally, I'd like Bonds to just go away. But he won't. Instead, then, I'm hoping he leaves Citizens Bank Park homerless, still two behind the Babe.

I don't want this ballpark to be stained, forever linked with Bonds and his rare case of gigantism.

Steve Lienert can be reached at stevelienert@hotmail.com

End of an Era

By John McMullen

Few have noticed but I'm part of the last generation that actually enjoys"Major League Professional Sports."

Even though the mainstream media refuses to accept it, teenagers and kids alike can't stand MLB, the NBA or the NHL. And watch out football...You're next!

Already, more people aged 18-to-24 would rather watch Monday Night Raw or Ultimate Fighting on Spike TV, than a playoff game in any of the major sports, save football.

Look at these Nielsen cable ratings courtesy of Newsday:

NFL: 7.28
WWE on USA: 4.05
UFC on Spike TV: 1.74
MLB on ESPN: 1.51
NBA on TNT: 1.27
NBA on ESPN: 1.07
NHL on OLN: 0.15

With young men, the numbers are even scarier:

NFL: 5.99
WWE on USA: 3.70
UFC on Spike TV: 3.09
MLB on ESPN: 1.12
NBA on TNT: 1.05
NBA on ESPN: 0.97
NHL on OLN: 0.14

If you are looking farther into the future, forget about it. Kids would rather fire up their PlayStation or Xbox then toss around a pigskin.

And that's scary...At least it should be -- because it's going to be a problem for professional sports.
But, the various commissioners and the network executives they are in bed with seem to look down on young people.

I really can't blame them either...Most of our youth aren't exactly interested in exercising their intellect nowadays.
That said, these purveyors of cultural malaise will soon be in the most coveted demographic. The be-all, end-all amongst all advertisers...The 25-to-34 group with disposable income.

And then what happens?

Is osmosis going to take over?

Are they going to suddenly wake up and say, I would rather watch Kobe Bryant than Triple H or Chuck Liddell?

Are they going to say, I would rather pluck down $100 for an NHL game that get the latest version of Grand Theft Auto?

Perhaps, but I doubt it.

We are in for a major change in the sports landscape over the next 20 years.

And things don't look good for the sports we grew up with.

-You can reach John McMullen at jmcmullen1@comcast.net

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Don't Blame Barry

With Barry Bonds arriving in Philadelphia for a weekend set, I decided to re-publish this piece which originally ran in the inaugural issue of The Phanatic

By John McMullen

While Major League baseball and its best player -- Barry Bonds -- remain in the crosshairs of the public over their continued steroid problems, America's real national pastime, football, is getting a free pass.


While both entities are monopolistic giants generating billions every year, the NFL and NCAA have both realized the importance of a good public relations arm, whereas baseball's chief brain wizard, Bud Selig, continues to struggle with that seemingly, innocuous notion.

More than one year ago, MLB asked its Players Association for a more stringent drug policy, including administration of the program by an independent expert and increased levels of punishment that would result in a lifetime ban upon a third offense.

Sounds impressive, but while we all waited for the typical Donald Fehr dodge and parry response, the NFL and the NCAA developed a similar policy over a decade ago.

The dirty little secret, though, is that the NFL and the NCAA's policies simply don't work, and neither will MLB's.

Stopping performance enhancing drugs in any sport is impossible, and anyone who tells you different is either uninformed or a con man.

Human Growth Hormone is the current rage among the privileged in sports. While very expensive, it is not detectable in any test. Same goes for blood doping and at least a dozen or so other designer steroids -- just ask Bonds.

Simply put, those who can afford the aforementioned options can sleep worry free while struggling fringe players like a low-level minor league baseball prospect are stuck using the detectable stuff.

Don't think so?

Consider this: Dozens of Minor League players have been suspended by baseball's new program while only one notable player was nabbed, Rafael Palmeiro. No Bonds, No Giambi, No Sosa.

And Palmeiro was caught using stanozolol or winstrol (to the uninitiated, an easily detectable steroid that is cheap and likely tells us more about Raffy's IQ level than the seriousness of any drug testing policy).

While the NFL deserves some credit for being the first major sports league to test for performance-enhancing drugs, it has been a system without teeth. The league began testing 16 years ago and has suspended just 54 players. While the Bill Romanowski's skated through their careers, it's the Artie Ulmer's and Bob Sapp's of the world that are caught in Paul Tagliabue's tainted dragnet.

The NCAA hasn't been much better. The most recent publicly-released figures show positive tests for about one percent of football players involved in random and bowl-game testing, while three percent of the athletes admit to steroid use.

Jason Scukanec, who played at Brigham Young and later on the practice squads of the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, says steroids are prevalent in many Division-I programs.

"I would bet my house you could find at least five guys on every Division I team in the country (using steroids)," Scukanec told the Portland Tribune.

"Over the course of my five years at BYU, I have concrete proof of 13 to 15 guys (using steroids), and I would suspect five others," added Scukanec. "And BYU is more temperate than most programs. I know other schools are worse."

Is Scukanec right? .

If teenage girls are taking steroids just to look good to their awkward suitors, what are the odds that a few of our comic-booked sized football favorites are gassed? Common sense says pretty good, but you wouldn't know it by the number who have been snared by the system.

When one famous study declares that up to seven percent of middle school girls say they have used steroids, and the NCAA says one percent tested positive, what does that tell you about its policy?

Since the '70s, football players have grown in ways that evolution and competent eating habits can't fully explain.

The players aren't just bigger -- they are faster, stronger and quicker.

As a society, we don't want to believe our heroes could be tainted.

What the NFL and NCAA now knows and baseball hasn't quite figured out is that if you jump through the country's public relations hoop you can go on doing exactly what you want to do.

The reality is that many fans will exchange the sanctity of the game for a more entertaining product.

Ask yourself if you want to go back to the days when centers anchored the offensive line at 240 pounds or Thurman Munson won the A.L. MVP award with 17 home runs; if the answer is anything other that yes, get in line with the hypocrites that run major league sports.

For those who don't want to go back to the future and enjoy watching 330-pound tackles pull like bloated gazelles or Barry smack a 450-foot home run, you are among the large group that believe steroids shouldn't be banned.

Dozens of doctors believe it, and the American Health Association and the Drug Enforcement Administration argued exactly that when Congress decided to make them a controlled substance in the early '90s. And, more significantly, sports' big wigs realize that enhanced performance equals more viewers, and therefore, more money.

Every league, in one degree or the other, is culpable for allowing steroids to become such a major part of the sports landscape. The only difference between MLB and football is that the latter is more efficient at publicly rejecting it.

The truth is that the steroid era has been alive and well for thirty years, in all sports.

Don't blame Barry.

-You can reach John McMullen at jmcmullen1@comcast.net


By John McMullen

In the original Star Wars, Obi-Wan may have been Princess Leia's only hope

In Philadelphia, make no mistake about it, the Eagles are our only hope.

Ed Snider is so blind to the inadequacies of his two general mangers, that any dream of a Sixers or Flyers run in the near future is virtually nil.

Yes, Brian Roberts could fix that tomorrow but don't hold your breath.

The inconspicuous, Comcast-Spectacor chairman has shown absolutely no interest in getting involved in Snider's business.

Translation -- We are stuck with Billy King and Bob Clarke.

Talk about tortured -- No city deserves that.

Meanwhile, Phillies' apologists are already writing the season off as their savior, Pat Gillick, "cleans up the mess" Ed Wade made.

A "mess" that saw the Phils miss the postseason by all of one game in 2005.

Makes sense to me...I mean why should we expect a playoff run from a team that missed the party by a game in the previous season?

Nope, the Eagles are our only chance...

As much as people in this town like to call Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner,shall we say..."frugal", the Eagles organization is rock solid.

They have a plan that most of us don't agree with, but four straight appearances in the NFC Championship Game on their resume say they might be a little more qualified than any of us to judge things.

I'll be man enough to admit I can't stand Andy Reid or the team's organization.

They are a conceited, egotistical, self-righteous, snobbish, holier-than-thou, boorish bunch who make it very difficult to do my job.

But, they are also something else...competent.

A word that doesn't exactly spring to the forefront of my mind when I am thinking about Snider, King, Clarke or Gillick.

So...How will I suffer through the "smug storm" that sits above the NovaCareComplex this year?

That's an easy one...with anticipation, confidence, expectation, faith, optimism...and hope.

-You can reach John McMullen at jmcmullen1@comcast.net

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

'It's all about heart' my butt

By Steven Lienert

'It's all about heart' was the Flyers slogan to sell playoff tickets to fans this season. Yet the Flyers left both their heart and their pride at home in Tuesday night's season-ending loss to the speedy Sabres.

Perhaps we should all be numb to this kind of thing by now. Maybe we shouldn't care that much; maybe we shouldn't be surprised.

But it was downright depressing watching the Flyers' season come to an end, mostly because of the way the team just packed it in.

They didn't even show up.

It was like watching a condemned prisoner being brought out in front of the firing squad. Except each shooter had extra bullets and just kept firing away for the fun of it.

Coming off the Game 7 loss to Tampa Bay in the 2004 Eastern Conference finals, Bob Clarke had two years to construct a team that would take the next step, if not deliver a Stanley Cup.

Instead, he put together a compilation of big, slow-footed tough guys that love to muck and grind. He left Ken Hitchcock with a one-line team to work with, because without Peter Forsberg, Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble, the Sabres would have easily swept the Flyers.

Hey, Bob -- 1975 called. It wants it's hockey team back.

Remember what Mick told Rocky when he made him chase that chicken around in a lot off Front Street? "First you gotta get speed, demon speed! Speed's what we need, we need greasy fast speed."

How can Mickey recognize that after one fight but Clarkie can't figure it out after 10 years?

This season's death knell was eerily reminiscent of the 8-0 shellacking the Sabres handed the Flyers in Game 6 of their 2001 first-round series.

In both games, the Flyers laid down and died like dogs.

While at even strength against Buffalo, the Flyers generated some scoring chances, but while on special teams -- whether it was on the power play or shorthanded -- Philly played like it was a man down. When the Flyers took penalties, it was because they couldn't catch the Sabres to hit them.

Meanwhile, wave after wave of odd-man rushes came at Robert Esche, who was really only up to the task in Game 1. After that, he somehow morphed into Roman Chechmanek, completely breaking down to the point of losing it at times.

I would love it almost as much as Clarkie if the Broad Street Bullies style of play delivered Stanley Cups in the new NHL. Instead, come April in almost any year after 1990, that style of play makes the entire organization look foolish.

It seems like it's been the same story here after each season comes crashing to an end. Maybe it'll change one day, but we are talking 31 years since the Flyers hoisted the Cup.

Enough of the big guys, Bob. We need greasy fast speed.

Commiserate with Lienert at stevelienert@hotmail.com