Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where’s Mr. T When You Need Him?

By Steve Lienert

The Phanatic Magazine

In Rocky III, good-old Mick knew why Rocky was about to get his block knocked off, and it’s the same reason for what’s happening to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park this season.

After beating former heavyweight champ Apollo Creed by barely lifting himself off the canvas at the end of Rocky II, Balboa got paid, moved into a mansion outside of Philadelphia and fought hand-picked stiffs to length his reign as champion. (The Nationals are the stiffs in this story.)

On the day the Rocky statue was officially unveiled, contender Clubber Lang (in Mr. T’s crowning film achievement) showed up and insulted Rocky (and made sexual advances toward Adrian) to goad the champ into a title bout.

It worked and later back at the mansion, as Rocky seethed with anger, Mick told Rocky that he wasn’t going to train him for this fight; that he was doing something Rocky would never do to him: Mick was going to quit.

When Rocky asked him why, Mick bluntly told Rocky that he went soft. “He’ll knock ya into tomorrow, Rock.”

He was no longer the hunter, but the hunted. Instead of living a hard life in a shoe box of an apartment on a Kensington side street within earshot of the El, he lived a safe, comfortable existence with everything he’s ever wanted at his fingertips. He lost that edge, that Eye of the Tiger.

Enter the Phillies, who were just swept by the previously free-falling Toronto Blue Jays. They are now 13-19 at home, which has become a place of comfort for the Fightin’s despite their lousy record. They wear that World Series Champions patch on their right sleeve, which serves as an every inning reminder that they are standing on the mountaintop.

The fans have gone as soft as the team has; everybody seems to be getting a free pass at the ballpark nowadays.

Jimmy Rollins, who seems to be hitting with his World Series ring still on his finger, is the leading vote-getter at shortstop in the National League despite his .221 batting average and .257 on-base percentage. That’s a testament to the fans stuffing the ballot boxes at a consistently sold-out stadium more than a salute to Rollins’ prowess on the field.

It’s like there’s been a 32-game afterglow, with the team and the fans both lounging on a bed, each smoking a cigarette with a sexually sated look on their faces.

Citizens Bank Park has turned into Rocky’s Mansion and, currently, the A.L. East is playing the role of Clubber Lang.

That division is the best in baseball. Either the Red Sox or Yankees will win the division, with the other claiming the A.L. Wild Card. The Jays and Tampa Bay Rays are no joke either.

The Phils just might be in the midst of getting their block knocked off.

They were lucky to salvage a game against the Sox and were swept by the Jays. They play host to the jayvee Orioles starting tomorrow before going back on the road to face the Rays and Jays in back-to-back series on the road.

This could get Clubber Lang-ugly.

If Charlie Manuel is looking for a way to jump-start his team, he might want to start by ripping those patches off the sleeves. He may want to tell them that last year is last year and there’s work to be done this year.

He has to find a way to get that Eye of the Tiger back in his team, especially at home.

For that matter, so do the fans. They may be the only ones in a position to tell the Phillies they’re getting their blocked knocked off. They may be the only ones to help get that Eye of the Tiger back.

Rocky didn’t get it back until after he was knocked out by Clubber and pushed by his new trainer, Apollo. The fans can play the role of Mick and Creed by letting the team know that enough is finally enough.

Steve Lienert can be reached at

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