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October 17 2006

I love a good baseball quote.  Here's one of my favorites, from Dave Parker:  "Every team needs a foundation, and I'm it.  Just look at me.  They ought to pay me just to walk around here."  The Phillies have a foundation.  The two guys on the right side of their infield are young and excellent and should be putting up big numbers for years to come.  The single most interesting thing to watch on the Phillies over the next few years is going to be how it plays out between Utley and Howard.  Whether one of them steals the spotlight from the other or if they are able to co-exist.  Pat Gillick has seen this show before with Griffey and A-Rod in Seattle and it didn't have a happy ending, but it's a nice problem to have.  By now it should be apparent to everyone that the Phillies have a solid nucleus of young players. 

What isn't clear is if they have a leader.

The issue hasn't gotten much clearer of late.  Before they made a move to improve their team on the field for 2007, the Phillies fired what many see as a shot across the bow of oft-criticized manager Charlie Manuel, bringing in new coaches who have combined to manage more than 4,000 games.

The Phillies announced the addition of three coaches to Manuel's staff yesterday, each of which was signed to a one-year contract.  Not sure quite where they found these guys, but I think there's a good chance Kramer could have been president of their board if only that damn tip calculator had worked.

61-year-old Davey Lopes will be the Phillies new first base coach and outfield/base-running instructor.  Lopes played 16 years between 1972-1987, mostly for the Dodgers and the A's.  He was an All-Star four times and led the NL in stolen bases in 1975 and 1976.  In 1979 he hit 265/372/464 with 28 home runs and 44 stolen bases for the Dodgers.  He was the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2000 and 2001 and for 15 games in 2002.

59-year-old Art Howe is the young pup of the group.  He'll serve as the third base coach and infield instructor.  He played 11 years, between 1974-1985, with the Pirates, Astros and Cardinals.  His playing career was glory-challenged, he never hit more than ten home runs in a season or drove in 60 runs.  He has had three stints as a manager, totalling 2,266 games.  He managed the Houston Astros between 1989 and 1993.  Between 1996 and 2002 he was at the helm for the Oakland A's and he was the Mets skipper for the 2003 and 2004 seasons.  He took the A's to the playoffs in 2000 (91 wins), 2001 (102), and 2002 (103).  The A's were eliminated in the ALDS in all three of those playoff appearances, losing twice to the Yankees and once to the Twins.

63-year-old Jimy Williams, who Gillick knows from the 'hood (Toronto), will be the bench coach.  Williams got just 13 at-bats with the Cardinals in 1966 and 1967, but has managed 1,701 games at the major-league level.  Toronto '86-'88 plus 36 games in '89.  1997-2000 with the Red Sox, plus most of the 2001 season.  He managed the Astros for 2002 and 2003, as well as 88 games in 2004.  In 1998 his Red Sox lost to Cleveland in the ALDS.  In 1999 he led the Red Sox to a 94-68 mark and was named AL Manager of the Year.  Boston beat Cleveland in '99 ALDS but fell to the Yankees in the ALCS.

The Phillies are pretty clearly a team in transition.  Trying to rebuild and to win all at the same time.  For a long time, Bobby Abreu was their best player without ever being their leader.  If they had one during his time with the team, I don't know who it was.  But it's a new day and a new group of players, and they're going to need one now.  For me, the question is whether the additions moved them closer to that goal or just created chaos. 

Here's how Gillick explained the additions, again from the article linked above:  "We need as many good baseball men as we can. Our goal is to win this thing, and anybody who we can bring onboard that will increase our chances, I think it's our responsibility to try and put him on our staff. These types of people can only give you more comfort. Consequently, more ideas, more imagination, they talk more baseball. These are the types of resources that the manager can draw on."

You either believe that or you don't.  I'd like to.

You have to believe that if the Phillies wanted to fire Charlie Manuel they would have.  It's not like he is some kind of beloved icon that is beyond reproach or that his success in Philadelphia has been overwhelming.  If Phillies fans have embraced him I sure haven't noticed it.  The front office can't have a lot of questions left about what Manuel brings you as a manager.

There were thousands of decisions that impacted the Phillies season last year.  Charlie Manuel made some bad ones, but he didn't make the most important ones.  He didn't trade away Padilla or put the Phillies in a position where they had to start Madson and Floyd over and over.  He didn't put together a team whose best option at third base was Abraham Nunez.  

Manuel's strength isn't X's and O's, it's that his players want to play for him.  And his players have gone 10-14 to start the season in the last two Aprils.  You have to believe the players understand that a 10-14 April isn't what the team is looking for this year, and that another one might cost them their manager.

And does Manuel need help with the strategy?  Of course.  Maybe more so than other managers, but everyone does.  And I bet he'll get it.  Watching the games last year did you ever think that Manuel didn't have a plan?  I didn't.  I thought he had just the opposite problem -- his plan paralyzed him.  He was captive to it.  When it went wrong he trusted it so much he went to the plan over and over because he trusted it more than his ability to change it on the fly.  He needed to.  I think we might not want to pinch hit for our starting right-fielder in the fourth inning, one of the guys who has managed over 1,000 games might say.  The 40-year-old with 12 home runs in the last two years the .330 on-base percentage might not be the best guy to hit behind Ryan Howard.  We really ought to try to avoid bringing in Arthur Rhodes three days in a row.  That kind of thing.

But if there are things that can go right, there are most definitely things that can go wrong.  Coaches looking for their chance to take over.  Confusion about who is running the team.  Perhaps nearly as bad is the possibility is the perception those things are happening even if they aren't.

All in all, however, the Phillies got better with the additions.  More experience.  Guys who have been winners on the field and running a team.  It should be good news for everyone, even Charlie Manuel.  It sure looks like there's potential for it to deteriorate into chaos, however, and I'm not sure who is going to stop it if it does.  The Phillies have enough uncertainty on the field right now, they need just the opposite on their bench.   

Elsewhere, things just keep getting worse for Gavin Floyd.  In the Arizona Fall League the Big Cacti fell 14-6 to the Phoenix Desert Dogs to drop to 2-4 on the season.  Floyd started for Peoria and got lit up.  He went 1 2/3 innings and allowed seven runs on five hits and three walks.  He gave up two home runs.  Jason Jaramillo went 0-for-3.

Game 5 of the NLCS was rained out and will be played tonight in St Louis with the series tied 2-2.  Tom Glavine faces Jeff Weaver.

Rangers fans wonder about a possible Dellucci return to Texas.

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