The 2014 Phillies are a team in serious decline, but they have improved in one important area. Ryne Sandberg is a much better manager than Charlie Manuel.
I know, I know. Manuel won a championship here. He will always be a folk hero who defied first impressions and won over Philadelphia with his hayseed charm. I fully understand that I am probably alone in believing he is the most overrated manager in Phillies history. Parades tend to obscure the truth, especially here. I get it.
What is happening right now with this team, however, should be eye-opening even to Manuel’s fiercest supporters. For the first time in a decade, the Phillies have a manager who actually manages, a tactician who makes decisions using logic instead of a preprogrammed formula.
For example, Sandberg kept Cliff Lee in a game on a cold night last week for the highest pitch total of the lefty pitcher’s career – 128. The manager explained that Lee had not exerted himself unnecessarily during the eventual 1-0 loss. Sandberg actually evaluated the conditions in which those 128 pitches were thrown rather than assigning an arbitrary number the way Manuel always did.
The next day, Sandberg used Ryan Howard as a pinch hitter against a lefthanded pitcher because the situation dictated the move – a 0-0 tie in the eighth inning, when a home run would be potentially decisive. The slugger walked, setting the stage for the next batter, Ben Revere, to win the game with a base hit.
If Manuel were still here, of course, Howard wouldn’t have been available to pinch hit because the aging slugger would have been in the starting lineup, batting fourth. Howard always batted fourth, always started, when Manuel was here. Why? Because a robot managed the team then.
Sandberg also doesn’t cater to the whims of his players the way Manuel did, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the way the skipper has handled Jimmy Rollins so far this season. Rollins is a talented baseball player, but he is also a brat. Manuel’s approach was to coddle him; Sandberg prefers tough love.
Last week, Rollins laid down a bunt with a runner on second and one out. It was a stupid strategic decision because there was no advantage in giving up an out to move the runner to third. So why did Rollins do it?
“He forgot how many outs there were,” Sandberg said.
No one was shocked by Rollins’ blunder – the veteran shortstop is notorious for brain cramps like that – but Sandberg’s candor was downright startling. The manager did not make a lame excuse for his star player. He told the truth. Imagine that.
Ryne Sandberg will never win as many games as Charlie Manuel here, and will probably never capture a championship here, either. But we all should ponder this question: How many parades would the Phillies have held in the past decade if they had a manager like Ryne Sandberg?
Flyers defy expectations with come back win Sunday
Just when it appeared the Flyers would die a quick and forgettable playoff death, a strange thing happened Sunday. After trailing 2-0 early, they won a game they had to win, against a team they couldn’t beat in that rat’s nest named Madison Square Garden. Go figure.
The most amazing part of the 4-2 victory in Game 2 was the way backup goalie Ray Emery morphed from a slow, uncertain shot-blocker into a gazelle in the final two periods. Just that quickly, fans went from begging for the return of Steve Mason to clamoring for more Ray Emery. Such is life in the unpredictable world of the NHL playoffs.
In fact, the thing that most favors the Flyers in this matchup with the Rangers is the unpredictability of post-season hockey, when nine-game losing streaks at MSG can end totally without warning. Remember, the Flyers still have gotten not a single shot on goal from captain Claude Giroux so far, and not a single save from Mason.
What they have gotten in an intangible quality from rookie coach Craig Berube, whose team performs the way he played – with resilience, with purpose. The real star of the 2013-14 Flyers is not the overrated Giroux; it is Berube, who taught them to keep on plugging even when it would be easier to get a good tee time and start the off-season.
Mason’s status is still in question because of the dreaded “upper-body injury,” but the same cannot be said for Berube’s Flyers. The one thing that seems strong as they prepare for Game 3 tonight at the Wells Fargo Center is their upper body – namely, their heads and their hearts.
Sixers front office wrong calling season 'a success'
The Sixers just finished a pitiful 19-63 season, tying the NBA record with 26 consecutive losses and finishing second-to-last in the standings and in attendance. It was an atrocious ordeal – one of the worst years in the long and proud history of the franchise.
That’s why is seemed like a leftover April Fool’s Day prank when owner Joshua Harris gathered the media together last Friday for his annual post-mortem and proclaimed – with a straight face – that the season was “a huge success.”
Well, at least he didn’t have to worry about his GM, Sam Hinkie, contradicting that ridiculous statement. The reclusive stat cruncher didn’t even bother to show up for the event, preferring the company of complicated analytics formulas and intricate draft manifestos.
Maybe this untested coupling of Wall Street wizards and computer geeks has the right idea. Maybe the only way to build an NBA champion these days is to tear everything down and start again. Maybe, with Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, two more high draft picks joining the team and one solid returning veteran, Thaddeus Young, next season offers some legitimate hope.
But fans should proceed with extreme caution here. Harris continues to dazzle no onw with his sports acumen, Hinkie is afraid to show his face and Brett Brown is still totally unproven as a head coach. There is just as much a chance that they are as clueless as the three-Ed-ed monster – Ed Snider and Eddie Jordan and Ed Stefanski -- that preceeded them.
When the owner of a Philadelphia sports franchise tells you a team that lost 44 more games than it won was “a huge success,” you should be concerned. That’s all I’m saying. Be very concerned.
- Donovan McNabb was arrested for DUI last Dec. 15 in Arizona, and that’s just the beginning of the story. Somehow, the ex-Eagle QB eluded media attention at the time of the arrest, at the arraignment, at the plea bargain hearing and before his actual one-day imprisonment last week. Hey, there’s no chance there was a cover-up here, is there?
- Jonathan Papelbon snapped at reporters last week when asked about his declining velocity. The Phillies closer actually argued that there’s really not much difference between the 98 mph he once threw and the 91 he averages today. It’s all the location of the pitches, not the speed. Who is he kidding – us or himself?
- Andrew Bynum will not be available to the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the NBA playoffs because of recurring knee issues. What a surprise. The laziest man in professional sports today has been paid $29 million in the past two seasons, and has played 26 games. That’s right – over a million bucks per game. Amazing.
- After two weeks of botched calls and misinterpreted rules, MLB commissioner Bud Selig has proclaimed the rollout of the new replay system “remarkable.” Just one question: What would he call it if it actually had worked well?
- If you cannot wait for the release of the new NFL schedule later today, congratulations. Like me, you officially have no life.