The Philadelphia sports scene is already overcrowded. But here's one more thing.
The Philadelphia sports scene is already overcrowded. But here's one more thing.
Published April 25, 2021
I write this while fully aware that this pandemic has caused untold heartbreak and misery in all corners of the globe for over a year now. The fortunes, or lack thereof, of sports franchises aren’t at the top of the food chain in terms of importance.
Sports are important to our society, however, and they can’t be ignored. Aside from the fan aspect, it’s a business sector which employs millions of people. It can’t be dismissed as simply disposable.
When it comes to North American professional sports at the highest level, I would argue that our Philadelphia Flyers are the team which has been hurt the absolute most by the effects of Covid.
Now, let’s be clear here. There are minor league teams out there (and whole leagues, really) which have ceased to exist in the last year. But I’m only talking about the top leagues here. And among those 120 or so teams across the four leagues I’m considering (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL), I simply cannot find a team whose trajectory seemed so promising immediately before shutdowns began last March and who now looks to be in complete freefall. Honestly, it’s hard to believe how bad things have gotten for this Flyers franchise in just over 13 months.
Let’s go back to last season, which feels like forever ago. It appeared that the Flyers FINALLY had their man in goal, Carter Hart. On top of that, they seemingly had a stable of young (and cheap) rising stars on both offense and defense, while their veterans still looked to be capable of producing enough to make this team a legitimate Cup threat for a few years.
The window was just opening, and it looked like it would stay that way for quite a while.
And then sports stopped, along with the whole world.
When things finally resumed last summer, with the Flyers playing in front of no fans in the Toronto bubble, they didn’t look like the same team. Yes, they beat some good clubs during the round robin portion (glorified exhibitions) and then managed to get by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, the first time they’d advanced in the postseason in eight years. But something was off. Honestly, I think that the lack of fans was a big factor. The team went 24-6-4 in front of the home fans in 2019-20. They were playing dominating hockey every night. And then that was taken away from the team and all of its fans who had gotten on board and were excited about a playoff run.
And while I’m glad that the Toronto bubble games happened (it was better than no hockey at all), it felt artificial. It felt like the team was robbed of a playoff run, and its young players especially missed out on what could have been a great experience that would benefit them for the future. The Flyers were badly outplayed in their second round loss to the Islanders, even though they managed to push it to seven games thanks to three overtime wins. But they were a total no-show in a shutout loss in Game 7, a frustrating end to a season that seemed like a giant stepping stone just a few months earlier.
It looked like the Flyers might have put that behind them when they came out of the gate winning games to start this current, abbreviated season. But all we kept hearing was about how advanced stats indicated their 8-3-2 record was hollow. They were receiving good goaltending to that point and had a high shooting percentage, but they were being mostly outplayed on a nightly basis. Even without the analytics, all you needed to do was watch the games to see that the Flyers weren’t carrying play. They were putting points on the board, but it didn’t feel sustainable.
Then the team was hit with a wave of the virus, and they didn’t play for a week and a half. Once they came back, it was clear that there were problems.
From goaltending woes (shocker) to an absolutely miserable penalty kill to supposed play-driving forwards who went missing for games at a time, nothing has gone right for the Flyers over the last two months. They’ve posted a 13-16-5 record since they resumed play, sinking them in the standings and casting serious doubt on the long-term viability of many of these players in Philadelphia, either because they look to be seriously done as effective NHLers or they’re young players who don’t appear like they’ll even reach an NHL caliber, at least not the one that the organization had projected.
We also can’t forget about the surprise retirement of Matt Niskanen last offseason, which sent the Flyers into panic mode as they tried to fill a huge gap on their blue line. They never did. Niskanen cited concerns about being apart from his family while adhering to NHL-mandated restrictions as the reason for hanging up his skates, making him another pandemic-related loss for the team. And I’m not blaming the guy, just stating facts. The point is, he would have played the final year of his contract this season, making the Flyers a better team as a result. Even if you don’t subscribe to the whole “Matt Niskanen was the linchpin of the team” theory, even a casual observer has to admit how much he’s been missed this year.
Going forward, though, the goaltender is obviously of most concern to the team and fans alike. It would be folly to completely write off Carter Hart after a bad season under the current circumstances, but uncertainty about him throws a huge wrench into the plans of this franchise. Suddenly, the warts of every other player become more evident when the goaltender isn’t a sure thing. There’s been regression or stagnation almost entirely across the board for the core of this team (except for maybe Joel Farabee). It seems like too much to be just bad luck. Rather, it’s a group of players who was just unable to handle what this past year threw at them. And a coaching staff which has been completely ineffective during that time, whether or not they deserve blame for it.
Maybe this Flyers team would have eventually fallen off a cliff either last season or this one even if Covid didn’t wreak its havoc. But we’ll never know for sure. All we can say without a doubt is that a franchise which looked to be trending way up before any of us had ever heard of contact tracing or social distance is now completely in the toilet. Throw the Flyers’ fall from grace on the pile as one more thing you can blame this pandemic for.
Again, other teams have been hit harder by the virus itself, but nobody across North American pro sports was showing so much promise before the pandemic and has seen their fortunes unravel so quickly in the year-plus since then.
I would say that all of this came as a surprise to me, but when I think about the question “Which sports team will be most negatively affected by this pandemic?”, I honestly should have had my money out to bet on the Philadelphia Flyers.
We've seen this over and over again this year. Thankfully, it'll stop soon. (AP/The Canadian Press)
Published March 30, 2021
Two years ago, with all of us still wrapped up in Brycemania, I made some quick projections on how Bryce Harper would fare in 2019, his first season in Phillies pinstripes.
145 games played, .273, 38 HR, 95 RBI, 105 runs, 8 steals.
Here's what he actually did…
157 games played, .260, 35 HR, 114 RBI, 98 runs, 15 steals.
Not bad, I'd say. Some thoughts…
Now, I was probably going to continue my preseason projections in 2020, but the pandemic put a stop to that, and the 60-game fake season restart that we got didn't feel like it merited any prognostications.
Here we are, however, on the cusp of a (supposed) 162-game season. And so it's time to make some more Bryce picks.
First, major credit to Harper for playing some smart baseball and staying healthy, as he seems to have left some of his reckless tendencies behind him. Let's pencil him in for about 153 games, giving us plenty of opportunity for big numbers.
How big are we going to go with the home runs? Harper's career high is 42. And while I don't think he'll hit that number, I'm going to project 40 on the nose. He'll put together an insane hot streak or two, and that will help him to get there.
In a corresponding number, I'll give him 105 RBI. And I also believe that the capable hitters behind him will drive him home enough that he eclipses the century mark in runs scored.
As for running, I'm intrigued that Harper was 8 for 10 in steal attempts in just 58 games last year. This leads me to believe that he'll attempt 20-odd thefts on the year. I'll say that he ends up nabbing somewhere in the teens.
I don't have great hopes for the batting average, but it honestly doesn't matter much at this point. I mean, he can't go hitting .208, but an average in the .260s is much more acceptable than it used to be, especially when you consider how much of an on-base machine Harper is.
My picks to click...
153 games played, .263, 40 HR, 105 RBI, 102 runs, 16 SB.
Maybe this sounds overly simplistic, but I think Bryce thrives on the crowd more than most players and will be jacked even more than usual to be back playing in front of fans in 2021. That can only mean good things for the Phils. I also realize that these are just surface numbers, but I figured you didn’t want me getting into his WAR or his Ultimate Zone Rating on defense, or anything else like that.
Come on back in six months to either confirm my genius or laugh at how wrong I was.
Find yourself a person who looks at you the way Bryce Harper looks at his hat. (Getty Images)
Published March 20, 2021
Their recent win over the New York Islanders aside, the Philadelphia Flyers obviously haven’t fared as well as hoped, as we’re now at the midpoint of this abbreviated 56-game season. Not every game has been as much of a defensive disaster as Wednesday’s historic abomination against the Rangers, but the team has been much more deficient in their own end ever since last year’s playoff bubble.
It’s not breaking new ground to suggest that the retirement of Matt Niskanen is a major factor in the team’s defensive struggles, and I’m not pointing the finger and “blaming” this on him, but it simply can’t be ignored.
Niskanen’s retirement forced the Flyers to pivot to re-signing Justin Braun. And actually...I think Braun has been good for the most part. He’s sitting at a team-leading +10 rating, and he actually grades out pretty well in the advanced analytics department. Sussing through those numbers, he’s made a surprise improvement since last year, and he’s doing it while averaging 18:24 per game, up from 17:16 last year.
So, a nice job by Braun, but this isn’t ideal. Once Niskanen hung up the skates, the hope was that increased ice time for the likes of Travis Sanheim and Phillippe Myers could help fill some of the gap that he left. It hasn’t worked out well so far. With each player seeing about an extra minute and a half of ice time this year, their advanced stats are in the dumper compared to last season, and they’re each sporting a gruesome -9, though most of that can be pinned on their matching -6 performances in the team’s 9-0 embarrassment.
Simply put, when you subtract a steady element like Niskanen, it puts increased pressure on everyone else to perform. Sanheim and Myers excelled in their roles last year, and haven’t done so when asked to do more this season. Neither is a finished product yet, but eventually you are what the numbers say you are, so there has to be concern in the organization about their failure to step up when needed this year. As an added bonus, they’re both struggling to match their scoring rates from last season as well.
And then there’s Ivan Provorov, who put together the best season of his career when paired with Niskanen. He’s up over 25 minutes per game this year, which is starting to get ridiculous. The Flyers’ resident iron man isn’t having a great season, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel on him yet. Still, maybe we’re talking about a guy whose career trajectory will ultimately be that of a rock-solid #2 defenseman, rather than a truly elite one. And that’s ok if other pieces are in place, though they unfortunately don’t seem to be at the moment.
Matt Niskanen isn’t responsible for Carter Hart’s inability to make timely saves, but his absence is no doubt allowing opponents to generate more shots and more dangerous scoring chances than when he was on the club last year. And not to get too deep into a goaltender’s mentality, but you have to believe that they take the team’s personnel into account and adjust their confidence accordingly. Hart could be putting too much of this on himself, as this team’s defensive confidence was definitely higher last year with Niskanen.
Missing a key defensive cog also has an impact on the team’s forwards, who are forced to do more to help out in their own end. Last year, Sean Couturier finally captured his long-awaited Selke Trophy. I’m not saying that Matt Niskanen is the reason for that, but Coots was able to play a more focused two-way game rather than covering up for teammate’s shortcomings. This year, no such luck. Couturier is still playing well, but he’s not in the Selke conversation.
Yes, the Flyers surely miss Matt Niskanen, whether you’re looking at their PK numbers, video of how they play in their own end all too frequently, or just their current sad position in the standings. Again, no blame is to be had, and Niskanen shouldn’t be so vital that the team falls apart without him. But this is all worth mentioning when telling the tale of the 2020-21 Flyers. They have a chance to change the narrative, but time is getting short.
'Twas but a scratch. (Yong Kim/Inquirer Staff)
Published February 19, 2021
Welcome back for Part 2 of my selections for the super-important WIP Awards. I assume you already read Part 1 and are familiar with the setup for this. If not, scroll down, read it, then scroll back up to this part. (Thanks, website format!)
These categories were created by WIP, but I've also thrown in some BONUS ones of my own.
Anyway, here we go with more awards for the "best" of Philadelphia sports since the year 2000...
All you can do is write down several of the players from the 2008 team, toss the names in a hat, and pull one out. Each has their own merits. Just to remind you...
Cole Hamels - 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP. The best home-grown pitcher the Phillies have produced in generations.
Jimmy Rollins - The franchise's all-time hits leader, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and the 2007 NL MVP.
Ryan Howard - 2005 Rookie of the Year, 2006 NL MVP, 3-time MLB RBI leader.
Chase Utley - The Man. 6-time All-Star, 4-time Silver Slugger.
If you take any one of these players off the team, the Phillies don't win a ring. But in a very close call over Hamels, I'm making what probably will be an unpopular decision and going with Ryan Howard. His peak was too brief, but from 2006-2011, he averaged 44 home runs and 133 RBI per year. If you can't get behind that, you're crazy.
*BONUS CATEGORY* WORST PHILLIE
I feel like a kid in a candy store on this one. I could use this as yet another opportunity to talk about someone I just hate even though they were good, but you’ve read enough of my Scott Rolen ramblings. Similarly, I won’t pick resident jerks like Billy Wagner or Jonathan Papelbon. I’ll go with Adam Eaton, a pitcher so bad that he got booed at the World Series parade and the ring ceremony. Shoutout to Phillippe Aumont and his career 6.80 ERA.
Since I already declared Brian Dawkins the top athlete of the 2000's in Part 1 of this article, he's the easy pick for this category as well. Next.
I really wanted to go with Joel Embiid here, but he simply hasn't played long enough to supplant Allen Iverson. AI's first few seasons came before the 2000 cutoff, but he did more than enough in 6+ years after that point to still hold the top spot for the Sixers.
It's Claude Giroux, and it's not even close. When you look at Flyers history, all of their category leaders were from last century, outside of Giroux and maybe Simon Gagne and Jakub Voracek. Let's hope that Carter Hart stakes a claim as the greatest Flyer of the 21st century in the coming years.
*BONUS CATEGORY* WORST FLYER
I detested Mike Rathje during his short stint with the team. Similarly, Vincent Lecavalier was a washed-up bum by the time he got to Philadelphia. But in terms of the actual worst hockey player, I’m going with Billy Tibbetts. You can read his Wikipedia page and then let me know why the Flyers (or anyone) ever wanted him.
Role Player (non-starter)
Another strange one for WIP to include, as you can take this any number of ways. The first person that jumps to mind here is Brad Lidge. Does he count as a "role" player? Well, he had a pretty important role for the Phillies. If WIP meant this category to mean something more like "unsung hero", then...I don't know...Jon Dorenbos?
I'll save the suspense and just tell you it's Super Bowl LII. How could it not be? We all got the greatest thrill of our sports lives, and it was an objectively great game on top of that.
Honorable Mentions: The multi-day Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, where Mother Nature and Bud Selig did their best to rob us of a title. The Flyers five-overtime win over the Penguins in 2000. Also, any playoff win over the Penguins. A Game 7 OT win in Washington in 2008. The Sixers winning Game 1 of the 2001 Finals in L.A., just don't ask how the rest of the series went.
*BONUS CATEGORY* BEST REGULAR SEASON GAME
All of the above were playoff games, and with good reason. But the regular season makes up more than 90% of the games, so let's throw it some love. There was LeSean McCoy's romp through the snow in a 2013 Eagles win. The Birds also had a pair of memorable late-season wins over the Cowboys: a Christmas Day victory in Dallas in 2006 and a winner-take-all 44-6 demolition of them in Week 17 of 2008. For the Phillies, how about Roy Halladay's perfecto? Or the 11-10 win over Billy Wagner and the Mets on August 30, 2007 during the pennant race? Almost exactly a year later, the Phils would overcome a 7-0 deficit to those same Mets to win 8-7 in 13 innings. But I'm going to go with the 2009-10 Flyers regular season finale, a shootout victory over the hated Rangers. The Flyers made the playoffs on the strength of the victory and sent the Rangers golfing. It also helps that they rode that momentum all the way to the Cup Final that year, making their April 11, 2010 victory stand out even more. I also wanted to mention the Flyers finally getting their first outdoor win two seasons ago at the Linc over the Penguins.
*BONUS BONUS CATEGORY* WORST GAME
The Eagles had a pair of unsightly home losses in NFC title games, but the Phillies' 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Cardinals in the 2011 NLDS stands alone as the most devastating loss in a generation. They wasted a great effort from Roy Halladay, and Ryan Howard suffered his Achilles injury to cap off what still stands as the Phillies' most recent playoff game.
Honorable Mention: The Flyers losing Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals at home to the Devils when Eric Lindros' head came off.
I guess we'll just focus on how much the return helped the Philadelphia club involved, without worrying too much about what was given up. The Phillies are in the mix for the Brad Lidge trade, as well as Roy Halladay. And lest we not forget that the Eagles brought in the likes of Terrell Owens and Jason Peters via trade.
But I'm going to go with one of the deals that the Flyers made on June 23, 2011, one of the craziest days in franchise history. They dealt Jeff Carter to Columbus in exchange for Jakub Voracek and a draft pick which turned into Sean Couturier. A decade later, the two have combined for over 1300 games and nearly 1000 points with the Flyers. Pretty solid.
The Flyers have had some very nice mid- to late-first round selections, but I don't think you could call them "steals". Similarly, I don't think any Sixers picks qualify based on where they were selected. Top picks need to play like it, or they're busts.
I'm going to go with a Phillies pick, mildly surprising since they have drafted so terribly for the past decade. But if you reach all the way back to the fifth round (140th pick) in 2001, they unearthed Ryan Howard. The rest, they say, is history.
Honorable Mentions: A bunch of Eagles...Brian Westbrook (3rd round, 2002); Trent Cole (5th round, 2005); Brent Celek (5th round, 2007); Jason Kelce (6th round, 2011); Nick Foles (3rd round, 2012). Unfortunately, the Eagles mysteriously stopped attending the NFL draft a few years ago. Let's hope they get back to it soon.
I was going to do a "worst draft pick" category, but I don't have enough time in my schedule to go down the list.
That'll wrap up the WIP Awards on my end. Try not to get too mad when the actual winners aren't as good as my picks.
I remember this like it was 95 years ago. (Barbara Johnston/Inquirer Staff)
Published February 12, 2021
From the sports radio station who brought you their "once and for all" series of Philadelphia sports debates last year comes a rehash of the same things we always talk about. In this case, it's picking the best of Philadelphia sports this century (which goes back to 2000, in case you forgot.)
This is Part 1 of me sussing through the stated categories (and creating new ones in the form of BONUS CATEGORIES) to declare what the best choices are. And, as per my usual way of operating, I'm only sticking to the four major teams, so apologies to college teams like Villanova basketball, athletes from individual sports, and a few racehorses. Ok, I think I've set this up sufficiently, so let's go…
Overall Philadelphia Sports Franchise
Since 2000, the Phillies have appeared in two World Series, winning one. The Eagles have appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one. The real tiebreaker here is that the Phillies, while they had a tremendous five year stretch from 2007-2011, didn't make the playoffs in the seven years before that run or in the nine years since. So, thanks to being more consistent over the past two decades, the Philadelphia Eagles are your winners. That's something you won't be hearing too much in the near future, unfortunately.
Team of the 2000's (single season)
Do you have to win a title to be considered for this? Because the 2011 Phillies were the best team that we've seen in a generation before they unceremoniously lost in the first round of the playoffs. Owing to this, I guess it's the 2017 Eagles by default since they had to go through the Patriots to win a title. No disrespect to those 2008 Phillies, who had to topple the mighty Rays. I know; this is a boring pick.
*BONUS CATEGORY* WORST TEAM
We've got a lot more contenders to work with here. The 2006-07 Flyers finished dead last by a mile, and then managed to lose the draft lottery, missing out on the player who'd score a Stanley Cup-winning goal against them three years later. It was a new level of pain. The 2012 and 2020 versions of the Eagles each only won four games, and got their coaches fired. The Phillies were so laughably bad in 2000 that I wrote a whole series of articles on it, and the 2015 version was even worse. But the 2015-16 76ers take the cake. They went 10-72, which included a rip-roaring 1-30 start to the year, four separate losing streaks of at least 12 games, and no back-to-back wins all season. Trust the process.
Athlete of the 2000's
How do we pick this? Do we merely put the best player from each team into a hat and then pick a winner? Without thinking too deeply, I'm going to declare Brian Dawkins the winner. Since this is a "since 2000" award, we lose the first four years of his Hall of Fame career, but that still gives us nine stellar seasons to work with.
Honorable Mentions: Several of the 2008 Phillies, and the top Sixers and Flyers players, who I'll get to in Part 2. Jason Peters before he turned into a joke.
Coach/Manager of the 2000's
In terms of longevity and winning one of those elusive titles, Charlie Manuel checks the boxes. Doug Pederson won't get a chance to stake his claim. The other coaches to lead a team to the finals in their sport were Peter Laviolette (wasn't here long enough) and Larry Brown (was that this century? Sheesh.) As for Andy Reid, he needed to do a better job.
*BONUS CATEGORY* WORST COACH/MANAGER
Again, we've had some doozies. I'll take Eddie Jordan as the worst Sixers coach. For the Eagles, Chip Kelly turned out to be a disaster, but I don't know if he truly reached the requisite level of being terrible. Gabe Kapler was cringe-inducing, but he wasn't quite bad enough. It's really a two-horse race between Ryne Sandberg and Dave Hakstol. Hakstol had some early success, but it was eventually shown that he didn't know what he was doing. I largely blame Flyers management for handing the reins to someone who wasn't qualified. That leaves Ryne Sandberg as the winner/loser. He took over a sinking ship, but many people had high hopes for him. After two years of disappointment, however, he quit the team in the middle of its God awful 2015 campaign. He hasn't been heard from since. Nice job.
Executive of the 2000's
It kind of depends on how you feel about Howie Roseman. Do you forgive all because he won a Super Bowl, or do you take him to task for how he's mangled things since then? I'll go with Pat Gillick, who admittedly was able to take advantage of the foundation built by his predecessor Ed Wade (ugh), but managed to make the correct moves and got us a championship in his three years as Phillies GM before stepping down. One has to think that the Phils would have added another trophy over the next few years if he were still calling the shots instead of Ruben Amaro Jr.
Moment of the 2000's
This is tricky. Can the best moment just be, like, the end of a great win, especially one that produces a championship? Or should we try to look at individual happenings within a game that thrilled us beyond belief? In this vein, I'm going to go with The Philly Special, because nobody saw that coming, and it was an amazing moment that made us all go "OH MY GOD DOUG PEDERSON IS A GENIUS WHO WILL DEFINITELY BE HERE FOR WAY MORE THAN THREE SEASONS AFTER THIS!!!"
Blunder of the 2000's
Really weird that WIP included this as a category. Do we pick the absolute worst moment, one that ruined a game/season? And how do you classify a "blunder"? Does it need to stand out as unusual, or can it merely be a horrendous play, like allowing Joe Jurevicius to run for miles in the NFC Championship Game? In true "me" fashion, I'm just going to list a few things which vary in their degree of terribleness…
In the end, I'm going to choose Alshon "Butterfingers" Jeffery and his dropped pass-turned-interception that cost the Eagles dearly in the playoffs against New Orleans. The Eagles weren't a shoo-in to win the game even if he brings in that catch, but it was soul-crushing.
This will conclude Part 1 of my WIP Award selections. Come back next week for the thrilling conclusion.
Remind me again why he wasn't an Eagle for life. (ProFootballHOF.com)
Published January 23, 2021
Philadelphia fans like myself hold onto grudges with the best of them. And former Phillies closer Billy Wagner makes an interesting case study. Not as good as Scott Rolen, mind you, but still pretty good. And so, even though I have a creeping feeling of dread that Rolen will unfortunately be elected when the Baseball Hall of Fame announces its 2021 ballot results this week, I'm still fairly heartened that Billy Wagner will continue to find himself on the outside for another year.
And that's because he was insufferable and choked big-time during his two-year tenure with the Phillies. Time for some sour grapes.
Billy Wagner wrote a book in 2013. I haven't read it, but from what I've gathered, he seems to have let go of a lot of the brash intensity that defined him as a player. You can certainly use a healthy amount of that in competitive sports, but even Wagner acknowledged that he took it to extremes. And so I applaud him for growing as a person. But I'm still going to feel cheated by his time in Philadelphia.
Getting Wagner in a trade on November 3, 2003 was a major coup for the Phillies, one of the best during the Ed Wade era. For a team seemingly on the verge of contention and which was moving into a new stadium for the upcoming season, the timing could not have been better. And Wagner was as advertised. He missed time with two separate injuries during that 2004 campaign, but he still managed 21 saves and a 2.42 ERA over 45 games.
Everything seemed fine, even as the Phillies missed the playoffs again that year, but things took a bad turn in 2005.
Wagner was even better on the mound, but his words got him into trouble. He was critical of his teammates, saying things about a lack of “passion and focus”, which immediately made him an unpopular figure in the clubhouse. Even more to Wagner's detriment, he let the fans get to him, largely because of a misunderstanding wherein he believed that the home crowd was seriously booing him for failing to hit 100 mph on the radar gun. Yes, the boos came down when the scoreboard only lit up at 99, but Billy's lack of awareness regarding sarcasm, and his subsequent decision to talk about how the fans made him feel, effectively killed any support he hoped to get.
This brings me to his defining moment with the Phillies, September 7, 2005, a game that I had the displeasure of attending.
Coming down the home stretch of that season, the Phillies were locked in a tight wild card battle with the Astros and a few other teams. But they were hitting the skids, having lost the first two games of the series, and four straight overall. And so, on that night, the Phils desperately needed a win to keep pace, as well as to avoid losing all six of their meetings with Houston on the year.
The Phillies scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to stake them to a 6-5 lead, and so it was Billy Wagner time for the ninth. He retired the first two hitters on five total pitches, and it looked like a crucial victory was in the books. But a David Bell error and then an infield hit brought Wagner’s old teammate, Craig Biggio, to the plate. Wagner was unable to outduel the future Hall of Famer, with Biggio driving his third pitch over the left field wall for an 8-6 Astros lead that would unsurprisingly turn into a devastating Phillies loss a few minutes later after the Phillies were retired in order by some Houston reliever named Brad Lidge.
It was horrendous. And even though Wagner hardly shouldered all of the blame (and would be lights out the rest of the season, saving six games in the final few weeks), this is all the damage that needed to be done. In what turned into a two-horse race for the wild card, the Phillies finished a single game behind Houston. And this was after going 0-6 against them on the year. Flip any one of those losses, and the Phils would have been in the postseason. To add further insult to injury, the Astros would go all the way to the World Series that year.
Wagner would depart via free agency that offseason, going to the hated Mets. Good riddance. But he seemed to have put one over on his old club, as New York would cruise to the NL East title in 2006, leaving the second place Phillies 12 games back.
Still, Wagner’s personality would catch up to him once more, as he caused the same kinds of issues with the Mets that he had in Philadelphia. And maybe I’m a terrible human being, but I was smugly thrilled when he blew out his arm, although he would go on to pitch effectively once more after he came back.
Years after leaving the Phillies, Wagner softened a bit, but it doesn’t change the way his abrasive manner affected the club and the fans while he was in town. And nothing will ever wipe away the fact that he failed in the most clutch spot he ever found himself in while wearing a Phillies uniform.
It’s probably overly harsh to harp on this one game, but when a borderline great player only makes a brief stopover in your town, you only have time to remember a few moments that stand out. Billy Wagner saved a lot of games in two years for the Phillies, but all of the memorable parts of his tenure were lousy ones. And then he topped it off by going to the Mets.
For all these reasons, I’ll always be against Wagner’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame. And I hope the experts will continue to agree, even though he was admittedly a very fine player.
In the end, true Phillies fans can at least take comfort in Billy Wagner's exclusion from the Hall, even if and when Scott Rolen gets voted in. Because we deserve a small measure of satisfaction every now and then.
I’ll end with this quote from my book (still available on Amazon!)...
Because it’s not just about the stats you put up in this town, it’s how you represent the name on the front of your jersey and the fans of this city as a whole. And Wagner is tough to top as an abject failure in that department.
99 mph arm, 100 mph mouth. (Rich Kane/Icon SMI)
Published January 8, 2021
Hey, remember sports? Let's do that.
One of the most fun elements of the first round of the NFL playoffs this year is that the matchup between the Bears and Saints, which will air mainly on CBS, will also be broadcast on Nickelodeon. Who knows what kind of crazy stuff they might do, but I can only hope that Guts' Mike O' Malley and Mr. Ernst from "Hey Dude" will be in the broadcast booth.
This all got me to thinking. I know, that's dangerous.
We already know the Eagles' opponents for 2021. Why not cater the content to specific networks? What a great idea. Oh, right, networks pay billions of dollars and this could never happen. Still, I'm going to attempt to make the dream come true by telling you where you can tune in to see your Birds in 2021.
Eagles @ Panthers - This game can be found on Animal Planet. Get it, because they're both animals. Ok, I need a warm-up. Don't judge me.
Eagles @ Falcons - Um...Animal Planet? Nah, we can't repeat any channels here. That's why this bird battle heads on over to Bravo. I'm told that there was some housewives show in Atlanta on that network, so this seems to jive.
Eagles/Giants - Both clashes between these division foes will be on History because of the constant way they'll remind us of this once great rivalry during the game whilst showing Chuck Bednarik's hit on Frank Gifford from 1960, all in an effort to generate some kind of interest. Meanwhile, multiple unnecessary roughness penalties will be called for minute infractions, reminding us all just how much the game has changed. You just can’t murder people anymore.
Eagles @ Broncos - A game played at this altitude can only be found on Oxygen.
Buccaneers @ Eagles - After (insert Eagles QB here) leads the Birds to a surprise victory over Tom Brady and the Bucs, TB12 refuses to shake his hand, validating the decision to air the game on BabyFirst. Yes, that's a real channel.
Chargers @ Eagles - The Chargers have lightning bolts on their helmets so, like, The Weather Channel?
Eagles @ Raiders - Coming from Las Vegas, home of Ghost Adventures’ Zak Bagans, this game could only air on the Travel Channel. Maybe we could even get Don Wildman or Josh Gates in the booth to help get to the bottom of the mystery of how the Eagles’ special teams became so bad. If you don’t watch the channel, you won’t get the joke, sorry.
Eagles/Football Team - Based on how laughable that last game was, although the Eagles totally shouldn’t apologize for it at all, both games between these teams next year will be broadcast on Comedy Central. Because I still can’t take a game featuring “Football Team” seriously.
Eagles @ Lions - The Smithsonian Channel seems like a decent landing spot if the Lions still feature the creaky old arm of Matthew Stafford, fit to be a museum piece at this age. The game could even become an episode of Smithsonian’s “Air Disasters” series if the offenses really struggle.
49ers @ Eagles - Somebody call Joe Kenda and stick this one on ID Network. In a game between the two most injured teams in the league, the bodies are likely to pile up.
Saints @ Eagles - I’m just going to say DIY Network for this one, because I’m running out of interesting choices that won’t alienate specific groups. So let’s steer clear of that and just say that the “Do It Yourself” element of the channel lends itself to...I got nothing. Moving on...
Eagles/Cowboys - If you want the NFL to try and sell you something for several hours that turns out to just be worthless junk, you can bet that you’ll find both Dallas games on QVC.
Chiefs @ Eagles - We conclude with a touching reunion of mentor Andy Reid and protege Doug Pederson that could only happen on the Hallmark Channel. Bonus points if the league makes this game right before Christmas and manages to rope in Hallmark stalwarts Lacey Chabert and Lori Loughlin to join the broadcast, although it would have to be a day game since Loughlin’s ankle bracelet goes off at dusk.
There you have it. Thanks, Nickelodeon, for the inspiration. I hope those Wild & Crazy Kids on the Bears and Saints have a great time on Sunday.
I’m really looking forward to Eagles games airing on these channels next season. They've got to improve on their lousy 2020, because You Can't Do That On Television two years in a row. With any luck, they'll Figure It Out.
And if you thought this was a lame premise for an article and you could do better, then tell me, What Would You Do?
The bromance returns in 2021. (David Maialetti/Inquirer Staff)
Published December 29, 2020
Yes, I know that Festivus was last week, but the continuing wretchedness of the Philadelphia Eagles merits a special edition of that Festivus tradition: the airing of grievances. And since 2020 STILL isn't in the books, let's go for it.
I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!
Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp:
Jeffrey Lurie and the Philadelphia Eagles organization as a whole:
There were two enjoyable games this entire season. The team itself has a losing record (22-24-1) since the Super Bowl victory. There are teams that are perennial losers whose ownerships pretend to care but actually couldn’t care less about the product on the field or the fans as long as the money is rolling in. Since the purchase of the Eagles, Mr. Lurie has preached a commitment to excellence. In general, the team has been competitive for the majority of that time. However, it appears that winning the Super Bowl has emboldened management and satisfied ownership, despite the now-clear realization that 2017 was more about luck than stellar roster construction. I’m disgusted with this organization more than at any other time I can remember.
Other than these grievances, 2020 worked out great.
Three unwise men. (fullpresscoverage.com)
Published December 16, 2020
Color me surprised that the Philadelphia Phillies signed veteran baseball man Dave Dombrowski to be their new president of baseball operations. And I say that because it flies in the face of a year where the Phillies haven’t done anything right, also seeming to contradict the “woe is us, we’re poor” narrative that the team has leaned on heavily of late.
Don’t get me wrong, as I’m happy that the team seems to have a direction now that a two-time World Series winning executive is on board, even though I’m not totally sure how he fits in with the organization as currently constructed. In the past, Dombrowski has gutted the prospect pipeline to bring in immediate help, and it’s paid off in postseason success. The pain was felt afterwards, but it was worth it. The Phillies currently seem stuck in the middle, however, a far cry from what Dombrowski has dealt with elsewhere. But perhaps this is just the kind of challenge he needed.
Another reason I didn’t see the Dombrowski move coming is that he was tied up in a commitment to bringing a new franchise to Nashville, although he will supposedly continue to function in that role. I’m a bit skeptical that he can pull that off, but as long as it doesn’t conflict with his work in Philadelphia, it shouldn’t matter.
Without completely rehashing the hiring of Dombrowski and what it means for the Phillies going forward, I think we can at least all agree that it was a nice early Christmas gift for us fans who have suffered through a 2020 baseball season where the team has done absolutely nothing right.
Here’s a painful timeline…
January 22 - Announced a slew of veteran signings: Francisco Liriano, Bud Norris, Drew Storen, and Neil Walker. This was part of a disturbing trend from GM Matt Klentak to go for quantity over quality and see if they could catch lightning in a bottle. Walker would play 18 games for the team in 2020, and the rest were all cut. Great job.
February 20 - The Phillies “win” their arbitration hearing against J.T. Realmuto, rather than just giving him the extra money that he requested and laying the groundwork for non-hostile contract negotiations in the future. This started the clock on his countdown to free agency, and has made the prospect of his returning to the Phillies highly questionable ever since.
July 24 to September 27 - Actually played baseball. Were garbage.
August 21 - Acquired Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree from the Red Sox, somehow making an already horrendous bullpen even worse. Workman would go on to post a 6.92 ERA in 14 games, with Hembree sporting a 12.54 ERA in 11 games. He did go 1-0, though, so there’s that.
October 3 - Can’t even fire Matt Klentak correctly, as he “steps down” and is re-assigned to some undetermined role in the organization. My money is on him assisting the pirate beer vendor guy at Citizens Bank Park.
And these are just the blunders that come to mind immediately. You could find many others, both on and off the field, with hardly a mention of anything positive coming out of this organization in 2020. Until now.
This is about the best that Phillies fans could have hoped for, in terms of correcting the course of this organization that feels like it’s on the brink of disaster. Please bring us back from the edge, Dave Dombrowski. If that ends up being the case, then maybe the horrors (baseball-related ones) of 2020 will have been worth it. We won’t know for quite a while, but it’s something to be hopeful about.
Here’s to a much better 2021 for the Philadelphia Phillies. Because it can’t get much worse. Can it?
"I can't make this any worse, can I?" (Jim Davis/Boston Globe)
Published November 17, 2020
The Philadelphia Flyers will always be working from somewhat of a disadvantage when it comes to thinking up creative looks for new jerseys. And that’s because the Flying P has been around forever and is too perfect to ever change. Similarly, the orange and black and usually (but not always) white will always and forever be the color scheme for this franchise. And yes I know they’ve ventured out slightly with looks like this.
Overall, though, you can see why it’s pretty difficult for the Flyers to re-invent the wheel. And so we have this new look, their entry into the NHL’s “reverse retro” jersey line. They’re...fine. They look kind of slick, but how many ways can the Flyers move lines and colors around? They’re a bit hamstrung because they don’t have an alternate logo or former color scheme to fall back on. Apparently, this is a flipped version of the mid-’90s “Legion of Doom” team sweaters, but you could have fooled me. In the end, I think that this jersey is a decent addition in the pantheon of Flyers sweaters.
Now, to the other issue. Why is the NHL doing this? The answer is obviously to get people to buy jerseys, of course, because they are really going to be hurting for money if they have to play a shortened season in front of little to no fans. Owing to this factor, introducing this bold and exciting new line of sweaters feels hollow at best and a straight up cash grab at worst. Supposedly, Adidas and the NHL started working on this almost two years ago, but I feel like the process definitely got accelerated once the league started seeing losses a few months back.
It’ll be cool to see the Flyers in these duds, as well as some of the other nice ones that teams have come out with. But it really feels unofficial to me if they’re going to be making their maiden voyage in an empty arena, bubble situation, or some other circumstances that deviate from the norm. Because of that, I’m personally not going to be fully on board with this new look until the Flyers can play in front of a packed Wells Fargo Center wearing them. In much the same way that many elements of sports have seemed artificial lately (or actually are artificial, like pumped-in crowd noise) the reverse retro jerseys feel more like a video game add-on than a real life outfit, at least until we get back to business as usual.
Nobody has seen these jerseys in action on the ice yet, but I think they’ll end up looking pretty good. And I can forgive the rankings that mostly have the Flyers’ new look in the lower third of the league. The most universally applauded reverse retro jerseys, Colorado and Minnesota, pay homage to teams that moved. It was nice of those franchises to wax nostalgic about defunct, loser teams, but the Flyers didn’t have that option. Instead, they did the best they could with a classic crest and a color pattern that is too good to fool with. My only beef is that they could have really gone for it by slapping Gritty right on the jersey. That would have been fantastic, but I guess the world isn’t ready for that.
Each day, I’m getting more and more used to the idea that the 2020-21 NHL season is going to be a wash. In that case, I’ll be fully on board with seeing these jerseys on occasion during the 2021-22 season, assuming things have normalized. But if the NHL only plans on using these sweaters a few times during the upcoming abbreviated season, then it will have been a total waste of time and effort.
In short, I wouldn’t rush out to grab these babies, but maybe next year if they’re still a thing. If they’re never even worn in front of the home fans, however, were they even real? We’ll see what lies ahead.
Someone went on a TJ Maxx shopping spree. (CrossingBroad)
Published October 25, 2020
You can be forgiven if you don't remember left-handed reliever Aaron Loup's brief time with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Brought in from Toronto at the 2018 deadline, Loup had a 4.50 ERA in 9 appearances with the Phils, missing a chunk of time with injury before departing that offseason. And so it probably doesn't really hurt all too much to see him on the mound as part of Tampa Bay's vaulted bullpen that has helped to carry them all the way to the World Series. Along with his teammate Charlie Morton, himself an even shorter-lived Phillie, Loup has a chance to win a ring elsewhere after playing in Philadelphia.
To be fair, this is not unique to this city. The law of averages says that any title-winning team will be comprised of a guy or two who played part of his career elsewhere before landing in his current spot. But I thought it might be interesting to look back on the last decade and examine the cross-section of former Phillies who reached the pinnacle of success after moving on. As a fan of the team, this group will stir up some mixture of pain, indifference, and head scratching.
This one hurt. Pat Burrell, just two years removed from a hero's sendoff in Philadelphia, found himself as part of the Giants club that dispatched the Phillies in the NLCS on the way to a championship. At least Pat the Bat had already won here, though. The same can't be said for Aaron Rowand, who was beloved during his brief time in Philly, but bookended his career with titles for the other two teams he played for besides the Phillies. Fun fact: Rowand's only playoff series loss was the 2007 NLDS when the Phillies were swept by the Rockies. Apart from that, he only ever reached the postseason in 2005 (White Sox) and 2010 (Giants), going the distance in both of those years.
And you thought 2010 was painful? It's already been beaten to death how the 2011 Phillies were the best team in baseball, only to see the St. Louis Cardinals swoop in and deal them a devastating first round loss. But the insult to literal injury is that the Cards employed a trio of former Philadelphia washouts on their World Series roster. Starting pitcher Kyle Lohse had an excellent 2011 regular season for St. Louis. And even though his playoffs left a lot to be desired, he got his ring nonetheless. Utility man Nick Punto, who had started his MLB career with the Phillies a decade earlier, got regular at bats in the playoffs for the Cardinals during their title run. And elderly reliever Arthur Rhodes, who turned 42 during the 2011 World Series, nabbed his first ring and then retired. You may remember him as the guy who went 0-5 with a 5.32 ERA out of the Phillies' bullpen five years earlier.
The Giants did it again. No Burrell. No Rowand. But deadline acquisition Hunter Pence was a key figure for them. All for the low, low price of Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin, and Nate Schierholtz. No former Phillies were part of the Red Sox' 2013 championship team, but Pence came back for a repeat in 2014 with the Giants as the Phillies tumbled toward the bottom of the standings.
Did you remember that Ryan Madson won the World Series in 2015 with the Royals? Did you even remember that he ever pitched for them in the first place? Well, he did, just for that year. He was pretty dominant in the regular season, posting a 2.13 ERA, and then tossing three scoreless innings in the World Series. Could have fooled me. Again, this one didn’t really hurt, since Madson was a big part of the 2008 Phillies and had already reached his potential here.
After the 2016 Cubs won it all without the help of any former Phillies, the 2017 Astros* got the job done while employing Ken Giles and Charlie Morton. Mixed feelings here. First, while Giles could have been a valuable member of the Phillies’ bullpen for years, the team was right to trade him after the 2015 season. It certainly doesn’t help matters that what they got for him never panned out, but there aren’t too many Phils fans kicking themselves for dealing away Giles, even though he was a part of a title team elsewhere.
The Charlie Morton situation is a bit murkier. He was a nice, under-the-radar signing for the Phillies in 2016, and it wasn’t the team’s fault that he suffered a season-ending injury after just four starts. Maybe you can blame them for not making a big push to re-sign him, but who knew how valuable of a pitcher he would turn into, first for Houston and now for Tampa? Once you remember that we’re talking about the Phillies, though, it all makes sense. Even the smart moves end up blowing up in their faces.
The 2018 Red Sox didn’t feature any former Phillies, but the Nationals had Howie Kendrick in 2019. Kendrick had played for the Phillies in 2017, and he looked really good when he was healthy enough to stay on the field. But nobody really batted an eye when they dealt him to the Nats for a prospect they don’t have anymore and international bonus slot money. Good for Kendrick that he’d settle in as a valuable contributor in DC, because it wasn’t going to happen in Philadelphia. It was another decent move by the Phillies which didn’t pay off for them but that benefitted another team down the line.
This all brings us back to the present, with Aaron Loup and Charlie Morton (again) trying to pull off the feat of winning a World Series despite the hindrance of having spent part of their careers with the Phillies. It’s a tale as old as time. As stated, common sense says that these things will happen. But it remains part of the minutiae that us sports nuts obsess over, probably way too much.
His arm looks tiny. (Getty Images)
Published October 23, 2020
This year marks the 60th anniversary of director Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". Owing to this, and since it's also the spooky season, we've decided to re-work some of his titles into tales related to Philadelphia sports. Get ready to be scared...
The Birds - Just as the original film famously had no soundtrack, this Philly-centric remake is also missing a lot of vital parts. In the end, though, it’s not scary at all because the birds just get injured every time they try to do something.
Frenzy - A thriller about NHL teams making aggressive moves in free agency. Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher is uncredited.
Lifeboat - A harrowing tale starring Carson Wentz, surrounded by a sea of nothingness, with zero support from his team.
The Lady Vanishes - Originally about the Kate Smith statue, this was re-worked into a stark look at Claude Giroux’s 2020 playoff performance for the Flyers.
To Catch a Thief - This screenplay was written by Phillies catchers about their experiences working with Jake Arrieta. Zing!
I Confess - Over a decade and a half after his greatest controversy, Donovan McNabb comes clean and admits he puked in the Super Bowl.
Shadow of a Doubt - A tale of Howie Roseman’s machinations behind the scenes as he prepares for the NFL draft. The film rightly concludes that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
The Man Who Knew Too Much - Sad story of how the 76ers didn't bring back Jimmy Butler, even though he actually knows how to win games, because he didn’t fit with what they were trying to do.
The Trouble with Harry - In the actual Hitchcock film, the titular character is dead the whole time, with locals trying to figure out how to get rid of the body. The new version concerns the corpse of Harry Kalas, which still manages to call a better game than Tom McCarthy.
The Wrong Man - Poorly received film about Brett Brown that took seven years to complete. Other Philadelphia figures considered for the title role were Gabe Kapler, Dave Hakstol, and Chip Kelly.
Vertigo - Panic ensues when the Phillies look so far up the standings that they can actually see the Braves.
Rope - A Jim Schwartz biopic, since he's running out of it.
Stage Fright - Aaron Nola takes the mound in September, putting everyone on the edge of their seats. Don’t watch if you’re squeamish.
The 39 Steps - Not really a film, as it’s basically just a slow motion video of what Jason Peters takes before every snap.
I hope I’ve sufficiently covered your favorite Hitchcock film and Philly sports lightning rod. Bonus points if you noticed that I made two Jimmy Stewart movie titles into comments about guys named Jim/Jimmy. You didn't notice that, though. Anyway, come back next time for more obscure and specific stuff that you can’t get anywhere else, nor would you want to.
Didn't he coach the Flyers at one point? (TelegraphIndia)