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Archive for February, 2008

Remember When: Dick Allen’s $250K Highest in MLB, $15K Minimum Pay

Friday, February 29th, 2008

                  Dick Allen     Curt Flood

Baseball Library records The 25th and 27th of February, 35 years ago, marked two groundbreaking events which have served to shape fiscal and economic reality in contemporary baseball.  The former date being the root for the evolution of MLB salary arbitration and free agency. 

Baseball Library records on February 25, 1973;

A new 3-year Basic Agreement is reached between players and owners… Among the provisions of the agreement are a $15‚000 minimum salary‚ salary arbitration‚ and the “10 and 5″ trade rule‚ which permits a player with 10 years in the ML‚ the last 5 of which are with his current team‚ to veto any trade involving him.

The latter date in 1973 made Dick Allen baseball’s highest paid player having received a 3 year, $250,000 per year deal from the Chicago White Sox.

Allen burst onto the Phillies scene at the beginning of the 1964 season, a season memorable for Jim Bunnings’ Fathers Day perfect game against the Mets, rightfielder Johnny Callison’s All Star game 3 run walk-off homer and the club’s late-season collapse blowing a 6 game NL first place lead in the final 12 games of the season.

Allen’s rookie season reflected the same sort of promise of a great career as Ryan Howard’s rookie season did in 2005.  But Howard hit his 22 homers with a .286 BA in 88 games where Allen’s 29 homers, 104 RBIs, 201 hits and .318 BA were full season stats.  Although he committed 41 errors at 3rd base, having never played there previous to arriving in the big leagues, Allen wooed the baseball writers with his stats and was voted 1964’s NL Rookie of the Year.

While Howard also won rookie of the year honors in 2005 season, he also went on to garner a wall full of awards for his 58 homer, 149 RBI, .313 BA 2006 season which, by comparison, blew away Allen’s second season.  Further, it took Allen 4 1/2 seasons to duplicate Howard’s 129 homers accomplished in less than 3 full seasons.

Although Allen would put together impressive numbers in 1965 before really blossoming for the Phils with a 40 homer, 110 RBI, .317 BA season in 1966, his off-field turmoil eventually spilled over onto the field.

A glimpse at the future disruptiveness which would dog Allen throughout his career was seen a year later in 1965 in his run-ins with veteran journeyman utility player Frank Thomas who was near the end of a 16 year career.  Thomas, who packed some thump in his bat throughout his career, provided some clutch pinch homers for the Phils after his acquisition late in the 1964 season.  But perhaps the turbulence that marked Allen’s career was rooted in his minor league experiences with the Phillies affiliate club in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Wikipedia records this regarding Allen’s minor league experiences;

His career got off to a turbulent start as he faced racial harassment while playing for the Phillies’ minor league affiliate in Little Rock; residents staged protest parades against Allen, the local team’s first black player. Nevertheless, he led the league in total bases.

My recollection is that the run-ins occured when Allen took issue with alleged “racist” comments made by Thomas. 

Wikipedia goes on to record some of Allen’s scrapes through his years with the Phillies;

He quickly wore out his welcome due to erratic behavior. He got in a fistfight with the popular Phillie Frank Thomas in July 1965, gashed his throwing hand by pushing it through a car headlight on August 24, 1967, and earned a 26-game suspension in June 1969 after being stopped by police for erratic driving, and showing up late to a doubleheader; he also began drinking heavily.

Even Allen’s name was a source of controversy: he had been known since his youth as “Dick” to family and friends, but for reasons which are somewhat obscure at this late date, the media referred to him upon his arrival in Philadelphia as “Richie,” possibly a conflation with the longtime Phillies star Richie Ashburn. After several years, he asked to be called “Dick,” saying Richie was a little boy’s name.

The Phillies’ Boo Bird fans, known for being tough on hometown players even in the best of times, exacerbated Allen’s problems. Initially the abuse was verbal, with obscenities and racial epithets. Eventually Allen was greeted with showers of fruit, ice, refuse, and even flashlight batteries as he took the field. He began wearing his batting helmet even while playing his defensive position in the field, which gave rise to another nickname, “Crash Helmet”, shortened to “Crash”.

One of Dick Allen’s most infuriating moments to fans was on June 24, 1969. Allen was fined $2,500 and suspended indefinitely when he failed to appear for the Phillies twi-night doubleheader game with the Mets. Allen had gone to New Jersey in the morning to see a horse race and got caught in traffic trying to return.

When the Phillies had finally had enough of Allen’s antics, they traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals before the 1970 season.  But even that deal was wrapped in controversy, although not of Allen’s doing.

The Phillies had traded him to St. Louis in exchange for outfielder Curt Flood who wanted no part of playing in Philadelphia.

Wikipedia notes;

Flood refused to report to the Phillies as part of the trade. (Flood then sued baseball in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the reserve clause and to be declared a free agent.)

Flood, it turned out, sat out the 1970 season before signing with the  Washington Senators where he played 13 games before retiring.  The Phillies, who sought Flood, were given young outfielder Willie Montanez instead.

Meanwhile Allen had a productive 1970 season of 34 HRs, 101 RBIs and .279 with the Cardinals.  But in 1971, he was traded to the Dodgers and then to the White Sox where he played from 1972 through 1974.

In 1972, after Allen clubbed a White Sox club record and league-leading 34 HRs with a .316 BA, he reached the pinnacle of his career, winning the AL MVP award.  In 1973 after receiving the 3 year deal from the White Sox, Allen broke his leg in a base-running collision at the end of June and missed the rest of the season.  In 1974, he came back with 32 HRs and a .301 BA but quit the team, without giving a reason, in mid-September.

Former Phillies great centerfielder, Richie Ashburn, now doing play-by-play announcing for the team, coaxed Allen out of retirement to rejoin the Phils.  But Allen had 2 disappointing seasons with the club.

Allen’s career came to an end in Philadelphia at the conclusion of the 1976 regular season in which the Phillies won the NL East championship. He jumped the club over their decision not to include veteran 2nd baseman  Tony Taylor on their post-season roster for the upcoming NLCS with the  Cincinnati Reds.  Taylor had been a 2nd base fixture and a rock of consistency in the Phillies infield throughout all of the lean last-place finishes of the 1960s.

Allen may have had a point regarding loyalty to a player, but the Phils had to do what was best for the club and Taylor was an aging player visibly at the end of his career.  And after the litany of all of his previous tumult, this was just the topping on a very tasteless cake.

In Thursday’s spring training action, 1st baseman Ryan Howard pounded a 3-run homer in the 3rd inning, 2nd baseman Chase Utley had 2 hits, but it wasn’t near enough as two of the Phillies’ young arms Joe Savery and Josh Outman were pounded for 9 runs squandering a 5-1 3rd inning lead as the Phils were clubbed 11-6 by Pittsburgh.  2nd year pitcher Kyle Kendrick started and pitched 1 run, 3 hit ball over 3 innings, only giving up a solo shot to Pirates 1st baseman Adam LaRouch in the 2nd inning.

36 Years Ago: Lefty Carlton to the Phillies

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

                       Steve Carlton

When you spoke about “Lefty” during the past 4 decades, if you weren’t talking about political leftists, then you were undoubtedly a baseball fan.  And if so, by mentioning the nickname ”Lefty”, it was universally known by baseball fans that you were talking about  Steve Carlton.

Carlton got his start in Major League Baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1965.  He posted four fine seasons with the Cards including a 17-11 mark in 1969 and a 20-9 mark in 1971.

Lefty had his own unique training regiment utilizing martial arts and other techniques.  But in the process, his training regiment enabled longevity in the game without the the various arm, shoulder, back and leg ills of today’s pitchers.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about the trade which brought Carlton to the Phillies in exchange for another pretty fair pitcher in Rick Wise.  The 36th anniversary of that deal was marked by Baseball Library two days ago, on Monday, February 25.

In his 24 year career, Carlton won 329 while dropping 244, winning 241 of those games, including five 20 game winning seasons and 4 Cy Young Awards in a Phillies red pinstripes.  Only Greg Maddux tied him in Cy Youngs and only Randy “Big Unit” Johnson with 5 and “Rocket” Roger Clemens with 7, bettered Carlton in winning Cy Young Awards.

In Carlton’s first season with the Phils, he miraculously won 27 games for a team that totally won only 59.  he subsequently led the Phillies to East division championships in 1976, 1977 and 1978 as well as to the NL Pennant and their first and only World Series championship in 1980 when they defeated the Kansas City Royals by 4 games to 2 with Carlton winning 2 of the games.

In 1981, Lefty was once again primed to win 20 games, but as a result of the players’ strike, the season was abbreviated and most teams played only 107 games.  Carlton went 13-4 with 2.42 ERA giving up a mere 9 homers as the Phils went to post-season before losing the split-season formula playoff to the Montreal Expos.

Possessing nasty stuff, Lefty was a strikeout pitcher garnering 4,000 Ks with only Clemens (4,167) and Nolan Ryan (5,714) ringing up more.  Carlton holds the all-time career strikeout total for lefthanders.

Carlton was consistently brilliant until 1985 when his career entered it’s twi-light years.   However, he was stubborn and thought that he still had his stuff and his conditioning.  But he finally retired 4 years later, having pitched for 5 teams during that period registering but 16 wins and 37 losses and an ERA that exploded to 6.70 and 16.76 in his final two seasons.  

In baseball today, the Phillies started Spring Training off on the right foot knocking off the Cincinnati Reds by an 8-1 score behind a 7 run 5th inning.   The Phils garnered 12 hits, including 2 hits by newcomer 3rd baseman Pedro Feliz.  while the Reds garnered but 5 hits.  Veteran 45 year old lefthander Jamie Moyer started, pitched 3 scoreless innings allowing only 1 hit while striking out 3 and knotched the win.  Greg Dobbs pounded a 3 run homer amidst the 7 run 5th.  The Phils play the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday and Monday.

Knee Surgery for Lidge, Doubtful for Opener

Monday, February 25th, 2008

               Brad Lidge        Rich Dubee

The Phillies’ biggest acquisition of the off-season, closer Brad Lidge, limped off of the mound with a reinjured knee of his push off leg after tossing one pitch in Saturday’s batting practice.

Initially, it was hoped that the injury was just a case of scar tissue pulled loose.

By Sunday, Lidge was diagnosed as needing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee which was successfully completed today.  He had previous surgery in October, 2007 where doctors removed torn cartilage from the same knee.

The probable prognosis after the surgery is that he’d be sidelined for three to six weeks.  He is, at best, doubtful for a March 31st opener with the Washington Nationals. 

Frankly, there a few puzzlements in this entire incident.

What was his rehab regiment after the October surgery?  Was he sufficiently rehabilitated?  How is it that a caught spike on his first pitch causes this extent of damage?

Philly.com reported on February 12 regarding Lidge’s earlier surgery and rehab;

The reliever, a righty, had surgery to repair torn cartilage in early October. Midway through last season, a biting pain developed in the knee he uses to push off the mound while delivering to the plate. An MRI revealed that the cartilage had torn in two and fallen out of place.

Nevertheless, Lidge pitched his best after the injury developed, converting 19 of the 24 save opportunities he had after spending a month on the DL from mid-June to mid-July.

Speaking in the clubhouse after working out yesterday morning, Lidge deemed the knee ready to go. He has been throwing off the mound since January. If the season started today, he said, he would be healthy enough to pitch.

This report was written nearly a month after the Phillies announced Lidge’s signing of a 1 year deal worth $6.35 million, a $1 million raise over last season.

Are we to believe that there is no rehab necessary after this latest knee surgery?  Frankly, despite the predictable Phillies minimization of the injury and projected three to six week recovery time, the reality of things seems to be, don’t look for Lidge before at least May 1.  How can anyone project that Lidge could be ready by Opening Day 4 1/2 weeks from now?

Why was Brett Myers rushed back into the starting rotation?  This blog commented on that very point with concern about the status of the knee in its report on the trade for Lidge back in November.

Are there flaws in pitching coach Rich Dubee’s training and exercise regiments or his coaching?  I have wondered this since last season when two starting pitchers (excluding Freddy Garcia — damaged goods from jumpstreet) plus Ryan Madson, Myers, Tom Gordon and Scott Mathieson (2006) all went down.

Or are there severe, dangerous flaws on the mound in Clearwater which the Phils have as yet not rectified? Or could it be both of the above?

And so, Heaven help them; Gordon’s projected as Opening Day closer with Myers back in the starting rotation.

Take me back to the days of Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn, Early Wynn  Tom Seaver, Jim Bunning, Nolan Ryan or “Lefty” Steve Carlton, all of whom kept pitching and pitching, completing a high percentage of games and never, ever going down with arm, shoulder or knee woes.

Howard Bests Phillies in Arbitration

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

              Ryan Howard         Ryan Howard

On Wednesday, salary arbitrators awarded Phillies 1st baseman Ryan Howard the $10 million he had asked for the 2008 season vs the Phillies offer of $7 million.

The award stands as a landmark decision in the history of MLB salary arbitration proceedings. 

Howard, the powerful lefthanded hitting slugger who has pounded out the fastest 129 homers in MLB history and has driven in 353 runs in 2 1/2 seasons in the big leagues, will watch his bank account soar as he continues terrorizing opponents’ pitching with well-struck drives going ballpark to all fields. 

AP Sports writer Robert Maaddi notes for Yahoo sports;

Howard batted .268 with 47 homers and 136 RBIs last season in what was considered a down year for him. In 2006 he had 58 homers, 149 RBIs and a .313 average, one of the best seasons by a second-year player.

The 28-year-old first baseman has less than three years service time in the majors, partly because his path was blocked by Jim Thome. An injury to Thome during the 2005 season paved the way for Howard, who had 22 homers and 63 RBIs in just 88 games to win the NL Rookie of the Year award.

The case was decided by [Stephen] Goldberg, Robert Bailey and Jack Clarke. The panel listened for nearly five hours as each side presented its arguments Wednesday in St. Petersburg.

Howard was represented by his agent, Casey Close. Houston Astros president Tal Smith, who represents many teams, handled the Phillies’ side.

Howard’s 58 homers in 2006 set an MLB record for a 2nd year player.  The previous record was held by Ralph Kiner who hit 51 homers for the otherwise woeful Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947, his 2nd season in MLB.

Various media have reported the dimensions of the Howard arbitration decision.  ESPN’s Jayson Stark succinctly provides perspective regarding this ground-breaking decision in MLB salary arbitration history:

• The previous record for most dollars awarded to a player who won an arbitration hearing was $8.2 million, by Andruw Jones (as a player with four years of service) in 2001.

• The previous record for highest salary in history by a player who was arbitration-eligible for the first time was $7.4 million — set by Miguel Cabrera after he won his case against the  Marlins last year. But Cabrera had three-plus years of service at the time.

• Howard also tied Alfonso Soriano’s record for highest salary awarded to any player who went through an arbitration hearing. Soriano got $10 million two years ago from the  Nationals. But he actually lost — in a bid for $12 million.

• And until this ruling, the Phillies had been the only franchise in history that had never lost an arbitration hearing, for one thing. They were 7-0 all-time, having out-arbitrated an eclectic group consisting of Jerry Koosman,  Alan Knicely, Kevin Gross, Dickie Thon, Dale Sveum, Willie Banks and Travis Lee.

The main ESPN report notes;

Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team negotiated with Howard’s agent, Casey Close, about a contract “in a variety of lengths” as late as yesterday morning before the hearing at the Renaissance Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg. He said they thought they were close to a deal, but it’s uncertain how close.

“Close doesn’t get it done, though,” Amaro said.

It is believed reaching an agreement with Howard on a multiyear contract is going to be difficult. He could be seeking a contract far in excess of the seven-year, $100 million contract extension St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols received in 2004.

AP’s Maaddi adds these comments from Assistant GM Amaro Jr.;

“I’m sure he’s very pleased,” Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “This has been a negotiation that has been very amicable and very professional. It’s just a part of the process.”

As for Howard who didn’t get his long-term deal with the Phils but got the biggest 4th year - single season paycheck yet, ESPN’s Stark, in a must-read subsequent piece, writes;

Says his buddy Jimmy Rollins, it means he can afford that Aston Martin DB9 James Bond-mobile he’s had his eye on.

Suggested list price, in case you’re wondering: $168,000.

“Shoot,” Rollins laughed, “that’s two days salary for him now.”

Stark also provides an in-depth analysis of Why Howard won, what it means for both he and the Phillies and what it means for Major League Baseball as well as an illustration showing the impact of Howard’s production over his first 4 seasons in comparison with Mark McGwire, Willie Mays and others.

Philly.com’s Todd Zolecki notes that Howard seems to be taking the win in stride with his focus being on the 2008 season;

“It was some good news to start of the day,” Howard said after the team’s workout. “It’s a good feeling. It’s always a good feeling to win. But either way, it’s a win-win. It’s a substantial raise either way.”

Howard smiled easily as he talked on his cell phone outside the Phillies clubhouse. Teammate Jimmy Rollins gave him a high-five on his way back to his locker.

Schmidt Excited About Feliz at Third Base

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

                              Pedro Feliz

Three week ago when the Phillies acquired 3rd baseman Pedro Feliz off of the Free Agency market for $ 8.5M over 2 years, my reaction was that Charlie Manuel can kiss his 3rd base problems goodbye. 

I see Feliz as slick with the glove, capable of high 20’s to 30’s in homers, particularly playing half of his games in Citizens Bank Park, near 100 RBIs and capable of hitting in the .270’s to .280’s.

Apparently, no less than all-time great and Hall of Fame 3rd baseman  Mike Schmidt would seem to agree with my assessment.

The News Journal’s Scott Lauber reports that Schmidt, who is spending the next two weeks as a spring training guest instructor, noted;

“He’s an impressive young man,” Schmidt said. “Tremendously impressive hands, good arm, good batting stroke. I think he’s going to be a big key for the club this year.”

“Just watching [Feliz] on TV, he caught my eye. I can see a good, solid fundamental hitter. I don’t know what his best year has been. I just know him as a mid-20s home run, 80-RBI guy. I don’t know if he’s ever gotten to 30 home runs or 100 RBIs, but he has that potential, without a doubt.”

So, it will be interesting to watch and see if Feliz lives up to regular 3rd base projections in the coming season.

In other spring training news, the punking of young pitcher Kyle Kendrick has received national notoriety.  Brett Myers and Kendrick were guests on the “The Today Show.”  After the hosts and guests shared guffaws about “The Trade”, Myers himself got “punked” of sorts. 

                           Soupy Sales

Near the end of the interview, Myers received the Soupy Sales treatment by way of a ’shaving cream pie in the face’ by projected starting centerfielder Shane Victorino as the Phillies again showed themselves to be loose, reminiscent (but without Mitch Williams) of the  Dykstra, “Dutch” Dalton and Kruk 1993 team which went to the World Series.  Check out this video about the day after the punking.

Well, today’s the day of the Ryan Howard salary arbitration hearing, but noone’s talking.

Howard has been low-key, concentrating on getting into shape for a big season, having report to spring training 15 pounds lighter than his overweight status last season and feeling far better than he felt last year when his season was disrupted by a quad injury.

The Yahoo sports Phillies Team Report notes;

“We’re just going to have to wait and see what happens,” Howard said about his thorny arbitration case.

There are no indications that the Phillies are close to an agreement with Casey Close, Howard’s Beverly Hills-based agent, so barring an 11th-hour settlement, Howard’s 2008 salary will be decided by a three-person panel of arbitrators. And an army of Phillies fans, disguised as amateur psychologists, is wary of the effect a hearing may have on Howard’s psyche.

But regardless of what gets said with Howard present at the arbitration table when the Phillies make their case for paying him less than he wants, the 2006 National League MVP insists it won’t change how he approaches his job.

Since the two sides were still unable to come up with a long-term deal as the clock struck 12, the fans and media in Philadelphia seem hoping that the Phils tank the hearing and let Howard win.

Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan said it best;

If Howard gets his $10 million, he will finally be on the positive side of the ledger book, and that will shift the responsibility for what follows to Howard.

If he proves he’s worth the $10 million and more in the years to come, that will mean the Phillies got another great season from him. That big long-term deal will not look at all risky.

If Howard has a dropoff in production, the Phillies have an interesting decision to make. They could continue to work toward a long-term deal on the good-faith assumption that Howard will be worth it over his career, or they could return to the arbitration process without looking like tightwads.

Lose tomorrow and the Phillies make their fans happy, appease a superstar player, and set themselves up for a better relationship with him for years - all for $3 million.

Heck, that’s more than they got out of Rod Barajas last year.

Lighter Side of Spring Training: Kendrick “Traded” to Japan

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Kris Benson Kyle Kendrick

With spring training just underway, having started on the voluntary reporting date of February 14, the Phillies training camp is electric with excitement in anticipation of the beginning of the exhibition season in 8 days and the 2008 season beginning at the end of March.

On February 14, voluntary reporting day, the Phils made official that pitcher Kris Benson, who missed the 2007 season due to recovery from right shoulder rotator cuff surgery in March, 2007, had joined the fold.

Benson, who agreed to a minor-league contract, could make just over $5 million in salary, signing bonus and incentives based on time on the active roster, innings pitched, and starts should he make the roster.

Whenever he is fully recovered and in shape to join the starting rotation, I project him as at least the 4th starter in a rotation of lefthander Cole Hamelschiropractor and all, Brett Myers, Kyle Kendrick with veteran 45 year old lefthander Jamie Moyer as the 5th starter. As for Adam Eaton, he was an unmitigated disaster last season with an astronomical 6.29 ERA. Hopefully Benson will be a vast improvement over Eaton’s 2007 performance although the Phillies hope for substantial improvement from Eaton as well.

In the meantime, with Ryan Howard’s salary arbitration hearing but a couple of days away, the big slugging first baseman is loosey-goosey despite a $3 million gap between his asking price of $10 million and the club’s offer of $7 million. On the third day of training, Howard was chipper while going through the exercise regiment and in brief conversations with the press. It’s noted that he reported for camp;

15 pounds lighter than last spring, spoke after his workout, in which he spent at least 30 minutes working on his defense.

The joyful Howard is not about to worry or let a possible arbitration hearing stand in the way of preparing for and anticipating the new season

In fact, while being focused on preparation for the coming NL East title defense, the entire club is soo loose that they’ve let Carlos Beltran’s “Mets - the team to beat” boast pass without a word, unlike the panicky Mets response to Jimmy Rollins’ boast of last winter. The Phils are still one up with Rollins’ latest prediction of the Phillies winning 100 games in 2008.

Just how loose is this team? Check out this Yahoo story on the “trade” of second year starter Kyle Kendrick to Japan in a $1.5 million deal;

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick was shocked to learn that he’d been traded to the Yomiuri Giants in Japan for a player named “Kobayashi Iwamura.”

“I don’t know what to think right now,” he told reporters outside his locker shortly after getting the news from assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Had he truly been thinking, he would have realized that such deals are prohibited. And with a little digging he could have found out that there is no Kobayashi Iwamura playing in Japan.

The “trade” was, in fact, a prank. The ruse was orchestrated by pitcher Brett Myers and was elaborate enough to include Amaro, manager Charlie Manuel, Kendrick’s agent, the media and others.

If you want to split your sides laughing, check out this YouTube footage of how this “trade” rouse went down. Imagine getting traded, as Myers said in the punchline, for Kobayashi — “for a hot dog eater.” Kendrick — punked indeed.Even reliever Tom Gordon reported to camp feeling substantially better than he had last spring.

Philly.com’s Todd Zolecki reports about Gordon;

Because of his shoulder problems and a respiratory infection, Gordon missed two months last season and pitched 40 innings.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he planned to monitor Gordon’s use early so he remains strong through the season. The righthander thinks he will stay strong and hopes Manuel doesn’t nurse him along. He would rather pitch as often as possible.

Gordon used a new shoulder program over the winter to build strength.

“It’s really strenuous,” Gordon said. “I did a lot of work strengthening it. It should keep me away from things that caused me to get sore.”