Friday, January 31, 2014

Who's Next?

Arguably, the biggest move the Phils made this offseason was firing more than long-time broadcaster Chris “Wheels” Wheeler (Biggest moves used to be signing guys like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee). Gary “Sarge” Matthews was also shown the door. Wheels had been in the booth longer than most people who are reading this have been alive. He came on in 1977 and it’s the first year since 1971 that one of the three mainstays of Phillies broadcasting, the venerable Harry Kallas and of course Richie Ashburn, are not going to call the Phillies on television.


That’s quite a run for Wheels.

It was an unceremonious dump for a guy who probably deserved more despite the fact that almost nobody liked him. I’m not a Wheels apologist but he probably didn’t deserve to go out quite like that. Say what you want about Wheels – he was a know-it-all, he stated the obvious, his shtick was just tired – the man has forgotten more about baseball than any of us will ever know. He was well liked within the organization and not bad at his job. It was his time to go according to Comcast Sports Net, who dictated the firing after agreeing to give the Phils $2.5 billion over the next 25 years to broadcast their games.

“OK” the Phils said. Can’t blame em.

The thing that irked me about this whole thing is that Tom McCarthy is getting to keep his job. As much as people don’t like Wheels is how much I don’t like TMac. I don’t like how he calls games. Listen for it this year but I swear he can’t judge the ball off the bat. He struggles on home run calls and the inflection of his voice can make you think Cole got Bryce Harper to pop it up when all he did was foul it back. Aside from that, he’s just bland. He’s vanilla ice cream with a side of vanilla. Comcast should have just cleaned house and brought in a whole new team.

We’re about 2 months away from the beginning of the season and the Phils still have not announced a replacement for Wheels to be the color guy along side McCarthy.

The Dream Team

My dream set-up has already been thwarted because TMac lives, but man, what I wouldn’t give to have Scott Franzke’s deadpan egging on of a probably drunk Larry Andersen. If you can listen to the Phils on the radio, do yourself a favor. Franzke and LA have great banter and LA cracks jokes, tells it like it is, and Franzke is the perfect foil who calls a better game than TMac. LA is too much of a wild card these days for it too happen but if the Phils aren’t going to be any good at least I could laugh my way through the tears with those two. Hopefully the new color guy is good enough that I don’t fight with my DVR to try and sync the radio show this year.

The next best scenario would involve a member of the 93 Phillies squad, a few of which are already on the national television scene. I doubt it’s realistic but John Kruk would be my ideal replacement for Wheels. Since his playing days Kruk has toned down the mullet look and proven to be an intelligent baseball mind as an analyst for ESPN. He would instantly add credibility to the booth and there’s a 5% chance he’d be bad or no one would like him.

Another loud personality from the memorable 93 team, Mitch Williams, would be a nice fit. The Wild Thing is a bit brash with his opinions if you follow him on the MLB Network or read about his dustup with Lenny Dykstra recently, but he would also be some one fun to have calling the Phillies for us every night.

Both of those guys are probably pipe dreams that would have to receive Godfather offers to take what would equate to a step down in the broadcasting world. They are both national analysts that have cushy studio gigs where they don’t have to have the same travel schedule as a Major League baseball team.

No, if  I know the Phillies they’ll replace Wheels with some vanilla decision to couple with McCarthy. Nothing too risky to shake up the more stodgy Phils fans.

Yet another member of the 93 team’s name has been bandied about as a replacement. The new coach of Triple A Lehigh Valley, Mickey Morandini, has been contacted to gauge his interest. It was a pleasure hearing Harry Kallas roll More – An – Dini off his tongue every night. Mickey would probably be decent but not as fun as the names already mentioned.

Ricky Bottalico’s name keeps coming up. Darren Daulton probably couldn’t handle it with his health issues. Jamie Moyer is probably dying to get back on the road away from his wife and kids. Curt Schilling could use the money. Lenny Dkystra is turning everything he touches into gold then completely f___ing it up beyond all repair while treating people like shit and doing a ton of drugs. Pete Incaviglia is competing in arm wrestling championships. Danny Jackson has become Tim Burton’s prop guy. Jim Eisenrich is judging state-level beauty pageants. Terry Mulholland is traveling the country teaching lefties the step-off-pick-off.  Dave Hollins is traveling the country teaching kids how not to throw from third to first.  

Who knows who will be next at this point?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

They're Messing With Us, Right?

No Doubt Craig Bevan has something to say on this.
A few texts started to trickle into my phone yesterday regarding former Phillie, Bobby Abreu.

“They’re gonna sign him to a minor league deal!?”

Incredulous, I had to check twitter the first chance I got to see if this astounding news could possibly be true.  Sure enough, Matt Gelb, Phillies beat writer, confirmed these rumors with back-to-back tweets. For good measure, national writer and former Phillies' beat writer, Jayson Stark re-tweeted Jerry Crasnick’s report that the Phillies had indeed, signed Bobby Abreu. The deal is for $800,000 and an invite to Spring Training.

Just try and wrap your head around this one while I enlighten you with some insight and thoughts on this signing.

First thing you’d want to do when checking out a free agent the Phillies just signed is see what his stats were the prior year. Here’s the problem: Thirty-nine-year-old Bobby Abreu did not play Major League Baseball in 2013. Let it sink in. Okay, okay, calm enough yet? What’d he do in 2012 you wonder? He managed to play in 100 games mostly with the Dodgers (8 with the Angels, 8?) and hit .242 with 3 home runs and 24 RBI in 257 plate appearances. Basically, Bobby was on his last legs in 2012.

Somehow, the brain trust that is the Phillies’ front office thought bringing Bobby in to possibly platoon in the outfield was a good idea. At face value, it’s a downright terrible idea. The Phillies roster was already ancient by MLB standards and they managed to push that average age up a few ticks with this signing. What’s Jamie Moyer doing you think right now? Pick him up!

It is unlikely that Bobby will add much value to this ball club, but it’s also just a peculiar signing because of the relationship that he had with the fan base when he spent parts of 9 seasons here. The seasons Bobby spent here were mostly depressing times for the Phils. It was Scott Rolen and Bobby and not much else. When he was here, he was a helluva ballplayer. He was that rare 5 tool player mixing a combination of speed, power, average, arm, and (sort of) defense.

Who could forget the show Bobby put on winning the 2005 Home Run Derby?

It wasn’t Bobby’s skills that made him the subject of most fans’ ire. It was his attitude. Even though I’m sure he did, Bobby never looked like he gave a shit about what happened. Even when he was beating out infield hits it looked like he was lollygagging. He never seemed like he was trying hard and always seemed disinterested. And going after fly balls that got near the wall? Forget it! The warning track might as well have been a moat. As you can imagine, this type of insolence did not fit well in a town that was lauding players like Allen Iverson and Brian Dawkins at the time when Bobby was playing well. He was not the blue collar athlete this town loves to glorify.

Still, none of that stopped Bobby from putting up serious numbers year, after year, after year. Here’s a few Bobby Abreu stats that will just about blow your mind. He had 7 consecutive seasons and 8 out of 9 with at least 100 RBI (5 of them with the Phillies). He needs 13 home runs to become the third player ever with 300 home runs and 400 steals, the other two are Barry Bonds and his father Bobby. His career batting average is .292 and he finished 6 seasons above .300. He had two 30/30 years (30 home runs 30 steals) and 7 20/20 seasons. He ranks 23rd all-time in doubles with 565.

Then comes the reason I think Bobby was actually signed to play for the 2014 Phillies. On-base percentage. Bobby Abreu is what I like to call a professional hitter. Aside from Chase Utley, the Phillies have really lacked a guy who knows how to work an at bat since the departure of Jayson Werth.  As my friends know I like to say often, he’s got an eye like DiMaggio. He doesn’t give away at-bats by chasing bad pitches early in the count. He makes pitchers work, something I have been complaining for years about the Phillies not doing. Bobby’s career on-base percentage is a Hall-of-Fame-esque .396. He had 8 consecutive seasons with 100 walks or more. Eight. Of active players, Bobby ranks 9th for career on base percentage.

There is some knowledge and know-how in that head of Bobby Abreu’s that needs to be imparted on every single member of this Phillies’ offense. Most notably Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. It remains to be seen if you can teach those old dogs new tricks but I  have to believe in my (homer) mind that Ruben Amaro brought Bobby Abreu back in to the fold to teach these guys how to draw a walk. How to identify pitches. How to be better hitters.  That’s the silver-lining, if you can find one, to the Bobby Abreu signing.

Alas, I’d be remiss if I did not mention my disgust with the two other recent Phillies re-tread signings. Both of which, I’m more upset with than the Abreu situation.

At this point the Phillies have a dearth of pitching talent, which (sort of) explains why they felt the need to bring back Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick was headed to arbitration this year and I guess the Phillies desperately wanted to avoid that scene and decided to go ahead and give Kyle Kendrick $7.6 million for the 2014 season. This is another let it sink in moment. Seven. Point. Six. Million. for a guy who’s second half stats last year look like this: 11 games started, 2-7, 6.91 ERA, 44 runs given up in 57.1 innings,  opponents hit .333 off of him, and he had a 1.69 WHIP.

I could see bringing him back because he does have a proven track record better than those numbers, but for $7.6 million?!? You can’t tell me we couldn’t pick a guy off a trash heap of mediocre MLB starters, pay him $3 million, and have him be just as effective as whatever we’re going to get out of Kyle Kendrick this year. I just threw up everywhere.

Moving on.

It was no secret last year that I had had it with John Mayberry Jr. He had an outstanding second half of 2011 when the Phllies were going to win 100 games with our without his production. Since then he’s been afforded every opportunity to be an everyday player in this league and he’s proven that he is more of a liability than an asset. He has terrible at bats and his stats are borderline atrocious over a solid amount of playing time the last two years. He’s at times clueless on the base baths. And while he is a decent outfielder, he insists on diving at ball after ball that he has no business diving at. It’s infuriating. Still! The Phillies managed to “avoid arbitration” and signed him to a 1 year deal worth $1.6 million.

Meanwhile, the player the Phillies received in the Hunter Pence deal from 2012, Nate Schierholtz, was jettisoned after his two month tour with the Phillies. He was picked up by the Cubs last year for $2.25 million and here are his stats, with Mayberry’s right below (Note, you can click on the picture to enlarge it).

That's a nice 2013 for Nate Schierholtz

Not too good for John Mayberry in 2012 and 2013

That is a big stinking whiff Ruben. I hope you know what you’re doing because it sure doesn’t feel like you do.

Til next time..

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fast Break - A Comparative Essay


For years now, I have been cultivating the idea that two iconic movies of my upbringing are virtually the same exact movie with slightly different concepts. The more I have thought about it, the more obvious the parallels between these two (brilliant) films are. When you break it down the way I am about to do, you will realize that 2001’s original “The Fast and the Furious” is nearly a carbon copy of 1991’s “Point Break.” From the lead actors, Keanu Reeves and Paul Walker, to the infiltration of a band of criminals who double as a group of extreme sports junkies, these two films run congruently from beginning to end.

Let’s give a little background on these two films, for those of you who do not have any idea what I am talking about. In both of these movies, an FBI agent needs to go undercover in order to prevent a string of crimes from happening. In Point Break, Keanu (this is how I will refer to him because its cooler to say than Reeves) plays the undercover agent who must ingratiate himself with a band of surfers he believes to be criminals. Fast forward 10 years later, and Paul Walker is asked to go undercover to penetrate a close-knit clique of street racers to put an end to another string of crimes.


Now that the basic plots of these movies have been established, let’s delve into the nuances of these films that make them so alike. First of all, take a look at the two leading actors and the juncture they were at in their careers when these movies came out. The movies were made 10 years apart and 9 years separate Paul (1973 DOB) and Keanu (1964 DOB). Keanu was coming off several non-memorable starring roles and bit parts in the late 80s. The movies of note he had done were the two Bill and Ted Adventures, which were secretly not awful, but openly not great. The second one was atrocious, but the first one had it’s moments. Meanwhile, Paul Walker was building up some ridiculous street cred in the late 90s with supporting roles in some of my favorite movies of that time. He played Reese Witherspoon’s suddenly horny boyfriend in Pleasantville, he wound up being the assistant manager at Wal-Mart and coaching high school football after blowing out his knee as star quarterback Lance Harbor in Varsity Blues, and who could forget the “sauced up” Paul Walker as the foil to Freddy Prinze Jr. in 1999s She’s All That? When you take a look at the body of work these two had put together prior to what I like to call - their star-making roles - they both hadn’t shown a lot of talent acting wise. It was literally the first role for each of them that involved the following things: a starring role, a plausible plot, decent to terrific co-stars, and a sizeable Hollywood budget. How would these two up-and-coming pretty boy actors handle their roles?

It is hard to sit here and tell you that these guys “killed” their roles. Keanu was dealt a slightly better hand with his co-stars, but he holds his own in this movie. He has to run the gamut of emotions from, trying to fit in with is new veteran partner (Gary Busey!), to duping a girl into falling in love with him (Lori Petty), and of course the intense on going mind-fuck that the film’s antagonist (Patrick Swayze!) is trying to employ throughout the entire film. You get the sense that Keanu is trying to act in these movies by the way he talks, rather than it just coming naturally. His voice always has that kind of dazed, where am I? quality to it. He is believable as an athlete during a beach football scene as well as many surfing scenes, which doesn’t say much for acting, but is nice from the viewer’s perspective  of whether you connect with him or not. Walker, on the other hand, is left with pretty paltry dialog and what seems to be a bit of a tired script. Most of Paul Walker’s lines can be considered “one-liners” and are just kind of slapped together. He does not seem to have much emotional depth, but at least he did not lie to Jordana Brewster in order to get her into bed, which is the route Keanu went. These two are the stars, and the protagonists of these films, but they are far from what makes them iconic rewatchable movies.

Several things jump out at me as basically being the exact same plot device for these movies. We already went over the main characters and how alike they are, but the similarities do not stop there.

  • Point Break – Bank robbers dressed like ex-Presidents are elusive and cannot be caught in California.
  • The Fast and the Furious – Hijackers driving supped up cars are terrorizing California’s highways.

  • PB – These bank robbers double as serious surfers who are always looking for the next extreme thing.
  • TFATF – These hijackers also earn money as illegal street racers pushing their cars to extreme limits.

  • PB – Keanu cannot know for certain that these surfers are also the bank robbers so he befriends this crew in order to find out more information.
  • TFATF – Paul cannot know for certain that these street racers are also the hijackers so he befriends this crew in order to find out more information.

  • PB – An intense invasion occurs at a house thought to be that of the bank robbers. Wrong house! Crazy gun and knife fights ensue between Keanu and his crew and Anthony Kiedis and his crew. Great cameos done by members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers over the years.
  • TFATF – An intense invasion occurs at a house thought to be that of the hijackers. Wrong house! Johnny Tran’s house gets ran through by police on Paul’s call. This creates even more animosity between Tran and the hijacking crew.


The two biggest co-stars of the film are Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) and Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and this is where the scales start to tip in Point Break’s favor as to what is actually the better movie. Vin Diesel was relatively unknown at the time with credits from Saving Private Ryan (small role), Chronicles of Riddick, and Boiler Room. Meanwhile, Swayze was a bonafide superstar by the early 90s coming off brilliant roles that saw him display his broad spectrum of talent, from Dirty Dancing, to Road House, to Ghost.  He did not disappoint in his role as a Zen bank robber on a constant search for the ultimate adrenaline rush.

Once again, the dialogue and depth of characters in TFATF is lacking. It’s partly by design because this movie is just non-stop testosterone and doesn’t feel the need to get weighed down by things like serious plot devices and character studies. TFATF places family values above all else, although family status must be earned, and then one-liners keep the movie flowing. Meanwhile, Swayze’s character is one of the more shifty and hard to pin down bad guys you’ll see in a movie. One minute he’s bringing Johnny Utah into his crew and making him feel like he’s part of the inner circle, the next he’s kidnapping Tyler (Lori Petty) as leverage against Johnny. All the while he’s got this crazy look in his eye that makes him seem engaged and distant somehow at the same time. He’s completely in the moment but also thinking about his next move which is what sets Swayze apart from Vin Diesel and ultimately has you rooting for the bad guy for most of the film.


The first intangible is more a matter of opinion / preference. They are the main concepts that aid the characters in traversing through the movie. TFATF uses street racing and supped up cars as the background for having the main characters in the movie meet. PB uses surfing and to a lesser extent sky diving as their vehicle. The nod here goes to TFATF because it borderline became a cultural phenomenon to put clear lights on the back of your Honda Civic to go along with your new exhaust system. Seriously, TFATF came out right when I was starting to drive and everybody wanted to modify their car to “trick it out” in some type of way in the early 2000s. Not this guy, but you all remember that phase. That doesn’t happen without Paul and Vin doing their thing. I wasn’t quite as with the times in the early 90s but I doubt there was all that much of a spike in surfing after PB.

The second intangible leans heavily to the side of PB. And that intangible comes in the form of one Angelo Pappas, Gary Busey’s character. Pappas is the “don’t take no shit from anybody” veteran of the Bureau that Utah cuts his teeth with. Busey always brings a real zest to his characters that I enjoy, whether he was playing the bad guy in the original Lethal Weapon, or crazed lune Lieutenant Drake Savage in Black Sheep, he rarely disappoints. PB was not an exception here, plus he just really enjoyed meatball sandwiches, but who doesn’t? TFATF did not have an analogous character to Busey and therefore it fell short in this intangible.

Both of these flicks are without a doubt “guy” movies and like any good guy movie there needs to be a little bit of eye candy floating around just to spice things up. The edge here goes to TFATF because Kit from A League of Their Own might be able to generate some interest, but her 90s look feels dated and doesn’t translate all that well today. Meanwhile, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez, along with numerous floozies that flocked to street races held down this aspect for TFATF.

Swayze is Reagan - Reagan is Swayze
The heists each band of criminals pulled off both had unique aspects. Of course, in TFATF precision driving in matching black Honda Civics allowed Dom and his crew to overtake tractor-trailers on highways that were carrying loads of expensive merchandise that they could then fence for serious cash. Bodhi and his crew basically just robbed banks, but the nod is given to them for their imaginative disguises they used to conceal their identities during the robberies. The Ex-Presidents were good at what they did.


Both movies end in a somewhat similar fashion. Paul Walker’s character had become so close with Vin Diesel's Torreto that he virtually allowed this known criminal to race away in the final scene without attempting to detain him. PB ends a year or so after the climax with Keanu catching up with Swayze on a beach in Australia during “the 50 year storm”. The waves are mammoth and Swayze has basically been waiting his entire life to ride them. Keanu gets the better of him but winds up letting Swayze go out and essentially surf to his death in the eye of the storm.

Well, we’re just shy of 2000 words for this comparison and I think my hand has been tipped as to which of the movies I prefer. I think Swayze’s performance alone sealed it for me. There was just no character in either movie that captured you quite like the wild-eyed Bodhi did. Swayze was the true embodiment of a bank robber crossed with extreme sports junkie life philosopher (No really, he was). Not too many characters come around like him and not too many people could make you believe the character the way Swayze did.

Thanks for staying with me. It was a wild ride.

RIP - Paul Walker 
RIP - Patrick Swayze