November 2006


The announcement came at 2 o’clock this afternoon, then a conference call with writers from around the country, a 4 o’clock press conference in a jam-packed Media Room at Citizens Bank Park and a reception with the media and front office staff in the Diamond Club…that was Ryan Howard’s afternoon as the fourth Phillies player to win the Most Valuable Player award.

How do you plan for an event which may not take place?

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is in control of the award that began in 1931.  The BBWAA keeps the results pretty secret.  We didn’t find out until after 1:15 p.m. today that Ryan had won.   

We made plans for Ryan winning and Ryan not winning, sort of like a political election.  Only there would be no concession speech.

We wanted to make the victory a production, balloons, large poster-sized photos of Chuck Klein, Jim Konstanty and Mike Schmidt (previous Phillies MVPs), video of the same threesome and video congratulatory messages from Schmidt, Allen Iverson, Donovan McNabb, Governor Rendell and others.

A 35’x57’ banner was unfurled at the Third Base Gate at CBP this afternoon.  A larger banner (45’x76’) will be unfurled on the north side of Philadelphia’s City Hall tomorrow.

       Tomorrow morning, Ryan will visit the A.S. Jenks School in south Philadelphia where the third graders have painted a mural of Ryan.  The students will also sing “Happy Birthday” (Ryan turned 27 on Sunday) and share cake with the new MVP.  At 3 in the afternoon, Ryan will be hosted at City Hall by Mayor John Street.  Tomorrow night, he’ll be a guest at the 76ers game and then he returns to his home in St. Louis to join his family for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Knowing that November 20 was the announcement date, we had scheduled Ryan to be in Philadelphia to tape the narration of the Phillies’ 2006 video yearbook at NFL Films.  There’s a two-hour window for the taping tomorrow.

We also flew in his mom and dad from St. Louis for three days.  They deserved to be here in case he won.  Brother Chris flew in from LSU.  The four attended the Eagles game on Sunday.

Should someone else have won, Ryan would have been available for Philadelphia-area TV stations and a conference call with the print media.  No press conference, no banners, no mayor’s reception.

We rolled the dice and came out a winner, as did Ryan.

The IronPigs

There’s a lot of excitement these days in Allentown, PA, because minor league baseball is returning to the Lehigh Valley for the first time since 1960.

The team was called the Allentown Red Sox back then because they were affiliated with the Boston Red Sox.

A new ballpark is being built in Allentown.  It will be the home of the Phillies’ triple-A franchise starting in 2008. 

Yesterday, it was announced the team will be known as the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, reflecting on the area’s steelmaking history.  “Steel is made from refined pig iron,” wrote Daniel Patrick Sheehan in the Allentown Morning Call.  The person who submitted the name was Ron Steele of Northampton.  It was one of 3,500 entries.

Online votes and focus groups chose the name from among the Keystones, Gobblers, Crushers, Phillies, Woodchucks, Vulcans and Phantastics.

The IronPigs name has created quite a stir in the Lehigh Valley, according to newspaper reports.

The minor leagues are filled with strange names for teams.  Most similar to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs may be the Lansing (MI) Lugnuts.

Checking minor league nicknames that begin with I… There are three teams named Indians (Kinston, Indianapolis and Spokane).  Others include the Isotopes (Albuquerque), Intimidators (Kannapolis) and IronBirds (Aberdeen).

All this brings us to the Philadelphia Phillies.  The name Phillies, a take-off on the team’s geographic roots, “Philly,” is the oldest, continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional sports.

When Bob Carpenter Jr. purchased the Phillies in 1943, a contest was held to find a nickname for the team.  Blue Jays was chosen from among 623 suggestions. 

Although it still maintained the official Phillies title, the club was known as the Blue Jays in 1944 and 1945.  The new name was used heavily during that time, but then usage began to drop off in the following years.  The Blue Jays name never appeared in the newspapers after 1947.

What do you think?

Hal Bodley’s baseball column in Friday’s USA Today stated the topic of instant replay for home runs is on the agenda during this week’s general mangers meetings in sunny Naples, FL.

Phillies fans vividly recall Chase Utley’s potential three-run homer on September 26 in RFK Stadium.  His drive was ruled foul by the first base umpire Rob Drake although TV replays showed it glanced off the foul pole.  Utley popped out. The Phils lost, 4-3, during the Wild Card chase, a pivotal defeat.

Umpires are human and they will make mistakes. Many times, TV replays show the umpires are correct more often than not. And, yet there is something that says get it right.

Instant replay as been part of the pro football fabric for a few years.  Today, a play was reviewed during the third quarter of the Eagles’ game.  Brian Westbrook caught a pass, went down and the wet ball came loose.  Washington recovered the ball but the zebra-striped officials said no, the ball belonged to the green team.  Before play could resume, Joe Gibbs threw the red flag seeking a replay.

Between the time of that play and the next play, seven minutes elapsed because of the review process. That’s a long delay. Granted, seven minutes is probably not the norm.  But, at a critical time in a game, there is a delay while the referee peeks into a video machine and talks to Mr. Replay seated upstairs.

I’m a purist.  I say keep technology in the baseball closet. Missed home runs don’t happen often (although Ryan Howard may have had another HR in Houston had there been replay). 

What do you think?

Eyes and Ears

Say hello to Charley Kerfeld, a former pitcher in the majors, who joined the Phillies this week as a special assistant to General Manager Pat Gillick.

What is a special assistant to Gillick?

Basically, the special assistant is the traveling eyes and ears of Gillick.  Airplanes, hotels and suitcases are Kerfeld’s friends as he travels around the country on scouting assignments directed by Gillick.  The travel can expand beyond the states.

Kerfeld, 43, was among a group of 25 or so who huddled at Citizens Bank Park this week.  Free agents, trade possibilities and 40-man roster decisions were among the topics that were discussed.

Next week, Gillick, Ruben Amaro Jr., Mike Arbuckle and Kerfeld will be in sunny Naples, FL, attending the annual GM meetings. 

Free agency kicks off Sunday, the first day clubs can talk money with a free agent other than their own.  Sort of like the start of the hunting season.

Agents will be dropping in the GM meetings also, parading their products.  Baseball’s annual winter meetings come along Dec. 4-7 in Disney World.  The agent shows intensify there.  Mickey Mouse will have to take a back seat that week.

How did Kerfeld wind up with the Phillies?  As the GM in Seattle, Gillick originally hired him as a scout in 2003.  When Don Welke left the Phillies a couple of weeks ago for the Rangers, Gillick quickly nabbed Kerfeld from the Rangers, where he performed similar duties last season.

Kerfeld and Larry Andersen were locker mates with the Astros in 1986.  They claim to be the original cone heads, something that is not documented in the Hall of Fame. 

Inside the Phillies

Adding depth to the bullpen . . . Signing Randy Wolf . . . Picking up a big bat to help the middle of the lineup . . . Is the bat an outfielder or a third baseman?

Pat Gillick has been working for quite a while reviewing options.  He’s had numerous conference calls with the Phillies’ pro scouts, his staff and advisors.

Next week (Nov. 6-10), the intensity picks up.  Pat will hold a week-long meeting with advisors, staff, Charlie Manual and his coaches, pro scouts, scouting supervisors and major league athletic trainers.  The meetings will take place at Citizens Bank Park. 

Pat, Ruben Amaro Jr. and Mike Arbuckle will head the Phillies delegation for the General Manager’s meetings that will take place in Naples, FL, later this month (13-17).  Baseball’s annual winter meetings will be held at Disney World the first week of December (4-7).

Free agents, trades and the international market will be explored in an effort to fill the Phillies shopping list.

Get ready for some wild rumor rides.