Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Phew Philthy Phellows

Philadelphia is known as a great sports-town. Despite going on a major-sports-championship drought from 1983-2008, before the Phillies finally won the World Series, each of their four franchises have enjoyed some consistent success mixed in with some major struggles. And through it all, they have had some of the most outspoken and loyal fans in all of sports (notice that Jimmy Rollins is leading the All-Star voting despite only playing in 12 games all season due to injury).

As a Mets and Giants fan however, I don't have a lot of appreciation for these teams, their players or their fans. So admittedly, perhaps I am not exactly the most objective person to be writing about them.

The Phillies, in particular, have been riding very high over the past few years, especially taking advantage of the struggles of the Mets. Would they have won the World Series in 2008 had the Mets not pulled off yet another magnificent collapse? Probably not. Does that mean they didn't deserve it? Of course they deserved it...they won the games. But in the midst of all these successes, a few chinks in their armor appear to be rearing their ugly heads. But given the mature, unbiased perspective that I come from, I am sure they are just coincidences.

Philadelphia fans have long been decried as being classless and crude, perhaps even predating the famous incident in 1968 when Eagles fans booed Santa Claus as he took the field for a halftime show and pelted him with snowballs. But in reality, can Philadelphia fans be any worse than fans from other cities? In Los Angeles and San Diego, where fans are notoriously laid back, I've seen opposing fans get punched and had drinks and food thrown at them. Once I was hit in the head with a plastic soda bottle at a Dodger game because David Wright hit a homerun. So it must be that Philadelphia fans get a bad rap, and it must be a coincidence that it was a Phillies fan who recently plead guilty to starting a fight with, and causing himself to vomit on, another fan and his children because that fan had asked the vomiter and his friends to refrain from spitting on and using foul language around his teenage daughters.

As for the Phillies themselves, they've had some great success with the bats over the past few years. Long-time Phillies Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, in particular, have become huge stars and carried them to that World Series title. Other more well-traveled players like Raul Ibanez have enjoyed the hottest stretches and most success of their careers with the Phillies as well. They must have quite a hitting coach, right? Or I guess it could have to do with the fact that they’ve been cheating for years (accused by many teams many times and then caught this month). Since their bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was caught stealing signs with binoculars from the Rockies' catcher in early May, the team’s runs per game, batting average, and homerun totals have all dropped.

• Runs scored per game: Before - 5.40; After - 4.15; League Average - 4.48
• Homers per game: Before - 1.22; After - .85; League Average - .91
• Team Batting Average: Before - .273; After - .261; League Average - .257
     (Note: the Phillies have played 13 games since this incident.  7 at their hitter-friendly home park, 1 at the hitter-friendly Coors Field, and 5 at pitcher-friendly Wrigley and Citi Fields.)

After the Rockies spotted Billmeyer using the binoculars in the first inning, they informed the ump who told Phillies manager Charlie Manuel between the first and second innings to knock it off.  Manuel denied it was happening and the ump said he'd been spotted on camera.  Then Manuel said that he was just checking on his own catcher's defensive setup...they do that a lot.  The ump said no more.  Then the same coach was spotted doing it again in the next inning.  So he cheated, got caught, lied about it, immediately got called out for lying, and lied again.  And didn't even stop cheating! 

After the game, Manuel deflected the guilt away from his own team onto the Mets (despite that they weren't involved in this incident at all), saying the Mets must cheat because their home record is better than their away record (which incidentally, is pretty much standard).  He then said, "(The Rockies complained) Because we beat them… Keep crying."  Actually Charlie, I think they complained because they caught you on camera multiple times.  And because you have a reputation of cheating, just ask the Dodgers and Yankees during last year's NLCS and World Series, and the Mets many times over the last few years (all accused the Phillies of illegally stealing signs with video cameras).  Classy guy.

Last June, a small-time blogger wrote a piece about Raul Ibanez' incredibly hot start to the 2009 season and mused as to why the new Phillies leftfielder had had such a resurgence so late in his career. At the time he wrote it (June 10), Ibanez was 37 years old, had hit 20 homers and 55 RBI, with a .320 average in 228 at bats. Ibanez had only hit more than 24 homers in full season (often 600+ at bats) once in his 13-year career and his best batting average had only been .304. So among a number of possible reasons for this offensive explosion so late in the slugger's career, the blogger suggested such obvious explanations as the move to the hitter-friendly Citizen's Bank Park and steroids. Both were reasonable.

Ibanez apparently reads and responds to every remotely negative thing written about him on the internet (hi Raul!), so he called the blogger out and angrily denied the steroid accusations (that weren't ever actually made). So incensed was Ibanez, that he made national news out of a little blog piece that would have been read by maybe 100 people. The blogger had to appear on ESPN Outside the Lines the next day to defend his piece, and have noted newspaper journalists gang up on him and rail against his unprofessionalism and lack of journalistic integrity (note: he wasn't a professional journalist, but a fan, and never accused Ibanez of cheating. He only suggested that that might explain the numbers.).

How dare that blogger write what everyone was thinking! Incidentally, after that hot start, Ibanez went ice cold for the rest of the season after the "accusation," which must be a coincidence. His average had been 11.4 at bats between homers since coming to the Phillies. After June 10, that jumped to 19.4 at bats between homers. His batting average was .320 before and .232 after. This year? He's hitting .250 with 3 homers in 144 at bats (48.0 at bats per homer). So the facts that this guy was pointed out as going on the kind of heater that happens with steroid users, and then he immediately returned to his career averages after that attention was shined upon him, I’m sure that’s all coincidence.

So does that one player's massive drop in numbers after he's "accused" of taking steroids reflect on the team in general? Does the team's offensive slip since they were accused of cheating mean anything? Does that one fan's crude and disgusting behavior reflect on a whole city? Maybe not. Maybe they're all coincidences. And maybe it's a coincidence that it's all happening to the same team.

Maybe not.

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