February 04, 2005

Writer wins Eagles-themed office contest

By wearing a custom jersey of former running back Heath Sherman, pictured, J. Michael Weitzel is treated to free lunch.

READING – Berks Phillies Fan J. Michael Weitzel won his office "dress up in Eagles clothing" contest, by wearing a rare, custom-made Heath Sherman jersey from 1992.

"This is an honor I've wanted for a long time," Weitzel said, "This is a fitting tribute to my team, my family, and to running back Heath Sherman."

Sherman played for the Eagles from 1989 to 1993. He rushed for a career-high 685 yards in 1990, and averaged 5.3 yards-per carry in 1992.

In the postseason, Sherman rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles 36-20 win against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wildcard.

In 1994, the team cut Sherman after he failed to pass the team physical following major reconstructive knee surgery. He would have entered the second year of a $3 million contract in 1994.

Weitzel's Sherman jersey is home white with kelly-green numbers and stitching. Sherman wore number 23 for the Eagles before cornerback Troy Vincent popularized the number in 1996.

Nicknamed "The Sherman Tank," he was named to the Texas A&M-Kingsville (TAMUK) Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996, an honor he shares with current Eagle offensive lineman Jermaine Mayberry and current Eagles offensive line coach Juan Castillo.

Weitzel was taken to the Wyndham Hotel lunch buffet in Reading.

Unlocking the Heath Sherman archives
For more on Heath Sherman emergence in 1992, click here.

For the story on why he was cut in 1994, click here.

February 02, 2005

The People vs. Pat Burrell

Pat Burrell has been accused of not living up to expectations. Attorney Michael Berquist of A Citizen's Blog has taken the defense and believes Pat "The Bat" can still lead the Phillies to the promise land. The Berks Phillies Fan leads the prosecution and says Burrell is guilty as charged.

With about $45 million remaining on his contract through 2008, Burrell better come up with something better than his Bill James projection for next season, and frankly, I'm not certain he can do that.

Let's not sugar coat this: Pat Burrell is not the future of the Philadelphia Phillies the way Ed Wade hoped when he offered him a five-year $50 million contract. He's 29 and still getting specialized hitting instruction. At the plate, he looks foolish at times to be honest.

$14 million goes to Pat Burrell just in 2008. $14 million. Phillies officials need to take stock of their situation and decide whether they're in the race or out, and if they're out, they need to start shedding their contracts now because it will only get harder to move them.

Do they have a shot to compete next season? Sure. But in terms of Pat Burrell, give it till June. If he's hitting something like .210, 5 HR, he's finished ... for good.

Rather than risk it, the people request immediate action: a trade; a sentence to play out the rest of his contract in Baltimore, if they will have him.

Fortune shines on former Phillies

Nick Punto is just one former prospect sliding into an excellent situation this season.

For a minor league system often considered ineffective, a number of Philly farm products are floating around baseball these days, often in starting roles.

Former bench player Nick Punto could replace Christian Guzman at shortstop for the Twins this season.

In Philadelphia, Punto was never considered a prospect with major-league staying power, but managed a cup of coffee with the big club in late 2003. Afterward, he was sent to Minnesota in the Eric Milton deal, which also yielded Carlos Silva.

Punto played 38 games withthe Twins last season, mostly at second and short.

Silva, who the Phillies considered grooming into a closer at one point, went the opposite direction with Minnesota. The team converted him to starter, and went 14-8 and started Game 1 of the AL Wild Card.

Silva had about as good a season as Milton; less strikeouts (76 to 161 for Milton), but fewer walks (35 to 75) and a lower ERA (4.25 to 4.75).

Silva/Punto isn't the only Philadelpha pitcher/shortstop package that may flourish in a new environment. The Phils got a nice surprise in Cory Lidle when they got him from the Reds last year. But the Reds also got an unexpected surprise in pitcher Josh Hancock, who was blocked out of a spot in the Phillies' rotation.

Hancock won three of his four starts for the Reds and will compete for a spot in the rotation during camp.

Like the Milton deal, the Phils also relinquished a throw-in shortstop, Anderson Machado, who was always solid defensively but struggled with the bat and was also blocked out of a spot in Philadelphia.

Before a torn MCL he suffer in Venezuela that will cost him the entire season, he was expected to challenge Juan Castro for Cincinnati's vacated shortstop position, with a chance to take over for veteran Barry Larkin.

Another ex-Phil that never caught on but flourished last year is Eric Valent, who proved to be valuable bench help for the Mets. Valent earned time filling in for Cliff Floyd, and became the eighth Met in history to hit for the cycle on July 29.

Valent is like a left-handed version Jason Michaels, himself was a mid-level prospect who took advantage of opportunities to play.

Hamels injury hits hardest in Reading
Top prospect Cole Hamels broke more than just his hand in Saturday's altercation, he broke a city's spirit.

Ok, he didn't, but it's still disappointing.

Reading has the impossible task of following up a year that saw Ryan Howard break Reading's home run record, plus, Gavin Floyd blow through town.

Hamles figured to be Reading's only high prospect come April 7. He was ranked third-best prospect in the Phils system by Baseball America, and the team doesn't have a sure-fire Reading-bound player in the remaining top 10.

February 01, 2005

Blog hero of the week

God bless a true baseball guru, Daily News baseball writer Paul Hagen, for staying true to baseball while it's all Eagles, all the time in Philadelphia.

While the veteran writer doesn't maintain a blog of his own, he marches to the beat of his own drummer in standard print, providing Phillies-themed baseball bits you can't get anywhere else.

Instead of joining the drove of Philly reporters with coverage of the Eagles boarding a plane and exiting a plane, the Eagles boarding a bus and exiting a bus, today's Hagen column features week two of his Carlos Lee series.

Hagen may be the only professional writer, anywhere, tackling the unique issue of Milwaukee Brewer Carlos Lee. Last week, it was Carlos Lee finding inner and physical strength from his cattle ranch in Panama. This week, questions are finally answered on why the White Sox traded away a 31 HR slugger.

(Actually, it's a little odd Hagen has adopted the Carlos Lee issue of late. Maybe Carlos is in his keeper league.)

But seriously, Hagen is an inspiration to bloggers everywhere, as we struggle to fill out the remaining days until pitchers and catchers report with recycled stats and archived information disguised as fresh news. Of all the Philly writers, he's our favorite, and his Phillies content in Baseball America is essential reading.

So Mr. Hagen, you earn the first ever BPF Bloggy, and if that were an actual trophy, it would look something like a nerd, sitting by a laptop, not getting laid.

January 31, 2005

Out from the shadows of 1980

The removal of high-profile manager Larry Bowa, left, clears the way for modern-day Phillies like Jim Thome to seize the spotlight. And that's the way it should be.

There's more to gain from the firing of manager Larry Bowa than improving team chemistry.

From a marketing standpoint, replacing Bowa gives the Phillies' PR department a chance to start fresh. With Bowa out of the picture and the new park in year two, the team will rightly move to promote their stars of today.

In November, GM Ed Wade did right and blew up the whole thing: Bowa and his veteran staff were wiped clean, and the closest on field employee to the 1980 Championship team is now hitting coach Milt Thompson, a member of the 1993 NL Championship squad. Otherwise, all the old connections have been unplugged.

Fans love stars, and stars are not managers
The selling of the hard-line Bowa era was a short-term solution to give fans a purpose to fill seats while they waited out the last three seasons at Veteran's Stadium.

1980 Nostalgia was heavily endorsed from 2001 until the Vet's implosion, and Bowa was a critical part of that strategy, promoted in commercials, print ads, and in a half-dozen ceremonies that reunited the old guard.

"Why are we still paying to sit in this dump?" fans wondered.

"You're here, because of 1980," the team answered.

The next season, when the team moved next door to Citizen's Bank Park, anything 1980-related seemed as out of place as Bowa watching baseballs sail out of CBP.

The marketing department learned early on there's nothing to gain by making a craggy, 50-year old manager the face of your team, no matter how many fans appreciated his contribution in 1980. Ultimately, it doesn't sell jerseys or interest young viewers.

Last year, natural grass, good food, and the new attractions of CBP carried much of the ad load. But now what?

By bringing in Manuel from "outside the family," the face of Phillies baseball will default to veteran players.

The core has been together for a long time: Burrell, Lieberthal, Abreu, Rollins, and for two seasons, Thome. In spite their tenure, fans still complain about a faceless group with no personality.

For that, the blame falls squarely on the organization, and how the team happily funneled the media attention toward Bowa, inadvertently detracting from players.

When Spring training begins, it will be critical for the Phillies to direct the spotlight onto a new, positive spokesperson, and that source will be the team's humble star, Jim Thome.

It's time for the Phillies to turn these guys into stars, whether they play like stars or not. Thome is a thumping nice guy and should be marketed as such. Pat Burrell has the face of a superhero, and should be marketed as such. Brett Myers is starting to sound like Freddy Mitchell, and should be marketed as such.

Bowa had a face only a mother could love, but it was better than no face at all. It’s time for the Phillies to promote Thome and the veteran players, and bury the past under a pile of stadium rubble.