The Phillies will not win the World Series in 2012. They will not win 100 games. The five-year run of division titles will end. And, despite the new expanded format, they will not even make the playoffs.
In my four-plus years of writing this column, I have never created a more painful paragraph than the one above. The exhilaration of this Phillies era has been unrivaled for me, both as a fan and as a broadcaster. There have been so many magical moments, so many masterful performances, that it is hard to imagine the empty emotions that await us.
And yet the truth is impossible to deny – a truth that took root a few strides up the first-base line on the final play of the 2011 season. History will show that Ryan Howard’s stumble to the ground meant more than the crushing end to our most promising season ever. It also marked the symbolic fall of our baseball team.
What’s wrong with the current Phillies, who open the season Thursday in Pittsburgh? For the first time in years, it is much easier to list what’s right. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are right. The new closer, Jonathan Papelbon, is right. Hunter Pence is right. And that – believe it or not – is the end of the list.
Manager Charlie Manuel is not in that group for one obvious reason. At 68, he has never managed a small-ball team. The notion that he will suddenly become a master strategist, stealing the precious runs needed for his star pitchers, is ridiculous. Manuel is great in the clubhouse. Unfortunately, the problems with this team are on the field.
Jimmy Rollins is in decline at shortstop, even with his new contract. Placido Polanco is brittle. Carlos Ruiz is not the player he was two years ago. Shane Victorino is mindless. The new guys, Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome, are backups for a reason.
And then, of course, there are the two names that are painful even to mention: Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Will they play at all this season after serious injuries, and, if so, how well? Is there really any chance that they will return to their stellar form of a few years ago? No, there isn’t. No chance at all.
The 2012 Phillies are too old, too fragile and too slow. They don’t work counts, they don’t defend well, and they are one key injury away from being a sub-.500 team. Remove any of the top three pitchers from the rotation for any time at all, and the Phillies become the fourth-best team in their own division.
Hey, I know you don’t want to read any of this. I don’t want to write it, believe me. But the era is ending. The run is over. The 2012 season is going to be one cold slap in the face for all of us. You read it here first.
When the news filtered out last Friday that Eagles Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jason Peters had torn his right Achilles tendon and was gone for the season, the first question was: Who will protect Michael Vick? The second question was even more intriguing: Who will save Andy Reid?
Without his best lineman – the man who protects Michael Vick – Reid has far less hope of fulfilling the demands of owner Jeff Lurie for a Super Bowl run in 2012. However, based on what had happened last week before the Peters bombshell, maybe the coach doesn’t need a big season after all. Maybe the Lurie edict was totally bogus.
Reid fed this new perception himself when rumors circulated throughout the NFL owners meetings last week that the Eagles were poised to trade cornerback Asante and his $9.5-million salary to Tennessee for a third-round pick. Samuel was far from perfect last season, but he still ranked second in the NFL in preventing his receiver from catching the ball.
Trading a proven cornerback for a third-round pick is not the act of a desperate coach. Certainly Reid must know his own track record with third-round picks, which is abysmal. He also must be aware that dismissing a lost season by saying that he “goofed” with his wide-9 defense is not exactly the kind of public honesty Lurie was seeking. “Goofed” is a word to describe wearing socks that don’t match, not ruining a promising season with fatal roster mistakes.
The coach is not acting like a man on the brink. The owner is no longer speaking publicly at all. And now the top offensive lineman is gone. If nothing else, there is no better soap opera in sports right now than our Eagles.
The biggest phony in sports revealed his new face last week in a laughable bid to win a TV job. This totally different Donovan McNabb answers questions with candor and bluster. This new, improved charlatan takes no prisoners and spares no feelings.
Of course, McNabb is still the same fraud he was with the Eagles, Washington and Minnesota. In his heyday, he was more likely to pull out an inappropriate air guitar than bleat out a word of truth, but this made-for-TV McNabb is no more believable than the bogus old one.
During a two-day audition last week on ESPN, McNabb ripped into his former coach, Mike Shanahan, said Robert Griffin III would fail in Washington and then – in his finest moment – portrayed himself as the most criticized quarterback in NFL history. Ha, ha, ha. I knew if we waited long enough, McNabb would actually say something funny.
The reality of the situation is that he received more praise in the national forum than far more deserving quarterbacks. The breathless defense by his army of national media drones after the Rush Limbaugh incident spoke volumes, as did the game analysts who ignored for a decade his worm-killing throws and late-game meltdowns.
Donovan McNabb is as phony as his new TV smile. He may have showed a different side of himself last week on ESPN, but not to the people who know him best. To us, he has always had two faces.
Idle thoughts . . . .
• Peter Laviolette’s ledge-walking, fist-pumping challenge to Pittsburgh at the end of Sunday’s game provided visual proof of just how badly the Flyers coach wants to win. How is he going to find a way to transfer that adrenaline to his slow-starting, immature team? That’s the big question.
• Just hours after saying there was no injury at all, Paul Holmgren revealed that Ilya Bryzgalov had a bone chip in his right foot. The Flyers GM did all of this with a straight face. In other words, he has learned well from his mentor, Bob Clarke. No one has ever lied better than Bob Clarke.
• Can we finally end all of the talk about Doug Collins as coach of the year in the NBA? After that crushing loss to awful Washington Friday night, he said he had no idea what was going on with his free-falling Sixers. Does that sound like someone who deserves a prize at the end of the season?
• Is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament over yet? I’ve been avoiding all of the preening coaches and cloying announcers for a while now, and I’m not turning the TV back on until they’re gone. Is anyone still dumb enough to believe this overhyped mess is the best sports event of the year?
• Magic Johnson and his partners just doled out $2.15 billion for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Can you imagine how much they would offer Cole Hamels if the lefty becomes a free agent in six months? What I’m saying is, the Phillies need to sign the pitcher. Now. Today. This minute. Got it?