Cole Hamels is the closest thing to a movie star on the Phillies, with his matinee-idol looks, his gorgeous TV wife and his hero status as the MVP of the 2008 World Series. So why is it becoming more and more obvious that his stellar career may not have a Hollywood ending here?
The 28-year-old left-handed pitcher was out there for the home opener Monday at Citizens Bank Park, a place he professes to love like no other ballpark, performing in front of fans unrivaled in his eyes – or so he says. Still, it was impossible to watch him without wondering if this was the beginning of his final season as a Phillie.
So far, everybody has been saying the right things, while actually doing nothing. By all accounts, there have been no significant contract talks in over a month, even as Hamels insists Philadelphia is his first choice and team officials keep saying they have the money to pay him. Meanwhile, most of the experts are predicting that the two sides will reach an agreement before Hamels is free to sign anywhere after the current season.
But as mega-deal after mega-deal has been completed with some of the top stars of the game recently, the prospect of Hamels signing here is dwindling. When Matt Cain signed a six-year, $127-million deal last week with the Giants, alarms should have been ringing throughout Philadelphia. The 10-year, $225-million Joey Votto extension in Cincinnati was even more stunning.
No one wants to say it, so I will. There’s a significant chance that Hamels is leaving at the end of the season. Despite what all the voices are saying, the logic just seems to be making a stronger case for his departure.
Cole Hamels is a West Coast kid if ever there was one. He grew up in San Diego, his parents still live there, his wife was a star on the TV show Survivor, his first two public appearances after the 2008 World Series were on The David Letterman Show and Dancing With the Stars, and, well, look at him. Does he look like one of us?
The Padres could never raise enough money to lure Hamels back, but the Dodgers are another story entirely. Magic Johnson and his partners just paid $2.15 billion for the franchise. Is anyone dumb enough to think they would balk at $175 million, or even $200 million, to bring Hamels home?
The Phillies have already cost themselves a fortune by waiting this long to lock up their most valuable commodity. They low-balled him last winter with a five-year, $85-million offer that matched Jered Weaver’s hometown-discount deal with the Angels. Now it’s going to cost them double that, at least, to keep him here.
With every day that passes, the price goes up for Cole Hamels. Whatever it takes, the Phillies have to pay it. Failure is not an option now – unless they want to witness the end of the best era of Phillies baseball ever.
Mike Milbury, an outspoken former hockey player and coach, came on my WIP radio show last week and did something extraordinary. He expressed his honest opinion on the feud between the Flyers and Penguins in a colorful and entertaining way – which just so happens to be the reason why he is such a successful broadcaster.
Within hours after advising Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma to “take the skirt off” and suggesting (gasp!) that Sidney Crosby “has a little punk in him,” Milbury was told to apologize or he would be fired by NBC. After a statement as generic and insincere as possible, Milbury resumed his duties, while an army of soulless suits monitored his every word.
Hey, I’m the last one to complain about a corporate world of broadcasting that had made me financially comfortable after a quarter-century of public babble, but the sublime really is becoming the ridiculous these days, isn’t it? Was NBC upset about the sexist “skirt” line or the “punk” reference, or maybe the suggestion that Crosby had suffered “35 or 36 concussions.” What was the problem, exactly?
The problem was that Milbury made someone in power angry. My best guess is that it was the Penguins, as sanctimonious a collection of sports bureaucrats as exists in sports. When the Penguins screamed at one of the upwardly mobile office politicians at NBC, it was time to flex some corporate muscle.
Ironically, two days after the Milbury controversy, Rangers coach John Tortorella called the Penguins “one of the most arrogant organizations in the league” and portrayed Crosby and star teammate Evgeni Malkin as “whiners.” The coach was fined $20,000 by the NHL for telling the truth. Because he is not a network broadcaster, he offered no bogus apology.
It took only one week for the Eagles to replace irreplaceable Jason Peters with DeMetress Bell, a young offensive tackle with a fascinating past and a promising future. For once, the Birds made a move that the city can embrace. Bravo.
Usually, it takes months (or even years) for the Eagles to acknowledge a major void on their team. Heck, it took a decade for coach Andy Reid to address his vacuum at linebacker. But this time the Birds swooped right in and plucked Bell from a bevy of suitors. He is not Peters, but he’s not bad.
Keep in mind that Bell played no high-school football at all and then missed the entire 2008 season serving as an apprentice to Peters in Buffalo. He is athletic – his biological father is Karl Malone – and, at 27, he is a perfect young student for legendary line coach Howard Mudd. What Bell lacks most right now is experience.
When I talked to him last week on WIP, Bell said he chose the Eagles because of the opportunity to work with Mudd and confide in Peters, and because Philadelphia is a long, long way from Buffalo in intensity. He wants to be challenged. Philadelphia should help there.
So what has he already learned about being an Eagle? “Everybody tells me the same thing: Win. You’ve got to win.” Sounds like he’s a fast learner.
Idle thoughts . . . .
• Take a good look at Doug Collins the next time he speaks after a Sixer loss. Coated in sweat, flustered by his slumping young players, the coach is an emotional wreck right now. He is Dick Vermeil, circa 1982. Would it surprise anyone if Collins bid a tearful goodbye after the season?
• The tapes released last week of Gregg Williams urging his players to injure opponents, at all costs, clinch it for me. The former Saints assistant should never coach again – at any level, under any circumstances. Football is a violent game, but it doesn’t need a Neanderthal like him in charge.
• Roy Halladay is the best artist on the pitching mound since Greg Maddux, but this first-inning issue is getting ridiculous, isn’t it? I know I’m nitpicking here, but how can a perfectionist like him continue to struggle with this one tiny aspect of the game. Come on, Roy. Fix it.
• If you’re bold enough to pick the Flyers over the Penguins in the playoffs that begin tomorrow, you are counting on Ilya Bryzgalov to perform well in goal, the defense to hold up despite a rash of injuries and the refs to call it fairly against Sidney Crosby and his team of whiners. Good luck.
• Philadelphia sports fans lost a great friend and a huge talent when Steve Fredericks passed away over the weekend. Fredericks did every aspect of broadcasting well, from play by play of the Sixers to pioneering the sports-talk format three decades ago. He will live on in the memory of his many, many fans.