CD's Connect the Dots... Myth-Busters

Look not mournfully into the Past. It comes not back again. Wisely improve the Present. It is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy Future, without fear, and with a manly heart. As the Florida Marlins stand on the threshold of an unlikely but well-deserved World Series triumph, I could not but hope that our Philadelphia Phillies would heed these wonderful words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

As a baseball fan I have enjoyed this World Series for many reasons, most prevalent among them is the many baseball myths that are being exposed by these two teams. As a Phillies fan, I find myself hoping that the powers that be notice the myth busting taking place and apply them to the construction of the 2004 team.

Baseball is such a beautiful game, flowing to a timeless rhythm that is matched only by the greatness of its players. Yet much can be learned just by watching successful teams compete and these two franchises, the Yankees and Marlins offer both remarkable similarities and interesting contrasts in the way they were both built.

As the Phils begin the long process of forming a championship caliber team when they open the new park next year, it behooves them to remember Wadsworth's words. Mourn not the Past; after all, losing to the Marlins has certainly carried with it no shame.

Wisely improve the Present. Without a doubt, the Phils have assembled a solid nucleus of players in Jim Thome, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Randy Wolf and Marlon Byrd. It is not difficult to imagine the addition of a solid starting pitcher, an ace closer and a bit more offensive punch to this crew. This may very well elevate the Phils to Marlin-like status. The Phils are not too far away. What transpires next may be the key to a potential championship season.

Summarily, it is Wadsworth's final reflection that connects most with the myths being buried in the World Series. Indeed, it is against this backdrop that Ed Wade and Company should go forth to meet the shadowy Future, without fear, and with a manly heart.

Lets examine these myths and how they apply to the building of the Phils into a championship team next season.

Myth #1…Experience is the key to winning at the major league level. This myth flew out the window the minute that 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera homered against future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens in Game Four. Perhaps no other moment displayed so clearly that it is talent that wins, not experience. Few would argue that without the efforts of Cabrera and Dontrell Willis, the Marlins would be watching and not playing in the World Series.

Yet, both were playing Double A baseball in May. The Marlins displayed bold courage and strength of convictions in allowing these two talented players to take what appeared to be a giant leap to the big leagues. That both were successful should dispel the myth that inexperienced players cannot be successful at the Major League level.

It is not inconceivable that somewhere down the line the Phils will show the same boldness when it comes to youngsters like pitchers Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd. Willis has shown that talent retires major league hitters, not experience. One hopes that the Phils are watching…and learning. Hamels and Floyds are extremely talented youngsters with the ability to come in a hurry. Myth #1 proves it is not an impossible task.

Myth #2… To win a pennant, a team must have a few solid left-handed relievers in the bullpen. Again, not just the Marlins and Yankees, but even the other playoff opponents, the Cubs and Red Sox, have exposed this myth. In fact, it would be difficult for the average baseball fan to name even one solid left-handed reliever among the four teams. Baseball lore spoke of a bullpen equally balanced between lefties and righties. This has been shown to be false. Again, what is needed most is talent and not a righty-lefty balance. This is certainly not to say that a balance isn't preferable if solid lefties are on the roster. Yet, in the end, a solid righty is preferable to a mediocre left-handed pitcher.

It would be wise for the Phils to consider this when they construct their bullpen this winter. Lefty Rheal Cormier will be back, and deservedly so! However, if Dan Plesac retires, as has been rumored, the Phils needn't rush out to replace him with another left-handed hurler. In the end, a talented right-hander like Geoff Geary may be preferable to a mediocre lefty like Hector Mercado.

Myth #3… The bullpen closer never enters a game until the ninth inning. Mariano Rivera, the ace closer extraordinaire of the Yankees destroyed this myth forever with his ability to enter games in the eighth inning and close the game with two solid innings of work. In fact, his yeoman like three innings in the playoff clincher against the Red Sox will become part of the continuing Yankee legend in years to come.

Few people realize that closers of the past quite often pitched more than one inning. Former Phils Manager Gene Mauch routinely used ace reliever Jack Baldschun for two or three innings with successful results. In fact, Johnny Callison, former Phil's great, hit his game winning All-Star Game home run against fireballer Dick Radatz, who was working his third inning of relief. Relievers like Hoyt Wilhelm, Elroy Face, Alvin Mcbean, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Tug McGraw regularly appeared in the eighth inning of a game and closed it out.

The ramifications of this are enormous. Teams will no longer feel it necessary to carry 12 pitchers, and instead use that valuable spot for a third catcher, or extra outfielder. Another benefit of this will be to allow a bullpen of middle inning relievers to work less, and with more effectiveness.

Again, as this applies to the Phils, it is hoped that when they are evaluating their closer for 2004, the ability to work more than one inning comes into play. A Billy Wagner or Tom Gordon would do well to be able to emulate the two-inning success of Rivera in this year's playoffs.

Myth #4… Small ball is an extinct art in baseball and has no place in the modern game. Perhaps no myth has been so totally exposed as false by the Florida Marlins as Myth #4. In fact, they have made a proud stand against this myth all season by winning with small ball. Led by speedsters like Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo, the Marlins have featured the stolen base, the sacrifice bunt, the hit and run and an occasional long ball into a lineup that is within one win of a World Series title.

The art of fundamental baseball, and manufacturing runs was becoming a lost art until the Marlins rediscovered it. No player has been more instrumental in this rediscovery than the tiny leadoff hitter, Pierre. Without a doubt he is the catalyst to everything the Marlins do well, and his style of daring, high risk baseball has been a source of consternation to the baseball establishment all season long.

The Marlins have shown that there are many ways to win at baseball and a team should be tailored to its strengths rather than pigeonholed into being something that it is not. Since sports teams routinely attempt to copy the tactics of successful franchises, look for teams to covet Pierre-type players during the off-season.

As this applies to the Phils, watch for the team to allow players like Byrd and Rollins to run with greater abandon. At the minor league level, watch for the Phillies to make valuable use of the speed of players like Javon Moran and Michael Bourn. Both of these speedy outfielders were members of the Draft Class of 2003 and both had successful debuts at the rookie level. Keep an eye on the progress of these talented youngsters.

As one final weekend at legendary Yankee Stadium beckons, the Florida Marlins stand on the threshold of turning a baseball establishment on its collective ear. Like an uninvited guest, they have thrust themselves on center stage with audacity, talent and verve. Combining the wisdom of Longfellow with the guts of a myth-buster they serve as a prime example of how the game may be played in the near future. As Phils fanatics watch and wait, we can only hope that the Phils brain trust is taking notes, and will soon join the Marlins as charter members of the Myth-Busters Class of 2004.

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