Out of Left Field: Middle Fingers

We're several weeks into Spring Training, the Phillies have a winning record so far, and even the little bit of bad news concerning injuries has been followed with relatively good news about those same injuries. Situations like this cause a person's mind to wander and lead to random observations about Spring Training, such as...

The Curse of the Middle Finger.  Philadelphia middle fingers sure have gotten a lot of press this spring, and for once, they weren't attached to Philadelphia fans.  Because of middle fingers, we were treated to such oddities as Bill Conlin's speculation about the possible connection between Billy Wagner and Sandy Koufax, and ubernerd Ed Wade dropping the f-bomb on a reporter.

You could almost hear the collective aorta of Phillies' management rupturing at the news of first baseman Jim Thome's fractured middle finger.  Ed Wade and Larry Bowa went into immediate spin mode, saying that they would adjust if Thome had to miss the first few weeks of the season by platooning Shawn Wooten and Chase Utley.  This news was immediately gobbled up by fans and the media, eager to see the hard working Utley get an opportunity to display his skills.

I like Utley, and I think Shawn Wooten was a good signing as a right-handed power bat off the bench, but this pronouncement raised my left eyebrow.  Why Utley and Wooten?  Maybe it's just me, but was there any thought given to the possibility of having first base manned by the Phillie that has more career major league starts at first base than anyone else on this roster except for Thome? 

That would be Pat Burrell.  Did we forget already that Burrell made his major league debut in May of 2000 as a first baseman?  Did we forget that he played pretty well at that position, starting 58 games in which the Phillies had a winning record during an otherwise dismal season?  Did we forget that we seem to have an overabundance of outfielders in camp, and that by playing Burrell at first base it would lead to a more natural platoon in left field of Jason Michaels and Ricky Ledee? 

Wouldn't that platoon have given us a better chance of making up for Thome's lost bat than Shawn Wooten and Chase Utley?  (Not to mention the brutal defense that those two may have demonstrated.)  I suppose it's moot now, since we all got a late Christmas present with the rosy prognosis out of Philadelphia that Thome should be back in time for the season opener, but I would have liked to have seen more thought put into the situation.

Pat the Bat.  Speaking of Pat Burrell, he does look more comfortable at the plate this spring.  He seems to be keeping back on the ball, not flying open quite as much, and he doesn't have to take a taxi from the back of the batter's box to the plate anymore.  However, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned that during actual game situations, he still seems to be yanking everything to left.

Silver Slugger.  Isn't it great to have the old Jimmy Rollins back?  I'm not referring to the home runs that he's hitting despite insisting at the beginning of spring training that he understood the need to keep the ball on the ground.  I'm referring to good old number 11, the happy jokester that was MIA all last year.  Jimmy came into spring training last year with a chip on his shoulder, no bounce in his step, and no smile on his face.  He was tired of being seen as "entertainment" and wanted to be taken seriously.

Listening to Jimmy joke last week with Derek Jeter about his shoes, refer to Jeter as "stoopid," and outfit manager Larry Bowa (the original uptight white guy) with Sean John gear, was a big relief to me.  If the only good thing that comes out of Doug Glanville's signing is that it caused J-Roll to go back to being #11, then it was still money well spent.  Just as Michael Jordan wasn't the same player when he wore #45 instead of his customary #23, I like the #11 Rollins a whole lot more than I liked him as #6 last season.  You are taken seriously Jimmy, but baseball is supposed to be fun.  Thank goodness you finally remembered that.

Chase-ing the Dream.  Anyone who is worried about Chase Utley's spirit being crushed if he begins the year at Scranton hasn't spent much time watching him.  This kid says and does all the right things, and he is going to be just fine no matter where he begins the year.  The fact is that he still does not look smooth around the bag, and he still has not mastered the middle-infielder "flip" to first on the double play.  That straight overhand release has to go if he is going to be successful as anything more than a designated hitter (or platoon first baseman for that matter.)  I am convinced that the smart move is to start him at SWB, where he gets a chance to play everyday, display his offensive skills, and make some American League clubs salivate over his bat in their lineup.

Will the Phillies get through the remainder of the spring without anymore middle finger incidents?  Will Bill Conlin and Larry Bowa bury the hatchet?  Will Chase Utley and Jason Michaels be putting on different uniforms in April?  Will Pat Burrell start driving balls into the right field gap?  Wandering minds want to know.

Columnist's Note:  I welcome your feedback.  Please send any comments to dncurry@comcast.net. 

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