CD's Connect the Dots... Dare To Be Great

It is said that to be great, you must dare to be great. Long time Phillie fans remember well how it was said that the only thing that kept Johnny Callison from true greatness was his inability to truly believe in his extraordinary skill level. As such he always remained on the periphery, just a notch below players like Roberto Clemente and Frank Robinson. It appears the Phil's recent hiring of Charlie Manuel over Jim Leyland is the latest example of the team's inability to "dare to be great."

In defense of Manuel, let it first be said that this is a very capable man, a coach who will be popular and decisive with the team. His hiring was applauded by almost everyone in the organization and there is little doubt that he will have a positive affect on the team's psyche, a welcome change from Larry Bowa.

In Manuel, the team is getting a true baseball lifer, and a man familiar with the team and it's players after two seasons in the organization. Not only that, but he is quite popular with slugger Jim Thome and did a very good job with a talented club in Cleveland. In short, there is nothing inherently wrong with the hiring.

The problem is that in not hiring Jim Leyland, the team once again missed out on an opportunity to bring in a truly remarkable manager, one of the best half dozen skippers to paint the baseball landscape in the last twenty years. This was a man that would have brought the team instant credibility with players, coaches and agents alike.

Instead, GM. Ed Wade once again made the safe choice, the one that had the least possibility of failure. In doing so, he has probably deprived the Phillies and their fans of true greatness, a chance to elevate the team to the status of the best clubs in baseball.

Ironically, this is the second time in two years that Wade chose the path of least resistance, and lost out on an opportunity to "dare to be great." Phillie fans well remember the ongoing discussions at this time last season about bring ace righty Curt Schilling back to Philadelphia. It is no secret that Schilling openly campaigned to return to the city of his first successes and that he was willing to accept less money to do it.

Although no one will ever truly know exactly why this trade never happened, this much is known. If Wade had truly wanted to bring Schilling back to Philadelphia it would have happened. Had it have been Wade instead of Theo Epstein at the Thanksgiving dinner table with Schilling, then perhaps it would have been the Phillies instead of the Red Sox who would have been celebrating the latest World Series championship.

It is this writer's view that Wade was not comfortable with Schilling and chose the safer path, trading for lefty Eric Milton and offering Kevin Millwood arbitration. While both moves were applauded at the time, the reality is that neither is the pitcher Schilling is, and neither is likely to be pitching in Philadelphia next season.

While Schilling would have been the riskier move given his age and health concerns, the reward would have been so much higher with him on board. He no doubt would have been a calming influence on youngster Brett Myers, and it seems safe to say that hurlers Vicente Padilla and Randy Wolf would have profited from having Schilling as the ace of the staff.

The comparisons to Schilling and Leyland are more than coincidental. Both are outspoken and independent, exactly the kind of performers that Wade is least comfortable with. Both are confident of their standing in the profession, and neither would have merely espoused the company line that Wade prefers.

Both have definite opinions about how best to form a club, and neither has been shy about verbalizing those opinions. Yet, both are incredible competitors and would have lifted the Phillie team to great heights merely by the very wills of their personalities.

Make no mistake about Leyland, this guy is a unique talent. Players loved playing for him, not only because of his managerial skills, but because of his "people skills." This is a man who truly understands how important it is for 25 individuals to truly feel like a team. This is a man whose Rolodex file of friends in baseball would have instantly brought the Phils credibility and status.

In my last column I even mentioned that the dreaded agent, Scott Boras, has high regard for Leyland. This is no small feat for a team that is not highly regarded by the powerful agent, who numbers among his clients such free agents as Carlos Beltran, Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe. All have been mentioned on the Phillie wish list, and all might have considered the Phillies with Leyland as manager.

Instead, once Manuel was named as manager, it was probably not coincidence that the word came out that players like Beltran were "unlikely" to consider the Phils as a future home base for their talents. It is my opinion that once Leyland was removed from the equation, Boras made it clear to the Phillies that his players were no longer interested.

Again, this is not meant as an indictment of Manuel, and now that he is the manager we will all hope for the very best he has to give. In fact, the chances are still good that he will be successful. After all, the Marlins and Braves still appear to be in financial retreat, the Mets appear old and disinterested and the Expos are not even sure of a home yet.

It certainly behooves Wade to supply Manuel with whatever means are necessary to have a successful season as it is now Wade who has the most to lose. Not only were most Phillie fans unhappy about the selection of Manuel over Leyland, but another name has suddenly appeared on the landscape.

Outstanding General Manager Gerry Hunsiker, formerly of the Houston Astros, is now unemployed after resigning his post last week. He is a Philadelphia native and is widely considered one of the brightest minds in baseball. Most people think he will have another job within a year and it well could be Wade's if the Phils fail to make the playoffs in 2005.

One thing about Hunsiker is that he has never suffered from a fear to "dare to be great." His acquisition of Beltran, as well as his ability to convince pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Petitte that home on the Houston range was better than the bright lights of New York made him a legend in the Lone Star state.

Wade will certainly be feeling the heat this season, and the team's recent announcement that the payroll will remain at $93 million reflects this heat. It is also worth noting that the team recently made a major splash into the international market with the signing of pitcher Edgar Garcia from the Dominican Republic.

Garcia is considered one of the best young pitching prospects to come out of the Dominican Republic in several years and is only 17 years of age. Always public relations conscious, the team well may have noticed the unhappiness with the exclusion of Leyland from the manager's post and decided to pacify a potentially unhappy fan base with announcements about salary matters and player signings.

While both moves are moves in the right direction, it still appears from here that the team remains cautious and passive. In today's ultra competitive baseball world, the teams that remain cautious generally remain on the outside looking in. It is the teams that "dare to be great" that achieve this greatness.

The jury is out, the public will be watching. In baseball, the axiom of three strikes and you're out remain as true today as it was 100 years ago. From here, it appears that Curt Schilling was strike one and Jim Leyland is strike two. If Wade makes one more controversial move that backfires, then it well may be strike three for him as GM of the Phils.

After seven years on the job, his honeymoon is long since past. With Charlie Manuel, he has hung his hat on a manager who will bring stability and consistency to the organization. Manuel will not ruffle feathers nor issue controversial statements to the press. Yet, in the end, he will be judged on his won-lost record, with the long dark shadow of Jim Leyland menacing just above the horizon.

Those that dare not seek greatness almost never achieve it. Let us hope that in Charlie Manuel, Wade finds the greatness that so many of us already saw in Jim Leyland.

Columnist's Note: Please send comments or suggestions to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast

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