Yet given what has been taking place over the past few weeks has lead to some clues, and if the reader can take a deep breathe, have a cup of coffee and follow my lead, we may be able to sort out the sometimes sordit details. Ah, where do we start? Should we start with the "do we trade Ryan Howard or not?" campaign. How about the "the trade is now out of GM Ed Wade's hands" rumor? If not, then what about the Curt Schilling radio interview on local radio station WIP during the All-Star breadk? Or better yet, Assistant GM Ruben Amaro's testy response?
Granted, these are but a few of the fascinating stories leaking out of Philadelphia that seemed more filled with intrique and behind the scenes cloak and dagger than your normal fiction novel. That is because as unbelieveable as they seemed they weren't fiction at all, but strange but true stories in the never ending melodrama that is our very own Phightin' Phils.
Lest I digress, allow me to start at the beginning. As any Phillie fan worth his weight in Bull Barbeque pork roast knows, the 2005 edition of the team was a flawed but hopeful bunch to open the campaign. Oh, there were concerns about a lack of a true number one starting pitcher, and the bench looked a bit thin. Age was certainly becoming a concern with a lineup filled with an over 30 group of players who might soon find themselves on the dark side of the mountain where past skills erode quickly.
Still, there was optimism aplenty, buoyed by the arrival of happy as they come, Charlie Manuel, a personal favorite of Jim Thome's and a guy guarenteed to make the clubhouse a more comfortable place to be. Surely this would pay off in more wins, and a 92 win season seemed doable given a decent start and reasonable health.
Well, much like the best laid plans of mice and men, the decent start soon flew by the wayside and the health issues were nagging if not completely unmanageable. Yet, when the Phils parlayed a 12-1 homestand into a record 8 games on the plus side of .500 the City of Brotherly Love was almost giddy with anticipation. I know because I was there and could hear it on the talk shows. When the Phils announced the signing of All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins to a long term deal, all seemed right with the world, at least in PhillieLand.
Fast forward a month and things have changed mightily. The team that could see the top from their vantage point now only sees the top with binoculars, and the bottom is looking more and more likely. In fact, in the irony of ironies, it was only a Ryan Howard home run on the final Sunday before the All-Star break that not only gave GM Wade a reprieve from the slings and arrows of an angry mass, but might well have saved his job. The irony is that the very man that Wade seemed so determined to trade has probably saved his job...for now.
For now, and those are the code words being written if one is able to decipher the code. Certainly, yours truly is often as confused as the next person when it comes to the wacky world of the Phils, but allow me to venture a guess based on what we have all witnessed recently.
Clearly, Wade and his partner, Ruben Amaro are feeling the heat and it has shown in not only their words but their actions. For Phillie fans too far away to know, Curt Schilling paid an on air visit to a Philadelphia sports show host on Monday and proceeded to discuss, among other things, the reasons he was not brought back to Philadelphia in the winter of 2003. Schilling made it clear that Philadelphia was his first choice but that Amaro and Wade did not want him back. He made a special point of mentioning Amaro in the interview.
This would have been newsworthy enough on a quiet sports day but what happened next bordered on The Twilight Zone. Yes, Phillie phanatics, who should call the station shortly thereafter but Mr. Amaro, to dispute Schilling's contention. Now, this is amazing for several reasons. One would hope that Amaro has more important things to do to right a sinking ship than call in to radio shows on a Monday afternoon to verbally spar with a player who no longer even wears Phillie red.
What makes this story even more intriquing are these two uestions...why would Schilling do this and why would Amaro respond? The answer to the second question is simpler than the first so I will answer that one first. Amaro's response smacked of a group of administrators who are quite concerned about their jobs and are feeling more than a bit defensive. Let's face it, the normal response to verbal attacks is to ignore it, and watch it go away. When one feels the need to fight back verbally in this way, it can be assumed that there may be more than a hint of truth to the allegations.
This may explain Amaro's actions but what were Schilling's motives. Know this much about Curt. Love him or dislike him, he always has a nose for the news and had to know that there are rumblings of change in the wind in Philadelphia. He seems much too connected to the happenings in PhillieLand to be just an innocent bystander. It is known that Curt is still good friends with John Vukovich, a man who is now at least somewhat in the inner circle of the organization, if not yet in the gold room.
Vukovich is still close to Dallas Green, who certainly has entrance to the gold room, and Green is well regarded by Managing General Partner Dave Montgomery, who has the key to the gold room. It would not take a giant leap of faith to track Monty's words into Schill's ears and anything that makes it to Curt's ears generally makes it into the public forum. Still, Schilling seemed completely comfortable with his allegations, almost as if he had been given a green light to make his case. Who knows for sure, but anyone who follows Phillie baseball knows that this dysfunctional family would not be adverse to treating their fellow members in this way.
Another character in this unfolding drama is Bill Giles, who relinquished his job to Monty back in 1997, the victim of too many lost battles and too much Scott Boras. After another fruitless effort attempting to corral then Phillie draft pick, J.D. Drew, Giles wearily gave the reins to Montgomery with the thought that perhaps Monty could do a better job.
It is well known that Giles is good friends with Gerry Hunsicker, a now unemployed former GM of the Houston Astros. Hunsiker is said to be living peacefully in the Philadelphia area and must be enjoying the daily shenanigans as much as anyone. It has been rumored that Hunsicker has been asked to keep his resume warm and his job status open in case something breaks in Philadelphia and all this inner circle paranoia seems to indicate that the break may come sooner rather than later.
If these mixed messages weren't enough to wet the appettite of a thirsty Phillie populace, then consider the seemingly contradictory words coming from Wade, Amaro and finally Montgomery. While all three professed a desire to do the right thing [and no one doubts their sincerity in this regard] one must be a bit amused by the different approaches they claimed would chart the Phillie course.
Wade seemed to think the Phils would be buyers rather than sellers at the upcoming trade deadline, which for any Phillie fan, means we are likely to get fleeced again. For all his administrative skills, and they are extraordinary, Wade has never shown an aptitude for late game trades, although his acquistion of Cory Lidle for three prospects certainly seems a wise one.
Amaro was a bit more emphatic that the Phils would be buyers and not sellers, a telling acknowledgement that his job was on the line if the team failed to make the playoffs. Still, it was the almost soft spoken afterthought words emminating from the mouth of Montgomery that struck the strangest tone. Almost as if musing, Monty wondered if it wasn't wisest to go young, no doubt with admiration for what is being done in Atlanta this season.
Monty was willing to say that he wasn't sure what the answer was, but his acknowledgement that going young might not be the worst way to go, and the recent rumblings that Wade would no longer make the final decision on trading Howard left one to wonder if these two seemingly unrelated events were not somehow connected. One thinks they just might be!
As if the inner office turmoil were not enough, what was taking place among the players was equally interesting. The ongoing Ryan Howard saga seems to be coming to a welcome conclusion, and it appears he will be staying for now. This is certainly welcome news to yours truly who has always believed that Howard is a bonafide 40 home run slugger waiting to happen.
His rebirth was caused by a rash of Jim Thome injuires coupled with a rash of Howard home runs, and it seems inconceivable that the Phils would dare trade this diamond for a ruby when Thome appears much more vulnerable than previously thought. The party, or Phillie line, was that Thome was suffering from an elbow injury and this may be true enough.
Still, any anatomy and physiology student will tell you that the elbow bone is connected to the shoulder bone and the shoulder bone is connected to the back bone and...well, we know where this is going. Thome's oft achy back has always been the main source of irritation and it takes no mad scientist to theorize that in protecting his back, he injured his elbow. At 35 years of age, Thome may no longer be able to carry this team anymore, especially attempting to carry a team on his back, achy as it is.
Perhaps the best scenario would be for Thome to show he is completely healthy next spring and offer his services to an American League club as a designated hitter. Although, to their credit, the Phils have maintained the job is Thome's when he returns, as well it should be IF he is healthy, the thought of a post-Thome era must certainly be seeping through the walls of the inner corridors in Phil management offices.
If all this excitement were not enough, I have saved the best story for last...the latest escapades of our very own All-Star closer, Mr. Billy Wagner. Now Wagner has always been known as a tell it like he sees it type character, his description for what is more prominently known as a loose cannon. Writers wishing for wonderous quotes need look no further than Wagner's locker stall.
However, even for Wagner, these past few weeks have been, shall we say, interesting. If he was not saving another ball game, he was lamenting the Phillies lack of a killer instict. If he was not commenting on the latest Wagner to Boston trade rumor, he was found sitting next to Cardinal closer, Jason Isringhausen at the All-Star game and pondering how wonderful it would be to pitch with Jason in St. Louis.
Now, granted, Wagner is no fool and he certainly reads the paper. He has to know that given his upcoming free agency status, and his 9 million dollar salary, the Phils are unlikely to resign him. Further, he confirmed that the Phils had attempted to negotiate a contract extension over the winter with no happy conclusion.
Wagner knows that he is now the main Phillie chip in any trading the team may do, and it would not be a surprise to see him peddled before the July 31st deadline. In fact, it would be a greater surprise if he is around to save games on August 1. In retrospect, this may have been why the Phils so quickly pulled the trigger on a Ugueth Urbina deal a month ago.
Allow me to request that you stay with me for just a moment further, this Phillie timelime is an often disjointed and tough one to track. Watch the Wagner story closely. If he is traded for prospects, this will tell you two things. One, that the Phils have waved the white flag on the current season and are now in full retreat. Two, this will no doubt signify the ultimate demise of Wade and Company at the end of the season, if not sooner. Even his loyal boss, Dave Montgomery, has to know that putting Wade in charge of a rebuilding campaign would be worse than walking through a minefield...he has no history of bringing in prospects in trade.
However, if Wagner is traded for veteran help, and it says here that if this happens it will likely be for a starting pitcher, a relief pitcher and probably some bench help, then Wade has issued the full speed ahead course for the finish line. Given his record, this should be no comfort to Phillie fans as we are now quite replete with available young talent and it behooves the Phils to keep what they have now.
The word being bantered about is that this weekend's series with the Marlins is crucial to any decision the team will make. If the team flounders or merely treads water, then this latest chapter in the Phillie history book may soon be completed. With this will come the Michael Bourns and Cole Hamels of the world to excite and entice us in September with their daring and dash.
Yet, if the Phils should somehow regroup and find the key that has been missing for far too many seasons, then the Wade Watch will once again be put on hold and the latest Phillie trivia question of Fact or Fiction will await it's ultimate answer.
Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to email@example.com and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast