All’s Well That Ends Well?

John Mallee is gone. Charlie Manuel is back! If you wanted to brighten the day of like 80% of the Phillies fanbase, you’d do what the Phillies did Tuesday. By ridding themselves of an unpopular scapegoat, and bringing back a “conquering hero” to their fanbase, the Phillies temporarily pleased their market audience, Philadelphia baseball fans, and in the process maybe did something to correct the course of their season.

I am neither a fan of the McPhail-Klentak-Kapler regime, or of the ideas they have implemented up to this point. I’m also not terribly stupid. Almost all of baseball at this point operates on analytics, and guys are hitting the baseball pretty well. On the flip side, a hitting coach doesn’t go up in the box and hit for the players on the team. I probably would not teach little leaguers to go to the plate and try to pull every pitch and always try to hit home runs. Honestly, it’s just ugly baseball. On the other hand, baseball is breaking records for offense- and seemingly not gaining fans like it expected. The modern version of the game is what it is, and so is the reaction of the public. Launch angle is producing home runs. Seats still lack rear-ends in them. The two things are not directly linked. They’re not unrelated entirely, either. John Mallee can’t shoulder the entirety of the blame for the whole Phillies line-up under-performing, a bad farm system, and an atrocious pitching staff. On the other hand, he’s a hitting coach for a team that can’t hit- he really shouldn’t keep his job. That’s made even worse by the expectation that this team would hit the ball.

I really shouldn’t be that excited that Charlie Manuel is now the Phillies hitting coach- it’s not like he’s going to go to the plate and hit for the players. But I’m excited anyway. Maybe it’s because Charlie was the hitting coach in Cleveland developing Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Albert Belle. Maybe it’s because he was manager of the best offensive teams in Phillies history, and managed the 2008 World Champions. Maybe it’s just because it’s a change to a boring, terrible product that I hated to watch. Most of all it’s because of the picture above- a sad ending to a happy time for Phillies fans, being rectified by our hero coming home to fix a mess. Does it really matter why? I’m just happy about my baseball team again.

But really though, does this move matter? I mean, we act like hitting a baseball has been reinvented in the past five years, as though great teachers of hitting a baseball twenty years ago were clearly backward hicks, incapable of teaching the game. Charlie’s teams in Cleveland hit lots of home runs, and so did his teams in Philadelphia. Because he didn’t call it “launch angle,” do we think he wasn’t teaching Jim Thome and Ryan Howard to hit for power? I have no doubt that he’ll tell hitters to hit to all fields, instead of just pulling the ball, and that he’ll tone down the emphasis on upper-cutting the ball, and that he’ll try to get hitters back to their comfort zones, instead of teaching a rigid theory, but is Charlie really a massive change? I suppose if the Phillies make the playoffs, we’ll all believe yes. I guess what I’m saying is that the answer may be more “gray area” than we all want to believe.

In the end though, who cares? Baseball is entertainment, and entertainment should make you happy. Charlie Manuel returning makes me happy. I’m just happy the sad picture of him walking away with a Wawa bag after the Phillies fired him isn’t the last chapter. If he happens to be the savior of an eventual championship season, great, but at least the fans are chanting his name again at Citizens Bank Park. Do I think he’ll save these Phillies? You can probably guess my answer. You can also probably guess that I don’t give a shit, because my team made me happy, and being happy is what matters in life.

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Summer’s End

I leaned against a tree for about 15 minutes, watching the sky light up over Bethlehem, as I’ve done virtually every Summer since I was in Middle School. It was the final night of Musikfest, the ten day, outdoor music festival in the city where I went to college, the night that ArtsQuest puts on a free fireworks show for the locals. Unlike years past, I chose to not watch these fireworks among the crowds, opting instead to watch them a mile or so down the river, where I could get out of town in a hurry when they were done. Today is, after all, a work day.

I’ve always called the end of Musikfest the end of the Summer in the Lehigh Valley, which usually is quite exciting for me. I am not a huge Summer person, other than the beach and baseball games part. I’m a Fall person. The Fall is for pennant race baseball, which my Phillies will play in this season. The Fall is election season, which usually is exciting for me, and really should be this year with Democrats poised for great victories. Fall is the return of football, which could mean the NFL, college, or my beloved Easton Red Rovers high school ball for me. Fall is Oktoberfest season. Fall is hoodies’ season. Fall is pumpkin everything season, especially my coffee. Fall is for bonfires. Fall is a great time for new music, buying new clothes, and at least for me, meeting new people. The Fall is edgy. The Fall is cooler, both in temperatures and in feelings. I’m a Fall person.

I’m not as excited as usual though, and I’m not sure why. My Phillies are good, but haven’t captured my imagination like the 2008 team of ten Summers ago did, yet. The Eagles won the Super Bowl, and I’m far too content with them. I plan on seeing Notre Dame and Penn State play live this Fall, but I’m not fully dialed in on college football, yet. Pumpkin spice? It’ll get here. Oktoberfest? Still a little bit away. The wardrobe changeover to Fall will wait until the heat goes away. It’s cool and rainy today, but it doesn’t feel like the Fall is here, yet.

Perhaps my discontent with politics, my profession, is over-shadowing the rest of the cool things about Fall. The 2018 election feels like a necessary evil to me, a must-win to stop the country from becoming a mirror image of Donald Trump, who disgusts me. The problem though, is that I’m as unexcited by the Democratic Party as I have been since I registered to join it in 2001. I want the Democrats to win Congress, in fact I see a need for them to, but I find myself mostly voting for them because the alternative are the white nationalists marching outside of the White House yesterday. It’s easy to oppose this Administration, but it’s not as easy getting out of bed and being excited to work for it when you increasingly find yourself rolling your eyes at your own side. Maybe that’s a downer for me.

Or perhaps it’s just raining, and I’m on my first coffee of the day at 1:55pm. You tell me.

Thank You Chase, 2008 Phillies

In a few minutes, the Phillies will play the Dodgers for the final time this season. The game will be the final regular season game Chase Utley plays in Philadelphia. The greatest Phillies second baseman in club history will retire at the end of the season, and the Dodgers won’t be back in town.

For the first time since 2012, the Phillies are playing important games, and fittingly Utley is back in town. The fan favorite from the 2008 team is now a bench piece on the first-place Dodgers, the reigning NL Champions. The Phillies fan base is showing Utley the love, giving him standing ovations before and during both games, and it’s well deserved. Not only was Utley a statistically great Phillies player, but he also played the game hard, and never left anything on the field. Oh, and he hated New York.

In just over a week the Phillies will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the 2008 Phillies. Utley will be one of just a hand full of players from that championship team who can’t attend because he’s still playing, joining World Series MVP Cole Hamels in that group. That team snapped a 25 year title drought for the city, reminding us that we can sometimes win too. The title came in the midst of an economic collapse that worried us all, but the Phillies gave us an escape, a reason to be happy. I miss that team.

Yes, I’m going to cheer Chase Utley today. Now excuse me, I’m walking in the park.