May 15, 2017
After an unusually active week for general managers in Philadelphia sports, one man has clearly emerged now as the best of a regrettable bunch.
His name is – I can’t believe I’m writing this – Howie Roseman.
That’s right. The Eagles front-office executive who politicked his way to the top, hasn’t won a playoff game in eight seasons and has already lost the job once, is the most adept general manager in our city, if only because the other three are flopping so spectacularly.
Since his return from exile after losing a power struggle to Chip Kelly, Roseman has acquired a franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz, has maneuvered his way back into the first round, and then snared two first-round talents (Derek Barnett and Sidney Jones) in a brilliant recent draft.
Unlike Matt Klentak, Ron Hextall and Bryan Colangelo, Roseman has remained accessible, has responded honestly to questions and has shown a newfound respect for the fans. Just last week on my WIP radio show, Roseman openly addressed the latest snit by Brandon Graham and the cloudy medical status of Jones.
Meanwhile, Klentak resumed a maddening campaign to redefine success – primarily because he has experienced none of it in his 19 months as Phillies GM. During a hastily-called news conference to announce a long-overdue extension for manager Pete Mackanin, Klentak said “everybody can see” the team’s progress this season.
What progress? First of all, when he made that comment, the Phils were 13-19, five games worse than they were after 32 games last season. And second, in an internet poll of hundreds of fans, 62 percent said they could not see this progress at all.
My first inclination is to call Klentak a con artist, but there is no artistry in his work. For example, he cited the success of Cesar Hernandez and Aaron Altherr as evidence of this progress, conveniently leaving out the terrible starts of two more heralded young players, Maikel Franco and Vince Velasquez, among others.
Klentak had the easiest possible act to follow – Ruben Amaro Jr. – and so far he has proven only that he is a far more wary version of the worst GM in Philadelphia sports history.
Ron Hextall owns a far better reputation in Philadelphia, but unfortunately, it was more as a fearless, bold goaltender than what he has become – a mealy-mouthed, insecure GM.
Last week, after moving from thirteenth to second in the NHL draft lottery, Hextall dismissed all speculation that the player he selects – either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier – could have an immediate impact on his roster. To the contrary, the GM tried to tamp down all expectations for the new star, and for his team.
His message was clear: Don’t hurry us. Show some patience. After all, it’s only been 42 years since the Flyers won a Stanley Cup. Whatever happened to the player who attacked Chris Chelios during a fit of pique many years ago? Why doesn’t Ron Hextall the GM resemble in any way the ferocious player he once was?
As for Bryan Colangelo, the Sixers GM who recently said he would be working harder on his communication skills, well, he spent another week in the shadows. It has now been nearly five weeks since he last spoke in public.
A Philadelphia pro team has not been in a championship final in seven years, and it has been nine since we actually won one. The city has held exactly one title parade in the past 34 years.
And now, in a stunning twist of fate, our best hope is Howie Roseman.
The sports world really is full of surprises, isn’t it?
Six weeks into his lame-duck season as Phillies manager, Pete Mackanin is a lame duck no more, and the speculation about how GM Matt Klentak finally rewarded his most loyal soldier is far more interesting than the news itself.
Even now, two years since the front-office shake-up, it’s hard to pin down exactly where the duties of president Andy MacPhail end and Klentak’s begin, but it seems obvious that the extension was not the GM’s idea. In fact, the best guess is that Klentak was merely following the marching orders of managing partner John Middleton.
The novice GM tried to smudge the timing of the agreement – coming one day after a public furor involving reliever Joaquin Benoit – by saying the two sides had been working on the extension “for months.” They had definitely not been working on it for months.
The bad news is that Klentak appears to be a work still very much in progress, needing a crisis to force him do the right thing, and then trying to deceive the fans about it.
How can I be so sure? Because Mackanin himself said the deal “came right out of the blue,” not realizing he was contradicting his boss. I also know the manager is telling the truth because I asked him myself, several times in recent weeks, about a new deal, and he gave no indication that anything was happening.
By most accounts, the catalyst for the sudden deal was Benoit’s public lambasting of his manager for not assigning specific roles to the bullpen pitchers. Even after the outburst, Mackanin’s response was benign. In his final year of a $1 million deal (at most), he wasn’t about to risk his job.
After our extended interview with Middleton on WIP last month, it’s safe to say Middleton was watching all of this drama and realized something his kid GM did not – that Mackanin’s lame-duck status was causing problems on the team. It’s human nature not to worry about the boss if you think he’s on his way out.
Remember, Middleton fired off emails to both Klentak and MacPhail after Freddy Galvis didn’t run hard on a play last month. The boss is involved – far more so than most fans realize. It’s highly unlikely that the billionaire cigar magnate stayed silent after the Benoit fiasco.
The good news is that it appears the managing partner is actually asserting his authority. Middleton has a track record for success; just check his bankbook. The bad news is that Klentak appears to be a work still very much in progress, needing a crisis to force him do the right thing, and then trying to deceive the fans about it.
Is this a good time to ask how many more years Matt Klentak has left on his contract?
Sidney Jones is the latest example of a new direction in sports medicine, stressing fear over logic and the job security of doctors over the conventional treatment of serious injuries.
If the rookie Eagles cornerback doesn’t play in 2017, it will be because the medical staff is more interested in covering its derrieres than in treating Jones’ torn Achilles.
Of course, Philadelphia sports fans are uniquely aware of the new wave of absurd medical conservatism engulfing professional sports, with the gutless and clueless approach of the Sixers. All of the minutes restrictions, prolonged rehabs and trips to Qatar have been a monumental failure so far, but no changes are planned.
Meanwhile, Jones is an especially revealing case because the 20-year-old potential star has every indicator pointing his way on a fast and clean recovery from the March injury. He is young, the tear is at the best possible place for healing and he is extremely motivated to play this season.
The young player even vowed to play in 2017 – some predictions had him back as early as October – before the Eagles got to him at rookie camp over the weekend and changed the message.
“Everything looks good to [the medical staff],” Jones said. “We're just going to follow the protocol and schedule. No rush to get me back.”
No rush? He already figures to be the best corner on the roster, in a division race that figures to go down to the final week. The sooner Jones is in the lineup, improving the weakest part of the team, the better it will be for the organization. No?
As my obsession grows over the Jones medical debate, I have invited onto my WIP radio show some of the top orthopedic physicians in Philadelphia – part of the renowned NovaCare Rehabilitation family – and all have agreed that it’s reasonable to believe Jones can play this season, barring any complications.
Right now, the only complication seems to be the cautiousness of medical staff. Even Jones himself said the doctors told him they plan to “err on the side of caution.”
Here’s an alternative approach: How about not erring at all?
If Sidney Jones is ready to play in 2017, he should play. And if that decision is traumatic for the wimpy doctors in this new era of sports medicine, I strongly recommend they seek therapy.
And finally …
• The Sixers are back at the NBA Draft lottery tomorrow. Ho-hum. Am I the only fan sick of projecting the next wave of high draft picks destined to turn into medical quandaries and/or roster dilemmas? Yes, the Sixers could end up with two very high selections if the lottery breaks right. And yes, they might actually find a shooter this time. But when does the future become the present? Am I the only one who’s tired of waiting?
• J.P. Crawford has had 133 plate appearances so far at Lehigh, and he’s hitting .150. He has no homers, 7 RBIs and has struck out 26 times. Chances are, analytics expert (and Phillies GM) Matt Klentak has a way of spinning these numbers into something positive, but the sad truth is, Crawford is looking more and more like a major bust. Before the season, ESPN ranked him the No. 2 prospect in baseball, but Baseball America just dropped him to No. 2 on the Phillies, behind Mickey Moniak, and No. 19 overall.
• One of the dumbest contract protests in recent Philadelphia sports history is going on right now. Brandon Graham is boycotting voluntary Eagles workouts because he wants a new contract. The guy got paid for years as a No. 1 draft pick, even though he was a liability. Now that he has finally achieved his potential – after seven seasons – he doesn’t want to honor his contract? This is going to end very badly. Bet on it.
• Tony Romo, the ex-Cowboys quarterback who will try his hand as the No. 1 analyst on CBS this season, admitted last week that “I know I’ll probably stink for a while” until he learns broadcasting. OK, so what are the viewers supposed to do while Romo fumbles through his apprenticeship? He will be doing the best AFC game every week, ruining them with awkward, ill-timed observations. If this is actually a smart way to run a TV network, I may be losing my mind.
• Charles Barkley gets away with more than any broadcaster in sports history. He proved it again last week when, during the lackluster NBA playoffs, he said: “Thank God for the NHL playoffs!” Imagine that. Someone being paid millions to boost his own sport instead endorsed the competition. There are two reasons why Barkley got away with that remark. One, he’s right. And two, he’s Charles Barkley.