January 22, 2019
Congratulations are in order for the Phillies. After five hours of bonding with the prize of the free-agent class, Bryce Harper, earlier this month in Las Vegas, the front office appear to have figured out what its fan base knew all along. Harper is a far superior choice to receive owner John Middleton’s stupid money than Manny Machado.
By all accounts, Middleton and his brain trust – president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak – were impressed with the intensity and commitment to baseball that Harper showed. The 26-year-old outfielder and manager Gabe Kapler reportedly really connected over their passion for the game, and for winning.
Of course, none of this came as a surprise to anyone who understands Philadelphia, a city with a passion for sports, and for success, like no other major city in America. That MacPhail and Klentak needed to see Harper up close to understand this perfect fit is alarming, given that they are both in their fourth year running the Phillies.
So, before the epic decisions of Harper and Machado, let’s review the pros and cons of each superstar:
He is an ideal big lefty bat in the middle of an already-improved lineup, he is a vocal leader in what is now a too-quiet clubhouse, he plays with an intensity that suits Philadelphia, he will deny division rival Washington its best player and he will sell tickets – lots and lots of tickets.
He is expensive, he is coming off a down year and he is moody.
He is an elite hitter at a key position (shortstop or third base), he is a plus fielder (at third base, anyway) and he has a deep connection to the Phillies front office, having been drafted by MacPhail years ago in Baltimore.
He is also expensive, he has never won anything anywhere, he may not be willing to play third base, he is on record admitting he doesn’t always play hard, he is even moodier than Harper and he will sell no tickets. He lost Philadelphia the moment he said he was no “Johnny Hustle.”
A WIP Internet poll last week revealed that 90 percent of the fans prefer Harper. Do you have any idea how rare it is that nine out of 10 people here agree on anything? If the fans had the final vote – and roughly $350 million – Bryce Harper would already be wearing red pinstripes.
Now the only question is, will the people running the team do the right thing and sign him?
Oh, yeah, there is one more question: Do they have any idea what the reaction will be if they don’t?
• In his 20 seasons as an NFL head coach, Andy Reid has made it to the Super Bowl only once – a game he promptly blew by losing track of time. Once again, ex-Eagles boss came close to making it to the ultimate game on Sunday before his Chiefs bowed out in overtime to the Patriots. In recent years Reid has been mentioned as a sure bet to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Phooey to that. The Hall of Fame is for champions, not also-rans. How many more big playoff losses will it take before Reid is recognized for what he truly is – the most overrated coach in NFL history?
• Fletcher Cox had a terrific season, but the tape doesn’t lie. The Saints faked a punt at a key moment in the divisional game against the Eagles because Cox had a pattern of dogging it in that situation. Cox’s many supporters have been arguing that he was triple-teamed on the fake punt, so it wasn’t his fault that the gamble worked. Sorry. The only reason the Saints attempted the fake was because Cox gave them a reason to do it. He should be held accountable for not playing hard, and so should special-teams coach Dave Fipp for not seeing it.
• Even though they lost the game against Oklahoma City last Saturday, the Sixers learned again why they absolutely must sign Jimmy Butler before he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. After a so-so performance, Butler came up with a huge steal that gave the Sixers a late lead, then fouled Paul George on a successful three-point shot, and finally missed the potential game-winner. Butler wants the ball when it matters most. He doesn’t always make the shot, but he is always there to try. Win or lose, Butler is a leader.
• No matter what happens the rest of the season, the Flyers have already had a productive year just by finding a franchise goaltender, Carter Hart. Not only did he help them win three straight games before this weird week off in the schedule, Hart is showing, at 20, that he can handle NHL pressure. Isn’t it ironic that the last franchise goalie, Ron Hextall, had to leave his job as GM for the kid to step forward like this?
• The best news of the week for the Eagles was the retirement of Pete Morelli, a ref so one-sided against the Birds that the NFL didn’t assign him one of their games for the past season and a half. In his final Eagles contest in Carolina, Morelli set an NFL record by calling more than 120 yards of penalties against one team and less than 10 against the opponent. In his last four Eagles games, he nailed the Birds for 40 penalties and 396 yards, while opponents got only 8 for 72. Good riddance to him.