October 15, 2018
Just a couple of minutes before his scheduled appearance on my WIP radio show earlier this month, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler texted co-host Rhea Hughes to say that he needed a few extra minutes to offer a public critique of my column on his boss, GM Matt Klentak, that appeared right here at PhillyVoice.
There were no opening pleasantries this time. Kapler had a plan, and he was hell-bent to execute it. In the column, I made a simple statement that I have repeated relentlessly over the past three years: Matt Klentak is incompetent.
Though I have bellowed it from every mountaintop in Radioland since Klentak’s arrival, the words clearly had more power in print, at least for Kapler. The manager immediately reeled off a flurry of silly statistics to support his belief that Klentak has been excellent, if not exceptional, in the early stages of the Phillies’ rebuild.
The manager spoke uninterrupted for well over two minutes – probably a record on my loud, freeform show – but his argument was built on a shoddy foundation. Arguing the brilliance of a GM after a historic collapse is a ridiculous notion, especially in a no-BS city like Philadelphia.
After I pointed out the illogical timing of his argument, I made a point for which neither he nor his bosses can offer a convincing response. None of the three men has made any connection to the unique sports city where they work, and none has made any effort to create that essential bond.
President Andy MacPhail, whose idea of connecting with a fan base is speaking once a year within the city limits, actually tried to make a point by proclaiming recently at his annual news gathering, “I’m a New Yorker . . . “
The only more distasteful geographical reference here is Dallas.
Klentak had held his own briefing the previous day that was his usual insult to the intelligence of the fans. During a dissertation clogged with self-congratulation, he rolled out statistics that supposedly proved he signed the fourth-best class of free agents last off-season – ignoring the implosion by $30-million-man Jake Arrieta during the collapse, among other indignities.
The truth is, Kapler – eccentricities and all – is the likeliest of the trio to provide some bridge to fans if he ever drops the façade of optimism that rang true with no one. At least Kapler proved he cares enough about the team’s perception to wage a war with dissenters like me. That’s something, I guess.
Unfortunately for the Phillies’ brain trust, they are losing every argument about their acumen by virtue of what’s happening in the stands, which were half-filled all season. Even when the Phils were in first place in August, the fans made no move to return. Whatever these statistical wizards were selling, the fans weren’t buying.
I have a distinct advantage over MacPhail, Klentak and Kapler in this debate because I talk to the fans every day on the radio, and I have learned a few things no analytics will ever reveal. Generally, the fans hate the new brand of baseball extolled by the new Phillies – deep counts, a parade of pitching changes, three or more hours a night of very little action.
Let me emphasize that word again – hate. If the Phillies do start contending again – a doubtful scenario with these three bumblers in charge – the fans will still not turn out, at least not the way they did during that 256-game sellout streak that ended six years ago. Their kids don’t want to watch a game of catch. Kids want action.
So let’s recap. The Phillies have clueless people running their franchise right now, these leaders have no bond at all with the city, and fans hate the way they play baseball these days.
I’m waiting for your call, Gabe.
• The worst story of the week for Philadelphia sports fans was the report that Eagles GM Howie Roseman called Buffalo to inquire about a trade for running back LeSean McCoy. First of all, the ex-Eagle is 30 now, ancient for a running back. And second, he’s got enough baggage to start his own airline, with allegations of domestic abuse, cop-beating and an ongoing NFL investigation into his behavior. Other than that, though, bringing McCoy back makes perfect sense.
• Since I rank among the biggest ref-bashers in town, it’s long overdue that I dole out some kudos when an official does his job well. It happened in the Meadowlands last Thursday night, when referee Ron Torbert called a grand total of nine penalties, for 86 yards. The Eagles usually average more than that themselves. For some reason, Torbert thinks the fans are not watching to see penalty flags. He lets the players play. Imagine that.
• Is it just me, or have the Flyers looked look like the same middle-of-the-road team every year since Ron Hextall took over as GM in 2014? They won the opener in Las Vegas last week and then immediately flopped by losing the next three out of four. They’ve still got mediocre goaltending, too many young defensemen and an inconsistent offense. Another year on the fringes of playoff contention awaits the loyal fans. It’s no wonder ticket sales are soft.
• Amid the higher expectations for the Sixers this season, this is a good time to inject some logic into the situation. Yes, Joel Embiid is a transcendent player – if he stays healthy – but Ben Simmons still can’t shoot from the outside, nor is there any compelling evidence that Markelle Fultz has found his shot, either. They won 52 games last year. I’m going with 47 this season, at the most. Sorry.
• What is it with the Sixers and social media these days? It’ll be a long time before we forget how Bryan Colangelo lost the GM job earlier this year because of his wife’s fake Twitter accounts, and now the team had to apologize over the weekend for a racist tweet by the father of forward Mike Muscala. Here’s a good resolution for the new season: No social media for everyone employed by the Sixers, or their families. Especially their families.