April 01, 2019
When Philadelphia sports fans decide to love somebody, the worst thing a critic can do – at least in their eyes – is to suggest that their hero has clay feet. I was confronted by this important lesson twice in the past two weeks.
With no disrespect, it is a lesson I plan to ignore.
The first outcry came as a result of my comments in this column two weeks ago, when I concluded that Super Bowl architect Howie Roseman was “blowing it” this offseason by holding onto aging players whom he fell in love with either through the draft or because they were part of the 2017 championship team.
I learned very quickly that even 29 years of barking out opinions into a microphone on WIP earned me precious little tolerance from a fan base still brushing the confetti out of their hair. Post-parade, it is simply inconceivable to Eagles devotees that the roster mastermind would oversee such a clear misdirection.
Even when I reeled off the subtractions and additions to the roster, name by name, an emotionless exercise designed to support my argument, fans bought none of it. They harped on the even more obvious offseason debacles of rivals in the NFC East, they pooh-poohed the realistic worries of an aging roster, and they even suggested I was just trying to stir up trouble. Imagine that.
Then Roseman did something last week that energized the backlash. He made a trade that only a world-class grump (not me) could dislike. He acquired a talented running back named Jordan Howard from Chicago for . . . . well, nothing. Technically, Roseman gave up a sixth-round pick that could become a five, but Howard – who is in the final year of his rookie contract – will probably bring back something higher in a compensatory pick anyway.
Making the transaction even more remarkable was that Roseman appeared to close the deal while attending the Sixers game last Thursday night. That’s right. You can look it up. He was with his family at the game when the news broke around 8:30. How did he do it? Did he solve his running-back problem in the time it took Brett Brown to draw up a play? Don’t ask, the fans said. Howie is just that good.
Of course, I never said Roseman wasn’t a talented roster manipulator. I led that column with a disclaimer that one move could change everything – though the Howard move wasn’t it. Roseman could still turn the offseason into a plus with a terrific draft, but so far – despite the fan noise – he is not there yet. Sorry.
My other fan transgression was even more repellant, even though it, too, was based mostly in fact. I had the audacity to vilify the best player in baseball, local hero Mike Trout last week, when he signed a 12-year, $440-million contract to remain with the Angels. The dream of Trout ever playing near his Millville, N.J. home in Phillies pinstripes is over. Kaput.
A small part of my reaction, admittedly, was emotional. I was inspired by Bryce Harper’s bold pitch to Trout after Harper signed his own megadeal to play here for the next 13 years. When Harper brazenly wooed Trout, the fans here loved the gesture. Somehow, however, they were also fine with Trout’s final decision.
The basis for my anger – yes, at one point I bellowed into the microphone that Trout was “a phony!” – was the public news conference when the Los Angeles fans hooted and booed at Trout’s benign reference to his roots. Instead of Mr. Eagle offering some defense for a place he supposedly loves, Trout actually encouraged the catcalls with a wide smile and a chuckle.
My logic was simple. If he loved Philadelphia as much as he claimed – check every interview he has done at every Eagles game for the past five years – he could have waited two seasons and realized the ultimate dream, in a city with a passion for sports L.A. will never know, in front of family and friends who harbored that dream.
To call the response vicious would be understating the truth – something I am not inclined by nature to do. Suddenly, fans who were begging for Harper’s plea to be embraced became Trout’s agent, fretting over what he would do if he got a career-ending injury and never once questioning the sincerity of his original message that there was no place like home.
The fan reaction was illogical and, frankly, dumb. Suddenly, Trout said he was committed to the West Coast, with words that left no room for interpretation. All of his earlier professions of love and loyalty for Philadelphia – for us – were obliterated by money. That’s a matter of public record. Look it up.
So, let’s review. I was right about Roseman, and I was right about Trout. But I lost both arguments – big – because emotion always trumps reason in a passionate place like Philadelphia.
This begs one final question: Then why do I plan not to heed the warning of this painful lesson?
Because I was right, that’s why.
When you’re right, you’re right.
Even if the fans don’t agree.
• Phil Martelli, a good coach and a great man, was discarded like yesterday’s trash after 24 years of exemplary service to St. Joseph’s University late last month. That he lost his job was no shock; his Hawks had struggled for the last few seasons. How he was dismissed is an entirely different story. Jill Bodensteiner, the athletic director for all of eight months, offered in her goodbye press release one paragraph of praise for a quarter-century of exemplary work, and then launched into administrative babble that was an affront to anyone with a brain or a heart. Jill Bodensteiner. Remember the name. She won’t be here long.
• Joel Embiid is an amazing player, but he won’t be truly great until he learns how to play with zeal every game, not just the ones he circles on his calendar. His domination of Brooklyn last week – after two abysmal defensive efforts, both losses – was proof of what he can do when he chooses to do it. Why Embiid doesn’t show the same commitment every night is a mystery right now – a mystery applicable to many NBA stars, unfortunately. There is only one player who can beat Joel Embiid, and he’s smart enough by now to know who that is.
• Can we please stop this nonsense every year with the Eagles and the Kelly-green uniforms? For the past several years, owner Jeffrey Lurie has boldly stated he was working hard behind the scenes to get league approval to use the throwbacks, but every season it’s still one more year down the road. By the time Lurie brings back the old uniforms, no one will be alive who saw them the first time.
• The best thing that happened to the Flyers this season was a furry orange creature with crazy eyes. The new mascot, Gritty, was so much better than the team he represented, it had to be hard for him to lend his considerable charisma to such a boring group of players. Yes, Carter Hart also emerged, once he escaped the clutches of deposed GM Ron Hextall and dullard ex-coach Dave Hakstol. What I’m saying is, if I were running the franchise, my only two untouchables would be Gritty and Hart. In that order.
• Larry Andersen is the latest in a long line of treasured voices working in the Phillies broadcast booth, so it was more than a little unsettling to learn that he had battled – successfully – prostate cancer during the off-season. In an appearance on my WIP radio show last week, Andersen said the scare of surgery and a three-month recovery has made him see life with more perspective. Uh, oh. Does this mean he’ll stop those trademark tirades against umpires? “No,” he assured everyone. “Not that.”