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June 05, 2017

Middleton must step in and save the Phillies from themselves

The 2017 Phillies can’t hit, can’t pitch, can’t develop young players, can’t communicate intelligently with their fans and have polluted the atmosphere in one of baseball’s most vibrant sports cities, more than two weeks before the official start of summer.

Yeah, yeah, I know. The Phillies finally won a series over the weekend, against the equally woeful San Francisco Giants. And they may win another one this week against the awful Atlanta Braves. But the fans know better than to make them part of Philadelphia’s summer soundtrack, the way they were a decade ago.

And the worst part of this maddening state of affairs is that there is no logical hope for a timely turn-around – not as long as the current administration is making the decisions.

After three public appearances in the last week, GM Matt Klentak – the face of the front office, like it or not – proved only that he has no idea what to tell the fans during the team’s fifth straight losing season, nor has he shown any feel for the job he was handed 19 months ago.

Clearly, the Dartmouth-educated stat cruncher thinks the fans are stupid. There’s no other logical explanation for the ludicrous excuses he made last week for the current state of the team – especially after saying at spring training that he was “very confident” the Phils would be significantly better than last year’s 71-win ballclub.

His new spin is that what the Phillies are experiencing this season is part of the – here comes that word again – process. Nowadays, you’ve got to get be bad before you can get good. Look at the best team in baseball, the Houston Astros. Or the reigning champs, the Chicago Cubs. Or the NL East-leading Washington Nationals.

Blah, blah, blah. Most of the baseball media robots covering the team fell for those comparisons, but the fans did not. The sad reality is that those three teams are the outliers, the exceptions to the rule. Just ask the Texas Rangers, who have been rebuilding for 56 years; the Milwaukee Brewers, for 48; the Pirates, for 37.

Those teams prowled the depths of baseball basements for decades, got the top picks in the draft, and just kept swinging and missing. Why? Because the people running their franchises didn’t know how to build a winner. And there is absolutely no evidence that Klentak does, either.

Before Phillies president Andy MacPhail rescued Klentak from obscurity, the 36-year-old executive had worked for the Colorado Rockies (who have never won a World Series) and the Los Angeles Angels (who last won it 15 years ago). When the Angels had a chance to promote him to GM in 2015, they declined.

Klentak is a double-talker, an analytics babbler who loves to tell fans what they’re seeing is not true. For example, last week he said Maikel Franco is actually doing just fine in two key categories: exit velocity and launch angle. The fact that the best young prospect on the team is batting .223 serves as an outdated notion to Klentak.

And then there’s Klentak’s frustrating timidity. Right now, the Phillies have one potential superstar in the minor leagues, one kid who combines talent with attitude, smarts with production. His name is Scott Kingery, a second baseman who has 17 home runs, is batting .311 and is the shot of adrenaline the Phils so badly need.

Unfortunately, Kingery is in Reading – two levels below the big leagues, and no prodigy at the already ripe age of 23. At AAA Lehigh, second baseman Jesmuel Valentine is hitting .229 with one homer, and is a borderline prospect. Oh yeah, he’s also on the DL.

Wouldn’t it make sense to move Kingery up to Lehigh? No, it would not – at least not to Klentak, who said the organization will promote a player only when he is ready. Kingery, who dazzled in spring training, and is killing Double A pitching is not ready? His exit velocities and launch angles must be horrible.

The bottom line is, the Phillies are selling their fans a big box of nothing right now, and the fans are way too smart to buy it. They are also too smart to believe Matt Klentak knows what he’s doing, or that Andy MacPhail – wherever he’s hiding – even cares what the city thinks.

Somewhere out there, managing partner John Middleton, the one remaining hope for the future of the Phillies, is burning with frustration. He didn’t make $3 billion in the cigar industry by having two bad days for every good one. He didn’t become a winner in life by sitting back and doing nothing.

It’s time to deal with this mess, John.

It’s definitely time.


Andy Reid has always been a fraud, but he got away with it here because he won more games than anyone who has ever coached the Eagles. Still, it’s always fun when a phony like Reid gets unmasked, and it was especially so last week because it happened twice.

First, the Chiefs coach got more than a little snippy with the docile Kansas City media when the reporters had the audacity to do their jobs. All they wanted to know was which players had chosen not to attend the OTAs. Reid, who has often mentioned how much more understanding the Midwest media is, finally snapped.

“Voluntary camp, man,” Reid said. “Don’t worry about all that; it’s a voluntary camp. That’s how I’m going to answer it every time you ask. Understand that?”

It was news that three top veterans – Eric Berry, Marcus Peters and Justin Houston – blew off the first week, and then Dee Ford joined them last week. It was news because Reid is such a player-friendly coach, his players are supposed to show a deep loyalty to him.

The truth is, Reid is loyal only when it’s convenient for him. Just ask kicker David Akers, who faced the coach’s unforgivable public wrath after missing two field goals in an Eagles playoff game while dealing with the cancer prognosis of his six-year-old daughter. The real Andy Reid is the one who kicked his kicker when he was down.

Reid proved just how loyal he really is when he cut ex-Eagle wide receiver Jeremy Maclin on Friday, two years into a five-year contract. At 29, the player endured his least productive season because of leg injuries last year, but he is still an elite pass catcher. Maclin left the Eagles for Kansas City based largely on his loyalty to Reid. Ha, ha.

If Eagles GM Howie Roseman has one more miracle in him during this amazing off-season, he will find room for Maclin on the already vastly improved wide-receiving corps – just to stick it to the most overrated coach in Eagles history.

Oh, by the way, Reid attended Maclin’s wedding two weeks ago, just 11 days before he cut the veteran player. Reid toasted the happy couple and then kicked a player he had coached for six years, in two different cities, right out the door.

If that’s not a fraud, what is?


Based on the court decision last Friday to give jail time to three of the Penn State bureaucrats who enabled child rape on their campus, is it safe to conclude now that coaching legend Joe Paterno would have met a similar fate if he had lived a few years longer?

Let that sad proposition sink in for a second. The most beloved coach in college history – a paragon of moral virtue – could have spent some of the final months of his life in prison.

And make no mistake. Despite the continuing propaganda in Happy Valley, Paterno deserved just such a fate. For at least three decades, he looked the other way while his top assistant, Jerry Sandusky, molested children. No new statues or murals are going to alter that reality.

In the end, ex-PSU president Graham Spanier, ex-VP Tim Curley and ex-AD Gary Shultz got minimal sentences – a few months in prison and a few more under house arrest. But their crimes weren’t as horrific as those of Paterno, who was much closer to Sandusky and permitted them for much, much longer.

Would Paterno have been led away in handcuffs and handed an orange jumpsuit? Or would his bogus reputation and army of blindly loyal followers have found him an escape from justice?

We’ll never know, but if anything good comes out of this unimaginable tragedy, it should be a long-overdue vow by the Penn State community to stop trying to revive the legacy of a coaching hero who was not the man he pretended to be.

And finally ...

     • All you need to know about Odubel Herrera is how he reacted over the weekend when reporters asked about his increasingly frequent – and utterly stupid – bat flips. “That’s just the way I am, and that’s the way I’m going to play,” he said. Hererra is so, uh, unusual, he even flipped the bat Saturday night on a long fly out and saw no problem with it. He is the very definition of un-coachable.

     • Ben Lively was terrific in his major-league debut over the weekend. Imagine that. The Phillies promoted a player, and he had an immediate impact. The problem is, Lively is already 25, and it took an injury to get him a promotion, despite glowing stats at Lehigh. Will Lively’s success encourage the timid Phils to bring the kids up faster? Don’t bet on it.

     • Ron Hextall said he going to take a cautious approach as the NHL Draft draws closer. When did the Flyers GM ever take any other approach? And the irony is, he really has no choice with the No. 2 pick anyway. He will end up with either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier depending on whom the Devils choose with the top selection. How did a ruffian like Hextall on the ice become such a nebbish off it?

     • The Sixers actually made a move in their dysfunctional organization when it was revealed last week that they dumped Lance Pearson, the director of applied analytics – whatever that is. Somehow, GM Bryan Colangelo decided Pearson was not getting the job done, but the medical staff – which has failed repeatedly – remains firmly in place? Really?

     • Apparently, Joel Embiid planned to play in a soccer exhibition in Wales last weekend until the word leaked out a few days before the charity event. Embiid has played 31 games in the past three seasons for the Sixers, but he remains reckless about his health. At the event, Embiid proclaimed that he would be the best pro soccer player in the NBA. Yeah, sure. Until he broke his foot again.