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June 22, 2015

Pathetic Phillies have turned our city into a national punch line

Are you angry yet, Philadelphia?

For the past three months, a sports city widely regarded as the most passionate in the country has tuned out the baseball team that bears its name, ignoring one hideous performance after another, and the clueless people responsible for the debacle.

With the deadly combination of a deeply flawed roster and a dysfunctional brain trust, the Phillies are not just embarrassing themselves right now; they are humiliating our city. Philadelphia was a punch line last week – a national laughingstock – after the bullpen-phone fiasco in Baltimore, when the slow thinkers in the dugout couldn’t figure out how to warm up a relief pitcher.

If this appalling era of failure ever actually ends, the reference point will be the night when manager Ryne Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure couldn’t figure out what to do when someone left the phone off the hook in the bullpen. Outfielder Jeff Francouer ended up throwing 48 pitches before the 19-3 nightmare ended.

The fact that Chase Utley had to dress down McClure on the mound, in public view, would have been a call to action for any team with a modicum of self-respect. Instead, less than a month after his rant about fans who “bitch and complain” about the team, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. aimed another missile at the customers.

Is there one good reason why Ruben Amaro is still in a position to make decisions about a team he took from best to worst in seven years? Does it make any business sense to keep in place a person who has alienated the fan base both with his player transactions and with his condescending words?

"The fans, I think, over the last couple of years are: 'Why aren't we rebuilding? Break it down.' “ he said. “And then when you break it down: 'Why aren't we winning?' The fact of the matter is, that's the nature of the beast. That's the nature of being in Philadelphia.”

Of course, Amaro never bothered to explain how he is breaking it down while keeping three dinosaurs – Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz – in the starting lineup, but it’s a pretty safe bet he would scoff at that reality, too. Ruben Amaro doesn’t give a damn what the fans think.

Are you angry yet, Philadelphia?

Amaro actually seems to have launched a campaign to seal his doom in the past week, with his unfathomable decision to promote Dom Brown yet again and his even more insane infliction of Phillippe Aumont on the fans last Friday night.

That both of these Amaro projects continue to fail spectacularly is not the story here. The story is that president Pat Gillick is allowing Amaro to continue making insulting decisions like these. Gillick may have final say in personnel now, but the promotions of Brown and Aumont are patented Amaro moves.

Is there one good reason why Ruben Amaro is still in a position to make decisions about a team he took from best to worst in seven years? Does it make any business sense to keep in place a person who has alienated the fan base both with his player transactions and with his condescending words?

Here’s an even better question: Is anybody in charge of the Phillies right now? If indeed there are conversations with longtime baseball executive Andy MacPhail to take over Gillick’s position, Amaro seems like the worst possible choice to be the face of the organization. The very notion that he is talking trades with other teams is absurd.

Meanwhile, in case they haven’t noticed, business is in free-fall at Citizens Bank Park. With the best team in baseball here on a balmy Friday night last weekend, 21,169 showed up – less than half the seats – on a special promotional night honoring the 1960s. Three years ago, the Phillies were selling out every game.

I had a conversation with Bill Giles back in 1992 that I will never forget. The Phillies were terrible then, too, after Giles’ dreadful tenure as GM. I asked the man who is now both a part-owner and chairman emeritus of the team what he feared most about the murky future.

“Apathy,” he said. “The worst thing for any team is apathy.”

The Phillies are 23 games under .500, half the seats are empty, and Ruben Amaro thinks the fans are stupid.

Are you angry yet, Philadelphia?


While it is hardly news that Chip Kelly has no affection for the Philadelphia media, it has become increasingly clear that he is no fan of what they’re reporting, either – especially if it happens to be the truth.

In his latest assault on reality, the Eagles coach said last week that his release of guard Evan Mathis came at the player’s request after two years of bickering over money. Put that comment between two pieces of bread, and you’ve got a baloney sandwich.

Mathis made clear both before and after his release that he planned to attend all mandatory team functions, including last week’s mini-camp and training camp in August. He also said, convincingly, that he hadn’t asked for his freedom since March, when such a move made sense for both sides. There was no immediate demand for a move. None.

So why did Chip Kelly cut Evan Mathis? Because the coach can, that’s why. Kelly wasn’t thrilled with Mathis’ play last season, and the player’s dumb decision to blow off OTAs was the breaking point for a coach who believes the attitude of a clubhouse is more important than talent or experience.

Kelly had cause for cutting LeSean McCoy last winter, even though the coach was lying when he said the move was strictly a money decision. McCoy is a selfish player; he needed to go. There was no good reason to dump Mathis, unless you believe that Allen Barbre – an eight-year NFL veteran who has started only eight games – is a worthy replacement.

After only five months of total control over the roster, Kelly hasn’t shown yet whether his coach/GM responsibilities will be too much for him. What he has proven already, though, is that he will tolerate no dissent – and will tell the truth only when it serves him.


Upon careful reflection, I hereby endorse the candidacy of Allen Iverson as assistant GM of the Sixers. The joining of Iverson and stat nerd Sam Hinkie is irresistible. For talk-show hosts, anyway.

This amazing possibility is the latest brainstorm of former Sixer coach Larry Brown, who has been campaigning tirelessly to rescue Iverson from money problems and other major personal issues since retirement. Brown is nothing if not loyal to his favorite players.

Now, on the surface this seems like a crazy idea, especially after the recent book, Not a Game by Kent Babb, portrayed the former superstar as a deeply troubled man – riddled with alcohol problems, chronic lateness and an ugly divorce. By most accounts, Iverson is a mess right now.

But what we also learned last week was that the most exciting Sixer ever is a basketball genius. That’s right, a genius.

“To me, I’m a basketball genius,” he declared.

When Iverson was then asked what he would do with the third pick in Thursday’s draft, he said he doesn’t follow college basketball – before quickly adding that he would follow it if the Sixers hired him as assistant GM.

Hey, that’s good enough for me. After all, who wouldn’t want to see Iverson try to inflict his ideas on the reclusive, number-crazed Hinkie? Iverson would be in the war room, screeching in Hinkie’s ear about crossover moves and blindside screens while the GM and his army of computer geeks spit out statistical breakdowns.

This is not just the future of the Sixers. This is a blockbuster movie. This is a hit reality show. This is just the kind of drama that will fill all those empty seats at the unnamed arena where the Sixers play.

Sam and Allen: The Geniuses.

It can’t miss. But then again, I am a talk-show host. So maybe I’m not the right guy to ask about this.

And finally . . .

• Former Sixer Andre Iguodala won the MVP award in the NBA Finals, but you’ll never see me cheering that Golden State championship. First of all, Iguodala didn’t deserve the prize; LeBron James outplayed him. And second, Iguodala is a jerk. He doesn’t care about the fans. Why should they care about him?

• Other the other hand, the sight of Kimmo Timmonen hoisting the Stanley Cup in Chicago was a pleasant surprise. In his 17-year NHL career, the ex-Flyer always understood the responsibility to share his experiences with the fans. He gave back. Bravo to him.

• So far, so good for new Flyers GM Ron Hextall. His hiring of coach Dave Hakstol was a welcome break in the tradition of bringing in retreads, and his recent comments that he cannot afford to screw up Friday’s draft illustrate his willingness to accept the pressure of his job. Hextall may be the best GM in Philadelphia right now.

Sam Bradford said last week that if his twice-repaired left knee is not ready by training camp on Aug. 2, “then I think something has gone terribly wrong.” That’s an understatement. If the quarterback isn’t ready for the first game of the season, there will be no season for the Eagles in 2015. That’s not a prediction. It’s a promise.

• So now the best team in baseball may be cheating, too? The St. Louis Cardinals allegedly hacked into the Houston Astros computer last year, for reasons that are still not clear. Were they looking for some secret intel? After the New England Patriots’ ongoing Deflategate scandal, it’s time to ask: Is anybody in sports not cheating?