Sunday, February 11, 2007

Riddle me this...

Just when you say I haven't been trying hard enough to make this work, Doyle, just when you say it's like I don't even care anymore, I come with the two posts in one evening. I put the "g" in tag team -- don't you forget it. (Which means you put the t&a in it, I guess? Awkward!)

I've got some thoughts to offer on this Schmidt dealy. (The Sixers unis just distracted me momentarily. I'm a sucker for red. And yes, that is a Valentine's hint for our readers.) But first, a disclaimer, even beyond the usual I-am-incapable-of-objectivity-when-it-comes-to-Philly-sports disclaimer. I gotta set shit straight before I talk about Mike Schmidt.
Because Mike Schmidt is in the Panthéon. What's the Panthéon? Glad you asked (I was hoping you would). The real Panthéon is a lot like the Pantheon, only pronounced differently and also way better because it's French (check here for more, and check your hegemony at the door. Then get your ass out on the floor and ... yeah). But my Panthéon is my own personal house of sporting worship, where dwell those rarefied few athletes who have had a material effect on my life. It's a subjective place, and the criteria are lofty but difficult to define. Perhaps examples will help.

The only people in the Panthéon thus far are, in no particular order: Lenny Dykstra, Charles Barkley, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Julius Erving, and one Michael Jack Schmidt.

All of them share a few qualities or characteristics. First, all were or are incredible athletes in some sense -- not only incredible in the badly cliched and hyperbolic sense of the word, but truly incredible, as in stretching credulity. There will never be another player like any of those players. (Dykstra's a stretch, OK, but nobody will ever eat as many steroids and fit as much chew into their mouths and bang as many 16-year-olds. The others I shouldn't have to explain, not if you've ever seen them play.) Second, I was alive to see all of them in their prime, with the possible exception of Schmitty and Doc, but more on those two later. All were my favorite player in their sport at a key epoch in my sporting development. All were idols of sorts. Third, all of those people either brought titles to Philly or very nearly did so, nearly enough to give me hope that one was imminent. Most of them did it nearly single-handedly. Doc won the only title Philly's seen since I've been sentient, and Schmidt capped his greatest season with the Phils' only Series win on, in all likelihood, the night I was conceived.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that I will not rip on Mike Schmidt. Not now, not ever. I kept Mike Schmidt's baseball card in my wallet as a kid. I got in a fight my first day of school (ever) when some kid said Mike Schmidt sucked. One of my earliest real memories is watching Mike Schmidt announce his retirement, bawling, both of us, and I still remember some of his lines. ("I was just a kid from Ohio with two bad knees," or something like that. He was crying, I was crying, it was 19 years ago, sue me if I can't quote it verbatim.) To this day, one of the best ways to make me irrationally livid is to suggest that Brooks Robinson is the best third baseman ever.

You know what else I like about Mike Schmidt? He's not holier-than-thou, Doyle, despite what you seem to assert. This is the guy, remember, who, while every dickhead in sports journalism was bleating self-righteously about steroids (a few years after they all willfully ignored them), admitted that he probably would have done them if he played in the steroid era.

In other words, hey, I don't give a shit what Mike Schmidt said about Pat Burrell. Mike Schmidt is Mike Schmidt, and Pat Burrell is still Pat Burrell (the single most disappointing Philadelphia Phillie of my lifetime, and that's saying something [paging Mitch Williams...]). Mike Schmidt can say whatever the fuck he wants.

What I have a problem with is the whole setup. Hey, it's a slow news day and Mike Schmidt's in town, I'll stir up some shit. I'm Hal McCoy. I can do whatever I want. (Resisting a blindness crack...) I'll lead Schmitty, who's never been good with the media, into dropping some stodgy-sounding bullshit about a player nobody in the world likes anyway. But only Philly papers would care at all about that -- maybe I can get him to dis Adam Dunn, too, so there's a Reds connection and one more slim justification for manufacturing a story.

In short: who gives a fuck what Mike Schmidt says about Pat Burrell? To reiterate, Mike Schmidt is the greatest third baseman ever, the greatest Phillie ever, among the ten best living baseball players.

Oh, and another thing: Pat Burrell really does suck. I know he's the pet cause of every stat geek on the interwebs, and I know the RISP number last year was fluky, and I know if you only look at his hitting stats (classic statty argument) he's better than average. But how about these minor issues:

1. He had his best season in his second year. Then he signed a ridiculous contract and has chronically underperformed. Staff, media, former managers, et. al. universally describe him as lazy and disinterested, if not downright apathetic.

2. He's fragile. He missed half a season a couple years back with some mysterious wrist ailment that was going to need possibly career-ending surgery, but then miraculously healed in the offseason. He also has a chronic foot injury (also mysterious) that has rendered him nearly immobile. I don't know if any of you have actually watched him field in the last two years, but defensively, he's a half step above Barry Bonds.

3. He often clashes with teammates and coaches. Notably, he nearly fought Larry Bowa and has refused to change his approach to hitting despite the entreaties of multiple hitting coaches, every fan in Philly, and every person less blind than Hal McCoy, all of whom -- along with every pitcher in the NL -- can tell that he's been throwing his hips early for the last four years and he'll swing wildly at every outside slider. I know you don't believe that team chemistry exists, or that non-quantifiable data has any place in evaluating baseball players, but it does, and it does.

Lastly, I'll tell you one other thing about Pat Burrell and Mike Schmidt: Schmidt knows what he's talking about when it comes to the player formerly known as Pat the Bat. He worked individually with Burrell for most of the 2003 season. Remember that one? The year after .282/37/116? Right after he signed the enormous contract? Yeah, the year he hit .209 and choked the Phillies right out of a Wild Card spot. That year. Schmidt tried to help his sorry ass but couldn't, because he wouldn't listen to one of the greatest hitters ever. So either Mike Schmidt has some room to talk about how stubborn and shitty Pat Burrell is, or it's Mike Schmidt's fault that Pat Burrell sucked that year. Hint: Burrell continues to suck relative to his 2002 performance.

Now, I'm not saying Schmidt's a great coach. Neither are the Phillies. He managed the single-A affiliate for a year and then they parted ways. But he could hit, and so he must know a thing or two about hitting. So I'm willing to take his word for Pat Burrell's misguided approach to hitting.

Oh, and as for former Phillies going batshit, you know that supposedly Steve Carlton is now some raging anti-Semite recluse in Colorado, right? It's an epidemic, I tell ya.

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