OK, this is starting to get hard to write when, ya know, the Phillies only play two games in five days. Let’s make it quick, giving you some news and a very important Ruben J. Amaro body surfing update.
Cole Hamels underwent an MRI on his stiff shoulder yesterday. Leslie Gudel had the report on CSN Philly. No further details given. CSN says Hamels may skip his scheduled start on Friday, even though he called the problem only “dead arm,” something Roy Oswalt (and many others) suffered from last year.
Leslie’s report brings up an interesting topic: Has there ever been a more underrated sports reporter in Philly? It appears Leslie’s workload has been drastically reduced, as she recently founded the Nap Nanny, a sleeping aid for babies (as best as I understand it). Every once in a while, however, she pops up with a scoop like this and is always over at the ballpark during the most significant Phillies moments. She’s one of the few reporters who rarely gets in the way of a story and always brings it to you straight- yet with a likable personality. She’s like Jeff Daniels’ character, Harry, in Speed. Years of applaudable work have led to a reduced role, but when you need her most, there she is helping to defuse a bomb or report on Cole Hamels’ shoulder. And when necessary (like when the Phillies clinch an NL East title… or Dennis Hopper goes crazy), she springs to action, jumping right in the middle of a chaotic clubhouse with rock solid on-camera work. Let’s just keep her out of boobie-trapped homes, OK?
I know your feelings about Howard- they’re not good ones. But, if for just a moment, let’s briefly applaud him for 25 successful years on the radio. There’s a reason why he stuck around that long: he usually gave it to you straight. Not unlike Simon Cowell on American Idol, Eskin was the guy you went to when you wanted to validate your opinion. Excited about a recent signee? Let’s get Howard’s thoughts. Think the Phillies will make the playoffs this year? Let’s see what Howard thinks.
Often times, he splashed a very cold glass of water on your figurative boner. It was annoying, but, well, often justified- our teams only won one championship in the 25 years Eskin was on the radio.
It was the same thing with Cowell. When watching Idol (don’t pretend you didn’t), you always waited to hear his opinion. Like a performance, then hear Cowell say it sounded like a pig blowing a wolf? You likely changed your mind- even if only subconsciously. Hate a performance only to hear Cowell praise it? You probably went back and listened again because surely you missed something. That was Eskin.
What cost him, in the long run, was, unlike Cowell, his failure to ever be positive. Critical became curmudgeonly in a time when there’s not a whole lot to be negative about. There’s a time and place for bitter, tell-it-like-it-is pundits: 2011 is not that time in Philadelphia. Throw in a dash of Ike Reese, who may be a very nice man but is awful on the radio, and you have an on-air disaster. Perhaps this all reached a head when Eskin needlessly took shots at Roy Halladay for not being more available to the media… during the offseason. It’s that sort of negativity, combined with Reese’s woefully uninformed opinions, that quickly made Eskin’s show unlistenable… allowing Mike Missanelli to saunter to the finish line.
That said, Eskin is one of the hardest workers you'll find (raise your hand if you saw him standing courtside or behind the glass or on the sidelines) and had enough sources to give every beat reporter in this town penis envy (or something like that).
I thought long and hard (read: two minutes) about the shots I took at SABR nerds yesterday, feeling that perhaps my strong words may have been uncalled for. But after seeing the ludicrous comments, Tweets, and blog posts it generated, I’ve decided that I was right on the money. Not one response addressed any of the points I made. The nerds defended their stats, called me a douchebag, I think one or two wished me bodily harm, and in a fit of jealousy, several wondered why people read my work instead of theirs, but not one of them addressed my defense of Howard… which is: If SABR folks call him "overrated" because he has more RBI opportunities (and more RBIs) than any other player – yet he capitalizes on those opportunities with the proficiency of the widely regarded “best” players in the league (every single year, mind you) – then why does he not belong in that category?
They penalize him for being on a good team, and say things like (I actually saw this): If other top first basemen like Fielder or Votto played for the Phillies, they would have as many RBIs.
Great! They’re really good players. That doesn’t make Howard overrated, it makes him one of the best players in baseball.
When looking at corner infielders and cleanup hitters, these folks overvalue on-base percentage, fielding, and baserunning. That’s not what Ryan Howard is there to do. He doesn’t need to have a high on-base percentage. What he needs to do is drive in the runners that stand on base while he’s batting. And he does that- 19% of the time, which is as good as or better than most of his peers. Further, his reputation, durability, and consistency make him as reliable as any player in the game in producing runs. Sure, during any given year, a few outliers may surpass him in their efficiency, but they rarely do it on a consistent basis, the way Howard does.
The problem is, these folks don’t understand roles and team. Howard doesn’t need to get on-base 40% of the time. He doesn’t need to be a vacuum on the right side of the infield. He doesn’t need to go first-to-third on balls hit into left. His role, on the best team in baseball, is to put up monster power numbers- something he does every year. You can count on it. Book it, if you will. Because Michael Morse’s WAR is higher over the last four months does not mean he’s a better player than Ryan Howard. It means he’s on a shitty team and seeing pitches that pitchers would not dare throw Howard. That’s all I have to say.
Finally, Ruben Amaro was body-surfing yesterday:
If I know Rube, he somehow managed to not only ride the wave in, but also grab two Pina Coladas, three perfectly-symmetrical shells, and two bikini tops en-route to shore.