Photo courtesy St. Pete Beach Photo
My head just exploded.
There are some things that excite me greatly: (not an exhaustive list) Cliff Lee, dick jokes, Twitter fights, and emotional GMs who fire back at finger-pointing reporters.
This is one of those things.
Yesterday, the GM huddled with a small contingent of scriptuals, partly to address an issue that is quickly gathering steam: the Phillies’ honesty with fans and the media.
The topic was the soup du jour as ire from the secrecy surrounding Chase Utley’s injury came to head on Sunday, when the second baseman had little to report during a media scrum just behind left field at Bright House Field. Reporters were confused – perhaps angry – that the Phillies teased the informal presser 48 hours earlier, an action that fueled speculation about Utley’s whereabouts, possible surgery, and even retirement. So Amaro, who doubles as the Phillies’ minister of information, wanted to set a few things straight: he doesn’t lie, and the Phillies aren’t out to deceive anyone.
Here’s a sampling of what Amaro told reporters: [via Wilmington News Journal]
“We don’t have anything to gain from hiding information. That’s not our modus operandi. … Chase wants to keep as much information as possible quiet. I respect that.”
“I don’t have a problem with that, giving as much information as possible. I’m not trying to deceive anybody. Why would I lie to the public? How is that going to make the organization’s relationship with the public better? What benefit would I have to tell you Chase is fine when I know that he’s not? What good does that do for us? We pride ourselves on having a pretty good relationship with our fans. There’s no real benefit for us to lie to them. Where is the benefit?”
The benefit is in not tipping your hand to opponents and potential trade partners, but whatevs. The real question is… is Rube being honest?
As pointed out by superstar CB reader Ian, The Big Poker may have just Inceptioned (v.) Philadelphia with the above statement. Could it be… a lie within a lie? A fib tucked beneath a fib? Did the totem stop spinning?! IS THE KID FROM 3RD ROCK GOING TO DELIVER A “KICK” TO SNAP US OUT OF IT?!?!!!
As usual, only Rube knows.
How did this all come about?
Last week, we brought you the third installment in this melodramatic series, The Amaro Lies, a public record of the GM’s less-than-truthiness with, well, everyone.
Not interested in making a big move at the deadline? Hunter Pence.
Ryan Howard didn’t suffer a setback? Three weeks in a walking boot.
Freddy Galvis isn’t ready to be a Major League second baseman? “He’s been our best player this spring.”
The sentiment (that Rube and the Phillies are less than truthful) was already there, we just packaged it into a sort-of crib notes. Delco Times beat writer Ryan Lawrence had questioned the GM last week, too.
But yesterday, Inquirer beat reporter Matt Gelb ejected the topic into the ether when he penned this article about Utley's injury and the Phillies' handling of it with the media.
Here’s some of what Gelb wrote:
The spring has been filled with public half-truths and willful ignorance from the Phillies. Much of that could be attributed to the ultra-private Utley's desire to maintain control of his own situation.
It did not stop those in charge from speaking with conviction.
"I don't think there's any chance he won't be ready opening day," Amaro said March 15. "We fully expect him to be ready opening day."
It has extended beyond injury talk, too. Amaro was bearish on Freddy Galvis as recently as March 16, when he said: "He's done well so far. But that doesn't mean he's a major-league second baseman yet."
On March 19, Amaro anointed Galvis the replacement for Utley. "He's not a developing player," Amaro said Friday. "He's ready to play defensively, at the very least."
At the very least, that should be an indication the Phillies are thinking differently than their public face suggests. Multiple scouts who have watched the Phillies this spring have indicated Amaro is shopping for just about any useful offensive piece he can find, specifically middle infielders.
Gelb’s examples were the same as ours. But, when the beat reporter for the city’s largest (though slowly dying) newspaper questions his subject’s honesty, there is bound to be some pushback. Which is exactly what Amaro did yesterday.
It is important to note that we understand that general managers have to lie. It’s part of their job. If one shows up to the mythical sword-fighting poker table wearing his intentions and a fuck me smile on his face… well, then they wind up coming home to work under (beneath?) their protégé (see Wade, Ed). We get that. We get that when Paul Holmgren tells us that so-and-so has a “lower-body injury,” he’s not doing it to be a dick– he’s doing it because it’s his job. Same with Amaro when he says that the Phillies aren’t looking for infield help. OF COURSE THE PHILLIES ARE LOOKING FOR INFIELD HELP! But the GM can’t make the team seem too desperate (even though any rival GM could point to the fact that Pete Orr is starting at shortstop today and understand that the Phillies are fat kids sorely in need of cake right now).
We get it.
So, like most things on this site, The Amaro Lies is written with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. It’s a friendly reminder that most of what Amaro says is bullshit, and that he seems to genuinely enjoy playing The Wizard, even if behind the curtain is a mess of media guides, bourbon, and a PS3 controller used to make trades.
But what happened yesterday was different. When the media members closest to the team – the beat reporters – questioned the GM’s honesty about a relatively serious issue – Chase’s knees and, by extension, his career – the tables turned and the GM fired back to defend his honor. Or, more nefariously, dick-slapped those who questioned his intentions.
I’m inclined to go with the former, but there was likely a bit of the latter in there too– as mentioned above, it doesn’t always benefit a GM to be open and honest.
The funny thing is, that in the case of the misinformation surrounding Utley’s injury, Amaro may not be to blame. We should blame Chase.
It always baffles me when athletes – those who drive home in their $115,000 cars, play in front of 45,000 fans every night, and get weekly paychecks larger than what most of us make in a year – bristle at the interest surrounding their profession. Those luxuries are afforded to them precisely because people care – irrationally so – about their work. So it bothers me (and many others) when Utley says to reporters, "I did not feel the need (to be more forthcoming). There are a lot of rumors out there, which I don't know how they get started. I understand you guys look for things to write about, but now you have the information so there's no need to make things up or to speculate.”
Kevin Cooney of PhillyBurbs.com shares a similar sentiment about the way the Phillies and Utley handled this situation:
What happened this spring with Utley and the Phillies was a textbook example for every athlete and front office administrator on how not to manage an injury in this Twitter-led world.
Make no mistake: Chase Utley can decide how he wants to handle his injury the way he sees fit. He can also determine how much – or in this case, how little – of his own private medical information is presented by the Phillies and himself to the general public.
However, the problem is when the vacuum of information that Utley's decision to stay private presents for both the player, the organization and for the media that covers him.
In that void often is speculation fueled now by a 24-hour news cycle that can go from guessing game to hot rumor in the press of a "send" button.
People care about Utley… and Howard and Halladay and Lee and Hamels and Rollins and every other local athlete who indirectly pockets millions are our dollars each year. Speculation is going to fly when there is a lack of information about something as serious as a chronic (though the Phillies and Utley disagree on that categorization) knee injury to one of the Phillies' best and most beloved players. Fans, media, bloggers, radio hosts and, perhaps in this case, the GM are going to demand information. And if the player is so creepily private and uptight about everything, then what you get is a scene where about 20 reporters anxiously gather ‘neath a palm tree to ask a grown man about his visit to the doctor’s.
As noted by just about every Phillies writer, much of the speculation surrounding Utley's injury could have been squashed with just a bit more transparency. Instead, you get the photo above: an irritated player, 33, entertaining questions about his retirement. So we’ll put this one on the second baseman.
But as for the rest of what Rube says… well, the top is still spinning, isn’t it?
Of course, if you’d like to read about Amaro unfiltered, then you will surely enjoy my recap of two hours spent sitting front of the GM and Wade during Friday’s Phillies-Yankees game. That’s later.