It was also the one which had the aces posing for these photos.
Well, it was drivel.
The "cock" is Pat Jordan, an accomplished journalist and author (holy smokes, Scoob). He's also a butt-hurt, crusty 69-year-old man who wasn't good enough to make it in the Major Leagues… and he seems to resent those who have. His most known work is A False Spring, "a bittersweet memoir about his minor league baseball career." Ironically, his latest piece, The Phillies' Four Aces, could have used the same title.
Jordan (PJ for short) headed down to Clearwater last month to spend time with the Four Aces. Here's the problem: The Four Aces didn't want to spend time with him. I can only assume they were busy doing other things, like being awesome, lifting weights, and fishing.
So, instead of accurately portraying the Phillies' starters, PJ decided to find fault with everything they did and wrote a story that will be seen by (guessing) millions. Seems responsible, no?
First, let's learn about PJ. PJ has gone on record to speak about the riff that exists between today's athletes and reporters. His 2008 piece on Slate, Josh Beckett Won't Return My Phone Calls, pretty much tells you all you need to know about PJ.
This has become the curse of modern sports journalism. Writers and fans alike no longer get to know the object of their affections in a way they did years ago. Athletes see us as their adversaries, not as allies in their achievements. They are as much celebrities as rock stars and Hollywood actors are. They live insular lives behind a wall of publicists, agents, and lawyers. They don't interact with fans or writers. They mingle only with other celebrities at Vegas boxing matches, South Beach nightclubs, and celebrity golf events, all behind red-velvet VIP ropes. We can only gawk at them as if at an exotic, endangered species at a zoo.
Oh, sure, some celebrity athletes make a feeble stab at letting their fans know them through their blogs (Schilling, Bonds). But those blogs are essentially self-aggrandizing and masturbatory. They reveal nothing genuine about the writer, as an objective magazine profile would.
Not surprisngly, PJ looooved Catfish Hunter, because Catfish Hunter spent four days with him:
I interviewed him while we drove to the stadium, and then in the clubhouse, and then after the game on our way to dinner, and even late at night in the hotel bar. We followed the same routine for the four days I was in Anaheim. Catfish's teammates looked on in envy. All those free meals from a sportswriter. An article in SI! It was a score for Catfish. In those days, there was no big disparity between the income of a writer and that of an athlete. Catfish was probably making about 20 G's a year, and I was making 25 G's a year from SI. That's why Catfish was so accessible—those free dinners, and, maybe, when my story came out, some employee for Skoal or Red Man tobacco would call up Catfish and ask him to endorse their products for a sum of money almost equal to his salary.
You see where we're going here, right? It's the Howard Eskin school of journalism: I like you if you like me.
PJ also liked Tom Seaver, because – you guessed it – Tom Seaver liked him.
Guess who didn't seem to like him? The Four Aces. Most notably, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, both of whom seemed to be the target of PJ's drivel.
Last month I went to the Phillies’ spring-training camp in Clearwater, Fla., to see for myself how their star pitchers stacked up against my idols from back in the day. I went straight to Greg Casterioto, the media guy, for my credentials. He laid down the ground rules. I couldn’t approach any of them at their lockers, in the weight room or on the field until he had spoken to them about an interview. Not even to say hello. He said the three older pitchers were nonverbal and gruff because they felt talking about their pitching might jinx it. Halladay, in particular, was very focused, always in some psychic zone that excluded others. “He works out at 5 a.m. for five hours before practice,” Casterioto said.
Oh boy. The tone wasn't good from the start. Apparently, PJ felt that because he was on location for NY Times Magazine, he was above all other media rules. He wasn't. And he was hurt by that.
Halladay regularly leads the majors in complete games, averaging greater than five a year. Which is an example of how far the bar has been lowered for greatness since back in the day. Spahn averaged 21 complete games a season from age 26 until he was 42 in 1963. Spahn also won 20 or more games in 13 seasons. Even more recent pitchers, like Jim Palmer, who was a part of that Orioles rotation in 1971, regularly completed 20 games per season. During one nine-year period, Palmer won 20 games eight times.
Thank you. We hadn't noticed that baseball had changed over the years.
A pitching coach told me: “Hamels makes mistakes. He’s not strong like Doc either. A few years ago he was the It guy after he was the World Series M.V.P. in 2008. But he started appearing everywhere.” In other words, Hamels became a celebrity beyond baseball. He appeared on “Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” with his wife, Heidi Strobel, a reality-TV veteran from “Survivor.” Hamels transformed from a laid-back kid from San Diego in O.P. shorts into a slickster in Hugo Boss suits with a buffed, boyish charm. His teammates began calling him Hollywood Hamels.
Actually, PJ, since we're so into "facts," you might want to note that Hamels' nickname was given to him by Ryan Howard, during his first year with the club. But I guess you weren't good enough to get that story out of him.
After four days, I was getting antsy. No interviews, no word from Casterioto. So I approached Halladay at his locker one morning. He turned his back and muttered, “Talk to Greg.” I went over to Hamels at his locker. Before I could speak, he brushed past me: “I’m busy.”
Busy being a Major League pitcher. Something you fell short of, PJ.
Of his disastrous meltdown in 2000, Halladay said: “It wasn’t that I was afraid. I was confused. I didn’t know what the problem was or how to turn it around.” Queen helped him physically. Mentally, he learned a lot from Harvey Dorfman’s book, “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching.” Dorfman has become a psychological guru for confused pitchers. His book is full of simplicities cloaked in athletic jargon that comforts pitchers who have never thought much about their craft. (Seaver always had his own theories about pitching.) Sample advice from Dorfman: “Address failure by defining it in situational terms, rather than personal ones. In other words, be certain perspective is clear.”
There's that Seaver fellow again. I wonder what would have happened if Seaver stiffed Crusty McPhailedtomakethemajors.
PJ then turned his sights to Cliff Lee.
In 2007, pitching for the Indians, he hit Sammy Sosa in the head with a fastball on a night the Rangers were honoring Sosa for hitting 600 home runs. The same game, Lee got into two arguments with his catcher in full view of the fans. Willis says Lee can be stubborn. Others have called him colorless and “not especially eloquent or intellectual,” a man who admits to having never read a book.
Perhaps he hasn't, PJ. But he most certainly could buy all of yours twice-over. That's the real issue here, isn't it?
Or is it this?
Lee bounced six consecutive curveballs in the dirt, then abandoned it for his pinpoint fastball, his comfort zone. “Oh, I love it!” Dubee said.
When I asked Nolan Ryan about Lee’s fastball, he said: “Well, he throws a lot of them. But I wouldn’t rave about it.” (Lee spurned the Rangers, where Ryan is an owner and the president, to rejoin the Phillies, for whom he pitched in the second half of the 2009 season.) Gillick said, “If I was a hitter, I’d uncork on that inside pitch.” Mike Schmidt, a Hall of Famer and a former third baseman with the Phillies, where he is now a hitting instructor, said, “I might be able to hit that pitch.” He added that he might be able to hit Halladay’s moving fastball too. “I’d just look for a ball away,” he said, “and let everything else go.”
After watching Lee throw, I followed him into the clubhouse and introduced myself. He looked at me with cold eyes, then said, “Tomorrow morning, 7:30.” The following morning, I sat down at the outside bench at 7 o’clock. At 8, I stood up and walked over to the open doors of the weight room. I saw Lee pedaling a stationary bike. I waited until he finished and followed him into the clubhouse. “I’m busy,” he said. “Tomorrow.”
Yep, probably that. Jeez, I can't imagine why the aces didn't want to speak to this guy. Five pages deep into his six page story and not yet a mention of Halladay's two no-hitters last year or Lee's dominant 2009 and 2010 playoff performances- although he did point out that Lee's fastball was hit around by the Giants in the World Series. His other eight playoff appearances… well, he was virtually un-hittable. Not in the story.
Zeroing in on Hamels:
I told him the knock against him was that when he was in trouble, batters looked for his change. “Definitely true,” he admitted. “I used to always go to my strength, but now I’ll go to a batter’s weakness too . . . unless it’s a curveball.” He smiled. “No, no, no way I’ll throw a curve in a clutch situation. I’ll throw my cutter.”
The cut fastball, popularized by the Yankees’ brilliant closer, Mariano Rivera, approaches the plate like an easy-to-hit fastball; then, as the batter begins his swing, it cuts in on his hands, or away. The cutter is a poor man’s slider.
He went on to describe why a cutter is less effective and easier to throw than a slider. Someone should have told him that during his failed minor league career.
Pitchers who rely on one favorite pitch [insinuating that all four of the Phillies starters do], instead of a variety of pitches, always lose effectiveness the more pitches they throw to a batter. Spahn often set up a batter by deliberately getting behind in the count 2-0, so the batter started looking for a fat pitch. That’s when Spahn went to work on him with his screwball, slider and big curve.
Spahn again. This guy really doesn't like to change with the times. Part of me hates to take low blows at an aging writer, but I'm guessing he hasn't figured out this internet thing, yet. We should be OK.
After more than a week, I formulated my opinion about what made these four pitchers successful. A deceptive pitch, great control and the need to stay within the boundaries of their talent. If they strayed too far from those boundaries, they feared that might destroy their success. This has made them very good pitchers, maybe even great pitchers in the game today. But in that pantheon of great pitchers throughout history, they seemed merely one-trick ponies in an age of diminished expectations of greatness. A harsh judgment? Possibly. So before I left the Phillies, I talked to one more man.
PJ's problem isn't with the Four Aces, specifically. It's with today's game. PJ clearly knows and understands baseball the way it was 40 years ago (although, he wasn't good enough to get to the Majors- did we mention that?), but he doesn't know – or like – today's brand of baseball. Instead of making that known and writing a piece on what makes the Four Aces so good at what they do, he used them – and their apparent brush-offs – to paint a picture of four dopes who perfected only one pitch, which they rely on whenever they are in trouble. This is something, if it wasn't so well-written, that you would expect to read on Bleacher Report, not the New York Times.
PJ's clear bias towards the modern day athlete – baseball players in-particular – was clear from the outset. Hell, it was made clear two years ago when he wrote about Josh Beckett.
But just to help prove his point, he turned to another desperate-for-attention baseball mind who doesn't mind bloviating: Mike Schmidt.
“Ryan, Gibson, Seaver, they made you defensive,” he [Scmidt] said. “Does that make sense? You were afraid of the ball. There’s no fear of the ball today with cutters, splitters and changeups.”
“What about the Phillies’ four pitchers?” I said.
“They’re not scary,” he said. “Even if they all win 20 games, the Phillies don’t have a pitcher who strikes fear in a hitter.”
Something tells me both PJ and Schmidt went out to catch a drive-in movie once the interview concluded.
Not that anything PJ (or Schmidt) said was incorrect. In fact, they both made some good observations about the way baseball has changed. But they're also both stuck in some sort of deep-seated time warp. Honestly, who gives a shit if a player is afraid at the plate? I'm fairly certain that some Phillies were "afraid" of Ardoldis Chapman's 105 M.P.H. fastball last October, but that didn't stop them from touching him up for two hits and three runs (un-earned) in 2/3 of an inning.
Chapman's teammates may have been as happy as a clam in the box against Halladay the day before- of course, they didn't get any hits that day. And that's probably all that really matters. Isn't it, PJ?
Or is this all because a few millionaires wouldn't give you the time of day?