Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mike Schmidt joining Comcast SportsNet's Broadcasting Battle Royale for "Sundays With Schmidt"

Apparently the Phillies’ television broadcast this season is going to have more combinations than a six-man tag team event at Wrestlemania.

At first it seemed that the overhaul of the booth had ended when Chris Wheeler and Gary “Sarge” Matthews were unceremoniously given the boot by the overlords at Comcast SportsNet and replaced by former Phillies Matt Stairs and Jamie Moyer thanks to control seized by the massive cable entity when it shelled over $2.5 billion in a new television contract.

Already Stairs and Moyer were on a strange schedule where they would work 30 regular-season games together, then split the rest of the games in a two-man booth with play-by-play guy Tom McCarthy. Now there’s another wrinkle added.

According to a report by the Philadelphia Daily News, a Comcast SportsNet content partner, Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt will be in the booth on home Sunday games this season. A person familiar with the situation within the obsessively controlling confines of Comcast SportsNet did confirm that Schmidt was on board, although they requested anonymity based on the company’s meddling desire to dictate when such things are announced.

Later in the day, Comcast put out an official release on Schmidt’s 14-game agreement, which has been given the original moniker, “Sundays with Schmidt.”

The news came on the morning of Stairs and Moyer’s first broadcast, Wednesday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Blue Jays.

Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure on Cole Hamels' first bullpen session

Caught up with Bob McClure to comment on Cole Hamels' first mound session of spring after having biceps tendinitis over the winter that set him back about two weeks to open camp:

What did you think of Cole? Did he throw for 8 minutes?

MAC: “We went on pitches, in the 30s. He threw all his pitches and looked very free and easy. Down in the zone was good, arm action looked good, health was great. 
“I would say he’s 100 percent healthy. That’s the way he looks right now, without being even with the other guys as far as (throwing) BPs and stuff. It’s like if camp had started today when he threw, that was the way everyone looks. So, it looks good, really good.
“Everything was full extension, free and easy.”

Should that mean he will be in his first Grapefruit League game in two weeks?

MAC: “In two weeks? I would think yeah, because his health looks so good. But I’m not saying I’ll do that … but from a health standpoint he looks good. We’re just not going to push it. I can’t tell that there was anything wrong.”

Is his missing the opening turn of the rotation a firm decision? 

MAC: “He could probably (pitch in the opening turn of the rotation), but we aren’t going to push it.”

Monday, February 24, 2014

Chris Wheeler the same guy, embarking on a new stage of his life


CLEARWATER, Fla. – While Monday represented the beginning of what many people hope is a long and entertaining career for Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs as the color commentators for Phillies television broadcasts, Chris Wheeler continues to adjust to a new existence away from the camera.

Wheeler, the Broomall native who spent 37 years in the broadcast booth for the Phillies, knew long before almost anyone else what was coming. Phillies president David Montgomery knew that a lucrative television deal with Comcast/NBC Universal essentially had been forged by September, and he knew that Comcast SportsNet was going to use its increased say in the television broadcast talent to push Wheeler and Gary “Sarge” Matthews out of the booth. Before the Phillies’ penultimate home game of last season, on a rainy day in Philly, Montgomery decided to let Wheeler know what was coming.

“Dave Montgomery told me on September 21 that I wasn’t going to be back to do the games,” Wheeler said. “He said to me it was a very difficult thing for him to have to tell me, but there were extenuating circumstances. You all know … it was Comcast’s decision. And he wanted me to know as soon as possible because he felt he owed me that because of our relationship for so many years and because
I deserved that.

“So I did the last nine games knowing I was a lame duck, and that was a little difficult … Leaving the booth that Sunday, I caught myself looking around as I walked to the bus. We went to Miami and Atlanta, so I did the games down there. Tom (McCarthy’s) wife got sick at the time, if you’ll remember, so I wound up doing play-by-play for two or three games.

“Just me and Sarge, two lame ducks sitting there.”

It turned out that ironing out all the details of the $2.5 billion television contract took more time than originally thought. So Wheeler sat at home for months, silently knowing what finally would become public knowledge in early January.

There are bruised feelings, for certain. Any professional wants to depart on their own terms. But the toughest part for Wheeler was the knowledge that the job that truly had dominated his life for 37 years wasn’t going to be there. That change will begin Wednesday, when the Phillies’ first Grapefruit League game will be aired with Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs sitting where Wheeler and Sarge had been.

When the Phillies fly to Arlington, Texas, for the season-opening series, it will be the first time “Wheels” wasn’t on the plane with them since the bicentennial.

“The last time I didn’t go on the road was 1976,” he said. “I’ve been on every road trip from ’77 on, which basically means that I’ve pretty much seen every game. Because even when we got better as a team and we wouldn’t do a Fox game or an ESPN game or something, I would still watch the game. I can’t help it. I love baseball. I love watching the games. So I think that’s what’s really going to feel different.”

Wheeler won’t be without baseball. The Phillies immediately encouraged him to stay with the team in some capacity, and although he hasn’t received a specific job title yet, not much in the first couple of weeks of camp has changed for Wheels. Monday the organization hit the links for its annual golf tournament in Clearwater, something Wheeler has been in charge of organizing for years. And as the workouts have gone on the last two weeks, he has been visible, shaking hands, sharing stories and laughs.

Anyone who comes to Bright House Field this spring will hear Wheeler as the public-address announcer, something he’s done when the games aren’t televised. And when the regular season starts…

“One of the things they want me to do is go around the ballpark and play the role of Chris Wheeler – whatever the hell that is,” he said jokingly. “Anybody who has something in the organization that they may want me to do, like play golf with a sponsor – that will be a hardship – go into a suite, maybe talk to one of the sponsors dinners, offseason speaking engagements, which I’ve always done a ton of.

“The door was wide open. (The Phillies said,) ‘We want you here. We think you have skills that other people don’t have. We’d like to use your skills.’ And my first reaction was, ‘Sure. What am I going to do without baseball?’”

It’s uncharted waters for Wheeler. Maybe he will find the ability to be away from the game a bit refreshing, maybe not. But when it was mentioned that two of his longtime colleagues, Richie “Whitey” Ashburn and Harry Kalas, literally died doing their broadcasting jobs and that this meant he wouldn’t, he appreciated that perspective.

“Oh, I’ve thought about that,” Wheeler said. “Whitey said ‘Boys, they aren't going to find me in some hotel room.’ He used to say that! And when it happened, I’ll never forget Harry and I kind of looked at each other and were like, ‘Geez, is that going to happen to us?’ And then you all know what happened to Harry, (he died) right in the booth.

“So yeah, I will not go to my dubious reward as a broadcaster. I lost all three of my guys. Andy Musser died a few years ago … Those three guys were very important to me. We all worked together for so many years. It’ll be the first time since 1962 that one of the four of us won’t be on the air this year. That’s a long time for four guys to have whatever legacy we all had. To me I was just the fourth guy in there.

“I just love baseball and all I ever did was sit there and just want to talk about that game, what I saw and share it. Some people liked it, some people didn’t and after a while I really didn’t care.”

Throwing the first Grapefruit League pitch for the Phillies this spring is ...

... Roberto Hernandez!

Hernandez will start Wednesday's home game against the Blue Jays. Phillippe Aumont, whose straightened-out mechanics has been one of the more encouraging signs early in camp, will work a late inning in that one, as well.

The big intrigue of Thursday's rematch in Dunedin will be the debut of Miguel Gonzalez, who is slated to pitch two innings. Cliff Lee will start that one.

The other eyebrow-raiser will be A.J. Burnett's debut in a Phillies' uniform. That will come Sunday against his former teammates when the Phils host the Pirates. That also marks Jesse Biddle's first Grapefruit League appearance.

You can check out the full pitching schedule below.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Transcript of Ruben Amaro Jr. on Draftghazi

The Phillies decided Saturday to address the controversy over the reporting of two of their 2013 draft picks to the NCAA after both decided to return to college for their senior seasons after the second, Oregon State pitcher Ben Wetzler, received an 11-game suspension for what the NCAA decided was a violation of agent/amateur player rules.
First came a press release:

“The Phillies did participate in the NCAA investigation and a ruling has been issued.  We believe it is inappropriate to comment further on either the negotiation with the player or the action taken by the NCAA.”

Then came a brief Q & A with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.:

Q: Are you worried about how this could affect your ball club?

RAJ: No, I'm not.

Q: Do you think it could affect you, getting on college campuses, checking out guys, and in future drafts?

RAJ: I think people know we do things professionally and the way we go about our business. So I think our reputation is very good.

Q: Was there a breach of professionalism by the Phillies?

RAJ: No, as the statement says, to me it really is not appropriate to talk about either the ruling or the decision. And that's something that is policy for us anyway. We don't talk about negotiations and things like that, and I don't think it's appropriate in this case either.

Q: Was it the same player agent involved in both cases?

RAJ: No.

Q: Was anyone on your staff reprimanded? Is Marti (Wolever) still in charge (of scouting)?

RAJ: Oh yeah. He's our scouting director and our assistant GM. Again, these are things that we don't think are appropriate to talk about.

Q: Were you aware when the incident was raised (in November) that it was being raised?

RAJ: I was aware.

Q: So it was cleared by you?

RAJ: I was aware, that's all I can say. Again, it's not really appropriate to talk about these things.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

DRAFTGHAZI: Phillies accused of snitching on a pair of unsigned draft picks to the NCAA

The Phillies haven't had the best offseason from a PR standpoint, but most of that has involved turning Citizens Bank Park into Jurassic Park by signing players with stats from their days in the Paleolithic League to multi-year deals.
The storm that's brewing Thursday is a little uglier. Baseball America's Aaron Fitt revealed in this story that an Oregon State pitcher Ben Wetzler -- who was oddly referred to in some draft lists as Ben Holmes -- has his senior year in limbo while the NCAA investigates allegations that he violated rules by hiring an agent, as opposed to the legal wrinkle that allows drafted players to retain an "advisor" to deal with contract talks.
The allegation is that the Phillies, who drafted him in the fifth round, reported him. Not only that, but Phillies sixth-round pick Jason Monda of Washington State, also was reported to the NCAA, but was cleared of wrongdoing and is on the field.
Ruben Amaro Jr. deflected questions about the matter to scouting director Marti Wolever, who refused comment in the Baseball America story. Attempts are being made to contact him.

Wolever did make reference to Monda's situation when the Phils signed first-round pick J.P. Crawford, as Monda almost immediately rejected any contract talks and told the Phillies he was heading back to WSU.
"He agreed to the draft and then just changed his mind; he just decided to go back to school," Wolever said. (June 18, 2013)

This is the type of story that can do much more damage than one would initially consider on the surface. If there had been one player reported, it might seem like a legitimate gripe. The fact that the Phillies reported both of the top 10 round draft picks who rejected them makes it seem more like a vendetta.
And that can be an ugly, ugly stain as details of this become more clear. It can taint the wait college coaches and other players view the franchise. It's not good.
More to come.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Jonathan Pettibone on sore shoulder: "It's upsetting"

While A.J. Burnett officially joined the Phillies' rotation Sunday, one of the pitchers expected to be in competition for the final opening in it had a setback.
Jonathan Pettibone, who had a strong rookie campaign before an inflamed shoulder forced him to shut down in August, is having more shoulder soreness and didn't work off the mound Sunday morning as scheduled.
"I think we're just getting it at an early stage," said Pettibone, who had an MRI done last fall that showed no structural issues, "so hopefully we can just push going off the mound back a few days and go for there.
"I'm going to get on anti-inflammatories tonight and hopefully that shuts it down."
Pettibone, who went 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 18 starts with the Phils last season, said it was the same sensation as last year's but at a far earlier stage than when he finally went to the trainers then.
With veteran Roberto Hernandez and Cuban mystery man Miguel Gonzalez the other top candidates for the final rotation spot, Pettibone can't afford to miss too much time. But he can't afford to be anything less than his best, either.
"I want to be ready more than anyone, especially missing the end of last year," he said. "This wasn't part of the plan. I was working my tail off this offseason making sure I'd be ready, so it's unfortunate and upsetting.
"My main goal is that I want to be healthy and I want to be in that competition, so that's the only thing I'm focused on. I want to be in a position where I give myself a chance to make that fifth spot."

Location:N Old Coachman Rd,Clearwater,United States

Friday, February 14, 2014

Jim Fregosi, manager of the 1993 Phillies, remembered in Clearwater

By DENNIS DEITCH, @DennisDeitch
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Twenty-one years ago, on these same fields where the Phillies are getting their bodies ready for the long journey that is a major-league baseball season, Jim Fregosi took his team on one of the most extraordinary journeys in franchise history.
They were miserable in 1992, going 70-92 and finishing dead-last in the six-team National League East. But from the moment the 1993 team arrived in Clearwater, there was something different.
I know that the key guys, the core guys on that team, started out the first or second day of spring training by going out after practice and kind of making a pact that they were going to do everything possible to win,” Phillies chairman Bill Giles said Friday morning. “We played harder in the spring games of ’93 than any spring training I’ve ever seen. I remember (Darren) Daulton and (John) Kruk and these guys, particularly when we played the Yankees, played like it was the seventh game of the World Series.
“I’ve never seen a team play as hard as they did in ’93 and it set the tone for the season.”
The Phillies did get to that World Series, ultimately losing in dramatic fashion to the Blue Jays. Yet that Fregosi-managed team remains the favorite of Giles and countless others in Philadelphia who came to appreciate the fact that never had a team gone so far with so little expected of it.
Jim Fregosi died early Friday in Miami, four days after suffering the first of a series of strokes. The loss stunned those who knew Fregosi as a big man with an aura of indestructability, one with a barrel chest and a quick-trigger sense of humor.
Ruben Amaro Jr., who went from a utility player often ribbed by Fregosi in 1993 to the team’s general manager, wept openly as he tried to describe what the man who won 1,028 games as a manager and made six All-Star appearances as a shortstop before he turned 29 meant to him.
“These last couple days have been very difficult for the Phillies organization, the Phillies family and me on a personal basis,” Amaro said. “Baseball lost a great person and a great baseball man today.
“I’m indebted to him for a number of reasons, personally … Jimmy gave me an opportunity to come back and play here in Philly.
It is the latest tragedy to befall a member of that team. Fregosi’s right-hand man, bench coach John Vukovich, died seven years ago after a long battle with brain cancer. Catcher Darren Daulton and pitcher Curt Schilling are battling cancer; first baseman John Kruk, pitcher Danny Jackson and backup catcher Todd Pratt had bouts with cancer, as well.
“It’s tough,” Larry Bowa, Fregosi’s third base coach in 1993, said. “You start thinking about playing at the Vet and this stuff happening. Yeah, it’s tough. This one caught a lot of people off guard.”
“It’s awful,” Amaro said. “I have a lot of close friends – obviously Darren with his health issues, losing Vuk several years ago – and those are all things that bring back really rough memories. All we can do is hope and pray Dutch works through it.
“I told my Mom this morning that maybe it’s good that Jimmy and Vuk are together.”
Bowa, who has returned to the organization this season as Ryne Sandberg’s bench coach, recalled how Vukovich ribbed Fregosi for the fact that he superstitiously wore the same heavy coat in the dugout all season.
“Vuk used to call him Jimmy Jackets,” Bowa said. “In ’93, it was a hot summer, it would be like 100 degrees out there and he would have that big jacket on. We’d say, ‘Are you crazy, managing with that jacket on?’ He said, ‘Hey, as long as we keep winning I’m wearing this jacket all year.
“He was old school … He’d play cards with the players. He and I were partners. We’d always get two players and normally when you play cards with a manager or coach, you’re in trouble. We used to take some advantage of that and make some money in the summertime … We’d win about 10 in a row and then we’d lose, and he’d say, ‘Bow, you’re the dumbest card player I’ve ever seen.’”
The 1993 Phillies were loaded with card players, cigarette smokers, tobacco chewers, oddballs and outcasts. Long before the Red Sox ever broke Babe Ruth’s curse or grew out their facial hair, the 1993 Phillies had set the bar for baseball players who had just rolled out of a moving boxcar. And yet Fregosi had complete authority over the clubhouse, with Daulton serving as his conduit.
“He was very straightforward and honest with the guys,” Amaro said. “He would jump Pete Incaviglia as fast as he would jump Ruben Amaro. It was very, very easy for him to do that, yet at the same time he also tried to pump you up. He was always available. I think he had a really good feel from being on the field as long as he was. He had a really good feel for people, just a big personality, big ego, great to be around. He knew a lot about the game – and would tell you he knew a lot about the game. But you loved that about him.”
There was an unsightly ending to Fregosi’s career, as the veteran players who had their career seasons in 1993 started to break down and decline swiftly. In 1994 he had unflattering off-the-record comments about those who listen to and host shows on WIP leaked to the station, putting a strain on his relationship with the city. He was fired after the Phils collapsed to a 95-loss season in 1996. Fregosi would manage the Blue Jays in 1999-2000, then spent the remainder of his career as a special assistant to the general manager with the Atlanta Braves. That hardly meant he spent his time sitting in an executive box. Fregosi was a regular behind the backstop at Bright House Field, scouting the Phillies.
I had a phone conversation with (Braves president) John Scherholtz,” Phillies president David Montgomery said, “and he said that was Jimmy Fregosi – everywhere he worked he kept in touch and was such a friend of so many people. Spring training is obviously a place to remember him because in that scout section or press room, there was always a corner and there was some homage paid to Jimmy.
“He had that great knack of projecting what a guy might be able to be,” Bowa said. “He could see a player in the minor leagues and tell you if he would be in the big leagues and most of the time he was right. I heard him say a lot of times, 'This guy won't play in the big leagues.' You looked at him and said, 'Are you crazy?' And the guy never got to the big leagues.
Fregosi had gone directly from the playing field to a manager’s job in 1978, retiring from the Pirates and taking over the Angels, the franchise where his best playing days took place. The next season, the Angels won the A.L. West.
Yet the 1993 Phillies brought him the most amount of notoriety.
We had a guys that bought into what Jimmy was trying to do,” Bowa said. “He always told those guys, ‘I don’t care how old you guys are, or what you did last year, I believe that you guys can win.’
“Let’s face it, we caught lightning in a bottle. But he had those guys believing they could win. That’s hard to do sometimes. Players know when you’re pulling the wool over their eyes. They started believing.”

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cole Hamels Out (For Now), A.J. Burnett In For Phillies

By DENNIS DEITCH, @DennisDeitch
CLEARWATER, Fla. – In Day Minus-1 of spring training, the Phillies revealed the highest-paid player in franchise history isn’t going to be ready for Opening Day, then moments later added another wheelbarrow of money to a contract offer to A.J. Burnett in order to cover for the loss.
Cole Hamels met with the media at Bright House Field Wednesday morning and disclosed that he has been dealing with a bout of biceps tendinitis in his pitching shoulder this offseason. The issue has set the southpaw back enough that he already has crossed off the early days of the regular season as a possibility.
“Don’t feel alarmed,” Hamels said, trying to temper the dread fans already have when it comes to baseball’s oldest team. “It’s at the point where I feel healthy, but I want to build the strength and stamina and not reinjure myself. I’m glad we were able to find it earlier.”
With knowledge of Hamels’ situation and a brutally thin back of the rotation, the Phillies scrambled and agreed with Burnett on a one-year, $16 million deal, according to multiple reports. Burnett, 37, revived a career that seemed to go off the rails in the Bronx by going 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA in 61 starts with the Pirates over the last two seasons. The addition means the Phillies have three of the 28 pitchers in baseball who have thrown 300-plus innings and have an ERA below 3.50 in 2012-13.
However, one of those pitchers is Hamels (3.33), who gave an optimistic spin on an injury that cropped up when he tried to resume a throwing program in November and December.
“I’m behind schedule in my throwing program,” Hamels said. “I was talking with our trainers and Dr. Ciccotti, and he diagnosed tendinitis and (advised) I lay off throwing for all of December, then picking it up in January. So I’m in the middle parts of the throwing program, so you’re not going to see me throwing off the mound for the first couple of days.
“I feel great, I just don’t have the strength or endurance to throw a bullpen. Right now my comfort range is at 120 feet (flat-ground catch). When I’m able to do that efficiently and for a long time, then I’ll be ready to go off the mound.”
Hamels, who signed a six-year, $144 million contract with the Phils during the 2012 season, believes that he is about a week to a week and a half behind schedule, which makes the early pronouncement that he won’t be ready for the start of the season a bit odd. Most starting pitchers consider the last start or two in the Grapefruit League more of a nuisance than anything.
However, when a sore shoulder is involved, pitchers tend to get less bold. Hamels was assisted when he saw recently retired Roy Halladay in late December.
I did see Roy over the holidays, and we hung out and told me the same thing (as the medical staff),” Hamels said. “In spring training is where you can get some really bad tendencies in your mechanics and flaws if you don’t have the right kind of strength…
“Being able to have advice was great from a player of the caliber (Halladay) – I guess I have to say, ‘he was.’”
At least the injury prompted ownership to give the OK to spend more money. Burnett was considering retirement, but decided he would pitch for a team relatively close to his home in Maryland. That had the Pirates, Orioles and even the pitching-rich Nationals talking with him, but the Phillies went huge with the one-year offer and landed the right-hander.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jamie Moyer, Matt Stairs officially color commentators for Phillies TV broadcasts

Six weeks after unceremoniously canning Chris Wheeler and Gary "Sarge" Matthews from the Phillies' broadcast team, NBC/Comcast has ended its search for replacements by coming to terms with a pair of former Phillies who came to the organization in the twilights of their careers and were part of the 2008 World Series team -- pitcher Jamie Moyer and pinch-hitting specialist Matt Stairs -- to serve as co-color analysts. A source close to the negotiations confirmed the matter was settled Tuesday morning. Comcast confirmed the hires later in the say.

According to a story by's John Finger there will be a three-man booth for about 30 games and the Moyer and Stairs will split the rest of the games as a two-man team with play-by-play man Tom McCarthy, which will allow each former player time to take breaks and spend time with their families.

With Moyer being more of a straight-laced professorial baseball man and Stairs a quippy, beer-can crushing free spirit, one could see their stints in the booth as a good cop/bad cop blend, with McCarthy being able to focus more on his job and less on the small talk.

It will be the first time in 37 years that Wheeler won't be part of a broadcast, and his departure marks the end of an era that featured Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn and Andy Musser in the booth along with Wheeler from the 1970s into the new millennium. Kalas (2009) and Ashburn (1997) died while on the road with the team, while Musser was replaced in 2001 and passed away two years ago.

Considering the relative youth of this new group of broadcasters -- Moyer is 51, Stairs and McCarthy 45 -- it has an opportunity to become a staple for decades if the personalities mesh.

Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen remain as the radio broadcast team and, unlike the TV group, are employed by the Phillies. The organization's recent contract extension with NBC/Comcast has given the network the responsibility of choosing the talents on television.