Local Philadelphia Eagle, NASCAR and boys basketball

I wanted to make a quick post to link some stories I wrote this week.

Pocono Mountain West graduate Mike Bamiro goes into his second year with the Philadelphia Eagles, Jeff Gordon is in a perfect position going into NASCAR’s last week off and Jon DeJesus is the new boys basketball coach at East Stroudsburg North.


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Phillies need to be smart when it’s time to sell

Here’s my column that ran in Saturday’s paper:

I don’t need to tell you the Phillies should be sellers as trade season approaches.

That’s a foregone conclusion by now.

Despite a four-game sweep of NL Central leader Milwaukee that got them to 10 games under .500, the Phillies aren’t a good team.

Part of it is lack of talent on a roster poorly assembled by Ruben Amaro, Jr., but much of it is old age and injuries that have taken large tolls on players who used to have all-world kinds of skill.

So come July 31 or Aug. 31 (I’ll get to that later), the Phillies might look dramatically different than they did while winning five NL East titles, two National League championships and one World Series from 2007-11.

But just because the Phillies should sell, doesn’t mean they have to.

Doing something just to do something is rarely productive. And I’ll agree with team president Dave Montgomery that blowing up the team will be far too detrimental to attendance.

Whoever the Phillies decide to sell, and there’s no shortage of players on that list, they have to be smart about it.

And when I say that I mean they can’t overplay their hand or allow other teams to take advantage of them.

The Phillies will have to eat money on just about anyone they trade. Maybe not on Kyle Kendrick or A.J. Burnett, but guys like Marlon Byrd and Jonathan Papelbon have vesting options that will most likely force the Phillies to send money along.

Papelbon made it clear he wants to play for a contender, but his $13 million salary for next year is too steep for a reliever. A vesting option for 2016, which kicks in with 55 games finished in 2015 or 100 in 2014-15, won’t making dealing the temperamental closer easy.

Byrd is having a very productive season and is due $8 million in 2015, but he can vest an $8 million option for 2016 with 600 plate appearances in 2015 or 550 PA in 2015 and 1,100 PA in 2014-15. That would make Byrd an expensive 38-year-old (he’ll turn 39 on Aug. 30, 2016) outfielder/designated hitter.

The Phillies’ most attractive trade chip is Cliff Lee, but there are major issues with moving him, too. He hasn’t pitched since May 18 because of a sore left elbow. Lee has made two rehab appearances this month and is on track to return to the Phillies after the All-Star break. Money is another, with Lee guaranteed at least $37.5 million (that includes a potential buyout for 2016, but that would vest at $27.5 million if he pitches 200 innings in 2015) after this season.

Lee will make three starts before July 31, but if the Phillies can’t find a suitable buyer or good trade package they can always try to pass him through waivers and deal him by Aug. 31.

Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley could help contenders, but both have 10-5 rights and would have to waive them. Neither has expressed a desire to do that.

All of that puts Amaro in a tough spot.

He has to be smarter than he was when he traded Hunter Pence and Lee. The future of the Phillies depends on it.

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Mounties beat PV in softball

The story on Stroudsburg’s 7-6 victory over Pleasant Valley in softball didn’t make it online so here it is in blog form.

STROUDSBURG — Kat Liedberg never doubted her teammates. Neither did Kalista Gioglio.

They both knew Stroudsburg had plenty of time to chip away at its deficit.

Gioglio tied the game with a two-run dou­ble in the sixth inning, Liedberg scored the go-ahead run on the next play and Erica Mo­linaro pitched 5 1-3 innings of two-hit ball as Stroudsburg rallied for a 7-6 victory over Pleasant Valley in Mountain Valley Confer­ence softball Thursday.

Stroudsburg (12-5, 10-1 MVC) took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Sarah Canfield’s two-out RBI single, but Pleasant Valley seized control in the second.

Madison Shaneberger doubled and scored on an error, Jordan Meckes (3-for-3) scored two with a bases-loaded double and Brittney Bonser’s two-run single put the Bears up 5-1 to chase Stroudsburg starter Emily Kress from the game.

The Mounties went 1-2-3 in the second, but they knew the game was far from over.

“I believe in every one of my teammates and I knew that we could pick it up,” Lied­berg said.

While Molinaro was keeping the Bears at bay, the Mounties began chipping away at their deficit.

After a walk and an error put runners on first and second with one out, Madison Piz­zo singled in Liedberg to make it 5-2 in the third.

Liedberg drew another one-out walk in the fifth and scored all the way from first when Gioglio reached on an error to pull Stroudsburg to within two at 5-3.

“We just kept telling them to battle, keep fighting and that we could come back from this deficit,” Stroudsburg coach Maynard Frantz said.

Pleasant Valley (13-4, 11-1) pushed its lead back to three in the sixth when Meckes scored on Madison Shaneberger’s sac fly, but Canfield forced a PV runner out at second on Tracey Deubler’s one hopper to center field to end the inning to set the stage for a dramatic, and controversial, bottom of the sixth.

Emily Cramer walked and Molinaro singled, but it looked like Pleasant Valley got the first out on a force play on Amber Prisco’s ground ball. The field umpire ruled Molinaro out at second base, but after consulting with the home plate umpire, he ruled that the Bears bobbled the ball at second and called Molinaro safe to load the bases.

“I don’t understand how he could make the call when he tells me he’s looking at third (base) and then you see second at the same time,” Pleasant Valley coach Steve Caffrey said. “I just don’t see that, but that’s not what lost us this game. It’s not knowing what we’re doing on the bases and how many outs there are and not knowing what we’re doing in the field and how many outs there are and not making the plays when we should have.”

Kiersten Griesback got an out on a pop up, but Stroudsburg’s biggest plays were about to come.

Liedberg walked to force in a run and Gioglio followed with a first-pitch, ground-rule double to tie the game.

“That felt really good,” Gioglio said. “My teammates were all cheering me on.”

Pizzo followed with a ground ball, but Liedberg sprinted home and got underneath the tag to give the Mounties back the lead.

“I was really happy with the top of the order,” Frantz said. “Kat walked three times and that’s always a plus with Kalista behind her. And when Kalista came up, I told her she was in a big spot and that she could tie this game and she said, ‘Coach, why’d you have to tell me that?’ and it’s because it was a key spot and I knew she could handle the pressure and she came up big.”

So did Molinaro.

The sophomore had runners on in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth, but only gave up an unearned run. She saved her best inning for last, retiring the Bears in order in the seventh.

“My adrenaline was pumping and I was ready to go,” Molinaro said. “We had come all the way back. It was great.”

Stroudsburg 7, Pleasant Valley 6

Pleasant Valley 050 001 0 — 6 7 3

Stroudsburg 101 014 x — 7 6 2

PV, Kiersten Griesback and Mackie Caffrey; S, Emily Kress, Erica Molinaro (2) and Madison Pizzo.

W — Molinaro. L — Griesback.

SO-BB — PV, Griesback 5-4; S, Kress 1-1, Molinaro 6-5.

2B — PV, Madison Shaneberger, Jordan Meckes; S, Kalista Gioglio.

Records — Pleasant Valley 13-4, 11-1 MVC; Stroudsburg 12-5, 10-1.

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Bertola leads Spartans, Stroudsburg’s Battle heating up and PM West boys on a run

Here’s my basketball notebook that ran in Thursday’s paper:

Notre Dame of East Stroudsburg girls basket­ball coach Frank Bertola ex­pected his team to go through some growing pains early this season.

That’s only natural after four starters graduated from the most successful team in school history, one that reached the District 11 Class A title game and PIAA play­offs for the first time.

While the Spartans lost their first two games in De­cember, it was in that second defeat where Bertola started to see some growth.

Notre Dame trailed Lake­land by 21 points at the half and by 26 early in the third quarter before whittling the lead down to six points late in the fourth. The Spartans lost 67-57, but they had clearly turned a corner.

“That was really a turning point for the girls,” Berto­la said. “They got within six points of the lead with about a minute and half left and then just ran out of gas, but from there we reeled off six straight wins.”

Since that 0-2 start Notre Dame has won 12 of its last 15 games, winning its last five games. The Spartans are in the district playoffs for a fourth straight year with five games left to try and gain a high seed.

The outstanding play of se­nior guard Angelica Bertola — Frank’s daughter — has been a big reason for Notre Dame’s success.

Bertola has scored in dou­ble figures in all 17 games and has gone for at least 20 points 13 times. Bertola, who leads Monroe County in scor­ing at 23.4 points per game, is coming off a career-high 34 points in Tuesday’s victory over East Stroudsburg North, and she became the school’s all-time leading female scor­er when she passed Nancy Richards last Friday. She’s 34 points short of passing Jamey Bercier, who scored 1,495 points, for the all-time record at Notre Dame.

“She came into the season knowing that losing four starters was not going to be just tough on her but also on the team,” Frank Bertola said. “She worked hard during the summer to try and get everyone up to par, and coming into November she said that everyone had to step up and play together. She’s been a great leader on the court as well as off the court.”

The Spartans have gotten plenty of contributions throughout their lineup.

Freshman Krista Kissell is second on the team in scoring at 9.4 points per game and has eight double-digit scoring games, senior Annabella Stigliano has three doubledigit games, sophomore Kendall Farley has two and junior Lizzie Pope scored a careerhigh 16 points against North Warren last Friday.

“Krista Kissell puts in a good performance every night and, while she might not always hit double figures, she’ll have five assists and the other things that don’t show up in the newspaper,” Frank Bertola said. “Annabella Stigliano has stepped up tremendously and hadn’t seen much playing time before, but this year she’s doing great on the boards. Lizzie Pope has picked up her play both scoring and on the boards and Kendall has done the same. She’s just a sophomore and there will be a lot of good things coming from her in the future.”

Battle turning it up

Stroudsburg can wrap up the top seed for the Mountain Valley Conference boys playoffs by beating Pleasant Valley on Friday.

If the Mounties can do that, they’ll host next Tuesday’s semifinals with senior guard Jacob Battle playing his best basketball of the season.

Battle, a starter since he was a sophomore, has scored in double figures in seven straight games for the Mounties and in nine of his last 10 outings. Battle is averaging 18.2 ppg and has hit 20 of his 44 3-pointers this season in the past 10 games.

“He’s really been playing well for us in all facets,” Stroudsburg coach Shawn Thornton said after last Tuesday’s victory over East Stroudsburg North. “He’s scoring, he’s rebounding and he’s been getting the ball to his teammates. He understands that he’s going to be a main focus of other teams and he knows how to use that and to take what they’re giving him.

“He’s also provided us with a lot of leadership and I’m really happy with where he’s gotten to leadership wise as well as with how well he’s playing.”

Panthers ready to prowl

Pocono Mountain West has won three straight MVC boys titles and the Panthers will surely be in the hunt for a fourth next week.

PM West has won seven straight and has been fantastic at both ends of the floor. The Panthers are averaging 71.9 ppg and are allowing just 51.3 ppg.

Leading the way on the offensive end all season has been senior guard Joe Wiggins, who is averaging a county- best 22.9 ppg and is just 43 points shy of becoming the first male at West to reach 1,000 career points.

Freshman Lance Singh has also played well lately, averaging 14.5 ppg with 15 3s over the past six games. Sean Cooper has scored in double figures in five of the past seven games.

District bound

As teams still jockey for position in the MVC playoffs, a number of schools have qualified for the District 11 playoffs.

On the boys side, East Stroudsburg North, Pocono West and Stroudsburg have clinched berths in the Class AAAA playoffs. East Stroudsburg South needs to win its last two MVC games (against Lehighton tonight and ES North on Friday) to make the postseason for a third straight year. Notre Dame of East Stroudsburg, led by Tyrell Mann (16.4 ppg), Rob Farley (10.1 ppg) and Ramon Ned (9.9 ppg), is in the Class A bracket for the first time since 2008-09.

For the girls playoffs, ES South, Pleasant Valley, Pocono Mountain East and West are all in the Class AAAA playoffs with Notre Dame ES in the Class A bracket.

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Baseball Hall of Fame voting is a sham

Here’s my column that ran in Thursday’s Pocono Record on how broken the voting is for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Enjoy.

Congratulations, Baseball Writers Association of America members. You screwed up the Hall of Fame vote. Again.

I guess nothing should surprise me when it comes to who makes the Hall of Fame and who is left out in the cold, but to not have Craig Biggio as a member is just ridiculous. For a second straight year.

I’ve argued, against the grain mostly, that a Hall of Fame without home run king Barry Bonds or seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens isn’t a Hall of Fame at all. Pete Rose, who has 4,256 career hits, should be in, too, but my argument is with the writers who left Biggio, who in his second year of eligibility got 74.8 percent of the vote and missed induction by two measly votes Tuesday, off their 10-pick ballot.

Biggio’s candidacy begins and ends with this — he is the ONLY player in Major League Baseball history with at least 3,000 hits (3,060), 600 doubles (668), 400 stolen bases (414) and 200 home runs (291). For baseball, which resolves so much around statistics, to not have a player with those career numbers in the Hall of Fame goes against everything sustained greatness means. Biggio has more extra base hits than Mickey Mantle, more doubles than any right-handed hitter in history and more hits than Rod Carew, Wade Boggs and Babe Ruth.

While Biggio isn’t a unanimous choice (his career OPS is under .800, he only had one season of at least 200 hits and he only drove in at least 80 runs twice), he certainly deserves at least the required 75 percent to be enshrined. He should have had it in 2013 and definitely should have had it this year.

Biggio deserves it more than Lee Smith (171 votes, 29.9 percent) Alan Trammell (119, 20.8) or Fred McGriff (67, 11.7), who got votes from ESPN’s Pedro Gomez. Biggio is a better candidate than Jack Morris, who failed for a 15th and final time to get the necessary 75 percent despite support from MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick, who only voted for Morris and no one else who played primarily after 1992. Biggio has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs like drug-cheat Rafael Palmeiro, who is now off the ballot after not getting five percent of the vote despite appearing on the ballot of the Associated Press’ Rob Maaddi.

And this is where the Hall of Fame vote really becomes a joke.

Armando Benitez, Jacque Jones and Kenny Rogers all got one vote. It’s unknown if the writers who voted for those average-at-best players voted for Biggio, but anyone who put those three on their ballots should have their votes stripped immediately.

There are others who were snubbed Tuesday — Mike Piazza (the best offensive catcher ever), Tim Raines (he reached base more than voted-in members Lou Brock, Tony Gwynn and Honus Wagner), Jeff Kent (he hit more home runs than any other second baseman, and was the only second baseman with nine straight 60 extra-base-hit seasons and six straight 100-RBI seasons) and Mike Mussina (he pitched in the AL East his whole career and has a lower ERA+ than Tom Glavine, who got more than 71 percent more votes than Mussina on Tuesday).

But it’s Biggio exclusion that reveals just how broken, and embarrassing, the voting process has become.

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I was wrong, very wrong

I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong and I was very wrong about Chip Kelly.

I knew Kelly was a very good football coach. His success as an offensive coordinator at both New Hampshire and Oregon, and as the head coach at Oregon was plain as day. His offenses were explosive, dynamic and a nightmare for opponents, but Kelly had a big advantage in the college game. He could go out and recruit any player he thought would best fit his offense. Sure there were other teams recruiting the same players, but who could sell a young man on playing in an fast-paced, up-tempo, score-at-will offensive machine better than Kelly?

That was my major concern when the Eagles hired Kelly to be their head coach in January. There would be no more recruiting battles to win. No more mothers to win over in the living room. No more fathers to assure at the dining table. Kelly, like 31 other NFL head coaches, would only be able to select the players available when it was time to make his pick in the draft. And with the free agent pool diluted by teams wisely signing their best young players to extensions before they reach the end of their contracts, the chances of finding a true impact player on the open market was slim to none.

But Kelly did something that seems to be rare in professional sports anymore. He built his system around the players that he had (or acquired) instead of the other way around. He was not a square-peg, round-hole kind of coach. Kelly would adapt on the run and never look back.

Sure, it would have probably been more ideal in a perfect world if Michael Vick stayed healthy and ran Kelly’s offense. How much could a defense respect the running ability (more like a fast walk in reality) of Nick Foles? I preferred Foles over Vick because he takes care of the ball much better, but there’s no question as to who would put more pressure on defenses and keeps defensive coordinators up at night when you look at the two QBs.

Still, could Kelly’s offense succeed at the highest level of football? It was fun to watch the Eagles rip off 50-plus plays in the first half of the season opener against the Washington Redskins, but as it turned out they stunk to high heaven and could not be held as a barometer of things to come for the Eagles.

The true tests came after a 1-3 start. The Eagles rebounded with wins over the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Bucs, but the terrain got tougher after back-to-back losses at home to the Cowboys and Giants when the Eagles failed to score an offensive touchdown. Just then, by good fortune, the Oakland Raiders showed up on the schedule and Foles took the reigns for good.

With Vick on the bench after aggravating  a hamstring injury against the Giants — he had hurt it in the previous game against New York three weeks earlier and came back to soon after Foles suffered a concussion against Dallas — Foles tied a single-game NFL record with seven touchdown passes against the Raiders. Then he led Philly past the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers in Green Bay. Next was a victory over Washington at home on Nov. 17 — the Eagles’ first triumph at home since Sept. 30 of 2012 — and the Eagles rolled into the bye week at 6-5.

While Kelly’s offense started clicking on all cylinders — thanks to the running of Lesean McCoy, the receiving of DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper and tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz  and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL — the Eagles defense started coming around, too. Helped by free agent pickups Connor Barwin, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Willians, the D held nine straight opponents — including post-bye victories over Arizona and Detroit, when McCoy broke the single-game rushing record in eight inches of snow — to 21 points or less to vault the Eagles to an 8-5 record and the top of the NFC East.

The Eagles were rolling and with a lowly Minnesota up next and a one-game lead in the division they were in line for their first playoff appearance since 2010. Not so fast. Kelly got away from his top-ranked running game, the Eagles couldn’t stop a Minnesota team without its top two running backs and tight ends and special teams was a disaster in a 48-30 loss. Maybe the league was catching up with Kelly. Maybe his zone-read offense was beginning to look too predictable.

Not so fast.

Even after the Cowboys beat the Redskins earlier in the day to set up a winner-take-all Week 17 game in Dallas, the Eagles played all of their starters in a 54-11 thrashing of the Bears. Kelly’s reason to play for the win? “We’re from Philadelphia. We fight.” Indeed.

With Dallas QB Tomy Romo on the shelf with a back injury, the Eagles said all the right things leading up the NFC East championship game. Kelly was the leader. He knew Kyle Orton, who had started 69 games in his career, was no stiff. Minnesota’s Matt Cassel showed that the Eagles best not take any backup QB lightly.

The game against the Cowboys wasn’t perfect. The Eagles committed too many penalties, Kelly got conservative at times by running the ball in second-and-long situations and the defensive line couldn’t sniff Orton, but they held a two-point lead with 1:49 to go. The Eagles needed someone, anyone, to make a play and it was Brandon Boykin, a 2012 fourth-round pick who Kelly inherited, stepping in front of Miles Austin to intercept Orton’s final pass. Kelly called two running plays, McCoy picked up a first down and the NFC East was the Eagles again.

Kelly is not the sole reason for a six-win improvement over last year’s 4-12 embarrassment under Andy Reid.

Defensive coordinator Billy Davis never panicked after a rough start. Safety Nate Allen slowly improved and began looking like the player who showed so much promise as a rookie in 2010 before blowing out his knee late that season. The offensive line stayed healthy and started all 16 games, the first time the Eagles have had that since 2006.  Foles got better each week and, true to form, protected the football. Cooper bounced back after a preseason suspension for using a racial slur to have a breakout season in Jeremy Maclin’s absence. Donnie Long was a tremendous upgrade and the Eagles best punter since Sean Landeta left for good in 2005.

No, Kelly had plenty of help along the way, but it started with him. I’m glad I was wrong.

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Ruben Amaro Jr. is destroying the Phillies

Pat Gillick must be shaking his head and thinking: how can Ruben Amaro Jr. be this dumb?

What was Jeff Daniels’ line to Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber after Carrey sold their dog-mobile for a scooter? “Just when I think you couldn’t possibly be any dumber you go and do something like this … and totally redeem yourself!” Gillick must be saying the exact opposite regarding Amaro, the man who replaced Gillick as general manager after the Phillies won the World Series in 2008.

Last week, I ripped Amaro for giving Marlon Byrd a two-year, $16 million deal that carries a vesting option that if Byrd is healthy he’ll no doubt lock in and make the deal three years for $24 million. That deals pales in comparison to the news that broke Monday that Amaro gave aging, beginning-to-breakdown catcher Carlos Ruiz a three-year, $26 million contract with an option for a fourth year.

Listen, I like Chooch. He was a player the Phillies signed for $5,000 out of Panama all the way back in 1998 who became a key part of their playoff run from 2007-11, but no way is he worth the amount of money the Phillies guaranteed him Monday. Not even close.

I’m not going to go on a full sabermetrics rant, but there advanced metric numbers you just can’t ignore on Ruiz. Last year, following his breakout 2012 season that was tainted after it was revealed Ruiz tested positive for Adderall without a prescription for the second time in his career (the first positive test doesn’t result a in suspension, but does force a player to go through more stringent testing), he posted some of the worst analytical numbers of his career. His ISO (isolated power) was .100, the second lowest number of his career. His strikeout rate of 11.4 percent tied the highest mark of Ruiz’s career (2007 when he had 88 more plate appearances). His walk rate of 5.3 percent was the lowest Ruiz has posted by almost two points. His WAR (wins above replacement) was just 1.4, the second lowest number of his career after posting a 0.6 WAR in 2008 while playing 25 more games and raking up 32 more plate appearances.

Even when you look at basic statistics, there’s no way Ruiz should have gotten the amount of money the Phillies gave him over the life of the contract he received.

He hit five home runs in 341 plate appearances, or one more than he hit in 2008. Take away August and September, when Ruiz had 16 extra base hits in 153 at-bats, he had five in 157 ABs from April-July. His OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was the third lowest of his career. Ruiz’s slugging percentage of .368 was his seecond-worst mark after he posted a pathetic .300 in 2008.

Yes, Ruiz is a very good defender, but don’t tell me he’s worth the money because he calls a great game. If you watch a Phillies game you’ll notice Ruiz looking over at the dugout every now and then. That’s either because the coaching staff is either directing him to call a specific pitch or to call a pitchout or pickoff throw to try and control an  opposing team’s running game. Because he has very quick hands, Ruiz will get lazy every now and then and try to backhand a pitch in the dirt that his veteran experience should tell him he needs to block. That’s a mistake a young player should make, not someone who has been in the Major Leagues since 2006.

There was no way Amaro was going to blow up the Phillies and rebuild. Management won’t allow that and the Phillies will be signing a new television contract in the near future that wouldn’t be helped by a team full of unknowns struggling to win 75 games. Instead, Amaro’s first two moves of the offseason have resulted in the very high posibility that the Phillies will play sub-.500 baseball with a bunch of aging players who are making way too much money for way too long.

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Amaro does it again

This is the column I wrote for Thursday’s Pocono Record. Enjoy …

Ruben Amaro Jr. can’t get out of his own way.

Just when you think the Phillies are ready to turn the corner into the 21st century — they hired Scott Freedman last week to add advanced metrics into player evaluations — they go and hand 36-year-old Marlon Byrd a two-year, $16 million deal with a vesting option that would make it three years for $24 million.

I know what you’re thinking: Miegoc is one of those sabermetrics guys who only cares about WAR, BABIP and ISO. Not true. Not even close. I’m also not going to ignore them or their relevance and importance to baseball.

The Phillies have done a good job of turning a blind eye to analytics since they exploded when the use of Moneyball pushed the Oakland Athletics to success in the early part of this century.

This isn’t a similar situation because the A’s did what they did because their bank account wasn’t bottomless. The Phillies’ isn’t either, but their payroll will probably be around $160 million on opening day and most of it isn’t being spent wisely.

Before the Phillies hired Freedman, who worked for Major League Baseball’s labor department and assisted teams in salary-arbitration cases, they were one of a few teams who didn’t put much weight into advanced metrics. Really, they pretty much thumbed their noses at them and chose to rely on what their scouting department saw in players.

I know what they saw in Byrd, who is coming off by far the best year of his Major League career that happened to start in Philadelphia in 2002.

Once thought to be the Phillies center fielder of the future, Byrd couldn’t even find a Major League contract last year. The Mets gave him a minor-league deal and he rewarded them with 21 home runs, 71 RBIs and slash line (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) of .285/.330/518. New York flipped him for two prospects in August to the Pirates, who also got good production (three HRs, 17 RBIs and a line of .318/.357/.486) in 115 plate appearances from Byrd.

On the surface those are great numbers, but they lose their luster when you dig a little deeper.

The home runs and slugging percentage were career highs by a good margin. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was just 1 hundredth of a point behind his 2008 season with the Texas Rangers, but also came in 135 more PAs. His ISO (isolated power; basically hard-hit baseballs) was a career-high .220 after only ever sniffing .200 (.196 with Texas in 2009) once. His WAR (wins above replacement) was 4.1, tied for the highest of his career, but it was only the fourth time he’s been above three.

Maybe Byrd is getting better with age, Miegoc. Hold on, I’m not done.

His strikeout rate (24.9 percent) was the highest of his career by more than four points. Byrd’s walk rate (5.4) was the second lowest of his career (he had a 5.2 in 2011). Then again Amaro doesn’t care about walks, just production. Just ask Delmon Young, who worked out so well in 2013.

Byrd will likely replace Young in right field. A statue would probably play better defense than the former No. 1 overall pick, but Byrd won’t be reminding anyone of Roberto Clemente. A good defender earlier in his career, Byrd really fell off last year. Fangraphs gave him a value of minus 3.7 (zero would be average), just three seasons after he had a 12.2 for the Chicago Cubs.

And then there was Byrd’s suspension in 2012 after testing positive for using a performance enhancing drug, something Byrd will always be associated with going forward.

Perhaps 2013 was a precursor of a great finish to what was once a promising career. Maybe Byrd will reward Amaro and the Phillies like he did the Mets a year ago. A quick look at his stats might make you hopeful, but don’t ignore the numbers behind the numbers.

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Terrance King headed to Ireland

Terrance King already had post-college plans early in his career at East Stroudsburg University.

On Tuesday, King put pen to paper to realize that lifetime dream.

King, a standout forward at East Stroudsburg North High School and ESU, signed a one-year contract with UCD-Marian of Ireland’s SuperLeague.

The opportunity to play professional basketball was something that was on King’s mind from the start of his time at ESU.

“I can remember going into the office and talking to (ESU head) Coach (Jeff) Wilson and (assistant) Coach (Justin) Potts and when they asked me what my long-term goals were basketball wise I told them I wanted to play professionally,” King said. “Whether it was in America or overseas somewhere, they told me that if I worked hard that they believed I had the talent to do it. I’ve been working hard the last four years and it paid off.”

After a solid career at ES North, where he made the All-Mountain Valley Conference and Pocono Record All-Area first team and was the MVP of the MVC as a senior, King was a four-year starter at ESU.

He was the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East Freshman of the Year as the Warriors won a single-season school record 24 games and made their first NCAA tournament appearance in 2010. King averaged 10.3 points and five rebounds per game as a sophomore to set up a big junior year, one that saw him help the Warriors win their first PSAC championship since 1991. King, an All-PSAC East second teamer, was named the MVP of the tournament after averaging 22.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game during the three-game run to the title.

King followed that up with a dominant senior season, earning a spot on the All-PSAC first team while leading the conference in field goal percentage as the Warriors won the PSAC East title.

“That first year was the hardest,” said King, who finished his career at ESU ranked eighth in points (1,337), seventh in rebounds (690), fourth in field goal percentage (.564) and third in blocked shots (180). “I had to get used to the physicality and everybody was bigger and stronger. Getting in shape was a big part of it, too. In the offseason I was always here running and lifting to make sure I was in the best possible shape for the next season.”

His play at ESU got King noticed, but he had to wait for the professional contract he coveted.

UCD-Marian, which plays in Ireland’s top division, had shown interest in King a few months ago, but was in the process of searching for a head coach. Once Ioannis Liapakis was appointed to the position last month, the team got back in touch with King and sent him a contract. He spent some time looking it over with his family and by Tuesday it was signed.

“I want to play to the best of my ability and help them win a championship,” said King, who will join UCD-Marian on Sept. 1 as it prepares for the season that starts later that month and runs through early March. “I want to play my best and hopefully get another contract for next year and keep playing basketball.”

It’s the latest chapter in a book that saw King go from a local high school standout to helping the Warriors win 82 games, two PSAC East titles and a PSAC championship over the past four years.

“These have probably been the best four years of my life,” King said. “The guys I came in with, we had a good core of talent, and we had an opportunity to change the program and we did that. I have a lot of good memories of teammates and coaches.

“Everybody got along, there were never any issues, and I’m going to miss it.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

McNabb goes out as best Eagles QB

Pasted below is the column I wrote in Tuesday’s Pocono Record on Donovan McNabb, who retired as a Philadelphia Eagle on Monday and will have his No. 5 retired on Sept. 19. Enjoy.

Donovan McNabb will never be the most popular athlete in Philadelphia, but there’s no question that he is the best quarterback in Eagles history.

Forget the boos, controversies with teammates and commentators and his nonchalant attitude. McNabb did for the Eagles and the city of Philadelphia what no quarterback did before or since.

One of the most polarizing figures in the annals of the city’s rich sports history, no quarterback in team history achieved more. McNabb, who will have his number 5 retired on Sept. 19, holds 11 records and led the Eagles to the most regular-season victories (91) and playoff wins (nine) by a quarterback. All other Eagles quarterbacks combined for 10 playoff wins.

But the relationship between McNabb and the Eagles’ passionate fans didn’t get off to the best start.

Reid chose McNabb with his first draft pick, taking him with the second selection in 1999, but he was greeted with boos during what should have been the signature moment of his athletic career. Led by Philadelphia mayor and season ticket holder Ed Rendell, the fans wanted Texas running back Ricky Williams, but Lurie revealed Monday that the choice would have been Miami running back Edgerrin James had McNabb not blown them away during the draft process.

It didn’t take long to change the fans’ minds.

By his second season, McNabb almost single-handedly led the Eagles to the playoffs after they had gone 8-24 the previous two seasons.

In 2001, the Eagles began a run of four straight NFC East titles, but it also started a stretch of coming up short when it mattered most.

A week after leading the Eagles to a victory over the Bears in his hometown of Chicago, McNabb’s interception in the final minute against St. Louis sealed the first of three straight losses in the NFC Championship game.

McNabb returned for the playoffs in 2002 after breaking his leg in Week 11, but he was rusty and the Eagles laid an egg in a 27-10 loss to Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship game which was also the last game at Veterans Stadium.

Lincoln Financial Field opened the next season, but the Eagles got off to an 0-2 start and McNabb was criticized by Rush Limbaugh, who said “the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.” McNabb and the Eagles bounced back, winning 12 of their last 14 games, but a week after a fourth-and-26 conversion helped the Eagles rally to beat Green Bay, he threw three interceptions and broke a rib in a 14-3 loss to Carolina in the NFC Championship game.

After a career of throwing to second- and third-rate wide receivers, the Eagles finally gave McNabb a top-flight option when they traded for Terrell Owens in 2004 and the two hit it off immediately. The Eagles looked primed to finally reach the biggest game of the season and the fourth time was the charm when Philadelphia beat Atlanta (without Owens, who had broken his leg in early December) in the NFC Championship game a day after a blizzard dumped nearly two feet of snow on Philadelphia.

McNabb and the Eagles had reached the pinnacle, but again couldn’t get the job done. McNabb threw three interceptions and the Eagles took too much time on their second-to-last possession (there were reports McNabb threw up, but he said that was “a myth”) and lost 24-21 to New England.

The relationship with Owens began to break when he said, “I’m not the guy who got tired in the Super Bowl,” during the offseason. By the time training camp rolled around, McNabb and Owens were not speaking and trading barbs through the press. At one point, Reid kicked Owens out of practice only to see the enigmatic receiver do shirtless sit-ups in his driveway while surrounded by the media. Owens played through Week 8 before the Eagles suspended him for the reason of the season.

That was the beginning of the end for McNabb in Philadelphia.

He played 2005 with a sports hernia before it became too much in Week 10. He put up MVP numbers early in 2006 before tearing the ACL in his right knee in Week 11. McNabb returned in time for the 2007 season, but clearly wasn’t healthy and the Eagles missed the playoffs at 8-8.

McNabb was up-and-down in 2008, when he didn’t know a game could end in a tie during a 13-13 stinker against Cincinnati, before being benched at halftime against Baltimore in Week 12. He bounced back to lead the Eagles to the playoffs, where they fell for a fourth time in the NFC Championship game in a loss to Arizona.

The Eagles had a chance to win another division title in 2009, but McNabb and the team played poorly in the season finale against Dallas and the Cowboys ended their season in the wild-card round the following week when McNabb played an air guitar as he walked out of the tunnel before the game.

McNabb’s Eagles career ended on Easter 2010, when Reid traded him to Washington for draft picks. McNabb won in his return to Philadelphia, but was so bad with the Redskins that they traded him to Minnesota the next year. He was benched after 1-5 start and released by the Vikings that December.

McNabb maintained he wasn’t retiring, but admitted Monday that teams were only interested in him being a backup.

Being second string and moving his family around wasn’t appealing for McNabb. What he can take comfort in is his well-deserved place in Eagles history.

Posted in Eagles | Leave a comment
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