Bill Conlin | What if they'd moved other aces to 'pen?

Posted: April 20, 2007

Editor's Note: When Bill Conlin began his annual April vacation, he said there were only two circumstances where he would consider interrupting it. One would be Ryan Howard being moved to shortstop. The other would be Opening Day starting pitcher Brett Myers being moved to the bullpen. Bill answered the phone on the second ring.

I WAS WATCHING a recording of the Weather Channel's "It Could Happen Tomorrow" when the jaw-dropping news of the panic-exile of Brett Myers to the Bullpen From Hell came in the roiled wake of Eskin vs. Manuel. It is a show that takes past weather and geological disasters and juxtaposes them into present time. It is scary stuff. Sort of like the 2007 Phillies.

The stunning Myers move took me back to April 25, 1955, when Phillies owner/GM Bob Carpenter pegged the baseball Richter scale by announcing that staff ace Robin Roberts was being moved to the bullpen - sort of. Carpenter: "Manager Steve O'Neill and I concur that our biggest problem is a weak bullpen. Every year since we won the pennant in 1950 has produced the same result: Robbie wins 20 or more games and we finish well out of the money. But Robbie will still be used as a starting pitcher as long as he is feeling fit and strong. We have decided to use five starting pitchers. This will give Roberts an extra day of rest between starts and he will be available for an inning on the second, third and fourth day. Our attendance is off from last year and I would like to see us draw more than 750,000 once more. We've already got four teams ahead of us and maybe Robbie can help us hold on to a few leads."

Bob Carpenter's words were an eerie echo on April 30, 1965. Still cowering in the shadow of the epic 1964 collapse, Phillies fans watched their phabulous phaders meander to a 6-8 start. The opening of Gene Mauch's press briefing dropped more jaws than a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. "Jim Bunning is going to the bullpen. Jim doesn't like it, but he understands it. And he's volunteered to pitch out of the 'pen before on his throwing day between starts. One of the reasons we lost last year was that nobody could come in late and throw strikes. Jim will give us that." Bunning was running in the outfield during Mauch's dugout press briefing. The beat writers were waiting at his locker before infield practice. "I have no comment," Bunning said. "Make that no bleeping comment. How do you think I feel? I'll do it because I'm under contract."

But the shock and awe of the Roberts and Bunning exiles paled before the consternation caused when manager Danny Ozark announced on April 24, 1973, that 1972 Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton would be moved to the bullpen for the balance of the season. "Lefty has been a little off his feed so far," the Wizard of Oze said. "He came to Clearwater suffering from bronchitis and hasn't built up the same stamina he had last year. By pitching out of the bullpen, Steve can stone two birds with one kill. He can work back to full strength a few innings at a time. At the same time, he can be one of the most effective relief pitchers in the game. I can see a day in the not-too-distant future when teams will use a specialist or two to hold a lead in the seventh and eighth innings and a specialist to close the deal. Maybe Steve can be like the first pioneer on the moon and turn a small step for pitching kind into a giant leap for baseball." Carlton sent a terse statement through spokesman and best pal Tim McCarver: "Only my friends can call me 'Lefty.' "

Carlton eventually resumed his Hall of Fame career as a starter, of course, but the woebegone franchise didn't have another certified No. 1 until Curt Schilling surfaced during the 1993 season, when somebody obviously sold their soul to the devil and the Phillies won pennant No. 5. But Jim Fregosi's Animal House quickly became termite-infested. The Phils were a rebuilding team with a terrible farm system when they were dumped in the lap of rookie nice guy Terry Francona.

After an 8-1 loss to the Diamondbacks - Schilling's future team - Francona announced on April 20, 1999, that his ace would be going to the bullpen. Schilling had already trashed the organization for "lack of commitment to winning," among other things. It was no secret that GM Ed Wade would be forced to deal him before or during his 2000 option year. Schilling called WIP with his reaction to the move. He did not yet have an Internet blog.

Well, that's it for another episode of "It Could Have Happened Yesterday." None of the moves did, of course. But let the record show that Brett Myers is the only No. 1 Phillies starter in the modern era since 1950 to be moved to the bullpen with long-term intent.

Do not fall into the trap of comparing this decision to the wildly successful bullpen transfers of established, premier starters Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz. Eck is a Hall of Famer who finished even better than he started. Smoltz is back as the Braves' No. 1 starter after his overpowering turn as a closer.

This move was thrust on Myers in a blinding flash of panic. He is a pitching work in progress and we can only hope this knee-jerk spasm by a doomed manager is not career-altering. *

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