Bob Ford | Manuel rates a 'nice try' on meltdown meter

Posted: April 21, 2007

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That spats between media members and baseball players or managers are mildly interesting but generally pretty meaningless.

It's just that these days the things are on live television.

When Howard Eskin picked a sore spot on Charlie Manuel the other night, questioning whether the manager shows the proper urgency to win, the banter turned into good television that simultaneously improved Eskin's ratings on the radio and Manuel's in the clubhouse.

On the long highway of a baseball season, however, this mini-meltdown was little more than an unexpected lane change. It didn't rise to the level of past confrontations, most of which took place in a far more private environment. It certainly doesn't compare with the day super-caffeinated shortstop Larry Bowa punched columnist Ray Kelly Jr. of the Courier-Post in the locker room. Or even the day tightly wound pitcher John Denny stalked a Cincinnati writer through the back corridors of the Vet for some perceived slight. Denny caught up with the writer - who wasn't that popular, either - and there was some minor cuffing around in the tunnel behind home plate but not the double knockout everyone would have preferred.

Another more memorable exchange, one documented for eternity on recording tape, took place in the office of manager Dallas Green during August of the strike-interrupted 1981 season. I was sitting there with a handful of writers when Jayson Stark of The Inquirer asked a joking question about the team's struggles to play well after the layoff.

"F- you, Jayson. Ask the f-ing question right," Green exploded, and then he was off and running, dragging the writers through a deep thicket of bleeps and bloops. At full volume, Green was impressive, and his long tirade easily carried into the clubhouse.

When it was over, Green got up and opened the side door that led to the coaches' dressing room, his signal the session was over. We filed out and, as we did, one of the coaches - I remember it being Mike Ryan - stuck his head in and said quietly, "Who asked it?"

"Jayson," Green said, and they both smiled. Which meant to me that the whole thing was planned. Green just needed a match for his fuse.

Was Manuel equally as crafty? In one move, he achieved just the thing Eskin accused him of lacking - a show of emotion that might wake up the locker room - and a huge dollop of job security. The Phillies, who have an almost pathological (and somewhat understandable) preoccupation with WIP, would rather provide free parking than make a personnel move that appears to be a response to the views of radio station personalities.

That NBA referee Joey Crawford is worth the occasional misstep he takes on the court.

Commissioner David Stern suspended Crawford for the end of the regular season and all the playoffs following an ejection of San Antonio's Tim Duncan that the commissioner thought was unwarranted and out of line.

Crawford is pugnacious and combative at times, but he is also among the best basketball referees in history. In a league that has steadfastly tried to robotize its officials, he is a throwback to a day when referees called the game on "feel" and understood that creating an atmosphere in which the players could decide the outcome was their paramount mission.

Of course, that is exactly what Crawford didn't do when he ejected Duncan, and there's no question he let his temper get in the way in that instance. He should have been reprimanded, probably fined, but depriving the players of a great official during the entire postseason is an overreaction.

That putting Brett Myers in the bullpen is neither a good idea nor one that will last the season, regardless of what the Phillies say now.

Robbing the starting rotation in order to pay the bullpen is a very short-sighted solution to the team's current pitching woes. It also rewards Jon Lieber for his month-long pout concerning his demotion from starter to reliever.

Beyond that, though, it sends the wrong message to the clubhouse when the opening day ace is required to stick his split-finger in the leaking dam that is the team's late-inning relief. Ryan Madson, Antonio Alfonseca, Geoff Geary, Matt Smith, listen up. We think so little of you we're willing to blow up the starting rotation to keep you out of the games.

Those guys aren't the best, but if the Phillies are going to contend this season - still more than just possible - they will all have to pitch well eventually, and the rotation will have to be sound, too. Without Myers, that might not be possible.

We can hope that Lieber is being showcased for a trade and Myers will be back as a starter sooner rather than later.

That when the Flyers aren't involved, the NHL playoffs are just a rumor.

Although that Canucks-Stars match tonight should be a corker.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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