Paul Hagen: Phillies GM Ruben Amaro doesn't deserve to be grilled

Ruben Amaro: give him time
Ruben Amaro: give him time
Posted: July 09, 2010

BASEBALL HAS YET to become hockey, which is to say that a career-threatening anterior cruciate ligament tear isn't likely to be blithely described as a lower-body injury. And, for that, we should be thankful.

Still, the Phillies have become much less forthcoming lately about revealing the real extent of injuries. Sometimes there is a competitive advantage to this code of omerta. Usually it's just secrecy just for the sake of controlling the flow of information.

But the Daily News has learned that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. quietly underwent a frontal lobotomy last offseason that has turned the Stanford graduate into a babbling idiot.

Aw, that's not true, of course. But you'd certainly get that impression based on the sea change in public opinion about Pat Gillick's successor over the last couple months.

In Gillick's final season running the Phillies baseball ops, 2008, the franchise won just the second world championship in its star-crossed history.

When Gillick retired, Amaro inherited a defending world championship roster. That almost never happens. And there was a quick rush to proclaim him a boy genius after he traded for Cliff Lee in the days leading up to the trading deadline, especially when that helped push the Phillies back to the World Series for the second straight year.

Amaro is being grilled now for two reasons. 1. He traded Lee last offseason. 2. The Phillies are in third place. And if the latter weren't true, the former would be a lot less relevant.

One more time: The Phillies made Lee an offer. He turned it down. He may have thought this was the start of negotiations, but he miscalculated. Amaro turned to Roy Halladay instead. And, really, is anybody going to complain about that?

The rejoinder is that, well, yeah, why not get Halladay and also keep Lee for 1 year, shoot for the moon? It's an alluring scenario. Except that the Phillies already had so much money invested in the lineup, that it was prudent to try to ensure that they would have a decent rotation to go with it. Halladay and Joe Blanton were birds in the hand. Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ were contracts under control. And anybody who doesn't remember that Blanton was the Phillies' most reliable starter last season until Lee arrived just isn't playing fair.

Amaro wasn't a genius last year. He's not a dope now. His legacy is still in the early stages of being written. It's also useful to remember, too, that he has bosses that he must report to. Don't you think that if he could have had both aces he'd have done it?

Here's a funny thing, though. If past really is precedent, one of the most thankless jobs in baseball is following Gillick as general manager.

Under his direction Toronto won world championships in 1992 and 1993. In his two seasons with the Orioles, 1996 and 1997, Baltimore made it to the ALCS. Hired by the Mariners before the 2000 season, Seattle went to the ALCS 2 straight years, including 116 wins in 2001.

Sobering reality: Not one of those teams has been to the postseason since Gillick stepped down.

There are a lot of reasons for that. The exchange rate between the U.S. and Canadian dollar made it difficult for the Jays to compete in the mid-1990s. Orioles owner Peter Angelos has proven to be, um, difficult to work for. And so on.

If the Phillies don't make the playoffs this season, Amaro will assume a share of the blame, just as he had the right to take a bow last fall. That's the way it works. In the meantime, let's all wait and see how this plays out.

Around the bases

STARS STRUCK: The reactions of two National League All-Stars, Pirates reliever Evan Meek and Braves utilityman Omar Infante, when told they had been selected to the team were pretty funny.

Meek: "It's my lucky day. Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket."

Infante: "I got a call from [Braves general manager] Frank Wren and the first thought I had was that I got traded. I was kind of nervous and choked up. By the time he told me I was going to the All-Star Game, I thought he was joking around . . . [When I realized he was serious] I was shocked. I couldn't believe it."

OBLIGATORY STRASBURG NOTE OF THE WEEK: Nationals righthander Stephen Strasburg graciously allowed that, after just six starts in the big leagues, he didn't deserve to make the NL All-Star team. Try telling that to the national media. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Strasburg has turned down interview requests from HBO's Real Sports, the CBS Evening News and Sports Illustrated.

HE GETS THAT A LOT: Twins reliever Alex Burnett got the nickname "Ali" in the minor leagues because of his striking resemblance to the former boxing champ.

ONE FOR THE AGES: Giants phenom Buster Posey caught Madison Bumgarner on Tuesday. "Our ages add up to 43. Last year I caught Randy Johnson when he was 46. Shows you what a long, great career he had," Posey noted.

CRISIS: Rays manager Joe Maddon acknowledges he's unhappy and not just because his team has been in a slump recently. But what really upsets him is the news that Steve Carell is leaving "The Office." "Tough news right there," Maddon said.

HEAR THEM ROAR: When the Tigers completed a sweep of the Orioles on Wednesday, it marked the end of an incredible streak of scheduling good fortune in which they played six straight home series against last-place teams. Give Detroit credit for taking advantage, though, going 15-3 when opportunity knocked.

LAST CALL: A week ago we took issue with home plate umpire CB Bucknor making an issue when the brim of Charlie Manuel's cap barely grazed his forehead during an argument. The Phillies manager served a one-game suspension as a result.

Now comes an incident Wednesday night when mild-mannered Indians manager Manny Acta got tossed for being unhappy about a pair of checked-swing punchouts. From all accounts, all he did was lean back on the bench, take off his cap and shake his head. Ridiculous.

Phair and phoul

* Don't blink: In five straight games beginning last Sunday, the Phillies fell behind on the 14th, seventh, 14th, third and 12th pitch thrown by their starter.

* Day nightmare: The Phillies are 12-17 in day games this year. That's as many losses as they had in day games all last season, when they were 28-17. They haven't had a losing record in day games since 2002. From 2003 to 2009 they were 198-157 (.558) when playing before dinner.

* Circle the date: Some people think the Phillies' season took a turn for the worse when Jimmy Rollins was hurt or when Ryan Howard signed his big contract extension or when the Colorado Rockies caught bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer with a pair of binoculars in the Coors Field bullpen.

Or maybe the fateful moment was May 24. They were off that day with a 3 1/2-game lead in the division. But that night, the Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens to advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

And since 1983, Philadelphia hasn't had two teams make the finals of their sport in the same calendar year. It could be a coincidence, but the Phillies went to New York and were swept by the Mets after that and have been struggling ever since.

* Former Phillie watch: Remember Gio Gonzalez? The Phillies got the lefthander from the White Sox in December 2005 as part of the Aaron Rowand deal. A year later, he was shipped back to Chicago, along with Gavin Floyd, for Freddy Garcia.

That turned out to be one of the worst trades the Phillies have made in recent years. Garcia won one game for the Phils and was paid $10 million to do it.

Floyd, a former No. 1 draft choice, has won 32 games for Chicago over the last 2 1/2 years. And Gonzalez, now with Oakland, is 7-6 with a 3.79 earned run average even after being knocked around by the Yankees on Wednesday night.

* Homer, sweet homer: Last year the Phillies were one of only four teams in the majors with at least 200 home runs (224) and 100 stolen bases (119). It was the third straight year they had done it. Not coincidentally, they made the postseason each year.

This year at the mathematical midpoint of the season they were on pace to hit 166 homers and steal 80 bases. Just saying.

* Aloha state of mind: Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino and catcher Dane Sardinha are the first native Hawaiians ever to start a major league game for the same team.