Don McKee: A few parting shots after 38 years at the Inquirer

Posted: July 10, 2012

Sunday was my final day at The Inquirer after 38 years, and this is the final column I'll contribute as a staff writer.

It's been a great ride, from the month Richard Nixon left the White House to the month Christina Lurie left her husband, what's his name.

I know what you're thinking - that it was fabulous to cover Mike Schmidt, Jack Nicklaus, Ron Jaworski, Charles Barkley, and Bobby Clarke. But as much as I respect and admire all of those gentlemen, my joy in 42 years of sports writing came from a far different source:

It enabled me to live my life without an alarm clock, and, after about 1978, I never had to wear a tie.

I know I brought something to these pages because, in 1992 (while beginning a decadelong radio career) a fan from Delaware County called and said, "You are the most negative single sports writer in Philadelphia!"

I've worn that as a badge of pride for 20 years because if worshipful fans find you negative, it means you're not worshipping at the altar of the same false gods that they kneel before. And it sure as hell means you're not drinking the Kool-Aid they swig down in Mason jars.

If I have one regret from 40 years in the area, it's that no amount of education from some of the greatest writers of the late 20th century was able to make a dent in Philadelphia's psyche.

This is still a small town where writers and broadcasters are expected to smooch up to the teams and athletes beloved by the fans, and are reviled any time they don't.

A loyal reader wrote in once to tell me my columns were totally predictable. Every one of them contained three items: a dull, boring JoePa reference, a great trivia question, and a cheap shot at Andy Reid.

Hey - some notes were more successful than others. And Andy has survived quite nicely with no help from me. Maybe none from Joe Banner, either.

But rather than dwell on the past - because the sick, twisted, Jerry Sandusky case reminds us that a heart of darkness can beat in any human being - let's look to the future.

Here's what's in store for your heroes:

Phillies

It's become a local cliché to say this team lacks chemistry. Horse manure; it lacks heart. The stunning number of runners stranded on third - almost always when the gagging hitter strikes out - demonstrates a distinct lack of backbone.

It's time to admit 2008 is over. Way over. Clean house, then bring a fire hose into the locker room and flush out the debris.

Joe Blanton, Placido Polanco, and Shane Victorino will be free agents in October. Give them a head start, if at all possible, then do this: Take the $10.5 million Blanton has absorbed this season and add it to Cole Hamels' $15 million.

If Hamels wants CC Sabathia money, there it is. And don't be mingy about it. Give him the bleeping money.

Polanco and Victorino make nearly $16 million combined. That, plus the $4 million paid Ty Wigginton should get you David Wright after he plays it out with the Mets.

Then at least you'll be able to show your faces in 2013.

But if you really want to be adventurous, unload power running back Hunter Pence (and his $10 million salary) and remind yourself that Chase Utley's $15.2 million will be off the roster after 2013. Take that $25 million-plus and go after Josh Hamilton.

Yes, it's a gamble, but it's one the fans will support. And yes, it's time for the home team to start worrying whether fans will continue to shell out Andrew Jacksons to watch a team that lollygags its way to 14 games out before the All-Star Game.

One more thing: 'Retire' Charlie Manuel and appoint the water cooler the manager.

Flyers

The orange and black seem intent on eradicating every vestige of the 2010 team that went six games into the Stanley Cup Finals with three (meaning no) goalies.

Management became convinced that Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were cancers that had to be shed as soon as possible. Maybe. But they led a team with no goalie to the Stanley Cup Finals and now they're skating (OK, roller-blading) around Los Angeles with a Cup of their own. So how bad could they have been?

76ers

This team seems to get it. The second-round exit in late May was a mirage, made possible only by critical injuries to the Chicago Bulls in the first round. Don't let a mirage confuse your vision. Move out the old and build around the young, then bring in the new.

Eagles

Apparently owner Jeffrey Lurie looked around on Groundhog Day and not only saw his shadow - he got booed.

Lurie seems suddenly to have learned that his team - reasonably successful on the field, fabulously successful financially, and deeply involved in community charity - is the second-most despised in Pennsylvania.

So Jeff asked Andy Reid to show his inner Santa Claus, unloaded lightning rod Joe Banner, and set off after public approval.

He won't succeed. Lurie may know that a huge part of the Birds' PR problem is Reid - partly his on-air persona, but mostly his failure to win a Super Bowl. But if the owner knows it, he hasn't acted on it.

Most fans assume Reid must make a title run this fall to be back in 2013. False. A winning record will keep Reid in place.

And the Lombardi Trophy will continue to live in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and New York - every surrounding NFL city - but won't come to Philadelphia.

Sorry to blow up your illusions one last time.


Contact Don McKee at mckee49@yahoo.com.

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