30 October 2008

During a 27-year championship drought you forget how to experience this. I don't believe it happened. I am accustomed to feeling a combination of hope, frustration, remorse, and bitterness at this time of year, following a Fall Classic with two other teams involved, followed by a Spring of the Philly symphony of if, if, if, if, if.

I started rooting for the Phillies in the late 70s.. mostly '78. That club had such a strong combination of hitters and pitchers, Hall of Famers like Schmidt and Carlton, a solid bullpen and top fielding, that I became accustomed to that level of play. After losing to the Dodgers in the NLCS in consecutive years, then-owner Ruly Carpenter outbid the rest of the league in the free agent market and signed Charlie Hustle, Hall of Famer Pete Rose, who represented the more reliable World Series winning model in Cinci. His annual salary was a record $800,000. We had a 5th Grade video project where students were picked to answer the question, "Should Pete Rose make more than the President?" I said that multiple teams were bidding for Rose, and many people wanted to be president, so the laws of supply and demand applied. Of course that idea was pushed aside for the statements on cue "The President should make more because he makes important decisions, etc..." and so my years of disenchantment with school began.

Then there was '80 and Tugger et al and I never was so excited to be a Phils fan as then, right before adolescence.

After the '81 strike season Carpenter wanted to sell the team, and the buyer turned out to be team VP Bill Giles fronting for a group of investors that included Dave Montgomery. Giles initially wanted to meddle with player personnel and his longstanding feelings about certain players became apparent. I remember being in school on Nov 20, 1981 when OF Lonnie Smith was traded to the Cardinals for C Bo Diaz, concurrent with the Phils giving up on C Bob Boone on the grounds that he couldn't throw out runners. There was an immediate sense of doom and melancholy, knowing that two important players had been lost and that great team was being taken apart. The following years Smith hit .307 with 120 runs and 68 stolen bases and was the runner up for the MVP. Boone went on to success with the Angels which included league-leading effectiveness throwing out runners. Then that January, Philly icon Larry Bowa was traded away for the Cubs' shortstop Ivan DeJesus, who had just hit .194 for the Cubs with a .233 slugging percentage, and the Phillies wanted to make the deal so bad they threw one of their AAA prospects in, the Oklahoma 89ers SS Ryne Sandberg who had batted .296 in the American Association at age 21. DeJesus went on to slug .313, .336, and .306 in his three years as a Phil and Sandberg won 9 Gold Gloves, Rookie of the Year, MVP the following year, enshrined in Cooperstown, one of the best ever..

The following year, the Phils traded away a SS prospect that had slugged .499 in AAA ball, Julio Franco, in a six-player deal that brought in Von Hayes, a solid player for many years. I remember looking at pictures of Sandberg and Franco in my yearbooks and then having to watch them star for other teams. After the Rose-Morgan '83 World Series team came The Steve Jeltz Era which was in full force by the mid-eighties, when spring training hype would turn to disappointment year after year, coupled with the Sixers trading Moses Malone in '86 for Jeff Ruland and then the top pick in the draft for power forward Roy Hinson, even thought they already had Charles Barkley at power forward. When Barkley left town I stopped watching basketball, and I didn't watch any football, including the Super Bowl, for some 10 years until Limbaugh started ribbing McNabb and I was dating an attractive Eagles fan. It became clear that the Phils were being run poorly, the emphasis was being placed on marketing and the silent partners behind Giles were guided by profit motive, while Steinbrenner was asserting himself increasingly as a megalomaniac who would spend anything to win in NY.

The minor league system was awful, too, as high school outfielder/bust Jeff Jackson became so emblematic of its decline that they were afraid to pick high school athletes for many years afterwards. By '92, they went outside the organization to grab Mike Arbuckle from the Braves, who were oozing prospects, to direct the minors. As a Baseball America subscriber for much of the 90's, I can say that the Phils usually didn't have a lot of players on the Top 100 list but after time the system turned out today's nucleus. Ryan Howard was a low draft pick, Utley a 1st rounder without the great athleticism that draws attention, Rollins and Rolen were both picked in the 2nd round out of high school. Myers and Hamels were the utilization of top picks and Pat Burrell, the top pick his year, came to represent the Phils consolation for being too stubborn to sign J.D. Drew, who got the same exact contract after a year-long holdout.

Rolen was ran out of town after false reports of lucrative offers and unfair smears by the management. Thus began the David Bell era, which included waiting way too long for Utley to start his MLB career to keep Bell, the light-hitting brown nose, in the lineup and eventually trading Placido Polanco because they didn't want to bench Bell. Feliz came through tonight but they still haven't replaced Rolen. Likewise, Howard resorted to having his agent say 'play me or trade me' and thanks to an off-year by Jim Thome, the Phils turned to Howard when Gillick came to town and ate half of Thome's contract for Aaron Rowand. My good vibes about Gillick can be found here, and I'm afraid that even though Arbuckle and Ruben Amaro, Jr. are smart guys, I prefer GMs like Gillick who come from outside the culture of the Phils organization. That post even includes my impomptu poem in the comments section:

Every baseball winter in Philly is the winter of our discontent,
Made glorious summer by deluded public relations copy
And all the promises of glorious autumns
In the masochistic accumulations buried...

Ed Wade was the GM for quite a while, and like most Phils fans I'm not an Ed Wade fan. The best thing Wade could do for the team was get hired by the Astros and give the Phils Brad Lidge. Gillick got Lidge knowing that Wade was a PR man through and through and would pay a premium for a bunch of Phils prospects, Michael Bourn and Mike Constanzo, who weren't any good but had been hyped up so much that Wade began to believe his own BS. The Wade era consisted of a lot of hype and missed opportunities while Wade and manager Larry Bowa both talked endlessly about how great they each were and their selfishness was, as Rolen stated on the way out, "a cancer." When Wade finally canned Bowa he realized that the PR coup of bringing Bowa in to manage had blown up in his face, because the fans sided with Bowa over him. Then he interviewed nine managerial prospects in a high-publicity fashion, including Jim Leyland who never really was under consideration because of the possibility he might quit and rip management. Managers who quit forfeit their contract while managers that get fired get paid the remainder, and when the Phils wanted Jim Fregosi out they started to undermine him hoping he would quit and he held out til he was fired, upon which he gave a press conference beaming with the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders. Managers who do quit, in deference to the organization, like Tony Pena and Leyland are treated worse because of the fear that they can't be controlled by money.

All this bitterness on a championship night seems odd but that's what being a Philles fan means. I knew, though, going into this post-season that they had the bats and the bullpen to go all the way, but this was the Phillies, and I had become accustomed to dashed hopes. I even was much less fatalist about the situation than most after the Mets signed Johan Santana, because fans place much too much stake in the off-season acquisition of proven players. I hope they can tie up Howard, Hamels, Werth, Victorino, and Madson to multi-year deals. I hope they give Lou Marson a shot to catch soon, Jason Donald a chance to help out somewhere, and work in young pitchers like JA Happ and Carlos Carrasco.

But for tonight: Yo Philly!!!

02 October 2008

McCain: Six degrees (actually two degrees) of Chalabi

During the last presidential debate, John McCain correctly said: "The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave (Iraq), when we leave, and what we leave behind. That's the decision of the next president of the United States."

Shouldn't, then, presidential candidates not have lobbyists that are making millions of dollars on the Iraq War as their chief advisors? The lobbying firm founded by McCain's senior advisor Charlie Black, BKSH (B stands for Black) has received over 1.6 million from Occidental Petroleum for services. Late in July, OP CEO Ray Irani told Wall Street analysts in a conference call "There are some very large fields in Iraq which are going to become available. The huge ones will be run by...the oil majors and companies our size."

What Black's firm mostly has to offer in Iraq is access to the operations and contacts of Ahmed Chalabi, who was Iraq's Oil Minister as late as 2006 while serving as Deputy Prime Minister. This April 2008 article in The Nation reports that seven months after the Senate Intelligence Committee was told that Chalabi had misled the U.S. Congress on WMDs, Chalabi was riding a helicopter again with Gen. Petraeus, and Black's firm is the primary middleman that U.S. companies use to avoid having to pay Chalabi directly.

"The business elite was eager for a seat at the table. Corporate executives flocked to conferences, corporations set up divisions to work on developing business in Iraq, consultancies thrived and newsletters proliferated to detail legal niceties and dispense advice. BKSH was going to get in on the ground floor of the industry. Charles Black said it was a busy time. "After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein a lot of US companies, some of our long-term clients as well as some people who weren't our clients, came to us and were looking to do business in Iraq," he explained. The problem, he said, was that BKSH was not "going to be over there. We didn't have an office over there or have full-time personnel." (endquote)

"But the Chalabi operation did. Margaret Bartel, an accountant who had been hired by the State Department to sort out the INC's books and stayed on to become a key member of the organization's staff, was taking in Defense Intelligence Agency funds and delivering them to Chalabi's intelligence operation. Zaab Sethna, Chalabi's press aide, was also in Iraq. As Black explains it, "Peg was there and Zaab was there, so we just referred business to them." Bartel and BKSH reached an agreement: in exchange for a referral fee, BKSH would send clients to Bartel's consulting company, which would set them up with contacts, influence, housing, security and everything else they would need to get themselves started on Iraqi reconstruction. In the gold rush of 1849, they say, it was not the miners who got rich but the operators who sold the picks and the shovels and the wagons and the denim. So it was in Iraq, with the likes of Bartel, the INC and BKSH. The American businessmen would be the miners taking their chances, and the PR operatives and INC loyalists were selling the picks and shovels."

McCain, who has said previously the US could be in Iraq for "100 years or more," said in the Friday debate "the important thing is, if we suffer defeat in Iraq, which General Petraeus predicts we will, if we adopted Senator Obama's set date for withdrawal, then that will have a calamitous effect in Afghanistan and American national security interests in the region. Senator Obama doesn't seem to understand there is a connected between the two."

The MSM has an absolute responsibility to ask John McCain, on behalf of the public, if Charlie Black has influenced his decision to stay in Iraq longer than the recommendations of General Petraeus, who told Financial Times in late August that U.S. troops could be out of Iraq by July of next year.