Remembering Jose Fernandez: Baseball’s Fountain of Youth

I rolled over Sunday morning to the gut-wrenching news. Like many, I’m sure, I thought it had to be a mistake. Jose Fernandez could not be dead. The news landed a swift body blow, lodging an ache deep in the recesses of my stomach. I flipped open my computer. Fernandez gazed back at me, his Baseball Reference page open and a Twitter search of his name sat on my screen from the previous night. From beneath his dark Marlins cap, a sly smile gazed back at me.

On the nightstand next to where my computer had been, one word stared back at me. Before falling asleep, I left a note on my nightstand. “FANTASY BEFORE 1:00,” a reminder to set my lineup for Sunday’s slate of games, the conclusion to 24 weeks of an unhealthy devotion to a Yahoo! Sports-facilitated quasi-reality.

FANTASY. This was anything but.

Last thing before I fell asleep late Saturday night, I learned that Marlins starter Adam Conley would bump Jose Fernandez from his turn in the rotation Sunday, the final day of my fantasy baseball championship. Jose Fernandez was my ace in the hole. I was deeply frustrated that Fernandez couldn’t help me beat my lifelong best friend in a fantasy championship (the pinnacle of bragging rights).

Baseball is an endlessly quantified game. Such a heavy focus on numbers distills the game and highlights statistics, drawing our attention to something we can see without actually seeing: an on-base percentage, a swinging strike rate, a run differential. You don’t need to see every at bat to appreciate a high batting average.

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The Final Piece: A Farewell To Ryan Howard

We knew it was coming. We’ve expected for at least a year that Ryan Howard would be the last man standing and now the time has arrived to say goodbye. There are less than twenty games remaining for the Phillies this year which means there are less than twenty games remaining in Howard’s Phillies career. It’s been a tortuously long and painful farewell as Howard’s performance on the field never rebounded from the Achilles’ injury he suffered in the final seconds of the 2011 NLDS. But instead of dwelling on the bad, we’re finally at a point where we can look at Ryan Howard and focus on the joy he brought to the city of Philadelphia.

It’s not easy to isolate a single favorite memory of Howard’s Phillies career. For me, my absolutely favorite thing about watching him play was more of a feeling than a single moment. For half a decade, every time Howard stepped to the plate you felt as though greatness was possible. When Howard took a swing and connected with a baseball, he hit the ball harder and further more consistently than anyone I’d ever watched in a Phillies uniform. He was among the most feared hitters in baseball and for good reason. He’s always been a one-dimensional player, but during the glory years that one-dimension was more than enough. He was a power threat that made it impossible to ever give up on a Phillies game. Howard could — and did — deliver heroic game-tying or go-ahead home runs at any time. He made the game fun, he made the Phillies fun, and he made the impossible possible.

Ryan Howard has hit 378 home runs for the Phillies — 386 including the postseason — which means great moments are easy to come by in reflecting on his career and the Phillies audiovisual team will never struggle to find enough material to build highlight reels for the copious tributes to Howard and the 2008 Phillies that surely await us in the coming years. I have found, however, that there is one moment that stands out for me as most representative of the greatness Ryan Howard was capable of creating.

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Goodbye, Chooch.

Hanging on the wall above my dresser, next to the decorative Phillies lamp, looking over the replica 2008 World Series trophy, is a framed commemoration of the great 2008 World Champions of Baseball. The multi-panel frame shows a box of infield dirt, which a hologram sticker assures me is from the actual playing surface. There’s also a picture of Cole Hamels finishing a pitch, under which is a shot of Shane Victorino leaping onto the victory dogpile. Undoubtedly, at the bottom of that pile is Carlos Ruiz.

Today, nearly eight years later and after eleven seasons in red pinstripes, Carlos Ruiz has been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Continue reading…

Once The Man; Always The Man

I’m in the business of words, but sometimes words simply aren’t necessary, so I’ll keep this short. When Chase Utley was traded a year ago, we ran a series paying tribute to our fondest memories of his Phillies career. You can find that series here — Utley Retrospective — if you want to read about Harry Kalas giving him his legendary nickname or one of the greatest plays in World Series history or moments when he lived up to hype in the most remarkable of ways.

As you know, last night was his return to Citizens Bank Park and I find myself speechless. There’s genuinely nothing left to be said about his Phillies legacy. He was a legend before last night’s game and he would’ve remained a legend this morning whether he went 0-for-4 or 5-for-5. Of course in retrospect, it feels entirely natural that he came in, put on a show, and became one of the few (if not the only) to receive three standing ovations and two curtain calls in a visiting stadium. But I’ve already written enough words. It was a moment beyond sense and coherent thought. It was a moment for feeling. So here’s the video for you to enjoy and feel whatever feelings you like, whenever you like:

Living Aloha: How I Rekindled My Love of the Game

I spent the last two weeks on-site at the Cal Ripken World Series as a team reporter for Team Pacific Southwest, a group of 15 12-year-old boys and three coaches from Honolulu, Hawaii. Oh, and upwards of 50 friends and family members who made the 4,863-mile trip from the island of Oahu to the expansive Cal Ripken complex just off I-95 in Aberdeen, Maryland.

Some necessary background: Cal Ripken Baseball is the youth division of the Babe Ruth League, the main competitor of Little League Baseball. In 2007, it wove an innovative thread into the time-honored quilt of youth baseball.

The unique twist debuted exactly 60 years after Little League Baseball determined all kids under the age of 13 would play on 60-foot base paths with 46 feet between the rubber and the plate. This new division, dubbed Majors/70, boasted 70-foot base paths and a 50-foot offering from pitcher to hitter.

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MLB Issues Ridiculous Defense Of Anti-Player Legislation

*Cracks Knuckles*

Thursday, in response to the anti-player Save America’s Pastime Act proposed by some jerk in Congress and denounced by it’s no-longer-as-jerky co-sponsor a day after she was bombarded with negative reactions, MLB released a totally bogus statement siding with the legislation, that makes them sound like a bunch of freaking idiots. In my humble opinion. I’ll just walk us through the text, point by point, and tell you why they’re either wrong or dumb, or maybe just making things up. Continue reading…

What Should the Phillies Have Discussed in their Team Meeting?

After Thursday night’s 13-2 loss against the Blue Jays, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin held a team meeting to discuss the Phillies’ poor play of late. After starting the season 24-17, the young team has been much worse over the past 30 days, with a record of 6-20. While the meeting may have simply been filled with platitudes about “working harder day in and day out” and “keeping your heads up,” I wanted to find concrete things the Phillies could do better to recapture some of their early season magic.


Over the past 30 days, the Phillies have easily the worst wRC+ among Major League teams. Their 68 wRC+ is a full 8 points lower than the White Sox in 29th place. Their hitters have the second-lowest walk rate, and the highest K%-BB%. They also have the lowest WAR at 0.0. In short, the Phillies need to do everything better. But that’s not exactly instructive, so let’s dig in and find a few specific things the lineup could improve upon. Continue reading…

Phils Pick RHP Kevin Gowdy, Plus Day 1 Wrap and Sentimental Rambling

With the first pick in round two, and 42nd overall on the night, The Phillies picked RHP Kevin Gowdy from Santa Barbara High School in (wait for it) Santa Barbara, CA. He’ll be an overslot sign to buy out his commitment to UCLA, and he’s been ranked #24 overall by Keith Law, #33 by John Sickels at, #39 by Baseball America, #37 by Sickels is right at the average, and pick 33 this year was worth $1.9M. So probably we can start there and go up. The club likely knows what he’ll take and is ready to nab someone else tomorrow morning at 3.1 with some or all of whatever bonus money’s leftover. Continue reading…

2016: Philadelphia’s Year of the Draft

Continuing our draft coverage, I took a macro look at the Phillies’ draft day situation in relation to the rest of the city’s pro teams. For a good read on just how convoluted the MLB Draft is a la “slot values” and high schoolers attempting to exert leverage over multi-billion dollar organizations, check out Corinne’s rundown. It’s the Wild Wild West…in Secaucus, New Jersey. It’s all meaningful for the Phils, who control the board with the first overall selection. For a taste of what Klentak, MacPhail and Co. may do with 1/1, read Brad Engler’s preview.

The folklore surrounding the first overall selection in professional sports drafts is unparalleled. It’s the sole factor linking the Greg Odens, Ryan Leafs (Leaves?) and Brien Taylors of the sporting universe, whose immense expectations are met only with more significant letdowns.

But here in Philadelphia, the first city ever bestowed with three top-two picks in the same calendar year (Phillies and Sixers with no. 1 overall, Eagles with no. 2), the repercussions of each selection could not be more different.

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Ryan Howard Has Come Full Circle

I remember when Ryan Howard first made his mark on the Phillies. I was thirteen years old, and he was called up to replace an injured Jim Thome. I love Jim Thome; he’s my favorite player of all time. So when Howard hit 22 home runs in about half a season, and I read reports that Howard was ready to replace Thome permanently, I was not happy. Then he won Rookie of the Year. That offseason, Thome was traded to the White Sox for noted face-smasher Aaron Rowand and a couple prospects, including Gio Gonzalez.

This was before I paid attention to the minor leagues and before I knew anything about advanced stats. All I knew was that I loved Jim Thome, and Ryan Howard forced him off the team. I was furious.

Then Ryan Howard came out in 2006, hit 58 home runs, and won the MVP. All with that charismatic smile and swagger. Being a fickle young fan, my opinion immediately changed. I still loved Jim Thome, but there was room in my heart for Ryan Howard too. And there was plenty of room for his trademark booming opposite field home runs. Continue reading…