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SI FOR KIDS
Philly's cast features a few rising stars but a few too many star-crossed pitchers
By Mark Bechtel
If the Phillies ever stage a production of Damn Yankees, the seemingly logical choice to play the role of Lola, the musical's manipulative femme fatale, would be Scott Rolen. After all, the 23-year-old third baseman did hit up the Philadelphia front office for a four-year, $10 million contract before the start of last season, though he had all of 193 major league games under his belt. This February, a few months after Rolen reportedly said he couldn't see himself spending his career with the Phillies if they continued to play on artificial turf, the team unveiled plans for a new, natural-grass stadium tentatively scheduled to open in 2002 or 2003. To paraphrase a verse from the show: Whatever Rolen wants, Rolen gets....
But, in truth, Rolen doesn't really fit the role of high-maintenance vamp. The contract, it turns out, was as much a priority for the Phillies as it was for Rolen. And his complaint about the turf at Veterans Stadium? That was a slipup by pitcher Curt Schilling who repeated a remark Rolen had made to him in private. "We know Scott doesn't make demands," says Phillies G.M. Ed Wade. "He just shows up, puts his uniform on and plays hard every day. We'll bend over backwards to do what we can for him."
Rolen is surrounded by a promising supporting cast. Twenty-five-year-old rightfielder Bobby Abreu, in his first year as an every-day player last season, never saw his average fall below .300, and he led the majors in batting with runners in scoring position (.427). "He's going to be a star in Philadelphia," says Phillies manager Terry Francona. "A lot of people don't see it yet, but he's got a bubbly personality. He loves to play, loves to practice."
Rico Brogna, 28, knocked in a career-high 104 runs and caught everything in sight at first base. The Philadelphia infielders are so confident in Brogna's ability to scoop anything out of the dirt that they don't worry about rushing a throw when a play looks as if it might be close. Says Francona, "He drove in 100 runs and saved 100."
Whether Brogna and Rolen drive in 100 runs again depends on the improvement of the guys at the top of the order. Leadoff man Doug Glanville hit .279 but had an on-base percentage of only .325. He and rookie second baseman Marlon Anderson, who will hit second, walked a combined 71 times in 1,296 at bats last year. By comparison, Rickey Henderson walked 118 times in fewer than half as many at bats (542). "The first part of last year Doug was swinging at balls over his head, but he was hitting doubles,'' says Francona. "In the second half those balls weren't falling, and that's when you start to notice [his impatience at the plate]. When he and Anderson are going good, we're really gonna be going good. But when they're struggling, we're liable to have some quick innings."
When the Phillies are in the field, they're liable to have some very long innings. After Schilling, the rotation will be filled out by some combination of Paul Byrd, Mike Grace, Tyler Green, Carlton Loewer, Chad Ogea, Cliff Politte and Paul Spoljaric -- a motley septet who have one 10-win season among them (Ogea, in 1996). Now there's speculation that Philadelphia will unload Schilling, who has said that he'll waive his no-trade clause to go to a contender. Wade is adamant that Schilling will be the Phillies' Opening Day pitcher, but come July (if Philadelphia is already out of the postseason picture, and when the offers for the reigning National League strikeout champ are likely to be sweeter), Wade will have to think long and hard about moving his ace.
If two or three of the starters beyond Schilling pan out, the Phillies have a shot at finishing with a winning record for just the second time in 13 years. "I'm anxious to start winning," says Rolen. "The newness of just being here in the majors has worn off. I'm tired of losing, and hopefully we'll take a step to change that."
However, as young as the club is and as weak as its pitching is, opposing fans likely won't have to resort to selling their souls anytime soon to topple those damn Phillies.
Issue date: March 29, 1999
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