WHAT A PHLOP!
If ever there was a team that belonged on a psychiatrist's couch, it's the Philadelphia Phillies. "I'm observing, trying to understand things," says Woody Woodward, who took over as general manager in October. "When the season started there was some question about our pitching and defense. But the one thing we figured to do was score runs."
Yet at week's end the Phillies not only were languishing at the bottom of the National League East with a 15-24 record, but also had fewer runs than any other team in the division. "It's kind of a sad deal," says catcher Lance Parrish of Philadelphia's third straight slow start. Other less-sympathetic observers have dubbed the Phillies "baseball's yuppie team" because of their cool, detached style of play. Says one opposing manager, "They play like they're all looking at themselves in the mirror."
Granted, second baseman Juan Samuel, a .269 career hitter coming into this season, has gotten off to a bad start at the plate—he was batting .223 at week's end. And third baseman Mike Schmidt recently went through an 0-for-30 slump after suffering a rib cage injury. But those failings alone shouldn't have such a disastrous impact with players like Parrish, first baseman Von Hayes and outfielder Phil Bradley in the lineup.
Don't expect Woodward to do anything hasty to improve the team. His first step will probably be to wait for a bidding war to break out among the contenders for some of his talent—notably pitchers Shane Rawley and Don Carman—and to use the players that the Phillies get in return to overhaul their lineup later this season. Then he will attempt to rebuild the team's once-legendary farm system.
The scouting department that was put together after former general manager Dallas Green moved the guts of the organization to Chicago in 1981 simply hasn't produced, despite promises of phenoms galore. Outfielder Jeff Stone, now with the Orioles, was supposed to be a superstar, but after five years with Philadelphia he was still playing the game as if it were a foreign sport. Rick Schu was expected to take over at third so that Schmidt could move to first, but after hitting .198 with runners in scoring position during his four seasons with the Phillies, Schu was traded this spring to Baltimore, where he had gone 16 for 81 and scored only two runs through Sunday. Catcher John Russell was a surefire slugger. But in 1987 he hit .203 for the Triple A Maine Guides, with seven homers and 24 RBIs, and last week he tried to beg out of the lineup because the fog was in and the wild fastballer Bobby Witt was starting for the Oklahoma City 89ers.
Will Woodward's cautious approach work for the forlorn Phillies? Perhaps. But if it doesn't, Philadelphia may have to perform some major surgery, trading in a lineup that looks good on paper for one that looks good where it counts—on the diamond.
YAWN OF THE WEEK
When Atlanta Braves general manager Bobby Cox announced Sunday that he had fired manager Chuck Tanner, who was in the third year of a five-year contract, and four of his coaches, it came as no surprise to those who have followed Tanner's ill-starred season. At week's end the Braves were 12-27 and entrenched in last place in the National League West. But it wasn't just Atlanta's poor start that sealed Tanner's fate; a litany of boneheaded decisions by him left many observers, including Cox, shaking their heads.
Tanner's latest faux pas occurred May 16 when he used gimpy-armed starter Zane Smith for one inning of relief in a 4-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds and then had to scratch Smith from his next start when he had stiffness in his left elbow caused by a bone spur. Cox was upset by Tanner's decision, not only because Smith is the Braves' best pitcher, with a 34-39 record over the last three years, but also because he's the best lure they have for making a major trade. Tanner was replaced by Russ Nixon, who had been managing the Double A Greenville ( S.C.) Braves.