Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cole Hamels Smokes Camels

That is, if Cole Hamels, the rookie Phillie pitcher who made his MLB debut on Friday in Cincinnati, is actually a smoker.
And, if this wasn’t 2006, but more like 1956, we could have a print and TV advertising campaign wherein we could have proclaimed: “Cole Hamels smokes Camels. Shouldn’t you?”
Sounds good. I hear that they’re available in filtered and non-filtered …

In sizing up the rookie pitcher, I’ve profiled Cole Hamels as more of a Kool menthols guy.
That is … if he’s a smoker.
And, if he is … we can adopt his ‘56 slogan to meet ’06 standards.
“These are Cole’s Kools. Shouldn’t they be yours?”

Those were the days … back in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, every pitcher was a pitchman for the refreshment provided by lighting up a post-game smoke, which was usually performed in the presence of sportswriters who would gather ‘round after the game and call the ballplayer “Champ” or “Sport.”
“Heckuva game today, Champ. Ya had the ol’ heater really poppin’ the leather today.”
Of course, these expressions were never phrased in the form of a question, which was the style of the day.

Nowadays, the only throwback we have to that glorious bygone era is Jimmy Leyland, the Detroit manager who buzzes through a pack-and-a-half during any given Tigers game.
A half-century ago, everybody was a Jimmy Leyland … either puffing away on a Chesterfield in the smoking car of the train while nursing a glass of Ballantine beer or maybe lighting up a Lucky Strike in a movie theater.
During a matinee or a double feature, it didn’t matter.

As recently as way-back-in-the-1990s, you could see a player or manager working on a butt in the dugout – but, only if you knew how to detect a smoker who was “cupping.”
Jim Fregosi was the master of wedging that Marlboro between his thumb and forefinger as the cherry tip burned near the hand’s palm.

No MLB’ers cup any more.
But, they do dip – and don’t let those buckets of wholesome David’s Sunflower Seeds in every dugout fool ya. If you saw ESPN’s 377 replays of Bonds’ 713th homer off the facing of the McDonald’s sign at The Cit, you might’ve noticed that a few of the camera angles could not conceal the round object in Barroid’s right back pocket.

It wasn’t the Clear … it wasn’t the Cream … and it probably wasn’t a compact filled with uranium-enriched HGH or grade-A buffalo semen.
It was a circular tin of either Copenhagen or Skoal.
In some circles, it’s known as snuff – but, not in Joe Garagiola’s circle. Joe calls it “spit tobacco” when he’s on his anti-spit tobacco crusades.

Either way, it’s clear that with his five stellar shutout innings a few nights ago, Cole Hamels was “smokin’.”
Then, Lieber and Myers pitched lights out on Saturday and Sunday for the suddenly-rejuvenated Phils.
If we are forbidden by the anti-tobacco lobby from using a cigarette motif, perhaps we can rattle off headlines in our brain.
(Always the exclamation point! In fact, EVERY headline should have an exclamation point … maybe sometimes two or three!!!)

Whether we get to the bottom of Cole’s Kools or Hamels’ Camels probably isn’t of great importance. In fact, what’s messin’ with my head right now is the #35 that I saw Cole Hamels wearing during the highlights of his debut.
This coincides with the full-scale (sort of) investigation which was conducted within the walls of the Haystack matrix the other day. I explored the Numbers That Phillies Wear and the Number Of Fans Who Wear The Numbers That Phillies Wear.
What’s got my brain all twisted now – and, believe me, this one’s keepin’ me up nights – are the Phillies pre-Hamels who have worn #35.
The only names here on my worksheet are Nino Espinosa and Bobby Munoz.
I did this research w/o peeking at the answers in the back of the book.
It’s more challenging that way.

Y’see, if this was a Steeler situation, I could simply turn to pgs. 339-342 of the ’05 media guide and scan the complete listing of every jersey number and every Steeler who wore that number.
For example, the organization went 60 years with nobody wearing jersey #8 in between Everett Fisher and Joseph Yurcic in 1940 and Tommy Maddox in 2001.
We can only assume that Fisher and Yurcic didn’t wear #8 at the same time, but ya never know.
It was the 1940s, after all.
I’ve heard that back in the ‘40s, players were smoking Chesterfields on the sidelines.

The #35 paradigm intrigues me – and not just because #35 falls between the Phillie #34 that Andy Van Slump wore for the final 63 games of his career in 1995 and the Retired Phillie #36 which forever belongs to Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.
Time-frickin’-out!!! What kind of king-sized sacrilege is that, to connect Andy Van Slump to #34 when everybody knows that #34 forever belongs to The Sarge, Gary Matthews?
(Apologies to the current #34 occupant, Gavin Floyd)

The thing is: Nino Espinosa wasn’t a bad fella, although it was painful to give Richie Hebner a goodbye hug to acquire Nino and his ‘fro from the Mets.
More painful was the fact that it wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned about Nino Espinosa dying at age 34 in 1987.
What I’ve always known is that Nino’s real first name is “Arnulfo.”
Cole Hamels’ real first name is “Colbert,” ESPN reported – and just think how long it’s been since The MLB had a “Colbert” to embrace.
And, no … not Nate Colbert, quality Padre that he was.
This is about the life and times of Colbert Dale Harrah and Dudley Michael Hargrove when they were teammates for about a dozen perennial-.500 teams in Texas and Cleveland.
Toby and Grover …

Most definitely, Cole Hamels’ choice of #35 is fascinating because it’s so against-the-grain, so anti-Establishment. I mean, when you think of #35 in the general MLB sense, you’ll probably remember that Vida Blue was wearing in the ‘70s for the A’s and Manny Sanguillen was wearing it at the same time for the Pirates – just as two other players from that era, Phil Niekro and Randy Jones, have had their #35’s retired.
Nowadays (in the no-smoking-in-the-clubhouse era), the only #35’s which come to mind are Mike Mussina and Dontrelle Willis.

And now this kid … Cole Hamels.
I don’t know if he’s a phenom or a savior or whatever – mostly because it’s not worth obsessing over.
And mostly because I’ve never done the Fantasy League thing (back in the ol’ days of the ‘90s, it was called “Rotisserie Baseball”).
However, better than a Fantasy League tip-sheet profile is what Deadspin offered last Friday as a Cole Hamels scene-setter:

“Few things in sports are more reliably and depressingly predictable than the arc of a young Philadelphia prospect. Philly fans start salivating when they initially hear about a guy, start shaking uncontrollably a few weeks before his debut, are screaming at a fever pitch once he’s finally on the field, and are booing within the month. It’s a fun cycle. Usually they’re Rolen-ed out of town by the time they’re actually useful …”

“Rolen-ed out of town”
was a deeee-lish phrase-turn.
Normally, I’d find it difficult to argue with such a persepctive. After all, what my 23 years (1974-97) in the Phillie Phan West Coast Bureau taught me was that the Phillie fans who live in Philly neighborhoods are very active (sometimes hyperactive) in the lively art of “scapegoateering.”
This is to say that they speak fluent scapegoatese.
When they aren’t booing Rolen.
Who tried to ruin the franchise.

To the scapegoateers, Cole Hamels and his #35 represent the latest installment in betrayal from the Phillie front office. And, given that Cole Hamels is a southpaw, he might as well have chosen uniform #666.
Homegrown portsiders don’t have a very good track record with the Fightin’ Phils.
The scapegoateers need rewind only as far as I did when performing ther mental catalogization of Lefties Who Weren’t LEFTY.
Back in 1977 and ’78, Randy Lerch was their “Lefty Junior.” He was 6-foot-5 – and with a combined record of 21-14 during his first two years, this was the guy.
Of course, when Lerch committed the cardinal sin of being a belly-itcher and not a pitcher (posting a 4-14 record for a 90-72 team which won the World Series), he got his name put atop the scapegoateers’ shit list.

Lerch, though, was less-disappointing than the mid-‘80s, double-barreled action of lefties Don Carman and Bruce Ruffin. Carman was 9-4 with a 2.08 ERA during his first full season (’85). The following year, Carman was shuttled between the bullpen and starting duty and was 10-5 / 3.22 – which looked mighty handsome twinned with the Texas Longhorn rookie, Ruffin (9-4 / 2.46 in 21 starts).
True dat: Who amongst us doesn't remember where he was and what he was doing when Carman came within one out of that no-hitter in San Francisco before Bob Brenly’s two-out drive to the gap eluded Milt Thompson.
Damn that frickin’ Bob Brenly.

In 1987, the Carman-Ruffin duo combined to go 24-25 – and when the slippage continued, the boobirds were in full throat by the end of ’89.
Sorry, Ruffin … they weren’t yelling “Broooooooose!”
That season, Carman was 5-15 / 5.24 and Ruffin was 6-10 / 4.44 – and the Phils were not granted permission to print World Series tickets in mid-September.

The funny thing is that by the time Ruffin was regularly throwing warmup pitches to the backstop, the Fightin’s were grooming their next homegrown lefty – Pat Combs.
Combs, the Phils’ No. 1 pick in the ’88 draft, pulled a Carman ‘85/Ruffin ’86 when, as a September call-up in ’89, went 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA (which included a complete-game shutout).
If Pat Combs seemed like the anti-Carman and the anti-Ruffin, it had to hurt when, after a so-so 10-10 season in’90, Pat Combs ended up as a DL regular.
In ’91 and ’92, Combs pitched in 18 games and turned in a yummy 2-7 / 5.53.

The cool part about Lerch and Ruffin was that they wore the same number (#47) – and each, a decade apart, got shipped to Milwaukee for complete crap (Dick Davis and Dale Sveum, weeeeeeee!).
The hidden fact about Carman was that he was one of baseball’s all-time worst-hitting pitchers (a career .057 average).

So many high hopes for the Phillie southpaws ...

Yet, Cole Hamels might not be doomed. He can take some solace in the fact that Y2K has yielded a softer, gentler (almost “cuddlier”) Philly boobird – and the walking, talking, non-pitching proof of that is fan favorite Randy Wolf.
Despite being mighty mediocre, Wolf captured the imagination of those Phillie fanatics known as “The Wolf Pack” – those young cut-ups who used to get some SportsCenter facetime by donning Halloween wolf masks and wolfing it up in a lonely section of the upper deck at The Vet every time that Wolf pitched.
Good, clean fun.

In a big, ol' empty stadium.

Ya gotta give Wolfie some credit for escaping the death-grip of being jinxed forever by mega-fatso Bill Conlin (who can eat an entire box of Hot Pockets without microwaving them) described the pitcher as having “the best stuff since Whitey Ford” after Wolf went 5-0 to begin his career in ’99.
“Wolfie” Ford then went 1-9 the rest of the year.
He followed that up with a combined 32-29 record in ’00-’02.

Well, the Wolf Pack’s good deeds didn’t go unnoticed because Wolf was named to the All-Star team in ’03, which just so happened to be the final year of The Vet.
So, that's our Lerch-Carman-Ruffin-Combs-Wolf-Hamels paradigm-in-review. Remember, though: We've merely covered the Phillies’ homegrown southpaw pitchers.
At another time, we could discuss the homegrown right-handed flops of the past 10-plus years – illuminaries such as 1995 All-Star Tyler Green, Mike Grace, Carlton Loewer, Brandon Duckworth … possibly Gavin Floyd, if he doesn’t straighten up and fly right.

So, the ball is in your court, Cole Hamels.
Now the clock begins ticking on the Death Watch … to the time when Berman gets on Baseball Tonight and uses that raspy voice to blurt, “ … Cole ‘Green Eggs And’ Hamels …”
Unless he's already used that one for Bob Hamelin.
Or Mike Hampton.

Or any guy named “Hamilton” …

No comments: