Thursday, May 11, 2006

Crunchin' Numbers With The Phils

It took a few days, but we can now stop hiding under the bed as we fear for our safety.
That’s because (slowly but surely) the Kobe Kontroversy MAY finally be a thing of the past.
It was intriguing to see how Ol’ #8 in a Game 7 could divide one nation, indivisible under God (so they say), into three groups:
1) The disappointed 2) The confused and 3) The angry.

Sadly, we’re not going to have Ol’ #8 to kick around any more.
That’s because #8 will be #24 for the Lakers next season, as per the recent announcement that Cordillera Cobes will be wearing #24 next season.
The #24 is, evidently, the number Cobes wore when he was at suburban-Philly’s Lower Merion High a decade ago.
It’s also the number that Lloyd “Sweet Pea” Daniels wore for 25 games with the Lakers back in ’94-’95, so do the math.

Here at the Haystack, we’re gonna let Cobes slide with the #24 switcheroo, mostly because the Lakers retired the #25 that my boyhood hero, Gail Goodrich, wore when I was growin’ up in the Southland, an hour’s drive from the Fabulous Forum.
No, I wasn’t the only kid in the Southland whose favorite NBA player was the sweet-strokin’ southpaw outta UCLA, but I was the only one who would, with some frequency, wear a Phillies cap to Dodger Stadium.
It’s true: You can actually wear a Phillies cap to a Dodger game, although you can’t wear a Dodger cap to a Phillies game (unless you want it tossed into a urinal).
At least, that’s what a few visits to The Vet taught me.
Now, the only time that I ever saw a game at The Cit – in the first Sunday game EVER at Citizens Bank Park wayyyy back in ’04 – I was intrigued to see how many Phillie fanatics opted for a game-day ritual of wearing a pinstriped shirt with “Phillies” across the front with a large “25” on the back with the name “THOME” above the numerals.
According to my data, my ballpark guesstimate was that 75 percent of those who elected to wear ballfield-style Phillie shirts that day had opted for a #25 THOME.

Well, here’s the punchline:
At some point during the ‘05/’06 offseason (likely at the very minute that it became official that Jim Thome had been traded to the White Sox), third baseman David Bell switched from the #4 that he’d worn for the Phils in ’03, ‘04 and ’05 and called first dibs on the newly-available #25.

As with Cobes, it made perfect sense from a sentimental standpoint. After all, when your name is DAVID MICHAEL BELL and you’re the son of DAVID GUS BELL (who the baseball world knew as “Buddy” when he was wearing #25 and winning six consecutive Gold Gloves as the third baseman for the early-‘80s Texas Rangers … yup, the same Buddy Bell who’ll be wearing #25 when he’s fired as manager of the K.C. Royals any day now) and you’re the grandson of DAVID RUSSELL BELL, JR. (who everybody called “Gus” when he was wearing #25 as an All-Star-caliber performer for those Cincinnati Redlegs teams of the ‘50s) … and when you’re approximately one-twenty-fifth as talented as your grandpa, Gus Bell, and your daddy, Buddy Bell, well … you need to “connect” in some manner.

None of this point-plotting on the historic timeline is helping us to determine the fallout from the David Bell-#4-to-#25 switcheroo.
First of all, how many Phillie fanatics have retired their #25 THOME shirts to the closet for good – that is, now that their “missing link” to the Phillies' world championships in ’03 and ’04 is back in the A.L.?
And, how many #25 BELL shirts can we expect to see (buttoned-up or unbuttoned, it probably doesn’t matter) worn with pride around The Cit?
My guess: “Zero-point-zero-zero (0.00).”

Y’see, David Bell sucks – so, don’t expect Sports Authority or Modell’s to go bankrupt burning unsellable #4 BELL shirts or #25 BELL shirts in the loading dock.
It’s merchandise that was never ordered.
And probably never produced.

For those diehards entangled in the lineage of the Gus-Buddy-David & #25 co-existence, please bear in mind that when David Bell was a Giant back in ’02 and when he was rounding third and preparing to run over Dusty Baker’s toddler (until J.T. Snow made the life-saving scoop) to score the 10th run in the 16-4 win over Anaheim in Game 5 of the ’02 World Series, David Bell was NOT wearing #25 on the back of his Giants uniform because, ummmm … “someone else” was wearing #25.
David was actually wearing #28 (which most of us have forgotten because, well … the safety of Dusty’s child was foremost on our minds at the time).

Therein lies the best aspect of being a fan – keepin’ the uniform/jersey numbers catalogued in the Rolodex of our brains, just so when something triggers a flashback, we have each and every player corresponding to the right number.
Whereas knowledge of numbers such as stats might help ya win a few bar bets, mastery of the uniform/jersey numbers is more useful when you see an on-field celebration on TV and you ask rhetorically, “Why the hell is Jeff Manto out there jumping around with those guys?” – or when you see the TV replay of a brawl from several years ago, you can ask, “Who’s that who has Sil Campusano in a headlock?”
Jeff Manto … now, there was a perfectly good waste of a Phillies #30 (a .056 average – 1 for 18 – as a Sept. ’93 call-up). Manto didn’t do the number proud as, say, oh, Dave Cash or Porfi Altamirano once did.
Or the way that Cory Lidle’s doin’ a bang-up job with #30 now (even if no one is bold enough to wear a #30 LIDLE shirt at The Cit nowadays).

The thing to avoid, I’ve come to learn, is allowing the numbers to clutter the mind. This was never a problem with #10 in Philly – which has been worn by only two people, Larry Bowa (1970-81 as a player … 2001-04 as a manager) and Darren Daulton (1983-97).
For Phillie fans, it becomes a loyalty issue as to whether they preferred the 16 seasons in which Bowa spent in #10 or the 15 seasons in which Daulton wore #10.
And that’s without factoring in Bowa’s 8½-year stint (’88-’96) wearing #2 as the Phillies’ third-base coach.

Matters are far more complex for John Vukovich, the player who broke into professional ball, like Bowa, as Phillie farmhand back in 1967.
Before he took his front-office job as Special Assistant to the G.M. before the 2005 season, Vook wore #18 as a Phillie coach in his 17 seasons from 1988 thru 2004 – the same number that he wore during the final three years (spent with the Phils) of his basically-unproductive MLB career (a .161 average stretched over 10 seasons).

However, if we check, it is noted Vook wore #30 during his rookie year (1970 … same as Bowa) with the Phils and that he wore #26 in ’71.
When he returned to the Phillies after two seasons in Milwaukee and one in Cincinnati (he was the Opening Day third baseman, but didn’t make it through May for the world champion Big Red Machine), it is on record that Vook wore #22 in ’76 and then #28 in ’77.

It’s difficult to determine how much trust we can put in After all, it lists EIGHT different uniform numbers worn by Phillie great Granny Hamner – #21 (in 1944), #33 (in 1945), #37 (in 1946), #35 (in 1947), #6 and #1 (in 1948), #33 and #17 (in 1949) and #2 (in 1950 thru 1959).
The Phillies’ media guide, on the other hand, lists Hamner’s SEVEN uniform numbers as 1, 2, 6, 17, 29, 33, and 37.
Wait … isn’t that the number sequence that those dopes on “Lost” need to key into the computer to get the clock to reset to 108 minutes?
Stop it!

The thing is, we might never uncover the truth about Granville Hamner, vis-à-vis whether he actually wore #21 (as claims) for those ’44 Philadelphia Blue Jays (as they were known for those two seasons during WWII) or if he ever wore #29, as the media guide claims, but doesn’t.

Such entanglements force us to rely on our memories and our imaginations (and, oftentime, baseball cards alphabetized in the baseball-card Monster Box downstairs). Sure, we could always e-mail Vook in the Phillies’ front office and get the skinny on his FIVE uniform numbers, but where’s the fun in that?
Besides, we can’t check with Granny because he passed away several days before the Phillies clinched the ’93 N.L. East flag.
Honestly ... do the Hamners really need us hounding them?

Sometimes, we have to resolve these matters on our own.

Which is how this "Phillies #25" crisis should be handled. There's no need for a dot-com to confirm our fondest recollections of Del Unser decked out in his #25 throughout the first year that we became a Phillie fan (back in ’74).
Or to recall that when Del was traded (in the Tug McGraw deal), Jerry Martin rented #25 for three seasons (’76 thru ’78).
That is, until Martin’s departure coincided with the return of Del Unser to deliver all those clutch pinch hits in ’79 and ’80 … feats which made us feel secure about #25.
That is … until we had a new #25 -- current hitting coach, Milt Thompson -- wearing that very same #25 while clutching up with many important baseknocks when he was platooning in LF with Inky for the ’93 NL champs.
Again, there were feelings of conflict (only in a good, non-threatening way) about whether we had a preference for Delbert as #25 or Milton as #25.

That is … until we endured 3½ seasons of (gulp!) Gregg Fricking Jefferies wearing the Big Two Five on his back and on his left sleeve.
No doubt about it ... if we took a joyride in a time machine back to 1995-98, we’d discover that nohhhhhh-buddd-deee was wearing a #25 JEFFERIES shirt while walking around The Vet.
Just as nohhhh-boddd-deee is walkin’ ‘round wearin’ a #25 BELL shirt nowadays at The Cit.
That is … nobody who is interested in keeping his/her shirt out of the urinal.

For the mere pleasure of rocking their world, I should order a personalized Phillies shirt and have it customized with a big #51 on the back with the name “SLOCUMB” stretching from shoulder blade to shoulder blade.
Such a gesture would be a little like that guy I saw during that First-Ever Sunday Game At The Cit wearing a #48 GROTEWOLD shirt.
Now, THAT was original.
Not that Jeff Grotewold was any good, really. I mean, other than three pinch-hit homers in a four-game span during the first week of June ’92, there’s not a lot to discuss.

If nothing else, I should venture back out to The Cit and update my files. To bring matters into sharper focus about what the kids are wearing nowadays, I'd probably need to mingle with the Phillie fanatic constituency. Probably lots of youngsters (and maybe some oldsters, too) are climbing aboard the bandwagon and wearing #6 HOWARD shirts.
Number Six is a fascinating concept in Phillie numberwear, largely because that single numeral is what was worn (in my Phillie lifetime) on back of the shirt of Johnny Oates, Ted Sizemore, Jose Cardenal, Keith Moreland, Bo Diaz, John Russell, The Infamous (and previously-mentioned) Sil Campusano, The Notorious Wally Backman, The Incompetent Bubby Brister (ooops, sorry Eagles fans!), The Gritty Gene Schall and, of course, Doug Glanville.
That’s an eclectic group … diverse w/o being wacky like Al Oliver wearing #0, Omar Olivares wearing #00, Wild Thing wearing #99 and Ugueth Urbina wearing #74.
For the record, Glanville was wearing his #6 when he won The First Sunday Game Ever At The Cit with a walk-off homer against Rocky Biddle.
It marked the first time in MLB history that a game ended with a player with an engineeering degree from Penn and the middle name of “Metunwa” had homered over the head of an outfielder named Terrmel Sledge.

Here in the modern day, Ryan Howard and his #6 provided quality symmetry for '06 -- although I never did understand why Jimmy Rollins switched from #11 that he wore as a rookie in '01 and then in '02, but then went with #6 in '03 ... before returning to #11 for '04, '05 and '06.
And, to think that he was acquired late in the '83 season (for the run to the World Series), Sixto Lezcano did not wear #6 ... not even #16 as SIXTO had worn for SIX seasons in Milwaukee.
Sixto wore #28.

So, the next time that I see new Phillies closer Tom Gordon trudging to the mound, I intend to file him in the memory bank ... making sure to group him with the unforgettable 45’s of yesterday, such as Tug McGraw and Terry Mulholland.
Here’s a twist, though: Mulholland wore #45 for all but one of his 19 seasons in a career spent with 10 different organizations from 1986 thru 2005.
The irony is that when the Phillies traded Mulholland to the Yankees less than four months after the ’93 World Series, Mulholland wore #46 for the Pinstripers because Danny Tartabull already had #45.
Three years later, Tartabull was wearing #45 when he was in the Opening Day lineup for the ’97 Phillies and their new bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed manager, Terry Francona.
The marriage between “new manager, new cleanup hitter” lasted all of 3 games (7 ABs). Tart fouled a ball off his foot or stepped on a broken bottle or got hit by a runaway wheelbarrow (I don’t remember which) and his year ended one week into a promisingly-counterproductive season.

It seems important that current possessors of certain numbers be aprised of good vibes (or demons) which may’ve occupied the digits in previous seasons.
For example, it seems unlikely that anyone bothered to tell Phillie rookie catcher Carlos Ruiz that the #51 he wore while making his MLB debut last Sat. vs. the Giants was the number that Heathcliff Slocumb was wearing when he was the winning pitcher in the ’95 All-Star Game.
That’s GOTTA be worth some major karma points.

If it seems insignificant, maybe I should be the one to show up at The Cit and counsel David Bell on his #25 obsession. I’d like to sit down with him … only I’d like to do it with a Sharpie in my hand. We could lay Dave’s Phillie uniform on the clubhouse floor and make some alterations.

Then, when he takes the field that night, The Cit crowd can cheer the alterations made to his shirt.
On the back, it’ll be “BELL .250.”

That's how we make sense out of THAT “25” ...

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