The Deterioration of Utley Love, Ryan Madson, Etc.

If You Work in the Media, It's Easier to get an Audience with the Yak Woman.

When are we going to talk about something other than injuries when it comes to baseball?  This weekend it was Chase Utley’s knee update and Ryan Madson’s lost season.

Quickly on Madson, the former Phillie is headed for Tommy John surgery and will not pitch in 2012.  The injury costs the Reds a closer, costs them 8.5 million and costs Madson a chance at a big payday this off-season.  When Madson missed out on a 40+ million dollar deal with the Phillies, it was a bit of a black-eye for Scott Boras, but most people assumed he’d eventually make most of that money back.  Now, Madson will be pitching on the cheap in 2013 to rebuild his reputation as a healthy arm.  No one feels sorry for Madson only making 8.5 million, but it’s a good reminder of how fleeting things are and the danger of long-term deals.  Yes, it makes the Papelbon signing look a lot better, but Papelbon also must stay healthy.  In terms of Philly impact–I wouldn’t expect the Madson injury to encourage Cole Hamels to sign a long-term deal quickly and I wouldn’t expect to see Madson back in red pinstripes in 2013 as a set-up man.  He clearly feels scorned by the Phillies, adding a lost year of his earning prime on top pretty much guarantees Madson will have Philadelphia as #30 on his wish list.

Chase Utley’s health has a much more direct impact on the Phillies’ season.  For a few hours Saturday, there was wild speculation that Utley might retire.  Utley cultivates this reality with his position on talking to the media.  With nothing to go on, scribes seem to gravitate toward worst-case scenario.  I think Utley would rather go through micro-fracture surgery with no anesthesia than give a simple press conference.  It’s his choice to deal with the press and reveal information the way he does, but he shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t just happily reiterate his silence.  It seems ridiculous that Utley doesn’t at least understand why people are curious about what’s going on with his injury.

And, to that end, we can talk a little bit about some building animosity toward the previously untouchable Utley.  A fan looks at this at this and says we want to know what’s going on because we care.  We’re the reason you make 15 million.  We’re not being nosy about your personal life, we’re being nosy about our favorite team.  Utley seems incapable of making that distinction and when you play every day and hit .300 with 25 homers, no one pays much attention to this quirk.  But when you miss large chunks of time, your production falls off a cliff and you still happily collect that 15 million?  The least you could do is answer some questions.

Utley has always been able to do no wrong in this town, a printing press in his basement cranks out Get out of Jail Free cards at an alarming rate.  Hustle, drop an f-bomb on TV, that’s pretty much all it takes to get a free pass but fans have been treated to less and less Utley moments over the last year and the questions are finally starting to creep in.  Is he doing everything he can to play?  Is he hindering his own rehab with his aversion to surgery?  Is he forthcoming with the Phillies and the doctors?  Chase is still miles away from generating any real animosity among the fans, but the pedestal is on its way down, it’s at least returned to Earth’s atmosphere.  Utley no longer resides in the heavens.

***

I’d say about 5 to 7 people over the last week have asked me what the Phillies are going to do with their lineup.  “Who’s going to play where and when?”  It’s a great question and one I’ll be taking a stab at in mailbag-style Phillies preview that I’ll probably trot out next Monday.  So, if you’ve got any burning Phillies question you want answered before the season starts, let me know, and I’ll include it in the Preview-Bag.  No pressure, I’m more than capable of making up the questions myself as you’ve seen in the past.

***

I’d like everyone to think of me this evening, take a moment and say, “that could have been me.”  I’ll be participating in an auction-style fantasy baseball draft.  There are 13 teams in the league.  It should take the better part of…all night.  I’ve never done a baseball auction.  In fact, I haven’t played fantasy baseball in years and years.  It is, the ultimate fantasy sports marathon.  If the 1st World War never occurred, the term “war of attrition” would still be a part of lexicon thanks to fantasy baseball.  You have to want it, and want it badly.  I’m not sure I do.  I have made preparations for the draft.  I’m going to give the draft an honest shot and we’ll see from there.  So, if anyone has any last-minute sleepers out there, you can hit me up.  One guy I won’t be bidding on?  Jamie Moyer.  I’d take Madson before him.

***

It was a wild weekend in terms of NCAA pool standings.  I was charging.  I looked like Tomba la Bomba attacking a slalom run, from the depths of obscurity into the top-5, but then, North Carolina lost and the air left the balloon.   Roy Williams is the absolute worst.  Anyway, I think three or four people held the lead at various times over the weekend.  Things are shaking out, but still plenty of candidates to take home the top prize–pride.  Some scenarios…there could be others.

  1. If Kansas Beats Kentucky…Da Dawg comes from nowhere.
  2. If Kansas Beats Louisville…Jessica Nixon’s bracket wins; presumably for Jessica Nixon
  3. If OSU wins…McNabb Eli makes Big Dub an unlikely champ
  4. If Kentucky beats Kanas…Cara’s Mom will beat Cara’s Dad by an eyelash
  5. If Louisville beats OSU…chalk it up for Switzen Suz

Tiger’s Win Sets Up Epic Masters.

"What is this oddly shaped metal thing?"

Well, it finally happened.  Tiger won a PGA Tour event after a two-year hiatus, and it has sent the golf world into a state of hysterics.  The pundits are acting like they knew it was going to happen all along, the haters have gone back underground to strategize, and golf fans are all focused on the Masters, which has the potential to be a historic affair.  The greatest part of Augusta National is its ability to conjure story lines out of mid-air, no embellishment or hype necessary, but this year people will be looking to the Masters to settle a score.  A Sunday full of unlikely heroes, like Charl Schwartzel, will not be as well received as it was last year.  This year it’ll all be about Tiger vs. Rory, and if Phil wants to throw himself in there as well, all the better.

Golf rarely gets this type of match race.  For a long time Tiger was the unquestioned favorite in every event he played.   A rival was propped up against him in many cases, but his best battles came against journeymen like Bob May.  In the last few years the Majors have been completely without a dominant player.  Take a few usual names, sprinkle in the hottest players and you’ve got your pool of possible winners.  In actuality, that will be the case for the Masters next week as well, but if you walked around polling fans for their champion, I imagine 99% would mention Tiger, Rory or Phil.  If you trimmed the field to just those three players, the TV ratings would hardly budge.

Adding to the excitement is that all three of the big names are in form, or close enough to top-form that you expect them to play well.  Rory has been the world’s most consistent top-level performer over the last year.  It’s impossible to envision a scenario where he isn’t in contention.   Tiger has capped a run of encouraging play with a win, and not just a win, but a convincing victory where he pulled away and made the rest of the field look feeble in comparison.  Mickelson’s form, as usual, is the most erratic.  He looked like the best player in the world a month ago, but has been mediocre since.  Phil has taken over ownership of Augusta, though.  He has the best recent track record there, and more than any other golfer out there Phil needs something to get his attention to play his best.  The Masters will get his attention.

In addition to form, there will be legacies on the line at Augusta that should add to the drama.  In Rory’s case, we have spent a good bit of the past year talking about a symbolic torch passing.  As Tiger struggled with his return, Rory emerged from a crowded field of precocious contenders to be deemed the chosen one.  His win at the U.S. Open, his rise to #1, it was supposed to be the emphatic stamp that finally ended the Tiger Woods era.  I wrote a while back that the biggest obstacle Rory could face in being the “next Tiger Woods,” was Tiger Woods.  If any player was going to truly stunt Rory’s development, keep his win total in-check, it’d be a rejuvenated Tiger.  Well, Tiger appears to be  rejuvenated.  So, is Rory going to kick Tiger off his top-step, or step aside like so many other contenders have done in the past?  And, what would a partial return to Tiger mania mean for Rory’s long-term outlook?  Remember that was Tiger’s 7th win at Bay Hill. Rory has 5 wins worldwide in his whole career.  He has a lot of accumulating to do, how much bleaker are the prospects?

For Tiger, it’s about returning the focus to 19 Majors.  That was the only number that mattered pre-scandal and I get the sense Tiger has been yearning to make that the discussion once again.  When you struggle with your health and making cuts, no one is going to give you five majors, but now that Tiger has won, he can start controlling the dialog once again.  You saw the reaction to his victory, the majority of golf fans just want to watch him play his best golf.  Tiger’s intimidation will be measured once again as well.  We’ve heard recently that a new generation doesn’t fear Tiger, especially on Sunday.  Would one victorious Sunday at Augusta change all that?

In these terms, those of legacies, Phil is once again unfortunately on the perimeter.  He’s stuck in numbers limbo, where it’s hard for him to impress anyone.  A win at Augusta would be his 4th, an incredible number, but not more than Tiger and still two shy of Jack.  It’d be a fifth major.  Another great number, but not terribly significant.  It wouldn’t get him to #1, and past 40, there’s only so much work he can still do.  But, if Phil ever wants to be mentioned as anything more than Tiger’s greatest foil, he’s got to keep winning, keep winning the big events at Tiger’s expense.  Who knows, if Phil wins this year, six green jackets isn’t out of the question.

The Masters isn’t going to answer the questions people will pose beforehand.  At least not in the long-term.  There’s a great chance that Tiger, Phil and Rory will all come up empty-handed.  There’s a chance one could win and bask in the praise for a few months, only to be unseated a couple of months later at the US Open.  But for the four days the tournament takes place it will feel like the be-all end-all of golf.  Especially if these three guys are battling it out, it’ll feel like the only golf tournament that ever mattered.  That’s what people will be hoping for, even expecting.  We’ll see if it can possibly live up to expectations.