Lee is Pretty Much Untouchable Right Now.
I bet everyone was expecting a running diary of the NBA All-Star game, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I think the NBA lost all credibility Saturday night with their Wayne’s World style product placement. Good times. No, I was hoping to put a large picture of Fred up tonight, but he shot his usual 8,000 coming down the stretch and I can’t bring myself to discuss it. It was something about Fred that got me thinking about this post, though. Couples is one of the most bulletproof athletes I’ve ever seen. Golf fans love him no matter what. For a topical example, Fred spit on a green on Saturday. Don’t expect any outrage. I’m quite sure he could urinate on a tree in the middle of a round, and people would say, “Did you see how cool he looked while he was taking that leak?”
The analogy that came to mind was Diplomatic Immunity. I don’t even know what that is, but the urban legend understanding is that it means you live a life without consequence. That can happen with athletes. Especially when they are going good, things are forgiven without much thought. Michael Vick is a great example. It made me think of the Phillies. The most popular team in town, and a team populated by plenty of stars. Who among them is the safest with the fans? And who do the reactionary haters have their crosshairs pointed at? A small sampling, starting with those most in danger. The indented names show where those players would fall, but I didn’t give the full explanation.
Brad Lidge (No Immunity): Part of this is inherent to the position. A closer blows one game and fans can’t get it out of their mind. He’s on the high-wire, he’s hit or miss, he’s not “trustworthy.” Isn’t that a great word for a closer? Well, Lidge also has a history of blowing games and giving up copious amounts of long balls. No one cares about ’08 any more. If Lidge can’t shut the door, he’ll be given no slack from the fans.
Raul Ibanez : Ibanez gets very little respect. Everyone is dying to write this guy off, platoon him, trade him away…I’m not hearing many Rauuuuuul chants these days. Ibanez missed out on ’08, so there’s no goodwill there, and this age thing is like the engine light going on in your car. Yeah, you are still moving, but there is a constant reminder the end could be around any corner. Raul better hope he has a good April or else he’ll be getting killed.
Joe Blanton: This is actually Ruben Amaro’s fault. If he didn’t drown Blanton in a ridiculous contract then no one would particularly care about the 5th starter. But, when the fifth starter makes 8 million and puts a little stress on the payroll, the expectations rise. Something about Blanton just isn’t Philly. It’s not the pudge, we have no problem with that, but something makes Blanton a favorite whipping boy. With his company in the rotation, I wouldn’t expect that to change this year.
Jimmy Rollins: I consider Rollins to be teetering on the perch between the good and the bad here. He could fall drastically in either direction this season. A while back everyone loved Rollins. The team needed his cockiness. When he uttered the famous line, “team to beat,” it breathed a little life into the fan base. He was the mouthpiece for the fans who didn’t have much success to stand on. Now Phillies fans have plenty of their own swagger. Rollins said the team would win 100 games over the weekend, but most fans now just think that sounds about right. J-Roll has a little diva, a little showboat in him, he comes across as stubborn at times. If Jimmy has another year like ’10, he can expect the fans to hurry him out of town after this season. Of course, if Rollins has a big year, the people will be clamoring for a “three, fo’, fo'” prediction from Jimmy come playoff time.
Victorino: Victorino gets a lot of slack. Why? He combines two things Philly loves. He gives the impression that he hustles and he’s a little cocky. If you listened to Phillies fans talk about Victorino without following baseball at all, you might be a little surprised to see his statistics. I think he’s in a similar boat to Rollins, but maybe has a bit more leeway, because he’s not coming off such a dubious season. It also helps Shane that no one expects him to carry the team. If he hits .270 with 18 homers that’ll be amazing. If Chase Utley puts up those numbers it would be nightmare.
Chase Utley: Speaking of Utley, there was a time when he would have ruled this list. Maybe even up to a point last year it was not cool to criticize Chase Utley. You’d be scorned. “Utley is the man.” “Utley is an animal.” These were acceptable things to say. Wondering why Utley’s OPS is on a 3-year decline is not a topic worthy of discussion. Utley’s unquestioned work ethic and intensity make him deserving of the slack he gets from the fans. He should know, though, that nothing is guaranteed forever. Scott Rolen could have been Chase Utley in Philadelphia. He was on his way. One tumultuous summer and he gets booed for life. So, things change, and they could change for Chase this year. The whispers about a decline will only get louder this year if Chase doesn’t bounce back.
Cliff Lee (Fully Immune): How do I skip over Halladay for Lee? There are a couple of reasons. First, Lee is once again the flavor of the month. He’s the newest toy. He’s the one that is supposed to put the Phillies over the top. Halladay threw a no-hitter in the playoffs, but…we lost to the Giants. Enter Cliff Lee. Second, Lee gave the fans all the credit. He mentioned them in the press conference. Said he never wanted to leave, and the fans were like, “We never wanted you to leave, either!” Instant bond created there. Third, Lee is a little ornery. Every once in a while you get a glimpse of something in Lee and he’s got a bit of an attitude. The fans like that. They can identify with that. No one can really identify with Halladay. He’s a robot. So, I think right at this moment, Lee has the most immunity. I think he could say he practices his location by throwing fastballs at kittens and Phillies fans would be dropping their cats off at his house and wishing him well. He is, after all, Cliff “Mother Lovin'” Lee.