Meet the Unimpressed
February, 15, 2011
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Roy Halladay was the first of the Phillies' starting pitchers to step into the open room where some 75 or so reporters waited Monday, and he looked taken aback by what he saw. So did those who followed him -- Joe Blanton and Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. And their body language conveyed the simple truth that they find all the hoopla over their collective greatness, or the potential of it, more than a little absurd. After all, Halladay mentioned at one point, they had been together for all of about 2.5 hours.
Maybe by season's end they will achieve everything expected of them, or most of it. But even if that happened -- even if the Phillies won the World Series with a series of shutouts -- don't look for any of them to stand on a podium and declare greatness. The Philadelphia rotation is loaded with maximum-effort minimalists.
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireMembers of "The Right Stuff" cast assemble.
It's not a coincidence, really. Part of the reason Lee took less money to sign with the Phillies is because he liked playing with a team of folks who are serious about their work, but not focused on chasing after the spotlight. "Nobody points fingers in here," said longtime reliever Danys Baez, who calls the Phillies' clubhouse the best he's ever been a part of. "Nobody judges anybody else. Everybody treats each other with respect."
If anybody hoped for a juicy pronouncement from any of the five starters, well, there was almost no chance of that happening. And even if there was a hint of a boast hidden deep inside one of the Philadelphia starters, not one of them would have let it escape, out of respect for the others.
The five Phillies looked a lot like the astronauts in the press conference scene from the movie "The Right Stuff": As the astronauts sit down and are face to face with a roomful of reporters, it appears most of them reach the conclusion that the whole thing is a little nuts and a little trite -- that is, until John Glenn plays along with the reporters and gives attaboy answers. (Here's Part 3 of the actual press conference clips -- check out Glenn's answer at 4:10).
The Phillies' Five really don't have a John Glenn, somebody who will fully embrace the power of a microphone.
Halladay is polite but always headed off to his next workout. According to folks at the complex, the guy arrives at 4:50 a.m., and his predawn runs are like Bigfoot sightings: Few actually get to see them, but the legend grows each time somebody sees a hulking figure dashing along a warning track. Oswalt is smart and direct and caustic and is more interested in lumbering or hanging out in a deer blind than in answering questions that require introspection. Lee is a minimalist, having found success in adhering to a workout and pitching routine, and he really isn't that interested in talking legacy; you'd have a better chance of getting Terrell Owens to never talk about himself than of getting Lee to talk about his place in baseball history.
Blanton is competitive and, like the others, doesn't especially care to hear himself talk. Hamels probably generates the most expansive responses of the five, but it seems to be more a matter of him politely helping reporters find an answer than it is about peeling back the layers of his mind.
So the most interesting aspect of the press conference was the physical responses to the questions. Blanton -- who has been the subject of trade rumors since Lee signed because the Phillies are looking to shed salary -- was asked whether he was surprised to still be with the team. Oswalt, irked by the question, shot a you-gotta-be-kidding-me look at Hamels; later, when Blanton was asked a similar question, Lee whispered something to Oswalt, who said something to Hamels, who smiled; they didn't like one of their brethren being questioned in this way.
When questions were posed to them as a group, they often glanced at each other to see if one or the other was more interested in jumping in. The reporters in the room wanted to hear them provide a working version of their legacy, and instead there were small bemused smiles and smirks. Oswalt kept his arms folded the whole time, leaning back in his chair; Lee probably answered a lot more than he preferred, because he happened to be the most recent addition to the rotation.
The last question was asked and within 12.2 seconds or so, all five were out of the room.
Look, when the hitters get in the box, that's when the Phillies' starters will provide the answers, about whether they rank with the '92 Braves or the '95 Braves or the '70 Orioles or some other team.
This is not a group that's into talking. They're into doing.
• The Phillies unveiled their dream rotation, writes Bob Brookover. The pitching is a good indication of how far the Phillies have come, writes Paul Hagen. For the Phillies, it's all about the pitching.
• Giants manager Bruce Bochy declared the Phillies to be the team to beat, writes Henry Schulman.
• Some teams keep their best starters together in fielding groups, but Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee has a different approach. Roy Halladay was in one group, Cole Hamels in another, and Oswalt and Lee in a third group. Dubee likes to have his veteran starters split up because of their leadership; young pitchers can learn from their presence and their habits. Dubee liked the way Halladay and Hamels threw the ball on the first day of camp.
• Jose Contreras' right calf looks like it has a bowling ball stuck in the middle of it. His left calf, on the other hand, looks like it houses a golf ball.
When I noticed this the other day, as Contreras played catch with teammates, I felt as if I had drifted into an episode of "Entourage" with me playing the part of Johnny Drama, who really was impressed with Lamar Odom's calves and considered getting calf implants. And then I wondered if I had just been imagining things.
But when asked about it Monday morning, Contreras laughed out loud and nodded and then pointed at a long scar that extends vertically above his heel. "My Achilles tore," he said.
Aaaah, now it makes sense. Contreras explained that after his injury he lost the muscle tone in his left calf and never got it back.
• Contreras, by the way, told a funny story about the competitiveness of his former teammate and countryman Orlando Hernandez -- El Duque. It seems Contreras got the best of El Duque in a game of dominoes one day, and thereafter Contreras declined to play with Hernandez, which nagged at El Duque.
One evening, Contreras got a call from Hernandez, inviting him to a big party that El Duque had going that night -- or so he said. When Contreras arrived at Hernandez's place, the only people at this big party were Hernandez and his wife, and El Duque was ready to play dominoes. And when Hernandez won, all was right in the world again to him.
Contreras and Danys Baez chuckled about how Hernandez would not play golf against his brother, Livan Hernandez. Until he had a chance to play it more, and practice, and it wasn't until he believed he had a real shot at beating Livan before he agreed to play.
• The bottom line on the Cardinals' negotiations with Albert Pujols: The only real chance St. Louis has of making a deal with Pujols, at this juncture, is to give him exactly what he wants. Today is the last full day of negotiations.
The whole discussion has been postponed in deference to Stan Musial, who is being honored today, as Bernie Miklasz writes.
• Kendry Morales is speaking cautiously about his return, saying it's possible he won't be back for Opening Day, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
• Jorge De La Rosa's arrival in camp has been delayed.
• Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria expects a big season out of Hanley Ramirez, writes Joe Capozzi.
Noah K. Murray/US PresswireOpting out might just make good business sense for CC.
Moves, deals and decisions1. Wrote here Dec. 15 about the CC Sabathia opt-out clause: It's smart business on his part to at least consider opting out, to cash in again on his performance and relatively young age. What we don't know yet is how the Yankees would respond; it's possible they could take the view that they got the prime years of Sabathia's career and will move on. And it's also possible, given their current need for starting pitching, that they will offer a couple of years in an extension. We'll see. Sabathia talked about this Monday. The Yankees need Sabathia like they needed Cliff Lee over the winter, writes Joel Sherman.
2. Jose Bautista's arbitration hearing was postponed for four days, to give the Jays and the slugger a chance to work out a multiyear deal.
3. Derek Jeter will be the Yankees' leadoff batter, says Joe Girardi.
4. The Padres will no longer be counting the innings for Mat Latos, writes Bill Center.
5. Manny Acta isn't going to rush into deciding his lineup. He needs to know Grady Sizemore's status before making any choices.
6. The Cubs announced the Carlos Marmol deal.
The battle for jobs1. Oliver Perez arrived at the Mets' camp, aware that the team might want him gone, writes David Waldstein. Chris Capuano is throwing well, writes David Lennon.
2. The D-backs' Barry Enright is ready to battle for a job, writes Nick Piecoro. Within the same piece, there is word that reliever Clay Zavada is contemplating retirement.
Dings and dents1. Joel Zumaya is back to throwing as hard as ever, writes Tom Gage. Zumaya is something of a medical miracle, we hope.
2. Erik Bedard is happy and healthy, writes Geoff Baker.
3. Jason Kendall will have his shoulder checked out.
4. Arizona's Jarrod Parker is back at full speed.
5. Jesus Flores is finally healthy.
6. Jake Peavy is a pioneer, according to this press release.
• Doc Rogers, a former assistant GM for the Reds, is fighting cancer head-on, writes John Kiesewetter.
• Giants fans are willing to go above and beyond to taunt the Dodgers, writes Bill Shaikin.
• Tsuyoshi Nishioka is bringing change to the Twins, writes Kelsie Smith.