Philly March Madness FINAL FOUR: (1) Mike Schmidt vs. (4) Ryan Howard

Philly March Madness FINAL FOUR: (1) Mike Schmidt vs. (4) Ryan Howard

Over the next few weeks at The700Level, we'll be posting poll matchups as part of our Philly March Madness competition.
Examine the cases of
the two fine Philadelphia athletes
below, and cast your vote at the
bottom as to which you think should
advance to the next round. And as
always, feel free to explain your
selection and/or debate the choices
in the comments section.

Today and tomorrow: The Final Four and the Finals. Here's hoping
for our biggest voter turnout yet as we finally name a greatest Philly
athlete of the last 30 years.



(1) Mike Schmidt

Previously Defeated: (16) Keith Byars, (9) Wilbert Montgomery, (4) Ron Hextall, (3) Brian Dawkins

Sports Writers Say:

He  was batting .203 with six homers, but when his glove also betrayed him,  Mike Schmidt knew it was time. With two on and two out in a 3-3 game in  San Francisco a week ago, the Phillies' third baseman booted a grounder  for what would have been the third out, a grounder he would have once  handled routinely. When the next hitter, Will Clark, smashed a  grand-slam homer, the Phillies were on their way to an 8-5 loss. And at  age 39, Mike Schmidt decided that he won't be playing baseball anymore.  It's baseball's loss, not his. Too many baseball fans yearn for the good  old days, as if nobody playing now could possibly be as good as the  old-timers. But too many baseball fans don't always appreciate the good  now days. Over nearly two decades, Mike Schmidt was the third baseman of  the good now days. While accumulating three National League most  valuable player awards, he hit 548 homers and was voted 10 Gold Gloves.  No other third baseman ever did what he did with both his bat and his  glove. Not Brooks Robinson, not Eddie Mathews, not Pie Traynor.

If  you saw Mike Schmidt play baseball, you can always say that you saw  baseball's best third baseman. Even the old-timers might not argue.

In  assembling an all-time team, third base had always been the thinnest  p

osition for candidates. Only seven are waiting for Mike Schmidt to join  them in 1995 at the Hall of Fame: the old-timers Frank (Home Run)  Baker, Fred Lindstrom and Jimmy Collins along with George Kell,  Robinson, Mathews and Traynor. The other positions always had many more  legends to choose from but Lou Gehrig dominated the first basemen,  Rogers Hornsby the second basemen, Honus Wagner the shortstops. In the  outfield, take any three: Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Ted  Williams, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose. Among the  catchers, judge Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella  and Johnny Bench. For pitching, consider Cy Young, Walter Johnson,  Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Lefty Grove, Steve Carlton,  Tom Seaver.

But at third base, it's no contest. As good as  Traynor, Mathews and Robinson were in other years, none of them matched  the complete package that Schmidt put together.

Season after season, Schmidt not only produced but he usually produced when the Phillies needed him to produce.

His  500th homer wasn't merely a ceremonial cannon shot. It won a game in  Pittsburgh. In the 1980 divisional race with the Expos, his home run in  Montreal clinched the title. In the World Series against the Kansas City  Royals that year he batted .381, hit two homers and drove in seven  runs. He was selected as the m.v.p. as the Phillies won the Series for  the only time in the franchise's 106-year history. He once hit four  homers in a game; he twice hit three homers in a game. He holds the  National League career third-base records for double plays, total  chances and assists. And in an era of free-agent soldiers of fortune, he  wore only the Phillies' uniform.

One reason was that the Phillies were wise enough to pay him what he  was worth: more than $17 million over his career, more than any other  baseball player in history except Dave Winfield.

Like every  player, Schmidt had his slumps. When the Phillies lost the 1983 Series  to the Orioles in five games, he batted .050, only one broken-bat single  in 20 official times at bat. Even so, he never hid or sulked. After  every game, he sat at his locker and answered questions, patiently,  thoughtfully.

''I'd like to hit a five-run homer or a six-run  homer,'' he joked after the fourth game. ''You ever see one of those?''  But his 1980 World Series ring had eased his burden as the Phillies'  most productive hitter, a burden that developed on the teams that lost  the National League Championship Series in 1976, 1977 and 1978. When the  Phillies won the 1980 Series, their manager was Dallas Green, now the  Yankee manager.

''Schmitty was neat to be around,'' Green  recalled. ''He made you work at making him understand the game and  there's nothing wrong with that.''

Schmidt also made opposing managers work. Charlie Fox, now a Yankee  coach, once managed the Giants, the Expos and the Cubs against the  Phillies.

''When you're a manager,'' Fox said, ''there's always  one player on the other team that you tell yourself, 'Don't let this man  beat me.' On the Phillies that man was Schmitty. With the game on the  line, you'd tell your pitcher, 'Get this guy out, then we'll walk  Schmitty, and get the next guy.' But when you did pitch to him, you  never knew how. Just when you thought you were getting him out inside,  he'd start hitting the outside pitch to right center.''

At 6 feet 2  inches and 205 pounds, Schmidt was also considered one of the Phillies'  best baserunners. He stole 174 bases, with a high of 29 in 1975.

''He  stole a base when the Phillies needed it, usually late in the game,''  Fox said. ''He lulled you early in the game. In the third inning, the  fifth inning, he'd take a little lead and never even make a move to  steal. In the seventh or eighth or ninth when the Phillies needed a run,  he'd take that same little lead and you'd figure he wasn't going  anywhere and boom, he'd steal.''

Mike  Schmidt did it all. And he did it with a quiet style that embellished  his stature. If you saw him play, you can always say you saw baseball's  best third baseman. -Dave Anderson, New York Times, 1989


(4) Ryan Howard

Previously Defeated: (13) Jon Runyan, (5) Pete Rose, (1) Reggie White, (3) Donovan McNabb

Sports Writers Say:

The sky over St. Louis looked as gray and uninviting as cold oatmeal when Ryan Howard hit the most memorable moon shot of his career. He was 12, and his Little League team was playing a squad from Jefferson City. Howard, then known simply as Hurt, already had prodigious power from the port side. "When he made contact, it was like, Wow!" recalls his twin brother, Corey. "His home runs were loud."

Late in the game, Hurt turned on a chest-high heater. According to family lore the ball soared over the infield, over the outfield, over a 20-foot chain-link fence in rightfield, over a parking lot and, depending on the storyteller, struck the wall of a Red Lobster, the base of a sign outside a Red Lobster or a Red Lobster sign's red lobster.

Thirteen years later Howard still savors the swat. "It was my first actual bomb," recalls the Philadelphia Phillies' first baseman. "I watched it with a little awe." An equally awed sportswriter recently paced off the distance b
etween home plate and the building. If the yarn is true, Ryan's blast traveled at least 430 feet.

Laid end to end, Howard's homers this season have traveled an estimated 4 1/4 miles, the longest going 491 feet. He had a major-league-leading 56 to go along with a major-league-leading 138 RBIs, including 41 in August, the most by any player in any month since Frank Howard had 41 in July 1962. He also pounded 14 homers and hit .348 last month to single-handedly launch the Phillies into wild-card contention. If Howard reaches 60 homers, he'll become only the sixth player to accomplish the feat. "To hit 50 is really something," says Philadelphia closer Tom Gordon. "Sixty is almost beyond comprehension. It's magnificent."

To date, the Magnificent Five includes Babe Ruth, who hit 60 in 1927, and Roger Maris, whose 61 came in '61. The rest of the roster-- Mark McGwire (65 and 70), Sammy Sosa (63, 64 and 66) and record-holder Barry Bonds (73)--is sullied by suspected steroid use. Should Howard pass Maris's 61, a crusade is afoot to anoint him King of the Juiceless Dinger. Asked if he would take pride in such a title, he says, with a hint of diffidence, "I would."

Then again, Ryan is dispassionately modest about his chances of even attaining 60. "If it happens, it happens," he says with a small shrug. "If I were to do something like that and then wake up and reflect on the season one day at home in the off-season, I wouldn't believe it."

Baseball has seldom seen anything quite like Howard. The hulking 6'4" 250-pounder looks like he was poured into his uniform and forgot to say when. As if stanchioned to the bag at first, he often seems as animated as the William Penn statue atop Philadelphia's City Hall. "Ryan does get excited," insists Philadelphia reliever Geoff Geary. "His excitement is just not extreme." To prove a point, Geary shows a video he filmed surreptitiously on his cellphone. Facing his locker before a game, wired into an iPod, Howard, arms akimbo and hips swiveling, does a wobbly rumba. "That's Ryan's groove dance," says Geary. "He gets down to get loose."

Howard is only truly loose in the clubhouse, where he greets teammates with a dozen handshakes. "He's got big old Mice and Men hands," says Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. "You know, like the ones Lenny had. There's a lot of strong in those hands."

You need strong hands to dispatch fastballs into the troposphere. "Ryan uses an inside-out swing for wallburners to left, but his homers to center and right have a trajectory unlike anything I've ever seen," says pitcher Jamie Moyer, a veteran of 20 seasons. "They start out like routine flies and carry and carry and carry until they land 30 rows back in the bleachers. They're absolutely majestic."

At Citizens Bank Park, Howard's most regal blasts alight in the upper deck in right, a veritable petri dish of costumed Phillies fan clubs, from Flash Gordon's "Superheroes" to Chase Utley's " Utley's Uglies." Three clubs vie for Howard supremacy: the leonine-garbed "Ryan's Lions," the Homer Simpson--masked "Homer's Homers" and " Howard's Howards," who sport bowl cuts like Moe Howard of Three Stooges fame. All chant "M-V-P!" when their hero steps to the plate.

"Phillies fans go crazy for the shut-up-and-play type," says Jerry Getz, a Philly sports-radio gadfly known as Jerry on the Mobile. "Howard seems like a quiet, clean-cut John Kruk, an accessible, almost jolly guy who plays the game like he loves it. He's the anti-T.O."

In the Phillies' dugout Howard is called everything from Rhinoceros to Man-Mountain to One-Man Gang. The consensus favorite, however, is John Coffey, after the gentle gargantuan in The Green Mile. "John Coffey was a big guy and a good, kind person," says Howard. "I act like that sometimes, too, just to throw people off."

By most accounts it's no act. "Ryan has always been even tempered," says Corey, his fraternal twin. "The only thing that sets him off is hearing people say he can't do things. They've said he can't hit lefties, he can't hit off-speed pitches, he can't hit for a high average. Whatever they've said Ryan can't do, he's gone out and done."

Their father, Ron, a project manager for IBM in St. Louis, forbade the word can't in his home. So Ryan set out to show his old man he could. At Lafayette High he played defensive end, power forward, first base and trombone in the marching band. He played each of them ably but baseball best. Two years ago Howard, who was drafted by the Phils in the fifth round of the 2001 draft out of Southwest Missouri State, hit 46 homers for two farm teams. All that stood in his way in Philadelphia was power-hitting first baseman Jim Thome and his six-year, $85 million contract. "I'd heard Ryan hit bombs," Rollins says. "But I figured there were 85 million reasons I wouldn't see him anytime soon."

The following spring Howard auditioned in left, flunked and was sent back to Triple A. "The Phillies traditionally give you one shot," Rollins says. "If you're demoted after that, you might as well cancel Christmas."

For Howard, Christmas came in July. When Thome's season was cut short by injuries, Howard--the International League leader in hitting (.371), on-base percentage (.467) and slugging (.690) at the time--got another chance. He made the most of it, mashing 22 homers (10 in the final month) to help propel the Phils to within a game of the playoffs.

Last November the Phils settled their first base question by trading Thome to the White Sox. Questions about Howard, however, remained to be settled. Though he was Rookie of the Year in 2005, for example, he batted only .148 against southpaws. At week's end he was up to .283 and had hit 15 of his homers off lefties. "Two years ago he had raw power, but he tried to cover the entire strike zone," says Astros third base coach Doug Mansolino. "The difference now is patience and selectivity: He only swings at pitches in his strike zone." (His strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved from 3 to 1 last season to under 2 to 1 this year.)

Pity the pitcher who trespasses in Howard's zone. Last week Houston's Russ Springer tried to bust him with a cutter up and in. Howard swatted the righthander's pitch off the face of the second deck. "Lefthanded batters are supposed to foul that off or hit it on the ground," says Astros infielder Aubrey Huff. "I don't think there's another big leaguer who could have hit it out."

The crack of Howard's 34 1/2-ounce bat was easy on Rollins's ear. "When he connected, it was loud, like somebody had turned up the volume," says Rollins. "It was a beautiful sound, and I knew the ball would be leaving the yard." -Franz Lidz, Sports Illustrated, 2006

    Who should advance to the next round?Market Research

Elite Eight Results:

(1) Julius Erving (53.6%) over (2) Chase Utley (46.4%)
(2) Allen Iverson (68.1%) over (5) Brian Westbrook (31.9%)
(1) Mike Schmidt (51.6%) over (3) Brian Dawkins (48.4%)
(4) Ryan Howard (72.9%) over (3) Donovan McNabb (27.1%)

 

Give and Go: No. 3 pick or an impact free agent more important for Sixers?

Give and Go: No. 3 pick or an impact free agent more important for Sixers?

Before the offseason craziness starts, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we analyze whether the No. 3 pick or adding an impact free agent is more important for the Sixers.

Camerato
The Sixers have the third pick in the 2017 draft. 
 
They also had the same pick in 2014. 
 
And 2015. 
 
And the number one pick in 2016.
 
The No. 3 is a nice addition of potential young talent, but how much further does *another* high lottery pick progress the Sixers?
 
The team is at a point where they need more experienced players to boost the development of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric … and basically everyone on the roster except Jerryd Bayless, who is the only player under contract for next season with more than four years of NBA experience.
 
Veterans make younger players around them better. This isn’t only being a voice in the locker room either. This season the Sixers could greatly benefit from a vet who is in game with them, not just on the bench. Look at what 35-year-old Joe Johnson did for the Jazz this season. 
 
Do the Sixers need to go out and sign a big name free agent to a max contract? No. They have the money to spend but also a lot of questions to answer about Simmons’ role and Embiid’s health before locking in someone long-term. 
 
Can adding experience develop them further than potential would at this point? Yes.

Haughton
There's always a delicate balance between blending homegrown talent and free agents. With this Sixers team, I think adding another young piece to the core with the No. 3 pick is far more important than luring someone on the free-agent market.

If we're being honest about the team's roster, there are only two real difference makers in Embiid and, in all likelihood, Simmons. In that third draft slot, the Sixers have an opportunity to select yet another top-tier talent and address an area of need (guard or wing) without spending a boatload of cash.

The Sixers' youthful makeup resembles a college team and makes it easier for rookies to mix into the group. That also means the draft pick has a chance to grow on the same track as his teammates and build for the long-term betterment of "The Process" instead of a free agent that is likely trying to speed things up to win now.

Speaking of FAs, there will be a nice pool of guys available for the Sixers. However, it's not like any of them are going to put the team over the top and in the conversation for any postseason hardware.

Stick to the script and focus on the draft. Whichever player hears his name called at No. 3 will have a far bigger fingerprint on where this franchise goes next than anyone acquired via free agency.

Hudrick
The Sixers have identified Embiid and Simmons as their franchise players. Embiid is 23 and Simmons will turn 21 in July. Embiid has played in 31 games and Simmons has yet to take the floor.

I mention this because this Sixers team is still very much building. They're nowhere near a finished product. The veteran additions of Gerald Henderson and Bayless (who was limited to mostly a mentoring role last season) no doubt helped the team last season. But what does signing a marquee free agent do? 

Looking at the market, the two most obvious choices are point guard Kyle Lowry (31) and two guard J.J. Redick (32). Lowry and Redick both fills needs and will make the Sixers better immediately. 

But this team won 28 games last year while only having Embiid for 31 games and not having Simmons at all. Add the No. 3 overall pick to that equation -- whether it's Josh Jackson, Malik Monk, Jayson Tatum or De'Aaron Fox -- and the Sixers should improve on that mark.

There will be a time to sign a big-name free agent. I'm just not sure this is the offseason to do it. They need to get their first-round pick in here and see how that player gels with the team's core. After you see how the team starts to take shape, that's when you need to add a free agent to put you over the top.

Tonight's lineup: Howie Kendrick returns, Odubel Herrera rides the pine

Tonight's lineup: Howie Kendrick returns, Odubel Herrera rides the pine

Updated: 4:33 p.m.

Howie Kendrick is back after a month and a half on the disabled list while Odubel Herrera is heading to the bench for a few days.

The Phillies reinstated Kendrick from the DL and he's in the lineup, batting second and playing left field vs. the Marlins (7:10/CSN and CSNPhilly.com). Meanwhile, manager Pete Mackanin said pregame slumping center fielder Odubel Herrera will be on the bench both today and tomorrow. Maikel Franco was moved down further in the lineup.

Kendrick batted a sterling .333 in his 39 at-bats in April, looking the part of a top-of-the-order hitter. The former infielder played only left field during his 10 games before going down with an oblique injury (see game notes). He gives the Phillies a chance to rest their outfielders or allow them a new look in the corner infield. 

Herrera is in the midst of a 1-for-22 slide that has brought his batting average down to .217. Mackanin said postgame on Sunday that he would move Herrera down in the lineup and would give him a few days off at some point with Kendrick back as an extra outfielder. Mackanin hoped time off would help lessen the pressure on the scuffling Herrera.

Mackanin also mentioned the inconsistent at-bats of Franco, who is down to seventh in the lineup. Catcher Cameron Rupp was moved ahead of him to sixth in the order with Franco batting .213 and going 2 for 18 since his eight-game hitting streak ended on Monday.

Jeremy Hellickson makes his first start since allowing a seven-run third inning to the Rockies on Wednesday. The good news for the righty is that he dominated the Marlins last season and was similiarly strong in a victory vs. the Fish in April.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Edinson Volquez:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Aaron Altherr, CF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Maikel Franco, 3B
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P