Stretching the Field: Phillies need kick in right direction

Stretching the Field: Phillies need kick in right direction

<p>My daily commute home is more than 40 miles and generally consumed by the sound waves of Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic.</p>

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - My daily commute home is more than 40 miles and generally consumed by the sound waves of Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic.

Missanelli had baseball legend and all-time hits leader (and all-time worst haircut) Pete Rose on the Philadelphia sports radio station this week and the one known as "Charlie Hustle" said there are three ways to treat a ballplayer: pat him on the back, kick him in the rear or leave him be.

That's the way Sparky Anderson performed his dugout duties for the Cincinnati Reds back in the 1970s. Rose won two World Series with Anderson, and the Reds were a well-oiled machine, a "Big Red Machine" to be exact.

There aren't many ballplayers like Rose nowadays and one of his other former clubs, the Philadelphia Phillies, is in need of a boot to the backside.

The Phillies have a manager who doesn't mind ruffling feathers or giving veterans his piece of mind. Just ask Jimmy Rollins. When skipper Ryne Sandberg was a player, he devoted himself to hard work out of respect for the game.

Sore arm? Achy ribs? Rough night out on the town? It didn't matter for Sandberg and the players from his era because they were going to rub some dirt on it and walk it off.

Some athletes today remind me of Margaret Whitton, who played Cleveland Indians owner Rachel Phelps in the 1988 movie "Major League," when she asked manager Lou Brown (James Gammon) if his players were a "bunch of pansies." Basketball's best player, LeBron James, has been taking the brunt of criticism for coming up small in Game 1 of the NBA Finals because the arena was too hot.

The Phillies aren't pansies. Sandberg wouldn't allow it and neither would they. But the past few weeks have been arduous ones for an aging ballclub in desperate need of a major facelift if things continue to falter. The Phillies have lost six in a row and sit 10 games under .500 at 24-34. They are a National League-worst 9-20 since early May and have been shut out seven times in that span.

To be frank, Sandberg's club had little momentum on its side entering the 2014 season anyway. It's been like that the past few years and the current version leads me to believe that while not much will change in the standings, changes could be coming within the organization. Will Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels or Jonathan Papelbon be headed to other zip codes? Lee probably not because other clubs should be cautious of his current elbow problem.

Hamels and Papelbon could draw some interest and Utley would be a nice addition to an American League club and the designated hitter spot. Would dealing those players help re-stock the farm system? Not like the St. Louis Cardinals, that's for sure.

Utley, the current NL leader in All-Star votes at second base, is the type of player Rose described as one to leave alone. Let Utley does his thing, he says. Is that really working for the team as a whole?

Phillies television color analyst Matt Stairs said he would like to see Utley show more emotion in the clubhouse to provide motivation. Would flipping tables and water coolers start a double-digit winning streak? Not likely.

Those images will never appear because Utley is a laid-back California guy and leads by example. It's a shame his teammates didn't follow in the 2009 World Series when Utley hit everything the New York Yankees threw at him. You just can't blame Utley or expect him to be someone he's not.

Ryan Howard also should be left alone unless his statistics start to dip, and that's highly possible. Yes, he has a contract larger than most and general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. (aka "Ruin Tomorrow" by the fans) is probably kicking himself for it. Howard, though, helped the Phillies to a World Series title in 2008 and is hitting the ball pretty well this season. He's also been healthy.

In my opinion, Utley, Howard, Marlon Byrd, Rollins and A.J. Burnett fall under the categories of being left alone and also receiving praise. Rollins wasn't praised much by Rose, who said it's more important to bring championships to a franchise rather than break records. Rollins said he wants to etch his name in team lore and will soon pass Mike Schmidt for most hits in franchise history.

Remember "The Simpsons" episode when Bart apologizes to the Australian Parliament and has to suffer the consequences of a "booting," which is a kick in the buttocks using a giant boot? Domonic Brown needs that. Brown has done nothing for the Phils since tearing the cover off baseballs last May and June and earning an All-Star nod? He is batting a disappointing .206 with four homers and 27 RBI.

Perhaps the Phillies should have kept outfielder/first baseman Darin Ruf in the big leagues instead of sending him back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he recently suffered knee and wrist injuries. It's just another questionable move by the club.

Ben Revere needs to say, "Thank you, sir, I'll have another." So do some arms in the rotation and bullpen. All is not to blame on the pitchers because most of the time the Phillies can't hit their way out of a pinata. There's nothing to celebrate here and no treats will be falling any time soon.

Perhaps the fans, who used to come out in droves to Citizens Bank Park, will celebrate when Amaro loses his job or the Phillies bring in another baseball mind to stem the tide much like when Pat Gillick joined the front office and aided the club to a 2008 championship.

The farm system is dry as a bone save a few bright spots in Lehigh Valley and Reading, and expectations for the franchise are at a serious low. The Phillies, though, are forced to make due with what they have in order to resuscitate a downtrodden fanbase and bring it back to where it once was. And that will take a long time. Maybe even longer than a decade.

The future isn't bright for the Phillies and wearing shades is imperative to hide the swollen eyes of continued failure.

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