“Machado wants the Yankees and Harper wants the Dodgers.”
By Theodore N. Beitchman
Ed Rendell takes the long view.
He ran for governor of Pennsylvania in 1986 and lost, so he came back in 2002 and won.
He ran for mayor of Philly in 1987 and lost, so he came back in 1991 and won.
Same with sports.
He attended his first Phillies game when he was a Penn freshman in 1961.
Remembers going to three or four in the miserable and miraculous nightmare of 1964.
He’s still going.
I have never met anyone who cares more about sports who doesn’t work for a team or a league than the mayor for whom I worked 25 years ago.
He is a sponge for information.
So who better to check in with in this Winter of Phillies Discontent as they supposedly pursue Manny Machado and Bryce Harper and struggle for relevance in this Eagles and increasingly Sixers town?
Oh, one last thing:
He is not a hack or a flack.
The reason he is so sought after on political gasbag shows is because he’s not afraid to criticize his own Democratic party:
As in advising Al Gore to give up the ghost on the 36th day of the 2000 recount after the Supremes handed the election to George Bush when Rendell was chair of the DNC, or when he said that the Dems weren’t going after blue-collar voters in Pennsylvania in 2016.
He was right on both occasions, and he caught hell both times from some fellow Dems.
He’s not always right but he’s rarely in doubt.
Does the name Ricky Williams ring a bell?
“I only went to seven or eight games last season,” Rendell says during an interview in his Bellevue office just after Christmas. “But I watch every game on TV. I even subscribe to MLB-TV, so I can watch any game I want.”
Including those of the Chicago White Sox, one of the worst teams in baseball, who have had a place in his heart since 1958, when he was growing up in Manhattan and his Giants moved to San Francisco.
He takes the long view.
“Look, I hope I am wrong about Machado,” he says. “He’d be great in Philly. But he’s a shortstop and the Phils just traded for a good one in Jean Segura.
“And I hope I’m wrong about Harper, but he’s from Vegas and the Dodgers are close by.
“Sort of like the Phillies and Mike Trout,” who’ll be a free agent a year from now and seems to want to play in Philly, close to his Millville home and his new besties Carson Wentz and Joel Embiid.
How about the Phils’ biggest star signings to date?
“Andrew McCutchen (above with manager Gabe Kapler) will do well,” he says. “I think he’ll hit 35 homers in Citizens Bank Park,” which has friendlier confines than those of PNC in Pitt and AT&T in San Francisco.
“And Segura was a great pick-up,” he says, referring to the shortstop the Phillies stole from the Seattle Mariners in a trade that saw them unload Carlos Santana, he of the light stick and 100-plus walks, and one-time Phils baby shortstop of the future J. P. Crawford.
“In fact, because the Phillies have Segura might be a reason that Machado won’t come here. Manny wants to play short, not third. And Segura is already there.”
A handful of Rendell’s best friends, Penn frat brothers, ascended to the heights at 21st and Lehigh, the Vet and CPB:
David Montgomery, one of his best friends, became president of the team and is now its chairman; Mike Stiles became EVP of operations after a career as a judge and prosecutor, Richard Deats became VP of ticket sales, and Dan Goroff ran the ticket department.
So he has an additional partiality. And while he has never been known to pull punches, he was cautious when he commented on the present front office crew:
Managing partner John Middleton:
“He’s probably a little bit like Mark Cuban [the Dallas Mavs’ owner] because he’s willing to write the checks.”
General manager Matt Klentak, the Theo Epstein wannabe who was hired after the 2015 season and whom many in Phillies Nation are giving just one more year to reverse the curse of Ruben Amaro Jr.:
“He’s pretty smart. I’d like to see him get a chance to succeed.”
Manager Gabe Kapler, who got off to a rocky start in his rookie season, running relievers in faster than they had warmed up:
“Smart. Okay with players. I think he learns. He didn’t make his April mistakes in August and September.”
No, he made many others as the Phillies evaporated from 63-48 on August 5 to 80-82 at the end.
Rendell is such a baseball junkie that he went up to Trenton last summer to catch a Thunder game with Montgomery and Sixers great Billy Cunningham.
“The Thunder have a golden retriever as a bat boy,” he said with glee when asked why he went.
If there’s anything Rendell loves more than sports it’s golden retrievers, and he’s had a passel of them as an adult.
“They trained him to pick up the bats with his mouth!”
There was one other reason he went:
Tim Tebow was in town with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies (I’m being serious), a Mets affiliate in the Double-A Eastern League.
Sensing my disdain for the Heisman Trophy-winning NFL quarterback failure, including a 2015 Eagles stint, Rendell volunteered:
“I love him. He was a great college player and I never thought he got the right opportunity in the NFL. And he’s not a bad baseball player.”
Right, but he’s 31 and he’s in Double A, soooooo:
Let’s do a lightning round:
PITCHER JAKE ARRIETA: Fair. An acceptable No. 3 starter.
RELIEVER SERANTHONY DOMINGUEZ: Too erratic.
PITCHER ZACH EFLIN: Decent back-of-the-rotation.
PITCHER JERAD EICKHOFF: Best non-Nola starter.
RELIEVER TOMMY HUNTER: Fair at best.
PITCHER AARON NOLA: Great commend. A lot like (Hall of Famer) John Smoltz.
PITCHER NICK PIVETTA: Decent.
PITCHER VINCE VELASQUEZ: Wouldn’t give up on him.
CATCHER JORGE ALFARO: We should have signed Wilson Ramos.
THIRD BASEMAN MAIKEL FRANCO: Decent year.
SECOND BASEMAN CESAR HERNANDEZ: Solid.
INFIELDER SCOTT KINGERY: Remains to be seen if he can hit major league pitching.
OUTFIELDER ODUBEL HERRERA: Talented, but can’t be part of a winner.
RIGHT FIELDER NICK WILLIAMS: Decent, but only a fourth outfielder.
FIRST BASEMAN RHYS HOSKINS: Solid big league star. As good as Jose Abreu, the White Sox All-Star first baseman.