All posts by Matt Veasey

Retired following a three decade career with the Philadelphia Police Department. Manager of mattveasey.com website and @philliesbell feeds on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Lifelong Philadelphia resident. Graduate of Saint Joseph's University. Married Conservative-leaning Republican politically and socially. Practicing Roman Catholic. Philly 4x4 sports fan. Huge baseball fan.

Black History Month: Philadelphia Phillies all-time All-Black team

To say that the Philadelphia Phillies were not a progressive organization during the early years of racial integration in Major League Baseball might be an understatement.

The last team in the National League to actually field a black player, they ushered that player, shortstop John Kennedy, onto and then off the roster after just five games and two plate appearances in late April and early May of 1957.

I would not say they made a huge commitment to the development of John Kennedy,” Chris Threston, author of The Integration of Baseball in Philadelphia, was quoted by Mark Dent at Billy Penn in a February 2017 piece. “They just wanted to get it over with.”

Kennedy first got into a game on April 22 as a pinch-runner while the Phillies were playing in, of all places, Jersey City, New Jersey. It was one of a handful of games hosted at Roosevelt Stadium by the Dodgers during their final two seasons in Brooklyn.

As fate would have it, Kennedy did not share the field that day with the man who broke baseball’s color barrier, Jackie Robinson. After playing the previous 10 seasons with the Dodgers, Robinson had been traded to the New York Giants in December 1956. Rather than report to the Dodgers arch-rivals, Robinson had chosen instead to retire at age 38.

It was during his second game on April 24, his first home contest at Connie Mack Stadium, that Kennedy further entered Phillies history by becoming the first black player to cross the plate with a run scored and to take an official time at bat.

With the Phillies trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates by 2-0 in the bottom of the 6th inning and Chico Fernandez on first base with nobody out, Harry Anderson pinch-hit for starting pitcher Curt Simmons. Anderson slung a base hit, and manager Mayo Smith called on Kennedy to run for Anderson.

Four batters later, the Phillies had loaded the bases, with Kennedy at third. Ed Bouchee then ripped a bases-clearing triple, and Kennedy trotted across the plate with the historic run scored.

The Phillies would score seven times in the frame, sending 11 men to the plate. The turn that Kennedy was filling as a runner in place of Anderson came around with two outs and a man on first. Kennedy stepped to the plate against Pirates’ All-Star pitcher Bob Friend, who got Kennedy to ground out, short to first.

Six days later on April 30 came another first when Kennedy became the first black player to field a position with the club.

Anderson had pinch-hit for Fernandez, the starting shortstop, in the bottom of the 8th inning of a game in which the Phillies were trailing the Cincinnati Reds by 6-3. Smith then inserted Kennedy to play shortstop in the top of the 9th inning, but no plays came his way.

Kennedy would get just one more shot at-bat in his big-league career. On May 1, the Phillies and Reds battled into the 15th inning tied at 6-6 at Connie Mack Stadium in a game which Kennedy had entered at shortstop an inning earlier. With one out and a man on, Kennedy struck out against Cincy veteran reliever Warren Hacker.

The final appearance in a box score in Major League Baseball by Kennedy would come two days later on May 3, again at home at Connie Mack.

The Phillies and the visiting Chicago Cubs were tied at 6-6 in the bottom of the 7th inning when pinch-hitter Solly Hemus drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Smith sent Kennedy in as a pinch-runner for Hemus.

Each of the next two batters, Glen Gorbous and Richie Ashburn, drew walks to force in a pair of runs. But then Ted Kazanski flew out to center field for the final out of the frame, stranding Kennedy at third base. He would trot off the field, never again to make an official appearance on a big-league diamond.

Kennedy was released days later and finished his Phillies career having officially gone 0-2 with a strikeout and a run scored. In his only two appearances in the field at shortstop he registered one assist, made one error, and participated in one double play.

Determining the first black player to register a base hit with the Phillies is all about how you define it. Tony Curry certainly fits the description by race, so he gets the designation here. Just the second player in big-league history to hail from the Bahamas, Curry also produced the first RBI by a black player with the team.

Curry appeared in 110 games with the Phillies over the 1960-61 seasons. During his rookie season in 1960, Curry slung that historic base hit and registered that RBI during the same plate appearance in an April 12 game at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

Inserted into the third slot as the starting right fielder in manager Eddie Sawyer‘s lineup on Opening Day, the only game that Sawyer would manage that season, Curry came to the plate for the second time in the top of the 2nd inning.

With the Phillies already up by 3-0 and two outs, shortstop Joe Koppe was on second base. Curry drilled an RBI single off Reds’ starter Jim Brosnan to stretch the lead out to 4-0.

The 1961 Phillies were the first in franchise history to field multiple black players at the same time. Curry began the season with the club but was dealt to Cleveland on March 20. Two other black players, Wes Covington and Choo-Choo Coleman, played for that team.

The 29-year-old Covington was already in his sixth big-league season when he arrived in a June trade from the Chicago White Sox, having broken in with Milwaukee back in 1956. Coleman was a rookie, and also has the distinction of being the first black catcher in Phillies history.

In his fifth game on April 28 at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis, Coleman came on as a pinch-hitter for starting pitcher Chris Short with the Phillies trailing the host Cardinals by a 6-1 score. Coleman reached on an error by Cards’ second baseman Julian Javier, allowing Ruben Amaro Sr to score.

Manager Gene Mauch kept Coleman in the game, giving starter Clay Dalrymple a rest at catcher. In his third plate appearance of the game in the top of the 8th inning, Coleman grounded a single to right off Lindy McDaniel. It was the first hit by an American-born black player in Phillies history.

Developing in the organization’s minor league system at that time was the Phillies first-ever black star player, Dick Allen. He would reach Philadelphia for a 1963 cup of coffee, then become the 1964 NL Rookie of the Year on his way to a career that will hopefully find him enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame by next year.

Over the ensuing years and decades the Phillies record in incorporating strong black players into their lineup would slowly improve. However, the ability to consistently develop black players through the minor league system to become productive long-term big-leaguers has mostly eluded the Phillies – with a pair of notable 2008 World Series-winning exceptions.

Below is my take on the greatest black players in club history. The Philadelphia Phillies ‘All-Black’ team is meant as a nod to those great players in franchise history during this 2020 Black History Month. The selectees were chosen, one for each position, based on their performance while with the Phillies.

It’s possible that I may have missed someone, or perhaps made a choice that you would have selected differently at a particular position. If so, would love your input. Feel free to leave a comment below or on social media.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES ALL-BLACK TEAM

First base: Ryan Howard

Second base: Dave Cash

Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins

Third base: Dick Allen

Catcher: Choo-Choo Coleman

Left field: Wes Covington

Center field: Garry Maddox

Right field: Bake McBride

Starting pitcher: Robert Person

Relief pitcher: Tom Gordon

 

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PODCASTS

The following are links to both “Ring the Bell” podcast episodes and my guest appearances on various Phillies related podcast shows.

The programs are listed in reverse chronological order along with the name and host of the show for guest appearances.

For “Ring the Bell” episodes the pod can be heard by clicking the Episode link. Guest appearances can be heard by clicking the date of the appearance:

2020

  • 02.23Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 02.12Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 01.22Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 01.17Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter

2019

  • 12.26 – Episode 00011: Answering questions submitted to the mailbag by social media followers
  • 12.11Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 11.30 – Episode 00010: Decision time arrives for Phillies on Franco, Hernandez
  • 11.20 – Episode 00009: The 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot includes six former Phillies
  • 11.14 – Episode 00008: Five Phillies have been named as the National League Most Valuable Player
  • 11.13 – Episode 00007: NL Cy Young Award has gone to a Phillies hurler seven times
  • 11.12 – Episode 00006: Two surprising Phillies skippers have won the NL Manager of the Year Award
  • 11.11 – Episode 00005: Philadelphia Phillies and the NL Rookie of the Year Award
  • 11.09 – Episode 00004: 2019 MLB Awards nominees
  • 11.08 – Episode 00003: Phillies in the 2020 free agent market
  • 11.07 – Episode 00002: Phillies current roster and payroll evaluation
  • 11.06 – Episode 00001: Introduction to the host and podcast
  • 11.04Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 09.01Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 08.11Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 07.22Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 07.15In Kap We Trust with Shane Meade
  • 07.03Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 06.16Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 06.05Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 05.22Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 05.11Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter

2018

  • 04.09 Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 03.28Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 02.28Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 02.12Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter

2017

  • 10.04Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter
  • 07.12Phillies Talk with Rich Baxter

2015

  • 06.22Yanks Go Yard with Ricky Keeler

 

If you would like me to appear as a guest on your podcast, feel free to contact me via email at matthew.veasey@verizon.net, or you can slide into my DM’s on Twitter @MatthewVeasey or @PhilliesBell.

 

Philadelphia Phillies 2020 Opening Day 26-man roster prediction

Over the last couple of days a handful of Philadelphia Phillies sources took their stabs at predicting which players would come north with the club at the end of March, making up the club’s official 26-man 2020 Opening Day roster.

So, why not me?

For a team that has not finished with a winning record or finished above third place in any of the last eight seasons, there are actually not too many spots up for grabs – at the moment.

One thing we all know about spring training is that things change from late-February through late-March. Injuries occur, trades happen, and pop-up players surprise with unexpectedly outstanding performances that are impossible to ignore.

For now, these are the 26 players who I would open the first season with under new skipper Joe Girardi if today were the regular season opener, rather than simply the Grapefruit League opener.

I will re-visit this again as we come down to the wire a month from now, taking a look at how this list held up and examining who may have emerged with a better opportunity.

STARTING PITCHERS (5)

Aaron Nola: RHP turns 27 in June, sixth season in MLB, all with Phillies

Zack Wheeler: RHP turns 30 in May, sixth season in MLB, first with Phillies

Jake Arrieta: RHP turns 34 in early March, 11th season in MLB, third with Phillies

Zach Eflin: RHP turns 26 in April, fifth season in MLB, all with Phillies

Vince Velasquez: RHP turns 28 in June, sixth season in MLB, fifth with Phillies

RELIEF PITCHERS (6)

Hector Neris: RHP turns 31 in June, seventh season in MLB, all with Phillies

Seranthony Dominguez: RHP is 25 all season, his third in MLB, all with Phillies

Bud Norris, RHP turns 35 in March, 11th season in MLB, first with Phillies

Jose Alvarez: LHP turns 31 in May, eighth season in MLB, second with Phillies

Francisco Liriano, LHP is 36 all season, 15th season in MLB, first with Phillies

Adam Morgan, LHP turns 30 next week, sixth season in MLB, all with Phillies

CATCHERS (3)

J.T. Realmuto, RH turns 29 in March, seventh season in MLB, second with Phillies

Andrew Knapp, SH is 28 all season, fourth in MLB, all with Phillies

Deivy Grullon, RH is 24 all season, second in MLB, both with Phillies

INFIELDERS (6)

Rhys Hoskins, 1B: RH turns 27 in March, fourth season in MLB, all with Phillies

Scott Kingery, 2B: RH turns 26 in April, third season in MLB, all with Phillies

Didi Gregorius, SS: RH is 30 all season, ninth season in MLB, first with Phillies

Jean Segura, 3B: RH turns 30 in March, ninth season in MLB, second with Phillies

Josh Harrison: RH turns 33 in July, 10th season in MLB, first with Phillies

Neil Walker: SH turns 35 in September, 12 season in MLB, first with Phillies

OUTFIELDERS (6)

Bryce Harper, RF: LH is 27 all season, ninth season in MLB, second with Phillies

Adam Haseley, CF: LH turns 24 in April, second season in MLB, both with Phillies

Andrew McCutchen, LF: RH is 33 all season, 12th season in MLB, second with Phillies

Jay Bruce: LH turns 33 in April, 13th season in MLB, second with Phillies

Nick Williams: LH turns 27 in September, fourth season in MLB, all with Phillies

Roman Quinn: SH turns 27 in May, fourth season in MLB, all with Phillies

 

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Phillies suffering through a southpaw starting pitching drought

There was a time not all that long ago when the Philadelphia Phillies starting pitching rotation included outstanding southpaws among the group. And looking back through history, the team has nearly always presented a lefty option.

As recently as 2014, the season began with both Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee still in that starting rotation. The two left-handers had been teammates at that point for the better part of four of the previous five seasons.

When Lee first joined the Phillies in a 2009 trade from Cleveland he stepped into a starting pitching rotation that already included both Hamels and veteran Jamie Moyer.

Hamels was first called up to the big-leagues by the Phillies as a 22-year-old rookie in May 2006. The Phillies had no lefty options in their rotation as that season opened. Before it was over they would have three.

In the middle of the 2005 season, Randy Wolf, who had been a member of the team’s starting pitching group for the prior six years, suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He would miss the entire second half of that 2005 season and the first four months in 2006.

Wolf returned to join Hamels in the Phillies rotation on July 30, 2006. Less than three weeks later, Moyer arrived in a trade from Seattle. The three would finish out that year together before Wolf moved on to the Dodgers via free agency.

Wolf had been promoted to the big-leagues back in 1999, joining the rotation for good in June. In the prior two seasons, Matt Beech had been the lone left-handed Phillies starting pitcher.

Back further into the 90’s, the club had seen Sid Fernandez, Mike Mimbs, David West, and a late-career Fernando Valenzuela take regular turns at one point or another. And in the early part of the decade, the duo of Terry Mulholland and Danny Jackson helped the 1993 team win a National League pennent.

Mulholland had joined the team in a 1989 trade from San Francisco which also brought southpaw Dennis Cook. Those two joined Bruce Ruffin and Don Carman, giving the Phillies four left-handed starting options.

Carman could trace his own career beginnings back to the final effective years in the career of not only the greatest left-handed starter, but also the greatest Phillies pitcher of all-time, Steve Carlton.

During the early 2000’s, Wolf would be joined in the Phillies pitching rotation at various times by other left-handed starters, including Omar Daal, Bruce Chen, and Eric Milton. After Wolf was lost to the elbow surgery, Eude Brito was called up and made five starts as a left-hander.

Some of these southpaws were among the greatest pitchers to ever pull on a Phillies uniform. Some were effective starters for short periods. Others were journeymen filling a rotation spot for just a short period.

But one thing that Phillies teams had in their pitching arsenal for decades was a legitimate left-handed starter. Even before Carlton’s arrival, the last place 1971 Phillies had veterans Woodie Fryman and Chris Short and young Ken Reynolds, all lefties, pitching out of the rotation.

The pipeline, if you will, of left-handed starters has dried up down at Citizens Bank Park since the departure of Hamels. The next-man-up was supposed to be Adam Morgan, but he was never able to secure a long-term role and has now settled in as a reliever.

After Morgan finished up the 2016 season still as a member of the rotation, the Phillies had no left-handers take a regular turn for most of the next two-and-a-half years.

Trying to keep his team in the playoff hunt last season, general manager Matt Klentak signed 30-year-old Drew Smyly in late July and a week later swung a trade for 36-year-old veteran Jason Vargas. That gave the Phillies a pair of southpaws in their rotation down the stretch. But both were short-term additions, and neither will be back for the 2020 season.

As the Phillies get set to open the Grapefruit League season down in Florida this coming weekend there are once again few legitimate left-handed starting pitching options for the rotation.

In a Wednesday piece on the rotation, Scott Lauber for The Inquirer wrote: “Lefty prospect Damon Jones is a dark-horse candidate.” I like Jones, a 25-year-old who went 5-4 with a 2.91 ERA. He allowed just 74 hits over 114.1 innings across 23 starts with a 152/59 K:BB ratio in a 2019 season split between three levels of the minor league system. However, I see Jones more as a power reliever.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t lefty arms around camp, even a couple who could fill a rotation slot briefly at some point. The bullpen has a variety of left-handed options for new manager Joe Girardi, including Morgan, Jose Alvarez, and Francisco Liriano.

Liriano has made 300 starts in MLB over 14 seasons and could potentially be used as a spot or emergency starter. The only other two left-handers currently in camp who appear to have any chance to take the mound as a starting pitcher in the big-leagues at some point would appear to be Cole Irvin and Ranger Suarez.

Irvin is now 26-years-old. He went 2-1 with a 5.83 ERA over 16 games, just three of those as a starter during his first taste of MLB play a year ago. However, Irvin has made 41 starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley over the past two seasons. The Phillies are likely to keep him stretched out there again to begin 2020.

Suarez made three starts when first called up in 2018. He was used exclusively out of the bullpen in 37 games with the Phillies last season. Suarez made 28 starts over the last two seasons between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Down in the minor leagues the Phillies currently have only two left-handers who appear to have even a possibility of one day taking the mound as a starting pitcher. Those would be Erik Miller, chosen in the fourth round of the MLB Draft last June, and Ethan Lindow, who was the organization’s Pitcher of the Year last season. Both are a couple of years away, and neither can be considered a true top prospect at this point.

Is it important to have a left-hander in the starting rotation? Does it matter? That is a legitimate question. If the Phillies had five legitimate, effective, right-handers in their rotation at any point over the last half-dozen years it might not be an issue.

Showing opposing hitters the change of pace that a left-hander offers, neutralizing top left-handed hitters for the first two or three turns through the batting order. These are just a couple of ways a southpaw would help.

For my money, I would prefer to always have a right-left starting pitching mix that included two of one and three of the other. My preferred rotation would alternate lefties and righties against each opponent.

It would be nice if the Phillies could at least develop one truly legitimate starting left-hander. That, or trade for one who could be an effective member of their rotation for a few years. Right now, that arm does not appear to be on the 2020 roster.

 

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Could the 2020 Phillies finish in last place?

Wait…what??? The Philadelphia Phillies finishing in last place in the National League East Division during the upcoming 2020 season? You would have to be nuts to even entertain such a notion, right?

Wrong, chewing tobacco breath! Well, it’s at least not such a difficult proposition when you consider how the Phillies were evaluated in the preseason PECOTA projections.

For those unfamiliar with it, PECOTA stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. It is the proprietary system from the folks at Baseball Prospectus that projects player and team performance.

Baseball Prospectus uses their system to project the final standings for the upcoming season and also presents the percentage chance for each team to reach the postseason.

This year’s projections were pushed through that system, and PECOTA spit out a final record of 77-85 for the Phillies. That put them in fourth place in the NL East Division and gave the club just an 8.9% chance of making the playoffs.

For the rest of the division, PECOTA projected the New York Mets (88), Washington Nationals (87), and Atlanta Braves (83) to all finish with more wins than the Phillies. Only the Miami Marlins (71) were picked behind them.

If PECOTA is to be believed, it would mean that Joe Girardi’s first Phillies team has been evaluated as being as close to a last place – six games – as they are to a third place ball club.

Now, arguments against the entire premise itself aside, and I am sure that many Phillies fans would come up with quite a few, let’s assume the PECOTA system is as valid as any. What would it take for the Fish to make up those six games, and actually pass the Phillies in the real final 2020 standings?

I follow the Phillies and all of baseball closely on a regular basis, and can say without reservation that fans have plenty of concerns and criticisms of the ball club.

The Phillies enter the season with a first baseman who underwhelmed in 2019 and was one of the worst hitters in all of baseball over the season’s final two months. They have new starters at each of the other infield positions, none of whom had an especially productive season a year ago.

In the outfield, the club has a left fielder coming off major knee surgery and playing at age 33. Their center fielder is scheduled to be an unproven 24-year-old in his first full big-league campaign.

On the mound, the Phillies starting rotation has a veteran third starter who has collapsed over the final four months during each of the last two seasons, and pitchers in the back three spots who have not established themselves as effective winners. The bullpen has two dozen potential members at spring training hoping to thwart the injury devastation of a year ago.

Every one of these concerns is legitimate, and each has been aired regularly by fans of the team during the course of this winter. So, let’s assume that it all goes bad.

Andrew McCutchen‘s knee either doesn’t hold up over six months, or he loses something in the field and at the plate because of it. Adam Haseley and Scott Kingery fail to develop into impact players. Rhys Hoskins and Jean Segura disappoint once again. Ditto the majority of the pitching staff. And GM Matt Klentak is unable to come up with pieces to fix any of the problems.

At this time of year, hope springs eternal. Spring training camp has just opened. The first Grapefruit League games are a week away. Major League Baseball’s regular season is still six weeks off in the distance. And then it’s a six-month long marathon of almost daily baseball.

Frankly, everything could go right – or many things. The Phillies could contend all summer, add a couple of key pieces in-season, and either win the division or reach the playoffs as a Wildcard team. They could give fans the first taste of exciting October baseball in almost a decade.

But the fact is, everything could just as easily go wrong. If even most of the things described above do actually go wrong, it would be disastrous. If, God forbid, the club loses someone like Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Aaron Nola, or Zack Wheeler for any lengthy period due to injury, could they overcome that loss?

If those things happen, and the rest of the division plays mostly to their potential, and the Marlins overachieve just a little bit, then the nightmare scenario of a Phillies last place finish could indeed unfold. That would surely result in Klentak losing his job. Perhaps team president Andy MacPhail as well.

Keep in mind, PECOTA is certainly not an exact science. A year ago they projected the Phillies for 89 wins, tied with the Nationals for the top of the division. Of course, the club finished with just 81 wins and in a fourth-place position.

For the coming 2020 season, Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus wrote the following on their evaluation of the Phillies:

The problem with the Phillies is that they were, despite their mere .500 record, one of the luckiest teams in the majors last year, with a third-order winning percentage that was seven games worse than their actual record.

PECOTA’s projection would indicate improvement. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are an imposing 1-2, but the integers after that aren’t. The bullpen is unsettled. Two of Didi GregoriusScott Kingery, and Jean Segura seem likely to play out of position, and PECOTA sees all three as below-average hitters. (It’s particularly down on Kingery, expecting a 78 DRC+). Bryce Harper’s outfield mates are 33-year-old Andrew McCutchen coming off major knee surgery and Anyone’s Guess in center.

No one wants it to happen. Frankly, I don’t believe it will happen. But don’t say that the last-place scenario hasn’t at least crept into the back of your mind. That is an unfortunate result of the last eight years and of collapses by the Phillies down the stretch in each of the last two seasons. Sorry that I had to even bring up the possibility.

 

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