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Entries on 15-March 09

entry Mar 15 2009, 08:00 AM
After a sabbatical from wrestling, 24/7 got me interested again in the product. I'll confess that I'm a John Cena fan, and I think the in-ring product has been as good as ever perhaps. So with a live Monday Night Raw coming, my friend, his fiance and I picked up some tickets for the show. We lucked out with it becoming a three-hour special featuring the draft lottery.

-Legends! We got appearances from Dusty Rhodes, Roddy Piper and the Fabulous Moolah.

-Chris Benoit's last Raw match.

-Local product Snitsky got DQ'ed for beating up Miz after the bell. Like that merited a DQ. My friend actually worked with Snitsky a short time at a local resort.

-The limo explosion. What an odd event at a show, we found out later that it was actually filmed the night before. The arena is actually in a fairly isolated spot, which made it an attractive venue to pull off that stunt.

For those who bash John Cena, it is really obvious from most live crowds like this that he is a tremendous draw. What struck me more than anything though is that the sound feedback was incredible. During the matches you just heard this incredible hum through the sound system. WWE cranks up the music to the point where I'm surprised the announcers can function.

Next up: Smackdown

Entries on 25-February 09

entry Feb 25 2009, 05:53 PM
A bit of background on this one. For years, WWE ran frequent shows at the Catholic Youth Center in Scranton, PA. Its history dates back at least to 1964, with Bruno Sammartino main eventing shows. Even as the Attitude era flourished in large arenas, WWE would come back to the CYC and run shows in front of 3,800 fans. In the Summer of 1998 however, the catholic leadership saw the product becoming too distasteful, and barred the WWE. So wrestling left the area for two years.

I never saw a wrestling show at the CYC, but I did attend a Harlem Globetrobbers game there. The best information I can find is that the CYC is now owned by Lackawanna College. Here's a virtual tour of the facility.

July 16, 2000. For the first time, the new First Union Arena at Casey Plaza hosts a WWE event (they had WCW Thunder in January). I had upper deck seats to catch this lineup.

Bull Buchanon defeated Al Snow
WWF European Champion Eddie Guerrero defeated Perry Saturn
Taka Michinoku & Sho Funaki defeated the Dupps
WWF Tag Team Champions Edge & Christian defeated the Acolytes
The Undertaker defeated Kurt Angle via count-out
Ivory defeated Jackie
WWF Hardcore Champion Steve Blackman defeated Gangrel
WWF Hardcore Champion Steve Blackman defeated Essa Rios
Matt & Jeff Hardy defeated Road Dogg & X-Pac
Kane defeated the Big Bossman

None of the matches truly stands out. Undertaker/Angle really turned out to be a dress rehearsal for their Fully Loaded PPV match, minus the finish. This was a good show though, nothing was remotely close to bad.

Three years later, first level seats at the same venue (now called the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza).

Maven & the Hurricane defeated Lance Storm & Chief Morley when Hurricane pinned Morley
Christopher Nowinski pinned Tommy Dreamer
WWE Women’s Champion Jazz defeated Trish Stratus and Victoria by pinning Trish
WWE Raw Tag Team Champion Kane pinned Christian
Bubba Ray, D-Von, & Spike Dudley defeated Rico & 3 Minute Warning in a tables match following a 3D on Jamal through a table
Sylvian Grenier & Rene Dupree defeated Scott Steiner & Test when Test was pinned as he was distracted by Stacy Keibler and Steiner on the floor
Booker T pinned Rodney Mack
WWE Raw World Champion Triple H pinned Kevin Nash after ramming the challenger’s head into an unprotected turnbuckle

Here things are clearer. The Dudleys' table match was no more than a standard six man tag with a table finish. I was sour on HHH/Nash at the time, but in retrospect I need to admit that they had a fine match.

I think arena shows are excellent as a fan. Live television shows can be hit or miss as the company is more concerned with angle development. At the live events, it's simply matches, and every angle is done with the live audience in mind.

Coming tomorrow: The Draft Lottery in 2007 and Benoit loses his mind.

Entries on 24-February 09

entry Feb 24 2009, 09:10 PM
Fast forwarding to 1999, a friend winning a radio contest netted us tickets to WWE Raw at the Meadowlands, the day after Wrestlemania XV.

This event featured a two hour live Raw, along with Shotgun and Super Astros tapings. Some highlights I recall.

-The Public Enemy pinned by six other guys in a four team tag match.
-El Hijo del Santo!
-Goldust winning the Intercontinental title from the Blue Meanie.

We got the taping first. The night's Raw featured the usual Russo era storylines. The problem with this type of show is that while everything is designed to engage the live audience, none of it is particularly memorable. The Undertaker kidnaps Stephanie McMahon, leading Vince to order his hooligans to find her. Ken Shamrock gets a confession from Christian. All a little more soap operaish than I prefer. Austin regained his Smoking Skull championship belt at this show. The Rock's popularity was on the rise, and it was clearly evident that he would turn face within a month.

Apologies for a short entry, but I'm really at a loss to write anything really interesting here.

Coming tomorrow: Live shows in 2000 and 2003.

Entries on 23-February 09

entry Feb 23 2009, 07:51 PM
This Saturday I'm attending a WWE house show in Wilkes-Barre, PA. In the week prior, I thought it would be fun to look back at various live shows I have attended.

Kicking off is my first live wrestling experience. In the early days of Monday Night Raw, WWE would run shows in much smaller venues. The Fernwood Event Center was a small convention hall in Bushkill, PA that held maybe 3,000. The town more or less consists of a single resort. Parking at the place was sparse, with cars lining Route 209 perhaps for half a mile. My friend, my father and I got standing tickets for the show, I being unable to convince my dad that the show just might sell out beforehand. Still, we were in.

The show was a combined live show and taping. The matches started with a series of squash matches, some of which aired the next week on Raw. What I remember most is that it seemed to take ten minutes between each squash, more frustrating when the matches themselves lasted two minutes apiece. Razor Ramon defeated Pat Tanaka, the Headshrinkers won a squash, Diesel won a squash, and Ramon came out again and beat the Brooklyn Brawler. (As an aside, one of the jobbers against the Headshrinkers was a young Mike Bucci, who later rose to fame as Nova and Simon Dean.)

Finally we got some competitive matches. IRS defeated Marty Jannetty clean and Doink defeated Bastian Booger. Those matches later aired on the Survivor Series Showdown. Bret Hart beat Jerry Lawler in a dark match. That may have been scheduled to air, but Lawler was charged with statutory rape soon after and was taken off television. Then we got the live Raw, which consisted of Ludwig Borga vs. Scott Steiner and a few more squash matches. The live show saw Randy Savage attack Crush in the dressing area, but without monitors all the live crowd saw was Bob Backlund vs. Barry Horowitz.

Being late, we left during Luger vs. Pierre. An Undertaker/Yokozuna dark match followed.

The show itself is almost entirely unmemorable, as Raw was not much more than a live episode of Superstars at that time. Fernwood was a poor venue, it was cramped and allowed little space for movement to concessions and merchandise, and some fans found themselves sitting directly in walkways. Adding the poor location, and it's a wonder WWE bothered. I would have liked to see them run the Scranton CYC for a Raw once or twice. Or even the Ag Hall in Allentown. Those would have accomplished the same goal of an intimate venue, with a nod towards history.

Coming tomorrow: March '99 in the Meadowlands

Entries on 20-December 08

entry Dec 20 2008, 06:44 PM
Watching the Glory Days documentary of the 1980 Phillies, former owner Ruly Carpenter mentioned a potential trade with the Texas Rangers over the winter of 1979 that would have removed three star performers of the 1980 season. Narrator Dallas Green states, "of course, we won't mention the players involved," while showing a clip of Tug McGraw. What was that trade? What would it have entailed? carries archives of the Sporting News. Searching for "McGraw" over the period of 1979 would bring up potential trade rumors, I would think. Sure enough, we find our answer. The Phillies seemed keen on acquiring an ace reliever. Whispers of offers to the Cubs for Bruce Sutter are mentioned, but the big one is a package to the Rangers for Sparky Lyle. Specifically, the Phillies would have sent Tug McGraw, Larry Christenson and Bake McBride to the Rangers for Sparky Lyle, outfielder Johnny Grubb, reliever Adrian Devine and maybe shortstop Pepe Frias.

Swapping Lyle for McGraw must have looked good at the time. Sparky Lyle at the time was the greatest lefty reliever of all time. Lyle however was hanging on the precipice. He bombed in 1980, producing a 4.69 ERA with Texas. Tug McGraw meanwhile battled tendonitis, but after a three week stint on the DL he came back and posted an amazing 0.52 ERA from July through the end of the season. I count 12 one-run victories among his appearances. Given that the Phillies won the NL East by a single game, surely that trade costs them the pennant.

The rest of the package looks a little more interesting. Bake McBride was the starting right fielder and a good player. McBride hit .309 in 1980 with 52 extra base hits. Among right fielders, he was middle of the pack. Grubb meanwhile was a lefty slugger, a tremendous platoon player in the era. With Grubb, the Phillies likely platoon him in right field with blazing rookie Lonnie Smith. Offensively that's a good move. Defensively with Smith in right and Greg Luzinski in left? Thank god Maddox was the Secretary of Defense.

Adrian Devine had a good ERA in 1979 but it was a fluke. He struck out merely 22 batters in 66.7 innings pitched. Sure enough, he had a 4.82 ERA the next season and never again pitched in the Majors. Frias was just an awful hitter.

So that trade costs them 1980. McBride faded after the season. Christenson gave the Phillies about 350 quality innings the rest of his career. McGraw had another good season in 1981 and hung on three more years. Grubb was a quality player but not a star. Oddly, the Phillies snagged Sparky Lyle later in the season in a September trade, sending Kevin Saucier after the season for a PTBNL. 1981 was the strike year, that is almost impossible to gauge. One wonders if the Phillies in 1982 could have contended without Christenson pitching a full season. And of course in '83 they won the pennant.

In retrospect, the trade costs them a World Championship. Thank goodness it did not happen.

Entries on 12-December 08

entry Dec 12 2008, 10:46 PM
Ten years ago, Baseball America started listing top prospects by team. The Phillies at the time had a weak system, and BA chose reliever Ryan Brannan as the Phillies' top prospect. Brannan never reached the major leagues. Over ten years have passed, so now it is apparent whether any of the Phillies' farm products at the time became successes or failures. Looking back, could any of their players made better picks as top prospects? I drew up a list of the top ten based on current career win shares. Players in the organization as of January 1, 1998 and claimed rookie eligibility status.

1. Jimmy Rollins, SS (18 years old)
Sally League: 270/332/370, 46 stolen bases

Impressive second year, as Rollins displayed a bit of pop, plate discipline, lots of speed. A shortstop who happened to be one of the youngest players in the league AND exceeded the league OPS is certainly a top prospect.

2. Randy Wolf, LHP (20 years old)
NY-Penn League: 4-0, 1.57 ERA, 40 IP, 8 BBs, 53 K's.

Wolf was the Phillies' second round pick in the 1997 draft. It is hard to put a lot of stock in 40 innings. Michael Cisco would qualify as a top prospect under the same criteria. It would be interesting to go back and read scouting reports on this one.

3. Marlon Anderson, 2B (23 years old)
Eastern League: 266/318/374, 27 steals in 42 attempts.

Those numbers are hardly impressive at all. Low average, little power, high caught stealing rate. Anderson would explode for 62 extra base hits the next year in AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Anderson spent a couple years playing second base for the Phillies before settling in as a valuable spare part for the New York Mets.

4. Desi Relaford, SS (23 years old)
International League: 267/323/400, 29 steals.

You want a higher batting average, but that's not bad from a 23 year old SS in AAA. Relaford bombed as a starter though in 1998. Relaford got mileage out of a career as a utility infielder. His placement on the list is due to longevity rather than real ability.

5. Johnny Estrada, C (21 years old)
NY-Penn League: 314/341/489.

223 at bats, 9 walks and 15 strikeouts? How do you evaluate a player like that? Estrada never got his OBP up. He reached the Majors in 2001 thanks to an injury to Mike Lieberthal, but was terrible. He had a solid year with the Braves in 2004, but otherwise he was a poor hitter. A player like this lives and dies on his batting average and when you do that, it better be closer to .320-.330.[/i]

6. Carlos Silva, RHP (18 years old)
Appy League: 2-2, 5.12 ERA, 58 IP, 14 BBs, 31 K's.

Home run rates are unavailable, so I don't know if Silva's ground ball tendencies were readily apparent. While Silva crashed and burned in 2008, he's had a fine career thus far as a starting pitcher.

7. Adam Eaton, RHP (19 years old)
Sally League: 5-6, 4.18 ERA, 71 IP, 30 BBs, 57 K's.

Nothing in the stat line really stands out. The Phillies packaged Eaton to the Padres for Alan Ashby before the 2000 season. Eaton had a 4.13 ERA in 2000 and since then has NEVER posted a better than average ERA in a season of any length.

8. Bobby Estalella, C (22 years old)
International League: 233/321/418

A beast. Estalella had power to spare, and was built like a truck. Unfortunately he had yet to hit for an acceptable average. Estalella exploded the following season in Scranton, posting a .993 OPS in 76 games. Estalella hit just .216 though in 904 MLB at bats.

9. Wayne Gomes, RHP (24 years old)
International League: 38 IP, 24 BB's, 36 K's, 2.37 ERA
MLB: 42.7 IP, 24 BBs, 24 K's, 5.27 ERA

How the heck did this guy ever come around with those peripherals. Gomes had three decent seasons from 1998-2000, before losing effectiveness.

10. Derrick Turnbow, RHP (19 years old)
Appy League: 24 IP, 16 BB, 7 K's, 7.50 ERA.

Wow. Turnbow found his stuff for one good season in Milwaukee, but otherwise he had extreme control issues his entire career.

I think Rollins and Wolf were obvious talents at the time. The rest are generally a collection of journeymen who had lengthy careers as reserves. In retrospect, Rollins probably should have been the number one prospect.

Entries on 5-December 08

entry Dec 5 2008, 06:08 PM
Let's run with this. Some of the rankings might be off by one or two. I'll never be satisfied as a whole, and in general it's impossible to really create a solid list. I just hope to avoid making some stupid mistakes.

1. Carlos Carrasco, RHP
A strikeout an inning at AA and AAA, just 21 years old.
2. Jason Donald, SS
Gotta love a shortstop who can post a .500+ slugging percentage.
3. Dominic Brown, OF
The scouts love him. I'll buy into the hype.
4. Lou Marson, C
I have qualms about his power, but it's much easier to go with the flow on this one.
5. Michael Taylor, OF
Took a huge jump in one season.
6. Kyle Drabek, RHP
Looks great in the Hawai'ian league. Ace potential.
7. Travis D'Arnaud, C
8. Zachary Collier, OF
9. Joe Savery, LHP
Bad season, but peripherals weren't terrible. Deserves another look.
10. Jason Knapp, RHP
11. Sebastian Valle, C
12. Vance Worley, RHP
13. J.A. Happ, LHP
I'm leary even rating him this high. He walks far too many batters for a pitcher without blow away stuff.
14. John Mayberry Jr., OF
Hard to dismiss this kind of power potential. Doesn't strike out as much as you'd think for a player of this profile.
15. Michael Stutes, RHP
Statistics are impressive, but really lacks impressive stuff. Even watching him, you think nothing of it and all the sudden, you have 8 K's marked on your scorecard.
16. Antonio Bastardo, LHP
Big HR rate in Reading is a red flag.
17. Freddy Galvis, SS
Bat is iffy, but I LOVE the defense. This is a guy I want to watch.
18. Julian Sampson, RHP
While not striking out batters, extremely low HR rate is a good sign for a young pitcher. Keep an eye on this one as a possible Chien-Ming Wang type.
19. Michael Cisco, RHP
Completely under the radar, but posted a 30/0 K:BB ratio as a starter in Lakewood, with no home runs.
20. Drew Naylor, RHP
21. Edgar Garcia, RHP
Never impressive, but still very young.
22. Quintin Berry, OF
Should make a fifth outfielder someday with his speed. Complete lack of power.
23. Andrew Carpenter, RHP
Seemed to recover as the season developed. Thanks to an inning of mopup relief, he's forever a champion.
24. Sergio Escalona, LHP
25. Anthony Hewitt, SS
Performance was awful, but there's potential if he can learn to make contact.
26. Anthony Gose, OF
27. Michael Schwimer, RHP
6'8" reliever, posted high strikeout rates in Williamsport and did not allow a single HR.
28. Jeremy Slayden, OF
Why on earth has he never been pushed a level?
29. Chance Chapman, RHP
Old for Lakewood, but I think he has a future career as a reliever.
30. Brad Harman, 2B/SS
Performance was bad, but he's still quite young, plays defense well and has some power. Possibly a utility infielder in the future. He put on a show at the last World Baseball Classic for Australia, and should get another chance this time around.

Entries on 3-December 08

entry Dec 3 2008, 02:38 PM
Fans of teams tend to overrate their prospects. Sometimes this reaches absurd levels. I mentioned J.A. Happ in my last entry, and apparently a few amateur prospect watchers weight him highly due to his close proximity to the Majors. Does a high level outweigh potential? What about performance vs. scouting? When I develop a prospect list, I think the correct way to go about it is to view the players as trading chips. If you were trading for a team's top prospects, which ones would you value? (Ignoring positional and team needs and such.)

J.A. Happ led the International League in strikeouts, at the age of 25. For comparisons sake, these are the other starters who have finished top ten in strikeouts at the same age. Brandon Knight, Brandon Duckworth, Travis Harper, Luke Hudson, Eric Junge, Denny Lail, Everett Stull, Tim Rumer, Brad Woodall, John DeSilva, Mike Oquist, Jesse Cross, Dave Telgheder, Josh Hancock, Aaron Heilman, Brian Burres, Virgil Vasquez, J.A. Happ, Jeff Niemann and Chris Lambert. Note any All-Stars on that list? None of them even held a starting pitching job long term. Oquist had the most wins, with 25. To make a pitcher on that level a team's top ten prospect is simply delusional.

Entries on 27-November 08

entry Nov 27 2008, 07:34 PM
Coming up with a list of the Phillies' Top 30 prospects, a step ahead of Baseball America.

1. Carlos Carrasco, RHP
2. Jason Donald, SS
3. Michael Taylor, OF
4. Dominic Brown, OF
5. Travis D'Arnaud, C
6. Kyle Drabek, RHP
7. Lou Marson, C
8. Zack Collier, OF
9. Vance Worley, RHP
10. Joe Savery, LHP
11. J.A. Happ, LHP
12. Sebastian Valle, C
13. Michael Stutes, RHP
14. Jason Knapp, RHP
15. John Mayberry Jr., OF
16. Edgar Garcia, RHP
17. Antonio Bastardo, LHP
18. Drew Naylor, RHP
19. Andrew Carpenter, RHP
20. Quintin Berry, OF
21. Freddy Galvis, SS
22. Julian Sampson, RHP
23. Michael Cisco, RHP
24. Sergio Escalona, LHP
25. Jeremy Slayden, OF
26. Anthony Gose, OF
27. Brad Harman, 2B/SS
28. Michael Zagurski, LHP
29. Anthony Hewitt, SS
30. Jason Jaramillo, C

This is a work in progress. Any questions, comments or suggestions are more than welcome. I'm curious to see how it stacks up against BA's list later this offseason.

Entries on 1-November 08

entry Nov 1 2008, 06:09 PM
I don't know if there is a good way to sum up an event like this. I probably should not even try. A lot of things have gone through my head as to what to write, and suffice to say I'm not a terribly poetic writer. I got to watch quite a few of the Phillies' players come through the minors, including Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard.

Frankly, I am shocked it came about so easily. The only other year the Phillies won the World Series was 1980. In that season, the Phils won the division by one game, coming back from behind to win three times in the last week, including the clincher. They won a best of five series 3-2 against the Astros, trailing all three times before they won, and seeing four of those five games go extra innings. They won the World Series 4-2 against the Royals, and they came from behind to win three times. Twice they had to beat Dan Quisenberry to do it. The only game they won in the playoffs but never trailed was the clincher, game six. This time they went 11-3 in the postseason. They were never a loss away from elimination. The only game the Rays even led at any point was their game two victory.

Cole Hamels established himself as a Phillies postseason legend, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts. Brad Lidge rocketed up the postseason saves list. He has now saved more postseason games than all but two pitchers, Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera. Ryan Howard hit three home runs. I think credit is due to the Rays though, who enjoyed a fine season. They lost fighting, with the tying run at second base and losing out only when a line drive stayed in the air too long. Baseball is truly a game of inches, hits turning into outs and vice versa by the smallest of margins. A couple of breaks and the championship easily could have gone the other way.

Was it a boring postseason? More or less, yes. I was thankful for that from a Phillies' perspective but disappointed in the other series. The game five ALCS comeback from the Red Sox will live as a classic. Game five of the World Series was very good as a whole (it will hopefully live in one piece on the dvd), as was game three. Little was memorable about the Fall Classic though. I think we can lay blame on Fox, the weather, MLB as much as we want. The fact remains however that if the games are lacking, there is little you can do to dress them up. Baseball needs exciting games, and then needs to market them properly.

It bears repeating. If you long for the days that your children could enjoy baseball, take them to a minor league game. The lower, the better. You get cheaper tickets, cheaper parking, cheaper concessions, and the players are much more accessable.

It amazes me how much merchandise MLB will attempt to sell in the wake of a World's championship. Within an hour, the Phillies' website proudly displayed a couple hundred items for sale, all proclaiming the Phillies "2008 World Champions." Hats, shirts and dvd sets are customary. Here are some other fun items you might purchase.

* Wincraft Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Series Champions Galvanized Pail ($29.99)
* Seven different 2008 World Series Bobbleheads, including the Phillie Phanatic, all holding the trophy ($24.99 each)
* Mr. Potato Head, Complete with Phillies hat and trophy ($19.99)
* 2008 World Champions Snow Globe ($34.99)
* Cole Hamels Autographed World Series Baseball ($217.99)

I can just imagine someone in the process of redecorating their den.

A final note on the parade. Chase Utley has raised a bit of a stir by declaring the Phillies, "World F'n Champions!" That is not the most distressing thing on its face, but it is a bit disheartening how this type of language has seemingly become acceptable at Philadelphia sporting events. It makes it difficult to introduce non-fans into the sport or to a sporting venue. Winning is not a ticket to act like a jackass.

In summation, this is really the first championship win I was alive to witness. I don't think anything in the future will measure to this. Thank you Phillies!

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