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LIKE FLOWERS, PHILLIES BLOOM THIS SPRING

By Murray Chass

February 17, 2019

Earlier this winter a member of the Philadelphia Phillies’ hierarchy told a friend the team would try to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado and might even try to sign both superstar free agents. The idea of signing both players sounded preposterous for the Phillies, who until a year ago were relatively inactive in the free agent market. But as spring training began last week, Harper and Machado remained open to bidding and a Philadelphia official acknowledged both players remained desirable targets.

Signing one of those free agents would provide the Phillies with a formidable asset. Signing both would be mind-boggling, not to mention expensive since Harper and Machado were both reportedly seeking deals worth more than $300 million.

But just jumping into contention for both, combined with their other aggressive moves, loudly shows how serious the Phillies are about reversing their recent fortunes.

The Phillies last played a post-season baseball game in 2011. The last out of their last post-season game was memorable and also foreboding.

Ryan Howard, their star slugger, had yet to begin his stunning 5-year, $125 million contract when he went to the plate with two out in the ninth inning and St. Louis leading the decisive fifth game 1-0. Howard rapped a grounder to second base and, knowing he had to beat out the grounder to keep the game going, bolted out of the batter’s box, ran about a third of the way to first and fell to the ground. Having ruptured his left Achilles tendon, Howard needed help to leave the field. The Phillies have needed help ever since.

These have been their records in the seven seasons since Howard tumbled to the ground:

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WHAT SHOULD WE CALL THE ‘FREE-AGENT FREEZE?’

By Murray Chass

February 10, 2019

A headline in USA Today last week called Major League Baseball’s “free agent freeze” an embarrassment for baseball. The newspaper is correct, but I have another name for what is going on in M.L.B. I call it collusion.

No, I have no hard evidence that the 30 teams are colluding, and maybe they’re not doing it the way they did it in the 1980s when two arbitrators nailed them for $280 million. But that kind of penalty encourages wealthy owners to be more clever and to find a way to cheat without getting caught.

They appear to have succeeded in that quest, at least for now, because …

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PERSONALLY CONNECTING TO THE SUPER BOWL

By Murray Chass

February 3, 2019

In writing last week about the geographical connection with last season’s World Series and this year’s Super Bowl – Boston Red Sox versus Los Angeles Dodgers, New England Patriots versus Los Angeles Rams – I omitted my connection to the Super Bowl. My connection was twofold – Jim Kensil and Don Weiss.

After Commissioner Pete Rozelle, Kensil and Weiss were the most critical elements in the creation and success of the Super Bowl. Actually, if Rozelle were alive, he might say Kensil and Weiss were more integral to the creation and success of the National Football League’s championship event than he was. They played a major role in my career as well.

Kensil and Weiss were sportswriters for the Associated Press in New York in the early 1960s when I began working for the A.P. in Pittsburgh. When an important game or sports event took place in Pittsburgh, one or two New York sportswriters would be the primary reporters and would be joined by someone from the A.P.’s seven-man Pittsburgh bureau.

It was in that context that I met Kensil and Weiss. I covered …

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