Out of Left Field: The Platoon Process
Charlie Manuel coaching in spring training.

Posted Apr 7, 2005


Good ol’ straight talkin’ Charlie Manuel got himself in a bit of heat when he chose Placido Polanco to start at second base on Opening Day, instead of the announced starting second baseman, Chase Utley. Good ol’ straight talkin’ Charlie got himself further in the fryer when he tried to spin the situation as something that it was not. Good ol’ straight talkin’ Charlie insisted that the situation between Placido Polanco and Chase Utley wasn't a platoon, but a process. How’s that for straight talk?

Pla – toon: To play (a player) in alternation with another player in the same position.

Proc – ess: A series of actions, changes, or functions bringing about a result.

Now I have no idea where good ol’ straight talkin’ Charlie came up with the euphemism “process” to describe an obvious platoon situation. It sure sounds more like a word that General Manager Ed Wade would use. Good ol’ straight talkin’ Charlie needs to retire whatever dictionary he was using at the time though, and go back to being good ol’ straight talkin’ Charlie. It seems to me that someone must have whispered in his ear that the Philadelphia media was out to get him; that they would scream bloody murder if there was any hint of a platoon between Placido Polanco and Chase Utley. My advice to Charlie: stop listening to those hacks and just be Charlie Manuel.

During his four seasons in Philadelphia, Larry Bowa told us how loose the locker room was - that there was no tension - and expected us to believe it. For the past two seasons, Ed Wade told us how good he felt about the team - that there is enough talent here to win it all - and expected us to believe it. All these comments seem to imply that the media and fans of Philadelphia are a bunch of bumpkins. We are not bumpkins. What we are, is tired of being lied to and tired of being spun. So forgive me Charlie, if I take a moment to gag at this idea that you call a “process.” It seems to me that if you have a process, then you end up with a result of that process. That result, in this case, would be called a platoon.

When, exactly, did it become a bad thing to have a platoon? In 1993, there were three platoons on that beloved National League Championship team: Pete Incaviglia and Milt Thompson in left, Wes Chamberlain and Jim Eisenreich in right, and Mariano Duncan and Mickey Morandini at second. It worked - almost to perfection. In 1980, there was The Bull and Skates in left field, as Greg Luzinski and Lonnie Smith combined for many memorable performances on the way to that glorious (and still singular) World Championship. It seems to me that Philadelphia loves platoons. What we hate are processes.

You see, there was a process to find a new general manager after Lee Thomas was dumped. There was also the process to find a new manager after the “feel good” era of Terry Francona ended. There is supposedly this process called “The Phillies Way” that is designed (so I’m told) to be our roadmap to build through the farm system. That process seems to be set aside every time July rolls around and Ed Wade sees a two-bit starter or aging reliever available on the market. But, I digress.

This is about a word that Charlie Manuel doesn’t want the media to use: platoon. Let me be clear. If Charlie Manuel had said, “I think the best situation for the Philadelphia Phillies is a circumstance in which I get Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and David Bell equal amounts of playing time and plate appearances, and you can call that whatever you’d like.” I would applaud him. Isn’t that what we wanted Larry Bowa to say and do last season? But even at the end of the year, Larry refused to play Utley in favor of Polanco. The vast majority of Phillies fans appreciate all of those guys and see the benefits that each one of them brings to the table. A platoon situation among the three is potentially a great idea. Just don’t tell me what to call it.

Starting Polanco over Utley on Opening Day worked out very well. Polanco hit and provided some great defense and I’m not trying to downplay that at all. David Bell also played well, just as he did for most of the season last year. Plus, Bell brings those infamous “intangibles” and “leadership” to every “clutch” situation. Utley is much more of a liability on defense than Polanco, but he’s not as bad as he was a couple of years ago, and what he lacks on defense he more than makes up for with his bat. Utley stings the ball. While Polanco is a good offensive player in his own rite, Utley gives our lineup the kind of added pop that chases starting pitchers in the fifth inning. Isn’t that what teams try to do, get into the opponents bullpen early?

While we like guys like Pedro Liriano (or the departed Amaury Telemaco), we don’t want to see them come into the game. Heck, even their own families (if they are truly Phillies fans) don’t want to see them come into games, because that means that something has gone awry with the game plan. Long relievers normally are a sign of doom for the team that has to use them. That’s what we get with Utley’s bat added to the lineup; potential to get the opponents long reliever into the game.

Charlie Manuel knows this of course. He apparently told Ed Wade that he thought the situation with Polanco and Utley was a little like having two girlfriends. I’d have given anything to listen to good ol’ straight talkin’ Charlie explain that one a little further, but I do believe that he has in his mind a good game plan to get all of these guys playing time in situations that will help the Phillies win this season. If only there was some word to describe that.

Columnist’s note: I welcome any feedback; please send your comments to dncurry@comcast.net.



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