ANGELO CATALDI: Change is coming to the Phillies, like it or not

Cody Asche and Jimmy Rollins each made sure this year’s opening day was one for Phillies fans to remember. Credit: Getty Images Cody Asche and Jimmy Rollins are working hard on the field, but they aren’t getting the same support in the crowd the Phillies are use to. Credit: Getty Images

The shocking number of empty seats this past week at Citizens Bank Park – thousands and thousands of them in the upper decks and throughout the outfield – screamed the truth into the faces of the people running the Phillies. Were they listening?

President Dave Montgomery and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. may believe there is still some life left in the aging core of the 2008 champions, but the fans are buying none of it – nor are they buying tickets to witness the end of an era. Based on attendance in these first few games, the Phillies are a business in free-fall.

During a week filled with low attendance numbers, the most staggering was last Friday night, when 22,283 fans turned out on an unseasonably warm spring evening, which is 51 percent of the capacity at Citizens Bank Park. Two years ago, the Phils were in the final stages of a team-record 257-game streak of sell-outs, and now half the park is empty.

Phillies fans are not like those of the Eagles or Flyers, who fill every seat in good times and bad. Baseball has too many games, and too many tickets to sell every night, for this ugly underbelly not to show when a team disappoints. The fans are making a powerful statement right now that this ballclub, and the people running it, have squandered their faith and their support.

And that indictment includes the players. Ryan Howard, a $25-million-a-year slugger who should know better, said one night before that embarrassing 22,000 turnout that the Phillies were “playing very well,” a statement that would have been comical if it weren’t so insulting. The fan response was the lowest attendance for a Phils game in eight years..

No one thought, even in the best days of 2008, that the Phillies would remain on top forever, but who ever could have envisioned a fall in fan support this jarring? Remember, the Phils won 102 games in 2011, more than any team in the game. Just two full seasons later, they are a losing team with thousands of seats they can no longer fill.

Now comes the tough part, especially for Montgomery – one of the nicest men in sports facing a challenge not suited to kindness. He has often tried to deflect blame for the current state of the team from the obvious target, Amaro, but it is far too late for that now. The GM must go, before the inevitable task of rebuilding begins.

Since the rise of the best Phillies team ever – the 2006-11 edition – the organization has reaped unprecedented acclaim and extraordinary financial success, but that era is over now. If the Phillies had any doubt how their fans feel about this team, all they had to do is look beyond the outfield at that vast expanse of empty seats.

The fans have spoken. Change is coming. Believe it.

Eagles seem to be constantly hiding things

Just when it appeared the Eagles had moved past the fan-unfriendly era of Joe Banner, they have managed to put together two months of disrespect that rivals the darkest days of Banner’s reign. Who stole the voice of Philadelphia’s most popular team?

The latest example of the team’s puzzling inaccessibility came last week, when Temple president Neil Theobald said his football team may have to move out of Lincoln Financial Field because the Eagles are threatening to double the rent. Since part of the funding for the Linc came from taxpayers, the Birds needed to respond publicly, to address all of the questions.

Instead, they issued yet another terse statement claiming there have been no negotiations with Temple in more than a year and basically implying that Theobald was not telling the truth. Whose brilliant idea was it after an exhilarating 10-6 comeback season to communicate with fans through official statements?

The Eagles did it when they released Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson in the prime of his career last month, and they’re doing it again with this Temple issue. Other than a league-mandated appearance by Chip Kelly at the NFL owners meetings and an impromptu session with the media before the coach received an award in Atlantic City, the Eagles have gone mum.

Why? What are they hiding? What won’t they say about the release of Jackson? Why are they afraid to answer questions about their dealings with Temple? There’s a good chance the Eagles have logical answers to all of these questions, but we won’t know what they are until they start respecting the fans whose support pays their salaries.

Julie Hermann showing incompetence cleaning Rutgers

The shrill bureaucrat who was summoned to clean up the Rutgers University athletic program needs to clean out her mouth first – and then clean out her desk. In a sports world rife with obnoxious people, Julie Hermann stands alone these days.

Speaking before a journalism class recently, Hermann openly wished for the demise of New Jersey’s largest newspaper, the Newark Star-Ledger. The struggling paper, which announced 167 layoffs last week, has had the audacity to chronicle the many outrageous acts by Hermann before and during her pitiful tenure at the state university.

For example, reporters uncovered the story of an insurrection by the players on her 1997 Tennessee volleyball team after she called them “whores, alcoholic and learning disabled.” Somehow, the paper – which quoted some of her players by name – found those allegations pertinent because Hermann was brought in to end the bullying that cost basketball coach Mike Rice his job in 2012.

The Star-Ledger also caught Hermann in an apparent lie when she said she had spoken personally to the family of football player Jevon Tyree last season after he had accused Rutgers coaches of bullying him. Tyree’s father, Mark, said, on the record, that Hermann had not spoken to the family.

So far, Hermann has offered no plausible defense for any of her actions, including her proclamation that it would be “great” if the Star-Ledger died – thereby costing the jobs of many of the taxpayers paying her annual $450,000 salary.

Julie Hermann is supposed to be an educator, a role model. She is a disgrace. She deserves a fate no better than the one she wished on the staffers at the Newark Star-Ledger. She should be fired today.

Idle thoughts

  • Jimmy Rollins hit a game-winning homer Saturday night thanks in part to a fan behind the Phillies dugout who was heckling him just before the blast. “It worked,” Rollins said. Now, if it’s not asking too much, maybe Rollins could feel the same level of intensity without the verbal inspiration.
  • Even though he clobbered three homers and knocked in 10 runs, Ryan Braun deserved every boo he got last week at Citizens Bank Park. The Milwaukee slugger said the fan reaction to his steroid suspension inspired him. Apparently, his $10-million paycheck is not sufficient motivation.
  • If you’re looking for some good news on the Phillies, check out a game in Reading, where closer Ken Giles is routinely registering readings of 100 mph on the radar gun. His highest reading is 103, and he told me last week he has finally found his control. At 23, he won’t be in the minor leagues much longer. Bet on it.
  • Craig Berube has done an exceptional job reviving the Flyers in his first year as coach, but the team is one-and-done in the playoffs, guaranteed. Other than Claude Giroux, no one on the roster scares opponents, and goaltender Steve Mason is not good enough to carry the team. Hey, after last year, at least they made it this time.
  • The Sixers will end their season tomorrow night in Miami. I offer this nugget of information just in case, for some reason, you haven’t been paying attention.

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