ANGELO CATALDI: Phillies fans should be worried as spring training begins

Cole Hamels recently announced he will miss opening day with an injury to his bicep. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. assured reporters that it is not a serious injury. Credit: Getty Images Cole Hamels recently announced he will miss opening day with an injury to his bicep. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. assured reporters that it is not a serious injury. Credit: Getty Images

The Phillies opened spring training last week with their wallet wide open and their eyes slammed shut. If fans weren’t worried about the competence of the front office before this, they are now.

Just days after belittling the idea of a major move, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. spent $16 million on eccentric starting pitcher A.J. Burnett. Almost simultaneous with that agreement was the alarming news that Cole Hamels will not be ready for the start of the season because of bicep tendonitis in his pitching arm.

The timetable for Hamels’ recovery is as bizarre as the injury itself. He felt some pain in the upper left arm and shoulder during his routine throwing program late in October, but that discomfort is gone now. The season starts in six weeks. The pitcher said he “feels great.” But he won’t be ready on March 31. Why not?

At 37, Burnett had a career year in Pittsburgh last season, but then he

gave up seven runs to St. Louis in the first game of the playoffs, his latest spectacular failure under pressure. The righthander was so pitiful, he was bypassed for the deciding playoff game despite his status as the No. 1 starter. He reacted predictably with a full-blown hissy fit.

After an off-season that brought only one significant acquisition, journeyman outfielder Marlon Byrd, Amaro suddenly outbid the Pirates by $4 million last week to secure Burnett. For that same $16 million – or far less per season – Amaro had many other free-agent options (Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza) who were younger and more promising, and he negotiated with none of them.

Logic suggests strongly that the Burnett signing was a direct result of the Hamels news. This leads to a far more ominous question: How serious is the injury to the Phillies’ ace? Apparently, no one can answer that question, including the Phillies themselves.

According to the pitcher, team doctor Michael Ciccotti arrived at the diagnosis of bicep tendonitis without benefit of an MRI. On my WIP radio show last week, I asked one of the top orthopedic surgeons in the country, Dr. David Craft, about Hamels, and his first words were: “Well, I’m sure they gave him an MRI.” He was audibly perplexed when I informed him that no such test was given.

The Phillies have a stunning record of failure in the diagnosis and treatment of players (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay) over the past few years, and this health issue looks like another potential misfire. Why don’t the Phillies want all the information they can get about their best pitcher before they plan the 2014 season? Are they afraid of the truth about Cole Hamels’ arm?

There’s always a chance that Hamels will be fine this season and Burnett will slot in perfectly as the No. 3 starter. Maybe this is just a spring scare. But don’t bet on it.

Former Eagles CEO Banner learned nothing from Philly

Most people who knew Joe Banner during his 18 years as the CEO and president of the Eagle have vivid memories of his reign as the bad cop on Philadelphia’s most popular sports team. Banner, in a word, was miserable. At the same time, however, he was a business genius.

Or was he? Banner’s shocking dismissal as president of the Cleveland Browns last week after only 16 months requires a re-examination of his time here, an era of great success and constant discord. The Eagles won more games and made more enemies during Banner’s tenure than at any other point in the team’s long history.

Apparently, Banner learned nothing about how to deal with people even after his abrupt and ugly departure here. Browns president Jimmy Haslam ultimately decided to fire his CEO because of frequent shouting matches with GM Mike Lombardi – who was also dumped – and because three coaching candidates said they would not work for Banner.

Even more undeniable is the impression now that Banner is a terrible talent evaluator, a shortcoming that brought about the premature departure here of Brian Dawkins, among others. In Cleveland, Banner picked the wrong coach, had a lousy draft and provided no immediate hope for a 4-12 team. Fans in Cleveland think he’s clueless. Maybe we should, too.

Banner’s legacy in Philadelphia remains one of smart business management – especially with the salary cap – that made Lurie’s $185-million investment into a billion dollars and helped to build Lincoln Financial Field. But he didn’t know the game of football when he got here in 1994, and he doesn’t know it now. His failure in Cleveland is conclusive proof of that.

Sixers coach Brown making the best of a bad situation

Now that the Sixers have lost eight games in a row and are playing some absolutely hideous basketball, coach Brett Brown is absorbing his first rumbles of discontent. Naysayers are quietly asking if he is the long-term answer on the bench. These questions are unfair. They are also stupid.

After 12 straight seasons of 50 wins or more in San Antonio, Brown is doing exactly what he was hired to do, and that is develop Michael Carter-Williams and wait for an influx of young talent next season. Nothing short of divine intervention could save this putrid roster from the fate it is enduring right now. The Sixers stink.

Brown had avoided most of the sniping normally aimed at a losing coach until back-to-back slaughters against the Clippers and Suns last week. The combined deficit of 88 points in those games set off a flurry of skepticism about Brown. Granted, those are humiliating defeats, but they mean nothing in an already futile season. Who cares what the final score is? A loss is a loss.

What’s important is the dignity with which Brown has handled his rookie season here, answering awkward questions with honesty and promising far better results when he gets some actual NBA players to coach. Brown has done nothing this season, including those two routs last week, to suggest he cannot get the job done.

Brett Brown is not the problem with the Sixers this year, not at all. Starting next season, he will be part of the solution. You read it here first.

Idle thoughts

  • Jim Fregosi was a baseball lifer who left behind the memory of the beloved Macho Row Phillies when he died last week. He hated the radio station where I have worked for 25 years, WIP, and probably me, too. But if you didn’t feel the loss, you missed all the fun here in 1993. RIP, Jim.
  • Richie Incognito has been unmasked, once and for all, as a sports bully, and no lame denials by the Miami lineman are going to salvage his reputation now. The recent NFL report on his behavior is filled with racism and homophobia. He needs a permanent seat on the bench – not to mention, a punch in the mouth.
  • Comcast chose Jamie Moyer over Mitch Williams for one of the openings in the Phillies TV broadcast booth, despite Williams’ advantage in experience and wit. And please don’t argue that Williams was too expensive, not when the cable TV giant just bid $45 billion for Time-Warner. Terrible decision.
  • LeBron James picked Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the top four players of all time last week, with himself a close fifth. Somebody should introduce James to an NBA record book, where he could learn about the best player in history, Wilt Chamberlain. It’s not close, kids. Look it up.
  • Andrew Bynum was released by Cleveland recently after he sabotaged a practice by shooting the ball every time a teammate passed it to him, sometimes from midcourt. Hey, the former Sixer shoots every time he touches the ball in bowling, his favorite sport. Maybe he just got confused.

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