Angelo Cataldi: Slump spills over to Phils front office

Charlie Manuel made a bold statement — without a word. He chose Cliff Lee to pinch-hit in a 7-1 loss. Manuel’s feelings would have been no more obvious if he had announced: “Ruben Amaro is doing a lousy job.”

Since the signing of Lee, Amaro has bungled his way through five empty months, doing nothing to fortify his inept offense or his barren bench.

Instead, the GM has spent most of his time hiding injuries or shamelessly twisting the truth about them.

In the hours after Manuel’s loud message — the manager even skipped a better pitcher-hitter, Cole Hamels, to make his point — he met behind closed doors with Amaro in what must have been a fascinating exchange. By the next day, Amaro’s face was a deeper red than a Phillies cap, as he promoted Dom Brown, whom the GM had proclaimed “not ready” hours earlier.

The about-face on Brown was the latest in a stunning sequence of stumbles by a GM who spent the first two years assembling one of the greatest rotations in history.

It all began with the insulting announcement that Chase Utley was suffering from “general soreness” at the beginning of spring training, an affliction that required three months of careful rehab before his return last night. Then Amaro proclaimed that closer Brad Lidge would miss three to six weeks with an arm injury, a prognosis that drew a mocking laugh from Lidge. The pitcher is in the eighth week of those three-to-six weeks, with another three to go.

Roy Oswalt was allowed to leave the team for eight days so that he could move trees after a tornado hit his neighborhood in Mississippi. When the $16-million dollar pitcher returned, so had Oswalt’s recent back problems. Amaro said the heavy lifting “probably didn’t help.” Then why allow it?

What finally set Manuel off were the screw-ups involving Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino. Blanton pitched — unimpressively — for two weeks with a “cranky” elbow before he shut himself down. Victorino waited four days for an MRI after pulling his hamstring, and he even pinch-hit once before the scope of his problem was revealed.

Because Amaro and his staff had misread those injuries, Manuel was left with a 23-man roster for the game with Colorado. The GM didn’t even see fit to bring up an extra hitter in case the MRI showed significant damage.

The Phillies are still in first place, and will finish there. Great pitching covers up a multitude of sins. But great pitching cannot obscure this simple truth: Ruben Amaro is in a bigger slump right now than his hitters.

Big Red’s ‘schtick’

Andy Reid made me laugh last week. The coach famous for saying nothing snapped off a one-liner that had me slapping my knees.

What he said, in a published conversation with former governor Ed Rendell, was: “I understand talk radio and the schtick that those guys have.” Well, I’ve been in talk radio for a quarter-century, and I can say without hesitation that no sports figure has understood less about talk radio or the fans that we represent.

If Reid truly considers it “schtick,” why does his management call my bosses every time they hear anything that doesn’t mesh with their own delusions? If it’s all schtick, why has Reid refused to appear on my show for two years? Why has the team blocked its players from appearing?

The highlight came when the former governor asked if he had any regrets about singling out David Akers for blame while the kicker’s daughter was in a life-threatening medical crisis. Reid said he couldn’t recall what he said. Read that again, please. Reid couldn’t remember what he said four months ago.

On the other hand, at least Reid is using his time well during the lockout, mastering his understanding of talk radio. Now maybe he can turn to far greater challenges — like how to run the football or when to use timeouts.

City media lobbing softballs

In a city that demands the truth so fervently, it is a source of constant amazement to me how few media outlets and reporters deliver it. Never before have we had so many TV talking parrots and ink-stained flaks in Philly.

And that’s why when someone takes the trouble — and criticism — by doing it right, he stands tall in this field of dwarves. A case in point is Phillies radio color commentator Larry Andersen.

Last week, when Jimmy Rollins again failed to run hard on a pop-up, barely making it to first base when it was dropped, Andersen said: “At least he made it to first this time. He jogged all the way.” On TV, Chris Wheeler did what he’s been doing for 34 years, hiding the truth to protect a player.

Andersen is the best broadcast friend the fans have these days, by a wide margin. His opinions on the umpires are a nightly treat, especially when the men in blue are bad. Last week, he actually said: “Do you think they’re even watching the game?”

The easiest thing for sports media people to do is to preach the company line, to curry the favor of teams bent on managing the message. Check out the cheerleading crew at Channel 6, or the growing number of soft reporters at Comcast SportsNet. They may as well wear the team’s jerseys when they file their reports.

– Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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