Which is why I was able to score an exclusive interview with MLB Network’s Mitch Williams this week, previewing the 2012 MLB season, and in particular, whether the Phillies can win a sixth straight NL East title.
Q: I’m a Philadelphian, born and raised in Delaware County and the ’93 World Series was my senior year of high school. The only time in my sports viewing life I’ve actually cried after a sporting event was Game 6. And yes, for the record, I am a girl.
Mitch: Well, I gave up the homer and didn’t cry so I know how you felt.
Q: One of the new things for the 2012 season this year is the second wild card in each league. What are your thoughts on the expanded playoffs?
Mitch: I think it’s absolutely good for baseball. All we have to do is look back to Game 162 last year. If there hadn’t been a wild card last season, the month of September would have been meaningless. All the divisions were settled, but that wild card race in both leagues kept the game interesting. I’ve been around professional baseball for 30 years now and that was the most exciting day of baseball I’ve ever witnessed in my life. The only downfall this year is the way the scheduling worked out. Because, say the Yankees win the most games in the AL, and say Tampa and Anaheim play a one-game playoff for the wild card spot. Then the Yankees have to travel to Anaheim (if they win) and play the first two games in Anaheim.
I’ve never considered home field advantage in the last game of the series being important. But the first two games are important. But due to scheduling and TV contracts, that’s just how it has to work this year. So potentially, say the Yankees win 100 games. Their fans could literally see one game of the divisional playoffs. So that part of it, that’s the only flaw in it I see, and that’s only for this year.
Q: Mitch, you were a part of a lot of Opening Days in Major League Baseball. Tell me a little bit about what it was like to be on the field as a player on Opening day.
Mitch: Every Opening Day I ever went through, it was awesome, it never lost its luster. You’re starting fresh, everybody is tied for first place, you get introduced on the foul lines to your fans, there’s just something special about it. It’s new life. Whatever happened last year means nothing. And I can speak to this. In ’92 we were the worst team in the NL. The following year we end up in a World Series. That’s what Opening Day’s all about. Hope springs eternal. Everybody thinks they can win, get to a World Series, when in reality, you sit back and look at it and obviously there are teams that don’t have the players and talent that can get there, but there are always surprises. No one saw St. Louis winning a World Series last year. You can think you’re an expert and look like a fool.
Q: Well, I don’t want to put you in the position of making you look like a fool, but I do want to know, are you predicting a World Series match-up as we start the season?
Mitch: Yep, I’m going out on a limb. I’m taking the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Detroit Tigers, with the Tigers winning it.
Q: So essentially, it’s the Kirk Gibson World Series.
Mitch: Yep, Gibby’s gonna go back to Detroit and win and play in a World Series with a different team.
Q: Mitch, Opening Day has come and gone and there’s still no contract extension for Cole Hamels with the Phillies. Do you think a deal gets done for Cole, or is he a Dodger next year?
Mitch: If I was the Phillies, I really would try to get this done. I really would have. Whether fiscally they can do it, I don’t know. But if he hits the free agent market, and with the sale of the Dodgers going through, Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten there, that was a two billion dollar cash purchase. Magic Johnson knows what it takes to win in the city of Los Angeles. And they are not going to hold the purse strings tight. Cole Hamels will be a Dodger if he hits the free agent market. He’s gonna be the most sought after free agent pitcher, he’s a California native, and if the Phillies don’t get him signed before free agency, I don’t see them being able to spend what the Dodgers will be able to pay him.
Q: I agree, I think he could CC Sabbathia money if he holds out for LA because they’ve got the cash to burn. He’s a 28-year-old left-hander, one of the top three lefties in baseball.
Mitch: And that’s a position the Phillies have put themselves in. They have great pitching, but they knew this was coming. They’ve got Lee and Halladay, but they knew Cole was coming down real soon, and honestly, if they had planned on signing him, the deal would already be in place. Cole and his agent know that the Dodgers, come this next off-season, are going to spend a ton of money.
Q: Do the Phillies win their 6th straight National League East?
Mitch: Yep, I have them picked to win the East. It’s not the Phillies team we saw in ’07 and ’08 and even ’09 where they were going to bash the ball. Charlie Manuel is going to have to play kind of Spalding Guide baseball, get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in, and not rely on the three-run homer. They’re gonna have to pitch, play really good defense and have a lot of timely hitting. They’re gonna have to get a lot of two out hits, drive in runs, and I think Papelbon, and I’ve said this on-air, he’ll have more save opportunities in baseball, because they’re gonna play that many close games.
Q: Hey Mitch, thanks for taking the time.
Mitch: My pleasure. Enjoy the season!
By the way, you can follow Mitch Williams as part of MLB Network’s MLB Tonight, airing all season long. And baseball fans can watch MLB Networks 30 Games, 30 Clubs, 30 Days to start the season. So do it already! Watch it all! It’s baseball for crying out loud! Real, professional, American baseball that counts! What are you still reading this for?