March 16, 2013; Dunedin, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles third baseman Danny Valencia (35) helmet bat and glove lay on the ground prior to the game at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“I heard you were giving Hal Bodley trouble:” A Short Work of Fiction

“Just know something, though. Hal Bodley has crapped bigger than you. You’d be wise to remember that, kid.”

–John Stolnis, via email

(Justin Klugh)

Giving an article Fire Joe Morgan treatment is basically a relic of a different time at this point.  It’s an art that’s been mastered, and not by me.  But Hal Bodley has a way of putting things that stirs an urge to fictionalize in response.  I don’t know why.  So really, to call this something close to FJM would be inaccurate, other than it’s an already published article being broken down into a few sentences at a time with a form of commentary following each section.  I also left out a few paragraphs that didn’t really have to do with anything.

But let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter; no one reads this web site anyway.

 

Years ago, the late John Quinn, the Phillies’ general manager at the time, called me aside and whispered: “Remember this: Spring Training performances are never as good as they look or as bad as they appear.”

Hal Bodley, in a lackadaisical springtime stupor, meandering around the Bright House Complex with his hands in his pockets, lagged a bit behind the rest of the Phillies press corps.

Pssssst.”

He turned sharply.  Around a nearby corner near the emergency exit stood the Phillies’ general manager, John Quinn.  The man was old and pointy, and hunched from years of living in a bell tower.  He beckoned at Hal with a decrepit claw-like didget.

Remember this,” Quinn hissed, a forked tongue sneaking in and out between his teeth.  “Spring Training performances are never as good as they look or as bad as they appear.

Those words are as credible today as they were 50-plus years ago when I first heard them. They still ring in my ears.

“Honey,” Hal Bodley said, poking his wife.  She grunted and pulled the covers over her head.

“Honey!” he tried again, his night cap starting to wag on top of his head as his pokes intensified.

“What, Hal!” she exclaimed, throwing the covers off.

“I just was thinking,” he replied, ignorant of her every emotion.  “I know Roy Halladay has had a rough spring, but don’t you think that maybe Spring Training performances are never as good as they look or as bad as they appear?”

“Hey, who needs a glass of warm milk,” she replied, opening her bedside table and grabbing the emergency Rufinol.

Especially as young phenoms hammer balls out of sight and pitchers look like they’re going to win the Cy Young Award. Or veteran players and pitchers struggle mightily in games that don’t count.

Call it the rites of Spring Training.

Hal’s typewriter dinged and slid to the next line.

Yet as the Phillies set sail in an uphill attempt to regain the top spot in the National League East, it’s difficult, or almost impossible, not to be concerned about the negatives this spring. It says here they’re legitimate warning signs.

“Hal, boats don’t move up hills,” Hal Bodley’s editor said. “They go on water.  You know, like… boats?” He’d only been on the job for a day or two, but the man’s writing begged for criticism, both constructive and violently personal.

Hal stared back at him, smiling.  He took a deep breath, then continued to smile.

The phone rang.  The editor picked it up and was immediately chilled by the vicious whispers of a menacing voice.

“I heard you were giving Hal Bodley trouble.”

“What?  I was just… how did you… boats don’t…”

Your family, screaming for help, but you’re too tied up and soaked in kerosene to get to them.

“…”

Hal Bodley is infallible.”

He hung up.

If the Phillies are to unseat the Nationals, last season’s NL East champion, or even pass second-place Atlanta and return to the postseason, Quinn’s adage must be proven true.

Start with this: As Roy Halladay goes, so go the Phillies.

There’s no way to ignore Halladay’s disappointing spring.

Phillies officials, including manager Charlie Manuel, are attempting to put a positive spin on Doc’s problems.

There have been whispers that he’s hurt, as evidenced by his fastball velocity, which has hovered in the 85- to 88-mph range. Doc works so hard, drives himself unmercifully and is the last person who’ll admit something’s wrong.

Maybe the wear and tear on his right arm has finally taken its toll — those 2,687 1/3 innings he’s thrown since tossing his first big league pitch for the Blue Jays in 1998.

“Holy moly!” Hal Bodley said.  “There’s a whole web site full of numbers keeping track of baseball stuff!” he called over his shoulder to the rest of the office.

“Hey, you’re using your computer!” his editor remarked, walking by the cubicle, eyes bloodshot and shirt untucked.  “That’s fucking incredible.”

“Oh, some of the fellas thought it’d be funny to hurl my typewriter into my windshield as I was leaving yesterday,” Hal chuckled.  “But I guess you’ve got to change with the times!”

He checked a cartoonishly large pocket watch.  “Ah geeze, only minutes until deadline!  I better find out what all these numbers mean.”

Halladay, who will turn 36 on May 14, allowed seven runs in just 2 2/3 innings against the Tigers on March 12, then lasted only an inning on Sunday against Baltimore. He left that game because of a stomach virus that caused him to lose 10 pounds.

“I felt like I was going in the right direction before that,” Halladay said of his illness. “It was just a bad time to have a setback and not be able to get my pitch count up to where I wanted.”

If Halladay weren’t coming off a difficult 2012 season during which he was on the disabled list for seven weeks, it would be easier not to fret over this year’s Spring Training performance. His uncharacteristic 11-8 record and 4.49 ERA last season contributed to the Philllies’ fall from dominance.

“Well obviously the wins are the most important one,” Hal Bodley deduced.  “Because if the pitcher doesn’t win than the team can’t win the game.”  He nodded and shut off the power point presentation.

“Wow, great stuff Hal,” the editor said in a dreary monotone, while writing ‘kill me’ in every block of a crossword puzzle.  “I can’t believe you figured out that computer.”

“I can’t believe Roy Halladay lost 10 pounds in one day!” Hal replied.

When Halladay was hit hard by the Tigers, Manuel was candid.

“Yeah, it concerns me,” Manuel said. “But at the same time, I’ve been in the game long enough to know that if there’s nothing wrong with him, you keep working with him. If he’s healthy and well, and there’s nothing wrong with him, then he’s got to get stretched out.”

According to pitching coach Rich Dubee, Wednesday’s bullpen session went well.

That has set the stage for Saturday’s start in a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. Halladay’s performance will be heavily scrutinized, and no matter how we try to avoid putting weight on Spring Training performances, that won’t be the case on Saturday.

Hal Bodley allowed one of his eye lids to crack open and peak at Roy Halladay on the mound.

“Oh geeze,” he muttered with a giggle.  “Oh man.”

The rest of the writers looked at him, as if a lost child had wandered into the press box, sat down, and demanded that one of them take him home and care for him for the remainder of their lives.

“It’s so hard to not scrutinize him!” Hal exclaimed.  “I won’t though, don’t worry.”

Halladay is hoping he can throw 75 pitches, then push that to 100 in what will be his final Florida start — if all goes well.

If he regains his strength, Halladay will face Atlanta in the Phillies’ season-opening series at Turner Field during the first week of April.

After Thursday night’s game against the Red Sox, the Phillies will have only seven days left in Florida.

“Hey, I think I’m getting the hang of this computer thing!” Hal exclaimed, bursting into his editor’s office.  “See, look!  Only…. Seven more days until the Phillies go back to Philadelphia!”

“Great job, Hal,” his editor said in a weary monotone.  “But that’s a calendar.”

I believe it’s unreasonable to expect the two-time Cy Young Award winner to return to his form of 2010, when he went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA in his first season with the Phillies. Or even 2011, when his 19-6 record and 2.35 ERA helped Philadelphia win its fifth straight NL East title.

But if Doc cannot give the Phillies at least 15 wins, they can probably forget about the postseason. He’s that important to this team.

For a club that finished third in the NL East in 2012, there’s no wiggle room if the expectation is to return to the postseason, given the current makeup of the roster.

The four infielders — newcomer Michael Young, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard — are all in their mid-30s.

This could be the last big hurrah for Rollins, Utley and Howard, the homegrown nucleus of the team that won the five division titles, went to the World Series twice and won it in 2008.

Howard, recovering from 2011 offseason surgery on his left Achilles tendon, didn’t play his first game last year until July 6. It was obvious he was far from 100 percent, batting just .219 with 14 homers. Howard entered Thursday in the midst of a strong spring, batting .314 with five homers and 14 RBIs.

Utley, out until June 27 last season because of chronic knee problems, batted just .256 after returning. This spring, his first in three years, he’s struggled at the plate, batting only .227 with a homer.

Remember what Quinn told me?

“Yes, we remember,” one of the other writers in the lunch room said, rolling his eyes.  “For christ’s sake, Hal, you tell us every day.”

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Hal continued, sitting down at their table, so deep into the memory he did not notice any of them get up and leave immediately.

“Hal, we know.  I promise you.  We know every word you are about to say.  Exactly every one of them because–”

“He said, ‘Remember this. Spring Training performances are never as good as they look or as bad as they appear.’

Hal sat back, nodding in appreciation.  “I’ll never forget that.”

The lights went off in the now empty lunch room.  Instinctively, Hal gently laid his head on the table and fell asleep.

The Phillies are hoping that Domonic Brown, who at one time was their top prospect, doesn’t fall into that category. If his spring is legitimate, he could solve one of their outfield problems. He’s having the best spring of anybody on the team, batting .397 with six homers and 12 RBIs.

“He’s definitely gotten better in the outfield, and his hitting is real good,” Manuel said. “He’s got good balance at the plate. He’s lowered his hands some, and he’s catching the ball at an angle out front. That’s when his power plays for him.”

Cole Hamels, armed with a megabucks contract, has been awesome. Before facing the Red Sox on Thursday night, he was 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in Grapefruit League play, having allowed just one earned run. Cliff Lee, on the other hand, has been so-so.

“And then he used the word ‘megabucks!’ As if that’s a word!  We’re all professionals!  And I’ve got this senior baseball writer using terms like ‘megabucks’ and ‘awesome’ to describe things!” the editor paced, sipping a small glass of whiskey.

“Come to bed,” his wife pleaded.  “No more Hal Bodley talk, please.”

“And if I get up the nerve to ask, ‘Hey Hal, please use real words,’ the phone rings within seconds and it’s that haunting voice again!”

The phone rang before he was finished talking.  In a fit of rage, he picked it up and hurled through the closed window.  His wife sat up, apprehensive, until the sounds of a baby crying echoed down the hall.

“Well, I hope you’re happy,” she said, shuffling out of bed.

“I hope Hal Bodley is happy,” he replied, pouring more whiskey.

At dinner one night early in Spring Training, I asked Manuel what his team has to do to return to the top.

“The biggest thing is play the game better,” Manuel said. “We just have to play the game better. That means pitching, defense and quality hitting.

“Last year, we didn’t play the game right. We have to get back to playing good, solid baseball like we did all those years we won the division.”

Rich Dubee couldn’t believe his ears.  Did that guy really just ask Charlie how they could get back to the top?  He and Charlie were just trying to have a quiet dinner and forget about Roy Halladay painting the clubhouse with his hot barf.  And this weirdo with a ‘press’ tag in his hat comes shuffling over, smiling like he’s on their Christmas card list.

“We just have to play the game better. That means pitching, defense and quality hitting,” Charlie said.

Yeah, Rich thought. Yeah.  Those are the things that when you combine them make baseball.

‘Thanks for the scoop!” the guy barked.

“The scoop on what?’ Dubee asked.  “How to play baseball?”

“Speaking of scoops, where’s the sundae bar?”

Dubee tasted that same feeling he got years ago whenever Kyle Kendrick would talk and he would imagine, very meticulously, punching him straight in the teeth in hi-def slow motion.  He scrambled for the meds in his pocket.

“You all right, Rich?  Haven’t seen you go for the anti-rage pills in a while,” Charlie said.

The shrill sound of the reporter whistling “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from across the room pierced the air.  Dubee looked over and saw him about to eat a giant bowl of ice cream.

He poured a copious dosage of pills into his mouth.

There have been spurts of that in Grapefruit League games, but there have also been periods of inconsistency that have irritated Manuel.

He believes this is a better team than he had in 2012, but there are numerous question marks, and the biggest one is on Roy Halladay’s back.

“Oh, wait, that’s not a question mark.  That’s his number.  ’34.’  I should get these glasses checked!” Hal said.

He looked around.  The press box was empty; the stadium, desolate and covered with snow.  The door opened and a janitor came in with a mop bucket, humming loudly along with the radio.

“Holy shit!” he yelled in surprise.  “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Just waiting for the game to start,” Hal replied, twiddling his thumbs and whistling.

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