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May 10, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Terry Francona

by Derek Zumsteg

Terry Francona should be fired immediately and then run out of the City of Brotherly Love by a torch-wielding mob. He had Curt Schilling, anchor of the staff returning from major offseason shoulder surgery, throw 126 pitches in his second post-operative major-league start, sending him to the mound with a 6-0 lead to pitch the ninth inning having already thrown 105 pitches.

This is bad enough. But Francona's comments after the game make it clear that he didn't just space out in the dugout or fall asleep a la 2000 U.S. Olympic Coach Tommy Lasorda, but rather that Francona has a bizarre and dangerously warped view of reality that should strike fear into the hearts of his pitchers.

Francona knew the pitch count and said that he'd have pinch-hit for Schilling if the Phillies had batted around to the ninth spot in the bottom of the eighth inning: "If we got down to the pitcher, we'd have been up 7-0 or 8-0," Francona said. "He had made 105 pitches, and it would have been good to give him a blow." That's an actual quote, including the uncomfortable last part.

Dr. Francona believes that it's not the number of pitches, but whether or not the pitcher is doing well. In his medical opinion, "Nobody's on a pitch count. I know what his pitch count is, but if he's struggling at 80 [pitches] that's too much. Guys put pressure on their arm and their body when they're out of whack. Schill wasn't. He's one of the few guys capable of pitching into the ninth inning."

Any pitcher is capable of pitching into the ninth inning, especially if they're being efficient. Greg Maddux has racked up a tremendous number of innings in his career, but he throws a startlingly low number of pitches in each outing, sometimes throwing as few as 90 pitches in a complete start (for example, 89 in his eight-inning complete game on May 3).

If Francona's logic were correct, the worst 10% of all pitchers would be injured every year, which is obviously not the case. The relationship between workload and injury is so much stronger than the one between ability and injury that it boggles my little mind to know that a major-league manager can hold Francona's beliefs. It gets worse, though:

"The only thing I'll do differently is on the rare occasion where he's having a bad day, I'm not going to let him stay out there. I'd let him stay out there for five or six innings and save your bullpen. But I'm not sure that's the correct thing to do. I think maybe that's your body saying you need a little bit of a blow." That's also a real quote, including the last uncomfortable part.

So if you're struggling, throwing a lot of pitches, your body's saying you need the time off. What happens when you just get less effective, like Livan Hernandez or Russ Ortiz? At what point does performance lead to protective care? Other organizations, like the Dodgers, Astros and even the Cubs, are protecting their returning pitchers zealously, pulling them at 100 pitches regardless of their performance or the score of the game. These are organizations that will have their pitchers in a couple of years, while the Phillies scratch their heads and wonder why the injury bug always bites their rotation.

"I was sort of brought up to give your guy a chance for the shutout. Sometimes maybe you can't, but I wasn't going to let this [game] get silly."

I was sort of brought up to be a mouthy smart aleck and not take lip from anyone. But after an amusing couple of years during which I was fired from nearly every job a teenager could hold, I started to learn that by being friendly sometimes, you can earn money, which can be exchanged for goods and services.

Francona's abuse ended the seasons both Schilling and Carlton Loewer last year, and his abuse of 23-year-old Randy Wolf caused Wolf to flame out spectacularly as the season wore on. He has obviously failed to learn any sort of lesson, and the mistakes he's making are not my sort of mistakes, like mouthing off to the Albertson's manager, but the kind that can end careers. The Phillies, unfortunately, are not as observant or as quick with terminations as my first employers were.

(All quotes from the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

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