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Mudville: June 23, 2024 9:45 pm PDT

Big Marbles

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Walk into any visiting baseball clubhouse in the early 1990s and at some point during the series the movie Major League would play.

There on the beat-up leather couch and chairs a group of players would be laughing and tossing out classic one liners.

Remember, this was before iPads and laptops ruled clubhouses.

Before sleep rooms and five-star food rooms.

Players would filter in and if no seats were available some would stand and watch as well. The more romantic baseball movies of the era, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and The Natural were not the baseball movies of choice in clubhouses.

Major League hit a home run with players.

I mention visiting clubhouses because there was more down time. Players would gradually wander in after lunch and just hang out. Home clubhouses always had a different vibe – a different schedule – because, quite simply, players were coming from home and had other obligations and when they got to their clubhouse, after eating, there was work to be done in batting cages and bullpens.

Visiting clubhouses were a bit more like going over to a buddy’s house to hang out before work. This was the era, too, when magazines were strewn about, especially fishing and hunting magazines. This was a much different time in baseball.

This was a sanctuary too, players, clubhouse attendants, and some media. There were no GMs or assistant GMs or assistants to the assistants or hives of data analysts parked in there all day long.

Players and coaches ruled the roost. Major League was their movie of choice. Around 1995 Major League II appeared and quickly became another favorite, especially the Pedro Cerrano scene when he homers to break out of a funk.

Pedro had become much too mellow a person, he had lost his edge, until one day Japanese teammate Isuro Tanaka confronted him in front of his locker. Cerrano smiled and said, “I love you man, I love you too much.’’

That was too much for Tanaka to take. He loudly challenged Cerrano in a manly way, yelling and gesturing to Cerrano “You have no marbles!’’

“Marbles?’’

“Marbles, you have no marbles!’’

Later, in a key scene in the movie, a happy go-lucky Cerrano walks to the plate, offering well wishes to (hated by everyone else) catcher Jack Parkman. As Cerrano steps into the box, Uecker, as play-by-play man Harry Doyle, says, “Pedro has left a small village on the base paths tonight.’’

After two strikes on “two straight heaters’’ Cerrano looks into his dugout and all his teammates are shaking bags of marbles.

He smiles and says, “Oh, you guys.’’

He compliments Parkman on strike two, saying, “The last pitch, that was beautiful.”

On the next fastball, Cerrano re-discovers his “marbles’’ and blasts a long home run, no exit velo posted, and then tells Parkman, “Not as beautiful as that, though.’’

Cerrano then makes the big marbles gesture as he trots to first base.

That’s the same gesture the Phillies make in their raucous dugout when one of their hitters gets a hit – and I love it.

The game needs to be played in a big marbles way and the Phillies have made it clear they are here for one reason only: To win. They are not worried about anything else or what anybody thinks.

The Phillies have shown the baseball world this postseason, they have marbles. Big marbles.

And that’s what it takes to get to the World Series for the second straight year. They lead the Diamondbacks, 2-0, in the NLCS. Six more wins and they are World Series champions for the first time since 2008 and only the third time in their history.

Three is Bryce Harper’s number, if you are paying attention.

Some people may not like the big marbles gesture. Too bad.

The game needs to be played in a big marbles way and the Phillies have made it clear they are here for one reason only: To win.

They are not worried about anything else or what anybody thinks.

Do you think president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and Phillies owner John Middleton were concerned with adding sleep rooms and a better food room for the players last winter after they lost to the Astros in six games, after stunning the Padres in the NLCS?

No. The Phillies, to a man, have stayed “humble and hungry.’’

Leave that to Hal Steinbrenner & Co. and the Yankees for a team that couldn’t even make it as one of 12 teams in the postseason. The Padres certainly showed their lack of big marbles this season as well, believing the hype instead of believing in each other as the Phillies have done. The soft Padres couldn’t make the tournament, either.

And don’t get me started on the Phillies’ NL East opponent, the Mets. Like the Phillies chanted  (“Always the Mets’’) after beating the Braves, who got sidetracked because Orlando Arcia made fun of Bryce Harper and then couldn’t stand up to his words on the field – while Harper hit two home runs and shot lasers into Arcia rounding second base in the Game 3 10-2 victory.

The Braves wilted to the Phillies for the second straight season, and wanted to kill the messenger of Arcia’s “Atta boy Harper’’ more than slay the power-packed Phillies. So much for the 104-win Braves.

Baseball has noticed how seriously the Phillies play baseball while having fun, too.

“The Phillies certainly did not look past Arizona,’’ a top talent evaluator told BallNine on Wednesday. “They stayed extremely focused. They punched them in the mouth both nights. Corbin Carroll is a really good young player, but the Diamondbacks were scared to death to play the way they played all year and got them to where they are now. Quite honestly, the Dodgers didn’t scare them and neither did Milwaukee – but the Phillies have scared the shit out of whoever’s playing them right now.’’

Big marbles.

Big contracts. Big results.

“David (Dombrowski) spends money, but he spends good money and in the end he ends up with rings,’’ said the evaluator, who has kept a close watch on the Phillies.

Through the first eight games of the postseason the Phillies have mauled opponents, out-scoring them, 46-13. They’ve done it every way but mostly by the home run, out-homering the Marlins, Braves, and D-Backs, 19-4.

Citizens Bank Park has turned into a house of horrors for opponents. Juiced by the Philly Phanatics, the Phillies have hit 17 home runs in their six games; meanwhile opponents have hit two. Great hitting and great pitching for Philadelphia.

In the first two games of the NLCS, the Phillies hit the Diamondbacks right where it hurts, with a leadoff home run from Kyle Schwarber on the first pitch to the Phillies in Game 1 and following up that 5-3 win with a 10-0 bludgeoning of the young D-Backs, who head home for Thursday’s game at Chase Field in a most desperate situation.

The Phillies have had all the big marbles this postseason as they produced their own version of Major League II – after falling a bit short last season against the Astros in the World Series.

It’s a beautiful thing to see. Will the slaughter continue at Chase Field, a ballpark Alex Rodriguez told me was his favorite park to hit in because of the excellent batters eye?

Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long is doing a terrific job getting his hitters right, continuing the long line of embarrassments the Yankees have had this October, letting baseball talent get away. There is Long, Phillies manager Rob Thomson, Rangers lefty Jordan Montgomery, and Rangers righty Nathan Eovaldi; and of course, no room at the inn for Bryce Harper. Seems like if you get the kiss of death from Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner, you’ve got quite the career ahead of you.

I texted with Long on Wednesday. I’ve always been a Kevin Long fan. Hitting coach is the most difficult job out there, but Long has had success wherever he’s been, including the Mets. Long was the hitting coach with the Nationals when they won the World Series in 2019. He also was the hitting coach for the Yankees when they last won a World Series, in 2009. At one point Long interviewed for the Mets’ managerial job, but the Mets hired Mickey Callaway instead. His name also surfaced last year as a managerial candidate when there were a number of openings.

A smart team this off-season might hire Long as a manager, if that’s still a position he desires. Long certainly is loving life with the Phillies, who under Dombrowski and Thomson have built a team with a winning mentality. The Phillies have that burning desire and it has showed itself all postseason, led by Harper.

They are keeping the game simple. Mash, pitch, play defense, and win.

Kevin Long does not confuse or overload his hitters. Check out this baseball comment from shortstop Trea Turner: “I think here is a little different,’’ Turner said. “It’s a little old-school. It’s less information in a good way. We have all the information. We have everything we need, but we’ve got a lineup of guys that just want to hit and play baseball.’’

Turner is one of those guys and is a baseball machine; and if you want to watch one highlight from Tuesday night, don’t watch the home runs, watch Trea Turner go first to third. That’s athleticism and when you see that as an opponent, you tip your cap. That’s pure baseball.

“That slide was beautiful,’’ said one scout.

It’s a baseball staple, too. Remember when the Yankees were the Yankees? Remember when the Core Four came around? A baseball man I know was covering a minor league game back in the day when a young Bernie Williams made his mark. Here is his story about baseball poetry:

“I had coached against a bunch of those guys and the first time I realized the athleticism, the beauty, and the ease with which Bernie Williams played the game, he went first to third on a base hit to centerfield against us,’’ the baseball man recalled of that moment as if it were yesterday. “We were in the third base dugout and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, he looks like a freakin’ gazelle.’ What a beautiful stride and effortless run – impactful speed and just playing the game the right way.’’

In October, it always comes down to playing the game the right way and baseball men have a huge advantage over the analytic squads. That’s showing itself again this October.

“All the baseball stuff works for the best teams,’’ said one scout, “and all the other teams say, ‘Why would we want to do that?’ ’’

Let’s keep doing what’s not working.

How many teams have the big marbles the Phillies have? I would say the Rangers do because they’ve made an amazing postseason run under the most difficult of circumstances – having to end the season on the road against the Angels, then flying to Seattle, then onto Tampa Bay, and then Baltimore before coming home. And the first two games of the ALCS were in Houston, where Bruce Bochy’s team won both games.

The Phillies are two wins away from getting to the World Series for the second straight October – focusing on baseball and manning up at the plate, in the field, and on the mound. Not a lot of trickery here and over-analysis. The same with the Rangers’ amazing turn-around under Bochy, and the Astros winning it all last year with Dusty Baker; and then being one of the Final Four this year.

Taking a page from Facebook World, a scout said with a smile to me, “I’m old enough to remember when baseball people actually ran the game … I’m old enough to remember when player development people used to develop players.’’

The Phillies have developed players and their coaching staff continues to develop them at the major league level. Look at the defensive improvements made by third baseman Alec Bohm, working with coach Bobby Dickerson.

I always credit the player for having the big marbles to understand they must improve and I heard this story on Wednesday, a story that speaks volumes about Bohm’s work ethic. (Turns out a scout I know was there when Bohm was sent back to the minor leagues.)

“The year they sent him out in ’21, I was doing Lehigh Valley,’’ the scout explained. “The day he got sent out he was doing early work when I got to the ballpark. That’s a 60-mile drive that usually takes guys 72 hours to make, and he showed up that day and was out taking ground balls when I got to the ballpark at 3:30. He took it upon himself.’’

That’s how you make the big October plays at third base two years later – plays that Bohm made Tuesday night.

It doesn’t just happen. It takes talent, dedication, work ethic – and Big Marbles.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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