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Interview with Mike Radano

The Good Phight is pleased to bring you the following exclusive question-and-answer session with Mike Radano, the Phillies beat reporter for the Camden Courier-Post.  Radano, whose work can be found online at the Courier-Post's website, recently penned the Abreu article linked to in Monday's Daily Links.

A lifelong Phillies phan from Washington Township, NJ, Radano agreed to sit down with us and answer a few questions regarding the current state of the team.

TGP: Let's start off with some background information, such as where you grew up and who you rooted for growing up.

Mike Radano: I grew up in Washington Township, New Jersey, as a Phillies fan because my grandmother would have hurt me if I went against the Phillies.  I played baseball until I was a sophomore in high school.  I actually played golf in high school for a variety of reasons, including we played at a private club.  I'm a lifelong Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers fan.  Growing up I liked the Cowboys for a variety of reasons - my mom once went on a double date with Roger Staubach - but in my job I really don't root for anyone anymore.

I went to the University of Dayton for three years - hence I now root for the University of Michigan to annoy Notre Dame and Ohio State fans - and then moved on to Rowan University.

TGP: In a previous discussion, you indicated that your father was a successful high school baseball coach.  Would you mind elaborating on that a bit?  What kind of influence, if any, did your dad coaching have in your attraction to the sport?  What did you learn about the game (e.g. any special insights) from his experiences?

Mike Radano: My dad coached at Gloucester Catholic High School from 1971 through 1993 or thereabouts. He was the head coach from 1976 on, with a two-year hiatus in the middle.  He won seven state titles and finished with a 321-101 record.

In 1989, he told me I was his freshman coach if I wanted to live at home, and over the next eight years I was with the program under him and then Dennis Barth, who is still the coach at Catholic.

The program is also associated with Brooklawn American Legion Post 72, which has won a pair of World Series titles, so I've been able to gather a ton of information from both situations.

My dad believed that this is a game and that everybody should take the "Let's have fun" approach.  He believed that pitching was everything - probably because he pitched for Catholic and Brooklawn in the early `60s and had a tryout with the Detroit Tigers - and built from there.  He was big on team chemistry and letting his players express themselves on the field as best as they could.  He believed that if he put the right player in the right situation, he would win more games than he lost.

Brooklawn, if you don't know, loves "small ball": bunt the runner over, get in an opponent's head, and focus on pitching, as pitching is the most important thing.  While my dad and his teams made me understand Charlie Manuel to a point, Brooklawn helped me to understand what a good at-bat is and to appreciate Bobby Abreu.  Not that Brooklawn doesn't honor the Aaron Rowands of the world;  I once saw Dennis Barth so incensed by someone bailing on a pitch that he took the entire team into the batting cage, set the machine on high, and let the ball hit him.  The amazing thing is that I still believe Dennis had the most sanity of anyone on the 1980 team that went undefeated.

TGP: From your blog page, I see that you covered many things before taking up the Phils' beat.  Tell us a bit about your professional sports journalist career, and how you ended up covering the Phillies.

Mike Radano: I've been at the Courier-Post since 1989 - a great year - and started as a part-timer.  I answered phones, did wraps, answered more phones, and did all of the little things that so often get overlooked.

As time went on, I covered anything I could on the high-school level until I got my first beat, which was of all things high school golf.  From there I got the boys' soccer beat and the girls' basketball beat and did my time at that level.

Eventually I switched over to wrestling in the winter and that showed me the value of all sports, not just the ESPN ones.

After four or five years of that, I was allowed to backup the regular beat people.  I covered the Sixers, Flyers, and the Eagles as a feature/sidebar kind of writer.  With the Phillies, I was Kevin Roberts' backup, and for every Friday home game, I wrote the main article and the notes. This allowed Roberts to do his Sunday package.  In 2001, I also covered the Camden Riversharks in their first season.

After three years of that, we decided in 2004 to allow our sister paper in Wilmington to do our daily stuff and to allow Kevin Roberts to become a really good columnist.  In fairness, it was a tough situation ignoring the Phillies, and in 2005 I got the beat.

I come to this beat with an open mind.  I'm here to report what happens and to let the players, coaches, manager, and front-office tell the story.  It's my opinion that if you let them tell the story, the truth will come out.

My goal each offseason has been to read, read, and read some more, to find every different possible approach to the game.  I don't accept everything I read as fact but as a way of approaching the game.  There are old-school guys, new-school guys, sabrmetricians, and fantasy geeks that all have opinions, and my goal is to meld all of them into one.  I don't dismiss any idea until I really look at it.  Maybe that's why I can really appreciate Bobby Abreu and Aaron Rowand or the pitching styles of Brett Myers and Cory Lidle and others can't.

TGP: Okay, let's talk a bit about regime change, and not the Bush/Cheney kind.  What effect, if any, has the hiring of Pat Gillick (an outsider) had on the organizational MO?  We've read reports that during Ed Wade's tenure, his power was limited, and everything had to be run by Dallas Green and/or David Montgomery.  Is this still the case, to your knowledge?  Does Gillick have any more individual authority than Wade possessed?

Mike Radano: Ed Wade was a good company man that in all fairness put together a lot of good pieces.  Yes, I do think he was limited by the administration.  The Phillies' biggest problem is that they are reactive and not proactive.  They let things happen and then are shocked when they get bad publicity.  The good thing is that the reaction this time was to get Pat Gillick, who has already made moves that indicate that he's in charge of the baseball program instead of what the marketing department thinks will or won't sell tickets.

TGP: Much has also been made about the "change" in the clubhouse atmosphere this year.  Last year, the Phils went through a number of stretches where they appeared to be out of the race, yet they showed a resiliency by coming back time and again.  Is there really a change this year, or is this just a reason given to try to account for the team's better play thus far?  And if there is a distinct "change" this year, to what is that attributed to?  

Mike Radano: There is definitely a change but it's a two-year-slow-evolution kind of change.  Charlie Manuel took some time to get this team to understand he had their backs.  Larry Bowa is a great baseball man who knows and understands the game as well as anyone.  The problem is that he's not good with people and that had a negative effect on the team.

Last year, the team played better under a lighter atmosphere.  This year, under Rowand's leadership with him putting together events such as a barbecue, bowling, etc., they have become tighter and enjoy playing with each other more.  That showed in spring training, and even the slow start - in which plenty of guys talked about wanting to do too much too soon - has morphed into a nice 30-game stretch.

I've said and written that you can question Manuel's in-game moves but not the other 90% of the game that comes under his guidance. I think in-game moves can be blown out of proportion because that's all a viewer can get a grip on.

TGP: Regarding "The Catch", we here at The Good Phight have had some internal debate over the play itself, as you can see here.  What's your take on it?  Also, please chime in on the debate about when (if ever) such a reckless play is worth it.

Mike Radano: Personally, I'm tired of "The Catch" and have sounded off on it in my blog - shameless plug here - but let me say this:  I think the catch was worth it.  It fit the situation and Aaron Rowand is the type of player that can make that play.  He knows no other way to play the game and should be commended for that.  Just don't say that every player should make that play. Also, Rowand said if that it was 10-0 in the eighth inning, he probably doesn't try that.

Rowand has a great feel for, and knowledge of, the game, and that was the best catch I've ever seen live.

TGP: Now that "King" Cole Hamels has been promoted to the big leagues, who does the organization believe is the next best pitching prospect?  Gio Gonzalez?  Carlos Carrasco?  Kyle Kendrick?  JA Happ?  Someone else?

Mike Radano: It's Gio and Gio and Gio.  This is the kid that makes the Thome deal so important, and the Phillies love him.  Kendrick has made a nice step forward this year.  Carrasco has raised a few eyebrows - in a good way.  Brian Sanches looks like he's going to be a good addition to the bullpen and right now, I'd guess Mathieson will eventually be the closer.

Of course, this does not take into account free agency, trades, etc.  All that's just projection if nothing else changes.

TGP: Correlating to the last question, does the presence of so many well-performing young pitchers down on the farm make a potential deal for a young, starting-caliber 3B any more likely?

Mike Radano: Yes, but expect the Phillies to be very careful.  David Bell won't be here next year.  I like David Bell and think he's a pro's pro; if he had been healthy the last 3-plus years, he'd have been the type of player this city loves.  If you want to talk baseball, David Bell is your man.  He's been better this year, especially in the field, but he hasn't lived up to the contract.

The Phillies drafted Michael Costanzo but it's hard to gauge how long it will take him to get to the Phillies, if ever.  That's not a shot at Costanzo, it's just the reality of baseball.

This offseason will be very interesting, especially since Gillick will have a year under his belt and will again be looking to move one of the corner outfielders.  I have no proof of that but call it an educated guess.

TGP: What is the organization's take on Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino?  Do they view them as anything other than backups?  What are the chances that Ruiz might be the starting catcher in 2007?

Mike Radano: I think Ruiz is seen as a platoon-type catcher who the Phillies would love to see develop, but he's small, had some injuries, and is a little farther along age-wise.  Mike Arbuckle said that he definitely can see him full-time with the Phillies next year, but expect every possible chance to be given to Jason Jaramillo. Also, and anyone on heart medication may need to step away at this point, don't be too surprised if the Phillies offer Mike Lieberthal, if he's healthy, a one-year deal.  He's not nearly as bad as some would have you believe.  Is he the perfect defensive catcher?  No.  But he does have a positive relationship with most of this staff, and he doesn't catch Lieber only because Lieber wants someone much faster.

The Phillies love Victorino, but at times his approach can be a bit maddening.  I will say that this year his approach has caught the eye of those who count, and they really like what he brings to the team and see him as a potential full-time outfielder.  He just has to get used to major league pitching on a full-time basis, but as this last week has proven, he learns quickly.

TGP: We here at The Good Phight would like to thank Mike Radano for stopping by and allowing us to get a little more insight into the team's thinking.  If anyone has any follow-up questions they'd like answers to, please add them to the comments section below, and we'll try our best to send them on.  Also, if there are other questions that you have a burning desire to see answered, but weren't addressed in this Q&A discussion, add them too.  We might be able to run another session or two if we have enough to ask.