Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Phillies DO have an image problem

Inquirer national baseball writer Jim Salisbury broke the story this morning that the Phillies have hired retired Channel 6 sports anchor Scott Palmer as a consultant. Someone to help improve the image.

Check it out:

By Jim Salisbury
Inquirer Staff Writer

The Phillies have an image problem. It could be seen again last night, reflecting off all those empty blue seats at Citizens Bank Park.

Many fans just don't like this franchise, its management, and this collection of players.

Has the public's dissatisfaction with the team, and lack of faith in it, ever been more evident than over the last few days?

With less than three weeks remaining in the season, the Phils have a realistic shot at the postseason for the first time in a dozen years.

And yet empty seats were noticeable during Sunday's key 11-1 win over Florida. On Monday night, less than 16,000 people were in the stadium (capacity 43,826) for an important win over Atlanta. The Phillies won again last night, but the turnout, announced at 24,311, was well below the season average. All those empty seats spoke of a team that is having major problems connecting with its fans.

This is not a new problem, and, contrary to what some people might think, the Phillies are not unaware of it.

That's why they have made an acquisition for the stretch drive.

Don't get too excited. This newcomer is 55. He can't turn on a fastball, or paint the corners.

But Scott Palmer - yes, that Scott Palmer - isn't here to help win ball games. From what we hear, he's here to help the Phillies with their image problem.

The likable, well-known former television sportscaster, who retired from Channel 6 in June, has signed a three-month contract to be a consultant with the Phils. He started yesterday.

"I don't know if it's a position," Palmer said with a laugh. "I'll be working here for three months, specializing in communications."

We put it right to Palmer: Had he been enlisted to help the Phillies scrub up their rusty image?

"I wouldn't say that," he said.

"I'm looking at what we're doing and seeing what I can offer. I'm keeping my eyes and ears open, trying to learn what I can, and making suggestions that might help."

Palmer knows this town and its sports scene inside-out. He was asked whether he believed that the Phils had an image problem.

"I don't think so," he said.

Scott Palmer the reporter might have given a different answer. Scott Palmer the Phillies consultant chose his words carefully.

"I want to look and see before I offer opinions," Palmer said. "In a couple of weeks, I'll have a better handle on what's going on. Today's my first day."

Fair enough.

On Palmer's first day, the Phillies went home as 5-4 winners over the Braves. The attendance was lower than the announced tally, which represents tickets sold. The fans went home happy. Team officials, and maybe some players, probably went home scratching their heads over the low attendance for the second straight day.

"Sure, we notice," pitcher Brett Myers said before the game. "But we can't worry about it. This is a tough enough game to play without worrying."

Some club officials blamed Monday night's embarrassingly low turnout on its being a school night. The low attendance probably had more to do with sports fans' staying home to watch the Eagles' season opener.

The Eagles do not have an image problem. They connect with their fans very well.

And they do it the best way - by winning year after year.

There are plenty of great baseball fans in Philadelphia. They are just starved for a winner. They don't want to see a team that self-destructs the way this one did against Houston last week.

"Let me tell you something," Myers said. "Houston was disappointing for us, too. There were some games we should have won. But we came out the next series and took two of three. We showed something."

Myers was asked why he thought the fans weren't coming out in droves for meaningful September baseball.

"Eagles," he said. "It's a football town.

"I hear fans on the radio say they're glad football is starting so they can get their minds off us because obviously we're disappointing them. But what can you do? They love us when we play well and hate us when we don't.

"We're in the middle of this thing. We're doing our best to win every game."

Myers went out of his way to say he wasn't slighting the fans.

"I can't knock them," he said. "It's their choice to come or not. But people on TV say we have no shot. Fans hear that and they believe it. It's disappointing, because theoretically we have a great shot."

Though small, the crowds the last two nights have been tremendous - into every pitch, critical and supportive at the right times.

"The ones who've been here have been great," Myers said. "But instead of 20,000, we need 40,000. That 10th man makes a big difference. I felt it last week in New York. Those fans were going crazy."

The Phillies play the Braves again tonight. It's another huge game. Last night's win might help push the attendance up, and it might help improve the lackluster image this team has in the eyes of its fans.

We commend the Phillies for recognizing their problem, for hiring Palmer, a good man. But in the end, nothing will polish this team's image better than the winning baseball it has played the last three days.


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