If anyone should have been a Phillie, it was Hall of Famer Roy Campanella

If anyone should have been a Phillie, it was Hall of Famer Roy Campanella

In 137 years of play, the Phillies have racked up more than a few what-ifs. What if Chico Ruiz doesn't steal home in 1964? What if Danny Ozark replaces Greg Luzinski for defense on Black Friday 1977? What if the Phillies protect George Bell in the Rule 5 draft? What if they don't trade Ferguson Jenkins? Or Ryne Sandberg?

What if Michael Martinez doesn't catch that ball in deep center field that 2011 night in Atlanta and the St. Louis Cardinals don't make the postseason? What if Chase Utley's knees don't go bad and Ryan Howard doesn't blow out his Achilles tendon? There are many, many more.

Over the next few days, we'll explore a few of the moments and events that may have flown under the radar but still make you ask: what if? Join us in our trip to an alternate Phillies universe ...

Every time I visit Dodger Stadium, my baseball-loving subconscious lures me to the hallway behind home plate that separates the home clubhouse area from the visiting clubhouse area. The hallway is filled with trophies — Cy Young Awards, MVPs, Gold Gloves — and pictures and I always make sure to take my time and soak it all in. Without fail, every time I walk through that hallway on my way to the visiting clubhouse, I spend more time looking at one award, one picture than others. I look at Roy Campanella and his round, smiling face and think, 'Wow. He could have been a Phillie. He should have been a Phillie.'

Campanella is the subject of today's trip into an alternate Phillies universe.

A quick history lesson: Roy Campanella was a Philadelphia native. He was one of the Boys of Summer, as they called the collection of hard-luck Brooklyn Dodgers that finally got over the hump and beat the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series. He was one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game, short and rugged with catlike reflexes, a rocket arm and a knack for calling a game. (Johnny Podres shook him off just once in his Game 7 shutout in the '55 Series.)

Campy played 10 seasons in the majors and was an All-Star in eight of them. He belted more than 30 homers four times and 20 or more seven times. He was named National League MVP three times. He's a Hall of Famer.

Before becoming a Brooklyn Dodger, Campanella was a Negro Leagues star with the Baltimore Elite Giants. He was so talented that he began playing professionally at age 15 — when he was still a student at Simon Gratz High School — and had logged a decade in pro ball before he even debuted with the Dodgers at age 26.

Campanella was raised in the Nicetown section of Philadelphia, not far from where Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium stood. He used to watch games from the rooftops across the street.

And in July 1945, he watched one from the seats.

Campanella tells the story in his autobiography, It's Good to be Alive. His Baltimore team had a day off so he decided to go to a Phillies game with his sister, Doris. They arrived during batting practice when few people were in the ballpark. The manager of the Phillies in those days was a guy named Hans Lobert and he knew who Campanella was. Everybody in baseball did because word travels — it knows no color barrier — and by 1945, Campy was an established star. So on that summer day at Shibe Park, Campanella wandered down toward the field, exchanged pleasantries with Lobert and asked for a tryout.

"You could use a catcher and I'm a good catcher," Campanella told Lobert. "I can help this club."

Lobert agreed that Campanella would look good in a Phillies uniform. He urged Campanella to call club president Gerry Nugent and see what he said about the possibility. So Campanella, from a payphone right there in Shibe Park, phoned upstairs to Nugent, who, like Lobert, knew all about Campanella and how good he was.

With regret in his voice, Nugent thanked Campanella for his interest and said there was nothing he could do because of the "unwritten rule" that barred African Americans from the major leagues.

Disappointed, Campanella hung up the phone, bought a hot dog and a soda and headed back to his seat.

"Maybe one day …" he said to himself.

One day ended up coming sooner than Campanella could have envisioned. Up the road in Brooklyn, groundbreaking Dodgers executive Branch Rickey was already plotting strategy to end baseball's color barrier. He signed Jackie Robinson to a minor-league contract in 1946 and brought him to the majors in April 1947. Campanella followed a similar path and debuted in the majors a year later. He spent a decade reminding the Phillies what they could have had. His 43 homers and .933 OPS against the Phils were the best marks of his career against any club.

Phillies management in those days just did not have the guts to do what Rickey did. But it wasn't just the Phillies. Campanella, like Robinson and others, was denied other tryouts from other teams because of the color of his skin. Thankfully, the barriers eventually came down and those MVP awards — Robinson has one, too — now adorn the hallway outside the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.

Three MVP awards.

That's rare air.

Barry Bonds won seven MVPs.

No one else has won more than three.

The list of three-time winners includes Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout and Campanella, who died in 1993.

If only he had gotten that chance with his hometown team. Roy Campanella would have been a teammate of Richie Ashburn and Del Ennis and Robin Roberts. He would have been one of the greatest and most popular Phillies ever ...

In an alternate universe.

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When will pitching prospect Spencer Howard’s bright future in Philly begin?

When will pitching prospect Spencer Howard’s bright future in Philly begin?

Like everyone else in the Phillies organization, new pitching coach Bryan Price has been impressed with right-hander Spencer Howard.

"If this kid is the guy we think he is — and we do — then he's going to have a really nice future in Philadelphia," Price said.

So when will that future begin?

Months ago, before baseball was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, Phillies officials envisioned Howard getting to the majors at some point in 2020.

It wasn't going to happen at the start of the season — for a couple of reasons. First, after pitching just 92⅓ innings and dealing with shoulder tendinitis last season, Howard's workload was going to monitored closely in 2020. The Phillies were going to pull him back early in the season so he could use his bullets — in the majors — later in the season. Pulling in the reins on Howard early in the season would have also allowed the Phillies to push back the pitcher's potential free agency by a year. That's not a popular practice with players — and it might be addressed by the union in negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement — but it makes sense from a front-office perspective.

Baseball's shutdown has eliminated the need to limit Howard's workload for 2020. If he was part of the Phillies' starting rotation for the entire 60-game season, he would make about a dozen starts. No problem.

But the whole service-time, extra-year-of-control matter still exists. That's why the Phillies might decide against putting Howard on the active, 30-man roster when the season opens a week from Friday night. The team could hold Howard back six days before adding him to the roster and therefore preserve the extra year of control. In those six days, Howard would probably pitch once and with early-season innings limits on all pitchers, he'd probably max out about 65 pitches or four innings in that outing. Trading a year of control for four innings — even in a short season when every game is magnified — makes little sense. So, it won't be surprising if Howard continues to build innings with the satellite club in Lehigh Valley for at least a week or so when the Phillies start the season.

But that doesn't mean Howard won't be around for the bulk of the season.

He'll get here.

Probably quickly.

And if he performs well, he'll stay — possibly with a significant spot in the rotation.

"I would really hope and expect to see him pitching here if not on opening day, then at some point in time because he really needs the work and I think he's ready to compete at this level," said Price, who was previously pitching coach in Seattle, Arizona and Cincinnati. (He also managed the Reds.) 

Howard, who turns 24 in two weeks, has been touted as having top-of-the-rotation potential.

Price, however, is reluctant to comment on Howard's ceiling and that's probably wise. Howard was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft. He has reached 100 innings in the minors just once. He will control his own career trajectory. And he needs to be on the mound to do that.

"You don't really want to talk about repetitions or the importance of workload, but you can't turn a blind eye to it either," Price said.

"I stay away from (commenting on a pitcher's ceiling) and I'll tell you why. Because when you start talking about assigning expectations, especially if you rank like No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — we don't know what these guys are until they come up here and perform.

"We know that (Howard) would be a top-end prospect in any organization because he has power, he throws strikes, he's athletic, he has a really, really good changeup and breaking ball. The key component there is stuff with strikes, stuff with command. So the sky is the limit.

"In the same respect, you have to get to the big leagues and perform at this level before you define where you are: starter or reliever, No. 1 or No. 5, or somewhere in between. I'll reserve judgment on that and let him pitch his way wherever he gets to."

In other words, the ball is in Howard's hand and he will control the trajectory of his career.

He next gets the ball on Thursday when he's scheduled to pitch three innings in an intrasquad game.

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Who’s playing third base behind Aaron Nola? Yep, it’s Bryce Harper

Who’s playing third base behind Aaron Nola? Yep, it’s Bryce Harper

Two members of the Phillies' starting pitching rotation took a step forward Monday.

And Bryce Harper did his best Mike Schmidt imitation.

First, the pitching stuff.

Aaron Nola took the mound for the first time in an intrasquad game as he remained on course to potentially start the season opener a week from Friday.

And Zach Eflin, who had been slowed for several days by back spasms, was able to throw a bullpen session without any problem.

"He threw a beautiful pen," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "There were no limitations. He threw it great, aggressive."

Manager Joe Girardi said Eflin's command was "great."

Eflin is projected to slot fourth in the Phillies' rotation but he could move back a spot if he needs an extra day.

Nola, Zack Wheeler and Jake Arrieta will precede Eflin in the rotation. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta are battling for the final spot in the rotation. One of them will end up in a bullpen that could number 11 men out of the gate.

Rosters will be increased from 26 to 30 men for the first two weeks of the season. There is no limit on how many pitchers a team can carry.

Nola faced 14 batters and struck out one over three unstructured innings of work. He faced extra batters in the first two innings to get his pitch count up. He retired eight of the first nine batters he faced and allowed two hits and two walks in his third inning of work.

"Aaron threw well," Girardi said. "He lost his command a little in that third inning, but that's probably normal fatigue at the end in your first time out. I feel good about where Aaron is."

Nola threw 47 pitches. He should get up to about 65 in his next outing and that would put him on target to start opening night. Girardi has not officially named Nola his opening night starter because he wants to see how the next week or so of workouts unfolds. But Girardi did acknowledge that Nola could indeed be the opening night starter if all continues to go well.

Nola might still be a little behind in his work. He missed the first few days of workouts because he had come in contact with someone who had been infected by COVID-19. Though Nola was not infected, protocol called for him to stay away from the team for several days.

Several coaches and staff members were pressed into duty as defenders during the intrasquad game.

Harper got some time — six defensive outs — at third base. 

Girardi acknowledged there was risk putting the $330 million man, usually a right fielder, 90 or so feet away from the hitter. 

"I think it's important the guys have fun," Girardi said. "I saw him a week ago taking ground balls there and I was impressed. His hands worked well out front and he threw the ball across the field well. I told him, 'You look good there.'"

Girardi said Harper had been bugging him to play third in an intrasquad game.

Finally, Girardi relented.

"All right. One inning," the manager said. "But no diving. And make sure your arm is loose."

Harper got one ball in the field, a bouncer to his left. He moved his feet nicely, fielded it cleanly and threw a strike across the diamond for the third out.

Then he styled it off the field a la Mike Schmidt.

It really was not surprising that Harper handled himself well at third. He was a catcher in college and had played third before. He moved to the outfield in pro ball.

The Phils play another intrasquad game Tuesday night. Wheeler and Velasquez will each pitch four innings.

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