Soul, 5 Other Arena Football League Teams Close Local Operations

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By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

The Philadelphia Soul, and each of the five other teams that make up the Arena Football League (AFL), have ceased local business operations as the league looks to restructure.

Ron Jaworski, part of the Soul ownership group and AFL Chairman of the Executive Committee, told NBC Sports Philadelphia that each of the six teams in the league, including the Soul, are not ceasing all operations, however. The AFL has not yet determined whether it will suspend operations entirely, as they explore other options and seek a path for "financial solvency, a verdict that is said to be forthcoming," writes The Times Union.

Coaches, front-office staff and the players union were informed Tuesday of the AFL's decision. AFL Commissioner Randall Boe released the following statement shortly after:

Earlier today, the Arena Football League was forced to make the difficult, but necessary decision to close our team services and business operations units in our local markets.

These closures have resulted in the elimination of various staff positions, and is a direct consequence of the current financial constraints facing the AFL, which include extensive legacy liabilities and a recent multimillion-dollar litigation filed against the League by an insurance carrier that provided coverage for the AFL between 2009 and 2012. Those liabilities, which are all related to prior League operations, severely constrain the League’s ability to expand and operate.  

The financial challenges we are now dealing with do not, however, reflect the determined efforts of our current shareholders to maintain the viability of the AFL. Our shareholders have made significant investments to restructure and re-launch the AFL and make it successful. Additionally, they have continued to work actively with the League office to grow the sport in their respective markets. Every touchdown celebrated and every ArenaBowl trophy ever hoisted can be credited to their efforts and to our incredibly loyal and growing fanbase.

The AFL is innovative, brave and fun. Our teams push barriers and continually experiment with dynamic ways to engage fans, creating some of the most memorable live action sports experiences.

We would like to thank our employees for their tremendous service during their time with the AFL and we value the important role they played in being our front-line ambassadors for the sport.

Looking forward, the AFL will continue to push ahead with efforts to identify solutions to address the aforementioned financial constraints. We have not yet made the final determination that it will be necessary to suspend all League operations, but we expect that decision to be made within the next few weeks. Should we not be able to move forward, we will issue information about all applicable refunds at that time. We are exploring every possible avenue to continue bringing AFL football to our fans, including further evolutions to the current business model, and are engaging with prospective investors and supporters who are interested in seeing the League continue to grow.

Boe told The Times Union that the AFL has been evaluating it becoming a traveling league "as a potential model to go forward and keep the league alive." He adds, "“I hesitate to say that we have a sense that that is likely to be successful. It’s the thing that we're looking at. We really don't see an alternative to that.”

Such a model would be similar to the Premier Lacrosse League, whose "players practice in a centralized location and fly to a different city each weekend to play games," The Times Union writes.

The three-time-champion Soul played 14 seasons in the league from 2004 to 2019; under Jaworki's leadership, the Soul recently won back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017.

All AFL operations will continue to run through the Philadelphia-based AFL office as the league determines its next step. AFL teams in addition to the Soul include: Albany Empire, Atlantic City Blackjacks, Baltimore Brigade, Columbus Destroyers, and Washington Valor.


Soul WR Darius Prince Added to XFL Draft Pool

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Mike Kruce/SportsTalkPhilly.com

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

Just 13 months after being released from the Philadelphia Eagles training camp roster, two-year Arena Football League veteran WR Darius Prince may get his chance at outdoor professional football after all with the XFL.

On Thursday, the XFL announced the latest additions to its draft pool, including Prince of the Philadelphia Soul.

In two seasons with the Soul, Prince has caught 162 passes for 2,012 yards and 45 touchdowns. The Penn State - Beaver alumnus earned First Team All-Arena honors in his rookie AFL season, 2018, after tallying more than 1,000 receiving yards.

The eight-team XFL, set to launch in 2020, will host its player draft on Tuesday, October 15, and Wednesday, October 16.


Callaway, Dubee, Searage Potential Phillies Pitching Coach Candidates

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

Amid the Major League Baseball postseason, the next most-followed, baseball-related storyline among Philadelphia Phillies fans is the future status of the team's coaching staff including that of manager Gabe Kapler.

On Friday, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reported that the Phillies have told Chris Young that he will not return next season as pitching coach, and that he has been reportedly offered an opportunity to remain in the organization in another role.

With Charlie Manuel expected not to return as hitting coach, the Phillies will at least have to replace two coaches if not more pending on the fate of Kapler. Other coaches on the major-league staff have been told they will return, but per Zolecki it is "unclear who and how many."

Zolecki lists three candidates that could replace Young: former New York Mets manager Mickey Callaway who was relieved of his duties on Thursday as well as former Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee and recently dismissed Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage.

Prior to joining the Mets, Callaway served as pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians from 2013 to 2017. He oversaw a staff that included notable arms Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Corey Kluber

With the Pirates, Searage worked 17 years as a minor-league pitching coach and since 2010 as the major-league pitching coach.

Dubee spent 12 seasons (2002-13) in the Phillies organization, including the last nine as pitching coach. In 2012, Phillies starting pitchers led all MLB teams in innings (1033.0) and strikeouts (918), while issuing the fewest walks (231).

Young spent just one season as Phillies pitching coach, after replacing Rick Kranitz who now is with the Atlanta Braves. Zolecki notes:

Philadelphia dealt with a rash of injuries in the bullpen, but its rotation stayed mostly healthy and struggled, finishing ninth in the National League in strikeout rate (21.6 percent); 10th in xFIP (4.59); 11th in ERA (4.64) and walk rate (8.3 percent); 13th in fWAR (7.6) and home runs per nine innings (1.61); and 14th in FIP (4.91). By contrast, the 2018 rotation ranked third in FIP (3.76); fourth in strikeout rate (24.1 percent), walk rate (7.6 percent), xFIP (3.77) and WAR (14.0); sixth in home runs per nine innings (1.07) and 11th in ERA (4.12).

Before the Phillies decide among the rumored candidates that include Callaway, Dubee and Searage, the organization must first decide whether Kapler will return for a third season as manager. It is expected that decision, in particular, could come by the end of this coming week.


Phillies to Extend Netting Along Entire Length of Foul Territory by 2020 Season

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

The Phillies have made their first offseason extension, and it doesn't involve a player, coach, or manager.

On Tuesday, the organization announced their plans to NBC10 that they will extend safety netting at Citizens Bank Park along the entire length of foul territory (Section 107 through Section 140) by Opening Day of the 2020 season

The Phillies were among the early "pioneers" to extend their protective netting, from the backstop to the edges of the dugouts, following the 2016 season.

Now, three years later, they are one of 13 teams who have, or plan, to extend safety netting to the foul poles by next season.


Phillies Drop Season Finale, Lose 11,000th Game in Franchise History

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

The Philadelphia Phillies' standing as the losingest team in professional sports history continues. Playing in their 20,940th-ever game since their first season in 1883, the Phillies lost their 11,000th game all-time, falling 4-3 to the Miami Marlins in their final game of the 2019 season on Sunday.

Doing so, the club failed to secure its first winning season since 2011, as they finished the 2019 season with an even 81-81 record. The finish is the club's first non-losing season since 2012, when it similarly went 81-81 in the last full season under skipper Charlie Manuel.

The Phillies' 10,000th loss came more than 12 years or nearly 4,500 days ago — 4,459 to be exact — when the club fell 10-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals on primetime Sunday Night Baseball television. Albert Pujols slugged a pair of the Cardinals' six home runs in the rout. Those were the 269th and 270 home runs of the future Hall of Famer's career; entering Friday, Pujols has hit 386 home runs since.

In the ninth inning that game, "boos turned to cheers," writes the Associated Press: "Fans in the sellout crowd of 44,872 thumbed their noses at the dubious mark, standing and applauding. One held up a sign that read: '10,000 N Proud' as NL MVP Ryan Howard struck out to end the game."

Since their 10,000th loss on July 15, 2007, the Phillies have gone 1,015-1,000 — a .504 winning percentage; their all-time winning percentage is now .472. Entering Sunday, the only other MLB franchises that have lost 10,000 or more games are: Atlanta Braves (10,658, .501); Pittsburgh Pirates (10,404, .503); Chicago Cubs (10,403, .514); Cincinnati Reds (10,393, .505); and the St. Louis Cardinals (10,063, .520).

The Phillies were formed as the Philadelphia Quakers in 1883, and, later, were named the Blue Jays in the mid-1940s. Since, they have just two World Series championships to their name from their magical 1980 and 2008 runs. The franchise hopes for a similar go-around in 2020, Bryce Harper's second of at least 13 seasons in red pinstripes.


Phillies Rumored as Among Potential Suitors for Free Agent Manager Joe Maddon

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Photo: Erica Weston/Twitter

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

After a five-season run that included four postseason trips and a 2016 World Series championship, Joe Maddon is officially out as manager of the Chicago Cubs following Sunday's season finale.

Maddon and President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein jointly met with media to announce the news prior to the Cubs' season finale in St. Louis.

Maddon said the Cubs never offered him an extension, and that "sometimes it’s just time to do something else and no one is to blame." Epstein praised Maddon, noting there will be a "bidding war" for the 65-year-old, who says he still has "a good 3-to-5 years" left in him.

With the Cubs since 2015, Maddon recorded a 471-338 record and a franchise-record 19 postseason wins. Maddon's .582 regular season winning percentage ranks second-best in franchise history, trailing only Frank Chance (768-389/.664). The 2016 championship was the Cubs' first in 108 years. The team posted a winning record all five seasons under Maddon.

So, now that Maddon is a free-agent for the first time since his 2006-2014 managerial run with the Tampa Bay Rays (which included a 2008 World Series appearance opposite the Phillies), what's next? According to baseball scribe Bob Nightengale, the top three potential landing spots for Maddon in 2020 are the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, and the Philadelphia Phillies.

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Bryce Harper Worth Every Penny so Far After 1st Season With Phillies

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

After Sunday, the first of at least 13 seasons for Bryce Harper in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform will be complete.

Even though Harper and his teammates failed to secure the franchise's first playoff berth since 2011, it would be inaccurate to say signing the 26-year-old slugger to a then-record-breaking contract was a mistake, at least as of the near-conclusion of his first of 13 seasons.

Through 156 games in red pinstripes, Harper has slashed .259/.372/.511 with 36 doubles, 35 home runs, 99 walks, 177 strikeouts, 15 stolen bases, and a career-high 114 RBI.

Other 2019 Notables:

  • Harper's 35 home runs are the second-most ever by a Phillies player in his first season with the club, bested only by Hall of Famer Jim Thome's 47 in 2003.
  • Harper's 35 home runs are the most by any Phillies player in 10 seasons, when Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth hit 45 and 36, respectively.
  • Harper has accounted for 15 of the Phillies' 78 stolen bases this season. He has successfully swiped eight bases in a row.
  • Harper has a MLB second-best 15 home runs opposite a left-handed pitcher, only bested by the Los Angeles Dodgers' Cody Bellinger (18).
  • Harper leads the National League in putouts as a right-fielder (281), as well as outfield assists (13).
  • Phillies with 42 or more extra-base hits in Citizens Bank Park history:
    • Chase Utley, 44, 2006
    • Jimmy Rollins, 42, 2007
    • Jayson Werth, 42, 2010
    • Bryce Harper, 42, 2019
  • Harper is the first Phillies outfielder with more than 110 RBI and more than 70 extra-base hits since Pat Burrell in 2002.

Harper will start in the Phillies' Sunday season finale, batting third. With a team third-best 3.9 WAR, behind only J.T. Realmuto (4.4) and Aaron Nola (4.0), his first season with the team was surely anything but a disappointment.

And, all of those feats came even amid distractions with his expecting wife, and joining a team MLB organization following free agency for the first time in his career. Barring injury, 2020 can only be better.


Phillies Seek 1st Winning Season Since 2011 in Sunday's 2019 Finale Against Marlins

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

After falling in six straight games, including being swept in their five-game series against the Washington Nationals, the Phillies have found new life — albeit too little, too late — in their final series of the season.

The Phillies edged the National League-worst Miami Marlins 5-4 on Friday, but they won more comfortably Saturday evening, 9-3, securing at least a .500 season for the first time since 2012. Now, with a win in Sunday's season finale, the club can finish better than .500 for the first time since 2011 (102-60) — the last time they qualified for postseason play.

Bryce Harper told reporters after Saturday's win, in which he launched a three-run home run, that Sunday's series and season finale is a must-win. "Gotta do it. Gotta go out there and win tomorrow, he said. "That's huge for us. We can go 82-80."

"Of course that's not where we want to be, but winning seasons are good. It's a stepping stone into next year."

Harper's home run raised his season home run total to 35, and RBI total to 114. His 35 home runs are the second-most ever by a Phillies player in his first season with the club, bested only by Hall of Famer Jim Thome's 47 in 2003.

Continue reading "Phillies Seek 1st Winning Season Since 2011 in Sunday's 2019 Finale Against Marlins" »


Phillies Aim to Avoid 7th Straight Losing Season, 11,000th All-Time Loss Behind Eflin

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

With the Philadelphia Phillies failing to qualify for postseason play, largely just two things remain for the club to accomplish, or better put, avoid, this season.

Sitting at a 2019 record of 80-80, and a franchise all-time record of 9,824-10,999, a Phillies win in their second-to-last game of the season on Saturday against the Miami Marlins would avoid their seventh straight losing season (guaranteeing they cannot lose 82 games), and their 11,000th-ever loss overall.

To avoid this, the Phillies will start one of their more reliable starting pitchers this season, RHP Zach Eflin, who is 9-13 with a 4.16 ERA and 123 strikeouts. Over his last seven starts, the right-hander is 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA. Right-hander Aaron Nola, on the other hand, finished his season going 0-4 with a 5.27 ERA over his last seven starts — all of which resulted in Phillies losses.

Continue reading "Phillies Aim to Avoid 7th Straight Losing Season, 11,000th All-Time Loss Behind Eflin" »


Phillies Could Consider RHP Félix Hernández as Short-Term Fix to Starting Rotation

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

Six-time All-Star and 2010 Cy Young Award winner RHP Félix Hernández made his likely final appearance with the Seattle Mariners on Thursday after 15 seasons and 419 games.

Hernández, 33, walked off the mound to an emotional send-off and curtain call from fans as they chanted, "Thank you, Félix."  Hernández hugged teammates, including former Phillies top prospect J.P. Crawford, and wiped away tears before waving one final goodbye.

Or was it? After the game, "King Felix" described his future plans to MLB.com's Greg Johns, saying "We’ll see if I can find a job. I’m not retiring.”

Continue reading "Phillies Could Consider RHP Félix Hernández as Short-Term Fix to Starting Rotation" »