By Steven Hoffman
For fans of the Philadelphia Phillies whose history with the team stretches back to the 1990s, it’s impossible to think about the all-star second baseman without also hearing Harry Kalas’ lyrical pronunciation of his name:
“Mi-ckey Mor-an-DI-ni makes a diving stop!”
“A swing and a well-hit ball to deep right ... this ball is a grand slam, a grand slam home run…Mi-ckey Mor-an-DI-ni and the Phillies have broken this game wide open.”
The iconic hall of fame broadcaster had countless memorable calls, but one of his personal favorites was simply pronouncing, in his own imitable way, the name of the hard-working second baseman who wore a Phillies uniform for nine of his eleven Major League seasons.
Mickey Morandini, the guest speaker at the annual Kennett Old Timers Baseball Association banquet, said that people still mimic how Kalas said his name.
“Harry really put my name on the map,” Morandini explained. “It really had an impact on my life and how people perceived me.”
Morandini may soon have the opportunity to impact how the current players are perceived by fans throughout the region. He is reportedly on the short list of candidates to join the Phillies broadcast booth as a color analyst.
“I am a candidate for that job. I think it's down to three or four guys,” he said.
The color analyst position was not on Morandini's radar until the Phillies announced earlier this month that longtime analyst Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews were being given new assignments in the organization. Morandini has managed in the Phillies Minor League system the last three years and was recently named the bench coach for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. His plan was to continue to work his way up the ranks until he could get a job managing in the big leagues one day.
“My first goal was to be a big league manager,” he said. But the opportunity to work alongside Tom McCarthy in the broadcast booth as the voice of the Phillies would be a good one for someone who has dedicated his life to the game of baseball.
“That would keep me a Phillie for life,” Morandini explained.
Morandini grew up outside Pittsburgh and was predictably a Pirates fan during his childhood. Though he never hit for much power, Morandini was a top high school player and earned a spot on the Indiana University baseball team. Morandini was just five-foot-ten and 145 pounds when he went off to play college ball, but he was smart and worked hard. He played center field, shortstop, and some third base in college. As a junior, he was drafted by the Pirates, but Morandini opted to return to school for his senior season. The Phillies drafted him in the fifth round of the 1988 draft.
That same year, Morandini was a member of the U.S. Olympic team, playing alongside guys like Tino Martinez, Jim Abbott, and Robin Ventura. The U.S. squad finished in first place during the tournament.
“That was the biggest honor of my career—playing for your country and winning a medal is quite an honor,” Morandini said.
He moved up the system quickly and in 1990 he was summoned from Scranton, the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, to play second base for the last 25 games of the season. Morandini got a pinch hit in his second Major League at-bat. In 87 Major League at-bats, he hit four doubles and his first home run.
He started the 1991 season in the minors, but was soon called up to the big league club to stay.
Morandini was a solid second baseman but struggled at the plate—mainly because he hit the ball in the air too often and didn't have enough pop in his bat to produce doubles or home runs with those fly balls.
Morandini followed the advice of Larry Bowa, a player, coach, and manager with the Phillies, who told Morandini to catch the ball and whatever offense he provided was a bonus.
John Vuckovich, the longtime Phillies player and coach, pulled Morandini aside one day and talked to him about how important it was for contact hitters to hit the ball on the ground rather than in the air.
Morandini started using a heavier bat, choked up, and changed his swing. His offensive production improved considerably and he became an everyday second baseman for the final six years of his Major League career.
He was an important part of the 1993 squad that won 97 games and captured the National League pennant.
“1993 was a very special year. We were in first place from day one,” Morandini said. “There wasn't a team that played the game harder than the 1993 team.”
Morandini played with the Phillies through the 1997 season, and was approaching the team's all-time record for games as a second baseman when he was traded to the Chicago Cubs. He eventually returned to Philadelphia for the 2000 season before being traded to Toronto. But that time, injuries were taking their toll and he needed three operations. He ended up retiring in 2000 after collecting 1,222 hits and posting a .268 batting average for his career.
Morandini talked about what was perhaps his most notable individual achievement, which took place on Sept. 20, 1992, when he became just the ninth player in Major League history to turn an unassisted triple play. Curt Schilling was on the mound that day and was trying to pitch out of a jam. Runners were at first and second with nobody out and Jeff King was at the plate. Both runners were off with the pitch and King hit a line drive that Morandini caught near the bag. He tagged second base for the second out and looked up to see Barry Bonds still running toward second. He quickly tagged him for the out.
“The whole play took all of five seconds,” Morandini said.
During the question-and-answer session, Morandini fielded questions like an all-star.
Many of the questions were about the Phillies' chances in 2014.
“For me, it will boil down to Ryan Howard. He's going to have to drive in runs,” Morandini said, adding that the team will have to rely on its core players—Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee—if they are to return to the World Series.
As a manager in the minors, Morandini has extensive knowledge about the talent in the farm system.
He likes young third baseman Cody Asche and outfielder Darin Ruf.
“He's a solid player, I think you're going to like him.”
Regarding Ruf, he said, “He's going to hit some home runs. I think he's going to be a good player to have on the team.”
Morandini talked about how there is talent currently in the Phillies farm system, but it might take some time before the next group of young players are ready for “the show.”
“We have some talented players, but they are still at the lower levels,” he said.
He predicted that third base prospect Maikel Franco is still one year away from the majors.
“He's got great bat speed, a lot of power, and he has a cannon for an arm,” Morandini said.
Jesse Biddle, the Phillies top pitching prospect, could reach the majors by the end of 2014 if he continues to develop and shows improved command of his pitches.
“Once he gets the command, he'll be ready to go. All the ability is there,” Morandini said.
Shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford, a first round selection in 2013, could move up the through the minors quickly.
“I think he's got a chance to be very good,” Morandini said. “He's got good hands at short. He's one of the fastest players that I've ever seen.”
Morandini was asked about the toughest pitchers that he faced, and he talked about how hard it was to hit against lefthander Randy Johnson and closer Mariano Rivera.
Morandini faced another great pitcher, Greg Maddux, quite often throughout his career, and had a great deal of success against the hall of fame hurler.
Morandini recalled how he reviewed his notes on Maddux and found that in the 17 times that he had gotten to a 3-2 count against him, the pitcher had thrown a change-up 16 times. Knowing that helped Morandini anticipate what was coming. He belted a triple against Maddux in the 1993 League Championship Series.
Morandini was asked about the steroids scandal and about the recently expanded use of instant replay.
“I think it's good for the game if we get the calls right,” he said.
Morandini also shared some of his favorite stories from the baseball diamond.
He recalled one game when Phillies starting pitcher Tommy Greene was facing the Cincinnati Reds. Greene was struggling mightily and quickly fell behind 3-0 or 4-0. The Reds belted several more home runs in their home park to push the lead to 8-0. After each home run, fireworks were set off. The bullpen had been overused in recent days so Greene was out there to take his lumps for the team.
Finally, Johnny Podres, the legendary pitching coach, ambled out to the mound.
Greene asked him what he was doing out there.
“I'm not here to say anything to you,” Podres replied. “I'm just giving the fireworks guy some time to reload.”
With great moments like that, is it any wonder that Morandini wants to be a Phillie for life?