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Bill Lyon: A little old-school ball may be just what Philly fans need

He was born Salvatore Anthony Maglie, but he was best known as Sal the Barber - in honor of his high, hard one that gave hitters a close shave.

Cole Hamels admitted that he intended to hit Bryce Harper with a pitch in the first inning of Sunday night's game. (Richard Lipski/AP)
Cole Hamels admitted that he intended to hit Bryce Harper with a pitch in the first inning of Sunday night's game. (Richard Lipski/AP)Read more

He was born Salvatore Anthony Maglie, but he was best known as Sal the Barber - in honor of his high, hard one that gave hitters a close shave.

He had a dark five o'clock shadow and a menacing glower that could melt steel, and he turned the knockdown pitch into an art. In the 1950s he pitched for all three New York teams, and over his career had a 23-win season and a no-hitter, and pitched in three World Series.

"If you try to dig in on him," one batter said, "there goes your Adam's apple."

Don Drysdale, who was mentored by the Barber, related an incident when Henry Aaron dug in - Henry Aaron! - and Maglie, his Dodgers teammate, ordered a knockdown. Drysdale complied. Aaron got up, dusted himself off. Maglie ordered a second knockdown. Drysdale complied, and then asked what was the purpose of the second knockdown.

"To let him know you meant the first one," Maglie replied.

The Barber came to mind as the curtain came down on one of the more storm-tossed weeks in Philadelphia sporting history.

First, the hockey team went out with a whimper, not a bang, all four paws up in the air, and the alleged best player in the world, Claude Giroux, forfeited the Lady Byng while going head-hunting for no other reason than he was frustrated. And, oh yes, the never-ending story, the Flyers troubles in goal continued.

The basketball team was given what amounted to a free pass through the first round of the NBA playoffs when the Chicago Bulls had to make room on their roster for two new players, Lame and Halt. The 76ers tried to give that free pass right back. But by the margin of a converted free throw by the much-maligned Andre Iguodala, they advanced to the second round.

And the baseball team seemed intent on proving that no lead is big enough for them to blow. Even Charlie Manuel had seen enough to rouse himself into one of those clubhouse sermonettes he abhors.

And what of The Barber? He was channeled by Cole Hamels, who, in a fit of vigilante justice, took it upon himself to welcome a 19-year-old to the Show - Bryce Harper, the wunderkind of the Washington Nationals - by drilling him in the back last Sunday.

On purpose.

For no readily apparent reason, though he did mention something about "old-school baseball."

The accepted response to this is for the hurler to say that, oops, the pitch got away from him. Wink, wink.

But Hamels found it difficult - impossible, even - to tell an untruth. Which in most instances is admirable.

Hamels insisted on coming clean. Major League Baseball, unaccustomed to a public mea culpa, slapped Hamels with a five-game (wink-wink) suspension, which amounted to pushing his next scheduled start back one whole game.

As for Harper, he accepted the hit without histrionics, went to first, promptly went to third on a single, and then stole home. Repeat: He stole home. Just like they used to do in those old-school baseball days.

The jury is out on Harper, but you suspect it might end up a hung jury, a divided opinion, because the kid has a boatload of talent, a once-in-a-generation-talent according to the hype machine, and also because there's not enough mustard to cover his hotdog ways, his arrogance, and inflated sense of entitlement. For the moment, he comes across as part prodigy and part punk.

"I want to play the game hard," he said in a GQ interview. "I want to run right down your throat, put you into left field when I'm going into second."

And then this gasoline-on-the-fire quote: "I like shaking up the old guys."

I'm betting Bryce Harper will be getting plunked a time or two more before his career is over. Old-school baseball, you know.

Not surprisingly, Bryce Harper says the player he is trying to pattern himself after is none other than Peter Edward Rose. The ballplayer, not the felon, and certainly the epitome of coming-at-you-with-my-spikes-high old-school baseball.

Meanwhile the Nats are young, chesty, and full of themselves, and yearning to end years and years of being cuffed about. They have been embarrassed by the red horde of Phillies Nation that inundates their ballpark, and they have done everything short of paying their own fans to lure them in.

And the Phillies? Well, they are beginning to creak, rocking chair squeaks, and for the last five years have had their way with the rest of the NL East. Don't think resentment over that doesn't run deep.

Bryce Harper will come to us as a ready-made villain - nine games to be played here, six more in Washington - and you know how we love our villains.

This could be the ignition of an instant rivalry. The Nats hope so; they are rising, and spoiling to find out how good they are.

Or aren't.

And maybe they'll be just the spark the Fightin's need.

Meanwhile, here's our misery index updated.

Team          Last Title Years

 Eagles       1960       52

Flyers       1975        37

76ers       1983       29

Phillies       2008        4

And to think that some people wonder why we tend to be just a tad impatient.