10/20/08 5:03 PM ET
Rocky from Philly, but Rays pack punch
With Fall Classic set to begin, tough to say who's the underdog
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
The natural answer would be the Phillies; they are, after all, from Rocky's hometown, and only the Liberty Bell and cheese steaks it seems are more Philadelphia than Rocky.
Of course, the Phillies also are managed by Charlie Manuel, who with his no-nonsense, commonsense wisdom could certainly be cast in the role of Rocky's trainer, Mickey, who was played by Burgess Meredith in the movie.
Like Mickey, Manuel's contender is short on speed aside from Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. Of course for the second film, Mickey had Rocky chase chickens in order to improve his speed and quickness, so Manuel might want to give that a try prior to Game 1.
The Rays, though, also have their own version of Mickey in the venerable Don Zimmer, who serves as a special assistant of sorts. And though he's not in uniform during the game, you will find him on the field during batting practice and is a trusted adviser to Rays manager Joe Maddon.
Zimmer and Mickey also share something else -- they're not afraid to mix it up. Mickey challenged Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T, in "Rocky III," while Zimmer stood up to the Red Sox's Pedro Martinez during an on-field altercation in the 2003 American League Championship Series. Both men wound up on their backs as a result, though thankfully Zimmer was able to get up, while Mickey, well, not so much.
Speaking of Clubber Lang, the Rays have the clear edge when it comes to sporting the Mohawk. Outfielder B.J. Upton started the trend, and he was followed by pitcher Edwin Jackson and third baseman Evan Longoria. Even Maddon has gotten into the act.
It's also spread outside the walls of the clubhouse. You can't swing a fungo at The Trop without hitting a fan that's caught up in the Mohawk craze.
Now, one way the Rays can't touch the Phillies is when it comes to Rocky's statue. Used in "Rocky III," the statue of Rocky with his arms triumphantly raised above his head was originally placed at the top of the steps that lead to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the same steps Rocky ran up to train for his first fight with Apollo Creed.
To this day, 32 years after the original "Rocky" made its debut, people are still seen throughout the day running up the museum's steps emulating Rocky.
Stallone donated the statue to the city in 1982 in hopes that it would be permanently placed at the top of the museum steps. The art commission, though, declined, and the statue was moved outside the Philadelphia Spectrum, where the two Creed fights were to have taken place during the movie.
It made a brief appearance back at the top of the steps for the filming of "Rocky V," but then headed back to the Spectrum where it remained until 2006, when it was permanently placed near the bottom of the museum's steps.
Tampa Bay, naturally, has no Rocky statue. The Rays do, however, have a Rocco of their own -- as in Baldelli -- and any good Rocky fan knows that Rocky's brother-in-law Paulie referred to Rocky as Rock or Rocco often. Baldelli is not from Philadelphia, but his comeback from a mitochondrial disorder that slows muscle recovery and causes fatigue is every bit as inspiring as a Rocky fight.
The Phillies, according to oddsmakers, are the underdogs in this series, but despite their success in the game's toughest division, it's hard to not look at the Rays as underdogs. After all, this is a team that lost 96 games last season and was a 200-1 shot to win the World Series when the '08 season started.
So, while it is impossible to separate the Phillies from one of their city's icons, it sure seems like the Rays have plenty of Rocky in them as well: A contender that's determined to go the distance.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.