Aug 232010

Former Phillie Dickie Noles

August 23 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlin

“They came for Tyson Gillies just after 12:30 a.m. Friday. Served him with an arrest warrant after a baggy containing a white powder that was confiscated from the back seat of a Clearwater police prowler on June 11 tested positive as cocaine.

Dickie Noles, the best substance-abuse counselor in the professional sports business, was on the plane before bail was posted later in the morning for the troubled minor league outfielder.

Just as he was on the scene after prized lefthander Cole Hamels busted his pitching hand on some redneck’s head during a parking-lot dustup pitting Phillies farmhands and locals.

Just as he had gotten the phone call in the middle of the night when a pitching prospect was arrested in the parking lot of a Clearwater gentleman’s club for having sex while nude with one of the club’s gentlewomen.

It is what Dickie Noles does. And the less publicity the better. No publicity is just perfect.

I was here on June 11 when Tyson Gillies, a central figure in the infamous Cliff Lee trade, was stopped by a local cop in a police prowl car, just after 3 a.m. The rehabbing outfielder was walking – staggering says it better – along a service road paralleling the infamous U.S. 19. There are still bumper stickers around that say, “Pray For Me, I Drive U.S. 19.”

But drunken walking is not a crime, not even in Pinellas County. Gillies was allegedly waving a T-shirt at traffic on the main highway, attempting, he told the officer, to flag down teammates heading back to the La Quinta Inn from a joint named Freaky Tiki.

Freaky Tiki and 3 a.m. just has the sound of trouble. And never mind that the legal closing time in Pinellas County is 1 a.m.

The officer asked Gillies if he had money for a cab, seeing he was too bombed to walk. He may or may not have noticed the hearing aids the legally deaf ballplayer was wearing in each ear. Gillies said he didn’t have cab fare. So the officer offered him a courtesy ride to the inn where players from both the Clearwater Threshers and Gulf Coast League Phillies are housed in-season. On June 10, only the high-Class A Threshers and extended spring-training players were in house. The GCL season didn’t open until June 21.

I was at Bright House Field June 15 to interview Jimmy Rollins, who was playing his first rehab game for the Threshers. And I was back on the 21st, hoping No. 1 draft pick Jesse Biddle would be pitching the Gulf Coast Phillies‘ opener. Instead, he was the batboy.

I know just about everybody in the Florida operation. Maybe if I had said, “Any barroom brawls or drug busts lately?” I would have heard something. But there was nary a word about any Tyson Gillies situation.

Which means Dickie Noles was doing his job, a job where confidentiality is at the core of establishing trust with troubled athletes.

Dickie Noles himself was so desperately enmeshed in the tentacles of alcohol and drug addiction as a player, he finally walked into a police station and begged to be arrested. To save him from himself.

I was a witness to one of the celebrated Noles incidents, the one where a near-Chicago hotel-bar dustup with Phillies general manager Paul Owens resulted in his boss being hauled away to the Rush Street Precinct. Rich Ashburn and traveling secretary Eddie Ferenz bailed out The Pope at 3 a.m.”

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