Wednesday, June 4, 2008


I received a handful of comments and emails about my futility piece this morning, many of which mentioned that I needed to give the Phillies -- or, more specifically, Phillies fans -- their due. Upon reflection I realized that they were right, and that the 1980 cutoff date for championships served to obscure just how damn hard it has been to root for the Phillies for, well, just about ever.

Frankly, I think my age -- 34 -- has a lot to do with me missing the point on this, because when I was coming of baseball age the Phillies were pretty darn good. They had the best hitter and best pitcher in all of baseball and they won a lot of ballgames. It wasn't until much later that I realized just how terrible they had been for most of their history. But even with that knowledge, the first thing I think of when I think of the Phillies is Tug McGraw leaping into the air in triumph.

Thankfully there are people who have more perspective than I do. One of them is the erudite blogger (and ShysterBall reader) TC Shillingford of Mr. Thursday's Curious Mechanism. TC knows the history of Philadelphia sports much better than I do, and in an email to me, which I hereby reprint with his permission, he makes an excellent case for the Phillies as kings of futility, whether or not the Cubs or Red Sox ever win another game. Take it away, Mr. Thursday:

Philadelphia is a four sport town --sure, basketball, hockey and football aren't normally relevant to this kind of thing, but the Sixers, Flyers and Eagles haven't won since 1983, 1977, and 1960, respectively. So, when the Phils lose, again, there's nothing to fall back on. Football season is starting, and already the Eagles are hurt. basketball starts, and the Sixers will probably make the playoffs with a sub-.500 record. And, oh sure, the Flyers might look phenomenal, but wait till May: they'll get blown out of the playoffs, like every year.

Well over 500,000 people within the city limits aren't old enough to have been alive when the Phils won in 1980. Close to 200,000 more would be very young when the Phils did win. If you get much older than about 35, you know what you get to remember? Horror show teams. My father could remember the glory that was Steve Carlton in 1972, but it's always tempered by the misery that were the other four games in the week.

I'm a huge Phils fan. I go to 25+ games per year. I have seen or listened on the radio to every Cole Hamels start since he first came to Scranton-Wilkes Barre. My brother and I would make the drive, 2 hours, to the stadium to watch him pitch. But, every once in a while, I put things in perspective. I root for the Phils as a matter of geography and personal history. My dad bequeathed this life to me. The Phillies are a team with a history of racism, of civic abuse, of greedy and callous owners, of inept and stupid management, of cruel and untalented players.

There is far more reason to despise this team there is to love them. The past five years aside, the Phils have, over the course of their history, represented the very worst in sports. Even now, the Phils aren't without their significant blemishes. One of their key players is Brett Myers, whose history needs no recounting. Recent players include Jason Michaels (fought a cop), and Ugueth Urbina (attempted murder). This compounds with the tendency for players who stay out of trouble (and possess talent), to demand getting the hell out. Scott Rolen needed to get away from Larry Bowa and Dave Montgomery, and was so sent to St Louis. OPS+ of Phils primary third basemen since he left: 57, 107, 72, 87, 54. Curt Schilling saw the writing on the wall--the team wasn't TRYING TO WIN--and wanted out, and made it to Arizona. He's won three World Series since then. This is a tendency that goes back to the 1960s, if not earlier, with Richie Allen, who demanded out, got out, and started going by Dick. Really: he's Dick Allen to all you, but in Philly, he's still Richie. Trades and free agents have too often burned the Phils, too: Bobby Abreu, Danny Tartabull, Gregg Jeffries.

The Phils have an invisible ownership. At least Orioles fans can hate Angelos. We've got 6 owners. Bill Giles is the most public of the group. He's got a minority share, and pops up every couple of years to remind us that he will never, ever sell the team. The rest of the owners... well, they're a motley crew. John Middleton (I think) is a cigar magnate who actually cares about the team. Of course, he doesn't wanna interfere with the actual baseball operations. The other owners include a couple of venture capitalist types who are in it just for the money, and some old lady who keeps her share, in part, just so she can have a prime parking spot for Eagles games. These people are represented by Dave Montgomery. Dave is, by all accounts, a super fellow. My fiance's father knows him pretty well, and has nothing but kind things to say about him, personally, He is, however, an incompetent manager of a baseball organization. He recently said that he'd like the Phils image to not be "tied up in wins and losses". This is, of course, wildly appropriate for the caretaker of a team that has lost more than any other, who has won a single championship since 1883.

Dan Shaughnessy might fear curses, but I laugh at him. Curses are for people on Earth suffering from bad luck. Move a few states south, Danny, and see what it's like to live in hell.

And this is the way I feel during a winning season. Why, do you ask? Why don't I just appreciate the way almost everything is going well? Hell, Adam Eaton had a 69 Game Score last night! Because all this is fleeting. Chase Utley is transcendentally good, Jimmy is wonderful, Howard, when he hits the ball, he hits it real, real far. Hamels might be one of the better starting pitchers in baseball. Everyone knows these things. But, believe me when I tell you: this will all end in tears. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of our lives, there will be tears. Have you seen There Will Be Blood? Phillies fandom is the oilman, and I am the preacher, and they are going to bury me underground.

As per tradition, I will now sit in the corner, with a beer, muttering about how the Phils actually are good, and that Pat Gillick will not--WILL NOT-- mortgage the future for relief pitchers at the deadline, or do something like trade one of the Phils stars for a box of bats. Sooner or later, a family member will come over, gently touch me on the shoulder and lead me to the television. The Phils play at seven, after all, and I can't miss the game.
I think that says it all. Cleveland, I love you, but Terry Pluto couldn't say more about the Tribe than TC just did about the Phillies.

Thanks, TC. For those of you who enjoyed that, check out more at Mr. Thursday's Curious Mechanism.


tadthebad said...

Classic stuff. I have a few friends from Philadelphia, and that essay represents their emotions about Philly's pro sports teams very well.

Peter said...

Dear Philadelphia,

Call me in 2024, when you've gone 44 years without a championship in a major sport.


Mr. Thursday said...


I'd like to respond to your one-liner, but I'm not really good with the whole brevity thing. So, please, read my rebuttal:

Or, to sum up: talking just about how long its been for Cleveland or for Philly misses the whole point.